True style never grows old

The baby boom generation is leading to a surge in the demand for mature models. Catherine Scott meets those on the books of one Yorkshire company.

Gay Spink has her makeup applied for a photoshoot at Face Model and Casting Management in Leeds. Pictures by Tony Johnson
Gay Spink has her makeup applied for a photoshoot at Face Model and Casting Management in Leeds. Pictures by Tony Johnson

Jay Schofield laughs. “I’ve been married to every man in this room”, she says.

At 70, Jay is one of a growing number of mature models who are being hotly pursued by the advertising industry as they chase the grey pound. The over 50s account for 40 per cent of UK’s expenditure, but while they may have money to burn, they are savvy as to where they spend it.

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They don’t want to buy fashion worn by some emaciated teenager who looks like she needs a good meal, they want make purchases worn by classic, well groomed people of a similar age, real, but still aspirational.

Twins Gay and Zoe Spink prepare for a photoshoot at Face Model and Casting Management in Leeds.

Models such as Carmen Dell’Orefice, 83, and Daphne Selfe, 85 are catwalk favourites and have appeared in campaigns for high-end designers including Dolce & Gabbana. The High Street followed suit, with Twiggy being signed by Marks & Spencer nearly a decade ago.

Victoria Cockcroft owns Face Model and Casting Management which operates out of an unassuming industrial unit at Holbeck, Leeds.

Although Face has been operating for less than two years, Cockcroft has has more than 20 years experience in the modelling industry, first as a model herself, then as a booker working for a number of agencies before deciding to go it alone. She has seen an increase in demand for more mature models, mainly from the commercial sector, but also from some areas of the fashion industry.

“We are finding that people are wanting more ‘real’ models,” explains Cockcroft. “I think it is down to a combination of factors. Dove started the ‘real women’ campaign, using real people of all shapes and sizes and ages in their advertising campaign and then M&S used Twiggy in their ad campaign and that really started to ball rolling.

“As people get older then get more discerning and they want to see themselves reflected in the adverts they see. The grey pound is hugely important at the moment and companies realise that. We are seeing an increase in demand for models in their 50s and 60s. Not only do people like working with them because they are very professional, because of their maturity they know how to act, to turn up on time and ready to go.

“There is so much more about them than some of the younger models. People like the fact that they have had life experience and it gives extra credibility to their products or services.”

Older models, those over 50, make up 30 per cent of Cockcroft’s models.

Twins Zoe and Gay Spink found out just how “real” advertisers want their models to be when they were told they looked too good for a lingerie advertising campaign.

“We like to look after ourselves and keep fit and healthy,” says Zoe. Both twins look decades younger than their 62 years. “But they said we looked too good.”

The twins, from Cleckheaton and Halifax, got into modelling after winning a number of beauty pageants, following in their mother’s footsteps. Their mother Betty won her first beauty pageant in 1948

Zoe, now a grandma, first entered the beauty circuit when sister Gay secretly entered her into a TV Times contest. She went on to be crowned Miss Great Britain in 1976 and Miss Silver Jubilee in 1977.Gay is also a former Miss Great Britain. They have both had very successful modelling careers. “We like working together,” says Gay. “We are finding that we are still very busy. There does seem to be demand for older models.”

Pauline Howard is definitely finding that’s the case. At 69 she is much in demand and her face will be familiar to many people. “I did do a bit of modelling when I was younger, but I gave it up when I had children. In my mid-40s, when the children were grown up, I decided to contact an agent. I wondered if they’d be interested in someone my age. They explained there was a strong market for middle-aged women and started sending me for castings.

“‘I went on a fantastic trip to Thailand to shoot a holiday brochure for Saga. I found that as I got older, I was more and more in demand. My husband and children think it’s brilliant because they can see how much I enjoy it.”

She does around two modelling jobs a month which a gives her enough time to visit her sons who lives in Spain and Denmark. Being a mature model isn’t all glamour, though. Pauline has appeared in adverts for mobility scooters and stairlifts, and recently dressed as a lollipop lady for a road safety campaign.

At 77, Eric Dutton Hall is one of Face’s oldest models. The great-grandfather fell into modelling almost by accident.

