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Interview

Brains, beauty and botanical brilliance: meet Rachel de Thame

June 25th 2015 / Anna Hunter

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She’s the face that graced the original ELEMIS campaigns, and 20 years later she’s working with the brand again, although in a different way altogether…

You may recognise Rachel de Thame. Perhaps you’re an avid Gardeners’ World fan, follow the floral action at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show or were paying VERY close attention to the Royal Barge at the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant (the botanical design was all Rachel’s doing). Maybe you recall her from her modelling era? Whether or not you’re familiar with horticulturist, broadcaster, writer and designer Rachel, she’s a free spirit and hard grafter who can be found knee deep in dirt or gracing the pages of a glossy at any given moment. She likes to keep things interesting, hence why she’s schooled in everything from ballet to art to, of course, horticulture, and she’s transformed from ELEMIS model to botanical expert for the brand, dreaming up floral displays and window boxes for the fresh new House of ELEMIS. Her skin still looks as glowing as the day she fronted ELEMIS (telling)- here’s how she combines a stellar career with getting her own garden off the ground, not to mention finding time to maintain beautiful skin against the elements.

You were the face that launched Elemis 20 years ago- were you always planning to become a horticulturist as well as a model?

Modelling was great and I was fortunate to work with some wonderful photographers, directors and clients, including ELEMIS. With two small children, it also offered the flexibility I needed with a young family, but my interest in horticulture pre-dates my modelling career, and I used to take gardening books with me on shoots. I wasn't actually thinking of it as a career at that point, but it was definitely already a passion. After ten years as a model, I decided to retrain, and it's wonderful to be working in a field I love.

Where did your passion for plants stem from?

Most definitely my parents and maternal grandmother. All three were interested in gardens and plants and their enthusiasm was infectious. As children, my three brothers and I were often taken on long family walks. I remember collecting and pressing leaves and flowers, and visiting the local plant nurseries, so I got hooked very young.

What aspect of your job do you love the most?

So many things! I love being able to travel the country visiting beautiful gardens and having access to some of our most stunning natural landscapes. I spend my days surrounded by exquisite and endlessly fascinating plants, trees and wild flowers. I particularly love meeting the people behind the plants, the owners, gardeners and specialist growers, who are invariably generous with their time and knowledge.

You’ve taken part in so many prestigious projects; from designing gardens for the RHS Chelsea Flower show to floral design for the Royal Barge on the occasion of the Thames Diamond Jubilee pageant- which project stands out in your mind as particularly exciting?

Though I'm not primarily a garden designer, design is definitely a small but important part of my work and I take it very seriously when I do have a project. The Royal Barge commission was undoubtedly the most extraordinary and exciting. I aimed to create something regal yet celebratory, and surround Her Majesty with beautiful and fragrant flowers. Also, being on the Royal Barge during the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant itself was a huge honour, and an experience I'll never forget.

Have you always been interested in using plant based beauty too?

Yes, I think it follows on naturally from my interest in plants. I spend all day with them, so why would I choose to smother my face and body in chemical based products when I go home?

How do you take care of your skin given that you spend lots of time outdoors? What’s your main priority?

It's true that I often get pretty battered by the elements, with strong sun, wind and rain an inevitable part of filming outdoors. So above all I look for a really good moisturiser - I've been loyal to ELEMIS Pro-Collagen Marine Cream, £80, for as long as I can remember, and as I get older am now discovering the Ultra-Rich version too. I also always make sure that my makeup has SPF protection. Another must when you're gardening is a first-rate hand cream. I've become completely addicted to ELEMIS Jasmine and Rose Hand and Nail Cream, £18. It smells lovely and makes my hands feel wonderful, so I always have several tubes on the go around the house and in my handbag.

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You have a very outdoorsy job- what’s your beauty routine? Has it changed drastically since your modelling days?

My beauty routine is definitely very simple and unfussy; there just isn't time with early starts and long days on location to spend hours on a beauty routine. Having said that I do make sure my skin is really clean at the end of the day (ELEMIS Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm, £39.50, is the one for me), and then moisturise. I expect a lot from the products I use and have remained loyal to those that are most effective, in some cases since my days as a model.

How about spa treatments- do you have a favourite? What would you book in for after a busy spell at work?

Spa treatments have to be the ultimate treat, and I do think it's good to pamper yourself occasionally - you can't help but feel like a new woman after the Exotic Coconut Rub and Milk Ritual Wrap or Float! But I also love the range of super-fast treatments and facials on offer at The Speed Spa and the House of ELEMIS, which only take 15 or 30 minutes out of your busy day, but make a huge difference to how you look and feel.

You trained in classical ballet- do you still love to exercise? How do you keep fit?

Having been a dancer I find normal gym workouts can be repetitive, even boring by comparison with ballet, so it can be hard to stay motivated. Fortunately, gardening is great exercise, as is running around after my kids and trying to balance work and family.

Does your love of plants extend to your diet?

I do enjoy salads, vegetables and fruit, especially if I've grown them myself and they're eaten fresh from the garden. But I have to confess to not being very good at cooking! As a result I either eat them raw, or hope my husband, who is a wonderfully creative cook, will make something delicious from the home-grown produce.

You have a garden plot at home in the country (plus four children!)- how do you tend to your own garden space around work? How does your personal taste come across in your own garden? Do your kids get involved with gardening?

I have a new garden, which is a larger space than anything I've tended previously. So my every waking moment when I'm not working is spent weeding, sowing, planting and harvesting. It's non-stop, but I love it! My kids certainly get involved, picking tomatoes and sugar-snap peas and eating them before I can get them back to the kitchen. I find children sometimes go off gardening when they become teenagers, but if you've put in the ground work while they're small, they always come back to it as adults.

You’re consulting on design and window boxes for the newly relaunched House of Elemis- what do you have in mind? How will you portray the brand’s ‘feel’ and heritage?

It was really important to me to capture something of the ELEMIS ethos by keeping the design simple, uncluttered, classic and elegant. For me it was about including plants that are sometimes used as ingredients in ELEMIS products, such as lavender, and keeping the palette of colours to a cool blend of blues and soft mauves, backed by the verdant foliage of an evergreen clipped box.

Finally, what’s your favourite way to relax?

I'm a shower person. So after a day filming or gardening, rather than soaking in a long bath, I love the splash of water on skin and lathering up with ELEMIS British Botanical Shower Cream, £24. I then put on something comfortable and cosy and curl up on the sofa with a book. Sheer bliss!

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Check out Rachel's floral designs for yourself on a visit to the House of ELEMIS

This feature was written in partnership with ELEMIS

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