Have you ever fancied yourself as a super model? No, me neither. But I've cajoled hundreds of people into thinking they're destined for the catwalk, even those with faces like a plate of Wetherspoon's gammon.
I did it under the banner of 'telesales executive', that most hellish of titles, for a photography studio cloaked as a modelling advice centre. I was required to call up the poor bastards that submitted their photo to us online, in the hope we'd advise them on their modelling potential, and announce they were god's gift to a camera lens. This was in the hope of hauling them down to London from whatever crap town they hailed for a professional modelling portfolio shoot, and charging them hundreds of pounds.
It's a lugubrious business model, but a successful one, and there are plenty of these sneaky studios around. I took the job on the basis I'd been hired, and I'd been hired on the basis that I'd applied, staff turnover in this moral crunching industry being something of a revolving door. As a student with no qualifications, experience or skills, the seven fifty an hour seemed worth binning everything I'd ever learnt about right and wrong for.
One of my first 'clients' (puke) was an 18-yr-old chubby northern lass who had clearly been watching too much America's Next Top Model. "I would lahhk to be high fashion,” she told me, after relaying that she was 5 foot 3.
“I don't know if you'll be catwalk, as you're a little too short, but I can really see you in beauty modelling. Your bone structure is just stunning.” I should probably tell you she looked like Anthea Turner, if she was on 'Snog Marry Avoid'. “You know, make-up modelling, really glamourous. Is that something you'd be interested in?”
“Yeeaah, oooh that sounds great!” She was soon handing over her mum's card details and boarding a National Express.
The whole family had clubbed together to foot the en masse travel bill, a hotel, and the funds for the shoot, in the hope that their darling daughter would ‘live her dream’. Although I am not responsible for the X Factor wish-fulfilment culture that spawned this family’s misguided expenditure, I felt pretty fucking guilty.
We received all sorts of photos – from pictures of Giselle clearly pulled off Google images to middle-aged women in chaps. Most however were carefully studied self-portraits, taken with an extended arm in timeless myspace style. There was a modelling category for everyone: Too fat? Try plus size. Too short? Easy, become a ‘commercial’ model. Too mannish? ‘Sports’. Too ugly? ‘Character’ modelling, easily my favourite, basically extra work for people that look like a cartoon. I rode high on manipulating the emotions of the vulnerable for a few weeks, and my bank balance swelled accordingly.
My heart-strings were tugged however when one wannabe Kate Moss turned up with her entire, extended Mancunian family, complete with wheel-chair bound nan. The studio was up four flights of steep stairs, so nanna was parked in the foyer for hours, without even a copy of ‘Heat’ to entertain her. On returning from my lunch break and discovering an elderly woman in the hall, I spoke to my boss and decided to wheel her out for a cup of tea, as a customer-service orientated way of skiving off. Joan told me over a PG tips how the whole family had clubbed together to foot the en masse travel bill, a hotel, and the funds for the shoot, in the hope that their darling daughter would ‘live her dream’. Although I am not responsible for the X factor wish-fulfilment culture that spawned this family’s misguided expenditure, I felt pretty fucking guilty. It wasn’t long till I caved, and hung up my headset.
It turns out that wantonly smashing the hopes and dreams of vain, dim-witted people isn’t that emotionally rewarding. Of course, after they’d paid up, the farthest most clients would go in modelling would be flogging tequila shots in Revolution and having their tits grabbed for a dare. I’m left with a new respect for Simon Cowell and his hollow-souled cohorts, who tirelessly fight to extract every last crumb from the poor and the stupid. Hats off.
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