from danish name it
Never Tease an Elephant
DANISH FORMER MODEL RENÈE TOFT SIMONSEN WAS ONE OF THE
WORLD´S FIRST SUPERMODELS. IN THE 1980S, SHE APPEARED ON THE
FRONT PAGES OF VOGUE AND ELLE WHILE WINNING MODELLING COMPETITIONS,
LIVING A CRAZY NEW YORK LIFE AND DATING A POP STAR. THEN ALL OF A
SUDDEN, SHE QUIT HER SUPERMODEL LIFESTYLE, CUT HER TIES TO NEW YORK AND
WENT BACK TO DENMARK. TODAY, SHE IS A SUCCESSFUL AUTHOR, COLUMNIST,
EDITOR AND DIRECTOR. SHE IS ALSO THE MOTHER OF FOUR CHILDREN AND
MARRIED TO ONE OF DENMARK`S ALL-TIME FAVOURITE MUSICIANS.
The hallway is full of shoes. Girl´s shoes, women´s shoes,
boys´ shoes and shoes big enough to accomodate the little white
dog dancing up and down for attention. A snapping sound from the dining
room catches the dog´s attention and it guides me through the
open kitchen to Renée Toft Simonsen, who is seated at a big
wooded dining table gazing into the photographers lens. In the
background, the lawn and the ocean a pale white into the cool autumn
sun. But the light framing Renées is warm. Her light-blue eyes
twinkle in the light from the photographers lamp matching her
light-blue and slightly wrinkled shirt. There is something very relaxed
and laid-back about the woman smiling at the table in the cozy dining
room. Cookbooks line the book shelves and her knitting adornes a little
At the same time, Renées very intense and, once she fastens her
gaze at you, it is difficult to escape her eagle eye. She is so
focussed that it is easy to understand why she became an international
supermodel back in the 1980´s. Since then, she has become a
psychologist, a renowned author of children´s books and, most
recently, director of a brand new, Internet-based company called
Renée had her breakthrough when she won a modelling competition
and shortly afterwards, she got a contract with Ford Models in New
York. All of a sudden, the tall young Dane, with hippie parents, had
landed in the midst of the champagne-drinking fashion world.
During her first year in New York Renée lived with Ford
Models´ founder, Eileen Ford. Then she got her own apartment and
used her looks and her abilities to travel around the world, making
lots of money and partying with other New York celebrities at all the
right places. She also won ´Face of the Eighties` and appeared on
the front page of magazines like Vogue and Elle. She dated the bass
player John Taylor from the popular 1980´s band Duran Duran and
led a jet-set dream life trailed by the paparazzi.
One day she got fed up. Renée asked her bookkeeper to take care
of packing up all her things and selling her New York apartment and
went to live in a Kibbutz in Israel. Hereby the Mediterranean, she
wandered about dressed in the same blue work clothes every day, picking
fruits and enjoying not having to worry about her hair, her make-up or
any of the other stuff that had come to represent her life in New York.
Only years later, was she ready to talk about what had happened.
Renée had started suffering from anxiety attacks. And they
had gotten to severe that she could not stand being in front of a
"If I had stuck around a bit longer, I might have lost touch with
what truly mattered to me - I had to find out if I really wanted to
stay with my pop star boyfriend and travel the world. People tend to
think that celebrity life is the ultimate dream - that having dinner
with David Bowie one evening and spending the next night in Singapore
is simply glamorous. But when you are actually living that life you
know that it is not all that glamorous."
Today, her home on top of the hill North of the Danish city, Aarhus has
a feeling of security and stability. And, in many ways, her life here
is very quiet. She does not travel around the world and she is not
partying all night long even though she and her husband, musician
Thomas Helmig, are one of Denmark´s top celebrity couples. The
couple has obted for a life without gala premieres, television shows
and reality programmes.
Instead, they enjoy a tranquil life with their large family, which
includes a common child, Renée´s two children,
Renée´s nephew and Thomas´ daughter, who lives with
her mother. Although their life is peaceful, there´s plenty of
creative risk-taking in the house.
A huge pile of printouts with red marks lies on top of the dark wodden
dining table. It is Renée´s manuscript for a new youth
novel about two teenage girls, who run away from home.
