At 74, the mother of the ultra-media billionaire, who later became a supermodel, publishes her autobiography. A life between hard knocks and resilience. Meeting with a woman who has never stopped reinventing herself.
Become a star model at 74? She did it. Giving birth to the richest man in the world? She did it. But these are not the only successes of Maye Musk. His best revenge? Having lived through a life that was both exceptionally rich and ordinarily trying. A barely believable journey, which she retraces in an inspiring autobiography, Lessons of a lifea personal development bestseller already translated into a hundred languages, which will be released on October 6 in France.
When you meet her, in her luxurious suite at the Plaza Athénée, in Paris, it’s hard to imagine that this vine with steel blue eyes and a frank smile has gone through the hell of an abusive husband and the galleys of a mother who raises her three children alone – one of them will become… Elon Musk. Warm, unfussy, Maye Musk nibbles on a club sandwich between two Dior outfit trials. In front of the lens, this great pro strikes a pose with a disarming naturalness: “Easy, she says mischievously, I’ve been doing this job for fifty years…”
In video, Elon Musk makes a Space X presentation with his son on his knees
Extraordinary top model
If today she has a string of contracts, including that of Dior Beauty ambassador, music videos (for Beyoncé, in 2013) and magazine covers (she did that of Sports Illustrated , and in a bathing suit, please!), Maye has long been a model like so many others, without glory or trumpets. At 15, she took part in a local competition in South Africa, where she grew up. In 1969, she was barely 20 years old when she finished runner-up in the Miss South Africa pageant. Modeling then becomes a complementary activity for those who are qualified dieticians and nutritionists. It wasn’t until retirement that Maye became a senior model star, and a full-fledged celebrity assiduously followed on social media (she has more than 600,000 Instagram followers).
Our dashing septuagenarian laughs about it: “I am having a lot of fun! But I always do things with a touch of self-mockery… Social networks have greatly changed the way we look at aging women. You know, my career took off when I stopped dyeing my hair… It also coincided with a time when there was more demand for older models. I never imagined being a model at 74! In my youth, it often happened to me to chain twenty auditions before being chosen, or to drive an hour to find myself with hundreds of other candidates, and to return home having been completely ignored… ”
Maye does not sulk her pleasure, even cultivating a certain taste for provocation. In 2011, at age 63, she posed naked and pregnant on the cover of New YorkMagazine, a nod to the famous photo of Demi Moore: “It was a great first for me… Obviously, we had asked a real pregnant woman for the belly lining, then the whole thing was assembled in digital editing! What’s funny is that when I met people after the publication of the issue, they congratulated me: “Oh congratulations, you have already lost your pregnancy pounds!” So I answered them: “But after all, I am over 60!” This cover was a political act, it spoke of the desire for children after 50, a taboo among women, but oddly not among men. It was my daughter, Tosca, who convinced me to say yes. She was then pregnant, at 40, thanks to a sperm donation. You know, medically assisted procreation, IVF, it’s not easy. But it also gives women more independence and power, it is sometimes a right to happiness. »
These days, Maye tastes the delights of the solicitations conferred on her by this newly acquired star status: ambassador of the house of Dior Beauté, she gives her name to a variety of rose from the garden of the couturier’s house in Granville, which has become a museum of the brand. “I’m delighted!”, she insists with the air of a spoiled kid, in a hurry to stroll as a tourist on the beaches of Normandy and speak French with her fans.
An example of determination
Since here she is “Instafamous”, Maye Musk has in spite of herself transformed into a role model for women around the world, who see in her a symbol of elegance and stubbornness: “That’s what pushed me writing this book,” she says. But I never thought I would touch so many people with my personal story. At first, I had no desire, but my literary agent was very insistent. In the proofreading, I wanted to remove the chapters in which I evoke the most difficult moments of my life, in particular those with my violent ex-husband. But my New York editor refused, she was sure that was what would speak to the public. And my children convinced me. Suddenly, Maye’s radiant face twitches slightly, before resuming the appearance of a sea of oil streaked with a perfect smile.
