Hello there. It’s nearly 13 years since I was scouted outside Topshop in Oxford Circus, wearing my brother’s tracksuit top and a large satchel I imagine contained a lunch packed by my mother, my retainer case, gel pens and well-thumbed copy of Anne of Green Gables. This means I have had 13, long years of being asked:
“Are all models anorexic?”
“Are all the models bitchy?”
“Do you get to keep the clothes?”
“Is it really glamorous?”
To which I answer no, no no and categorically, no. Films always seem to depict photoshoots as these enormous, bustling white rooms, filled with models in underwear or fluffy dressing gowns, being lightly powdered by a gay, black (always black) make up artist with pursed lips, and a handsome photographer who is clearly shagging the main model bounding over to ask to take a shot (like they ever ask. You get told).
Reality: invariably, it’s a cold dingy room in East London, with a colourama up against a crumbling, damp wall. The model arrives wearing jeans, Converse, an anorak, wet hair and glasses, so far from the images about to be created that she is asked upon arrival “So what are you doing here today? Work experience?” The clothes have been eked from the possessive claws of the fashion PRs, who are sick of their samples coming back with stains in the gusset and tears on the zip (blame the stylists borrowing it for nights out), and the photographer is a pleasant chap with has a lovely wife and kids who pop in to say hello at the end of the shoot. It’s more fun than an office, and it’s generally a pleasant way to earn money, but it sure ain’t glamorous.
That is – apart from trips. Trips are the dream. Trips are what people imagine shoots are like all the time – sexy, glamorous and action-packed. When I started modelling, budgets were much bigger, print media was a decent, thriving industry, and people bought magazines instead of reading them for free online (ahem), so trips abounded in plentiful supply. I remember going to four countries in as many weeks, and feeling a bit grumpy and tired of being away from home so much. Now, there are less magazines, there are tiny budgets, and beaches are recreated in a draughty studio in Dalston. Or – if you’re lucky – you go to Cambersands in February. So trips are more like gold dust these days, and it’s pretty competitive to get one.
Shoots are where all the juicy gossip things happen, creating stories that resound gleefully through London in Chinese whispers, getting more exaggerated with every telling. Here are some of the things I have observed...
In a studio in London, everyone will generally turn up having had a decent night’s sleep and some quinoa for dinner the night before. The strongest thing imbibed is a strong coffee. But on trips – the whole crew wander round having beer for breakfast, a few bottles of wine over lunch and cocktails are being casually supped by 5. I did a job once where the photographer conducted the entire shoot from a sun lounger, because he had not yet been to sleep from a massive bender. When looking in the team’s villa kitchen for supplies, there will be one box of Special K, a big pack of crisps, and a fridge packed solely with wine and beer.
It depends on the client, but I’ve been on shoots where drugs just seemed to be acceptably and obviously used. I remember doing a shoot in Egypt, where the photographer and his assistant were obsessed with finding some weed. Goody-two shoes non-user of drugs that I am, I was constantly panicking, “but won’t you get your hands chopped off?” I was so worried. There was an art director, on a job in Ibiza, who was so paranoid after a night of cocaine and whisky that he had to sit out the whole shoot. And I heard about a very successful model who was sent home from a trip, because when the hairdresser opened her suitcase by accident, it was just full of bags of white powder.
Years ago, I went to the Caribbean, with a male model who was rather partial to marijuana. He seemed overly keen to procure some one night, and approached a complete stranger who drove us both to the rough side of the island, away from the tourists. He went into this shack with about 12 huge locals, while I patiently sat in the car in my light summer fleece zipped up to the top with the chap who drove us. This man talked to me in patois that I simply could not understand a word of, so I talked back about the mistreatment of greyhounds in the racing industry. The male model eventually emerged from the shack on completely another planet, and has since admitted to me that he was smoking crack. All-in-all, this was a very risky scenario, and I can’t quite believe I accompanied this guy on his potentially very dangerous quest.
Of course it goes on. Tonnes. There’s a lot of cheating on partners back home – and it tends to be married people, who just sort of abandon their home life and willingly slip into the bubble of the trip. It’s very often the older females on the trip who are the most predatory. Once again the boring one, I’ve never had a romantic tryst with anyone on a trip. However, I remember getting a massive crush on one of the crew once though, so much so that I got really painful around him and it was actually hard to model.
No one’s very secret about it, and it’s pretty obvious, when you’re sharing a villa in close proximity to one another, exactly what (and who) is going down at night time. You’d expect it to be a sexy model and alpha male photographer combo every time but it’s usually photographer + make up artist, model + photographer’s assistant and male model + anyone.
Trips are gluttonous. Someone else is paying, so everyone orders the most expensive, adventurous things on the menu – it gets to the point where you’re eating 6 full meals a day and can’t go an hour without a bread roll from the breakfast trolley you’d wrapped in a napkin and stuffed in your pocket. Your willpower flies through the window - you know you’ve got a bikini shoot the next day – but you’ve been presented with a boozy feast fit for a king, and you’re NOT PAYING! Everyone, even the strictest, skinniest model, forgets their “allergies” and strict food regimes on a trip, and troughs endlessly.
Trips are the dream. I’m being paid to go places and do things that I can’t afford in real life, or had never even considered doing. The last trip I did in Ibiza, I had 3 days where I was being paid to non-stop party, drink mojitos, dance, snorkel, dive, kiss goats, jump from cliffs, run around and be myself. You form intense friendships you’ll never keep, tell secrets you thought you never would, and live a life you wish you could maintain forever. But therein lies the problem. After three or four days of living the craziest, most wonderful dream-life on a trip, all of it planned out and paid for by someone else - everyone has to come back to reality. A reality of rain, rush hour, rent, buying laundry detergent, chasing the next job, and having to think for yourself. Trips are a bubble, and the bubble bursting is hard to deal with. But it’s a wonderful bubble when you’re in it.