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Model careers

SO, you want to be a model. Well, you're certainly not alone. But is it really a career that young girls should be encouraged to pursue? Does modelling bring fame, fortune and a glamorous lifestyle? Or are models just glorified clothes-horses, used and abused by the fickle fashion industry at their peak, then swallowed up and spat out when they're past their sell-by date?

Well, the problem is you could answer yes to all of these questions. Yet the downside of modelling will not deter any of those girls who yearn to follow in the footsteps of Kate Moss.

Just ask the 10,000 applicants who dream of winning Britain's Next Top Model, a show which starts later this month on Living TV. The victor of the reality TV programme will win a modelling contract with London-based Models 1, a cosmetics campaign for Ruby & Millie, and a fashion shoot in a glossy magazine.

The original format, America's Next Top Model, created by supermodel Tyra Banks and produced by her company, Bankable Productions, starts its fifth series on US TV next month. The 32-year-old from LA has made a healthy career out of her looks - but beauty alone did not propel her to supermodel, if not superstar status. She's an actress, TV producer and presenter, and founder of various charitable organisations, as well as the author of a beauty book. She has also blazed a trail for African-American models - becoming the first to grace the covers of GQ and Sports Illustrated's swimsuit edition - a huge deal in the US modelling world. Her own chat show and a sixth series of Top Model is already in the pipeline.

But just how far removed from the norm is Banks? And should knowing that you'll never achieve the heights of her success, or, for that matter, that of her British counterparts Naomi Campbell or Kate Moss, put a girl off? Industry veteran and judge on the British show, Jonathan Phang has seen both sides of modelling. And he is still a firm believer that it's a great career choice for a young girl.

"Models do have interesting and glamorous lives. They travel a lot, they meet interesting people and they make a lot of money," he says.

"The superstar models like Tyra are only a tiny percentage, of course, but there's always that chance that a good working model could get the job that could change her life. It's a risky business, a lottery, if you like, but I think it's a great job to do if you can."

Phang should know. He's helped launch the careers of two of Britain's best known models - Naomi Campbell and Jodie Kidd.

"I was with Naomi for her first four years. Her start wasn't as meteoric as people think. It took her a good while before she cultivated the look and knew how to use it," says Phang. "Of course, once she did, you really saw it. As far as Jodie is concerned - and I looked after her for six years - she was one of those girls where, when we first saw her, we were like, 'er, hang on a minute, we're not quite sure about this,' and then something magical happens for the camera."

Kidd and Campbell aside, Phang has worked with Christy Turlington, Tyra Banks herself, Jerry Hall and fellow judge on Britain's Next Top Model, Marie Helvin, in his years as a booker with Synchro, Models 1 and IMG, as well as at his own agency.

"I have worked with lots of famous models, but more importantly I have looked after hundreds of girls who remain nameless and even faceless to most, but who have made a fabulous living out of modelling. They've worked hard, done great jobs, and had a great career. There is work out there, but you have to be prepared to graft for it," he says.

Graft is what the winners of the last four seasons of America's Next Top Model certainly did. A crash course in modelling, the show's format introduces the girls to every aspect of the business, from catwalk strutting to business classes and money management, and America's winners so far, Adrienne, Yoanna, Eva and Naima have been well prepared for the business they have been catapulted into.

Six-foot blonde Lisa Butcher, 32, is the host of the British show. A competition winner herself at the age of 15, she knows all about being thrust into a new world.

"I had to learn the hard way when I won the Elle competition," says Butcher. "My aim in this show was to help the girls as much as I could, to give them all the advice I never had. I went into modelling completely blind, and made all my own mistakes."

Despite her baptism of fire, Butcher survived and prospered in the fashion world. A glittering career has seen her grace the covers of Harpers & Queen, Elle, and Tatler; attend premieres in gorgeous designer dresses, and marry twice, her first time, most famously to tempestuous chef Marco Pierre White when she was 17. The union lasted just 15 weeks, and she has never spoken of it publicly.

So, celebrity and modelling can go hand in hand. But if it's quick-fix celebrity status you're after, Butcher insists there are easier ways to go about it.

"Modelling is a tough business. It's not the glamorous job people think it is. It's long hours, coupled with having to deal with different people and egos, and just being incredibly lonely," she says. "You are away from home a lot, and in the show, I could really relate to the two finalists who had kids - I have two girls, who are ten and eight, and have had to make sacrifices. And other things too - people constantly rejecting you, telling you about your appearance, that's hard."

Lisa is well aware that the nature of this model reality-show format is as cut-throat as the business itself.

A large portion of the success of the show in the States is due to the weekly elimination, where, in front of the judges and her fellow finalists, the least successful girl is told to pack her bags and go home.

