OTB Talks To Charley Speed of Britain & Ireland’s Next Top Model

Back with a new and extra-long title (incorporating it into any article title is a nightmare as you can see..) Britain and Ireland’s Next Top Model is back on Sky Living on Monday. We caught up with panel judge Charley Speed to chat about what he’ll be looking for this year, the Size Zero debate, taking the show to the Emerald Isle and that Elle MacPherson vajazzle rumour…

The show is now in its seventh series, what do you think makes it so successful?
I think we keep it fresh by changing it up every year. I suppose that switching the judging panel up, getting people like Julian McDonald and Elle MacPherson on there as well as Grace and myself helps, they’re serious fashion stalwarts and major players in the fashion industry. Also, it’s watchable TV which has produced working models, Tiffany is still working hard now as is Joy. It’s a genuine insight into what being a model is like and people are interested in the whole mysterious culture of the fashion industry.

Yes, it’s not a very transparent industry is it?…
It’s a very insular industry, but it’s starting to open up more now. Mainstream TV cameras don’t normally get a look in, it’s always about niche channels getting in backstage.

What prompted the inclusion of Ireland this year? Is there not enough talent in the UK?
(Laughs) No, not at all! We had a couple of Irish girls last year anyway, it just seemed mad not to include them really. The decision was taken by production and obviously we’re included in that, but we just thought.. ‘the more the merrier’. The more girls you get to audition the more likely you are to find some proper, proper talent and genuinely real, interesting new looks.

The show has also got a slightly different format this year… you’re out and about on the streets looking for contestants I hear?
Yeah as well as auditioning in different cities, we do street casting individually. I can’t give too much detail, but it’s interesting to see what we find. London is a tough one as everyone is already signed, but mine went quite well if I do say so myself.

So I’m guessing the locations were kept secret to avoid a stampede?
(Laughs) Exactly! The street casting was really exciting though, you’re that much more involved, you have that much more invested in them.

What do you look for then in a model?
That’s the question isn’t it!? It’s so difficult to put your finger on it. Obviously rightly or wrongly, there is a strict criteria, like minimum height etc. But for me personally it’s about seeing a girl, whether she’s classically drop dead gorgeous or there’s just something about her look which means you can’t take your eyes off her – so when she walks into the room you’re like, oh okay! Or you’re walking down the street and it’s a sea of black and white, then someone in luminous colours stands out to you. Not literally, but someone who has an aura about them: their style, the way they carry themselves, something that you can’t put your finger on but it just stands out. I’m not going to say someone with the X Factor ‘cos that just sounds naff! Personality is that much more important now, you can’t just look interesting anymore, you’ve got that have more…

Is it really important for a model to have a good personality though? Surely he or she is just there to look the part?
Yes, he or she has to fit the brand and the client has to think they look good and associate with the product well. But at the same time, clients will want to work with you because you’re interesting, creative and you bring something to the shoot. It’s all very well having someone that looks great with the product, but if they’re not bringing anything to the shoot then you just have to direct them in every single shot. You’re not going to work with them again because it’s tiresome, so I think personality in this day and age is more important than it’s ever been, and I like to think it’s what helped me get to where I got to. That may sound a bit factory, but in this competitive industry these photographers and clients have worked with so many people for such a long time, that they want someone to blow them away.

So from what I understand you’re looking for someone with a bit of flare?
Personally I want to see someone with a bit of attitude, not arrogance or rudeness, but someone who knows who they are and has specific interests in something.. We ask the girls in the auditions what they specialise in and what their passions are, as this really will come out in their work. You have to have a bit of an actor in you too, as if you doing a big story or editorial shoot you have to get in to character appropriate to what your wearing. If not, the camera will see right through you, the element of fantasy is lost, and it’s not interesting to look at. It’s so much more than just sitting there any looking good.

What are your thoughts on the size zero argument? I’m guessing that the programme is keen to promote models of a healthy size..
We won’t stop banging on about it! What’s great right now is that slowly but surely diversity is becoming more accepted on the runway. I think in Editorial, magazines and in shoots, you do see more shape diversity. It really does come down to the designers though. Before, it’s always been the case that you were either a zero size model or you were a plus size, but now the lines are being blurred. This time round, there are a few girls that we really liked that perhaps we wouldn’t have said yes to last year.

So a bit of a change in the climate you’d say?
I would, and I’m really happy about it. It’s sort of, why not? There’s some good people now promoting the more diverse shapes, the climate is changing and we are moving with that.

As a former model yourself, and someone that’s encouraged me to buy several pairs of Calvin Klein boxers, I’m guessing you can relate to how the contestants are feeling during auditions?
(Laughs) Absolutely. That’s what makes it tough when you have to be cruel to be kind. I’m going to tell it like it is. Sometimes you have to tell someone: “Look I’m sorry, but you have absolutely no chance..” You get people who have delusions of a modelling career, and it’s such a crash down to earth. For me it is tough because I’ve been on the flipside of things, but as long as you don’t take it to heart and accept that if you’re not right for a brand it doesn’t matter, as you’ll be right for something. It’s not fair to give false hope when actually there’s no chance.

It must be quite hard though to see some of the girls cry?
This is the thing. Before there’s any criticism, you’ll get crocodile tears. You can tell the difference and there were a few genuine stories which were heart-wrenching. But whether they cry or not it doesn’t mean we’re going to put them through and we make that quite plain to the girls from the outset. Some of the moments were savage, but there’s no point chasing a dream that’s never going to happen and wasting your life.

At the end of the day it’s is a talent show, and some might say you have to set yourself up for the chance of possible failure..
That’s the industry – big time. If you can’t cope with that at the beginning, I don’t know what you’ll do if you end up in the real world going to real castings. One thing we will do though is build girl’s confidence through nurturing and mentoring, and you see them transformed. We don’t brainwash them and tell them what things should be like, but we do bring them out of their shells a bit.

Can you give me a hint about what sort of tasks are involved in the show?
(Whispers) Not really. I’m not allowed to talk about what’s going to happen, but what I will say is that all of the tasks are designed to test the girls in a multitude of ways, to see how they cope and react to different situations. Each task is tailored towards the realities of the industry, testing them in similar ways and giving them a genuine taste of what to expect. It’s a bonkers industry.

I’m guessing there’s a fair bit of bitchiness amongst the girls this year?
As we don’t live in the model house we’re not privy to everything that goes on. You get girls who are so sweet when they stand in front of you, then you see them in the house and they’re mad! That’s a good trait though, as you’ve got to be able to turn on the actor in yourself. But yeah, there’s just as much as there was last year. It’s inevitable, living so closely to each other. But that’s another real life scenario that you have to get used to as a model.

How is it working with the other judges? Is there a good banter between you guys, or are there X Factor style arguments?
Who knows how much of that is really staged anyway. It’s absolutely genuine with us, whether we are arguing or agreeing on something. There’s a couple of girls this time around who really do divide the team week in week out, but it’s all genuine, nothing is made up I promise you that. It’s such a mixed bag, and we neither agree or argue all the time, though we are all really different and see different things in each girl

And Elle MacPherson’s vajazzle claim – is it true?
(Hysterics) What is this story, and where did it come from?! I think it’s something that’s been misconstrued, though there is an episode where the term vajazzle comes up, and I wouldn’t put it past Elle, perhaps she might have one…

We’ll leave that mystery open for the moment! Lastly, what else is in the pipeline for you?
(Still laughing) Right now we are currently talking about a stand-alone series that has nothing to do with fashion. I can’t say anymore than that but expect to see more of me on the box later this year…

Thanks Charlie, now go put your feet up!
Cheers Nathan