Caroline Rowland likes to surround herself with portraits of men in postures that either spell danger or promise excitement. So, as she leads me into her sitting room, on the mantelpiece is a picture of Richard Burton, cigarette in one hand and glass of whisky in the other.
“It is by Terry O’Neill and I picked it up for a song when nobody had any idea of Terry O’Neill photographs,” says Rowland. “This was taken on the set of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? At the height of Burton’s career, in the middle of a mad love affair with Elizabeth Taylor. He is so intense and determined. I love it.”
On the landing is the 1967 Colin Jones picture of Mick Jagger with a large paper flower emerging over his left shoulder, in the 1960s psychedelic style. “I am drawn to pictures of people staring intently,” she says.
Rowland’s love for interiors was inculcated early from her mother, an interior designer, but she had to wait two decades to get the house she wanted. “I have dreamt literally for 20 years to have a lion house in Barnes [in south-west London]. It has statues of lions on the gables and the front gate and was built by an architect in 1896 who wanted to build one house displaying three lions. But, by mistake, he ordered 300 lions and ended up with lion houses in two and a half streets in Barnes and some in Parsons Green, all built to the same style.”
Rowland finally fulfilled her dream two and a half years ago and the way she has decorated the interior suggests that she wants to make her lion house one the architect would have wanted to live in. So Terry O’Neill’s Burton is flanked by a sculpture of an African female figure.
“I picked it up in Johannesburg. They say we all come from Africa and she could be the mother of all humanity. She is a very strong and forceful character.” As we approach Mick Jagger on our way to the loft, there are a couple of Peter Blake’s cityscapes from his Paris series.
Caroline and her husband converted the loft a year ago, adding a gym and a study where she works from home on a Friday. The stairs to the loft mark an important demarcation in the house between work and home.
In a home that has stills from many films, it seems only natural that the study is dominated by a picture of Roger Moore from Live and Let Die. “Films engage us in situations we would not otherwise explore,” says Rowland. But the Moore picture has a special meaning: when her company New Moon was commissioned by London’s 2012 bid to make a film about why the city was bidding, Rowland decided to make a humorous film about famous Englishmen and women captivated by sport. Moore featured along with David Beckham and Helen Mirren. “For me Sean Connery is the universal James Bond but Roger Moore is quintessentially the British James Bond,” says Rowland.
This was followed by Inspiration, the film that made Rowland’s reputation. Part of London’s bid presentation in Singapore in 2005 – where the 2012 host city was selected – Rowland had 28 days to make the film. She was aware that Britain needed African votes to win and says, “The film was intended to inspire young people round the world to participate in Olympic sport. It was the only way we could make London different to the other competing cities: Paris, New York, Madrid and Moscow. All very cool cities. All could host the games.”
The result was a film opening with a scene in Soweto where young black kids stop throwing stones as they see pictures beamed from the London Games.
For Rowland making the film was like returning home. With a Swiss mother and a British father and having lived in South Africa between the age of six and 22, she claims, “I have never felt I have any national identity.” But for Inspiration there could be only one place to film.
“The whole film was shot in South Africa. The township boys in Soweto idea was mine. Part of it was my personal experience. I had been to Soweto as an activist student. My mother would have had a heart attack if she had known that I had been to Soweto at the age of 19.”
The film is widely believed to have played a big part in winning London the games and has gone on to win 26 awards. The result is that now half of New Moon’s business comes from advising bid committees round the world to develop their winning narratives. This has led to successful bids for Russia, South Korea and Qatar for major sports events as well as another one with London. “We are part of a funny little migratory pack of consultants that go from bid to bid,” says Rowland. “I was aware of the Olympics but had no idea of how bids were won and how huge the business was.”
However, she sympathises with Peggy in Mad Men. “I am not as glamorous as Peggy but I do identify with her.” Why? Because the lead female character in the TV series faces the same problems all women do in the industry. Rowland says: “There are still glass ceilings for women and that is the reason I left J Walter Thompson [which she had joined in 1989] and set up New Moon in 1996. There was a job opening on one of the accounts I worked on, a director in charge position. I was taken out for lunch by my then boss who told me why I was not going to get the job. I shall never forget the phrase: I did not have enough ‘gravitas’. I decided that the only way I could achieve the things I believed I was capable of would be doing it on my own.”
But she also feels, “Women are our own worst enemies. I made a choice not to have children. I have been lucky enough to land in a career that allows me to travel and to do things which are completely incompatible with having a family. I was lucky enough to meet a man who had similar views. I have no regrets.”
Rowland studied photography at Rhodes University where she also learnt darkroom skills. She regrets that the romance of the darkroom has been made redundant by technology but this has only increased her desire to take pictures. She started with an old Nikon, has stuck with the brand and still likes to shoot manually, adjusting her focus for every picture.
A framed cover of the London Evening Standard
From July 6 2005, the day London won the bid for the 2012 Olympics. The front page shows a still from her film Inspiration, featuring Simphiwe, one of the boys she had filmed in Soweto. Rowland found him after a casting session in Johannesburg and selected him for his story and his aspirations. Since then they met when Rowland went back to South Africa last year.
An African mask
This was a gift from her father. For Rowland, the symbolism is about mental preparedness and readiness to defend yourself. “If you are prepared, you are always protected. He gave it to me as a symbol of protection so that it could look after me.”