"Oh, the eliminations were the toughest thing," sighs Butcher. "It took me back to the days of going for big jobs and being told no. Having to deliver that news myself was so hard. Twice I completely broke down. It's so embarrassing, as I have never cried publicly in my life. One girl though, I remember, her knees were knocking, and she knew it was coming. She was so sweet, and lovely and telling her she couldn't make it any further was just horrendous. Off camera I gave her a big cuddle, and we were both sobbing, but it didn't make her feel any better, and that really upset me."

But, that's what modelling is all about, is it not? Ask Katie Black, 22-year-old model and youth worker, currently with Model Team Scotland, and unfortunately infamous for her first-night eviction from Five's modelling reality show, Make Me A Supermodel, earlier this year. Show judges Rachel Hunter, Select model agency co-director Tandy Anderson and photographer Perou decided Black was heavy with bad skin, and just too plain to be a supermodel. They voted her off the show in a surprise first-night eviction.

Looking back now, six months after the humiliation, Katie who stands at 5ft 10in and is a size ten, is philosophical about her experiences.

Back modelling in Scotland she says: "Look, it's part and parcel of this industry, isn't it?" she says. "You have to be thick-skinned, and take it on the chin. I couldn't get upset about it. It's not as if they were having a go at my personality, like in Big Brother or something. I've been modelling since I was about 13, and I know what it's like. And I would say that the show I was on is a lot crueller than America's Next Top Model. I think the British one will be great."

Fiona Black has run the successful Glasgow-based model agency, The Look, for ten years. However, she is realistic about the chances young Scottish girls have of being as successful as model of the moment, Gemma Ward, despite their big dreams.

"It's just not going to happen," says Black. "In Scotland girls have to look at modelling as a great way of making money instead of working in a bar while they are studying. A lot of our girls are students, or have other part-time jobs."

Black is pragmatic about the business she's in, and she refuses to promise girls the world.

"I just won't do it," she states. "So few make it."

Ten thousand applicants to Britain's Next Top Model, thousands clamouring to take part in Five's Make Me A Supermodel, and hundreds of letters to Fiona's agency suggest that her advice falls on deaf ears.

"We get a few dozen letters and pictures a week," says Fiona. "Of course we're looking for new talent, but it is a never-ending stream, and when programmes like this are on, we get more and more. Competitions when run well, like this one, and with good solid prizes, such as modelling contracts with reputable agencies, are great. Although I do think the Miss Scotland thing has had its day."

Among those dozens of letters, is there a photograph of the next Scottish model who will make it big? Black already has one on her books, Linlithgow-born Lauren Tempany. Now 23, Lauren has had a successful career since being spotted at a Clothes Show Live Exhibition in Glasgow when she was 14.

Her down-to-earth approach as much as her exquisite bone structure has propelled her to the top.

Two weeks ago she shot portraits for American Vogue in the Italian fashion capital of Milan. It was her biggest success so far and a result of investing 12 months living and working in New York. Last year designer Alexander McQueen used her as a muse and she did the Miu Miu catwalk show for Miuccia Prada in Milan.

Her beauty has given her a great life, but she also recognises the sacrifices she's made. "The best things about being a model are travelling the world, doing fashion shoots in exotic locations, and getting to live in big cities," says Lauren. "But that's countered by the loneliness, the unpredictability of work and spending too much time away from your family. You can be a bit hacked off if you're stuck in an airport on a Friday night when your mates are out partying. Or you just really want to see your mum on a Sunday and you're at a shoot.

"The fab clothes, and the great people you meet add to the fun of it all, but it's tough. But when you get a great job like the American Vogue one, it does feel worth it."

So what of Anna, Lucy, Naomi, Tashi, Marisa, Jenilee, Edwina, Stephanie, Shauna, Marina, Hayley and Claire - the 12 finalists in the competition to decide who will be Britain's Next Top Model?

We know what awaits the winner but will any of the others get the career they covet so badly?

"Yaya was runner-up in series three of the American show," says Lisa Butcher, "and she's just signed to Models 1 in London and is rocking right now. I am convinced we picked the right winner in our show, but I know there are more than a few of the girls in there who can make a career in modelling."

And, despite the loneliness, the cut-throat nature of the business, the unpredictability in work and earnings, Butcher would do it all again, exactly the same, given the chance.

"Modelling can give you an amazing life. I am so fortunate. You can make a lot of money, and if you invest it wisely, you can do very well. You do meet incredible people, and you take things from modelling into other areas in your life. Although it's tough, the highs are amazing, and if you really want it, it's there for the taking."

And then maybe one day you too can host and judge the next season of wannabes on a show just like this, as the appeal of modelling looks set to remain for a long time to come yet.

• Britain's Next Top Model starts on Living TV at 8pm on 14 September.

 
 
 

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