At the age of 18 Keeley Hazell had one of the most famous faces, and bodies, in the UK. It was the mid-2000s, lads mags like Nuts and Zoo were flourishing, and Hazell and her classic girl next door looks were among the most wanted in the industry.
At the time, glamour models from Hazell and Lucy Pinder to Jodie Marsh and Jordan (who, ever the shrewd business woman, was already re-inventing herself into Katie Price) were household names. Women were vying to enter the lucrative business - in 2007 there were sixteen Babes on the Bed competitive club nights to win a modelling contract with Nuts - and magazine copies sold in their hundreds and thousands. They dealt in the superlatives of lad culture: the “sexiest”, “rudest”, the “biggest boobs” and the “first topless shoots”.
A decade later, and the industry has almost entirely disappeared to be replaced with online porn and Instagram personalities. The Sun has scrapped Page Three, and magazines including Nuts, Zoo, Loaded, Maxim, and FHM, have closed after steep declines in sales. Take FHM: in the first half of 2005 it sold 560,167 copies. By 2014 that had dropped to 96,452. Almost overnight, glamour models, and the editorial teams at these magazines, were without jobs.
Hazell, now 31, entered the industry at its height, when she says the most famous models like Lucy Pinder could be paid as much as £100,000 for a shoot. For Hazell, a shoot could bring in £30,000, which dropped to £5,000 as lad mags became less flush. As the industry died, the women were paid £1,000 for a shot, then eventually as low as £100 a day, she believes. After three-and-a-half years in the business, she cut her losses at the age of 22 and used the money to move to LA and pay for acting school.
She fell into glamour modelling by chance, having always wanted to be an actress. Leaving school at 16 to work in a hair salon, she was encouraged by her colleagues to become a model. Growing up in a hard-up family in south London (her dad was a window fitter and her mum a dinner lady) she was fascinated by a mysterious commercial model who would roll up to the hairdresser in a Mercedes, and who would appear on ITV morning shows.
Aged 17, and too young to pose topless for Page Three at the time, she entered the Daily Star’s Search for a Beach Babe competition and won. She then enrolled in a fashion course at Lewisham College before winning The Sun’s Page Three Idol competition.
“It was all covered up until my submission to The Sun Page Three Idol. I had a boyfriend take some photos. I was hesitant so I entered the pictures on the last day. I thought 'is this something that I want to show?' And the I was like ‘oh fuck it," she says.
“Back then my process was bit different. You’re so young and you think ‘I don't have much going on’.” Almost overnight, Hazell became one of the most popular glamour models in the country.
“I didn’t know anyone. I was thrown into an industry I didn’t know much about,” she recalls. “I met some of the Page 3 girls who are still my friends now, and one of them took me under her wing.
“I was travelling all the time, and financially my situation changed a lot. I was earning a lot of money. At the time you don't realise and I look back and think ‘that was crazy’. You're known as a model which is weird."
At the time, glamour models were careful to hold off posing topless immediately - instead appearing in underwear and covering their breasts with ‘arm bras’ to build a hype and cash in as fans wanted to see more flesh. Did she think hard about going topless for the first time? Does she remember her first shoot?
“I think I was a bit numb to be honest,” she says. “I don't really know how I felt at all. I wasn’t nervous. I wasn't super excited. I was just a bit numb. I thought ‘I’m doing something and it’s a job’. Now I look back and think ‘God damn how did I do it when I was 18?’”
Yet Hazell doesn’t look back on those times like an exploited victim as some might expect of a teenage girl whose bare body was on the third page of one of the country’s best-selling newspapers. “The Page Three trips were the best part of the job,” she say. “We would always made these trips to Tenerife or Lanzarote and do shoots and it was always really fun. The models were my friends and we’d have such a great time. I remember making a band one time with the other girls at a karaoke bar. It was just taking photos and chilling out with a mates. Those were the best memories." At one point she had such a high profile that she became involved with a Conservative Party campaign, although she stresses it was only because she was interested in environmental issues, adding that she doesn't agree with Brexit which she describes as "a bit of a shitshow."
“But now I look back I wish I’d known the sort of things that you learn things as you go along. Like how magazines and contracts operate, and doing interviews or just setting boundaries for pictures. People sort of push what they want whether or not that’s what you want to do," she says referring to lads mags rather than Page Three. “Another thing is syndication," she adds. "If someone takes your photo they own the copyright and it can end up anywhere.”
