Katherine MacAlister talks to Britain’s oldest supermodel 87-year-old Daphne Selfe

I don’t know why they call me a supermodel, but they do,” Daphne Selfe laughs. “But I’m game for anything within reason and have to keep remembering I’m 87 and not 18 any more, and to work within my limits.” As Britain’s oldest supermodel, Daphne is enjoying her renaissance enormously.

Talking to me from her Hertfordshire home, she has recently returned from a fashion shoot in Sydney and also fronted a massive campaign for new High Street clothes label & Other Stories “I travelled first class all the way to Australia. It was such fun,” she says, “and the clothes were lovely, lots of Dior and Chanel.

“And before that it was Stockholm although you don’t get to see much more than the inside of the studio,” she laughs, “which is a shame because half the fun of modelling is seeing the places you go to.

Welcome to the world of Daphne Selfe, who was scouted aged 70 and has been working hard in the world of fashion ever since.

Having written all about it in her latest book The Way We Wore – A Life in Clothes, she will be appearing at The Blenheim Festival of Literature Film & Music to talk about her life and advise women how to dress and have confidence in themselves.

“It’s for any woman who feels invisible,” she says “and wants to make the best of themselves.”

Selfe’s memoir is the story of her lifelong affair with clothes and fashion that stretches from her 1930s childhood to the pages of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Vanity Fair. She has been photographed by Mario Testino, Nick Knight and David Bailey, for both designer and high street brands.

Selfe grew up in the Home Counties before being sent to boarding school during the Second World War. She won a local magazine cover girl competition aged 21, signing to the Gaby Young Agency in London.

“They gave you three weeks training in those days, which of course you don’t get now, which is why my daughter and I are setting up an online modelling academy for anyone who wants to be a model, because otherwise how would you know?” she asks raising those famous arched eyebrows.

As for the book, Daphne had been pestered to write one for decades and eventually gave in. “I hadn’t written it before because I was so unsensational. We all have our ups and downs of course but there was no divorce or unhappy childhood, no terrible stories. But I always kept diaries and gradually got the book together,” Daphne says.

Despite Daphne’s unquestionable success and glamorous lifestyle, she is as down-to-earth as they come and totally unaffected by it all. No diva tantrums or VIP demands here. “They didn’t have celebrity models in my day, back in the 50s, not until Twiggy certainly. And I’m no threat to anyone. I’m fairly low maintenance. I’ve been far too busy bringing up a family to worry about being a diva,” she laughs.

Was that a sacrifice then, giving up her modelling career to get married. “Not at all, why would it be?” she asks in surprise. “It’s just part of the rich tapestry of life,” and then she pauses.

“I did try to go back to modelling later but of course by then it had moved onto the 60s and 70s and I was definitely out of vogue, too classical in their minds. But that was fine. My husband worked in TV so I became a film and TV extra for the rest of my career and had a marvellous time. It was great fun.”

And then? “And then I was asked to go to Vogue to contribute to an article on ageing and was scouted aged 70. My first assignment was with Red or Dead but I knew what I was doing and have been working ever since. It’s terribly rewarding, but I enjoy it rather than rely on it,” she says sagely. “You should never rely on modelling.”

With several big campaigns under her belt including a recent shoot for Van shoes, Daphne is literally back in fashion, showing us all how to adapt to a modern day wardrobe.

So is there anything she won’t wear? I’m fairly open to ideas and love prancing about in nice clothes. I did a shoot wearing rubber recently which was great fun. But I try not to wear black unless its mixed with a bit of colour. I prefer trousers and skirts. I dress for my age so no leggings, shorts or anything without sleeves. And as for beige, don’t do it, it will kill you,” she jokes.

So why don’t more women try harder? “It’s an age thing I think, maybe circumstantial. They just give up and lose all their confidence. But we should make the effort. Of course when I’m gardening I’m in jeans and an old cardigan, but if I go out to the theatre I dress up. I’ve got more time now,” she laughs.

Daphne’s beloved husband died in 1997. “I wouldn’t be doing this now if he was still alive, so while I miss him dreadfully, in many ways he did me a favour. It’s just a shame he can’t see it, and my mother would have loved all this.”

“But I keep up with fashion by reading papers and magazines. I like knowing what’s what. And yes there are designers that I favour, but I can’t wear all of their clothes. You have to know what suits you and stick to it. I can’t be wearing mini skirts at my age or necklines down to my navel. So you have to be careful what you pick – nice coats, skirts below the knee, polo necks.

“I’ve always made my own clothes as well, so I can change a hemline or neckline if I don’t like it. Even so, Daphne must make an effort to stay looking so good? “Well I’m lucky – I have a dancer’s frame, but I do exercises everyday when I wake up and have an exercise bike. I don’t go out cycling any more because it’s too dangerous on the roads, but I walk a lot.

“It’s about looking after yourself, what you eat and drink. But more than anything it’s about having a positive attitude. And at this great age I want to inspire people.” So what next? “I would love to be on Strictly. I love dancing. But maybe they’d think I was too old?”

I wouldn’t bet on it.

Where and when
Daphne Selfe is at Blenheim Lit Fest on Sunday September 27