Back in November 2018, the actual Queen met the queen of beauty when Her Majesty presented Charlotte Tilbury with an MBE.
Charlotte was cock-a-hoop, her mother later inquiring whether she had allowed her ruler a word in edgeways.
The cosmetics guru was dressed in fashion black, with what she refers to coquettishly as ‘discreet boobage’ (‘boobage’ pronounced as if French), which turned out to be so wildly indiscreet it provoked headlines. With her trademark cat-eye kohl and luxuriant Titian locks, she towered over her royal idol in sky-high Jimmy Choos.
‘It was one of the highlights of my life!’ Charlotte exclaims. ‘I just adore the Queen and got so over-excited. I babbled on about the lipstick I named after her and how we’d taken corgis to Vogue House to launch it, her gorgeous blue eyes and her beautiful pale skin.
Charlotte Tilbury, 48, who found fame as a make-up artist backstage on the fashion week circuit, reveals how she built a £1 billion business that now sells a £49 cream every two minutes. Pictured: Charlotte being made an MBE by the Queen
‘She just lit up when I talked about the lipstick and the dogs. I did slightly screw up my curtsying situation because I was so busy telling her about the corgis that I turned around and curtsied to the audience and not to her.’
‘That’s telling!’ I tease. ‘So you and she were both queens?’
‘No!’ she squeals. ‘That is me being completely admiring and flustered and suddenly not remembering which way I was meant to turn. I was so in awe!’
Not many people could render Charlotte, the A-list’s BFF, starstruck — but Her Majesty was the exception. Photos from the MBE ceremony show our monarch beaming with the kind of enthusiasm she more usually reserves for horses.
But, then, Charlotte’s megawatt charm floors everyone, from supermodels to social media fans, who devour her every ‘Darling!’ and revel in their initiation to her global girl gang.
I’ve long known this make-up artist to the stars to wave at during fashion shows and dance alongside at parties — her energy is disarmingly intoxicating, a champagne-cocktail high with hurricane force.
A friend who holidays with her says: ‘Wherever she goes, Charlotte is the party. She talked about having a night off, but then it was makeovers, sequins and dancing on tables. The woman’s irresistible: everybody wants to live on Planet Charlotte.’
Not everybody would have the energy, but she does hold a special place in the nation’s make-up bag. Our beauty industry was worth £28.4 billion pre-pandemic, and Charlotte is responsible for a fair chunk of that; a British Estée Lauder for the internet age.
Today, a pot of her Magic Cream sells globally every two minutes at £49 a pop. Pillow Talk, her signature matte nude-coral, is the top-selling luxury lipstick both here and in the States, its accompanying lip liner also No 1.
Charlotte (pictured) had labs coming to her with their formulations while working with brands such as MAC and Armani
Between April 2020 and March 2021 — at a time when we were told women weren’t even wearing make-up — five products from the Pillow Talk range sold every minute.
Charlotte, 48, found fame as a make-up artist backstage on the fashion week circuit, perking up models’ tired complexions using the secret cream she carried about in little tubs. Her reputation as a skin-obsessive while working with brands such as MAC and Armani meant that labs had started coming to her with their formulations.
She says: ‘My secret cream was blended with a rich, nourishing formula of hyaluronic acid, bionymph peptide, vitamins C and E, rosehip oil, camellia oil, shea butter, aloe vera and frangipani flower extract to flood the skin with moisture.
‘It was born out of a need for an instant turnaround for models’ tired, dull-looking skin after a month of shows, shoots, planes and parties. They’d always be wandering around asking for “Charlotte’s magic cream”, which is how it got its name.’
A canny marketing decision — the first of many, it turns out.
In 2020, after just eight years building up her empire, Charlotte did a deal with Spanish company Puig to take her great British brand truly global.
Puig acquired a majority stake for an estimated $1billion (£730 million), Charlotte retaining a ‘significant minority’ and continuing as chairman, president and chief creative officer. Reports about how much she herself earned out of the lucrative Puig deal vary between £50 million and £500 million.
