"We had a very naughty falcon, and a camel that was a bit nudgy with his neck!” laughs Suki Waterhouse, of her Harper’s Bazaar x Burberry shoot in the desert last month, for which we transformed the British model into a modern day Arabian princess – all wind-swept bohemia and sand-tousled tresses. But the animal antics were all part of the charm of the shoot, she says, as we catch-up once the sun has set at the Four Seasons over a dinner of rice, tabbouleh and grilled fish. She abandons cutlery in favour of fingers, and talks between scoops, yawns and sips of green tea. She is tired, her energy waning, having flown in that morning, with just two hours downtime before heading into the desert for a heat-hampered, sand-filled shoot.
But it’s nothing less than the 24-year-old model is accustomed to. In just 24 years, Suki Waterhouse has added model, actress, photographer and musician to her repertoire. She is the archetypal girl who wants to have it all. And somehow is pulling it off. Having been discovered in a London pub aged 16, she has since modelled for Tommy Hilfiger and Balenciaga, and become the face of Burberry, which is what lead her to Dubai, taking part in the Brit brand’s unveiling of its second Art of the Trench Middle East project.
Dress, Dhs19,995; sandals, Dhs3,195, both Burberry
She laughs when I ask what makes her ‘special’ in a world of a million wannabe models. “To be honest, I don’t know. I don’t look like a model, I’m two stone heavier than the average model, and I don’t think I have the body of a stereotypical model... But when I landed Burberry two and a half years ago, it was massive for me. Christopher [Bailey] was very much about having people who didn’t look like a model; people that want to do other things and have a creative life.” She attributes Burberry to her ‘pinch me moment’ of finally making it. “I remember when I had 50 castings a day and no one cares about you or who you are or what you have to say. Thanks to Burberry, I now have a voice.”
She calls modelling a great “lifting board” for her career but is quick to state that it’s certainly not the be all and end all of it. “It’s given me so much and I’m so grateful for that. When I was 16 it was perfect for me; I rebelled, I hated my parents, and it got me out of the house, allowed me to travel and be in control of myself. It’s something that will always be there, but there’s so much more that I want to do.”
Thus far, that means taking to the other side of the camera, for a 2013 photography exhibition entitled I’ll Be Your Mirror, for which she shot friends and fellow models, Cara Delevingne and Georgia May Jagger; writing and recording music – mainly still confined to her iPhone – for which she hopes to produce an album in the near future; and making her mark on the movie scene. Having already starred in 2015’s mega-hit, Insurgent, and this year’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, it’s the latter half of 2016 that will cement her cinematic star power.
Top, Dhs6,595; skirt, Dhs8,495; sandals, Dhs3,195, all Burberry
Also on the release schedule are Billionaire Boys Club with Kevin Spacey and Emma Roberts; Churchill with Stanley Tucci; and The Bad Patch with Jim Carrey and Keanu Reeves, out this summer. Quite the all-star-cast ensemble for a Hollywood rookie.
From the deserts of Dubai, Suki is heading to the Californian sunshine for Coachella (dressed in newly-purchased pieces from Dubai-based brand, Mochi), and then back to LA to start work on a film with James Franco. What’s it called, I ask? “I’m not sure. Why can’t I remember? It’s about a robot...” So many projects, so little time.
Suki is rather unassuming about her somewhat accidental rise to fame. Yes, she’s worked hard for the last eight years to get to where she is, but she hasn’t compromised who she is. She stands strong on her morals, is lovely and laissez-faire about fame and is clearly in it for the ride as much as the reward. “I don’t take what I do too seriously,” she says. “I mean, who defines the word ‘model’ anyhow? It gets so drummed into you about this image of what good looks are and what it’s meant to look like – that image of a stick thin person... I hate it and I just don’t care that much. It’s a bit of a ridiculous world. I think it’s much more punk rock to like your body and not care about things like putting on weight. I don’t have time to think about that. I eat when I need to and that’s it.”
Dress, Dhs16,495; sandals, Dhs3,195, both Burberry
Suki lists American zeitgeist actress/writer/director/producer phenomenon Lena Dunham as her role model pin-up – someone else who refuses to kowtow to societal norms about the female body. “She’s the ultimate. She writes her own stuff and ‘bam’… Amazing. I actually wrote her a poem once,” she laughs. “I saw her in a hotel with my sister and we wrote her this love letter.”
Eschewing a text book definition of what beauty is, for Suki, “It’s fully all about the vibe. Nothing more. Just someone that doesn’t change in different circles, someone who has their own set of ideas and morals...
I find that very interesting when people know about both their dark and light sides and have experimented with that enough to figure out what is going on, on a subconscious level. Beauty isn’t just about looks. I see it in everything. I’m surrounded by hot men all the time, who are beautiful, but I’m never actually attracted to them. Usually the hotter they are, the less personality they have.”
Margot Robbie does make the cut – “She’s a total badass” – as well as Emma Stone – “So funny, so witty, and completely on her own buzz” – smart girls who also just so happen to be easy on the eye. She doesn’t call herself a feminist as such, but respects the ideologies behind being one. “Of course it’s incredibly important and [women] still have a long way to go. Men are wonderful too and we need them, but there’s always been a thing about men having power and needing to overpower everything, but it’s not new and I don’t know if that’s ever going to stop. It reminds me of something once said by [American singer-songwriter] Patti Smith, that she had never had a problem with making a man feel more powerful or worshipping him, because she was so comfortable with herself and what she had going on. I like that. Really, what you want is equality."
With one last sip of green tea, and flick of her still sand-filled hair, Suki yawns and excuses herself. She has just a few hours’ kip before Christopher Bailey lands in Dubai, Burberry’s Art of the Trench party kicks off and Coachella comes calling. She’s tired, yes, but Suki is still a force to be reckoned with. Easygoing, somewhat indifferent, but all the cooler for it. An accidental face of our times.
Watch our exclusive behind-the-scenes video of our shoot with Suki below:
Prices approximate. Hair: Jehnna Mahoney. Make-up: Toni Malt. With thanks to Arabian Adventures A