Former Miss England. Miss World contestant. Model, DJ, photographer and, erm, knitted monster-maker. ‘It doesn’t matter what it is, if I want to do it, I’ll do it,’ the multi-talented Sally Kettle tells Gemma Peplow.
Sitting in a swanky London bar, surrounded by suited businessmen and ladies doing Champagne lunches, Sally Kettle opens up her handbag to reveal several balls of wool and a half-finished knitted monster.
I’m not quite sure what I was expecting her to show me. Something on her phone, perhaps. Maybe an interesting magazine article, or a really good half-eaten sandwich she’s been saving for later. These are the things you’re likely to find on me on any given day, along with some tangled-up earphones, at least three lip balms and a load of out-of-date Boots vouchers.
So I don’t know what I was expecting from Sally. But I certainly wasn’t expecting a half-finished knitted pink wool monster, complete with big needles and balls of pink wool, followed by the low-down on the technique she used to make it.
Sally works as a model by day, a DJ by night. And sometimes, although not as often now her music career has taken off, she works as a photographer, too.
She doesn’t get a lot of spare time but, when she does, she likes to knit; specifically woollen monsters. It’s the first of many things that might surprise you about Sally. Former Miss England. Miss World contestant. Model, DJ, photographer.
You hear those words, see her face, and you might form an opinion. That tends to happen, she says. It’s happened a lot throughout her life; it’s perhaps par for the course when you’re a beautiful, 5ft 10in woman who works as a model, but she’s always happy to prove people wrong.
She likes to knit monsters, which she donates to raise money for charity. She also likes fishing (but only, she says, if she’s going to eat her catch). She’s always striving to learn new things. Next on her list: mechanics (she owned a Harley Davidson until a few years ago), and maybe plastering. “Because we’re doing up our house, and plastering’s expensive. I mean, I’m not tight, but I’m savvy. Why pay someone else to do it when you can do it yourself?”
This has been Sally’s attitude from an early age. Instilled in her by her dad, Paul – a self-made businessman who supplies shoes to high street stores – it’s why she’s succeeded in everything she’s put her mind to.
Modelling has taken her round the world and to 86 magazine covers (and counting). Photography has taken her from Leicester Tigers to Olympic athletes to Hilton hotels to coffee tables across Europe. Her DJing has scored her gigs for the Ab Fab wrap party, Cannes Film Festival and London Fashion Week, as well as gigs with the likes of Brandon Block, Judge Jules and Pete Tong.
So yes. There’s definitely a lot more to Sally Kettle than just a pretty face.
We start with the modelling, because that’s where it all began. At the age of 14, after training with Leicester’s Pat Keeling agency, Sally was scouted by a booker from Boss Models who came to visit. It wasn’t long before she was whisked to London to spend the school summer holidays living in a model flat, attending castings and photo-shoots and booking jobs. For a teenager from Rothley, it was another world.
“I suppose I could have gone two ways,” she says. “But I was very grown-up for my years. I was to be trusted, let’s say. I was very focused. I didn’t get swept away.”
And then, after the summer holidays, she would return to Our Lady’s Convent School, in Loughborough, to continue her studies.
Her fledgling modelling career didn’t go down well with all of her classmates.
“I was teased and I was physically bullied by one girl,” she says. “I remember two girls saying they couldn’t believe I was a model; that I was ugly, and that they were going to write to the magazine complaining.”
That’s what she remembers being scared of, she says. That they would complain, and someone high up would think she hadn’t done a good job.
“I’ve always taken work very seriously, whatever I’ve done, and I always strived to make sure I did a good job. I never wanted to get a complaint. I wanted that seal of approval, I’d go that extra mile to make people like me.”
Sally smiles. “Now I’m older I know who I am, I don’t think I need to change for anyone. But then… I suppose it was quite tough. I wouldn’t say I was bullied at school, but I was teased.
“You remember everything from that time, don’t you? But I definitely think it does mould you into being tougher, which I don’t think is a bad thing. Saying that, I do wear my heart on my sleeve.”
After her GCSEs, Sally went to Leicester College to study beauty therapy and exercise (she’s also a qualified aerobics instructor), leaving home to live in the city at the same time. Then, aged 18, she moved to London to pursue her modelling career, gracing the covers of most of the ’90s teen magazines, including More, Just Seventeen and Bliss. “It was mainly magazine work,” she says. “I’m a size 10 so I wasn’t thin enough for Fashion Week. I mean, I did do fashion shows, but not that sort of thing.”
