Leilani Dowding is best known as a model turned TV personality, who most recently joined the cast of ITV’s reality show, ‘The Real Housewives of Cheshire’. She told us she joined the show to spread the word about causes and campaigns close to her heart.
We caught up with Leilani to meet her two boys, Milo and D.o.g. She told us how her dogs played a crucial role in knowing when her rock star partner [Billy Duffy from ‘The Cult’] was ‘the one’ and shares why adoption is so close to her heart.
Leilani with D.o.g. (left) and Milo (right) / Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9 Magazine
Hi Leilani, thanks so much for your time today.
I know you have two boys, who came first?
Milo, I got him about 12 years ago in LA.
Okay. How did he come into your life?
Well, Milo’s a Puggle and at the time, I wanted a mixed breed because I'd heard pedigrees can have problems so I wanted a mixed breed.
I bought him from a breeder, although since then I’ve learnt a lot about rescuing and I’d always adopt now. D.o.g. is a rescue.
Anyway, I didn't know about the massive prices being charged for mixed breeds like Puggles, but I found a breeder where he was actually born and brought into the owner’s house. I think I first saw him when he was around three-weeks-old.
Milo wearing his new personalised football shirt from Animal Attire / Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9 Magazine
How did you choose his name because he does suit Milo, doesn’t he.
I actually named him after the monkey character on a clothing brand called Baby Milo (laughs).
Does he look like the character?
Actually it’s funny because my sister got a dog six months earlier and named him Mylo. I was so upset that she used the name first. We both had the same thought but we'd never ever spoken about it.
Milo and D.o.g. wearing their new collars and lead sets from Bramley and Walker / Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9 Magazine
What a funny coincidence. So, how did D.o.g. come into your life, he’s a Boglen Terrier, isn’t he?
He is. He’s a rescue. He was very sick when I got him, he had really bad kennel cough, fungus under his nails and a broken tail.
How did he get his name?
(Laughs) I named him D.o.g. because it spelt dog.
(Laughs) Okay. How old is he?
He’s 11 ½. I was still in LA and it was only after I got Milo that everyone told me ‘Oh, you should have got a rescue’ so I started to learn how bad the homeless dog situation is out there, much like it is here and across Europe, and so when I decided to get a little friend for Milo, I knew I was going to rescue.
What made it the right time to get Milo and then D.o.g. 11-12 years ago?
Well, after my sister got Mylo I really wanted a dog of my own. It just brought it home because I’d always wanted a dog but spent so much time travelling for work I didn’t think it would be fair. But at that time, I was finally settled and living in LA, not travelling around for work constantly so the timing just felt right.
Did you grow up with dogs?
No, my parents would never let me have a dog but I’d never stopped wanting one, so the moment I stopped travelling around I said ‘Right, now’s the time’ so that’s when I got Milo.
Milo had a lot of separation anxiety. He could never really be alone, he would get so upset and would cry so people started saying ‘Get another dog’ and that’s when I got D.o.g. Unlike Milo who was an eight-week-old puppy when I got him, D.o.g. was older.
Leilani is wearing the red base layer from her Leiluna Collection clothing line / Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9 Magazine
How old was he?
He was around four or five months old.
He had been kept in a cage so because of the environment he’d lived in, he was harder to toilet train but he is the most wonderful, affectionate and loving dog.
The boys have obviously lived together for a long time, how do their characters bounce off each other?
They definitely keep each other company.
I always think that Milo’s the little silver spoon dog (laughs). He went from living with his breeder’s family in their home being very well looked after, to living with me and he kind of does his own thing.
As for D.o.g., ever since the day I got him he’s craved the attention he probably never got when he was young.
He’s definitely an attention seeking dog (laughs) but he’s very sweet about it and just wants to be with me all of the time, like he will climb under the covers to physically lie next to me, whereas Milo is happy to sleep at the end of the bed or if we’re watching TV he wants his own bed. He wants to be in the same room as you, but he wants his own space.
How have Milo and D.o.g. settled into life in the UK after living in LA?
