Rosie Huntington‑Whiteley: ‘You’ve got to be tough, you’ve got to be a boss’

The supermodel, mother and, now, founder of a beauty empire has her sights set on your make‑up bag — and she means business

Laura Pullman - The Sunday Times

Rosie Huntington-Whiteley has just seen herself in her laptop camera. “My God, I look so dehydrated because I’ve been up all night, huffing and puffing, all sweaty,” she says over Zoom, explaining that her rented cottage in Cornwall has no air conditioning. Sleep or no sleep during a sweltering spell, the supermodel-turned-entrepreneur is glowing through the screen. Of all the video calls in all the pandemic months, this is the first where I’m so mesmerised by the other person’s appearance — those pillowy lips, feline eyes and razor cheekbones — that I don’t critique my own.

I’m interviewing Huntington-Whiteley, 34, about the first product line with Rose Inc, her burgeoning beauty company, and she lights up explaining how the collection, which includes a concealer, brow gel, blusher, lip crayon and two skincare products, is about “instant, visible results”.
Staring at her face I’m already sold, but she laughingly admits: “I’m talking to you without a scrap of make-up on.” It’s fair enough — she’s on holiday with her fiancé (“I hate that word”), Jason Statham, and their four-year-old son, Jack, and it’s only breakfast time.
She has already impressed industry insiders with the Rose Inc website, which she started in 2018 and is stuffed with beauty articles, interviews and tutorials. Huntington-Whiteley might have 13.1 million Instagram followers, but this isn’t another tale of a power-pulling celebrity whacking their name on a lip-plumping gloss to make a quick buck: this product launch is a years-in-the-making career move by a model who has spent almost two decades learning tricks in the make-up chair (and long wrestled with her own adult acne) and is now determined to work on her own terms.
“I said to my partner [Caroline Hadfield, Rose Inc’s CEO and a distinguished force in the industry] from day one, ‘I want to approach this as a founder. I don’t want to be sitting in a meeting with you once a month doing a bunch of approvals,’” she says, adding that she ruled out naming the company after herself. “I didn’t want a celebrity brand, not that there’s anything wrong with that.” The 10-piece collection, which starts from £14 and will be stocked at Space NK, has that Instagrammable millennial minimalist feel to it. The concealer is set to be a hit for covering dark circles without caking. “I’ve tried so many that sink into lines. I’m particularly excited for people to try this.” Huntington-Whiteley has also opted for “refillable products” where possible, as sustainability is a pillar for the brand, she says. And who is it for? “It’s for all those life moments — parents buying their teenager their first make-up products or older women looking to update their 20-year make-up routine,” she says. This is just the start, though. “There’s more coming at the end of the year.”
A contract with Victoria’s Secret from 2006 to 2010 sent her into the stratosphere, with her becoming an Angel in her last year walking for the label’s tits’n’glitz televised catwalk shows. Back then, the lingerie company was riding high; now it’s fighting to reinvent itself in a post-#MeToo world. “It was a different time and it’s crazy [to say that] because it was 11 years ago, which is not that long ago,” she says. “I do feel Victoria’s Secret really missed the boat with broadening themselves out in the past few years and really listening to the cultural shift of what people are looking for from their brand.”
Already in Los Angeles by the time she had hung up her angel wings, she then dabbled in acting, landing parts in Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Mad Max: Fury Road. In 2012 she began her successful lingerie collaboration with Marks & Spencer and has since sold 17 million pieces for the high street brand.
It was her mother who drilled in the importance of earning your own money and forging a career: “She hadn’t knuckled down at school and left without any kind of real legs to her. I just watched that being a big point of frustration and heartache for her in my childhood.”
Meanwhile it is Statham, whom she has been with since 2010, who is her “greatest mentor” and fires up her business ballsiness. “He’s known for being a tough businessman and he gets what he wants,” she says, admitting that she doesn’t enjoy confrontation. “You’ve got to be tough, you’ve got to be a boss and you’ve got to pull up your big girl pants sometimes and have really uncomfortable conversations and make really uncomfortable decisions.”
