In person: Gillian Matthew, model

IF PROGRAMMES like America’s Next Top Model have taught us anything (other than, of course, a pressing need to turn down the volume lest all those high-pitched squeals of “Tyra mail!” result in a nasty case of tinnitus), it’s that it takes more than just a pretty face and a talent for looking vacant to make it in the cat-fighting, nail-scratching, hair-tugging world of modelling.

“I used to watch ANTM really religiously,” says Gillian Matthew, “then when I was doing my exams this year I stopped so I could study more. But I think it gives people an insight into how competitive modelling can be.

“It’s not all glamorous. They stay in a big, fancy house and that’s not really how it is, but the idea of it being a competition is good because that’s what it’s like in real life.”

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Matthew should know. The 16-year-old from South Lanarkshire is still coming back down to earth after winning the top spot in this year’s Elite Model Look competition. Her prize is a modelling contract with the Elite London agency, and come December she will be winging her way to Shanghai to compete in the world final – an event that has launched the careers of the likes of Cindy Crawford and Gisele Bundchen.

It’s all rather a long way from cramming for her modern studies exam at Larkhall Academy. “I’ve just started my fifth year and I plan on finishing school, definitely,” she says. “I think my education is really important. I’d always planned to do law or politics at university, and I’m still thinking of applying, but might defer for a year, or even study it in London.”

Modelling, though, had been at the back of her mind, and friends had said she should give it a go. So when she was wandering around the high street stores of Braehead shopping centre one Saturday afternoon in May, it perhaps wasn’t too much of a surprise when she was picked out by scouts to enter the competition. “I wasn’t thinking about it too much,” she says. “I never really wear a lot of make-up anyway. They just got me to change into leggings and stuff so they could see my body shape, but it was really fun.”

What surprised her more was to get into the semi-finals in June. And to win the actual final last month blew her away. “I was shocked to get into the semi-final, let alone win the final,” she says, still a little breathless at the thought. “The week of the final was so exciting. Every day was something new; a different experience. It was all so fast. It has been a bit of a whirlwind since. I’ve not really been home much.”

When we talk, she’s back in Scotland for Glasgow University’s open day and catching up with friends. But, until December, her life is on hold. Not that she minds much. “I’m not really allowed to do anything until after the competition in Shanghai,” she says. “It is one of those opportunities you just need to grab and go for it. It’s going to be fab to see all the other girls from around the world and meet new people. Even the final in London, you meet so many people. The girls in the competition are all so lovely, it’s a great way to see different cultures.”

Her plan is to stay at school and finish sixth year but she admits the pull of London might be too strong. “Even though I’ll be homesick if I move, I’ve always wanted to see the world and modelling gives you the opportunity to do that. New York’s a big one, obviously. I’d also like to see Australia.”

She also has ambitions to work with Stella McCartney, while her modelling idol is perhaps more surprising. No Karlie Kloss or Jourdan Dunn for her. “Jean Shrimpton,” she says, without hesitation. “I’ve seen her Vogue shoots in New York and I just think they’re phenomenal. And I watched a BBC documentary called We’ll Take Manhattan, about her and David Bailey – that was really good. I just think she was the first real supermodel.

“But the day after the competition I had a shoot with Rankin, which was really cool considering his reputation. I was so stunned.”

Right now, it’s all new and exciting. But is she worried about the industry’s bad reputation? The tales of drugs and bullying and girls starving themselves to stay skeletal? “I’m not worried at all,” she says. “If I change then I’m not myself, and I don’t want to change who I am. You hear about all these pressures to stay thin but as long as you’re eating healthily and enough and you’re not over-exercising, I think it’s fine. I don’t want to change myself for anybody.”

And, anyway, she insists there’s more to life than looking good on a catwalk. “I still want to study and get a degree,” she says. “That’s really important. I’m more into politics and modern studies than fashion.”