My Sussex: Sue Tilley

How did you come to be Lucian Freud’s model?

I knew someone who modelled for Lucian, and they introduced him to me and Leigh Bowery, who was my best friend, and he asked us both to sit for him. I used to go early in the morning, for the best light – at 6am in the winter –and stay for six or seven hours. Just lying on the sofa, or sitting on an armchair, naked. It gave me lots of time to think, which was interesting, because you don’t often have much time to do that.

What was Lucian Freud like?

He was a monster, but he was a humorous monster, and he knew he was a monster, which always makes it better. I’m attracted to monsters, anyway.

You were well known in the 80s for your love of Soho nightlife, and London is in your blood. How did you come to move down to St Leonards?

I never thought I’d leave London. Never in a million years. Then I visited a friend in St Leonards one Saturday about five years ago, and she took me to Norman Road, and we were sitting in the café in Kino-Teatr, and I thought ‘this is lovely’. A woman cycled past wearing a yellow beret, and I thought ‘my sort of people, too. I’d like to move here’. Then I looked on Rightmove and saw the house prices, and that I could swap my poky flat in Bethnal Green for something half the price and twice as big, and I put my place on the market on the Monday. Six months later I’d moved in. I’ve never regretted it, not for a moment.

How was your lockdown?

I thought I’d be happy just lying around, but I soon got bored. Then a group called Isolation Station asked me to do weekly Zoom interviews with my friends and invite viewers to watch live online and draw portraits of my guests, and then send the images to me. It went on for ages, and people started joining in from all round the world. I talked to DJ Fat Tony, Chrissy Boy from Madness, Corinne Drury from Swing Out Sister, Jacquie O’Sullivan from Bananarama, the photographer JJ Waller, lots and lots more. Earlier this year, Hastings Museum – a lovely place – put on an exhibition of some of the best portraits, which was fun.

Tell us some of your favourite haunts in Hastings and St Leonards.

I love Parlour, the café/restaurant next to Kino-Teatr. I love the fact it’s chaos, and you’ll always see someone you know, so you might start at one table and end up at another. The kedgeree is the best you’ll ever taste. The White Rock Theatre is good, I saw a great 80s electronic rock tribute band there the other night, and there’s a panto on every year, which often has my friends in it, like Michelle Collins. I love Hastings Pier, which boasts of having Britain’s biggest beer garden, and puts on the Horse Meat Disco, with world-famous DJs like Danny Rampling, who lives here. It’s bizarre, half the people from the London club scene in the 80s seem to have ended up down here.

Do you get around Sussex much?

I never thought I liked the countryside, but I’ve realised I do. I like driving on back roads, to Cooden Beach and Pevensey Bay and Great Dixter and Sedlescombe, where the geese that live in the pub run around the village green. I don’t get on very well with Brighton, but there is a fashion shop – Popstacular – that sells my designs on their hoodies and t-shirts. The fashion designing is quite a new thing. I’ve done some work for Fendi, too… [Sue’s designs were the highlight of their 2018 spring/summer show].

And you’ve become a painter…

I always liked drawing, and painting, and trained as an art teacher, though I never became one. A few years ago my artist friend, Rui Miguel Leitão Ferreira, encouraged me to start painting again: I started putting my stuff up on Facebook and it got featured in The Observer. I was asked to do a show in a gallery [Forman’s Smokehouse Gallery] near the Olympic Park in London. It turned out to be their biggest-selling exhibition, ever. I suspect people bought me because I was Lucian’s model, not because I’m good at art, though. Now I prefer doing commissions, to shows, which are too much pressure. Somebody recently asked me to draw their dog for them.

A woman of many talents!

It’s funny. I spent much of my life being a benefits advisor [37 years], but I’ve ended up doing all the things I wanted to do when I was a kid, mostly after I was 60. I’ve written a book (a best-seller about Leigh Bowery), I’ve become an artist, I’ve become a fashion designer, I’ve become a DJ. I’ve not been pushy, or anything. I’m a friendly person, people ask me to do nice jobs, and I always, always say yes.