Heather Mills Goes Global
Some celebrities buy islands others private jets but Viva!'s patron has just bought the Redwood Wholefood factory. Tony Wardle tries to keep up with this vegan whirlwind Heather Mills can be exhausting! After looking through her diary and travel schedule you feel a desperate need to go home and lie down. At any given time she has more balls in the air than a juggler, travel plans that would phase Marco Polo and a string of negotiations so complex that even Sir Alan would be unable to resist a smile of admiration and a shout of, "You're hired!". Get Heather going on any one of her current projects and you'll be washed away with her enthusiasm and overwhelmed with detail because these are no hands-off operations. They are Heather's ideas, her own dreams she's trying to fulfil and it is she who is driving them forward with a tireless efficiency and an absolute belief in the old maxim that if you want something done, do it yourself. And what's it all for? Certainly not glitzy first nights, a new perfume launch or celebrity posturing. It's about trying to save the world - and, believe me, that isn't hyperbole! We now know that over fishing and livestock are, quite literally, destroying the planet. And so does Heather: "Just about all the campaigns I've been involved with have eventually been successful. You have to ride the roller coaster, take the ups and downs but eventually you get there. What I would really like to see is people being educated and making conscientious choices, thinking, 'Okay, what would be good for my family, the animals and good for the planet?' It is without any argument eating a vegan diet. It's as simple as that!" The truth is, Heather is sinking just about everything she's got into doing something to materialise her vision. If her plans were to go pear shaped, it would constitute one of history's most magnificent failures - something Brits seem to excel at. I say "if" because Heather Mills doesn't do failure! The European ban on barbarically obtained Chinese cat and dog fur and Canadian baby seal pelts are both campaigns she's given her energies to and won so the portents are good. Just as well considering she is about to go global! One way to do it, she believes, is with vegan mock meats. An excellent cook herself, she has literally put her money where her mouth is in order to provide it. Over scouring the globe, she found what she was looking for in Taiwan. "It was great fun tasting all those different products but I put on 14lb in weight - not good as I have to remain the same weight because my prosthetic leg is made to measure." Determined that her food would be healthy, Heather changed the recipe to include less salt, sugar and fat and got rid of the whey, that ubiquitous by-product of cheese making, but retained the original flavour. No mean feat! Next step was to mimic the burgers, nuggets and fillets that meat and fish eaters are used to. Again, not easy. A lifelike prawn substitute containing sweetener obtained from leaves of the Stevia plant is acceptable in the US but not the UK. It's harmless so Heather intends to get the law changed. Whoops - another ball up in the air! While all this was going on, other elements of the plan were laboriously being negotiated; manufacturing capacity in the US and Europe in order to minimise the environmental impact of transporting huge quantities of products around the globe (Heather doesn't think small). In Britain, it's a done deal, and in mid June, Heather bought out our dear old midlands friends, the Redwood Wholefood Co. (all staff remain in place). In the US, negotiations continue. The name of this new range of foods is B@One and I'm definitely lovin' it! This is the corporate name under which different product names will appear. While all this was going on Heather was redesigning, developing a menu and establishing an image for her V-Bites vegan restaurant in Hove, which also comes under the B@One banner. Sited at Hove lagoon, alongside the sea, it will hopefully be the first of many cafes franchised around the world - there's no point in saying where because with Heather Mills, it could be anywhere she can make it happen. When I interviewed Tony Benn he reckoned that if he dived into a river to save a drowning child it would be reported as "Benn Grabs Kid". Heather, of course, knows all about being on the wrong side of the press. They even ran a piece claiming that she had ripped off the previous owner of her café by slashing the asking price. The asking price ignored the huge dilapidations that were uncovered. Sensible business I would have thought! If you're a parent, V-Bites is the real job, it seems. It has a crèche, a family room and a general restaurant area, complete with a screen showing black and white silent movies. Shattered nerves can be soothed with a glass of Sauvignon. The menu will be international but the real show-stopper is the moving track (a la sushi) that carries cakes and pastries past diners, allowing them to select their fancy. Kids will love it! "I'm making just about every combination so we've got