IT'S EVERY PARENT'S prerogative to think that their child is the most beautiful, lovely and wonderful little being in the world. But what if everyone else seems to thinks so too? Does that mean she’s a potential child model? And if so, what should you do? There are plenty of job opportunities for the right children, says Janis Penn, Managing Director of London agency Scallywags. “Think of the countless ads and editorial spreads where children are used – from baby products to insurance campaigns, it’s across the board,” she says.
With around 20 modelling agencies across the UK, each with several hundred children on their books, it is a competitive world, warns Alysia Lewis, Director of Urban Angels in Islington. “There are lots of stunning children out there, all vying for similar jobs,” she says. It’s not unusual for agencies to receive more than 200 applications a week from parents of would-be child models – but 95 per cent get rejected by return post. Even if your child is beautiful, he or she might not have what it takes. Looking great in the flesh, says Penn, doesn’t always translate on camera. Junior photographer Ulla Nyman looks for something more. “It’s hard to explain,” she says. “I look for the ‘shine’ in a child – their personality, their cheekiness, their jokey side.”
A painfully shy child is an instant no, says Penn. “The first thing we look for as a child walks through the door is whether they have any life in them. They have to be enthusiastic, and make plenty of eye contact.” Elisabeth Smith, founder of London’s first child model agency and author of Your Child As A Model, says the best models are happy and natural, don’t mind being photographed and love dressing up. “They need to enjoy being the centre of attention,” says Denise Sellers, whose children Alfie and Lily modelled regularly before they started school. And it’s hard work. “Imagine standing still for ten to 15 minutes with everyone focused on you,” says Ulla Nyman. “It’s quite full-on.”
If you like rigid routine, forget it. “You and your children have to be really flexible," says Carla Doig, mother of modelling trio Alanta, five, Tanisha, ten, and Brandon, 12. “They need to get up early, eat at odd hours, wait around between shots and not mind long journeys to and from a location.” And while some clients try to shoot at weekends and school holidays, this is often not the case. So, if your child is behind with schoolwork or finds it hard to catch up, missing school is not a good idea.
Is the world of child modelling all about glamorous locations and pots of money? Er, not exactly. You also need to be quite realistic about what a shoot involves. “For a start, there is a lot of waiting around between shots,” says Junior’s Fashion Director Linda McLean, who advises that parents should attend shots well prepared with plenty of books, paper, pencils, drinks and snacks. And even if your child gets a job, warns Denise Sellers, there is still no guarantee the pictures will be used. “For lots of commercials, they tend to book a variety of ‘types’ of children, not deciding until the day who they will use,” she explains.
Being the parent of a child model is a big commitment in itself. You have to be prepared to be available at short notice, usually the next day. “You just can’t go into it half-heartedly,” says Carla Doig, who admits that juggling her offspring’s careers can, at times, be fairly demanding.
Then there’s the question of how you – let alone your child – will behave on a shoot. “We need parents to be able to console, or entertain where necessary, but also know when to step back,” Linda McLean explains. “Dads can be the worst for putting pressure on their children.”
Even if you’ve ticked all the right boxes, your address could stymie your child’s chances. Elisabeth Smith has to deal with many angry parents whose children won’t be considered because they live too far away. “It’s not fair on children to travel from God-knows-where to a London studio for an hour’s work,” she says. There is work in London, Manchester and Liverpool. And that’s about it.
Lots of stuff to consider – but is it fun? Yes, says Eva Davies, four of whose seven children are on Urban Angels’ books. “It’s one of the best things we’ve ever done,” she says. “The children love every part of the process and it’s fantastic seeing their faces when the pictures come out.” But, according to Ulla Nyman, modelling is best done in moderation. Denise Sellers enjoyed it when Lily and Alfie were very young: “As long as it is quite relaxed, it is a fun, social thing to do, better than being stuck at home,” she says – but, for her, the cut-off point was when it began to be seen as ‘work’.
If you haven’t been put off yet, the first step is to send a photograph of your child to a reputable agency. “We are not looking for folio shots, we want to see natural,” says Janis Penn. This means not answering small ads for photographers or talent scouts who offer ‘professional pictures’. “These people will just rip you off,” says Elisabeth Smith. On the back of the picture, write your child’s name, age and contact details and send with an SAE. It is not essential to write a covering letter, unless there is something of specific interest to say about your child.
To find a reputable agency, it pays to do a little homework. Contact advertising agencies, magazines, catalogues and clothing companies to see which agencies they use regularly. If possible, visit the agency. “Then assess your surroundings,” says Penn. “Are the telephones ringing? Is there a model book? Is there evidence of recent work lying around?”If they decide to take you on, most agencies will expect you to pay a fee upfront. This will cover the cost of photographs to be included in the agency’s ‘model book’ and could cost anything from £125 to £225. Urban Angels is unique in that it doesn’t charge for this. “My philosophy is that I want to reflect diversity by targeting urban areas in London,” says Alysia Lewis, who talent-scouted her initial intake of 90 children two years ago. “My children don’t necessarily come from well-off backgrounds.”
Your agency will send the model book out to clients; set up auditions, or ‘castings’; organise payment (and take around 25 per cent commission) and secure you a licence. “The licence is a Government requirement for all children aged from six months to 16 years,” says Gareth Bancroft from Boss in Manchester. It is applied for through your Local Education Authority (LEA), regardless of whether your child has started school. LEA requirements can vary from area to area, but generally a licence will enable your child to work between 20 to 30 times over a six-month period.
Boss encourages the parents of its protegés not to reach the upper limit of the licence allowance. “We do care about school and we want the children to get a good education,” says Bancroft. So how regular might the work be? It varies, says Janis Penn. “There can be instances where we’ll phone parents three times in a week, then it can be months before we make contact again. It depends on what requests come in.” On average, Penn says, expect between four and 20 jobs a year.
Equally, the money can vary – from £40 a job to thousands. The average rate is around £40 an hour, but you will also get paid for going on castings (around £25). Advertising pays considerably more than editorial work but it is also much harder to get. “Loads of children go to auditions for commercials and it is really competitive," says Denise Sellers. But who’s to say you won’t get lucky? “You just might hit the jackpot and get an ad campaign that will potentially pay your child’s university fees,” says Linda McLean.
Most parents, however, don’t seem to be in it for the money, but for the memories the photographs will bring. As the mother of a daughter who once had a brush with the child modelling world, I can concur with that. It is the treasured photograph of Rose dressed as a fairy in The Guardian fashion pages that is the real reward.
Not that it was plain sailing. The morning of the shoot was spent panicking about a rash on Rose’s face – an unexpected allergic reaction to face paints at a local fête the day before. Luckily, the make-up artist on the shoot transformed the rash into a lovely pink fairy blush. But I learned that the pressure is on for parents of children who model. On that same shoot, a small boy locked himself in the toilet and refused to come out to wear a crocodile suit.
It felt chaotic, but these things often do. Shoots with children can be unpredictable. “We have to be quite relaxed and prepared that things won’t always go the way we want,” says Linda McLean. “Babies might suddenly start teething, children turn up crying or have tummy ache. Kids are kids, and you just have to go with the way they are that day”
For a list of UK model agencies click here