Jimmy Choo inspires youth in Diana's name

Prof Jimmy Choo at Harvey Nichols in Leeds. Picture by Simon HulmeProf Jimmy Choo at Harvey Nichols in Leeds. Picture by Simon Hulme
Prof Jimmy Choo at Harvey Nichols in Leeds. Picture by Simon Hulme
When he started his shoe business in the 1980s, it was a £40 grant and mentoring from the Prince's Trust that kickstarted Prof Jimmy Choo OBE's illustrious career.

Today, the Malaysian-born shoe designer, who made his fortune as the official shoe designer for Princess Diana as well as adorning the feet of A-list celebrities, vowed to help other young people rise to the top after he was named an ambassador for the Diana Award charity.

The charity was set up in 1999 following the death of Princess Diana. It recognises young people who demonstrate kindness, compassion and a desire to help others, and the charity also runs anti-bullying and mentoring programmes.

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Speaking to The Yorkshire Post during a brief visit to Leeds, Prof Choo said: “I am passionate about mentoring because I know the impact it can have and it’s important for me to give something back.”

Prof Choo believes one of the most important roles for a mentor is to lead by example.

“I can’t teach you how to be a good designer,” he said. “But I can teach you how to be a good person. You need to be a good person first before anything else.”

Born in 1961 into a family of shoemakers in Penang, Prof Choo made his first shoe when he was only 11.

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He worked part-time as a shoe factory cleaner to help fund his education in London. International fame came when his creations were featured in a record eight pages in a 1988 issue of Vogue magazine.

Princess Diana’s endorsement also helped. Their friendship bloomed over seven years of collaboration where he would visit her residence in Kensington Palace, London.

He said: “She would always offer me tea, coffee and biscuits - she knew I liked biscuits. You don’t get that everywhere you go.”

Diana’s love for Prof Choo’s sling-back heels and casual pumps cemented the shoe designer’s reputation around the world.

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Speaking to The Yorkshire Post during his last visit to Leeds in 2008, he said: “The first time she called me in Paris and asked if I would be happy to come and see her. When I told my mother, she said to me, ‘Put on your best shirt and remember good manners when you speak to her’.”

He added: “When she first came to me she was very down to earth. She said to me ‘Jimmy, remember I don’t want high heeled shoes, so don’t give me four inch heels’. I said ‘why do you want low heel shoes’ and she said ‘because Charles is not that tall.’”

Prof Choo was visiting the city for a fundraising lunch organised by the charity at Harvey Nichols and hosted by television presenter-turned businesswoman Carole Smillie and business turnaround expert Kate Hardcastle.

Tessy Ojo, chief executive of the Diana Award, said the charity’s work is based on Princess Diana’s belief that young people have the power to change the world.

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“We are celebrating the legacy of Princess Diana and also remembering that all of us have a responsibility to support the next generation,” she said.

“Jimmy Choo’s story of how he was supported by the Prince’s Trust and Princess Diana is a really good example of what happens when someone receives the right support.”

Prof Choo co-founded fashion empire Jimmy Choo with British Vogue accessories editor Tamara Mellon in 1996, but in April 2001, he sold his 50 per cent stake in the company to Equinox Luxury Holdings, backed by Phoenix Equity Partners and former Christian Lacroix boss Robert Bensoussan.

Prof Choo, who now concentrates on his exclusive Jimmy Choo Couture line, previously said of the sale: “I wanted to do something for myself. I wanted to be a free person. It’s nice to be a big company but I’m not interested in that kind of thing.”

The company is preparing for its latest takeover after handbag maker Michael Kors made a £900m bid for the business. Prof Choo said today: “I send my best wishes to them.”