John Todd was larking around on a beach holiday in Newquay with his mates when an attractive older woman walked up and changed his life.
As his mates looked on in disbelief, the gangling 18-year-old’s luck seemed to be in.
It was indeed.
The woman was Sarah Vickery from one of London’s premier model agencies – and she saw in him the potential for a top career.
Three months later, apprentice hairdresser John was on his first photo shoot – and it was no run of the mill booking. He was in New York, lying at the feet of the high priestess of fashion, Donatella Versace, in only his pants.
When he had set off on that lads’ holiday to Cornwall, John had been happy with life. After packing in sixth form at Thomas Rotherham College and toying with the idea of going into the Army, the slender-as-a-reed 6’3½ teen felt he’d finally found out what he wanted to be. He was training to be a hairdresser at a salon in Wickersley. He could see a future. He’d even done a bit of modelling for the Cutting Room salon stylists in the final of the L’Oreal Colour Trophy in London.
“I’d enjoyed it, but never thought I’d model again,” says John, an unassuming lad who clearly has no idea he has the face of an archangel. Elongated cat’s eyes the colour of the Cornish sea he was found beside, straight brows slashing with perfect symmetry a face that is both masculine and manly, yet so finely boned it’s almost feminine, John is the epitome of divine androdgyny.
He could have been chiselled by Michelangelo, no word of a lie. And his look is exactly what the world’s biggest fashion names are currently clamouring for.
No wonder the experienced eye of Next Model Management’s Sarah singled him out on that crowded August beach scene.
And she wasn’t the only one.
“A few days later, it happened again with a scout from another London agency, Elite. All my mates were laughing. I thought it was some scam,” he says.
But once he was back at home in Broom Valley, both agencies rang, inviting him to London.
John says: “Next signed me but they warned me it might not come to anything, and I just went back to Rotherham.”
A few months later, just days after his 19th birthday, he was sweeping up in the salon when his mobile rang.
“It was closing time on a Friday,” remembers John. “ The agency said I’d got my first job. That was shock enough, but then they said it was on Monday – and it was in New York.
“I just couldn’t believe it. When I told my mum and dad they didn’t believe it either.
“My first thought was: Oh my God, what am I going to tell my boss? My second was fear. I’d never travelled abroad on my own and I hate flying.”
The next day he worked his full Saturday shift and in a state of shock, his mum Ann drove him to Manchester Airport.
That first ever assignment, in November 2011, turned out to be one any experienced male model would give his right arm for.
John had to lounge around a lavish hotel room, looking languid in nothing more than a pair of white underpants while internationally-feted photographer Patrick Demarchelier shot Versace’s queen bee Donatella for a top NY magazine.
“I was basically a bit of window-dressing,” he grins. “I didn’t realise how lucky I was. It was my first job; I had no idea what to do.
“I was convinced they would suss me out and send me packing. But everyone was friendly and helpful,” says the lad who, five days later, having signed to Next Models New York and Los Angeles, found himself back at the Wickersley hair salon, hairdryer in hand, as if nothing had happened.
It was like that for several months. Just as he had told himself his modelling career had simply been nothing more than a bizarre memory to treasure, another phone call came.
He had been booked for the Milan Fashion Week catwalk by none other than Calvin Klein.
This January there he was, draped in clothes more expensive than he had ever thought clothes could be, stepping out on to Klein’s Autumn/winter 2012 runway before the world’s fashion press and a front row crammed with A-list celebrities.
John recalls: “Backstage I was pretty scared but when you get out there it’s a real adrenaline rush”.
John was preparing to come home from Milan when he was asked to fly to France instead; he had been booked for the Louis Vuitton catwalk at Paris Fashion Week.
There were yet more strolls down catwalks as flashguns flared; yet more insanely expensive clothes draping his slender frame. He laughs at the memory of a 15,000euro pair of trousers – made from mountain goat hair.
He went from hanging out with old schoolmates from Oakwood Comprehensive to making new friends with the beautiful people. “Male models are actually really down-to-earth and uncompetitive,” he says. “They had all just fallen into the business, like me. I’d always thought it was just girls who could become full-time models. I know now there is stacks of work for men too.”
When he came back home, bookings and auditions in London took up so much of his time he handed his notice in to the salon boss who had been nothing but supportive.
Explains Sarah Vickery of Next Models London: “John was going to castings in London and then rushing home to see his hairdressing clients. This is quite normal with models at first, but the transition period for John was short as he was a hit instantly. He went full time as a model this year.
“I knew from the moment I scouted him on the beach in Newquay that he was exceptional. He has exactly the right combination of strong looks and personality to give him a fruitful career as a fashion model.”
The lad from Rotherham who shyly kept his burgeoning career from many of his friends is proving her right.
He has featured in New York Times Style magazine and Jones The Bootmaker’s summer advertising campaign.
His nan went specially to the store on Pinstone Street to gaze at her grandson’s image on the shop walls.
He’s appearing in a fashion shoot in this month’s Arena Homme+ magazine wearing Gucci and Giorgio Armani, he’s done a video with Benetton and photographs for U.S. designer Marc Jacobs’ look-book.
Last month he featured in a designer fashion feature in the Financial Times’s How To Spend It Magazine. His dad couldn’t believe his eyes when he bought a copy and found full-page pictures of his lad on each of the dozen pages.
At the end of January the lad who still hates flying jetted to New York to live for three months. He did a number of photo shoots plus runway shows at New York Fashion Week for names including Joseph Abboud and Rag & Bone before flying home when his visa expired.
There was just time to get his washing done before he was in Paris for a photo-shoot two days later with Numero magazine and he’s now about to move to London.
“It’s been an insane nine months,” he says. “I still can’t believe what I’m doing for a living. Although I really miss friends and family and I’m still borrowing off my dad because the money hasn’t come in yet, I’m having an amazing experience.”
Down-to-earth Rotherham lad to the core, though, modelling’s new face is acutely aware he could one day wake up and find he’s a has-been.
“Then I’ll happily go back to hairdressing,” he says. “I’ve still got my NVQ Level Three to do...”
Tips for wannabe male models
“You don’t need to pay a fee to be with a reputable agency. And you don’t need professional photos for us to see if you have potential,” say John Todd’s agency, Next Model Management (www.nextmodels.com).
“If you think you have what it takes, get a friend to take some natural digital photos of you.
They should be of your face with you looking straight to the camera, and one full-length shot. Wear form-fitting clothes so we can see your physique.”
Only apply to top agencies. You can find a list at www.associationofmodelagents.org
Male models should be at least six feet tall, with healthy hair and skin and a good physique.
Look after yourself, drink plenty of water, exercise and stay healthy. Don’t smoke.
Have an interest in fashion and read fashion magazines; the business is fast-moving and to be a success you need to have an understanding of it.
Be prepared to work hard – always be on time and smile.