Well, I moved back permanently around six months ago now but I actually brought Milo back a year before and my parents looked after him because he’s very easy to look after.
D.o.g. stayed with me in LA and when I was here in the UK, Billy looked after him because he needed someone who knew him well to look after him.
D.o.g.’s very rambunctious (laughs), he pulls a lot and you have to keep your eye on him and doggy proof your house a little bit, so he came back with me six months ago when I permanently moved back.
Milo and D.o.g with their new dog treats from Pet Munchies / Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9 Magazine
How did you and the boys find the travel process?
It’s pretty easy to manage, although I did email back and forth with Heathrow a lot because I wanted to make sure I got the paperwork exactly right.
What made you decide to come back to the UK?
There were a lot of fires in LA and because of the fires, Elante, my horse, had to be evacuated three times in two years. I mean they can spread up to 30 miles in half a day or something like that, so they’re pretty bad and I just wanted him to be in a safer place.
Elante / Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9 Magazine
Okay. Was it before or after you moved back that ‘The Real Housewives of Cheshire’ came up?
Well, I was asked by my old agent if I would show Gemma Collins around some houses in LA for her TV show and I said ‘Well, actually I’m moving back so I won’t be here’ and Billy, my boyfriend, is from Cheshire so she said ‘Oh well they’re actually filming ‘The Real Housewives of Cheshire’, do you want to go up for it?’ so I went in for an interview and they asked me to join.
Now the series has ended and you can reflect on it, how do you feel about the show?
I’m really glad I was involved, it was a great experience and I’m glad that I did it. There was a lot more filming than I expected and the schedules were pretty hectic.
I have two horses now, Rosie and Elante, and although I don’t have a full-time job, I spend a lot of time here with them so the filming schedules were hard on that, but I mean aside from that, it was a good experience.
Milo and D.o.g with their new skull canvas dog toys from DOGUE / Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9 Magazine
Can you see yourself filming another season?
They have asked me but I’m just waiting to see. I probably will, but I’m undecided just now.
How much did you know about the show or other housewives shows before you joined?
Billy and I watch ‘The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’, that’s our little thing (laughs). Lisa Vanderpump used to be on it and she’s probably one of my favourites because she has a dog rescue and she’s very into rescuing and adoption.
She’s also done a lot of campaigning work as well, hasn’t she?
Yes, she’s rallied a lot of support and awareness around the Yulin dog festival in China.
I think the only thing I’m disappointed with, or the main thing, with the housewives show, is that they never showed me with my horses or my dogs because that’s such a big part of my life. In fact, it’s probably the biggest part of my life. So that was quite a disappointment because in my head I’ve seen what Lisa’s done and how the TV show was a platform for her to raise awareness and really help animals, and I suppose that’s what disappointed me the most.
D.o.g wearing his new cable knit jumper from DOGUE / Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9 Magazine
I know what you mean. I watch a lot of the ‘Real Housewives’ shows and the Cheshire show always strikes me as a bit different to the others when you compare with what Lisa’s been able to do as a result of the show’s platform.
Yeah. I mean Nermina [Pieters-Mekic] just adopted two dogs from Bosnia. She’s a very horsey girl, I like her a lot, she spent a whole day filming at a dog rescue with puppies, covered in dog poo, and it was cut it all out.
A few of the Cheshire housewives like horses, Nermina is one of them, and a few have dogs too, but I guess you need more than that in common to get along, don’t you?
I won’t say any names but there are a lot of designer dogs on the show.
And guinea pigs too.
(Laughs) Yes. I love Mark. We bonded instantly because we both love animals. I get up at the crack of dawn because of my animals and he’s the same with his mice and guinea pigs, so yeah, we got on really well.
Milo and D.o.g with their new George Barclay sofa bed / Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9 Magazine
A couple of things I think the show did bring to the surface because of you was prostate cancer because of Billy’s past and your decision not to have kids, as well as plant-based diets and cruelty free products because of your passion for animals. I’ve seen people engage with you a lot about both on Instagram.
