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Interview with Russell Watson

Jodie Kidd: a sporty model

We have featured an amazingly diverse range of celebrity guests in the pages of our 55 issues of our magazine, The World of Personal Number Plates. We've spoken with actors, musicians, entrepreneurs, TV presenters, singers, musicians, racing drivers, footballers, boxers and more. Jodie Kidd's portfolio of roles and careers comprises almost as long a list: model, racing driver, mother, TV presenter, publican, social media star and more.

Although the current focus of Jodie's attention is her automotive YouTube channel, Kidd in a Sweet Shop, she originally found fame as one of the UK's top models. Legend has it that famous photographer Terry O'Neill encountered Jodie on a beach in Barbados. The journey from discovery to notoriety was disconcertingly short and while modelling opened up options, it also presented very serious challenges.

Strike a pose

Jodie was one of a generation of models who shared certain physical traits: they tended to be tall, very slender and often pale with a shadowed look around the eyes. The aesthetic has been described variously as "waifish" (a term earlier used in the 1960s) and, rather less endearingly, "heroin chic". The trend generated a considerable backlash from the media and the public as it, allegedly, encouraged young women and girls to aspire to, and sometimes to actively pursue, an unhealthy body image.

While the health concerns may have been reasonable, the hysteria certainly wasn't. Some models' figures may have been the result of extreme dieting but many had been selected because they were naturally tall and slim. The choice to promote that very, very slim look was made by the industry and not by the models - many of whom were just teenagers - but that detail was lost on the media. The models, being the literal faces of the industry, were the ones who bore the brunt of the criticism. Jodie herself was compared to an "anorexic giraffe" by a UK TV presenter who really should have known better. Despite the unjustly targeted attacks from the media, Jodie built a brief, but very successful modelling career before quitting and moving on.

From catwalk to race track

Soon after her departure from the world of modelling, Jodie decided to become a racing driver. On the face of it, this may seem to be something of a bizarre career non sequitur but Jodie is, by nature, competitive. Furthermore, she has said that she is always particularly eager to "give the boys a run for their money" whenever she participates in male-dominated sport, be it golf, polo or driving. That "competitive gene", as she calls it, coupled with a love of fast cars, means that the career shift was really not as random as it first appears.

Jodie had already driven in the famous Gumball Rally when she first appeared on the BBC's Top Gear in 2003. The show's then-host, Jeremy Clarkson, revealed that Jodie had set the fastest ever lap time driving a Suziki Liana in Top Gear's 'Star in Reasonably Priced Car' challenge, beating Clarkson himself and a host of other celebs including Jamiroquai singer and fast-car fanatic Jay Kay.

The portents were there but many were still taken by surprise when Jodie won her first major race - a Maserati pro-am event - the following year. Despite terrible weather, Jodie and her co-driver were first across the finish line, thus earning her racing nickname, 'Queen of the Rain'. It was just her third race in a career that saw her continue as a Maserati driver.

Much of Jodie's subsequent activity has involved cars and driving. In January 2015 she appeared alongside Quentin Willson as a presenter of Channel 5's The Classic Car Show. Around the same time, speculation was rife that Jodie was in the running for the spot as Chris Evans's co-presenter on Top Gear. As a car enthusiast and popular guest on the show, the speculation was natural but Jodie soon went on the record to debunk the rumours.

A change of medium

These days, Jodie's four-wheeled obsession has found a home online. Her YouTube channel, Kidd in a Sweet Shop, has accumulated over 100,000 subscribers and 9.3 million views since its join-date of March 2021.

"After the Classic Car Show, around eight years ago, I always wanted to do more in front of the camera involving cars," says Jodie. "The best way to combine them both was using the YouTube platform so I got together with a great friend, who is a big petrol head and also a tech genius, to help me set up my dream of Kidd in a Sweet Shop."

It is easy to see why the idea appealed. The channel (which also goes by the more compact, abbreviated name KiaSS) gives Jodie a robust excuse to thoroughly indulge her love of all things automotive. "I get to drive the most incredible cars in the world and interview the most famous faces in Motorsport."

That summary barely hints at the shenanigans awaiting the unsuspecting viewer. There's the time when Jodie drove the world's fastest production car while she chatted to the world's fastest test driver - who was sitting in the passenger seat. Then there's the time she visited Take That's Howard Donald to see his collection of supercars and the time she told celebrity chef and petrolhead James Martin to shut up after he'd called her car "a skip with a BMW badge on it". That's before we even get to the times she hung out with motor racing legends Nigel Mansell and Derek Bell, or the times she hung out with the CEOs of Ford and McLaren. How could anyone forget the episode when Jodie's friend, AC/DC singer Brian Johnson, described how the immaculately dressed mayor of an Italian town fought and literally punched his way through a crowd in order to speak with him?

What's not to love? Surely this isn't her actual job

We mentioned James Martin above. James was our interview guest back in issue 18 of The World of Personal Number Plates (July 2008), when we featured his 6 HEF (Chef) number plates. If one presses Jodie for a favourite guest on her channel, it is James's name that crops up.

"He's a wonderful friend to Kidd in a Sweet Shop."

Greener machines

In 2022, Jodie took part in the Cash & Rocket driving event. This annual outing is a charity fundraiser that supports women and children's charities around the world. The 2022 drive marked the event's 10th anniversary and Jodie, already a veteran participant, was accompanied by her elder sister, Jemma. As always, the drivers were exclusively women and the four-day jaunt takes the fleet across Europe, visiting a number of cities on the way.

Perhaps contrary to expectations, events such as this do not have to be exercises in accelerating ecological harm. Jodie and Jemma's steed for the journey was a hybrid Ferrari 296 GTB. The acceptance of cleaner vehicles in organised events can only be good news, especially if the hardcore petrol heads begin to embrace alternatives to traditional petroleum.

"It is very exciting to see what Porsche are doing with the new eFuel, synthetic fuel with zero fuel emissions," Jodie says.

Fitting it all in

All in all, it is difficult to see how Jodie finds the time for anything but cars these days and the coming year looks set to be as hectic as ever.

"We have such an exciting year ahead of us," she says. "We are creating something incredible around the Le Mans 100 year celebration. There's the British Racing Greats event, launching an incredible opportunity with The Car Crowd Kidd Collection, the Monaco Grand Prix, as well as attending the annual SCD Secret Meet. Those are just a few.

"I have an amazing team around me; they, and my fiancé, help me organise the chaotic, wonderful, crazy life I lead."

That's just as well because Jodie still finds time for normal, family things.

"My son, Indi, is an avid footballer so that keeps me busy attending his training and matches. Then there's my fiancé and my pub in Kirdford."

Motherhood is always a game-changer in terms of perspective and that is as true for models and racing drivers as for anyone. Jodie is a patron of the Chestnut Tree House children's hospice, a charity that is entirely funded by donations.

"As a mother, it is very important to me to support the incredible work they do. They are the only children’s hospice in the whole of Sussex and what they do is extraordinary."

And what does Jodie Kidd do to relax - apart from speeding around in rockets on wheels?

"A good movie, a roaring fire, a glass of red wine and great food with friends."

Yet another hat

Food and drink are something else that Jodie Kidd has become very involved with over the years. In 2014 she took part in Celebrity Masterchef and made it to the final. Although she ultimately lost out to actor Sophie Thompson in the final, Jodie impressed everyone with her competitiveness, determination and hard work.

In 2017, Jodie and a couple of friends bought themselves a pub, as you do. The Half Moon in Kirdford, Sussex is a lovely, Grade II listed building dating from the 15th Century. It is tucked comfortably at one end of a picturesque, country village about six and a half miles from the town of Petworth, surely many people's dream.

Of course, in early 2020, the hospitality industry, like most others, was dealt a cruel blow by Covid-19 and the ensuing lockdown. Dreams seemed destined to turn into nightmares and businesses struggled to find ways to survive the unprecedented emergency. For The Half Moon those measures included providing food and wine delivery and a takeaway service while patrons were unable to use the pub itself. Fortunately, the establishment was, eventually, able to reopen and is now welcoming drinkers and diners back for the full country pub experience.

From dinner plates to number plates

Sorry about that heading but we needed a link back to our own area of obsession.

Jodie's own cars are unexpectedly practical. We had prepared ourselves for Bugattis, Ferraris and the like but reality takes the shapes of a Ford Ranger Raptor and an Audi RS6.

"I love them both," Jodie says, "but I am looking to get a classic next."

Whatever she decides to buy, Jodie's new JEK 100 number plates will look great on it. Her friends prefer to go incognito, so most have yet to be converted, but Jodie has owned personal registrations before.

"I think it adds personalisation and uniqueness," she says.

We agree.

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