Prejudice was stripped away by advert

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The Independent Online
WHEN Pearl Reed was picked as the model for Age Concern's anti- discrimination campaign a year ago, she thought it would be a straightforward photographic job.

What happened next came as something of a shock. The tabloid press were camped outside her Sussex home for a month as she whirled from one television studio to another. Once, she was even smuggled out in the boot of a car to avoid photographers.

There were two reasons for the intense interest in the 56-year-old. One was Age Concern's decision to splash shots of her Wonderbra-clad breasts above a caption reading: "The first thing some people see is her age." The other was that she was once married to a gangster, Joe Wilkins, and later had a relationship with David Bulstrode, former chairman of Queen's Park Rangers football club.

She had told the charity about her past before the campaign began, but had been hoping it would not become public.

"When a lot of my personal life came out I phoned to apologise because I thought it might be harmful to them. But they were really quite pleased in a way, because it gave them a lot of tabloid coverage," she said.

In fact, the campaign must rate as one of the most cost- effective ever run. The charity put Pearl's poster on one mobile billboard and relied on the press to do the rest.

It worked splendidly. There were 2,000 responses from the public, 10 solid hours of broadcasting time, hundreds of column inches and interest from as far afield as Argentina, Italy and Norway. The ad was declared even more successful than the original Wonderbra ad featuring Eva Herzegova.

"It was a big surprise, but it was great," Ms Reed told The Independent. "It was great fun, and I was very pleased for Age Concern because they were stepping outside the norm and it worked."

Ms Reed says she understands the campaign because she too has suffered age discrimination when seeking work as an actress and model, often finding it difficult to get invited to castings.

Ironically, the success of the ad has not changed her fortunes dramatically. Companies do not necessarily want to hire someone so closely linked with another organisation, though she has made two short films.

She was invited to a casting for a nude hormone replacement therapy campaign, but decided to turn it down. "I would like to be seen as someone who can do something rather than just get my kit off," she said.