‘I’m 56 and I feel stronger, sexier and more empowered than ever’

How, I wonder, is Brooke Shields so sorted? She has survived a childhood with an alcoholic mother, some disturbing early films, a nation’s creepy obsession with her, a divorce and severe postnatal depression.

She even came through the 90s’ overplucked-eyebrow trend unharmed. And here she is, radiant through my laptop screen, in her beautiful New York townhouse kitchen, with a dog at her feet, husband milling about in the background, one teenage daughter upstairs, another successfully packed off to college, and her sense of humour very much intact. She has, she says with a smile, when I point out how together she seems, “been going to therapy for 35 years”.

Shields is in a Christmas romcom, for Netflix, which is the gift you didn’t know you wanted. “There’s dogs, castles, knitters, pubs!” she says, laughing. I don’t need convincing. The plot of A Castle for Christmas may be as predictable as gift-wrapped socks, but sometimes you just need preposterous cosy escapism.

Hollywood is littered with the broken careers, and lives, of child stars. ‘I don’t know why I didn’t,’ she says when I ask why she never hurtled down that path

Shields is great as bestselling American author Sophie Brown, who, suffering with writer’s block, escapes to Scotland to trace her roots and ends up acquiring a stately home.

And, despite the film’s many conventions, a middle-aged romcom still feels quite radical. There are lots of women in their 50s like Sophie, she says, “who are taking their life in their own hands. They’ve raised kids, they’re moving on to this next phase and there’s a lot of power that comes with that.”

Shields has seen it in her friends, and in herself. “There’s a level of confidence, a level of ‘I don’t give a sh*t’. My friends are moms who are starting new careers, who are empty nesters, and who are saying: ‘I’m this age but there’s so much more for me to do. And I’m capable of it, and I’m independent.’ We love the men in our lives, but we’re not reliant on them. We’re not defined by this, this or this – and that includes motherhood. And I think that’s very appealing.”

Shields recently launched her own company, Beginning Is Now, an online platform for women, which came out of this newfound confidence. “I feel stronger, I feel sexier, I feel less burdened by: ‘Oh, what do they think of me?’ I’m not encumbered in the same way that I spent a great deal of my youth in. I still care about people, but I don’t put myself in this position to feel ‘less than’. And all of a sudden, I was like: ‘Why am I not represented?’ Why am I told: ‘You’re over because you’re not in your 20s’? I’m 56 and I feel more empowered now than I ever did.”

Shields has been famous almost all her life. She appeared in a soap advert when she was 11-months-old, and famously as a prostituted child in the film Pretty Baby at age 11. As a teenager in the 80s, she was everywhere. There were the blatant cash-generators – there was a Brooke Shields doll and she put her name to a range of hairdryers – and also highly sexualised adverts for Calvin Klein, and the film Blue Lagoon, in which, not yet 16, she spent most of the time naked.

Brooke Shields introduces her 11 1/2-inch fashion doll, designed in her likeness, at the New York City Toy Fair in 1982. Photograph: Yvonne Hemsey/Getty

Then Shields escaped it all and took up a place at Princeton University, which she says now perhaps wasn’t the best timing in terms of her career, but probably saved her sanity.

Hollywood is littered with the broken careers, and lives, of child stars. “I don’t know why I didn’t,” she says when I ask why she never hurtled down that path. “I talk about it a lot in therapy, but I think because I was so … ?” She pauses.

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“I had to keep my mother alive. The focal point for me was keeping her alive, because it was the two of us alone in the world, in my opinion.”

Shields’s mother, Teri, was a working-class girl from New Jersey who, through her wit, beauty and force of personality, had turned herself into a Manhattan socialite.

She had become pregnant with Brooke after a brief relationship with a man from a wealthy New York family; they divorced when Shields was five-months-old. Shields then spent a strange childhood shuttling between her father’s affluent Long Island life and her mother’s penniless bohemia.

Shields was then – as now – beautiful, and Teri recognised this, shepherding her daughter’s career. “She had this baby that looked this way, and that’s how we survived,” says Shields. “My looking a certain way paid the bills.” Did that feel like a big responsibility?

“I just loved the approval. And I loved working and I loved being on a set. We had fun, we travelled everywhere. So it wasn’t as if I felt the responsibility as much as: ‘Oh my God, we get to get a car. Oh, we bought a house. We bought another house.’ Like, if I do this, we get this. That’s the way it went for decades.” There was never a plan, she says, and she stresses Teri wasn’t pushy.

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