SISTERS don’t come much closer than Billie Shepherd and Samantha Faiers.
Born less than a year apart, they have spent the past decade running businesses together, building their brands alongside each other and helping one another through various heartaches and the challenges of early motherhood.
But there is a third formidable woman always by their side, and it is mum Suzie Wells who has held the girls together through some of the most difficult times of their lives.
“We call ourselves the Three Musketeers,” says Billie. “We are inseparable. We always say we have the best times when we’re together, just the three of us.”
Despite the glamorous outward appearance, life hasn’t always been a bed of roses for Billie and Sam. Their unshakeable bond was cemented early on through trauma.
Their violent biological father Lee Faiers split from their mum when they were toddlers and they have remained estranged.
Then, when Billie was 12 and Sam 11, the man they have always seen as their dad, Dave Chatwood, was jailed for 12 years over drug supply and firearms offences, leaving Suzie to bring up the girls alone.
“Obviously it was horrible and really sad, but Mum held it together so well that me and Samantha were always OK,” says Billie, who turns 31 on Friday.
“At the ages we were it could have been very damaging, but my mum was amazing. We’re really lucky that she is so strong and she stayed strong throughout that situation.”
She says it’s only now that she has grown up and had her own children – Nelly, six, and Arthur, three – that she understands how tough it must have been for Suzie.
It could have been very damaging, but my mum was amazing.
“When you’re a teenager you can be selfish and think the world revolves around you. It’s when you become a mum yourself that it makes you realise everything your own mum has done for you.
“It wasn’t even a situation where she chose to split up with my dad. He was taken away from her and us, and just thinking of the sacrifices she made for us as a single parent makes us so appreciative.”
Suzie and Dave’s marriage did not survive, although they are on good terms today.
She has been single for a number of years and while it’s Billie and Sam’s wish that she meets someone to sweep her off her feet, Suzie, 51, is not so keen on the idea.
“I think it would be really nice to have someone wine and dine her,” says Billie.
“But she’s so busy and has got so used to being independent. To her she’s like: ‘I don’t need a man’ and obviously I know she doesn’t, but it would be so nice to see her get treated by someone else.
“She says she could never live with a man again, but I think it’s about getting used to the idea and I think it would be lovely for her if she could. We’ve said to her that 2021 is her year.”
Suzie will be cheering Billie on next week as she steps completely out of her comfort zone for the start of Dancing On Ice.
As a reality star for 10 years now, Billie has only ever been herself on television – performing is not something that comes naturally and so this is something she has really had to grapple with, she says.
“For a start, I’ve never ice skated before. Maybe once a year on a Christmas rink with the kids, but that’s it. But more than that, I’ve never performed.
"I’m not a dancer or an actress, I’m just me and so it’s kind of learning all that and on top of that, doing it live on TV.
“I’ve been really excited but also thinking: ‘What have I got myself into?’ But on the flip side, it’s been a really strange year and so I feel like I should just go for it and enjoy it.”
She’s not just referring to the pandemic, lockdown and home-schooling (although that was all stressful) – 2020 was a testing year in more ways than that for Billie and husband Greg, 35.
The £1.4million house they bought last January, intending to turn into their dream home with an eye-watering renovation that included a two-storey extension, gym, games room and huge walk-in wardrobe, was refused planning permission amid uproar from the neighbours who claimed the works were “excessive” and not in keeping with other properties on the street.
Billie and Greg went away and modified the plans, which were then approved (the work begins later this month and is expected to continue all year), but the experience has left a sour taste on both sides as the fallout made the papers.
Have bridges since been built with those angry neighbours?
“No, actually,” says Billie, frankly. “We don’t go there much, to be honest, so we’ve not seen anyone. But it’s just not a great start, is it?
“The house is so old, whoever was going to buy it was going to have to renovate.
"There’s only one neighbour to the side of us and he had a lot of reasons as to why he didn’t want us to go ahead, but it was getting a bit silly in the end.
“Before he did his report on why we shouldn’t do the build, he actually asked us if he could cut part of a bush [between the two properties] down and we’re so easy we said: ‘Yeah, sure’. Because we wouldn’t want to make anyone’s life more difficult.
“What was annoying was that we’re only going to make this house look nicer but there has been a lot of toing and froing that I don’t know how [the atmosphere] is going to be when we move in there.”
For now, Billie is looking ahead and hopes to be in by Christmas. Mum Suzie is planning to move into their current house when they vacate it.
“We’ve had the new place for a year now, so it’s been a long, drawn out process,” she says a little wearily.
“But we were never going to give up, we just can’t believe how much time things take. So it’s been a very long journey already and it’s about to get even more pressurised once the builders start work.”
The renovations will be documented on Billie’s homes account on Instagram as well as the hugely popular Mummy Diaries reality show, which is filming its ninth series following the day-to-day lives of the sisters and their families.
