Keeley Hazell: Angel is a centrefold

In many ways, Keeley Hazell is a normal 20-year-old from south London - it's just that she happens to be worshipped by millions of men around Britain. What makes her so special?
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The Independent Online

Keeley Hazell has a terrific pair of breasts. This, it would probably be wise to elucidate upfront, is not so much crude bloke conjecture as much as it is concrete fact. Courtesy of her assets, the woman has risen to the ranks of cultural phenomenon in just 18 months, in a manner many thought had gone out, if not quite with the ark, then certainly with the likes of Samantha Fox and Linda Lusardi. Her achievement is all the more remarkable when you consider that, due to the flourishing men's magazine market, there appear to be more topless women around these days than ever. Most remain entirely anonymous, but not Keeley. In 2004, having just turned 18, she won the Sun's "Page 3 Idol" competition - by some considerable margin. Things got meteoric almost immediately thereafter.

"It was clear from the very beginning," says the Sun's associate editor Geoff Webster, "Keeley absolutely struck a chord with thousands if not millions of readers. She has something about her, something else, that's very hard to put your finger on. But it's there."

She currently appears in the newspaper at least once every two weeks, and is all over the lad mags like a particularly virulent rash. According to FHM, which delicately refers to her as being "mega-jugged", she is the second most beautiful girl in the world. Over at the weekly magazine Zoo, she recently recreated videos by Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Kylie Minogue, but with noticeably less upholstery. Readership reaction, gauged via the magazine's chatrooms, was immense. There are already multiple fanclubs, and the Official Keeley Calendar 2007 sold 30,000 copies in its first few days of release and is far and away this year's bestselling year planner. Even for those among us who don't, for want of a less obvious term, keep abreast of such matters, Keeley's ubiquity - her surname seems superfluous already - is fast becoming unignorable. Her ascension into the ranks of proper celebrity must now be inevitable.

"Maybe," says her manager Jon Fowler, "but we've got to tread carefully. It's early doors yet, and we are still considering our options. There's many."

Fowler, you'd presume, knows what he is talking about. The 43-year-old former music business executive also manages model-turned-actress Kelly Brook and actress-turned-model/singer Holly Valance, both of whom, one could argue, have excelled despite not exactly possessing a surfeit of God-given talent.

"Keeley," he says, "is still far too young and in too vulnerable a position to chuck away all the good that has happened to date, by doing the first reality TV show that comes along. The trick now is to identify her strengths, then place her accordingly."

But hang on a minute. We are on the cusp of 2007. What on earth are we doing celebrating Page 3, an institution indelibly linked to bygone decades?

According to Rowan Pelling, Independent columnist and former editor of the Erotic Review - who herself recently posed nude, if only for the one time and for reasons entirely her own - we are a breast-obsessed nation today as much as we ever were.

"Oh, come on - we're all topless models now," she states. "And I simply don't think it has the stigma it once had. We live in a world where people masturbate with bottles on Big Brother. Page 3, in comparison, is a cradle of innocence, and the models - virtually the vicar's daughters - are really rather endearing."

Pelling says she would be delighted to see her achieve more mainstream celebrity.

"Page 3 girls always seem rather canny types to me," she continues. "I'd be much happier for someone like Keeley to become famous because of her breasts than someone else becoming famous simply because they thought Norfolk was another country [Big Brother's Jade Goody] or from marketing your own sex video [Paris Hilton]. As far as I'm concerned, good luck to the girl."

A blustery Monday in early November somewhere in east London, and Keeley is throwing a succession of shapes for the benefit of a photographer in a draughty studio. This is a daily occurrence for her now, but there is something unusual about this particular shoot: she is clothed. This is because she is here today posing for young woman's magazine, More, and while she needs to look good, she doesn't need to look naked. Keeley is the star of the publication's forthcoming body issue. In a recent poll of its readers on the perfect body, she came out resoundingly on top. According to the magazine's editor Donna Armstrong, the model isn't merely iconic for young men.