I never thought I would reach so many people with my personal story
Errol: she will never pronounce the first name of the one whose patronymic she nevertheless kept. Threats, physical violence, blackmail, Maye will take ten years to leave Mr Musk, the man who gave her three children in three years (Elon, Kimbal and Tosca), and with whom she initially did not want to marry. It was because her own twin sister, Kaye, was getting married that Maye accepted Errol’s urgent request. Before bitterly regretting it. Divorced in 1979 after ten years of battles, she asks for custody of the children, but finds herself without resources despite the fortune made by the father, an engineer who has become a successful entrepreneur. She will never share her personal difficulties with her family: “My brothers and sisters didn’t know anything, they understood a lot of things from reading the book. I didn’t dare talk about it. Today, she urges women victims of violence to speak up and do like her: save their skin.
The Adventure Gene
With his exquisite manners and his haughty bearing of the head, one imagines him doing his classes in the best Swiss boarding schools. It is not so. Maye grew up barefoot in the dust of Pretoria. She is an adventurer, who traveled around all her childhood, touring Africa, Europe and Arabia in a small propeller plane, with her parents and brothers and sisters. Her father, Doctor Joshua Haldeman, and her mother, Winnifred, a dance teacher, are free spirits, originals who raise their five children to worship independence and resourcefulness. She remembers: “It was crazy, my father had exchanged our car against a plane, and, when we left, we had neither GPS nor map! My parents followed their rudimentary navigation instruments, and sometimes they landed in the middle of the street because there was no airport…”
One year, like Indiana Jones, they go in search of a mythical archaeological site, a lost city on the border of Namibia and South Africa. The children spend the nights under the stars in the Kalahari desert, finding themselves face to face with wild animals, lions, hyenas, scorpions. The adventure, the real one. Maye Musk: “Where we were going, no one spoke English. My mother told me that once we had caught dysentery in India… We had to make express landings to relieve ourselves in the middle of nature!” Listening to him, we understand a little better the personality of a son who wants to take us to Mars in his Starship rocket.
Elon, the prodigal son
Maye Musk likes to recall it with humor: “I was famous before Elon was!” However, inevitably, the shadow of this prodigal son hangs over the conversation. If in the book she talks about it extensively, she makes sure that her two other children, Kimbal and Tosca (respectively chef and film producer), are not overshadowed by this invading, charismatic and eccentric big brother (funny detail, she reveals his childhood nickname, “Elon the Encyclopedia”, because he has the answer to everything). The agent warned, she will only answer questions about her son if she wants to. We try: “So, how does it feel to be Elon Musk’s mother?” Maye: “Elon was a passionate child. I’m incredibly proud of him, he always had amazing ideas. We have to let the children choose their path.
The two have a strong bond. In a poignant passage, she recounts how Elon, then a young boy, came between her and her possessive ex-husband, to protect her from blows. At the end of the 1980s, the young man decided to go alone to Canada to study, taking advantage of his mother’s nationality to settle down: “When my son told me he was moving, I sent him a list of all my Canadian family contacts. I sent letters to everyone telling them he was coming… But they took six weeks to arrive, and he was already there, so he managed!” Maye ends up following him, and settles in Toronto: “I was 42 years old, and I left everything to start over.” She opened her own dietetic consulting firm, and continued modeling at the same time.
Times are hard: “I was poor. When we arrived in Toronto, we didn’t have winter coats, because in South Africa you don’t need them… So Tosca and I bought one each from an old warehouse. We wore it every day for two years. “In the 1990s, Maye left for San Francisco to always be closer to Elon, who sparked in Silicon Valley: “I lived in a small studio with a curtain to separate the bedroom and the living room… I did my laundry at the Lavomatic across the street. Elon had bought me a sofa bed, for the times he came to see me. He only used it once…” Today, the one who is a grandmother many times remains evasive about the relationship she has with this billionaire son with an extraordinary personality. But their bond seems intact. Last May, she accompanied him to the great people raout of the Met Ball, in New York: “I was very proud to be his partner, it changes him a little from his stories of rockets and cars…”
Lessons of a life, by Maye Musk, Thierry Souccar Editions, 208 p., €17.90. Released October 6.