Dior muse and everybody's favourite pug-carrying heiress in Poldark, Gabriella Wilde is Marie Claire's February issue cover star
Gabriella Wilde has ticked a lot of life boxes for someone who hasn’t yet broken 30: a modelling career, marriage, two children, six movies and even (at one point) the dubious title of ‘second most eligible woman in Britain’.
Wilde isn’t going to add that last one to her Twitter bio any time soon, and not just because she’s now married to the musician Alan Pownall. ‘I mean, what do people even qualify as eligible?’ she scoffs. ‘It’s just nonsense!’
In any case, Wilde, 28, is now best known for her role as the pug-carrying heiress Caroline Penvenen in BBC One’s Poldark, a part she won just before finding out she was pregnant with her second son, Shiloh. ‘I told them early on, I was only a matter of weeks [pregnant],’ she says. ‘I wanted to be up front, as I saw no reason why I couldn’t still do it.’
After an initial moment of panic, the show’s producer and writer Debbie Horsfield – a mother of four herself – said, ‘If she thinks she can do it, why shouldn’t she?’ Some bump-disguising period dress and camera trickery enabled her to shoot way into her third trimester.
When she returned to film season three her costumes were adapted so she could pop back to her trailer to breastfeed Shiloh between takes. ‘I really don’t think that’s the norm,’ she says of the whole experience. ‘It was lovely to be able to show people that I was just as capable of getting the job done. But yeah… it was tiring.’
Wilde lives an hour away from the Bristol Poldark set (only the outdoor bits are filmed in Cornwall) in a house in the Somerset countryside that she and her husband Alan renovated. She wanted to give her children the same mud-spattered, outdoorsy life she enjoyed as a child, running around with her younger sister and five half-siblings.
Wilde’s parents are the former model Vanessa and businessman John Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe, and she shares a half-sister with Prince Harry’s ex Cressida Bonas. ‘I have a big, mixed family from different marriages,’ she says, ‘so [my childhood] was always pretty colourful and wonderful. I grew up in a house full of women; I had all my sisters like an army around me before I’d even tried to make friends.’
When she was 14, Wilde was ‘scouted’ by family friends Isabella Blow and Naomi Campbell. Campbell took Polaroids of Wilde in the bathroom at a party and she was signed up to Campbell’s then model agency, Premier. ‘She was very protective and motherly because she knew what the industry could be like and she wanted to show me the right way of doing things,’ says Wilde.
In the long run, however, the ‘incredibly shy’ Wilde realised modelling wasn’t for her. ‘I think for a long time I wasn’t aware of whether I actually liked doing it. I was so young that I was still forming an opinion… Once I got to 18, I realised I just wanted to go back to knowing who I was, so I stopped altogether and went to art college.’
Though she had no initial plans to move into acting – ‘I was never the girl who got the main part in school plays’ – during art college she won a role in St Trinian’s 2, a movie with ‘a bunch of girls my age’ that felt less of a baptism of fire than a trip back to school. She hasn’t looked back since.
Though becoming an actress did require one big change: saying goodbye to her birth name. Unsurprisingly, Wilde and her agent decided that (deep breath) Gabriella Zanna Vanessa Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe might need a little streamlining, and chose Wilde on a whim from the spine of an Oscar Wilde book on her agent’s bookshelf.
‘I think any actress wants to be able to walk into a casting director’s office and be seen as who they are, rather than there being any preconceived ideas as to who they were before,’ she says. ‘Changing my name afforded me some of that… it felt like I could just drop the baggage and be who I am.’
Photographs by Kate Davis-Macleod
Styling by Jayne Pickering