Taking them one at a time, prostate cancer and your decision not to have kids - human ones anyway - was talked about on the show but it came up in a pretty tense situation, didn’t it?
Yes, I don't have any problem talking about Billy’s cancer but it was just that situation. If I was talking about it in an interview, to raise awareness of cancer, you know what you're going to say and you can kind of say it, but being at that dinner, I was like, well, there are eight people here and I don't really know any of them.
I'd already told Hannah that I would kind of tell her when I could and so when the topic of kids and whether I wanted any came up I was like ‘Do I say it now? Do I not say it now?’ and they were talking and I was a little bit drunk and I don't know why I started crying, I think it just, it took me back to when Billy had said ‘Do you want kids? Because we won't be able to have kids naturally’ and I think that that's where it came from. It wasn’t the conversation about having kids and it wasn’t really about Billy’s cancer it was that I hadn’t spoken about any of it for so long that it was quite emotional.
And I mean, I've said it before, and then had a nervous laugh about it so in a way, I’m glad I cried and to avoid the nervous laugh but the fact still is that even with that, you know, I don’t have time. My animals take over my whole life.
Milo and D.o.g with their new For All DogKind shampoos / Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9 Magazine
In a way is that because you own animals and know the love you have for them, and vice versa, means you don’t think you’re missing out? I say that as someone who doesn’t have kids but has three dogs and a cat.
No, I’ve had people say to me ‘You won’t ever know the love you feel when you have your kid’ but I won’t know it so I won’t miss it. That is how I look at it.
I can’t tell you how much I love my dogs and my horses I’ll sometimes go the most important things in the world are my horses and dogs, Billy and family and friends, and people will say ‘Oh is that the order?’ and maybe it is (laughs).
When I met Billy, on our second date he gave Milo, D.o.g. and a dog I rescued with an ex and was doggy sitting for, Charlie, a kiss goodbye and I knew then he was a keeper.
It’s so weird to me when I hear stories of people who give dogs away because a partner doesn’t like them. To me, if someone didn’t like my dogs, well, they’d never be my partner in the first place.
Going back to talking about Billy’s prostate cancer for a second, your social media platform, Instagram especially, has given people a chance to talk openly about similar situations, hasn’t it?
Yes, I’ve had a lot direct messages from people whose partners have had operations similar to Billy or who had chemotherapy, and others from people who don’t have kids for various reasons and in LA a lot of my friends didn’t have kids but here in the UK, especially around the other housewives on the show who have three, four, five kids, I just thought ‘Wow, it really is a big deal to society if you don’t want to have kids’, so it actually opened my eyes a lot to how society can pressurise people.
Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9 Magazine
It can be quite judgemental sometimes, can’t it? Something else you’ve shared a lot about is your ethos around cruelty free products, from the clothes you wear to beauty products you use.
Yes, it’s a big thing for me. I eat a mainly plant-based diet and I try and just show people what cruelty free make up and skin products because I just don’t think in this day and age you need to get something that’s been tested on animals, so I just try and share the products that I personally like.
Totally agree. We launched a cruelty free review series last year to shine a light on brands doing something different.
Moving on, I always say that these are probably questions you won’t have been asked before - and probably won’t be again - so we can have some fun.
If you were to swap roles with one of your dogs for a day, firstly who would you choose to swap with and why?
I think I would swap with Milo because I think if I were to swap with D.o.g. for a day, D.o.g would not get enough attention and if I were Milo I could spend a day just lying around the house (laughs).
Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9 Magazine
And what do you think Milo would love most about being you?
I think Milo would cope pretty well being me.
We ask all of our celebrities this question, it’s all in the name of fun. Based on personalities alone, which breeds of dog come to mind when you think of these celebrities and why?
Lisa Vanderpump - I always think of a Pomeranian when I think of Lisa because I’m so used to seeing her with Giggy, one of her dogs who is a Pomeranian.
Hanna Kinsella [Housewife on ‘The Real Housewives of Cheshire’] - She has very curly hair and is very well taken care of so I think she’d be a miniature size French Poodle.
