The Ella Macpherson show
As the search for Britain and Ireland’s next top model begins, Elle Macpherson tells Lisa Williams it takes more than just a pretty face to catch the judges’ eyes
When Elle Macpherson walks into the room, she leaves no doubt about what makes her a supermodel.
Everything about her is long: the legs, which seem to go on forever; the arms, even more slim and athletic in the flesh, and the blonde hair, which has more volume than four normal heads of hair put together.
Happy to embrace the modelling stereotype, she literally sashays over to her seat, crossing one towering leg in front of the other as if she was on the Milan catwalk, leaving everyone feeling gobsmacked — and extremely short.
Nicknamed The Body, 48-year-old Macpherson has enjoyed a 30-year career as one of the first — and arguably only — generation of ‘supermodels', alongside names like Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista.
And it's this experience which qualifies her to be on the hunt for new talent in Britain And Ireland's Next Top Model, to which she returns as judge, host and executive producer for the second year in a row.
On the panel she sits alongside X Factor stylist Grace Woodward, fashion designer Julien Macdonald and male model Charley Speed who, between them, can reduce the young hopefuls to tears or rapture with their cutting remarks and lavish praise.
Macpherson laughs when she recalls the “panel banter” between them during the audition rounds but says that, ultimately, she has sympathy for the wannabes who crack under the scrutiny.
“There's a lot of tension,” she says in her dulcet Aussie tones. “It means a lot to these girls so that release of emotion is quite normal, and I think it's quite genuine a lot of the time.
“But we have to have a bit of a thick skin about it, and to have a sense of humour, and some of the things we say are more to break the tension than to be hyper-critical because it gets really, really, really tense,” she adds, grimacing in the most attractive way possible.
The other judges refer to mother-of-two Macpherson as ‘the headmistress', because she gets to make the ultimate decision on a girl if the panel is undecided.
“I just play that role in the show,” she laughs. “It's not true — and do many headmistresses wear heels like these?” she laughs, kicking up her vertiginous heels to demonstrate.
She continues: “I listen to the others, honestly. They have great perspectives and that's why having such a varied panel is good for the girls, good for the show and it's great for me as it helps me in my choices.”
This is the first year in which the judges take to the road to audition candidates themselves. Arriving first in Glasgow (Macpherson jets over in style in a private jet from Geneva), the judges move on to London, Birmingham, Cardiff, Manchester and, for the first time, Dublin.
“We have a lot of fans in Ireland and I just felt that we needed to include them. Why not? There are beautiful girls there,” says Macpherson, who was born in Sydney but now lives in the UK.
Only girls who fit the height and age criteria make it into the auditions, but from there it's up to the judges to choose which ones go on to ‘boot camp' for the chance to win a coveted modelling contract.
This year, Macpherson says they weren't just impressed by looks alone. Rather they wanted to pick someone who, in the same vein as models such as Agyness Deyn and Kate Moss, has bags of personality and individuality.
“I look for girls who are ballsy, because she needs to stand out in a casting,” Macpherson explains.
“I think it's important to know that we're also making a television programme so we want girls who are beautiful but who also have a bit of attitude. A sense of humour's really important because she needs to be watchable, you need to want to tune in to watch her week after week.”
Similarly, Macpherson says she would like to get Lily Cole on the show next year, to show the models that you can't just be a pretty face. “She's just graduated from Cambridge so I want to say, ‘Here's a girl who's very successful but she didn't give up her education'.
“Although this is a really fun business — if we're successful we get to travel the world and it's a great way to find out about personal grooming, about business, and know about yourself — I think it's really important you have a back-up plan,” Macpherson says, in mentor mode.
Macpherson herself has got more than a back-up plan. Next year she celebrates the 25th anniversary of her underwear company Elle Macpherson Intimates, she has her own line of beauty products (branded ‘The Body') and is the global ambassador for cosmetics brand Revlon.
It might be daunting to have your profession based around your looks, but with assets estimated to be worth about £50m, Macpherson certainly won't be relying on her state pension.
So what is the secret to longevity in this youth-obsessed industry? Macpherson replies: “Sound business choices, choosing partners who really resonate with you.
“Having great management who I can run ideas by and who are supportive. I can't do it by myself, this really is a team effort.”
It's a much more business-like answer than you'd expect, but then she is much more than just The Body, and, under her guidance, the next top model will be too.
Elle Macpherson: The law of attraction
- She was born in March 1963 in Sydney, Australia.
- After winning a place to study law at university, she deferred it for a year so she could earn money to pay for it and, during that year, her modelling career took off.
- She appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine's famous annual Swimsuit Issue a record five times.
- She has two sons (Aurelius Cy and Arpad Flynn) with her former long-term boyfriend Arpad Busson.
- Of ageing, she says: “Either you age or you die, so I'll take the ageing option, please.”
Britain And Ireland’s Next Top Model begins on Monday, July 4 on Sky Living