Angelica Cheung, the founding editor-in-chief of Vogue China, is described by Forbes magazine as “the high priestess of China’s fashion scene” and presided over the prestigious publication’s launch fifteen years ago. It has become the most influential fashion magazine in the country, featuring the work of international A-list photographers, models, designers and stylists. Vogue China’s phenomenal influence and industry clout has gained Cheung respect and admiration throughout the global luxury industry. She has more than five million followers on the popular Chinese social media feed weibo.
So … living in one of the world’s most populated cities, travelling as editor-in-chief of Vogue China to the most fabulous fashion destinations across the globe (when not restricted by regulations as a result of the coronavirus crisis) … just where does Angelica Cheung head to when taking a break from catwalks and cutting edge couture? This is Y’s Carolyn Nicoll found out.
What are your first memories of Yorkshire?
I have been visiting Yorkshire for over twenty years. One of my earliest memories is of watching The Full Monty, when it first came out, at a cinema in Sheffield, close to where the opening canal scenes were filmed. The audience were rolling in the aisles even as the opening credits came on and carried on laughing loudly throughout the film. It was a great atmosphere and, of course, a very funny film, even though I couldn’t follow all the Yorkshire vernacular at the time. My daughter Hayley, who is very proud of her Yorkshire roots, can do a spot on South Yorkshire accent, with all the right inflections and slang. “Y’all right, luv,” is her favourite.
What’s the main difference between Beijing, where you live and Yorkshire?
Where to start? Beijing is a crowded city of more than 21 million people, which I think is around four times the entire population of Yorkshire. Part of the attraction of visiting Yorkshire, particularly the Dales, is the open space, ruggedness and lack of people. You can go for a ten kilometre hike along trails in the Yorkshire Dales and not see a single person, only sheep. I love the big skies and rugged hills, and each dale is a little different. Last time we stayed in Arkengarthdale which is possibly a little bleak at times, but it was a great experience, especially visiting the Tan Hill Inn, the highest pub in Britain. That got a lot of amused reaction on my social media feeds, people were surprised to find a Vogue editor downing a pint of Theakston’s in an isolated Yorkshire pub. Part of the appeal is that it is so different from my usual life. My schedule regularly takes me to fashion shows in Paris, Milan, London, New York, Los Angeles, Sydney, Shanghai and Hong Kong.
My husband Mark Graham is a Yorkshireman and a journalist, so pubs feature a lot on our visits. I love the really old and quaint coaching inns, we once stayed in the tiny village of Askrigg where I think there are three pubs. I was intrigued to see that the fish and chip van came round every week and people waited patiently for their turn, including me. Last time I was in Hawes, a shopkeeper recognised me. She had seen a feature on me in The Times, where I had mentioned in passing that I liked visiting the Yorkshire Dales. As I was paying, she looked at me carefully and then asked me if I was editor of Vogue China.
One year we rented a charming 17th century stone cottage in a small village called Thoralby, which is really handy for West Burton, a beautiful village and Aysgarth Falls, also a favourite. We were there after torrential rains and did a long walk, past stretches where the river was really raging. It always amazes me that there are so many different kinds of stiles: stone ones that you climb over, or squeeze through, wooden ones and metal ones.
Another hike in that part of the world took us past Bolton Castle, which dates back to medieval times and has been in the family for hundreds of years. It is still pretty much intact. We had afternoon tea there and the waitress told us that the man at the next table was the current Lord Bolton!
Any particular favourite hotels?
Staying at Yorebridge House in Wensleydale was a real treat. The owners have done a really good job of incorporating modern, and even Asian, styles into a traditional Dales stone building. The food was of a very high standard, using the best local produce.
Another favourite was Swinton Park, which is a real picture book English castle, complete with ivy on the walls and swans gliding on the lake. We watched a display of birds of prey in the grounds and my daughter – who was then about six – was thrilled to take part, holding out a gloved hand as an owl swooped down. The handler, a young woman, did an excellent job of explaining all about birds of prey and how they hunt.
Hayley also enjoyed The Forbidden Corner, one of those really quirky English follies with all kinds of nooks and crannies and mazes. She bought a traditional wimple there, which she wore for ages and ages. I often drive in the Dales and have had a few close-up encounters with tractors on the bends of single track roads and a number of stand-offs with the sheep, who sit down nonchalantly in the middle of the road.
Are there any Yorkshire fashion connections?