Billy Duffy [‘The Cult’ guitarist and Leilani’s partner] - I think he would be a Puggle because if you ever see a picture of Billy and Milo together, they have the same facial expression. They look like twins (laughs).
Were your two boys Billy’s first dogs?
No, Billy’s had loads of dogs before. He didn’t have any dogs when we met but he had a Shar Pei, I think, with his ex and he’s had a few rescue Bull Terriers. I think he’d love to get a rescue Bull Terrier again actually.
And what about you, what breed of dog would you be and why?
Let me think about that. I think I’d be an Afghan Hound because of my hair and my long face (laughs).
Moving onto our quick-fire questions, are you ready?
Go for it.
These are things on your Wikipedia page so let’s play a quick game of true or false.
True or false: You were named after your mum’s cousin and your name means heavenly flower.
Where does the name come from?
My mum’s Filipino so I’d assume her cousin is too, but it’s actually a Hawaiian name so I’m not sure exactly where it comes from.
Rosie / Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9 Magazine
True or false: You started an economics degree at the University of London, in Surrey, with the plan of being a city trader.
True. I actually went to Royal Holloway to study but dropped out after the first semester.
Was that because of your modelling career?
Yeah, I was spotted for Miss Great Britain just as I started uni so I was going to take a year out but then decided not to and I’ve got no regrets (laughs).
What made you want to be a city trader before your modelling career began?
You know what, I didn’t really know what I wanted to be and then I met a few people who worked in the city and it sounded like quite a cool job, well paid and kind of glam, but I’m so glad now that I’m not. It would not have been me, so I’m very glad that I went down the route I did.
True or false: You appeared on the TV show ‘The Weakest Link’ to raise awareness for an animal charity.
True. I didn’t win it so I was never able to give the money to the animal charity but had I won it, I would have given it to them.
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You went quite far in the show, didn’t you?
I did. I lost to Jakki Degg who won it and gave the money to an animal charity if I remember rightly.
Were you a fan of the quiz show?
I was aware of it, I must admit I’m not particularly great at quiz shows but they were doing a Page 3 Girl Special and we could give whatever we won to a charity of our choice so that’s why I did it.
You’ve just been out on tour with Billy and ‘The Cult’. Over the years you must have heard the same songs quite a lot but what’s your favourite song to hear live?
I think my favourites are ‘Rain’ and ‘Fire Woman’.
Both great songs, I think ‘Rain’ is my favourite too although 'Edie (Ciao Baby)' has some great lyrics about dogs.
Where is Milo and D.o.g.’s favourite place in the world to be?
I actually think they like being in England and I love taking them to the stepping stones in Dovedale, which is in Ashbourne, but they just love anywhere where they can be free and there are so many more places in the UK than in LA that they can do that.
Shot at Eland Lodge / Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9 Magazine
Your boys are so energetic for their ages.
You know, people still ask me if D.o.g. is a puppy because he’s so lively and Milo who does act older has always acted older, to be honest. Even when he was six months he acted like he was a little old man.
But they both still bounce around when I let them off their leads and I do try and feed them healthy, good meals and treats.
Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9 Magazine
What do you think is the most important life lesson we can learn from dogs?
God, there are so many life lessons we can learn from dogs but I’d say the biggest one is probably that dogs are happy living in the moment.
Dogs are so grateful for even the smallest of things, they don’t waste and pollute and I really think we can learn a lot from animals in general about how to live well and be happy.
Milo wearing his 'Emerald' bow tie from Bramley and Walker / Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9 Magazine
Finish the following sentence, my dogs are...two of the most important things in the world to me.
This is always a tough question so you might need some time to think about it, but if you could ask Milo and D.o.g. one question and one question only, what would you ask and what do you think they’d say?
I would ask them what I could do to make their life better.
Photography by Vivienne Edge Photography for K9 Magazine
And I think Milo would say ‘Feed me more food’ (laughs) and I think D.o.g. would say ‘Just let me tear Milo’s toys up’ because Milo has soft toys because he’s very gentle but D.o.g. can only have tough toys or bones because he destroys everything else.
Many thanks, Leilani!