In the wake of the “me too” social media movement and the allegations of assault against film producer Harvey Weinstein which have shone a light on the prevalence of inappropriate behaviour that women face, surely Hazell has many stories of batting off unwanted sexual advances?
“I don't feel like I had been sexually harassed," she says, in contrast to her experiences as an actor (more on that later). "There is one that comes to mind. I did a shoot for Zoo and a guy was really frustrated with how the shoot was going. He was telling me how to hold my boobs in a really passive aggressive manner and I thought 'oh my god what am I doing here?' This grown man in his mid-30s or 40s is telling me how to hold my boobs. And it felt really weird. And I thought 'I do not feel OK with this'.”
“When we were on a Page Three trips there was nothing overtly sexual about it at all and you just did the job. But with lads mags they were pushing it to the extreme. They were trying to see how sexual you could make it. This would make it really uncomfortable. And that were times where you’d be like ‘I’m not OK with this’.” Hazell also recalls an instance where she demandd to wear flesh-coloured underwear in shoots, but arrived was asked to pose naked. “It becomes uncomfortable and you have to be confrontational and I’m not good at that, especially at 18 or 19. It’s hard to say ‘I don’t want that’.”
“Because of the nature of the industry, I think it would be hard to identify verbal sexual harassment," she argues. "Many of the magazines - and just want to state I don’t include Page Three in this - would ask for the model to pose in a way that was sexually provocative, and therefore when discussing those images, how sexy the model looked, how great her arse or boobs looked, become part of the language. This makes it hard to distinguish verbal sexual harassment because, if for instance, the editor of one of the lads magazines were to say, 'You look really f*ckable in this photo,' that could be seen as sexual harassment but it could be seen as the desired outcome for the job. So, when it comes to verbal sexual harassment in the glamour modelling world I think the lines are blurred. Also, 10 or more years ago when I was a model, words like sexual harassment were never used.
“To give you some insight, I was a victim of revenge porn in 2007 and ‘revenge porn’ wasn’t even a terminology until around 2015. Today, I think it is easier to understand and identify sexual harassment because of the conversations that are being had by women and the attention brought to it by the media of as late.”
That was a decade ago. Hazell is still based in Los Angeles, and is finding that prejudice towards glamour models is making it harder for her to carve out a career in acting. Her experiences have also lead her to identify as a feminist, although she’s not entirely at peace with all aspects of the movement.
“I think I am a feminist in that I believe in equal pay between men and women,” she explains. “I think it’s hard with the whole nudity thing. I guess it’s a woman’s choice what they want to do but it’s tough. The whole No More Page Three campaign [that called for the end of The Sun’s glamour modelling page] was interesting.
“In a way Page Three did not have its place in society any longer. But the thing I noticed was that there wasn’t any recognition of the models. They objectified us in their own way by saying the industry is wrong. They didn’t take into consideration the models and their careers. And that's how we made money. I think there should have been more involvement with the models to see why they did it and understand their point of view."
As someone who has moved from glamour modelling to carving out a career as an actress, Hazell is well-versed enough in the industry to not be surprised by allegations against Weinstein, although she's never met him. "The abuse of power in the film and television industry is a tale as old as time. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I have attended professional meetings with someone in a more powerful position than myself under the pretence of work.
"It’s only after I have been lead down a path of more professional meetings and more talk of potential jobs with these men that the settings of the meetings change to a restaurant and not the office, and then the phone calls start coming from their cell phones and not the work line, and before you know it, their intention of only wanting to have sex with you comes out you are left with an ultimatum of having sex with them to continue having this work relationship, or not having sex with them and severing all ties. I have always chosen the second option and none of these men have ever contacted me again, one even told me in a passive aggressive way to 'have a nice life,' after I refused his advances."
"The abuse of power in Hollywood is an epidemic that needs to change and hopefully the women brave enough to speak out against Harvey Weinstein have made other men look at the behaviour and realise it is unacceptable."
Yet Hazell isn't done with the entertainment industry yet. "I wanted to act from a young age and I didn't seem like a reality for me growing up. My family were poor so really early I didn't think that would be something that could happen and when I modelled I realised I didn't want to do it anymore, and I thought with acting 'I really want to give this a shot'."
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies