It's all in the designer genes

It’s all in the designer genes

Textiles legend Celia Birwell, artist David Hackney’s 70s muse, has plenty in common with her fashionista granddaughters Tilly and Lola, finds Claudia Joseph.

Walking into the David Hockney: Drawing from Life exhibition at London’s National Portrait Gallery you find yourself surrounded by images of Hockney’s close friend, textile designer Celia Birtwell. Now 82, the artist’s muse posed for him more than half a century ago. In the final room of the exhibition, two drawings stand out: those of her granddaughters, 21-year-old Tilly Clark and younger sister Lola, 18.

Apart from starring with their grandma in the exhibition, these Gen Zs are rapidly gaining their own celebrity as TikTok influencers. So, what do these young women make of their famous relative’s world – and what does she make of theirs?

Celia, Carennac, August, 1971 appears in David Hockney’s exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery


‘I still use mascara and kohl and always have powder,’ says Celia, ‘but I prefer being pale.’ Like many of her generation, she is faintly baffled by the thick foundation and precision contouring beloved of Gen Z: ‘It looks like a mask,’ is her verdict.

Lola confirms that Grandma is a less-is-more type when it comes to make-up, telling her granddaughter: ‘You don’t need to cake your face in horrible foundation.’

Tilly did once persuade Celia to let her do her make-up (‘too much’) and also to try on a wig (‘she hated it’). The three women concur on their beauty icon: Marilyn Monroe.

‘I think she is unsurpassable,’ says Celia.

‘I see similarities in my grandma,’ adds Tilly.


Sorry, Gwyneth, but these Gen Zs aren’t especially Goop-y.

‘Apart from drinking two litres of water a day, health guru-ing is not really my thing,’ says Tilly. ‘I tried to meditate. It made a ringing in my ears and stressed me out.’

Lola feels the same: ‘I tried meditation in Ibiza this summer and I was like, “This isn’t for me.” It’s quite soothing, but I can’t fully get into the mindset of it. I’m always thinking, “This is really funny” instead of relaxing.’

Celia is, however, more woo-curious.

I have a very, very nice daughter-in-law called Bella Clark,’ she says. ‘She has taken up pranic therapy [healing]. It’s quite yoga-esque; they do lots of breathing exercises. So I do deep breathing. It’s helped me a lot.’ (She even recommended the exercise to Hockney; it is known to help smokers’ lungs.) Still, she has her limits.

‘Bella also works with crystals. I couldn’t quite understand the crystals.’

Tilly and Lola also appear in Hockney’s exhibition


Tilly is at Central Saint Martins, studying to be a womenswear designer, while Lola is doing a foundation course there and hoping to work in fashion communications. However, only Tilly can sew. As Lola admits, ‘I can’t make clothes.’ Her verdict on sewing machines is the same as on meditation sessions: ‘They stress me out.’

Far from lecturing her granddaughters on the importance of artisanal skills, Celia is with Lola on this issue: ‘When I worked with Ossie [her late husband, the celebrated 1960s fashion designer Ossie Clark], it was a kind of double act. He was the most brilliant pattern cutter, but I can’t sew. My mother always sewed and I would sit and watch her. But I never learned – my nature doesn’t really allow me. I’m too impatient.’


Known affectionately to the family as ‘Miss Change-Her-Mind’ because she’s always returning purchases, Celia still enjoys shopping and will pop into the French designer store Agnès B, in London’s Covent Garden. Women up and down the land, however, will be comforted to learn that even fashion legends buy their trousers in M&S. ‘You have to feel comfortable with what you wear when you get older,’ she explains.

For Tilly, sustainability trumps comfort. ‘It can take me ages on Ebay or Depop to find the clothes that I like,’ she says. ‘I’m really in the market for a Vivienne Westwood corset and I’m on the lookout for big platform shoes because I’m quite short. There’s this [vintage clothing] place on London’s Portobello Road called Lovers Lane, which I love because my grandma used to take me.’

Sadly, for these Gen Z vintage fans, the Ossie Clark/Celia Birtwell archive has been sold. ‘There’s quite a few Ossie and Celia bits that I would have killed to wear,’ sighs Tilly, ‘but I respect that if I had them, I would wear them to death, and they wouldn’t be preserved. We want our grandchildren and great-grandchildren to know about her.’

Grandma Celia does get a special mention from the younger generation for her skills in choosing accessories: ‘Her sock game is really good!’ (Her scarf game is rather good, too. To celebrate Hockney’s exhibition, Celia has designed a collection of silk scarves for the National Portrait Gallery.)

