Northern Ireland beauty Laura Lacole debates in universities and reads philosophy and physics in her spare time. She tells of her mission to prove why people are wrong about her industry.
Standing at a university podium facing a room full of academics and students, a poised Laura Lacole delivers a persuasive argument in support of her choice of career.
The beautiful 22-year-old topless model from Belfast is speaking in defence of girls like herself who dare to bare, and so credible is her stance that she managed to impress one of the UK’s most famous feminists.
Guardian writer Julie Bindel, who founded the group Justice for Women, personally congratulated Laura after her speech at a debate in Limerick University last year, even conceding that it had altered her own staunch perception of the glamour industry.
It was an encounter that has inspired Laura with confidence to continue with what she describes as her “mission” to change people’s attitudes to her profession.
“Having Julie Bindel say that I should feel proud of myself and that I had made her think differently about the glamour industry is one of my greatest achievements,” she says.
In the past year Laura has become a regular guest speaker at universities in the Republic and was invited in September to take part in the prestigious annual University College Dublin Law Society debate.
Illness prevented her from attending and it was reported afterwards that there was disappointment in the hall when it was announced that Laura would not be there in person.
She relishes the chance to voice her strong views on what she regards as her right to have the freedom to express her sexuality and is determined to shatter the stereotypical image of the “dumb blonde” glamour model.
“I know that the words ‘glamour model' carry stigma,” she says.
“People have preconceived ideas of a dumb blonde with no self-respect. If I told you that my favourite interest is studying philosophy and quantum physics in my spare time, you'd probably be shocked.
“Surely that’s more of a reflection on you? You are the one at fault. People judge all too quickly.
“One of my mantras is to never have an opinion on anything unless I am educated on it. Otherwise I'd be just as prejudiced as those who might judge me.”
While Laura is astute enough to know that the glamour industry is largely there to satisfy people’s sexual needs, she sees what she does as being detached from that reality.
“I take pictures in secure locations with teams of professionals, from hairstylists to make-up artists to photographers, the vast majority of whom are females,” she says.
“It is in no way sexual. The reason it is detached is because I don’t see the bottom of the chain where the customer — whether it is male or female — goes into the shop and buys the magazine and takes it home.
“I’m not personally there trying to tantalise that person. It’s detached — I’m in a studio getting pampered and getting a confidence boost by creating pretty pictures and thinking ‘Jeez, I don’t look too bad’. It’s entirely selfish.
“In my eyes nobody gains from it but me. I don’t do what I do to please others, it’s to please me. It’s hard to be a female in a body-conscious world when everything is about appearances. I’m just as insecure as any other woman, my job is my confidence boost.”
They are heartfelt words from a girl whose idea of relaxing is to curl up with a book on quantum physics.
A self-confessed “science nerd”, Laura’s idol is Albert Einstein and she is also passionate about astronomy and philosophy. “Anything to do with what’s out there and what it’s all about fascinates me,” she says.
“No one properly understands the law of the universe and I love getting together with like-minded people to talk about it.”
Laura grew up with her older sister Melody (28) in Sydenham in east Belfast as Laura Smith. Her father is a taxi driver and her mother an office administrator.
She had not planned on a career as a glamour model, and had thought about going to university to study physics but everything changed when she was asked to do her first modelling job at the age of 18.
She says: “When I was at school I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career but it was never a worry because I seemed to always know that something good was going to happen, although I didn’t know what.
“I loved motorsport and I was involved with Prodrift Ireland, going to their car racing shows. They asked me to model for them, doing camera work for TV and taking pictures with the public at events.
“It just took off from there and within no time I was travelling around Europe seeing the world and earning good money.
“It was a real carefree lifestyle and I was living for the moment. One day I would be at home in Sydenham and the next I could be flying off to Belgium, Norway or France.
“I was very young but living the high life, hanging out with people from MTV’s Dirty Sanchez. It was very exciting.
“For me it was all about the lifestyle and the experiences the job offered and it was stimulating going to so many different places and meeting lots of different people.”
She did a number of photographic shoots for sports magazines, including Modified Motors and Fast Cars.
She has appeared topless several times on Page 3 of The Sun but drew the line at the chance to pose for Playboy magazine.
She says: “I’m happy to do topless but I won’t go any further. I went to discuss doing a test shoot for Playboy magazine last year.
“I had never seen the magazine before, I mean why would I have? I was sitting flicking through it at the meeting and it took me by complete surprise. I had just thought it was glamour but it is completely nude and I just told them it wasn’t for me and I left.”
Laura’s career moved onto a new level this summer when she won the 2011 Beach Babe contest run by glamour website Babe Mag.
Her prize was a photo shoot in Thailand with internationally renowned photographer Alan Strutt, who has worked with some of the world’s most famous women including Cameron Diaz, Kate Moss and Pamela Anderson.
“To get a chance to work with Alan Strutt was phenomenal,” says Laura. “He gave me great advice while we were out there and his pictures have now gone worldwide. I’ve had interest from America and Australia.”
Although Laura has been offered work with a number of leading London agencies, she has opted to stay in Northern Ireland where she is determined to bring about public acceptance of the glamour industry.
It was for this reason that she says she decided to enter Beach Babe. She was the only glamour model from Ireland among the 200 entrants and getting to the final involved a public vote.
“I don’t think I have put as much effort into anything in my life,” she says. “Because people aren’t that accepting here of the industry I had to work three times as hard as the other girls in the rest of the UK to canvass support. I put up posters in bus shelters and went to shopping centres to talk to people and explain what I do and ask them to vote for me.
“I wanted to win the title for Northern Ireland and bring the glamour industry to the attention of people here. I was really encouraged by the fantastic feedback I got. I think sometimes we are painfully politically correct here. Times have changed and I think the younger generation has a better acceptance of the glamour industry.
“Winning Beach Babe has opened so many doors for me and put me on the map internationally but more importantly for me, it has put Northern Ireland on the map.”
Laura’s family has been very supportive of her career and she says both her mum and dad are proud of her. “My mum is really old school and the type of person who would be uncomfortable with anything sexy on the TV; she would grab the remote control and turn over.
“As my career has evolved I have taken my family into consideration each step of the way and I think my parents are happy because they know I am doing something that I enjoy and that makes me happy.”
Laura has been dating for three years but is protective of her partner, who she says “prefers to remain in the background”.
They have known each other from childhood and she is blissfully happy, describing him as “the best boyfriend you could want”.
“He just works an ordinary nine-to-five job and likes to keep himself to himself,” she says. “He completely supports me in what I do and he doesn’t brag about it either. He is very proud of me and likes to see me doing well.”
Her friends are also supportive of her career and her hope now is that the public in general will get behind her and support rather than judge what she does.
She adds: “This career choice has enabled me to go places and meet people and do new things that other careers wouldn’t have. It’s not who I am, it is what I do. My main goal in life is to be happy first of all and just to know I can look after my friends and family and learn as much as I can and experience as much as I can and die happy and wise.”