Wannabees follow in steps of superstar models: Dreams came true for 13 girls-next-door when they became 'superstar' models - for a night. Roger Tredre reports

LAST MONTH she was signing on back home in Cardiff. This week, she was a superstar model, for a night at least, striding the catwalk before the television cameras and the probing eyes of a thousand fashion industry guests. It was a dream come true for Dena Khazragi, 19, a finalist in the British round of the Look of the Year contest.

Two hours before the event, Ms Khazragi was shaking with nerves backstage. She sat on the steps of the fire escape at the Cafe Royal in Regent Street, central London, and fiddled with her shoes. 'I just went to the toilet to calm down. I had such a bad panic attack I thought I was going to throw up,' she said.

The Look of the Year, organised by the Elite Premier modelling agency and held in Britain for the first time this year, is every teenage girl's chance to make a million.

The event was the launch pad for names like Cindy Crawford and Stephanie Seymour, both million-pound earners in the model world. Elite Premier has most of the world's top names on its books, including Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiffer.

Before the make-up artists and stylists had done their work, the 13 contestants were 13 girls-from-next-door, complete with spots and pimples. Most of them had read about the competition in the Sun, and had no professional modelling experience.

Georgina Cooper, 14, from Charlton, south-east London, was the youngest. She was hoping to find modelling work during her school holidays. Her mum would come with her on test shoots, she said.

Shelley Ross, 16, from Brighton, was concentrating very hard on not smiling. She did not want to talk much either because the act of talking obliged her to open her mouth and show off a set of sparkling braces.

As the girls queued to have their hair teased into shape, they were reassured sotto voce by a series of expert young men. Gavin Boardman, the booker responsible for the youngest girls at Elite Premier, said: 'I've spent the last two days talking to the girls and their parents. They've all got my home phone number.' And he was off again, cooing and stroking and flattering. 'You look gorgeous, darling. You're going to be wonderful.'

This was a squeaky clean vision of the modelling world, scrubbed free of exploitation, anorexia, jet lag, and drugs. The contestants were wannabees still free of problems; their only concerns were aching feet and fatty foods.

Melanie Boon, 16, said: 'It's a pain being on a strict diet, all salads, fresh fruit and mineral water. I set myself little targets - just one chocolate bar a week, at the weekends.'

There are 20 women who earn more than pounds 1m a year from modelling, followed by several dozen who can earn more than pounds 100,000 if they work hard enough. Heather Stewart-Whyte, 23, one of the judges of the Look of the Year, is in the million-pound rank.

Ms Stewart-Whyte, from Eastbourne, started modelling at 17 and retired at 19. 'It was the best thing I ever did. There are a lot of bad influences for young girls in modelling. I started again when I was 21 and felt more in control.'

So how did she pass her time during the two years off? 'I took my money and built a house.'

The contestants were dreaming of house-building, and much more besides. The winner of the Look of the Year final to be held at the Plaza hotel in New York in September, is guaranteed dollars 150,000 ( pounds 78,500) worth of work.

Elite Premier, the biggest agency in Britain, was founded last year as a joint partnership of Elite in New York and Paris, and Premier, the British agency run by Chris Owen and Carole White. The agency has 300 girls on its books, with 100 working round the world at any one time. Turnover last year was more than pounds 3m, according to Mr Owen.

Alex Childs, 17, thought modelling for Elite Premier would be a perfect way to earn a living. 'If I won, I'd buy a little island, find some gorgeous hunky male, and live there happily after.'

It was a nice idea, but Ms Childs did not win. First place went to Helen Millet, a 16-year-old from Bournemouth, who promptly burst into tears.

John Casablancas, director of Elite International, gave a short speech about priming 'great new beauties'.

He said there were seven, eight, maybe nine, girls who would be invited to 'pursue a career with us'. And what about the rest? Back to the dole queue in Cardiff, perhaps?

The competitors smiled frozen smiles at the winner and trooped backstage. Mr Boardman was ready, oozing sympathy.

'Now I've got to do my rounds. There are a few gutted ones out there. And if that Helen doesn't stop sobbing, I'm going to strangle her.'

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Life and Style
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

Recruitment Genius: Property Manager

£25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent, growing Sales...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Multi-skilled graphic designer ...

Austen Lloyd: Court of Protection Solicitor

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: Court of Protection Solic...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas