Although Catherine Bailey hasn't done much commercial modelling for 20 years, few can be more accustomed to having a lens pointed in their direction.
Her husband, David Bailey, has snapped her, filmed her (he even made a South Bank Show about her) and recorded their life together ever since they met on an Avon Calendar shoot 25 years ago. He has taken erotic pictures of her; pictures of her gardening; while pregnant; he even filmed her in labour.
'He has a camera with him at all times,' she says. 'If he sees something he likes, he takes a picture.' Historically, Bailey's women - Shrimpton, Deneuve, Helvin - acted as his muses but they never had his children; never changed their names (actually he didn't marry Shrimpton). Catherine, perhaps the calmest woman I have ever met, is the quiet half of a partnership that continues to work, without any scandal or hiccup.
Bailey is constantly referred to as a former womaniser because of his high-profile list of conquests. But you date who you meet and photographers meet models. For many years Catherine was his 'fourth wife' [there was an early marriage to a Rosemary Bramble] rather than just his 'wife' but she was never unduly concerned about his reputation, realising that such panic could never be anything but counterproductive. 'I am not a jealous person,' she says. 'It's just too disruptive. It eats you up and destroys things so it's better to throw it away if you can.' But after bringing up their three children, Catherine is poised for her comeback. Having joined the books of London agency ICM, she is waiting to see whether work finds her. Seasoned now, though still ravishing at 45, she has a fairly relaxed attitude to modelling. 'Things get put into perspective as you get older,' she says, pointing out the little laughter lines around her orb-like eyes. 'When you are 19 or 20, you take things personally and you feel that you've been rejected because you're not a good person or you're ugly, but when you grow up, you realise that sometimes you are not right for the job. I know my limitations now.' Her face appears to be as naturally hawk-like as God intended. Her brow is too expressive to have been paralysed by Botox and her cheeks aren't unnaturally taut. She believes that a good photographer and subtle retouching will do her more favours than surgery. 'It just almost always looks weird,' she says. 'Although I swore I'd never colour my hair and I'm doing that.' Long dark hair is as much her trademark as long blonde is Jerry Hall's. Caught up in a band, it swings like a horse's tail as she quietly goes through the stylist's choice of clothes for her.
She was nearly 20 and had been modelling for a year when she met Bailey, then in his early forties. 'I was scared of him but I did like him because he was definitely a positive force, and he was so funny and lovely.' Although he's a little grizzled now, it is still possible to see that Bailey was also a handsome man. They even look a little alike, which Catherine noticed suddenly while trying to establish which of them their children resembled.
They collaborated constantly on shoots and commercials and, from the start, Catherine worked quietly and received no special dispensation. 'I always understood that it's difficult for him, and if he's trying to work with lots of people then the last thing he needs is to pander to me and make sure I'm all right. It's not fair to give someone personal grief when they're in charge and working. And I also know not to take the baggage home.' This is not to say that she is any sort of pushover when the lens cap is on.
Catherine Bailey was born in Zambia. Her father, an architect, had answered an advertisement for a government job building up colonial Africa, and her mother, spurred on by the spirit of adventure, was keen for him to take up the position. The couple made the move in 1952. 'My mother liked the idea of Africa,' says Catherine, 'but she loathed the reality. …