Charlotte has named lipsticks after her celebrity friends including Kate Moss, Nicole Kidman and Amal Clooney. Pictured: Charlotte with husband George
I ask which is more accurate: ‘I’m keeping that quite private,’ she says, ‘but the fact is we did incredibly well and I did incredibly well, and it’s an incredibly proud moment.’ I press her. ‘Well, just imagine I own a lot of the brand, so it’s not the small number!’
We meet at her London HQ, an office festooned with gargantuan model lipsticks, mountains of cake and an infinite assembly of motivational quotes — from Mick Jagger’s ‘Anything worth doing is worth overdoing’ to Liz Taylor’s ‘Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick and pull yourself together’. And, of course, Charlotte’s own: ‘Give everyone the right make-up and they can conquer the world.’
Charlotte looks sensational in a plunging vintage frock and 10.5cm Gianvito Rossi sandals she claims are ‘so comfortable to run about in’.
If the higher the hair, the nearer to God, then the Almighty must be one of Charlotte’s celebrity friends. These include everyone from bestie Kate Moss (godmother to both of Charlotte’s sons) to Nicole Kidman, Helena Bonham Carter, Amal Clooney, and J. K. Rowling, all of whom Charlotte has named lipsticks after.
That’s quite a girl gang. ‘It is a girl gang — a total girl gang,’ she says.
Her stated aim has been to open this gang up so the whole world can join.
‘I come from this very VIP world and I want to give it to everyone; make everyone feel the most empowered, the most beautiful, because that’s what the celebrities and models feel when I do their make-up. Now you can go to Tesco, or do the school run, and life is your red carpet.’
Charlotte (pictured right), who grew up in a hedonistic idyll stationed on Ibiza, sought the advice of Princess Diana’s make-up artist and family friend Mary Greenwell at age 16
She herself abides by this rule to such an extent that neither husband No 1 nor No 2 are said to have ever seen her without make-up. Is it true that she even sports slap to bed?
‘Yes, I do, darling, I have my bedroom eye. I take off my make-up, do my skincare, then I put on my Colour Theory eye liner that lasts 16 hours and my mascara. George has never seen me without a bedroom eye. Never! I tell you, keep the magic alive.’
‘Never, ever, ever?’ I ask.
‘Never, ever, ever.’
Charlotte grew up in a hedonistic idyll stationed on Ibiza. Her artist father, Lance, and film production manager mother, Patsy, moved there when she was nine months old and became part of a thriving party scene. Before she was ten years old, she would be dancing with Grace Jones in nightclubs to sets by James Brown.
‘There was always a party in our house,’ she says. ‘They were friends with Pattie Boyd, The Beatles, Queen.’
Both parents sported make-up, her mother insisting on red lipstick’s empowerment credentials.
At 13, Charlotte was packed off to a Rudolf Steiner boarding school in East Sussex, with a tuck box full of make-up given to her by a beauty editor friend, which she sold and used to give makeovers. It was the same age she discovered mascara, vowing never to go bare-faced again. At 16, she sought the advice of Princess Diana’s make-up artist and family friend Mary Greenwell, wielding her brushes alongside her at fashion shows.
Charlotte (pictured) said before her brand, five conglomerates ruled the beauty world and it was ripe for disruption
Unusually, Charlotte’s talents grew to encompass not only the catwalk but also magazine shoots and the red carpet, working her magic on actresses for the Oscars and Golden Globes.
Her creative flair is matched by a business brain. For all the ‘darlings’ and delightfulness, her approach has always been strategic. Having acted as a creative consultant for brands such as MAC, Giorgio Armani, Tom Ford and Helena Rubinstein, she knew exactly what was missing in traditional business models.
‘Before us, five conglomerates ruled the beauty world, and it was ripe for disruption. As an expert, I didn’t think the formulas were right, I didn’t think the colours were right. From the consumer standpoint, it was not easy to choose, not easy to use, and not easy to shop, and it was really intimidating.’