Weight. It’s the subject that always comes up when you talk about modelling, isn’t it?
How does it feel to be told you’re not thin enough?
“I went through an old scrapbook when I was moving house recently. I’ve got 86 magazine covers. Hopefully I’ll get some more. This has worked for a lot of people. I’m doing all right.”
But it’s different now, though, isn’t it? When you’re a confident, settled 33-year-old woman with 86 magazine covers under your size-10 belt. Surely it hurts when you’re a teenager just starting out?
“I was fine with it. When I was 18, I had a casting with a Japanese client. I don’t know if it’s still the same, but they wanted you skinny. Skinny. I casted in my bikini and I remember she looked at me, giggled behind her hand and said: ‘He he, you’re so fat.’
“I just rose above it, smiled, took my portfolio from her hands, thanked her and confidently walked out… there was nothing else to say and I knew I wasn’t fat. Unfortunately, the Japanese model industry require models to be a size 6 and for them still to be 5ft 9in.
“I’ll never forget it but it didn’t bother me. I knew I was slim. Not a stick insect, but slim. I’ve always had hips. I’ve never bothered enough about my weight to be ill over it, let’s put it that way. Don’t get me wrong, I’m conscious about it and you have to look after yourself – probably more now I’m older. But I never lost weight for anyone.
“If I wasn’t getting work or earning money I might have thought more about it, but I was.
“I wouldn’t change myself. Fine, I have my hair highlighted, but I don’t get my teeth done, I’ve not had surgery. If you want bigger boobs, find someone else. If you want someone thinner, find someone else. That’s always been my attitude.”
People sometimes assume, when they see Sally behind the decks, that she’s been put there to look beautiful. It does happen, she says; models or celebrities being asked to turn DJ to increase a night’s glam factor.
And there’s no denying Sally brings that to the turntable. But she’s also been honing her skills since she was 14, when she first got behind the decks owned by her mate, David, who had explicitly told her: “DON’T TOUCH THE DECKS”.
“I should probably go on Facebook and find him to thank him, because that’s where it all started. He went downstairs to get a drink and said I couldn’t touch them. Well, that was like a red rag.”
Sally was bought her own decks for her 17th birthday, “and became a bedroom DJ for about three or four years”.
Weekends, she says, when she wasn’t modelling, were spent buying vinyl.
“I was following Lisa Lashes and Anne Savage and was into hard house, like hard, techno house at the time. I was 18.”
Sally played her first club in Dover Street, London, when she was 20.
“I did an hour set and just got the buzz for it. Being in a club, entertaining people, providing the atmosphere, their pleasure; I loved it.”
Modelling by day, DJing by night, she started picking up residencies and other gigs. People – men – started to take her seriously.
“It is a male-orientated industry but I think now you’re starting to see a turn,” she says. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s still not half women. Not at all. But we are being more recognised, more mainstream, and as producers.
“I think I’ve definitely become more accepted. There are models who get put in to look pretty, who can’t actually DJ. That does happen, so I definitely got judged.
“One time I was about to get on the decks and some guy asked if I knew how to DJ. I told him to wait until he’d heard me play before judging me. At the end of the night he was still dancing…”
Mostly, she says, people don’t mean any harm by it. She’ll smile politely and carry on.
“Kill them with kindness, I say. The proof is in the pudding. If people are dancing, that’s my job done.”
Sally is happy to admit it works both ways.
“I’ve done well because I know how to DJ,” she says, “but I also got my foot in the door probably because people thought ‘she’s an all right looking bird’. But if I was no good, I wouldn’t have continued to be successful. I scrub up okay, but I’m also good at my job.”
It was Sally’s determination to prove people wrong that sparked her interest in photography, too.
Having worked in front of the camera, she was keen to try her hand behind it.
Sally’s pictures of former international swimming star Mark Foster and, below, Leicester Tigers favourites Martin Castrogiovanni, George Chuter and Boris Stankovich
“I’ll tell you how it started. I was walking past a charity shop and I saw a 35mm camera, with lenses and a tripod and bag. I just wanted it. I thought: ‘I don’t know how to do it, but I want to, and I’m going to learn.’”