Well, two people I know very well in the business are from Yorkshire. Christopher Bailey was in charge at Burberry for many years and we used to swap notes on places we had been in Yorkshire. He came to Beijing often and was a great ambassador for Yorkshire. Another very talented Yorkshireman is Stuart Vevers, who grew up in Doncaster and went on to design for the American brand Coach. He was formerly with Loewe and has become a friend over the years. They are both plain-speaking northerners, like me.
You often visit Yorkshire with your husband and daughter?
Yes, my husband is from South Yorkshire. We met 24 years ago in Hong Kong and now live in Beijing. Our daughter, Hayley, just loves to visit, in fact she has probably seen more of the county than most Yorkshire-born kids.
We took Hayley to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park at a very early age and she has been to York, where she climbed the city walls, although she was not quite as impressed with the National Railway Museum’s fabulous steam engines as her dad had hoped. She has ridden donkeys on the magnificent Filey Beach and been to the Dales many times. She loved jumping across the limestone rocks at Malham Cove which featured in Harry Potter and of course, she is a big fan of fish and chips and would eat them for five nights running if we let her. I like fish and chips too, but I have resisted my husband’s urging to sample mushy peas and pickled onions. Likewise with black pudding.
What about shopping?
I don’t do much myself, just the odd piece for the home, but my daughter always insists on a trip to Meadowhall Centre, Sheffield, which has a great range of brands for girls her age. In fact if she had a choice she would probably spend all the holiday in Meadowhall! She also likes walking in Wickersley Wood, close to where her dad grew up, hiking the trails around Roche Abbey. Hayley has done a couple of fun run races in Sheffield and also completed a two-week acting summer school at the Crucible Theatre. On her last day, she walked across the courtyard when Ian McKellen was coming the other way, en route to a Pinter play rehearsal. She is learning guitar right now and has developed a fondness for Def Leppard, who are from Sheffield
We regularly go to Chatsworth House, which is in Derbyshire but not far from the centre of Sheffield. Hayley loved playing in the Cascade, a tiered water feature, when she was younger. I took my mum to visit – and she also accompanied us to the Dales and really enjoyed her visit to Bettys Café Tea Rooms in Harrogate, an experience that is really quintessentially English, something that you just can’t find in China. Last year we did a hike around Stanage Edge, right on the Yorkshire-Derbyshire border and recreated the famous Keira Knightley scene from Pride and Prejudice, where she is filmed standing on a distinctive rock that juts out.
Yorkshire gets a large amount of visitors from China (when travel is not restricted). What do you think it is that appeals to Chinese holidaymakers, which makes them want to see the county?
I think mainstream tourists love places such as York, with its centuries of history and the glorious York Minster. Also the Brontë village in Haworth, where I have been several times. Chinese are familiar with the Brontë sisters and find it fascinating to visit the parsonage where they grew up. I have read Jane Eyre many times and have seen every single movie version.
China has more and more affluent individual travellers, they are the ones who appreciate boutique hotels, fine dining and really special experiences, such as hiking in the Yorkshire Dales. I think those kind of travellers would really enjoy the adventurous side of things, exploring places where few other tourists go.
Where would you send a tourist for them to experience a perfect Yorkshire visit when travel restrictions ease post-pandemic?
It is difficult to nominate one place, as part of the appeal of Yorkshire is its variety, it has wild places, countryside, cultural attractions, seaside resorts and cities. One place that holds very fond memories is Whitby, for its fabulous light. I remember sitting by the harbour there once and, in the space of an hour, it went from sunshine, to cloud, to rain and back again. That is the reason the artist J.M.W. Turner found it so captivating. Whitby Abbey is special too. Another spot is Salts Mill, in Saltaire, where there is a fantastic collection of David Hockney paintings. It is in an old stone mill building and has a bookstore and restaurant.
Anywhere you would still like to see in Yorkshire?
I have never had a proper tour of Castle Howard, which they say is one of the most magnificent stately homes, or visited Fountains Abbey. There are many Yorkshire Dales hikes that we would like to do now that Hayley is older. But I think it is fair to say that I know Yorkshire pretty well, possibly better than any Vogue editor ever has!
Adapted from the 2019 This Is Y magazine, annual edition, interview with Angelica Cheung.
This article was originally written for This Is Y magazine digital edition – Sept/Oct 2020. To view the full magazine, click here