She also wanted to build her brand digitally, something no one believed possible. ‘I came up with ten looks — social archetypes, tribes. If you’re a golden goddess, you’re like a Jennifer Aniston or Gisele Bündchen. If you’re Cara Delevingne, a Kate Moss, you’re a rock chick. One woman, ten ways.’
She focused not merely on product but also retail space, packaging, advertising, content, tech. ‘I am all over every bit of it: it’s Charlotte’s world.’ An empire? ‘Exactly, it’s an empire, and end-to-end about the customer: I want her to feel like I’m holding her hand.’
Charlotte’s tech prowess meant that when Covid happened, the company could be agile. ‘For us, 60 per cent of business was on the ground, 40 per cent online. In eight weeks we could pivot.
On the first day of Charlotte’s brand selling at Selfridges the store predicted she’d sell around £5,000 worth of stock, however she made £51,000
‘I’m very lucky, but you create your luck, in that it’s my name, I’m in charge of everything, no one could do anything without my say-so. I’m in control.’
Yet her form of soft, velvet-clad power can still mystify the pale, male and stale. On her first day selling at Selfridges in 2013, the store predicted she’d sell £3,000 to £5,000 worth of stock. She made £51,000, her YouTube fans descending.
‘It was tough not always being taken seriously when I started, as a woman, as a make-up artist, and without a formal degree,’ she says. ‘I’m probably still underestimated, but that’s fine. In the end, it’s my company, ruled by me.’
Charlotte is also dyslexic, something she chooses to find an asset in forcing her to ‘think outside the box’.
Negativity is not her thing: the world — like the world’s complexions — is always to be glossed over with a rose-gold glow.
She prides herself on being an ‘active relaxer’, working hard, then playing hard with food, drink and dance. She insists that she relies on powder and paint rather than anything injectable.
‘I think you can tell I haven’t had anything done — nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing! I use my products. I go for facials. I’ll do collagen waves, a laser, but I won’t do anything invasive.’
Naturally, she has just released her greatest trick to the masses. ‘For years, I would use ice packs and the old Hollywood trick of chilled teaspoons on my celebrity clients to de-puff, brighten, lift, smooth and tighten the look of their skin. Ice is the skin’s secret weapon.
Charlotte said keeping her family close is business intelligence because she spends a lot of her life working. Pictured: Charlotte with her husband George
‘My new Cryo-Recovery Eye Serum and Face Mask give instant and long-term results. I call it my shrink and lift facial duo. It’s like an ice gym for the skin. Kate Moss completely loves hers.’
Charlotte will go to town with prepping if she has two hours. ‘Otherwise I’m all about wing-mirror make-up: throwing on a look in five minutes as I dash out of the door.’
She then runs me through a 13-step process including feline flick, Pillow Talk-rimmed pout, and the smash-hit Beauty Light Wand highlighter in Pinkgasm. In Charlotte’s case, of course, this takes seconds.
One strategy she has learnt is to keep her family close. ‘It’s business intelligence as I spend a lot of my life working.’
Her second husband, film producer George Waud, 54, sits on the board. Her younger sister, Leah, 47, is co-creative director, while her nieces, Sofia, 28, and Bella, 24, cover marketing, social media and modelling/ambassador roles. Her seven-year-old son, Valentine (brother Flynn, from her first marriage, is 11), recently came up with a drone-to-door delivery scheme that cannot be long away.
Motherhood plus a global empire can present a challenge.
‘There was a mad time when I was launching in America, about to get married, very pregnant and still wearing a heel. My CEO was like: “OK, love, you’re going to do this.” And I was like: “Yeah, we’re going to have fun.”
‘As soon as I was allowed to fly, I got on a plane with the baby on my hip, and we launched with Kim Kardashian and everyone going down the red carpet.’
‘It’s a religion,’ I say, ‘a cult!’
‘No, darling, a movement,’ she corrects.
So what of the future? Could there ever be Charlotte Tilbury without Charlotte Tilbury? ‘I think I’ll be there as an avatar that says: “Hello, darlings!” That way I’m going to live for ever’ — dancing on, with that nuclear charm still on full beam.