Liberty Lettice Lark Ross is many things — mother, wife, model, entrepreneur — but she is also a shining exemplar of the law of karma. Karma might often be a bitch but it hasn’t been to Ross, because she has never been unkind herself, despite the greatest temptations. In 2012, aged 33, she experienced the public humiliation of being cheated on by her husband at the time, the film director Rupert Sanders, whose affair with the Hollywood star Kristen Stewart, then 22 years old, was splashed all over the tabloids. Stewart had been starring in Sanders’s film, Snow White and the Huntsman, in which Ross played her mother.
It must have been mortifying, yet Ross kept her silence. How did she stay so dignified? “Hmm,” she says now and then laughs. “Um, gosh. You do what you do for your kids. That’s all that matters. You always put the kids first. I was with Rupert from when I was 18, so I was very young. He’s a big part of my life and always will be. He gave me the two greatest gifts of my life and that’s all I could ever want.”
Zooming from her holiday in Positano, even at the remove of a screen, Ross radiates a beatific happiness that seems to come from within. Born in London and raised between London and LA, she’s a sweet mix of British pragmatism and LA spiritualism. “I’ve always found it really comforting to believe that there’s something bigger than us, guiding us,” she says smiling.
Ross, 43, first made her name as a model at the end of the Nineties. After being scouted several times during her teens — she always refused as she wanted to finish school (Queen’s College on Harley Street) — she was persuaded by Mario Testino, a friend of one of her brothers, to model for a shoot he was doing for Vogue. Her career quickly took off and she became the face of Burberry and Dior, working with everyone from Alexander McQueen to Karl Lagerfeld and often alongside Kate Moss, the other big face of the time.
While other models have been vocal about the industry’s systemic flaws and how they were denied voices even at the peak of their careers, this isn’t something that resonates with Ross, who says she always felt she could speak up. “I really did. It’s so different now than when I was modeling. We didn’t have social media, so it was a very different game, thank the Lord. But I always had such a solid family behind me, and I think that really helped me to feel grounded and safe. If there was anything that felt uncomfortable I would always speak up. But they were good times, for sure.”
John Galliano made the dress for her wedding to Sanders — they married in Cornwall when she was 24. At the time he was a director of TV commercials but wanted to get into film so the two of them moved to LA, with Ross eschewing modeling for motherhood, raising Skyla, now 17, and Tennyson (known as Sonny), 15, there. Sanders is now her neighbor. “We try to keep things as smooth and positive as possible for our children. It was tough, obviously, getting divorced,” she says. “It was brutal. But at the same time I don’t see it as a failure. I see it as evolving. If two people can’t evolve together, then it’s better that they live apart. You can still have a family — it’s just not under one roof.”
Raising her kids in LA does not seem strange to Ross — the fifth child of Ian Ross, who helped launch the 1960s pirate radio station Radio Caroline — as she moved from London to LA as a child herself. In 1979 her father opened Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace in downtown LA, a mecca whose “everybody’s welcome” policy was anathema in a city divided by social and racial segregation. Freddie Mercury, Elton John, Jane Fonda, Cher and Prince were regulars, as were rich kids from Beverly Hills, rival gangs and visiting British celebrities. Flipper’s closed in 1981, leaving a legacy that lasted far longer than its three-year tenure at the heart of LA’s social scene. “It became a nuisance to the city because it was way too crowded, so it was shut down by the government,” Ross says.
We’re here today to talk about Flipper’s, in fact, as Ross now hopes to continue her father’s legacy. She recently published a book about the Flipper’s phenomenon, and this summer plans to open a rink in West London, with another in New York. Hoping to capitalize on the lockdown craze for roller-skating (“I ordered a pair of skates last February and still haven’t got them,” she notes), she also hopes that roller-skating will be a tonic for the mental health of anyone (especially children) who spends too much time online. “I have two teenagers and I see the pressures they’re under. It’s heartbreaking. The Internet is a beautiful thing if it’s used in the right way, but it’s so important to bring people together. Humans need humans. Flipper’s is about community and providing these immersive, interactive spaces. What I love about roller-skating is that you really have to be present, in your body, in the moment. That’s why it’s so joyful — because you’re connected.”
So what’s her father doing now? “Literally right now? He’s in LA, babysitting my children for me with my mother. My dad’s a character. He’s nearly 78, so he has calmed down with age. What I love about him is his optimism. That has been a real inspiration — the way that nothing is ever seen as a failure. It’s always, ‘What are we doing next?’ He started Radio Caroline in the Sixties and that eventually got shut down by the government, just like Flipper’s.”
“If two people can’t evolve together, then it’s better that they live apart. You can still have a family — it’s just not under one roof.”
Her mother, Bunty, sounds inspirational too, insisting that Flipper’s welcomed children as readily as adults. As Ross says: “You could drop off your kids in the daytime and know they’d be fine, then at night it would turn into something quite different. The tough part was that Dad had to be the host at Flipper’s every night and make sure everyone was having a blast. Meanwhile my mother was at home with six children.” Yet their marriage endured. “They’re both retired now, but they still live in Ladbroke Grove, where we grew up.”
These days Ross’s own family life is just as blissful. She tied the knot with Jimmy Iovine, the 68-year-old music mogul, in 2016 — the guest list included Oprah, Tom Hanks, Paul McCartney, Pharrell Williams, Stevie Nicks and Ellen DeGeneres. Lady Gaga sang and a skywriter spelled out “J loves L” in the air. Iovine co-founded Interscope Records and had a side hustle in headphones, in 2014 selling Beats by Dre to Apple for a cool $3 billion. His new project with the rapper Dr. Dre is a public high school they’re opening in LA later this year for “critical thinkers, entrepreneurs and innovators”.
“We were introduced by my brother Atticus,” Ross says. (Atticus, incidentally, is an Oscar-winning music composer.) “It was very natural, organic and easy.” Was it love at first sight? “No,” she smiles. “It wasn’t that quick, I have to say. It was for him, though. You could ask him and he’d say, ‘Yup, I knew as soon as I saw her.’ He’s incredible.”
She rarely models now, although she recently featured in a glossy fashion magazine with her daughter. “That was a one-off but we’ll see,” she says, asked whether Skyla has plans to follow in her footsteps. “She has two more years of school ahead. Modeling is an amazing opportunity in so many ways but it’s up to her.”
A near-contemporary of Linda Evangelista, Ross has huge respect for the 56-year-old model’s recent confession that she had been “brutally disfigured” by a cosmetic procedure that freezes fat. “It was incredibly brave of her and so, so upsetting to hear. I could not imagine how that must feel, and I don’t know anything about the treatment, but I guess you just never know with those things.”
Her own attitude to aging is relaxed and low maintenance, and she says she has not had any work done herself. “Everyone should do what works for them, but I have to tell you I don’t mind aging. I feel better every day. I feel that as long as you’re continuing to evolve as a person and work on your internal body, that’s the best. I love seeing natural beauty. It’s refreshing. When I see a girl with a bump in her nose or something, I’m like, ‘Good for you, girl.’ Once you start [having work] it’s very hard to stop. That’s why you start to see people who are really overdone.”
Despite living in LA for so long, Ross says it still doesn’t feel quite like home. “I miss fish and chips, and Mars bars, my cups of tea and the British sense of humor. Leaving England was hard for me. That’s why I’m so excited to be able to come back more. You know what it’s like when you have kids in school — that’s your rhythm and you stick to their schedule. But they’re 17 and 15 now, so I have a bit more sense of freedom and time.” And what better way to spend it than on a roller rink.
Laura Craik is a fashion editor for the Evening Standard