gluten-free cakes, sugar free cakes, everybody can eat really healthily but you can also be indulgent - I like a bit of indulgence!" Kids, of course, can be incredibly picky where food's concerned so to subject your new products to a taste test by 1,500 of them, is leading with your chin. That's what Heather did in New York's Bronx. "I was asked to a meeting with Hunts Point Alliance for children because they have some of the highest rates of obesity, asthma, diabetes and so in and wanted to understand healthier eating. The Bronx is just 15 minutes from the wealthiest area of New York and I was shocked by it - honestly, I haven't seen anything like it since I went to Cambodia. I simply couldn't believe it! "Most families have no money, kids live below the poverty line and there's only a small allocation for school lunches. If they've got only a dollar a day to spend, they'll buy a 99c burger from McDonalds. "Ironically, at Hunts Point is one of the biggest food distribution centres in the whole of New York State so I had meetings with the heads of the fruit and veg service and asked them if they would donate food to the children. They said they had tried but were prevented by the bureaucracy. "I decided we'd do a high profile event there and draw press attention so I did a cookery day and fed 1,500 kids with vegan beef burgers and chicken burgers and not one of them knew they weren't meat. "It's now public knowledge that I donated a million dollars to provide free food for some years ahead, got the fruit and veg at cost price to go with the meatless meats and a café has opened where the kids can eat for free and seems to have helped pull the place together with the media really behind it now. "The kids there are incredibly intelligent, fantastic kids who've just not had a chance in life and I fell in love with them. One is now my little girl's best friend and she comes for sleepovers every time we're over there. "The reason I did this in New York is because every time I tried something in the UK it was just slated. How sad that the UK isn't going to benefit the way the US now is." True to form, the rambling queen, Janet Street Porter, wrote scathingly: "There are plenty of deprived communities in her native land!" Sure are, Janet, just a pity you don't use your vitriolic little column to help them! I suspect the US Congressional Award that Heather was given as a result of the Hunts Point initiative probably outweighs Street Porter's spite. All this in 18 months would, you'd think, probably be enough for most people but not Ms Mills. She has run tutorials on vegan cooking with chef's from some of the toppest of top restaurants, planned and hosted the US Farm Sanctuary Gala dinner in New York, set up a stylish, recycled clothes business with its first fashion show on August 28, is working on a cookery book, has done cookery demonstrations to a full house at the Incredible Veggie Show and, of course, will be attending Viva!'s Summer fund-raising dinner on September 5. The there's her extraordinary participation in Dancing With the Stars - for which fee, grateful thanks from Viva! For me, this sums up Heather Mills - a near-death accident and the loss of a lower leg but no self pity and immediately back to being an amazing disco diva and near pro skier who's prepared to go on TV in front of millions to compete with able-bodied dancers. Somehow, the word disabled just doesn't apply to Heather and this extraordinary positivity must be like penicillin to the young amputees she helps counsel. "I've always loved dancing but my biggest fear was being the first voted off? The press would have loved it. In fact, I was the second-last woman left and raised awareness and inspired confidence in lots of kids so it was like going on holiday for me." Extraordinarily, all these things have been achieved almost on a part-time basis! Heather and Paul share the care of their five-year-old daughter Beatrice, week and week about and the only time Heather works is when Bea is with her dad or at school. With so much on her plate, why does Heather Mills still value her association with Viva!? "For me it's the best as far as animals, health, education and campaigning go - the whole shebang charity - the best I've ever worked with anywhere. At the time of my divorce I was working with several big charities and Viva! was the one I'd helped the least. The ones I'd helped the most dumped me as soon as the separation was announced, which shocked me". "What I loved about Viva! was that Juliet (Viva!'s founder and director) refused to make it about me and Paul but continued to focus on the animals, kids and health and all the other things Viva! campaigns on. It was the issues first and personalities second." Heather's Geordie accent reminds you that she is a lass from Newcastle whose early years were pretty dire. Now she has Hillary Clinton singing her praises on her website! The incredible closeness of her sisters Fiona and Claire and brother Shane feels a bit like the Famous Four - prepared to take on the world. Take it on and give it a right good seeing to!