Taken from Viva!LIFE (Viva!’s supporters’ magazine), issue 29, summer 2005. To receive Viva!LIFE join here.
Heather investigates the cruel farrowing crate with Viva! – more here
Juliet Gellatley talks to an extraordinary woman who refuses to
acknowledge defeat in any sphere of her life, has battled her way
to the top and has done it….
One Step at a Time
Heather Mills - exclusive Viva! interview
Some say that Heather Mills’s life is a rags to
riches fairy tale - but there’s much more to it than luck.
She is an inspirational and gritty go-getter who has carved out
her own destiny from difficult times. Reading her autobiography, A
Single Step, I felt huge empathy with this determined woman – Heather
is a born campaigner!
Talking to her, she immediately puts you at ease. There’s
no sniff of arrogance – instead she’s down to earth
and has a wicked sense of fun. When she called me at Viva! for
info on hunting prior to an appearance on Question Time earlier
this year, she joked about putting her artificial leg up the backside
of one of the pro-hunter’s on the panel. At that point, I
knew we’d get on!
To understand Heather, her weaknesses and strengths, her compassion
and convictions, you have to look at her troubled childhood. Born
in 1968, her early years were spent in Libanus, near Brecon, in
rural mid-Wales. There where lots of animals around, including
a goat, a goose and their beloved dog Ben, and her love of animals
started here. At six, they moved near to Newcastle - hence her
irresistible Geordie accent.
Reading Heather’s autobiography, it’s striking how
much of it is taken up by her dad, Mark Mills, as she tries to
understand this unloving, selfish, uncommunicative, violent man
with a short fuse but who also had streaks of artistic wizardry
and a passion for opera. Amazingly, she didn’t even know
what his job was.
Heather’s relationship with her mum, Beatrice, was also
a struggle – someone, she says, who was not a natural
mother and was almost Victorian in her lack of emotional and physical
connection with her children. “She was never one for cuddling”,
recalls Heather, but still she saw her as a “good mother” when
the children were young. Heather’s father constantly criticized
and bullied Beatrice – insisting the house be kept spick
and span but always looking for a reason to explode and when he
did, it terrified the three children:
“He’d yell, throw things and belt Mum around the head
and it didn’t matter that we were there. Sometimes, I really
believed he was going to murder her”.
Not surprisingly, Beatrice walked out but the awful thing was,
she didn’t take the children with her. Heather was nine,
sister Fiona seven and brother, Shane, 12. It wasn’t until
four years after her mother’s tragic death, when Heather
was 25, that she was able to face the stark truth – her mum
had abandoned her children to a violent man because her boyfriend,
who she’d known only a few months, didn’t want them.
Heather finally accepted that she was allowed to feel angry about
it. In typical Heather fashion, she used that emotional release
to move forward – to forgive her mum and feel relief that
her childhood wasn’t her fault.
And what a childhood! As Heather’s sister Fiona says: “Our
father was a bully and a coward and when our mother finally left
him, he turned his violence on us. He used us like slaves from
a very young age to help him realise his dream of staging an animated
version of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle. We were often forced
to stay up well into the night, cutting up slides, preparing presentations
and writing correspondence for him. Instead of finding out why
we were always falling asleep in class, our teachers handed out
detentions for lateness”.
“Our family were always short of money and our father
demanded that we find food and clothes so we turned to shoplifting,
learnt to hide from the bailiffs and became experts at domestic
duties. I’m not ashamed to say that we were forced to steal
because when you are a young child, you’d rather do that
than face a beating from your father.”
When Heather was 15 her father was sent to prison for fraud and
she and Fiona went to live with their mother and partner Charles
in London; while Shane escaped to Brighton to live with his grandparents.
Again it didn’t work out and again Beatrice chose between
Heather and Charles. She chose Charles and Heather moved out to
live in a caravan on a Clapham fairground. Ironically, it was a
relatively happy time, where she imbibed the strong community spirit.
But it didn’t last and she was made homeless and for a few
months faced the daunting prospect of living on the street at London’s
Arches. Again the generosity of those who have nothing to give
made a lasting impact.
Throughout all this, neither Heather nor her siblings lost their
spirit – in fact the opposite happened! Talking to Heather,
you’re struck by her vivacious and confident personality;
her strength and compassion. She has used her experiences to help
others. She fights for the underdog – a kind warrior!
From the age of 15 Heather has almost always worked – anywhere
that helped her pay her way. Cocktail bar, casino, sunbed salon
- until she used her stunning looks to become a model. The jobs,
however, were erratic and so the vision and entrepreneurship Heather
had learned from her father came into play. With her own creativity
and astuteness, she set up her first business at the age of 19,
importing Jolibust - a stick under the bust jobbie so big
breasted women could wear backless tops, without, as Heather smiles, “bouncing
around giving everyone black eyes”.
The company went well but with her bright personality and life’s-for-the-taking
attitude, Heather got bored once the initial challenge was over.
She sold Jolibust for a neat profit. Her next venture was importing
frozen yogurt and again she sold up when the excitement fizzled
The modelling jobs kept coming and she landed a contract to become
the face of a French cosmetics company and at 20 moved to Paris.
For the first time in her life, Heather had money to play with
and her horizons started to widen.
At 21 there was another life change and Heather married. It lasted
four years during which time she had two ectopic pregnancies. With
grit and bravery she chose not to have an operation each time and
risk her fertility, rather allowing the foetus in the fallopian
tube to be absorbed – causing excruciating pain that most
Heather clearly doesn’t agonise over decisions and
while on holiday in Yugoslavia, she fell in love with the country
and a man who had nothing to offer materially but everything emotionally
and upped roots to be with him. The following months were, she
says, some of the happiest in her life. The war began and the fighting
ripped apart her beautiful new homeland and her relationship eventually
Back in the UK, Heather’s modelling career was surging ahead
but in London, in the August of 1993, her life was to change forever.
As she stepped into a road by Kensington Palace Hotel, a police
motorcycle hit her. Her body was flung in one direction, her left
leg in another and she suffered severe injuries to her head, pelvis,
ribs and lungs. Remarkably, there was a doctor near the scene who
saved her from bleeding to death. She was helicoptered with severed
leg to Mount Vernon Hospital in Northwood, but it could not be
reattached. This, Heather says, was the first time she asked herself “Why
me?”Her modelling had really taken off but now what? But,
she says, she loathes self-pity and quickly ordered herself to
be positive. “Don’t let life beat you now – come
on be positive.” I guess that’s Heather! She decided
she had to change direction, but she’d done that before,
she was a risk-taker – so instead of thinking about her loss
as a disaster she told herself to think of it as an adventure.
It was the start of a new world – of helping thousands of
people around the world who’d had their lives torn apart
by minefields; of becoming vegetarian and fighting for animals;
becoming a patron of Viva!; and of course, meeting and marrying
the love of her life, Paul McCartney.
It was Heather losing her leg that made her become almost vegan.
Once discharged from hospital she could not get her leg to heal.
She had to change “disgusting dressings” every day
but the infection in her stump just wouldn’t go away. She
tried everything - antibiotics, homeopathy, acupuncture – but
in vain. The infection spread to the bone and Heather had to endure
a second amputation of a further two inches from her leg. She explained
to me: “In hospital they fed me junk as do all hospitals,
and people were bringing me chocolate because I’ve always
been a chocoholic – and I was just feeding the bacteria.
I find out much later that sugar helps bacteria grow and I couldn’t
get rid of the infection and it was creeping further up my leg.
“My girlfriend said she’d cured herself of breast
cancer at the Hippocrates Institute in Florida and I should discharge
myself and get out of the hospital. I took the risk, went over
to the US and they basically said, ‘You’ve got to come
off all antibiotics and medication,’ which was pretty daunting
after three and a half months in hospital.” The Institute
is based on holistic healing and they put Heather on a raw food
vegan diet and used wheat grass and garlic poultices on her wound:
“It was frightening to put all my faith in them. I’d
always worked out and taken vitamin supplements but I’d never
really understood the effects of food on your body but we had lectures
on that. The wheat grass tasted of saccharin, it was horrible!
I had to have vegetable juices every day and things like raw mushroom
and pepper loaf with avocado sauce. They used an amino acid spray
called Braggs which was the saviour of this initially bland diet.
I had such a sweet tooth that being taken off all sugar was a bit
like going cold turkey for me!”
I asked Heather how quickly her leg healed under this regime. “In
one week my infection cleared up and then my wound started to heal!
It was unbelievable. The cavity I’d been fruitlessly cleaning
for over three months suddenly healed over with pink skin. It literally
healed enough for me to get a leg fitted while I was out there”.
The understandable enthusiasm for wheatgrass juice Heather developed
was dismissed by the British media: “I tried to tell them
about its amazing healing effects but everyone thought it was just
completely nuts!” Obviously ahead of her time!
But what about when she came home – did she stay on the
same diet? “I stuck with it for a year and a half. And it
was very difficult – I grew my own wheatgrass. My whole house
looked like an indoor garden centre! I brought a wheatgrass juicer
back from the US because we didn’t have anything like that
here back then. After that time I introduced cooked foods back
into my diet.” I told Heather she must a lot of willpower
to stick to a raw food wheatgrass based diet for that length of
time but as she pointed out: “Yeah, it was difficult, but
when you’ve nearly died and your leg’s been amputated
more and more you’re willing to just try anything and stick
with it when it works!” Also there were other benefits: “I
looked the best I’ve ever looked in my life. It’s the
best diet, really healthy but it’s not realistic in everyday
life if you want to eat out and have romantic dinners with your
So what about Heather’s diet today? She smiles enthusiastically
and tells me: “I’m vegetarian now – it’s
definitely a healthy diet and saves animals, which is very important
to me as I detest cruelty. It’s only since I met Paul that
I really got to understand how vegetarianism not only benefits
your health massively but also makes a huge difference to the planet,
to animals and to feeding the world. And being veggie makes you
“I could never go back to eating meat or fish and I’m
moving towards being vegan. When I crack an egg now, I look and
think, ‘Could that have become a baby?’ All that stuff
goes through my head but then I think, ‘Oh well, how could
I make my cakes without eggs and what if I wanted to have an omelette?’.
But I’ve found there are egg replacers and I make scrambled
tofu and drink soya milk. I really admire people who are vegan
but it’s hard with our lifestyle. Maybe when we’re
settled in one place and our baby’s in school and I can really
get focused on creating some fantastic vegan dishes, then I might
go for it.”
Warming to her theme, she continues: “I hate the cruelty
of factory farming. Cruelty in any area of life to is bad enough,
but to animals, who have no voice, it’s just disgusting.
The growth promoters and antibiotics they mete out daily in those
places have created superbugs. Factory farming is cruel and dangerous
and it’s all done for people who don’t care enough
about animals and who don’t care what they’re putting
in their bodies. It’s the way animals are treated that most
horrifies me and I have less pity for anyone who wants to fill
their body with diseased flesh and chemicals. Factory farming should
be ended now by the Government.”
Heather and Paul had a baby girl, Beatrice (named after her mum)
in October 2003. I have twin sons a year older than Beatrice and
I know how your thinking changes so I ask Heather if her desire
for a better world has become more intense - what’s her hope
for the future?
She answers with infectious optimism: “My hope is in continuing
to put the message out there - and my excitement is that more and
more people are going vegetarian. I try and convince my friends
because it’s about awareness, awareness, awareness. Two have
become vegetarian. Whenever anyone comes to our house and I cook,
they taste all these great things and they say if only they could
eat like that every day. I say ‘Well you can! Why can’t
you?’ but they often say they’re not very good cooks
or eat a lot of takeaways. I think it’s coming up with solutions
for the TV dinner people that’s the answer”
“There are more and more great convenience foods making
it easy for people to change – and so many people are. I
don’t really care how we manage to get them to go vegetarian – if
it’s for health like it was for me, they can then be educated
about saving the animals. I think it’s wonderful that you
run a health charity (Vegetarian & Vegan Foundation) and Viva!
for the animals because it means you reach people from different
perspectives. Sometimes I think you have you have to lead people
slowly and coerce them into trying lots of different veggie foods
so they know what to eat when they give up meat and fish.”