As two of the original TOWIE cast members, Billie and Sam, 30, were savvy enough to start their own business very early on, opening Minnie’s Boutique in 2011, which was the beginning of their brand building.
Sam was the first to quit the show after four years in 2014 with Billie following suit in 2016 and since then, both of them have gone on to become multimillionaires through endorsements, clothing lines, baby equipment, homewares and the Mummy Diaries itself, and are now permanent fixtures on our annual Reality Rich List.
Billie says: “I remember when we started Minnie’s Boutique, I thought to myself that we needed to set the foundations because this might not last forever.
"We were planning for the future from the start and we always said the dream would be to eventually have our own show.”
Knowing when to leave TOWIE was key to being able to do all of this and to firmly establish themselves away from the show.
It’s something the likes of Lucy Mecklenburgh, Gemma Collins and Ferne McCann have also managed and Billie agrees that timing was everything.
“Yes, it was so important. But so was the support from the other girls. We all stuck together back then, there was rarely any bickering and we were a tight-knit group. We were all able to keep a level head with it.”
Does this mean she thinks the younger, more recent stars lack the camaraderie she thinks was so crucial?
“To be honest, I don’t really know many of the new cast. I watch it from time to time but not religiously.
"But I think you’ve got to know your market and what you want to do – sometimes there are too many opportunities and for some of them who are on it now, it can be confusing. They don’t know where to focus.”
As one of the less controversial characters on the show, it’s unsurprising to hear that Billie has no regrets about anything she did or said during her time on it.
She managed to dodge the drama, playing more of a supporting role, which suited her just fine.
“I was actually really lucky because I didn’t have to do much in the TOWIE days.
"Samantha was in among the main storylines and I was friendly with everyone, but because I didn’t have a relationship on the show, I never had those awkward situations on camera.
“I mean, some of the outfits and hair and make-up choices were horrendous, but I think that is all part of growing up.”
Billie’s first real brush with scandal came in the spring of 2019 when she married businessman Greg Shepherd in the Maldives and the trip attracted a slew of negative headlines back home.
Proceedings didn’t get off to the greatest of starts when dad Dave was kicked off the outward flight for reportedly being too drunk, although he did eventually make it to the resort in time to give Billie away.
But when other residents and hotel guests on the island began tipping off the press about the supposed rowdy behaviour of Billie and Greg’s friends and family, it threatened to cloud the entire happy occasion.
“It definitely didn’t spoil anything for me, but it was annoying,” says Billie.
In the make-up chair with Billie
Which skincare brands do you swear by?
Zo Skin Health by Zein Obagi.
Best beauty bargain?
Pink Vaseline is the best for keeping lips moisturised in the winter.
What’s your top beauty splurge?
Any Tom Ford make-up – there’s a gorgeous liquid highlighter which looks amazing mixed with foundation or used on its own.
What can’t you leave home without?
Concealer, brow mascara, Mac Lip Liner in Spice, mascara, highlighter and blusher.
Who’s your beauty icon?
Rosie Huntington Whiteley always looks so polished but never overdone.
“Obviously we had the thing with my dad and for that to all come out was frustrating, but then that did happen so what can you do?
“But there was someone on the island trying to sell stories the whole time.
"We were all there, having a wonderful time and everyone on the island was so lovely, and there was one guy who was trying to cause trouble.
"In the end the only approach we could have was to laugh at it. Everyone had the most amazing time and so did me and Greg, it really was a holiday of a lifetime. We still reminisce about it all the time.
“Things like that can be one of the downsides of being in the public eye, but you do have to accept that will happen along the way.”
Does she worry about how life in the public eye might impact on the children?
“Yes, we do, especially in the last year since Nelly is getting older and Paul [Sam’s five-year-old son] has started school.
"The kids aren’t featured as heavily on the show now compared to when they were babies, because they are older and Nelly doesn’t want to come home from school and have a camera in her face. It’s not fair.
There was someone on the island trying to sell stories the whole time.
“The situation with the kids now is if we are filming in the house and they’re there and they want to get involved and chat and are happy to be there, then great.
"But we would never say: ‘We need to film this,’ because it wouldn’t work.
"We do have to be more thoughtful about things like friends at school watching the show or the mums and dads, so it’s all about having a good balance really.”
What with Dancing On Ice and the renovation, Billie says there will be plenty to keep her busy in 2021. And she says a third baby is a possibility at some stage.
“I want to do Dancing On Ice and tick that box, and I would consider having another baby, definitely…”
Then she checks herself and, very wisely, concedes that adding a newborn to the mix could be a recipe for disaster (or divorce) right now.
“Greg and I have agreed we need to get this next year done before we can
even think about it!”
- Watch Billie on Dancing On Ice, January 17, ITV.
- Hair: Dino Pereira using Kiehl’s Since 1851 Magic Elixir
- Make-up: Aimee Adams using Urban Decay
- Styling: Nana Acheampong
- Billie wears: dress, Oh Polly; shoes, Boohoo.com
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