Sally enrolled on a course; one night a week, for 22 weeks. “Don’t think of photography as a career,” the course leader told the students. “It’s too competitive. Think of it as a hobby.”
“It doesn’t matter what it is, if I want to do it, I’ll do it,” says Sally, “and I’ll do it bigger and better than the person who tells me I can’t.”
She doesn’t think it’s the modelling that’s instilled that in her, although, surely, having people thinking all you’re good for is a pretty face must make you want to prove them wrong?
Maybe a bit, she says. But she puts it more down to being dyslexic.
“I was crap at school,” she says. “I grew up thinking I was stupid. I want to show I’m capable. I am capable. I love a challenge.
“The modelling… I don’t know. Maybe it’s that as well.”
You can’t win, can you, when you have model looks? You can’t say you know you’re beautiful, yet you can’t deny it, either.
“I’m not terrible-looking, I know that, but I would never say I was beautiful. I think I can scrub up well with the right make-up and right hair.
“But there’s substance to me, there’s more going on on the inside.”
Sally took the contacts she had made through modelling and seized them for her photography. “Again, modelling opened that crack in the door, but once you’re through you still have to prove yourself. People are expecting you to fail but you prove them otherwise.”
It’s nearly time to go. Sally pats her bag, telling me she’ll be doing her knitting on the train home.
“I started nearly four years ago. I saw a pattern for a dachshund and I wanted to make one. Mum taught me the basics and I watched videos online. I love it. It calms me down… Oh, I shouldn’t be saying all this should I? I’m supposed to be cool.”
She laughs. “Seriously, I love it. What else am I going to do when I’m on the train? I don’t want to be permanently on my phone.”
So where did the monsters come in? Don’t most knitters knit hats and scarves and maybe the odd pair of baby boots?
“Well, I did knit my husband, Chris, a hat for Christmas, but it took me bloomin’ ages.
“All my friends now have knitted monsters. They came from a book Chris bought me and I just loved them. I don’t even need a pattern any more.
“Now, I knit them to raise money for charities. When I lived in Teddington – I’ve lived all over London – I had an elderly neighbour called Jean. She was a massive part of my life until she passed away last year. She was 83, and my partner in crime; the strongest-minded person I’ve ever met.”
Sally stops, welling up. “Sorry, I’ve got such fond memories. Anyway, what I meant to say was that I sold some for the hospice where she died.
“They raised £500. Now, me and my husband raise money for charity whenever we can.”
We’ve been talking for two hours. “It’s been a bit like therapy,” Sally laughs.
After this, she’ll be heading back to her recording studio at home in Wandsworth. That’s her latest project, she says. Following the release of her first track, Get Down, last year, she’s itching to do more.
Plus, there’s those plastering and mechanics courses to get stuck in to. “I’m a massive petrol-head. I had my Harley Davidson until a few years ago and I love cars, motor sport, engines. And I want to learn basic mechanics because, well, when my car goes wrong, it costs me a fortune.”
Apart from all that, Sally is concentrating on her DJing and modelling.
“Photography, it depends on the job, but I’m so busy with the other stuff now. I do lots for QVC now, which is a laugh, and I do lots of catalogue stuff. I’ve been with the MOT agency now for 11 years and they’ve really looked after me. I’ve got a lot to thank them for.”
Does it get harder to find modelling work, the older you get?
“It changes, the work changes, but I still get lots of work. I’ve always been girl next-door, always the smiley girl, I’ve never been alien-looking or edgy. There’s always work for me. It doesn’t have to stop.
“Modelling will always be my go-to if things go quiet when I’m older. There are models in their 50s, 60s at QVC. There’s always demand. So now, yeah, that’s what I’m doing. Modelling, DJing more, camera on standby. Doing up the house.”
Before I go, she says, there’s one thing she says she hopes people will get out of this interview.
“I’ve chopped and changed and done lots of things with my life. I was crap at school. School taught me manners and etiquette, but I wasn’t academic.
“I hope I can show that anyone can do whatever they want, if they put their mind to it. There is a bit of luck, I know, there are doors that open. But it’s about grasping opportunities.
“That’s all I’ve ever done.”
Sally Kettle. Model. DJ. Photographer. Opportunity-grasper.
And she makes a mean knitted monster, too.
Read more: http://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/Sally-Kettle/story-28736969-detail/story.html
Follow us: @Leicester_Merc on Twitter | leicestermercury on Facebook