"In terms of the way she looks," Armstrong says, "Keeley is a major influence to young women. She is entirely natural, not enhanced in any way. The anti-Jordan, if you like. She simply has an amazingly toned body, but with huge breasts - which is what all our readers ultimately crave."

According to Phil Hilton, the outgoing editor of Nuts magazine, the first weekly title to have her grace its cover, her beauty should not go overlooked.

"Most people assume that millions of girls combine an extraordinary face with a perfect body," he says, "but that's simply not true. The combination is actually surprisingly rare. Trust me, I should know."

Magazine and newspaper editors, then, appear more aware of her appeal than the woman herself.

"I always thought my breasts were of average size until somebody told me I was wearing a bra that was far too small," says Keeley disingenuously. "If they seem particularly big now, then I think it's probably because I'm quite small framed. I'm a size eight and only five foot six."

Suddenly, she brightens. "But I'm hoping to grow to five foot eight soon."

In the current celebrity climate that dictates anyone in the public eye must immediately become an open book, pen an autobiography and undergo a wedding endorsed by OK! magazine to a chap of the calibre of Peter Andre, Keeley is under strict instruction to buck convention and instead proceed with extreme caution. The Joe Cole tabloid sensation that we will come to presently has been quickly brushed to one side, and the blinking Bambi routine she does so well would appear to be entirely genuine. She is a 20-year-old with the temperament of an inhibited tweenie.

"Keeley," explains Jon Fowler, "is still working out how best to respond to what's happened to her, but I think she is doing well - really well - so far. She is very streetwise."

To date, the model hasn't done any serious interviews; this is her first. The Q&As that accompany FHM cover shoots deal inevitably with sex, and little else. "If I had to dress up," she told the magazine recently, "I'd be a nurse every time." This, then, has become her comfort zone: Keeley as sex kitten. Take her out of that comfort zone, and she becomes really rather timid - and so very young.

We meet again a few days after the More photo-shoot at an upmarket hotel around the corner from her Docklands apartment. In the flesh, she is trim, slim and rather unremarkable. Pretty, certainly, but not arresting in the manner you would perhaps expect of a glamour model.

"Oh, you could walk past her in the street without noticing," the Sun's Geoff Webster agrees. "But in pictures, she just comes alive. It's quite remarkable."

Phil Hilton assesses the core of her appeal more directly: "She's the girl next door, and guys like that notion of availability. Though I have to say, you'd have to be a very lucky man if she actually did live next door."

Today, she is conservatively dressed in jeans and a casual jacket. The vest that peaks out from beneath reveals not a millimetre of the famous cleavage, and as she sits opposite me, one knee crossed over the other as if she were ready to take dictation, her discomfort begins to show. She is almost preternaturally polite. Wary, too: the blush that comes from talking about herself is one that doesn't easily fade.

She was born in 1986 in Lewisham, south-east London, and brought up in nearby Bromley. At 13, her father, a window fitter, and mother, a dinner lady, divorced. Keeley hardly noticed it.

"Well, I say that, but of course I noticed it. It's just that..." and here she falters. "Sorry, I'm not used to talking about things like this, and it is kind of embarrassing to admit that I was a right handful as a teenager. But I suppose I was. I didn't notice my parents' split because I was off doing my own thing. I was very naughty."

Naughty how? Are we talking drink, drugs?

"We-ll, drink definitely, because that's the kind of people I was hanging around with - drinkers. But not drugs. I was never much interested in them. I didn't do very well at school - teachers picked on me, I'm sure of it - and I'd stay out all hours of the night with my mates. I was just being a teenager, I suppose, and it was definitely the hardest time of my life. Puberty didn't help, either. That was very... confusing."

She left school at 16 and trained as a hairdresser. She soon tired of this, though, and wondered instead about a possible career in fashion, but decided to first return to education. She enrolled in a local college to study social psychology, but then along came the Sun to make an unknown dream come suddenly very true.

"The day I won was very memorable for all kinds of reasons," she says now. "I hadn't even told anyone I'd entered, so I had a lot of explaining to do."

