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Nicole Richie talks about the Golden Slipper, being a mum and life as Mrs Madden

“HAVE you seen footage of Woodstock? You can really feel it. That time was just…” Nicole Richie trails off.

She is getting all moony-eyed about ’60s counterculture, even though she wasn’t born until 1981.

This very morning, she was listening to The Velvet Underground in the car as she dropped her kids off at school.

“And David Bowie,” she adds.

“I’m hugely inspired by the ’60s and ’70s. You know my brand is called House of Harlow 1960?”

Apparently, people often omit the year when they talk about the accessories business Richie launched in 2009, which has since grown into a fully-fledged womenswear label across apparel, jewellery, bags and shoes, and is stocked by Neiman Marcus and other high-end department stores internationally (the website ships to Australia, in case you’re interested).

Dropping the 1960 bit irks her, she says, because it represents her creative inspiration.

“The idea of expressing yourself through fashion was something I wanted to bring back to the market today,” she says.

Hers is an idealised view of the era – forget Vietnam and the fact that doing LSD in bell-bottoms was as dangerous as it sounds (not even Timothy Leary wanted to trip while tripping) – but you get her point.

It was before trends became commodified, before the multinational corporations hijacked style.

“When I began to discover that time, I was gravitating towards the music,” explains Richie, “then I would watch videos, see photos [from the period]. People were using fashion as a form of self-expression – to tell the world who they were – and using their body as a canvas to do that.

“They weren’t focused on trends or how expensive something was, or some sort of rule they needed to live by.

“The rules were thrown out the window.”

Richie is definitely a fashion rule-breaker.

Conventional wisdom says petite types should avoid long dresses; but Richie, who is five-foot foot nothing, regularly steps out in floor-grazing hems, and looks fantastic.

She loves to clash, wears boots with evening gowns and once turned up to work in the offices of online magazine Who What Wear in a leather crop-top. Her candy-pink pixie crop used to be blue. Before that it was lilac.

She won’t divulge what she plans to wear to the Golden Slipper at Sydney’s Rosehill Gardens on Saturday, where she’s making a special appearance as the racing carnival’s international ambassador and judging the Myer Fashions on the Field.

“I have my outfit picked out, but it will be a surprise,” she says.

OK, so what about right now?

“Right now I’m wearing sweats.”

There is a surprisingly conventional side to Richie. A happily married mother of two, she is big on family values and hard work.

Her hobbies include drawing and yoga, and she recently took up composting.

“Both my parents work very hard,” she says, and these days she follows their lead.

She is close to her half-siblings, Miles and Sofia, and her adopted parents, singer Lionel Richie and his first wife, Brenda Harvey.

I won’t pretend to know how much moolah Richie has in the bank, but presumably she could afford not to work.

Her husband is Good Charlotte rocker Joel Madden, and his twin brother, Benji, has just married Cameron Diaz, so to say they are a paparazzi-worthy clan is an understatement.

Yet it’s as if Richie, at 33 and with her crazy youth behind her, has made a conscious decision not to get caught up.

“Every day I have to leave the house before 7am,” she says.

“I have kids and I have to go straight to work. I can’t be that person who spends hours getting ready.”

Anyway, she says, “I don’t like to do that.”

She sounds sensible, doesn’t she? Who’d a thunk it? Twelve years ago she was the star of The Simple Life, the reality-TV show Richie made with her ex-BFF Paris Hilton.

First airing in 2003, the premise was this: dispatch two blonde Beverly Hills brats to Arkansas to spend 30 days on a farm.

Make them work in a dairy! And do without luxuries! It was a winning formula.

Thirteen million viewers lapped up the duo’s headline-making antics.

We were fascinated by the girls’ backstories as much as anything.

They knew each other from school and both grew up thinking mansions, staff, flash cars and generous allowances were normal.

Hilton, the granddaughter of Conrad Hilton (founder of the hotel chain), was famous for her sex tape and her Chihuahua fixation.

Richie’s biological dad was a muso in Lionel’s band; her mother was mostly out of the picture.

She went to live with Lionel and Brenda when she was three. They adopted her formally when she was nine.

