'I was stressed, not eating properly and not getting enough sleep': Elle Macpherson on the health scare that made her reassess her lifestyle – and how she got The Body back to its best.
Story by: Karen Hockney
Article: YOU Magazine
She’s famous for having the ultimate supermodel physique, but it took a major health scare for the supermodel, now 51, to realise that her lifestyle was impacting on her health – and her looks. In an exclusive interview, she reveals what it took to bring The Body back to its beautiful best.
It's fair to say that Elle Macpherson has the Midas touch when it comes to business.
Since setting up her own company at the age of just 25 to channel her various business interests, the Australian-born model, lingerie designer, TV host, skincare line creator and health food entrepreneur now has a staggering seven-figure net worth (estimates range from £29 million to £62 million).
Along with her Amazonian figure – still defying the years at 51 – and youthful features, she could easily make the rest of us feel a little, well, inadequate.
However, she immediately overrides that perception, enveloping me in an affectionate hug, chatting about her day and showing off a spectacular green python-style belt she has just snapped up from socialite Debbie von Bismarck’s London shop.
She has flown into London (on Easyjet, FYI) fresh from a family holiday cruising around Italy with her husband of two years, American billionaire businessman Jeffrey Soffer, and their five children – her sons Flynn, 17, and Cy, 12, from her relationship with Swiss financier Arpad Busson, plus Jeff’s three children – and despite travel delays and a busy, appointment-packed day, she is relaxed, self-deprecating and witty.
Her wellness business WelleCo, which makes superfood powders and shakes, is going from strength to strength (celebrity devotees of her Super Elixir super greens include Kate Moss, Nick Grimshaw, Daisy Lowe and Kate Hudson) and she appears to be the perfect embodiment of her brand.
What the world doesn’t know, however, is that her move into nutrition was prompted by a health scare of her own when she discovered a lump in her breast on her 49th birthday.
‘I thought I had cancer,’ she reveals.
‘I was away shooting Britain and Ireland’s Next Top Model, so I couldn’t see my doctor and I was really panicking.
'It was four weeks before I got the biopsy results, so it was a long-drawn-out and stressful period of not knowing.
'I was lucky – it was a fibroadenoma [a benign growth of fibrous tissue], but it was a really big warning. I did some soul searching and realised that maybe I was taking the wrong vitamins and minerals, not eating properly and was too stressed.’
At the time, she was flying regularly between London, Australia, New York and Los Angeles and sleeping for just three to four hours a night.
‘I’d put the boys to bed at 9 or 10pm and work until 2am because that was the only quiet time,’ she admits.
‘Then I’d get up at 6am. I did that for years. I thought I was incredibly productive; I didn’t realise I was burning out my adrenals and hurting myself just from not getting enough sleep.
'The first thing I’d put into my body each morning was an espresso to kick-start my day.
‘I was eating and exercising the same as always but my body was numb and unresponsive.
'I experienced imbalanced digestion, fatigue, listlessness and my joints ached.’
Elle’s symptoms seemed to chime with the perimenopause.
‘I was approaching 50 and it seemed normal that my body would be adapting to the next phase of maturity.
'I decided that if I was to maintain my body, it had to come from the inside. It wasn’t going to come from only putting creams on my face, and I’m not one who can mess about with plastic surgery at this point.’
Elle went to see Harley Street nutritionist Dr Simone Laubscher, who advised her to stop taking synthetic supplements and start an alkaline diet.
‘She said, “What you are describing is a very acidic body”,’ Elle recalls.
‘Disease thrives in an acidic body, and I didn’t realise that stress, worry, jet lag, not getting enough sleep and eating too much red meat, dairy or not enough greens can make your body acidic.’
Dr Laubscher devised a personalised blend of super greens (including barley grass, wheat grass and spirulina) for her.
‘I started sleeping more, woke up with more water, ate less red meat, added more fruit and vegetables and within weeks I felt like a completely different person,’ she acknowledges.
‘I didn’t realise how these relatively small changes to my routine could make me feel and look so much better.’
Elle set up WelleCo after her health scare, with her Australian business partner Andrea Bux.
She gave Andrea some of the personalised super greens Dr Laubscher was making for her and the trio started working with a team of doctors in Australia to pioneer one all-encompassing super supplement – a combination of 45 key ingredients including vitamins, minerals, Chinese herbs and digestive enzymes.
This became The Super Elixir, and was followed last summer by The Super Elixir Nourishing Protein powder.
She now starts each day with warm water and fresh lemon juice. (Lemon is acidic on its own but, say ‘alkaline’ devotees, is alkaline when metabolised and boosts the immune system, aids digestion and flushes out toxins.) Elle follows this with her own Super Elixir alkalising greens, mixed with coconut water or plain iced water.
‘I’ve had an extraordinary couple of years,’ says Elle, who now divides her time between homes in Miami and London.
‘I married in 2013, and WelleCo celebrated its first birthday in May this year. I didn’t expect it to be so successful.
'Last year we stopped advertising and just let our customers tell their stories and it’s been the most powerful thing we could have done.’
Elle grew up in Killara, on Sydney’s North Shore, and started modelling at 18, leaving the Ford modelling agency in 1989 when she was 25 to set up Elle Macpherson Inc.
Nicknamed ‘The Body’ for gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated a record five times, she enjoyed early business success with her Elle Macpherson Intimates lingerie collection (launched in 1990) and The Body skincare products, but it’s WelleCo that’s now her passion.
In order to put some science behind The Super Elixir (‘rather than just say how much we love it,’ she says), WelleCo ran clinical trials last spring, taking advice from a close friend of Elle’s who specialises in brain cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
‘We needed to stand by all the feel-good feedback we were getting from people who tried our alkalising greens, but also provide something more tangible,’ explains Elle.
Dr Laubscher ran trials on 50 patients over eight weeks, across 84 different biomarkers including blood, iron levels, cholesterol levels and liver function.
‘The results are incredible,’ says Elle.
‘Dr Laubscher recorded pH levels changing from acid to alkaline in 95 per cent of patients, while 91 per cent saw an improvement in their overall physical appearance, 95 per cent [said they] had more energy and woke up more refreshed and 88 per cent lost body fat.’
The Super Elixir Nourishing Protein powder came from Elle’s desire for a clean protein supplement to encourage tissue growth and repair and prevent the metabolism from becoming sluggish, energy levels dropping and blood sugar levels fluctuating causing carbohydrate and sugar cravings.
‘Protein powders are usually gritty, whey-based and can bloat,’ she says.
‘I get wind, my muscles get bulky and I become dehydrated if I take them.
'The Super Elixir Nourishing Protein is an alkalising base of pea and sprouted brown rice protein with all nine amino acids sourced from the smoothest organic ingredients.
‘If I come home very late from work, then – rather than going to bed on an empty stomach or eating the kids’ leftovers – I’ll make a protein shake.
'Skipping a meal is the worst thing for the body so if I don’t have time to eat I’ll add my protein powder to some almond milk with banana and berries.’
In addition to her renewed health and her business success, her relationship with Jeffrey is clearly contributing to Elle’s happiness.
She was married for three years in the 1980s to photographer Gilles Bensimon (they are still good friends), and spent ten years with Arpad Busson, splitting from him in 2005.
She started dating Jeffrey four years later and although they split up briefly, they were reunited in 2012 after he was injured when the helicopter he was flying crashed in the Bahamas.
The couple wed in August 2013 in Fiji and she is clearly relishing marriage and step-parenthood.
‘It’s great having a partner who likes to do sports with me,’ says Elle.
‘My husband likes to water ski, paddleboard, snow ski, hike and spin, so we do a lot of that together in the mornings when we can, or at the weekends. Laughter is very important to us too.
‘We are both hands-on parents although we parent very differently at times. We are deeply committed to our own and each other’s children and their education.
'We have a great understanding – the children come first, and this brings us closer together. Step-parenting is wonderful, it’s a true honour and requires a very open heart.’
Naturally, Elle is passing on the lessons she has learnt about nutrition to her brood.
‘My children are very conscious of the way food affects their bodies but they don’t always choose to observe it,’ she says.
‘If my eldest son is wheezing a lot, he knows it’s caused by eating too much monosodium glutamate so he can’t have salt and vinegar crisps.
'I have a stepdaughter who is a mess whenever she eats wheat. She has pizza occasionally even though she knows how bad she feels afterwards but she still enjoys the moment. They know what they should be eating, and that’s all you need to teach them.
‘My 15-and 17-year-old stepdaughters take The Super Elixir and my 17-year-old son now takes it religiously, too.
'He starts his school day with double physics and his teacher always joked that he was brain dead in the morning! He has found that The Super Elixir helps him feel more alert and focused.
'His verdict is, “You’d take it too, if you had double physics first thing every day.”
'My younger son is excited about the children’s version of Nourishing Protein, which is launching soon, and is on our tasting panel.’
Recent tabloid rumours claimed the couple were considering surrogacy but Elle dismisses the reports, saying: ‘I am so blessed with our family and we have our hands delightfully full as it stands. Surrogacy is not a consideration for now.
'I saw a TV sketch set in a newspaper office where a young journalist says, “I have some new images of Elle Macpherson.” The editor says, “Does she look tired, old, bloated?” The girl says, “No, she looks great.” The editor says, “Hmm… wrinkly knees. Circle the knees and say the knees give it away – 50 going on 100!” I laughed so hard. It’s typical tabloid press. One week it’s surrogacy, the next it’s knees!’
Relentlessly positive, her philosophy is simple: when life throws you lemons, make lemonade.
‘I’ve been in a good place throughout my life,’ she says. ‘Even the difficult times have been good places because they are learning opportunities.
'Sometimes it just looks a bit messy from the outside when I’ve been reorganising on the inside.
'I don’t see experiences as being positive or negative, they are just experiences and I can learn from them all.’
Her mantra is a strong belief in love and good health and she adds: ‘I write gratitude lists to remind myself that I am incredibly lucky.
'Having said that, as everyone who works and has a family knows, it requires commitment, patience, flexibility and determination.
'I definitely don’t always get it right – but I keep the faith!’
Clearly, it works for her. She glows with vitality and, on the day we meet, looks effortlessly chic in skinny Dsquared jeans, black pointy flats, a loose black T-shirt and black cardigan topped with an electric-blue fake-fur shrug. She enjoys dressing up for special occasions but is happiest in jeans and a T-shirt and confesses that her style has changed as she has got older.
‘When I was younger I probably dressed more freely, but today I don’t feel the need to dress like my teenage stepdaughters.’
And she still looks phenomenal in a bikini.
‘I wear the same simple Melissa Odabash bikinis I have always worn,’ she says, adding, ‘but I haven’t been photographed naked since my boys were born.
'There’s nothing wrong with being naked, but being photographed nude is not a consideration for now. Can you imagine the boys’ horror?’