Her father, she claims, thought the whole thing highly amusing, while her mother merely wished she had been forewarned. Her sister's reaction, though, was "a weird one. I don't remember her saying anything to me about it. Ever. It's strange. Are we close?" She squirms. "Sort of."

Within six months of her first appearance in the paper, she was introduced to Jon Fowler, who promptly inked several highly lucrative contracts for her.

"Is she a millionaire?" Fowler says. "No. Not yet."

But is she happy? Can a woman who describes herself as creative find it sufficiently fulfilling to stand passively before a camera day in, day out?

"Mostly, yes," she says. "Though it does get boring sometimes. It can really drag. I'm happy doing it for now, but who knows? In years to come maybe I'll look back at all this and regret it. Perhaps I'll think it was degrading to women. I know some people think it is, but then not everything in life has to be academic, you know? An artist is someone who paints and is creative, but they are not necessarily using their brains too much. And it's the same in modelling." A frown appears between her sculpted eyebrows. "I know there is a stigma to topless modelling, but I'm not sure I understand it. Kate Moss is always photographed without her top on, but she doesn't get any grief. Why me?"

Rowan Pelling concurs on this last point: "I've never seen the difference between fashion models and Page 3. It's nonsense to consider one high art and the other soft porn. I've always thought this, and I'm just waiting for the rest of the world to come round to my way of thinking." Pelling pauses, then smiles. "I'm glad Keeley is with me on this one."

Jon Fowler, who already talks about Keeley in terms of a brand, is now keen to begin the process of fully three-dimensionalising her. She's done the top-off shots, so what's next? When the Sun came to him recently with a rather odd offer that would take her away from Page 3, he immediately said yes where many others would have at least hesitated. At the height of the impassioned debate over whether British Muslim women should be permitted to wear traditional dress, the country's favourite red-top asked the country's favourite model to spend the day in a burkha. Quite why it thought a Page 3 girl would be the ideal candidate to test the religious temperature of a country divided remains unclear, but Fowler insists Keeley was "game".

"I was!" she beams. "I suppose I wanted to see what it would be like."

And what was it like? "Well, it was uncomfortable. I couldn't get it to stay on properly. At one point, it fell off and my nose was poking through. You're not supposed to show your nose, but I didn't do it on purpose."

Her conclusion for Sun readers was this: "I said I felt like an outcast in it, but that I absolutely respect the women who live this sort of life."

I ask her what kind of reader reaction the feature prompted. Presumably, she could have caused considerable offence among the Muslim community.

"I didn't try to offend anyone in any way," she states, her voice wavering.

Phil Hilton at Nuts thinks this was a bad move on the part of the red-top: "Newspapers go out to a very broad group of people, and I just can't see the advantage in dividing them by getting somebody like Keeley involved in a political story. Also, the paper was unnecessarily gilding a very attractive lily by imposing upon her these ingenious new spins, which are all ultimately unnecessary anyway. Fans just want to see beautiful photographs of her. They don't need context."

Earlier this year, Keeley was in the news after it was reported that Chelsea and England football star Joe Cole was beaten up in a drunken brawl by "a love rival for the 34DD beauty" (actually, it's 32DD). Keeley refuses to talk about this now, or at least she would were she not quite so eager to please.

"Well, it's a long story and sort of true but, like, not entirely," she flusters. "I hated the attention. Photographers followed me everywhere. It got scary."

Presumably, though, the Sun went easy on her, given that Keeley is effectively staff? Not a bit of it, says its associate editor Geoff Webster: "It was us who broke the story."

While the episode caused Keeley some embarrassment, Jon Fowler's assessment is more philosophical: "I don't think it has done the brand any harm at all," he says. Indeed, if anything, it has only served to bolster it. Next month, his charge is going to be featured in US Playboy magazine, which paves the way very nicely, Fowler tells me now, for what he is planning next: Hollywood.

"Can she act?" he says. "Honestly? I don't know, but we'll find out."

