Why I dread my daughters following me into the ugly world of modelling

Why I dread my teenage daughters following me into the ugly world of modelling: Constant rejection, predatory photographers, and the lingering fear of sexual assault. CLARE BOYD, who became a model at 15, issues a stark warning

  • Clare Boyd was spotted by model agency aged 13 while in a pancake restaurant 
  • Took her two years to pluck up the courage to walk into the agency, aged 15
  • Questions whether she would be happy with her daughters going into modelling 

Surely all mothers think their children are beautiful? Without a doubt, I’m hopelessly in love with my daughters’ faces.

At 15 and 12, their skin is flushed with youth, their waist-length blonde hair shines and every time they smile, I am spellbound.

I’m sure I am biased — but you can never be too sure. Perhaps a model agency scout is lurking around the corner, ready to pounce? I know it can happen. After all, it happened to me.

I was 13 when I was sitting in a pancake restaurant on London’s King’s Road with my two sisters, debating savoury versus sweet. Two women stopped at the window to stare in at me and point, like they were eyeing up a yummy-looking cake in a patisserie. Then they came in and asked me if I wanted to join their agency, Models 1.

Never before had I considered myself pretty. At school, I was jokily called ‘skeleton’ because I was so bony. It was my best friend who got all the attention from boys.

Two women stopped at the window to stare in at me and point, like they were eyeing up a yummy-looking cake in a patisserie. Then they came in and asked me if I wanted to join their agency, Models 1

When I took their card, I felt like they’d made a mistake. I said something silly about being too young.

It took me two years to pluck up the courage to go into the agency. By then, I was 15 — my elder daughter’s age.

Now I look at her fresh face and her eyeliner flicks, her fake nails and chunky silver rings, and I think how innocent she seems. It is almost impossible to believe I was only her age when I started working as a model, and I wonder if I would ever let her follow in my footsteps.

My husband, Simon, is a model, enjoying a long and successful career, earning enough money to provide a good lifestyle for us. There’s real money to be made here. But if my instincts as a mother tell me this could be a good idea, my memories of modelling scream otherwise.

To write my new book, The Pretty One — a novel about a girl who is scouted as a model at 15 — I wanted to reconnect with those days, so I reminisced with two ex-model friends of mine, Natalie and Sarah (not their real names), both of whom also started at the same age as me.

We all still remember our first day. I’ll never forget walking through the glass-walled offices of Models 1 and feeling the bookers’ beady professional eyes look me up and down.

It took me two years to pluck up the courage to go into the agency. By then, I was 15 — my elder daughter’s age

When asked to stand in my underwear to be measured, I was excruciatingly self-conscious. These days, girls remain fully clothed for this ordeal. I fully expected to be told I wasn’t ‘quite the right fit’ for the agency. But to my delight, they wanted to represent me.

That summer, I tramped around London on my own, trying to make it on time to eight or nine castings a day, crying if I missed an appointment or if a photographer or client was rude.

By the end of the summer, I was relieved to be going back to school. The rejection process had been brutal. I had been to roughly 40 castings a week, and had worked no more than a handful of times on unpaid test shots for my portfolio, followed by some editorial jobs on teen magazines, such as More and Company, and some edgier work for i-D magazine and The Face.

I snapped back to being a regular schoolgirl at my private boarding school, but when the holidays came it was back to more castings and, slowly, jobs began to come in.

At 19, I deferred my degree and went to New York with Sarah. I changed agency and we found an apartment in the Hotel Chelsea. Then we met Natalie and the bond between us was formed.

On many levels it was undeniably glamorous. The hotel is steeped in rock ’n’ roll history. We would bump into Grace Jones in the lift and watched Mariah Carey shooting a music video.

We later recalled the scrapes we’d got into, like the time I sprained my knee on a heavy night out before a job with film director Sofia Coppola, who was shooting photos for a magazine. I hobbled in, hungover and wearing a huge knee-brace.

We remembered how mortified I’d been when Kate Moss had turned up on another shoot to meet the photographer, a friend of hers, then sat down, lit a fag and watched me work some modelling moves in a series of turquoise shell-suits.

We recalled the hedonistic parties, jam-packed with A-listers, the night when Leonardo DiCaprio told me my thrift-store camisole was see-through.

While Natalie and Sarah bagged the Vogue covers, I was more of a jobbing model, booked for advertorial clients like upmarket department store Bergdorf Goodman, and glossies such as American Elle.

We worked during the glorious age of the 1990s ‘super’, when supermodels wouldn’t get out of bed for less than £10,000. In reality, I’d get out of bed for 50 quid and struggled to pay the rent, but the dream was dangling there, enticing as hell.

Then the chat between the three of us took a different turn as we began sharing other, darker memories that we had never properly examined before.

But if my instincts as a mother tell me this could be a good idea, my memories of modelling scream otherwise

We remembered the time a photographer had cleaned jam off one of our naked bellies, wiping far too low down; the time a photographer kissed one of us on the lips at the end of a shoot; the time a photographer had asked one of us if he could photograph a very intimate body part (the answer was no).

Not forgetting all the many other misdemeanours — such as going for a scented-candle advertising job and being asked to take your top off — that we’d laughed off at the time, as teenage girls have a tendency to do.

You would think my privileged upbringing in Chelsea, West London — my father was a film director and my mother a writer — would have better equipped me but it gave me false confidence, the sense that modelling was just a natural extension of life in a creative industry.

