People always ask me “how did you get started in it all?” and so I thought I’d start from the very beginning which, as Julie Andrews will confirm, is a very good place to start.
I spent most of my life being pretty hideous. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not under the illusion that I’m God’s gift to women now but I spent the majority of my life being painfully thin, flat chested and goofy. I spent so long looking like this that when I did finally develop and started receiving the male attention I’d spent so long watching my friends attract, I didn’t know what to do with myself and went a bit wild. I ended up getting into some pretty messed up situations, as my last blog post alluded to, and my self-esteem never really developed – in my head I’ll always be that angry, goofy teenager – but I finally felt at least semi confident in my appearance. I knew I could give men in clubs’ semis and that was enough for me.
At 18, spurred on by the attention and attempts at fingering that I’d been receiving on the dancefloor at Oceana, I decided I wanted some nice pictures for my Facebook. After all, there was no point being suddenly sexy if the world and my old high school classmates didn’t get to know about it. I found a local photographer online and paid something like £50 to go to his studio and shoot a CD’s worth of images. At this point I had a boyfriend so I wanted some topless shots for him too. I don’t remember being nervous going topless in front of a stranger but I do cringe so hard when I look back at the photos now. Because they were professional and the lighting was good, my friends oohed and aahed over them but in every single image my expression was literally identical to the straight face emoji expression. I literally looked dead behind the eyes.
It was this photographer who introduced me to the world of modelling websites and online communities where you could put up an online profile/portfolio and apply for paid photoshoots. Anything online and photography related always sounds instantly seedy and untoward but I promise you, all the photographers were genuine people with references and 99% of the people I worked with were good, kind people and not creepy at all. Of course there was a few oddballs and perverts but you find just as many of them working in office as you do working behind a camera. You aren’t, by default, a pervert just because you work around naked people. He was a nice guy, that first photographer, and I shot with him a couple of times after, until he texted me asking if he could give me a massage for a “course” he was doing and film it. He did offer to give me back the £50, which was incredibly gracious of him, but I still managed to decline.
I did the odd shoot here and there when I went to university but I didn’t really know what I was doing and ended up agreeing to shoot for free for some publications just because I thought it would be cool to see myself in print. I’ve never really had a brain for business and it wasn’t until I decided to move to London that I realised the earning potential that could be on offer to me.
At this point I was still only shooting topless and was absolutely adamant that I would never do nude; I hated the thought of showing the world my fandingo. I’d already shown it to enough people from my hometown. Although camera phones weren’t all that big back then – we were all still at the stage of taking digital cameras on nights out, remember that!? – I’d also stupidly let myself be pressured into sending a webcam video of myself to a guy who’d told me he’d find someone else if I didn’t. Inevitably it made the rounds on MSN, which made my nights out in my hometown so much fun. Men can be such cocks.
During the summer, I made the money I needed to move to London by moving back to my family home and travelling around to do shoots. One shoot I had done was an implied nude set for a company that mainly specialised in hardcore porn. My mum had caught sight of an invoice I’d sent them, looked them up and totally flipped out, accusing me of doing porn and all sorts. I was horrified! OMG MUM, can you imagine – me!? As if I’d ever do that! I’m a feminist, it would be so degrading! If my life was a play, I think we’d call this “dramatic irony”. Yes, I did do Drama at GCSE level and I got a ‘C’ for it. I could have been a star.
When I actually made it to London I had no real idea what I was doing. I was meant to be doing my second year at uni there but had decided not to bother with student halls and to go it alone and move into my own place. I was now living in what was once somebody’s front room in a dodgy part of East London in a shared house where nobody else spoke English with £30 in my purse, no idea what an Oyster card was and a diary full of shoot bookings. I had arrived.
It wasn’t long before I’d dropped out of uni in a panic and was doing nude shoots to pay my rent. I was on a train every day, living off Boots Meal Deals and trying to make enough money to still be able to buy hair dye after I’d paid my bills each month. Looking back, I’m not sure if this was a good period or a bad period in my life. I was loving London life and was out every night but financially I was struggling and acting very recklessly with a lot of very unsuitable men. This was mainly because I literally had no money so going on dates was the only way I was eating, which sounds like a joke but isn’t. I’m not even sure I had time to process whether I even enjoyed modelling or not.
I felt like I was caught in a catch-22 because when I had applied for “normal” jobs and been offered them, I had had absolutely no savings at all to see me through from the start date to my first pay which would have been at least a month so I felt I had no option but to keep shooting and getting paid every day. I’ve done literally thousands of shoots in my life and I honestly couldn’t even guess where half the pictures have ended up. I’ve seen myself in European magazines where my name is Greta and I’ve, apparently, given an interview in fluent German or popping up in “Shag A Slag” adverts on the side of porn sites.
A lot of the photographers I shot with in the beginning were just starting out or hobbyists and I vividly remember one guy turning up to a studio day I was holding with a camera he had no clue how to use. He had the studio owner set it up on a tripod for him so he could just click a button to take a quick photo and went through the motions of taking a few shots of me before asking if I’d do some sat on this really horrible office chair with all the stuffing coming out of it. As soon as he asked me to sit on something that would look absolutely crap in images, I knew he was going to casually ask me if I’d sit on his lap. A few shots in, he casually asked me if he could sit on the chair and I’d sit on his lap. Go figure. He then asked if I minded doing some shots where he faced the camera and I knelt down facing him. At this point I would like to insert the straight line mouth with straight line eyes emoji for at least one full paragraph. Later, when he thought I was changing behind a curtain, I caught him rifling through the worn items in my suitcase. Subtle and not at all socially awkward. My kinda guy.
Another time I’d traveled down to Portsmouth at the crack of dawn to shoot with an older chap who spent our time travelling to the studio lamenting on about his considerably younger wife. He even showed me a picture of them together which was in no way necessary but I pretended to be interested. She was a lot younger than him and a stunning Thai woman who he said got very jealous and hated him doing photography. This became quickly apparent as twenty minutes into our shoot she called him up and went absolutely ballistic down the phone. He spent an age assuring her that he wasn’t using his day off to shoot half naked models, as I pretended I couldn’t hear a thing whilst hunting around for my g-string. Instead of shooting I ended up having to nod dutifully as he vented about how his wife didn’t understand him and asking me why he should have to give up all his passions in life on the endless car journey back to the station. My new career as a marriage counselor did come to a halt when he parked up outside a museum so he could dash inside and buy some postcards from the gift shop to pretend he’d spent his day off there. Gotta give him credit there; I wouldn’t have thought to have done that.