I had my doubts about Hailey Baldwin. In the run-up to meeting her, I’d read every interview and watched every chat-show segment, yet still had no real idea precisely what the 21-year-old supermodel, daughter of Stephen, niece of Alec and BFF to Bella, Kendall, Kylie and Gigi, was all about. Is she just another — sigh — Instagram celebrity from a famous family? A gen-Z brat with more selfies than substance? Her social-media accounts certainly led me to think so: a glossy gallery of magazine covers, fashion campaigns, pouting, peace signs and red carpets. I certainly didn’t think that Baldwin would reveal herself to suffer from attention deficit disorder and be a “full nerd” who reads medical journals. “In a different life, I probably would have loved to be a doctor,” she says. “I’m reading a book right now called Mindsight. It’s about meditation, finding ways to reduce anxiety and depression, the importance of human interaction and mind-mapping. It’s really interesting. Told you, full nerd.”
We meet three days into the Cannes Film Festival. The interview was due to take place at Baldwin’s hotel in Nice, but, having flown in the night before, she decided at the last minute to stay with her friend Kendall Jenner, at Jenner’s suite at Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc. Modelling can be a lonely business, “and we like to hang out whenever we can”. So, here we are in a restaurant overlooking the Riviera instead. Baldwin orders “two shots of espresso over ice”, and places her phone face down on the table, where it remains, untouched, for the next 50 minutes. She’s wearing Balenciaga Triple S trainers and a floral Off-White onesie designed by another friend, Virgil Abloh. Her voice sounds like Kim Kardashian’s, a saccharine Valley-girl drawl. She says “slay” often (translation: “I love it”), but also likes to poke fun at herself (“I go to Miami a lot. I’ll just leave and go see friends there. I mean, poor me, right?”)
Raised in New York state, Baldwin had an astonishingly privileged background, growing up on set with her father, in between stints of home-tutoring, ballet and Bible study. “I hated school. I only liked health and science. I had a hard time focusing. I had really bad ADD and I think I still do,” she says. It’s something she hasn’t spoken about publicly before. “I have to be occupied. I respond well to having a schedule. As a child who was all over the place and bouncing off the walls, doing ballet for 12 years taught me to be disciplined, and my job now forces me to be disciplined. You have to keep it together or you fail.”
As well as modelling (she’s signed to IMG, the Hadids’ agency, has walked for Sonia Rykiel and Tommy Hilfiger among others, and is the face of Fendi’s Pop Tour T-shirt collection), she also wants to follow her father into acting and recently filmed a cameo in the upcoming Ocean’s 8 blockbuster. “I’d love to be a Bond girl,” she says. “Or a Charlie’s Angel. Slay!” Stephen, the youngest Baldwin brother after Alec, Daniel and Billy, is an actor (The Usual Suspects, Born on the Fourth of July) and was a wild child in the 1990s. There was also an infamous stint in the British Celebrity Big Brother house in 2010, when he read Bible passages to his housemates. He became a born-again Christian in the wake of 9/11, and both his wife, Kennya, and daughters (Hailey has a sister, Alaia, 25) are deeply religious. “I have serious morals that are instilled in me because of how I was raised,” Baldwin says. “There are some things that will never leave my structure. It will be the way I raise my kids, it’s just who I am. I would never pose naked. Tits out is not my thing.” She has been spotted at Hillsong, a church group formed in Australia that is now found across the world. “The thing about it being this celeb church is quite negative,” Baldwin argues. “But I think what they have done, in a good way, is make church approachable. People look at religion as a scary thing if they don’t know what it’s about. But at the end of the day, church is just a building; my personal beliefs are what matters.” Baldwin says her moral compass is relaxed compared to her parents. “I’m definitely not the poster child for Christianity,” she laughs. “There are a lot of things the Bible says you’re not supposed to do. I mean, you’re not supposed to drink, you’re not supposed to have sex before marriage…” She trails off, smiling, then adds quickly: “But I could be doing so many worse things with the access I’m given.”
We meet just days after the Met Gala in New York, where Baldwin, in a powder blue Tommy Hilfiger gown, clasped hands with the pop star Shawn Mendes, 19, on the red carpet, thus sending the teenage portion of the internet into meltdown. Google their names together and more than 3m results appear. “We hang out and he’s super-lovely and a very, very nice young gentleman,” she smiles coyly. “But I am single.” She wants to get married and have children in the next 10 years, five even. “The dating pool is small,” she says. “It’s rare to find somebody that has the same ideas and morals as me. I have found people like that before, though, which is refreshing.”
I ask if one of those people was Justin Bieber. The two were pictured kissing in 2015 and have never set the record straight. “Justin and I were friends for a long time,” she nods. “I met him when I was really young and he was one of my best friends. Everybody knows that at a certain point in time that turned into something else, but that just happens when you’re 18, 19. It was what it was. We went through a long period of time when we weren’t friends. We didn’t speak for quite some time and there was a lot of weirdness that went on. We’ve moved past that.” The situation, she says, was, “weird. I’d never been through [a high-profile relationship] like that. But it brought both of us to the realisation that we just work much better as friends. He’s somebody I really cherish. Now it’s a very mature situation. It’s good.”
Baldwin turns to both her industry and non-industry friends and family for advice. She speaks to her parents every day and is close to all her cousins. “Our family could not speak for six months and then get together and it’s like no time has passed,” she says. Despite this, in April 2017 Stephen claimed he hadn’t spoken to Alec “since the election”. Stephen is a vocal Trump supporter, while Alec’s career is now defined by his mocking portrayal of the president in Saturday Night Live sketches. “That was a very hurtful situation for me,” Baldwin says. “I love my father, he’s an amazing dad, but we so strongly disagreed on [the election]. He and my sister strongly disagreed on it. My sister’s husband, like everyone on our side, just doesn’t agree with him. We don’t talk about it now. It’s not worth the argument.” To clarify, she voted for Hillary? “Of course,” Baldwin replies instantly. “Everything that’s happening in the world is so crazy, but if any positivity is coming out of it, it’s teaching young people to stand up and be vocal. We’re the next generation who have the access and power and we have a lot of drive. I’ve been trying to find ways to get more involved with people my age and make changes for things that matter. That’s what I’m passionate about.”
The new raft of celebs may not be old enough to know what a website is, but they still want to change the world. And Hailey Baldwin is right there with them.