Does she battle with impostor syndrome? “I’ve talked to Jason about impostor syndrome, and he’s like, ‘What an utter load of rubbish.’ This is a massive generalisation, but I think there’s a built-in confidence and an effortlessness for men with their achievements. They don’t think too deeply about it. Whereas I think, with women, we have a harder time accepting achievements as our own.”
The couple have a 20-year age gap and Huntington-Whiteley acknowledges that they’re at different life stages. “He’s reached that point in his career where it’s plain sailing, I think, for him now. Whereas I still feel very much I’m on the make, I’m on the hustle and it’s a hamster wheel, for lack of better words,” she says, clarifying that this isn’t a complaint. (She repeatedly checks her privilege during our conversation.)
She tells me how Statham, 54, has slowed down on the action-man film-making since becoming a parent, and is “a big entertainment system for Jack”. A megawatt grin spreads across her face as she describes their son: “He’s very strong willed. That’s the polite way of saying he’s a tough cookie. He’s full on.” And now they have another on the way — a few weeks after we meet, Rosie announced her second pregnancy on Instagram.
I mention how my closest girlfriends, all thirty-something new mothers, have recently enlightened me on the brutal realities of childbirth and early parent-hood. Mastitis, perineal tears, loss of identity, guilt …
“It’s one thing I just had no clue about, stepping into becoming a mum. I still feel like the rug has been pulled out from underneath me four years in,” she says, stressing the importance of honest, vulnerable conversations between women. “I remember immediately after I had my son I was like [puts on a comedy raging voice], ‘No one told me this would be like this and I would be in these big knickers with freezer packs, you know, in my knickers … ’”
She speaks passionately about the balancing act that mothers endure: “Whether you’re running the household or running a business, women take on a lot. The juggle is real. And everything that we’re supposed to be as women in society and how we’re supposed to look.”
Talk turns to whether it’s possible to have a healthy relationship with social media. Huntington-Whiteley claims that she is also susceptible to the negative comparing and contrasting that Instagram engenders. “You see somebody else on the beach looking like a million dollars, and then you’re in your sweatpants at home feeling like an old miz hog,” she says. What in heavens is a miz hog? “Like a miserable ogre,” she laughs.
Last summer, after 11 years in Los Angeles, she moved back to England. She misses the Californian sunshine (“the f***ing raining in June here really does my head in”) and her friends, but doesn’t miss Tinseltown’s superficiality. She and Statham were keen to raise and educate Jack in their home country: “When you put your kid into school, it’s such a fundamentally important decision of who they are going to be and how it’s going to shape them.”
They’re renovating a house in London (they’ve kept their Hollywood home too) and Huntington-Whiteley confesses she has become obsessed with interiors and architecture. On top of making Rose Inc a global success, she dreams of travelling more, spending more time in the countryside and horse riding. She’s been engaged to Statham since 2016, but fitting in marriage isn’t a priority right now. As a child, she never dreamt of walking down the aisle. “In my career, I’ve had a lot of those fairytale moments. I get to wear the big dress, have my hair and make-up done, and feel like that princess, so I don’t crave that,” she says. “And when I think of our relationship, [marriage] doesn’t change anything. We’re super-collaborative in everything that we do.”
However, what rankles is the assumption that she’s desperate to get hitched while it’s surely Statham holding things up. “It’s this idea that I’m sitting around [waiting] and he’s this playboy and I’ve given him everything that he needs,” she says, rolling her eyes.
Musing on the keys to a solid relationship, she talks about good communication, shared humour and “allowing each other the ability to be the person that they need to be independently”.
“Relationships are hard, and I think you’ve got to recognise that and be able to buckle in and work through everything, and know that not everything is roses and date nights and being whisked away on romantic getaways,” she says.
We’ve been talking for well over our allotted hour and it’s time for Huntington-Whiteley to get back to her Cornish holiday while the sun’s still shining. She details the day’s plan: hit the beach, go crabbing, make lunch. I ask if she enjoys cooking and she wrinkles her nose. “I like hosting. I have a rule of thumb. I probably won’t cook for more than about eight people, and if I’m cooking for eight people it’s a f***ing stew. Don’t expect any beautifully presented plate of anything,” she says, looking like a goddess and sounding wonderfully mortal.