REAL LIVES: when looks can kill

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Indy Lifestyle Online
a tall, slim adolescent girl is smoking nervously in the waiting room at Models 1 on the Kings Road. She is hoping to be signed up by the agency that boasts Yasmin Le Bon, Cecilia Chancellor and Jerry Hall among its members. At last she is shown past the very salient No Smoking sign for her interview with Candice, a former model.

Candice glances quickly at her. "Do you want me to be honest?" she asks. The 17-year-old smiles apprehensively. "Your nose is too wide for photographs although your profile is lovely. You need to do something about your weight. You've got to lose weight. You're a bit big."

Most of the hopefuls who turn up every day fall far short of the agency's standards. "All applicants should have good complexions, without scars or moles and a fit and well-proportioned body," says Models 1's creed. Girls must be over 5ft 8in. The agency, formed in 1968 by April Ducksbury and Jose "the eye" Fonesca, recruits about 30 girls a year and is always looking for more. As their "new faces of 95" stood gigglingin the foyer, beautiful but gawky, the management was discussing Michael Gross's forthcoming book, Model. "That ghastly thing," says April, looking genuinely upset. "It is so full of hatred! Jose and I have loved this business and most of the people in it."

Gross, an American fashion journalist, describes a world of "vast sums of money, rape - both symbolic and of the flesh - sex and drugs, obsession and tragic death". April and Jose insist that such things are the exception and not the rule. They even rush to defend playboy John Casablancas, founder of Elite, the first international modelling agency: "A lot of the girls love the glamour of the world he created. He made the models feel sexy and womanly," says April.

The desire to be sexy, womanly and high-earning is what drives young women to try to be like Naomi, Claudia and Kate. Superwaifs like Kate Moss anger parents who fear she projects the wrong image and may cause eating disorders.

But everyone inside and outside the industry knows that being a model means keeping your weight down. Most aspiring models smoke and drink a lot of black coffee to keep their metabolism working overtime - we've all seen the photos of Moss and De Cadanet with fags in mouth. Television casting director Michael Bullivant says he is always amazed at the clouds of cigarette smoke in his waiting room.

"Models guzzle incredible amounts of coffee, too. I assume this is how they keep their weight down. Of course, they only present their best side to me, but I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of them were taking drugs to stay thin."

Nor would the staff at the exclusive Farm Place rehabilitation centre in Surrey, and they should know. For although agencies (and models themselves) are cagey about eating disorders and drug abuse, countless models with anorexia and bulimia. Many, staff say, are also addicted to drugs. Laxatives, nicotine and caffeine play their part, but they are not the most dangerous substances abused by models. Many have taken amphetamines, amphetamine- based drugs or other stimulants, such as cocaine, that increase the heart rate and artificially decrease the appetite. "We see so many of them," says consultant Liz Cutland. "It is common among people under that kind of pressure."

It was a nervous system stimulant that led to the death of 17-year-old model Krissy Taylor last month. Her supermodel sister Niki, 20, found her unconscious at the family home in Florida. She had been using her asthma inhaler - Primatene Mist - two hours before her death. The pathologist, Dr Joshua Perper, said that "the real cause of death is an ironic tragedy. If she was not so incredibly beautiful, she would never have been a model. If she hadn't been a model, she wouldn't have found fame. And if she hadn't found fame, she wouldn't have found stress so early in her young life." Her mother said she had been using the inhaler to calm her when she felt stressed. Adrenalin-based stimulants are banned by the International Olympic Committee, along with amphetamines and other appetite- suppressors, because they can improve performance. They can also cause heart problems if abused. Krissy, who had been modelling with the huge IMG agency since she was 14, died of a heart attack.

She was 5ft 10in tall and struggling to maintain a weight of 8st 4lbs. The target weight for a healthy woman of that height is between 10st 3lb and 11st 10lb depending on build. By standards outside the modelling world she was significantly underweight. But, as model Veronica Webb says: "Models are there for people to project their fantasies on to," and unfortunately they have to maintain the form of that fantasy.