“I was selling insurance at the time and went into a photographer’s,” explains Eric. “I jumped into the middle of the lights and shouted ‘shoot it’. The photographer asked if I meant it and then he handed me a card for a modelling agency and told me to ring them up.”

Eric, who was then 35 years old, went to see the agency and they signed him up there and then. He has worked part -time as model pretty much ever since, although at the age of 65 he discovered showbusiness and is now regularly found treading the boards and is even appearing in films and performing at St James’s Palace. He also dabbles in property and is a director of a construction company.

“I would have loved to have gone into show business much sooner, but it was compatible with having a family. I have four daughters, 21 grandchildren and one great grandchild. I couldn’t have enjoyed them properly if I’d gone into show business any sooner.”

It is this life experience which Victoria Cockroft says makes Eric and his contemporaries so much in demand.

“They have got to have a certain look about them, “ she says. “It is more to do with their personality. You know as soon as you speak to them that they have a certain spark that is going to come across really well on television or on photographs. They have to have a bit of style about them, they need to know how to dress and be well groomed. They also need to have a lot of patience as they can often be hanging around a lot and working a 12 hour day.”

While Jay has been married to all the men in the room, John Dakin has had numerous careers in front of the lens from a doctor and a dentist to a bank manager and a barrister. And of course he’s been married to Jay numerous times.

“I’ve worn more rubber gloves than I’d care to mention. I just seem to get type-cast in those sorts of roles,” says John, 64, from Sheffield, who put himself through an acting course to make sure he could take on his new personas.

John got into modelling after a career in the RAF. After his marriage failed he lived with his mum in Sheffield who worked at a department store in the city.

“She was helping to put on a fashion show. I went to see it and as I watched the guys and girls on the catwalk I thought; ‘what a fantastic way to earn a living, I’m sure I could do that.’ So I asked mum if she’d help teach me. I was about 35 or 36 at the time.”

John was too old for the catwalk which had inspired him, but he was offered a photoshoot for the Holiday programme and for the next five years modelled part-time before taking the plunge and becoming a full-time model, although he is now part-time again.

“It isn’t great for relationships,” he says honestly. “There’s a lot of travelling. I wouldn’t be able to do it if I had a family.

“You know you are getting older when your make-believe children suddenly turn into your grandchildren. I do enjoy it though.”

However, Jay believes it is possible to have a modelling career and a happy marriage and family life. She was 27 when one of the mums approached her at the school gates and asked her if she did modelling. “I said I didn’t, but she said she worked for a wholesale company as a model and they were looking for another model and that I’d be just right for it.”

Jay got the job and started modelling for Freemans before signing for a modelling agency in Manchester where she was much in demand for hotel brochures and mail order.

“It was a juggle with the children, but then any working mum knows what that’s like. You just have to work it out,” says Jay who has two grandchildren.

Still working, more than 40 years on, Jay says she is very much in demand.

“At our age people want to relate to the people they see in adverts. I still want something I can aspire to , but I want it to be real,” she says. “I still do a lot of fashion which I love. It tends to be mother-of-the-bride type of fashion.”

Jay says there is an added benefit to being an older model. “I have to stay really fit and healthy and look after myself,” she says. It also has some funny moments.

“My granddaughter visited the Age Concern shop and couldn’t believe it when my advert for a stairlift was on the door. You get to model all sorts when you get a bit older. My husband has got used to it by now. We were in Wilmslow one day and a couple came towards us and I introduced him to one of my make-believe husbands. I’ve got three here today,” she laughs.

Peter Rimes followed in his son’s footsteps when he decided to become a model at 58. “My son was a catwalk model and he put me forward,” says Peter, now 65, who is a retired engineer and college lecturer. “I like wearing nice clothes and getting dressed up. It is has surprised me how busy I am. The baby boom generation is very influential and it seems that advertisers have recognised that.”

It seems that as long as the grey pound has such a commercial pull, the demand for mature models will remain, although Victoria Cockroft doesn’t expect to see in an influx of 60-plus models on the catwalk at London Fashion Week any time soon.

“While Dove and M&S have done a lot for more real looking men and women in their adverts, the fashion industry will always be different,” says Cockroft. “The designers will always want their clothes worn by young, super slim models, it’s the nature of the business.”