Interview: Elle Macpherson

The Britain & Ireland’s Next Top Model judge dispenses advice to the next generation of mannequins

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Standing among thousands of skinny, long-limbed girls, 21-year-old Juste is hoping to grab the attention of the Britain & Ireland’s Next Top Model judges. Originally from Lithuania, the blonde, 6ft tall, size 8 wannabe model has seen a glimpse of what her career could be, having walked the catwalk when she was younger, but since moving to London three years ago, finding an agent has proved impossible.

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“When I first came here I went to all the agencies three times and couldn’t get signed – they all said I was too commercial. That is why I came on the show. I want to be a model, but more than that I want to make a name for myself and build my own brand like Elle Macpherson.”

All of the girls who turn up to the auditions for Britain & Ireland’s Next Top Model have the same dream, and as Elle Macpherson glides into view, the room falls silent. The supermodel-turned-businesswoman embodies everything they all desperately want to be, and she’s the one with the power to help them achieve it.

As she scans the room you can see her trying to spot potential. “In this industry it doesn’t matter how hard you work,” she says later, “there is a limit to how good you can be unless you have the genetic predisposition. From a physical perspective, height and stature are important, but I prefer not to have a checklist – ‘She has long legs – check. She’s tall – check. She has a small head – check. She has an English accent – check’. There’s more to it than that. When someone grabs my attention it’s their whole aura, their presence, the way they put themselves together, the way their hair moves, the way they walk, the way they laugh – I’m looking for classic beauty.”

All this stands the girls who have fashioned themselves on Macpherson in good stead, but sitting alongside her on the Next Top Model judging panel are designer Julien Macdonald, super-stylist Grace Woodward and former male model Charley Speed, all of whom have very different criteria in mind.

“I look for someone who could model my clothes on the catwalk,” says Macdonald. “They’ve got to be tall and have an incredible body. On the international model circuit samples are a size 8 and the girls have to fit into them.”

“Elle is always questioning my style,” says Woodward. “She’ll say ‘Oh, I’m not sure about that orange eye shadow!’ but she plays it quite safe, whereas I’m fresh and contemporary – and that’s what I’m looking for in a girl.”

But impressing the judges is no guarantee of a successful career – the most high-profile former contestant, Abbey Clancy, is now more famous for dating a footballer. The fashion world is notoriously brutal. “The show is restricted to finding girls who are 17 to 23 years old, but by 17 they should be working already,” reveals Woodward. “Agencies have sections, which I think they call Kindergartens, which specialise in finding and grooming girls from the age of 14.”

Knowing what she does now, would Macpherson encourage girls into the industry? “My advice to aspiring models is finish school,” she insists. “It’s possible to finish school by 17 or 18 and then start modelling on a gap year before returning to university, or doing it part-time. They might regret it otherwise.”

It was her “smarts” – as she refers to her brains – that took her from swimwear model to a million-pound business “brand”. But her perfect “genetic predisposition” must also have helped. Once known as ‘the Body’, she now has a lucrative contract with Revlon and a lingerie range estimated to bring in £40m a year.

“I love working with my trainer James Duigan, although I’m nearly 50 now so I have different requirements to when I was 20. I don’t run eight miles a day like I used to, because it isn’t good for me. I eat organic food and drink lots of water and I take time for meditation to set up my day.

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“I find it amusing that so much is made about my appearance, especially when I’m dropping my son off at school. I’m often on the way to work, so I’ve spent two hours having my hair and make-up done, and I’m wearing ‘work clothes’. It takes ten minutes to get ready otherwise – I don’t wear make-up, high heels and leather trousers in everyday life.”