I wonder if anyone has made negative comments about Beatrice
“Because Paul and Linda did such a great job with
their kids - living proof that veggie children are really happy
and healthy - we haven’t had any comments about her not getting
her protein, and so on. But to be honest, we don’t mix with
people who would be that ignorant! If it happened, I’d use
my little shock tactics I learned at Hippocrates. ‘OK, you
kill a pig that’s likely to have been diseased and full of
antibiotics. And anyway, animal protein causes cancer” and
they’re like, ‘Eugh, god, I don’t even like taking
antibiotics when I’ve been to the doctor’s!’”
And if that story doesn’t work, she tells one much more
gross!: “Luckily it’s going out of fashion now but
when people who’ve been on the Atkins Diet complain about
stomach and colon problems, I tell them, ‘No wonder, meat – even
if it’s organic - just sits in the colon for years and years.
After I came out of hospital - before I went vegetarian, just before
I went to Hippocrates - I had to have colonic irrigation because
I hadn’t been to the loo for about six weeks. They said that
meat was coming out from five or six years ago! Putrefied meat
just sticks in the crevices. I go into all the gory details!”
If that imagery doesn’t work, nothing will!!
I turn to a more personal (if there is anything more personal
than that!) question – it’s about Paul’s first
wife, Linda, who cared so passionately for animals and did so much
for vegetarianism. I wondered if Heather worries about standing
up for animals because the media may distort and twist her motives
and accuse her of trying to step into Linda’s shoes?
As usual, Heather is open and honest: “Yes, I did initially
have concerns and at first I turned down work with animal charities
telling them that I had to stick to landmines and disability campaigns
because ‘that’s what I do and I don’t really
want to cross that line’. Sadly, even when I stuck to my
own charity, I was still slated so getting involved in vegetarianism
and animal rights is inviting the media to compare me with Linda.
I was wary but then a video came to me about the dog and cat fur
issue and seeing Alsatian puppies being skinned alive made me think
who gives a toss what they think, I’ve got to do something.”
If you’ve ever been in doubt about Heather’s commitment
to vegetarianism, forget it! She is a passionate and determined
fighter for animals who becomes animated and captivating about
“I decided that I’m a campaigner so can actually put
the animals’ voice out there and I couldn’t care less
what some media may say. If they slag me off for my charity work,
they’ll slag me off whatever I do!”
I asked Heather if she would honour Viva! by becoming a Patron?
She talked to Paul and quickly came back to me: “YES! I’m
the one being honoured.”
For Viva! it is fantastic to have a world renowned charity worker
on board – someone who can never be accused of caring only
for animals, not people. Through Heather’s landmine work,
she has seen atrocities that most of us couldn’t imagine.
She’s met children with shrapnel lodged in their head causing
excruciating headaches; infants who have had their hands chopped
off deliberately by soldiers; mothers whose legs have been torn
off as they planted food for their family. She has vigorously campaigned
to ban landmines and set up a charity to help the victims – organising
convoys to amputees in war torn zones bringing life-changing prostheses
to men, women, and children around the world. To date over 400,000
people have been helped. She is now focusing her energies on Adopt-A-Minefield,
a campaign that raises awareness and funds to clear landmines and
rehabilitates landmine survivors.
And Heather intends to use her position as ‘wife of a Beatle’ to
full effect for both people and animals! Completely unabashed when
asked about using her status as Paul’s wife to campaign,
she replies: “Oh yeah, both me and Paul have to use his fame
to focus on what’s important – because you can get
in any door when you’re with a Beatle! It just means we can
make things happen so that side of fame is very positive.”
That side?, I push! “You have to put up with the other side
too and it’s a huge other side, but I’m managing to
come to terms with it. I found it difficult at the beginning having
lies about me repeated over and over but now I can see the bigger
picture. I try not to get so devastated when people are cruel – no,
not people, the media because the public are great, and very supportive
but it’s not like it used to be.”
“At least now I can use my position to help Viva! and other
important causes. I love Viva!’s energy. Every time I contact
you and I need some information to push something forward, you’re
just so informed and you do such great work - you’re making
such a difference. Often Paul and I hear about ways that you’ve
changed people that you don’t even know about, that’s
why we love to support Viva!.”
And believe me, we appreciate it. What a team!