His hopes are grand ones: to establish her as the new Carmen Electra, a naturally pneumatic Pamela Anderson. He has lined up meetings with some of the biggest agencies in Los Angeles, and discreetly - almost out of the corner of his mouth - mentions the words "possibility", "auditions" and "forthcoming Baywatch movie".

"Ultimately," he says, "we have to consider what the endgame in all this is. In extension to her daily work, there are all sorts of spin-offs: e-commerce, web presence and paper products like calendars, posters, and the rest of it. But at the end of the day, TV is king, the only way to go."

Despite his earlier reservations about reality television, he now mentions just that: "They make those things all the time over there. We've had interest, so you never know."

Phil Hilton advises caution: "I'm never sure about reality TV. I see our readers do an absolute U-turn over someone after a poor showing on one. I understand the need for exposure, but sometimes there can be an advantage in keeping just that little bit of mystique."

Keeley herself, the eye of this media storm, remains, for now at least, an oasis of muted calm. Whatever happens happens, is her Zen reading of the situation. But, if asked directly, she confesses to dreams of one day becoming a proper actress. Not necessarily in the mould of her manager's other client, Kelly Brook, but rather an Angelina Jolie, a Charlize Theron.

"I like the idea of being known as something other than a pretty face and a fit body," she says. "That would be nice."

Best of the breasts: Other Page 3 'stunnas' who defined their eras

Jilly Johnson, 1971-1980

Johnson is widely credited as being the first-ever Page 3 girl, although this honour actually belongs to Stephanie Rahn, who was the Sun's first nude model on 17 November 1970. Johnson was one of the first to make a big name for herself, however. She later had a less-than-spectacular musical career with fellow glamour model Nina Carter in the pop group Blonde on Blonde, but found more success as an author, publishing two novels in the 1990s: the racy Double Exposure and Playing for Love.

Linda Lusardi, 1978-1989

In 2005, to celebrate 35 years of Page 3, Lusardi was voted the newspaper's most popular topless model of all time by its readers. She was also the most enduring of the Sun's regulars, with her appearances in the newspaper spanning a record 11 years. Since retiring from modelling, she has worked mainly as an actress, and appears in panto every Christmas with her husband, former Brookside actor Sam Kane.

Samantha Fox, 1983-1986

Fox first appeared in the Sun aged 16, and became the newspaper's "Page 3 Girl of the Year" for the next three years in a row. Her large chest for her height (just 5ft 1in tall, with a 36D bust) came to define the big-breasted look of Page 3 in the 1980s. She retired from modelling aged 20 to concentrate on her pop career. Although she has never repeated the success of her first hit single - "Touch Me (I Want Your Body)", which hit Number 3 in 1986 - she continues to tour and make music.

Kathy Lloyd, 1987-1996

Although many Page 3 models have also posed for top-shelf titles such as Mayfair and Playboy, in the 1990s Lloyd was one of the first glamour models - along with Jo Guest - to make the crossover into the more mainstream world of the then newly launched lad's mags such as Loaded and FHM. Lloyd has continued modelling and has also worked as a TV presenter and magazine columnist.

Melinda Messenger, 1997

Messenger found fame after appearing in an advert for a Swindon double-glazing firm wearing only knickers and a bra. She was adopted by the tabloids, and became the Sun's "Girl of the Thrillennium". Despite quickly becoming one of the country's best-known Page 3 girls, she soon left modelling behind for a career in television - which has been notably more successful than that of many of her modelling peers - and she was voted celebrity mum of the year in 2003.

Jordan, 1997-1998

After first appearing on Page 3 as Katie Price with a 32B bust, her decision to have breast-enhancement surgery coincided with the Sun's decision to feature only "natural" models. Now aged 28, she has published two volumes of autobiography, married the pop singer Peter Andre (after the pair met on the I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here) and has even run for Parliament, promising a "Bigger and Betta Future" in the 2001 general election (and got just over 700 votes). She has recently announced plans to reduce the size of her breasts, and sell her implants on eBay.