As the Los Angeles-bred model daughter of British rock royalty Sir Rod, Renee Stewart would have every right to behave like a proper little madam. Reality TV producers, model agencies and party organisers all come knocking on the door of genetically blessed celebrity offspring in their teenage years, with promises of millions of pounds from simply living off the family name.
So it comes as a pleasant surprise to meet a rather shy 24-year-old who admits to feeling ‘incredibly nervous’ about her first magazine interview and whose immediate concerns include the Donald Trump administration (‘In terms of acceptance and integration we are just going backwards – it makes me want to cry’) and no longer being able to use her student travel card, having recently finished her BA at the London Contemporary Dance School (LCDS). (‘I used to pay around £80 a month for travel and now it’s so expensive. I just walk a lot more.’)
It is almost impossible to take in the fact that this quiet, considered, beautiful girl is the child of New Zealand-born supermodel Rachel Hunter and raucous Rod, whose iconic moments include wearing a pair of skin-tight leopard-print trousers, and singing songs such as ‘Da Ya Think I’m Sexy’, not to mention a history of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll.
But Renee (named by her dad after the Left Banke song ‘Walk Away Renée’), who moved to London in 2013, idolises not musicians but dancers – including US ballet star Misty Copeland and French ballerina Sylvie Guillem. She rarely drinks or goes to parties because if she’s not in a dance studio she’s in a gym, at a yoga class or cooking in the house she shares with friends. ‘I’m a good cook but I’ve definitely eaten a lot of beans on toast since I’ve been in London. I don’t have money to blow on fancy restaurants,’ she says.
And when she signed up to LCDS she didn’t tell anyone who her famous parents were. ‘I don’t exactly go around announcing that,’ she says. ‘People got to know me first before they knew anything about my family.’
Her small circle of friends (she is not currently in a relationship) is largely made up of other dancers and mutual friends with her younger brother Liam, 22, who lives in Coventry (where’s he’s a member of the Coventry Blaze ice-hockey team) and her half-sister Ruby, 29, from Rod’s relationship with Kelly Emberg, who lives in Nashville with her band The Sisterhood.
Renee also – very controversially for a Stewart – has dark brown hair. ‘I have no idea where it came from,’ she says. ‘I once dip-dyed my hair blonde but I’m definitely a brunette. And I’m staying that way.’
It would be easy to say that Renee is something of a Saffy figure from Absolutely Fabulous: the sensible, earnest by-product of outrageous look-at-me parents. But she is not exactly that. She has modeled for Pantene and was the face of New Zealand lingerie company Bendon (her mother was the face of the same brand in 1986), and her spectacular physique – all long limbs and lithe body – is something in which she takes great pride.
‘The modelling I want to do is where movement is involved. I love that the fashion industry is using dancers as models more. I see myself as a dancer first and model second.’
She has certainly inherited her father’s work ethic. She recently walked for Dolce & Gabbana at Milan Fashion Week, as well as starring in the new James Perse clothing campaign, and has completed a research project with choreographer Sasha Roubicek. Current endeavours include a project with filmmaker Leila Bartell and dancing in one of her sister Ruby’s music videos.
She and Rod have a special bond. ‘We are both performers. I love to perform,’ she says. ‘We talk about it, what it feels like to be out there on stage. It’s the place where both of us feel the most comfortable in the world. I feel so liberated, so completely myself, when I dance.
‘As a kid I was always putting on plays. It would be me and Ruby and Liam. We’d sell tickets and make everyone come, then Liam would try to wreck everything by saying the wrong lines and my dad would really laugh,’ Renee says. She has danced since childhood. ‘I did everything from ballet to street to hip-hop. My mum did ballet and my great aunt was a dancer – plus my dad is one of the most energetic people I know – so it’s definitely in the blood. Both of my parents inspire me.’ Can she sing, too? ‘No way,’ she laughs. ‘I leave that to my dad and my sister. It’s definitely not my thing.’
When Rod and Rachel came to see her in her final performance at LCDS, the 72-year-old singer had tears of pride in his eyes. ‘He tells me he’s proud of me all the time,’ she says. ‘He knows I work hard and I’m following my passion. And I guess he’s pleased I’ve found something creative that makes me happy.’
Renee provides a fascinating glimpse into the workings of the byzantine Stewart clan, peopled with glamorous blondes (from Rod’s first wife Alana Stewart to his current spouse Penny Lancaster) and studded with beautiful children. Renee is the fifth of his eight-strong brood, and the first born of his second marriage in 1990 to Rachel (they separated in 1999 and divorced in 2006 when Renee was 14, but have remained friends).
At 24, she is nearly 30 years younger than his first child, Sarah Streeter, 53 (born when Rod was 18 after a year-long romance with art student Susannah Boffey, and subsequently adopted), and almost 20 years older than his youngest child Aiden, six (his second son by Penny).