When Lionel and Brenda split, she went off the rails. She told Vanity Fair she first smoked pot aged 13 and tried cocaine at 14. By 19 she was injecting heroin.

“I thought I was getting away with everything, when the reality was that I was arrested three times and had five car accidents. Two were totals,” she said.

She prepared for The Simple Life with a month in rehab.

She has claimed that’s when she kicked her heroin habit, but she was still drinking and taking pills.

In 2006, she was arrested for driving under the influence after she was spotted heading the wrong way up an exit ramp.

It turned out she’d been smoking marijuana and taking prescription painkillers.

That time, she landed in jail, albeit only for 82 minutes.

In her twenties Richie seemed to be constantly stumbling out of nightclubs with Hilton and Britney Spears.

She got engaged to a DJ 10 years her senior, then got unengaged.

She lost weight, then more weight, and one day passed out while shopping in Beverly Hills boutique Kitson.

“My hair has a mind of its own; it rebels at night. Joel loves to take pictures of my morning hair and send them to his friends. It has become a running joke in our household.”

When Richie announced she was pregnant less than a year after she started seeing Madden in 2006, lots of people thought it wouldn’t last.

But guess what? It did.

Their 2010 wedding was traditional and intimate – just 155 guests, no Kate Moss-style three-day benders – and the bride wore a cloud of white tulle.

They have two children, Harlow, seven, and Sparrow, five.

Richie says she “always wanted to be a mom” and the only aspect of her life that’s wild these days is her hair.

“My hair has a mind of its own; it rebels at night. Joel loves to take pictures of my morning hair and send them to his friends. It has become a running joke in our household.”

I ask her about those not-so-simple-life days and she says, “Look, I believe everything in your life is an opportunity to learn and grow, and that’s what I was probably doing [back then]. It was so long ago, it’s hard for me to even think about it.”

She and Hilton no longer hang out, although Richie has said they are “friends who don’t see each other”.

Does she regret making the show that meant she had to do her growing up in the media glare? The answer, perhaps not surprisingly, is no.

“I was 21. I had Fox come to me and say, ‘Do you want to take a 30-day adventure with your best friend and get paid for it?’ I said, ‘Of course.’ If I was 21 now, I would do it again, [but] we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into.

“There were no other reality shows besides The Real World and The Osbournes. There was no precedent.

“I definitely didn’t think about there ever being a Season 2 or a Season 5.

“But it was just so much fun.”

The Paris years gave Richie the gift of celebrity, and from that she has reinvented herself as a designer, author, producer, comedian and all-round cool girl.

Her 2005 novel, The Truth About Diamonds, made The New York Times bestseller list.

I’ve read it and can tell you truthfully that it zips along with wit and charm.

Talking of which, Candidly Nicole, her improvised “mission-based comedy”, has plenty of both.

It’s brilliant.

Sharp, sophisticated and wryly observed, it’s like the bastard child of I Love Lucy and a Noah Baumbach movie.

There are two versions: the web-based series, with five-minute webisodes made for AOL (you can watch them on YouTube); and a proper grown-up TV series, with 30-minute episodes that screen on VH1 in the US.

Richie starts filming Season 2 when she gets back from Australia.

“It’s based off my Twitter,” she explains.

“We go into every episode knowing what we’re going to talk about, focusing on a certain subject, and go from there.

“The cool thing about Twitter is I am able to see what [issues] people are gravitating towards, so the audience has a huge say in what we talk about.”

If Richie tweets about, say, Soul Cycle, and heaps of followers retweet her or start conversations about it, she knows she’s onto something.

So she makes an episode of Candidly Nicole titled ‘How To Be Short’ that starts with her struggling to reach the pedals on a bike.

Does she wish people weren’t always peering in on her life?

“This is not a reality show. While there are aspects about my life, the part of my life I am having out there is me learning and growing, and as I said, it’s not just me. I feel like the audience is going through it with me and having fun while doing it.”

“Women are no longer ashamed to say, ‘Oh, this is so hard! I’m worried I’m not doing a good job.’ Women are supporting each other in that space, which I think is so awesome.”

OK, but in some cases art imitates life so strongly, the boundaries get blurred.

Like in Season 1’s ‘How To Be An Adult’, which begins with Richie telling the camera, “I’m really responsible. I haven’t gotten any DUIs since Obama was elected.”

Next scene, she’s in Lionel’s kitchen, offering to act as chaperone to 15-year-old Sofia.

“There’s not going to be any nonsense,” says Richie.

“You gonna look after her?” says Lionel, with an eyebrow raised.

“I’m scared to death.”

“Have to. Look at her,” deadpans Nicole, “her ponytail’s too high. She’s out of control.”

Later, at Sofia’s mum’s house, Richie gets a big piece of pink paper and scrawls ‘No one’s too cool for rules’ across the top.

“No alcohol, no drugs, no slutty friends, no sex, right?” she says.

Is this the kind of parent the wild child has grown into? When Harlow is a teen, will Richie give her the hard word on playing nice?

“Well, I don’t think I’ll need to say it. I mean, it’s already out there.”

Do as I say, not as I do?

“It depends on how old she is. If she’s 13, of course I will [set rules]. I’m going to have to figure it out as it happens,” she says.

“Right now, I know how to be a mother to [a seven year old]. When they were born, I knew how to be a mom to a baby.

“It’s just like every other lesson in life; you have to figure it out.

“I will have to see how I’m going to be when they’re teenagers, but I think it also depends on who they end up being. I don’t believe in black-and-white parenting.

“I believe in seeing who your kids are. I have very different kids; I handle them differently now.

“So that’s something I am really going to have to wait and see.”

For Richie, the best thing about being a mum is: “I get to live my childhood all over again. My daughter is seven, so we’re starting to watch all the fun movies together, like The Sound of Music.

“You know, I’ve been wanting to re-watch those movies, but I’ve been too embarrassed to watch them by myself.”

And the worst?

“A common conversation I’ve been having since my eldest started school, one I’m constantly hearing from different moms, is: what’s the appropriate amount of time to be at work and what’s the appropriate amount of time to be at home? I think it’s a universal search: ‘How do we make this work?’”

So, how does she?

“First of all, I think it’s so incredible that we’re in a time when we can be open about these things; be vulnerable with each other – because I know my mom didn’t have that.

“So I think we are ahead of the game, in that respect.

“Women are no longer ashamed to say, ‘Oh, this is so hard! I’m worried I’m not doing a good job.’ Women are supporting each other in that space, which I think is so awesome.”

That sounds cosy.

I take it the other mothers don’t gang up on her like they do in one of her Candidly Nicole episodes?

“They do not.”

Will Cameron Diaz be a Candidly guest star, now she’s Richie’s sister-in-law?

“Well, the show focuses on different topics that I want to learn about, so it features experts in what I’m talking about,” says Richie, refusing to take the bait.

“So, what if Diaz were an expert in your chosen subject?” I say.

“Maybe if you did a show on body hair, a topic Cameron waxes (ha!) lyrically about in The Body Book. Would you maybe get her on then? It would be good,” I say.

Richie says nothing at all.

“Are you able to tell us anything about the wedding?”

“I am not.”

“Did you introduce Cameron to Benji?”

“I am actually not going to talk about that at all.”

“Oh, go on.”

“No.”

“Oh, OK then, I guess you want to talk about Australia and the Golden Slipper and stuff?”

“I do. Sydney happens to be one of my favourite cities.”

Richie loves Australia, having spent a big chunk of time here with the kids in 2012, when Madden was filming The Voice Australia.

“I’m comfortable there – I have my places, I feel very much at home there – so I’m excited to be coming back,” she says.

Surely she went to the races last time she was here? The races are a national obsession.

“Oh yes, I do know that,” she says.

“But I’m an Australian racing virgin, so it’s all new to me. Now, shoes? Shoes, I know about. Listen, I’m never opposed to a Cinderella golden slipper.”

“Um, does Cameron like golden slippers?”

“Shut up now.”

This has been a mission-based comedy.

Mar 15, 2015 – Daily Telegraph/Sunday Style – Written by Clare Press