Hockney’s painting Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1970-1)


Ossie and Celia divorced in 1974. Her partner of more than 30 years is decorator Andrew Palmer. ‘When I was young, it was quite important to be married when you had children,’ she says. ‘It’s one of life’s lovely things to do. If I were to give advice to friends of mine who are single now, I think online dating might be a good idea. It’s often difficult to meet people in your circle.’ Tilly and Lola aren’t convinced. ‘Personally, I wouldn’t want to say to my children, “I met your dad on a dating app,”’ says Tilly. ‘I do believe in marriage. It’s really nice to commit to somebody legally.’

‘I was wary about online dating for a while,’ adds Lola, who is single. ‘I remember the first time my eldest sister, Isabella, went on a date with someone from Hinge, I was terrified for her. I tracked her [via her phone] every step of the way. In my head, it takes away what love is.’

She does think her generation has been adversely affected (socially speaking) by the pandemic and that it’s making relationships harder. ‘A lot of people are quite shy now and don’t go out as much.’


Celia admits to having enjoyed a hedonistic youth: ‘I was probably quite naughty. I used to like getting drunk occasionally. I think it’s quite good fun to make a fool of yourself as long as everybody else is doing so too.’

Although she no longer drinks much, she still enjoys the odd cigarette. ‘But I take a little puff and put it out.’

‘I don’t smoke,’ says Tilly firmly. ‘I had one cigarette at a festival and threw up. I was brought up around smoking. I think that’s probably why I don’t do it.’

‘I drink and smoke,’ admits Lola. ‘A lot of my generation are becoming quite aware about the dangers of smoking and drinking, but I still haven’t caught up with that.’

Social media

Lola (left) and Tilly, pictured last month

Celia doesn’t understand TikTok, despite her youngest granddaughter’s burgeoning fame on the platform (4.5 million followers under the strapline scoobiezoobie).

‘Lola is the big star,’ says Tilly. ‘I’m just her stylist, make-up artist, videographer and creative director. We showed Grandma but she was like, “I just don’t get it.” Though she does like to see us being successful.’

Lola admits she spends too much time on her phone: ‘I’m always posting, but it’s my life. I love the fact that Grandma’s generation didn’t have cellphones. I think that is such a beautiful thing.’

Despite not getting TikTok, Celia loves Instagram. ‘It’s very engaging and probably quite addictive. I feel sorry for friends my age who don’t want to go there because they’re frightened of it. It’s changing so much.’

She is, however, worried about AI. ‘The thing about is it real or is it not real? That worries me because I hope I can distinguish between truth and lie. It’s not going to get any easier, is it? We’ve opened Pandora’s box. That’s very alarming, actually.’


Given that there’s a professional chef in the family (Celia’s son, Albert, father of Tilly and Lola), you might suspect the three women would be food snobs. Not so. Celia has, in fact, been known to serve the girls spaghetti hoops. ‘When they launched [Heinz] Alphabetti, she would spell out our names on toast,’ recalls Lola.

The duo still adore Grandma’s sandwiches. ‘It’s tea-party food’, says Celia: smoked salmon or cucumber fillings, on white bread, with the crusts always cut off. Tilly likes the salmon ones; Lola likes the cucumber. (‘White bread,’ says Lola, ‘reminds me of Grandma.’)

Sandwiches aside, Celia is culinarily capable. She can be a keen baker: ‘I got a Magimix – I was pretty good at it.’ She has also recently discovered bigos, Polish huntsman’s stew: ‘I get Andrew [my partner] to make it using sauerkraut,’ she says.

If cooking fails, she likes takeaways – ‘a brilliant idea, that!’ – as long as it’s not sushi. ‘I went through a period of loving it. I think we’ve all been there. I’m a bit over that.’

All three have a sweet tooth and there is an entire snack drawer at Celia’s house. The octogenarian fills it up before any grandchild visits. ‘Grandma always has butterscotch in her bag,’ says Lola, ‘which I’ve started doing because I get energy highs and lows and I’ll get really grumpy if I don’t have anything.’

Celia with Hockney, 1969, the year she married Ossie Clark (right, on their wedding day with his sister Kay and best man Hockney)


Celia has fond memories of communal living in 60s West London. ‘When I was young, I paid about £5 for a room in Addison Road, Holland Park. It was one room with a little kitchen in the corner and a communal bathroom and it was fun because all your friends were at art school or living in London.’

She acknowledges her granddaughters have been born into more privilege than she experienced in her youth but is still protective. ‘Of course, I will try and help them forever because they’re the dearest people I know. I never anticipated being a grandma years ago, and then it happened, and I think,

“They will be all right because I’ve managed to make enough money to have a nice life and I want them to have the same.”

David Hockney: Drawing from Life is at the National Portrait Gallery, London W1, until 21 January; go to for details.

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