"It is usually the prospective or aspiring models that take drugs," says Jonathan, a booker at IMG in London. He admits he knows a lot of models on drugs, though not at his agency. "The successful ones know drugs don't work on a permanent basis. I am afraid to say the supermodels really are born like that." But when you are surrounded by people, or images of people, who are born like that, and you are not, the pressures to compete are always immense.

"One model on each of our first three head sheets died," says April Ducksbury gazing wistfully at a poster full of khol-eyed models. "There were a lot of drugs around in the Seventies." In his book Michael Gross dwells almost morbidly on the death of heroin addict model Gia Carangi in 1986 and discusses the amphetamine addiction of other models at length.

"Women today are striving to be perfect," says top photographer Steven Meisel. "To be the ultimate Barbie Doll." April at Models 1 agreed that 20 years ago "imperfections" like wonky teeth or moles were overlooked in a way they never would be today (Cindy Crawford's mole being the only exception). Celebrity Sixties model Celia Hammond was always a victim of the pressure, though. She recently admitted that she had been starving herself for 20 years in an attempt to achieve the goal of perfection and former Elite model Kim Alexis, 32, says she was once so thin she missed her period for two years.

They were undernourished but they survived. Earlier this year, former model Mavis Fryer overdosed on the stimulant slimming drug Duromine to which she had been addicted for 30 years, upping her dosage as her tolerance increased. These types of stimulants are supposed to be prescribed for short periods only, but determined models could always get hold of them, says Margaret Moses of the helpline Drugline.

She talks to ailing models regularly and is dismissive of the whole business. "The models we see with eating disorders are mostly addicted to the stimulant Tenuate Dospan. They get it from slimming clinics. It's sad they should care so much, really." Nurses at Farm Place say their model clients tend to be cross-addicted to a number of substances. "If you have an obsessive need for perfection you will abuse anything that you believe might help," said one.

Most doctors who treat eating disorders, like John Hevesi of the Anorexics and Bulimics Society, believe that the recreational stimulants like cocaine are discovered by models "accidentally" but then become part of their dieting regime. "They are stupidly thin," he says. "It is all connected to control and fear. You will do whatever it takes." Matthew Thompson, a young male model with Models 1 is convinced that many young women in the business are taking something to keep slim; "Oh God, it's common," he says. Del Gibbons of Slimming Magazine, is acutely aware of the dilemmas facing aspiring models. "Most of them are well outside their target weight range and a lot of them are simply freakish physically. It is a bad image to portray and nobody should be aspiring to that." But when Linda Evangelista says "I don't diet" one has to believe that it is true. The wannabes, as Michael Gross points out, are the victims. "Most of the top girls haven't done the whole drug thing," says Cindy Crawford.

The only advice Models 1 gives its highly successful girls is "eat lots of fresh fruit and vetables and drink lots of water". They want their models looking happy and well - otherwise the models won't get the job and they won't get the 20 per cent. "Be friendly," says the booklet they hand out to newcomers; "shyness and insecurity often comes across as arrogance or rudeness". The models are friendly to a fault.

The stunning 21-year-old model Mayumi never even has to think about staying thin, she says. Her booker, Ellis, used to tell her to lose weight when she first started aged 14. "I refused, but when I left school it just fell off." Ellis, Jose's protege who is said to have inherited "the eye", says she is "quite artistic" and knows what people want in a look for a model or a photograph for a magazine. "I was very shy when I started and I didn't know anything. I mean, you are still a virgin and you are showing your body to people. You tend to feel insecure so I relied on being able to call here."

While the startlingly beautiful young women waiting for a casting at Models 1 last Monday were slim, they all looked healthy. The chatter of the models, the whimpers of the lapdogs a few had brought in and the bright sunlight streaming through the windows make the agency feel a wholesome place, far removed from any world of "drugs, obsession and tragic death". This afternoon the catwalk starlets had come in to be considered for a Littlewoods catalogue.