Daphne Selfe: 'Cosmetic surgery won't stop you from getting old'

I didn't get my big break until I was 70 I'd had a fairly reasonable career in the 1950s for about five years, but I was nothing special back then; it was the time of all those famous upper-class models such as Barbara Goalen; I was a great big horsey girl, about size 12.

Appearing for Red or Dead at London Fashion Week in 1998 was a breakthrough for older models. When I was called by my agent and asked to feature in their show, I was tickled to death. Now there are a lot of older models, and even a specialist agency.

Some designers forget the role of practicality in their designs Whenever you wore bell-bottoms in the 1970s and walked in a wind, you had to be jolly careful, as they would literally trip you up. More recently I was wearing these really tight trousers that were so restrictive I couldn't bend my legs to get into a Land Rover taking me to the shoot; I had to be lifted up!

The British are hooked on nostalgia I think it's because we love returning to our past glories, when we had an empire – we just love to look back. Just look at all those costume dramas on TV. I particularly loved last year's Upstairs, Downstairs – I was in the original version in the 1970s, as an extra.

I try not to throw anything away Things come back around in fashion all the time. The other day I was about to chuck out a lovely dirndl skirt, which I last wore in the 1950s, when I saw a picture of something similar in the fashion pages of a newspaper, so I thought, "Well, I'd better keep that." I've still got my mother's dresses that she wore in the 1930s and 1940s, too, which I occasionally wear.

Language is no barrier to good photography But you have to be able to read people and have a flair for backgrounds and colours. I went to Beijing last year to do a shoot for Chinese Vogue. The local photographer doing the shoot, well, I couldn't even read his name, let alone speak Chinese. But I know what I'm doing and so did he, so we were away, and he did a marvellous job.

People should never say they can do something they can't In the 1950s, models were always claiming they could sail or ballet-dance, just to get the job. There was a horse-ride I once did across Wimbledon common for a Kellogg advert with another girl, on the same pony, who said she too could ride, which she couldn't. I ended up telling her to just grab on to the saddle while I looked after the reins, and we galloped across with her holding on for dear life; it was terribly dangerous.

I can't bear the London rush hour I'm not in my first flush of youth and I don't want to be buffeted around or play sardines on the Tube on my commute home. So after a shoot I often sneak off to see a show and wait in line for a reasonably priced £15 stand-by ticket. I went to the ballet recently to see the American Ballet Theatre perform Lilac Garden, which I last saw in 1950s; they did it beautifully.

Your face is your history If you have a few lines, it's your life that you've lived, and people should embrace that. Some [models] want to alter themselves and I hear talk about getting all this wretched cosmetic surgery done, but I don't want to do that myself as it costs too much, it might go wrong and what's the point? It won't stop you from getting old.

Modelling in the 1950s was totally different to how it is now You had to take your own make-up, hairpieces, jewellery and scarves to a shoot. There were no stylists or hairdressers, either; you just brought everything save the dress and shoes. Now it's wonderfully indulgent – all I have to do is turn up, and they even provide the food.

Daphne Selfe, 82, is a model for Models

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