Renee admits she was a well-behaved child. ‘I was never difficult as a kid. The only times I’ve been in trouble with dad is over my dog [she has a rescue chihuahua called Jagger] because she poos in the house, which drives him mad. He’s not big on animals but we are all obsessed’ – a source of good-natured irritation for a man who ‘likes everything neat and tidy’.
When Renee talks about her very modern family, what comes across most clearly is a lack of dysfunction along with a fundamental adherence to old-fashioned values (hard work, good manners and respect for her elders) and a solid sense of family.
‘Both my mum and dad are laidback about what we want to do in life but strict about how we behave, and my dad really cares about us working hard and being independent. He came up from nothing and worked incredibly hard to get where he is, and he loves talking about the old days when he was busking in the streets and living on hardly any money. That definitely keeps you grounded. It also makes me respect him all the more because trying to make a career in a creative industry is so hard. I’m genuinely in awe of what he has done.’
Renee’s face relaxes as she talks about her family. ‘There are a lot of us kids and a lot of ex-wives and partners, but we were brought up to consider each other brothers and sisters. I’ve never thought of any of my siblings as a half-sister or brother – to me they are just family.’
Every year, the Stewarts gather for an annual Christmas lunch. She laughs: ‘We all get together and everyone cooks. It’s completely chaotic but it’s one of my favourite times of the year. We also recently went on holiday together, which was pretty insane. It’s quite hard to fit everyone in a single photograph as there are so many of us, but we all get on really well.’
Penny, Rod’s wife of nearly ten years, is always the first to write glowing praise of Renee’s dance shots on her Instagram page. ‘Penny is a lovely woman and she’s very supportive with all of us,’ she says. ‘I’m lucky to have a lot of great people in my life.’
Ask Renee if she feels overshadowed by the Stewart name and she looks almost puzzled. ‘No,’ she says. ‘I’m proud of it. I don’t think it entitles me to anything. I want to make a career out of dance and from modelling with movement. But it’s all up to how hard I work at it.’
Renee has benefited from being born when Rod was older. Rod himself has admitted he was ‘too caught up in my career’ as a young man. He has said his relationship with Sarah – with whom he was reconciled in 2009 – has been difficult and mired with guilt, and he had to watch as Sean, 36 (from his marriage to Alana), struggled to get through issues with drugs and partying. ‘It was much harder for my older children because I was younger,’ Rod told me recently. ‘Bless them all, they’ve come through it and I’ve worked to be a good dad.’
Renee nods her head. Unlike Sean and his sister Kimberly, who lived in Beverly Hills, she and Liam grew up in the more relaxed seaside enclaves of Culver City and Redondo Beach. She says: ‘We didn’t have the whole Hollywood thing going on. We didn’t really get involved in partying and going out because I was so focused on dance and Liam was focused on his sports. I didn’t start modelling until quite recently because dance always came first.’
Right now she is in the heart of her father’s homeland and Rod – who hails from North London, where he was born to a working-class Scottish father and English mother – was delighted when his youngest daughter moved to the capital. When he visits, he regales her with tales about how the cutting-edge area that is now her home used to be one of the ‘roughest neighbourhoods ever’.
She laughs: ‘My dad thinks it’s hilarious that Shoreditch is now so cool and trendy because it was really dangerous when he was my age. But I love it because you can walk everywhere, it’s incredibly mixed and laidback, and there are tons of great little places to eat.’
In terms of modelling, Renee – who is managed by Storm, the agency that discovered Kate Moss – is not the average stick-thin catwalk size. Instead she is strong, lean and athletic. ‘I eat a lot because I exercise a lot,’ she says. ‘I love healthy food but I also love roast dinners and chocolate. I’m obsessed with Cadbury Buttons. I never stop myself eating anything I want because I’m always dancing and exercising for hours every day.
‘I do yoga, I meditate, I go to spin classes and I work out in the gym. It’s how I live. It makes me happy. I look at my dad still running around on stage and I think that’s amazing because he is so fit – he still plays football. My mum is incredibly fit and healthy and that’s the way we were brought up.’
Renee is also a big fashion fan. ‘I love laidback, well-cut dance and athletic clothes,’ she says. ‘I’d love one day to design my own line because they are the sort of pieces I love to wear; you can look cool and comfortable at the same time.’
She smiles when I ask about her dad’s sense of style. ‘It’s amazing,’ she says. ‘He has his own look. He’s always really well dressed and he loves clothes. He has a whole floor in his house [in LA] with his stage clothes from all the decades, which we love going to look at.’
Does she ever, I ask, feel tempted to pull on those skin-tight leopard-print trousers? She laughs: ‘They don’t fit me. My dad was a smaller size in trousers than I am, so I wouldn’t be able to get them on. I do love them, though.’ Sir Rod – and Rachel – should be proud.
Written by LOUISE GANNON FOR YOU MAGAZINE