I thought I was a grown up, insisted I could deal with any situation. It never occurred to me to tell them about any of the seedier side.

I recalled a photographer in London who coerced me into semi-nude shots at the end of a shoot when I was just 17. Pretending that the shots would be arty, he somehow persuaded me to lie on the bed on set in just my pants.

Natalie and Sarah groaned in sympathy, saying they knew exactly who I was talking about. It turned out that none of us was thinking of the same photographer.

Three separate middle-aged men who had abused their power and persuaded teenage girls into compromising sexual poses.

Until then, I’d never told anyone what had happened, not even my parents or my booker, and kept secret how ashamed and humiliated it had made me feel, blaming myself entirely, thinking it was what a model was required to do: to slowly strip down to nearly nothing in front of a strange man in his 50s who was alone with me on a closed set in the name of fashion. I still remember how he looked at me with his greedy eyes.

Of course, photographers weren’t the only culprits. There was the time Natalie was at a party with a magazine editor who implied he’d put her on the front cover if she slept with him.

Because the job would have been career-changing, she flirted with him, in spite of him being much older and unattractive to her. In the end, she refused his advances. But he didn’t like her rejection. The next day he sent her photos of his private parts. The images were disturbing, and she told him where to go, while feeling guilty for leading him on.

Sarah remembered living in Paris in about 1992 with some models from Eastern Europe. Every Friday night, their booker, who worked for one of the big international agencies, would wheel in a rail of designer dresses and choose lucky girls to take to parties.

Sarah, who is feisty and confident, was never picked. She was left feeling disgruntled and rejected. Later, she found out the Eastern European teens were taken in limos to dinner parties with old men and were expected to ‘entertain’ them. She counts her blessings now.

I want to believe that the safeguards work, that young women are safe. Yet in truth, it only takes one sexually predatory photographer on one shoot to ruin a girl’s life

I’m not saying that we girls were necessarily angels either. When there was a rumour that a celebrity was coming into the agency to flick through models’ cards, selecting whom they might want to date, we hoped to be chosen.

When we were invited to be flown by helicopter to extravagant parties on Mafia yachts, as happened to a friend of mine, we couldn’t wait to dress up and go dancing. But we were young and we were naive. Often, we were still children.

Recently, I read in the newspapers about Gérald Marie — the former Elite Models boss and ex-husband of the supermodel Linda Evangelista. He has recently been accused of rape and sexual assault by two of his agency’s former models, one of whom is the film actress Carré Otis, accusations he ‘categorically’ denies.

It reminded of the atmosphere around modelling in my day. The same feeling rose up in me when I read about Jean-Luc Brunel, the friend of Jeffrey Epstein and owner of a Miami-based agency, who was charged last year with sexual harassment and rape of minors. He has previously denied any wrongdoing.

That too reminded me that the threat of unwanted sexual attention was often there. And even though it was written months before these news stories came out, my latest novel could have been based on what the models were claiming. In it, a young girl from the countryside is scouted by a London agency, dragging her into the modelling world, threatening to destroy her.

Through adult eyes, Sarah, Natalie and I imagined our own children in similar circumstances to those we’d experienced, and we no longer found the memories of those days funny. But none of that would happen now — would it?

These days, most modelling agencies are well versed in safeguarding measures for the young girls they represent. They insist they look out for them and step in as their protectors. The British Fashion Model Agents Association exists to protect and manage the careers of their models.

Chaperones are required for girls who are under 16, whereas I had been on my own without a chaperone from day one. A few major fashion houses have refused to hire under-18s. In the U.S., models have to be over 18 to work.

But in Britain models aged 16 to 18 — that is, children — are still allowed to work unchaperoned with a crew of adults, where the rules to protect them are not understood at best, and ignored at worst.

I want to believe that the safeguards work, that young women are safe. Yet in truth, it only takes one sexually predatory photographer on one shoot to ruin a girl’s life. And I know of two, off the top of my head, who are still working in the industry today and have been guilty of ruining girls’ lives.

One guy, who took photos of me when I was about 19, was rumoured to have raped two young women I personally knew.

Another photographer, renowned for molesting dozens of models back in my day, continues to enjoy a high-profile career. If I know of two men, imagine how many more there are? For all I know, some of the bookers who exploited the innocence of their models are still working in the industry, too. The agencies these bookers worked for remain successful, never apologising to those they let down.

Many agency owners have made millions of pounds out of their models, yet they have never been held accountable for what happened to some of them.

For me, it wasn’t all bad. For starters, I met my husband, and I made lifelong friendships. But in the end, at the ripe old age of 21, I knew modelling wasn’t for me. It was the best decision I ever made. 

Today, I’m a novelist. The experiences have shaped who I am today, in good and bad ways, but in spite of the fun, there has been a lot of money spent on therapy and there were situations I would rather forget. Those uncomfortable memories could have been avoided.

If my daughters were to work as models now, I’d want to believe that they would be confident enough to fight for their rights.

When they turn 18, there will be little I can do to stop them. But they would be going into the business with their eyes opened by me, knowing that it is a high-risk environment, knowing that sexual predators to the fashion industry are like bees to a honeypot.

While I have it in my power to protect them, it will be a ‘no’, ‘no’ and another emphatic ‘no’ to the ugly business of modelling.

The Pretty One (Bookouture) is published on February 26 and is available to pre-order now. See geni.us/B08TRGS59Hdailymail

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