If Coco had been born a boy, we were all set to call her Alistair Elvis Fennell, so my wife, Louise, was relieved that she was a girl. And so was I. I loved the idea of having daughters — I still do — as I don’t know what sort of a father I would have been to a son.
Coco arrived three years after her sister, Emerald [the actress and writer]whose birth had been pretty gruesome. At that point we’d managed to cobble together some money because my jewellery design business was beginning to take off, so Coco was born in the private Portland Hospital. [After launching his eponymous label in 1982, Theo became known as the King of Bling for his flamboyant rings, necklaces and silverware, and has celebrity customers including Sir Elton John, Naomi Campbell and Lady Gaga.]
From the moment she arrived, Coco was adorable. She made almost no sound as she slept, she ate and smiled almost permanently. And that friendly and placid disposition continued into her childhood, although she always marched to her own drum. She developed a very individual sense of style from a young age and, even as a child, she had an extraordinary aptitude for putting together unlikely things and making a really satisfying whole.
Then when she was about 13 everything changed. This adorable girl started getting tattoos, including a particularly poorly executed Britney Spears one. She had a teenage Britney obsession, and this tattoo resembled an angel being sick in the small of her back. People said, “Weren’t you furious?” but frankly I was more appalled by the poor quality of the craftsmanship. I was also concerned that her rebellious streak might lead her into trouble but it all turned out to be an aberration. One day, as if the cloud had literally rolled past, the adorable creature with the permanent smile returned and she’s been here ever since.
No subjects are taboo between us. Coco tends to go to her mother for emotional support, as she realised very early on that her mother was considerably more sensible than her father and might be able to offer her more prudent advice. I’m pleased to say that sibling rivalry has never been an issue although Coco and Emerald are very different characters. They made each other laugh and they still do. They’ve both inherited an industrious, non-judgmental nature and a love of kitsch. In our family we take a terribly kitsch piece of china as seriously as a nice figurine.
Any negative traits she’s inherited undoubtedly come from me, including a certain stubbornness and a predisposition to excess, which she’s handled far better than I did. I didn’t grow out of my partying days until my late middle age, but Coco is a real grown-up. She’s remarkably diligent and her business reflects that.
Coco is also as fastidious about the care she puts into her dresses as I’ve always been about the finer details in my jewellery design business, and it’s no surprise to me that celebrities like Kylie Minogue, Rihanna and Rita Ora want to wear her pieces . I can’t remember ever sitting her down and telling her to believe in herself and to forge her own path, but she seems to have inherited it almost by osmosis. Watching Carey Mulligan wearing some of Coco’s designs in Emerald’s film Promising Young Woman [for which Emerald won the best original screenplay Oscar last year] was a surreal but joyful experience.
I’m aware that this sounds terrifyingly Californian, but I believe that if you give children utter love, respect and an enjoyable environment, then they’re likely — if they’ve had the luck to be born somewhere nice and tolerant like this country is — to be OK.
Coco is very perceptive in seeing other people’s qualities and that includes boyfriends. She’ll spot a wrong ‘un really quickly, but equally she’ll spot a right ‘un who really is a diamond in the rough.
I hope she won’t be trembling at the prospect of me giving her away one day, although I’m sure there have been times when I’ve overstepped the mark and she’s groaned, “Daaaaad!” I did the father-of- the-bride speech for Emerald, and my son-in-law introduced me as “Theo from the Fennell family, who are half Waltons, half Kardashians”, which was very funny.
Father and daughter in 1990
Growing up with my dad was grotesquely charming. I remember having so much fun in this little cottage we rented in Herefordshire, and there would always be dancing. He used to do this thing called the mad chef, where he’d ball Mum’s tights up and pretend to make them into cakes. It was insane but so entertaining.
Dad is also really kind. If you were struggling at a party, you’d always want him to sit next to you. Although occasionally, when he goes on one of his political rants, we’ll have to say, “Back to your room, Mr Fennell, visiting hours are over,” or he’ll crack on for hours.
I remember when I was a teenager, I had a boyfriend staying, and I came downstairs in the morning and Dad was ranting at him about rap music or something. I was just, like, “Oh my God” but he’s always been very accepting , even during my rebellious teenage years. It was around the time Mum was ill with breast cancer and Dad was looking after us. I was obviously really freaked out and not understanding what was going on. I was quite horrible to him, but I think I was just really scared.
I don’t know whether I’m any better at managing my excess than Dad, but I stopped drinking aged 21 and now no one in the family drinks [Theo stopped more than 20 years ago]. It was making me anxious that I’d say something unkind to someone and I’m so much happier now that I don’t have that worry.
I’m always completely myself with my parents. I would never not tell them anything. And since Emerald’s kids have been born, I’ve seen an even sweeter side to Dad. When Emerald shares photos of them on the family WhatsApp group, we all just post loads of broken heart emojis as we’re so in love with them; they’ve already inherited the Fennell condition of showmanship and just having fun. I love going down to my parents’ place in Berkshire for the weekend, it’s as good as going to a party, which is a bit sad but true. The perfect Fennell night out would be karaoke, then bowling, followed by an Elvis tribute act. We bond over a shared love of kitsch and country and western. I even bought Dad a pair of sequinned cowboy boots a couple of Christmases ago.
Visit theofennell.com, cocofennell.com
Theo on Coco
She is obsessed with really bad telly, anything that has some sort of bizarre premise
Coco on Theo
He becomes a psychopath at airports. Any queues send him berserk, and he becomes Airport Dad