Georgina Heffernan speaks to Britain and Ireland's Next Top Model judge and male model Charley Speed.
Charley Speed’s introduction to the world of modelling was nothing if not fortuitous. At the tender age of 17, he was handpicked by none other than Calvin Klein to star in a global ad campaign alongside Kate Moss. Going from unknown to worldwide recognition was one thing, but winning the prestigious Male Model of the Year Award at the VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards later that year cemented his position in the international fashion industry.
A successful career in modelling followed, with Speed travelling the world and working with many of the top names in fashion.
However, he wanted to expand his career so made the move from modelling to TV in 2010 when he was chosen as one of the hosts of Britain’s Next Top Model. This year, he took to the judging panel for a second time on the renamed Britain & Ireland’s Next Top Model.
Speed’s first-hand experience in the fashion industry gives him a prime position to dole out sage advice to the contestants. Having chatted to the friendly and down-to-earth judge, it’s clear he really cares about giving the girls a proper insight into the modelling industry, to make them better prepared for dealing with the hard knocks involved.
Were you excited that the competition had been opened up to Irish contestants this year?
Charley Speed: Absolutely, it just widens the pool of talent.
Were you impressed by the talent over here?
It was really mixed and varied. I think you always have preconceptions of what you’re going to find in new places, but it was great. We saw probably some of the nicest girls personality-wise as well in Ireland. And honestly, after auditioning for such a long time and long days, it was a real joy to audition over there.
Did your experience on last year’s show change how you approached judging this year’s series?
I think so, I just think for all of us it was a whole new experience. Last year I had a preconception of what I wanted to find, it was kind of edgy and editorial and that’s kind of what I was after. This year I was very much an open book, and I wanted to see what we would come across in auditions. If nothing else, I made a point of being more opinionated and voicing my ideas a bit more. I just feel a bit more comfortable in my role on the show. I work with some pretty strong personalities, so I think that’s the biggest change for me.
How do you gel with the other judges?
We do, we do absolutely. Obviously, some of the audition days went on for a bit (laughs) but we all get along very well, we have fun.
Your style of judging is different from Julien Macdonald’s, who would be perceived as being quite harsh...
I suppose it’s different for me because I’ve been on the other side of it. I know how tough it can be. But on the flipside, you have to be critical because it’s not fair if you’re not. It’s not fair giving people false hope, but I just have a little work empathy, I can’t help but have it. I’ve been there and I’ve done it and it can be really tough at times.
Do you think being on the show helps the girls adjust and get used to what it’s going to be like in the real modelling world?
If we weren’t tough on them it wouldn’t be fair. It’s a fantastic industry, but it’s also a hyper-critical industry and you’ve got to face a lot of knock-backs and a lot of rejection. So we have to emulate what it’s really going to be like, and that’s why some of the challenges may seem a bit bizarre, maybe they wouldn’t be in direct correlation with what they might have to do but it’s still challenging them in ways they will be challenged in the real world of modelling.
The models who succeed have similar body shapes – tall and slim. Would you like to see model shapes emerging?
Thankfully, slowly but surely, more varied shapes of girls are finally being seen on the runway, and it’s way overdue. I suspect that there will always be specific designers who like a specific look. For whatever reason it is, they think their clothes look better on them, etc., etc., but we are seeing different shapes and we are seeing different sizes. I think height will always be important, but we are seeing a change. I like to think we haven’t just gone for a typical, overly strict, super-skinny girl this year. In auditions we were very open to all sorts of shapes and size. Whoever stood out, they stood out, it didn’t matter. Obviously though, the height thing is important still and that’s just a given.
What type of model would you like to see win the show, if the decision was left just up to you?
I’d love to find an all-rounder and that’s a massive ask. The reality of the industry is you’re either a very editorial, very edgy looking model, or you’re a very commercial, catalogue-y kind of model. To find someone who does very high-end runway, and does editorial shoots and does catalogue and commercial work is very tricky. But that would be the ultimate because she would just work and work and work. And she would work internationally and she would work in different markets. But I’m very pleased with the results, and of course that’s all I can say!
My next question was going to be, what can we expect from the final three, can you give us any hints at all?
We’ve got of lots of different types of girls this year and I think that’s fantastic. It’s also been incredibly difficult as the competition goes on to choose who goes through and who doesn’t, but at the end of the day, you have to think bigger. Who is really going to smash it, who’s going to nail it? All I can say is that we end up with a very varied selection of girls this year, which I hope will make more interesting viewing.
What are the most important personality traits a person needs to succeed in the fashion industry as a model?
You’ve got to be confident and you’ve got to be positive and you’ve got to be creative. You have to be those things, because otherwise you’ll get lost. There are lots of very tall, striking looking people out there, you’d be surprised. Especially in this industry, it’s smaller than people think. So someone with a positive attitude, and a good personality, is going to be the person people want to work with. And you have to have creativity. Because more often than not you’ll go on a shoot and you’ll be given your outfit and you’ll be shooting in possibly some bizarre location so you have to turn it into something interesting to look at. You’ve got to feel it. For me, personally, I always think there has to be a bit of an actor in a model. I think it helps massively.
Who has been your favourite female model to work with?
I suppose when I was younger and just starting in the industry, it was all the original supermodels. But I’ll tell you who was wonderful to work with was Helena Christensen. Honestly, she’s lovely and wonderful, very grounded, very talented, very creative and stunning. And not perhaps, how shall I say, the stereotypical shape, the runway shape.
What has been your career highlight to date?
It all happened so quickly for me, I was very lucky, very fortunate. I was in the right place at the right time as is so often the case in this industry. What moved me on so quickly was Calvin Klein seeing me and just whacking me in this massive international campaign. I suppose that has to be a bit of highlight. But you know, working with Tom Ford so closely in numerous Gucci shows when he was with Gucci was amazing and then of course winning the VH1 male model of the year award when they still had a male model of the year award was pretty intense. I had no idea I was going to win it, absolutely no idea. I prepared nothing, did an idiotic speech because I hadn’t thought about it. But I suppose that was a pretty big achievement. There’s three, sorry!
You’ve gotten into TV recently, but is this something you’d like to pursue and leave modelling behind?
Yes. I do still model, but the job’s gotta be right and they’re kind of direct bookings now. It’s been very good to me but it’s not fulfilling to me any more and hasn’t been for a little bit. It would be wonderful to do more TV work. I really really enjoy it. I was actually with an acting agency before I got the BINTM job and that was going OK. I was getting callbacks for small parts in big films, and any actor will tell you it’s good to get callbacks. But it wasn’t really going anywhere, and then this came along and I went ‘Well I’d be mad not to do it’. I really enjoy it and I would love to do more TV work. There’s a few things in the pipeline, nothing’s confirmed yet, but I will be moving away from fashion, put it that way. I will always be open to it but it’d be nice to explore some other things.
Finally, can you give us any hints at all for what to expect in the grand final of the season?
I can’t give too much away but I can tell you there’s going to be an amazing fashion show!