Crowning the pile of papers is a copy of Thomas´ latest album
´Tommy Boy`. Next to the CD is a copy of the daily newspaper
Politiken reviewing the album. Neither Renée nor Thomas are
prone to complacently sit back and enjoy the fruits of their past
doings - nor do they spend their time sitting in the huge red leather
sofa for that matter.
Renée is the kind of woman who always keeps busy. When asked
what she does to relax she looks a bit confused. "I unplug," she says -
still not quite certain how she actually does spend her time once the
power is off. Well, she reads lots of books, visits her favourite local
cinema and loves gardening.
But when you have a knack forgetting involved in time-consuming projects you do not have a lot of spare time.
At the moment she is deeply involved in the Danish Internet start-up
www.delebarn.dk. The website helps divorced parents cope with planning
and scheduling challenges. Both parents simply click onto an online
calendar and enter their child´s plans. It is a handy tool for
parents who are divorced and if you are a brought-together-family
counting several shared kids, ex-husbands and -wifes you will
potentially save a lot of time.
"It´s tough for kids when their parents divorce. It makes it even
harder if the parents can´t communicate with each other and
exchange messages through their children. With this online service busy
parents as well as parents as well who find it hard to communicate get
the opportunity to plan without arguing. And this way you avoid the
child becoming directly involved in the conflict," she says.
Renée´s own family is already benefiting from the service.
Like when Renée´s mother calls to invite them over for
dinner the following friday night. Renée uses to spend hours
trying to figure out the kid´s schedules, since Ida Maria,
Thomas´ daughter, might have plans with her mother and
Renée´s own children, Ulrik and Jens Christian, may
have plans with their father. Now she can quickly log on to
www.delebarn.dk and check exactly how many people are going to be home
for dinner next friday. "I can also check whether there is a need to
adjust our summer holiday plans to accommodate to the children´s
needs," says Renée.
Hopefully, Renée says, the service will also mean fewer
arguments and less stress on the children. She is greatly concerned
with the issue of children who get caught up in the middle of conflicts
between their divorced parents and talks passionately on the subject.
"The children are the ones who suffer when their parents don´t
know to behave like grown-ups," she says.
And she knows what she´s talking about. As a child her parents
got divorced. Years later she ended up getting divorced as well. And
upon her return from Israel Renée shed the blue work clothes and
earned a degree in psychology.
Since then, she became a columnist and got her own advice column in the
Danish magazine, Femina. In 2003 she published her first
children´s book, `Karlas Kabale`, which was later turned into a
tv series and a film about the girl Karla who´s parents are
divorced. Renée´s first book - a novel about a doctor who
starts suffering from anxiety attacks, came out last year. And as we
speak her first youth novel is literally on the table waiting for the
final go. Her recipe for productivity is discipline. Discipline is a
must when you have a house full of teenagers. Every day, she gets up at
seven in the morning, sends the kids off to school and starts working.
The computer is in the office on the 1st floor overlooking the ocean
and the big foam-capped waves hitting the shore. She writes all day
long. She works on her book, on a column or on her advice column
responces. And she does not finish working until her family returns
back home in the evening.
Renée is responsible for all household duties at home while
Thomas usually cooks - mainly because she does not enjoy cooking.
"I find it boring. But it is a great core for a man. It is well
defined. He has to shop and then he has to cook. And since it is quite
time-consuming it suits me just fine not to have to cook," she says
smiling. She tries not to take household chores too seriously - or
rather, she makes an effort not to get too involved in discussion about
A role model of hers is Ghandi: "I respect Ghandi because he chose love
as his guide," she says leaving no doubt that she is determined to live
according to Ghandi´s principles. And perhaps one of the secrets
to her success is that she is not satisfied with admiring her role
models. She studies them closely to determine what qualities they
posses that she would like to have.
Except when it comes to a certain leathery giant, which she adores.
Miniature copies of elephants are neatly organized in seven straight
rows in her study. Renée is obsessed with elephants and whenever
she travels she brings back yet another miniature trophy to join the
30-somewhat additions of the species on her bookshelf. The children
understand her love for the grey giant and also bring back little
souveniers to add to her collection. "Its strong and good-natured. I
like that. The elephant has a lont of strenghth, but it is gentle. It
is also a very wise animal," she says smiling and adds "never tease an
elephant. If you do, it´ll turn into a very dangerous animal
to my husband for dictating!