On toppie of the world: my new life as a midlife model
Silver foxes are the new darlings of the fashion scene, much to the amusement, and sometimes admiration, of their kids
Many people grow up dreaming of fame: they’ll become an actor, perhaps, or practise a catwalk strut in the mirror. But reaching midlife doesn’t have to mean putting those ambitions to one side, as Clint Hayslett, 45, found last week.
After his son, Collin, 21, posted pictures of his hunky dad on Twitter with a note telling followers that he is “pursuing a modeling [sic] career, and I’ve never seen him happier. He told me he’s just waiting for a chance to blow up,” Hayslett senior went viral, and has since amassed more than 80,000 retweets and 370,000 likes since his pictures reached the world early on Thursday evening.
Walking along a city street pouting and showing off his impressive crows’ feet with a smile, former pastor Clint is one of many men aged 40 and upwards who have seen a modelling career take off after the first flush of youth. Collin has “heard that my dad’s attractive ever since school”, he says, and his dad “has always been told he had a face for modelling, but he didn’t have that confidence to go through with it”.
But after his barber suggested that he take part in a photo shoot for a sunglasses brand that was searching for a model, “the rest is history”.
Gone, it seems, is the fashion industry’s obsession with slender youth: just as modelling has become more inclusive to diverse representatives, it has also created opportunities for older faces as brands tailor their advertising towards the “grey pound”. Several modelling agencies have sprung up to cater for this demand. Grey Model Agency has only “beautifully ageing male and female models” on its books; some are silvery beefcakes, men who have kept themselves in fine fettle well into their 60s and never developed a “dad bod”. Others look much more ordinary – perfect for companies that don’t want to frighten off the everyman.
Simon Cole, 61, has capitalised on this new interest, turning his hand – and other requisite body parts – to being captured on camera three years ago. “From what I hear, the buying demographic is getting older. That and men are ageing better, so they want older male models now,” he says of this surging demand.
When he was 58, a friend in the industry suggested he put himself forward. He always thought he was attractive, but didn’t think he had the standout looks of a model. “I’m not a minger but I’ve never thought myself super goodlooking,” says Cole. After working in various jobs in the paintball industry, modelling now makes up half of his income, amassed in just half a dozen days’ worth of work each month. Former clients have included Benson & Clegg, a tailor that makes clothes for Prince Charles, custom design brand Edit Suits and the cover of German health magazine Apotheken Umschau.
Cole thinks starting modelling later in life may in fact have boosted his career. At about 1.78m and with a size eight shoe, he may not have screamed supermodel in his youth, but now his luscious silver locks are “one of my assets”, he says. “When I was younger it was dark, so it wasn’t so special.”
Grey-haired chaps like Cole are known as “silver foxes” to the layman, but in modelling circles they’re “classic”: so-called, like their car equivalents, after passing the four decades mark. Ugly, a London-based agency, goes one step further, recruiting talent aged up to 100. Its ethos is “we like our women fat and our men geeky, we like the extremely tall and the shockingly small. No one is too abstract for our books!” An unusual prospect, certainly, but as Cole says, shifting perceptions of beauty mean “it’s not about being super tall or beautiful, it’s about how the camera sees you”.
The father-of-two from Grantham, Lincolnshire, is, by his own admission, “photogenic”, and was signed by several agencies after applying. His new career raised some eyebrows at home, especially since much of his work involves cavorting with female models posing as his wife – indeed, there are two such women with whom he regularly appears as part of a “model couple”. This did not go down well with his real spouse, Deborah, 55, who was “dubious” of the entire affair, particularly a spa bath advert in which he was pictured beneath the bubbles with a lady playing his other half. Then there are the adverts for holidays, in which “you have to walk down the beach holding hands as the sun sets”.
To put Deborah at ease, he took her to meet one of his “fake wives” and she soon came around. It was on actually interacting with her, rather than seeing a stranger get up close and personal with her husband in photographs, that “she kind of got it. She’s very supportive now.”
His children’s reaction was mixed. Both were happy for him, though this later life career change was, in the eyes of their friends, a source of amusement. “I have a feeling my daughter is mildly embarrassed because I’ve been on pictures in the high street when she’s been out shopping. Her friends all say: ‘I saw your dad!’” Beneath it all, he thinks the now 17-year-old is “pleased” with his quasi-stardom.
Cole’s son, Ethan, had a trickier time when his friends found his Instagram page, which became a rich source for teenage mickey-taking (see below).
In spite of the jibes, Cole would still recommend modelling as a viable career for middle-aged dads, especially those with a stiff upper lip.
“It has boosted my confidence, but not because people say: ‘You’re so attractive’. For a British man of my age, letting go of your inhibitions is hard. But at a shoot you have to hold a stranger romantically, look into their eyes, totally let go and get into character.”
And modelling is easier – and crucially, more enjoyable – than his previous job, says Cole. “It’s brilliant fun, the best thing I’ve ever done. You get paid to sit there and be pampered, and there’s food laid out.”
There’s a jet-set element, too: Cole was recently enlisted for a Mumbai gig that required filming “about four seconds in a TV advert”, while other jobs have taken him to Greece, France, Thailand and Spain.
There is less pressure around personal upkeep than on his younger counterparts, Cole believes, and he is able to undertake a more relaxed beauty regime. “I’ve always had a good diet but I don’t specifically do juicing or any of that,” he explains. “I’m lucky, genetically: I used to be a real athlete. I was a gymnast at school, then was in good shape. I drink a lot of water and brush my teeth and put on moisturiser, but that’s it really.”
The prospect of Naomi Campbell taking such a laidback attitude during her heyday seems unlikely. But given that the majority of Cole’s shoots are for older consumers – garden hoes, river cruises, funeral services – perhaps a little more focus on maintenance could see him land his first haute couture gig. Catwalk or otherwise, though, Cole is comfortable with his current level of objectification. “I’m just the bowl of fruit on the table.”
And here’s what his teenage son thinks
By Ethan Cole
When Dad first told me that he was becoming a male model at the age of 58, it was hard to take him seriously.
Throughout my childhood, he’d always adopted a fairly “blokey” role, wrestling with me on the sofa when I was little and taking me on boys’ paintballing trips to France and Belgium as a teenager while my mum took my sister to spa days. When I turned 18, he took me to our local pub for our first pint as father and son.
It came as something of a surprise, then, to learn that he was launching a new career in front of the camera. I was sitting in his car when he casually mentioned that he had been “spotted” by an agency for older male models – or “classic” models, as they are euphemistically dubbed.
I knew he wasn’t bad looking for a man of his age, some of my mates had certainly teased me about it. But if I’d been asked to think of a typical male model, I would have pictured a young guy who was pretty interested in how he looked; not my greying father, who would never dream of spending £40 on a haircut.
Before long, however, Dad was traipsing upstairs to show me his latest photo shoot, pulling open the covers of magazines and pointing out his favourite shots. I’ve blocked out some of the details but in one he stood on a wintry beach, gazing off into the sunset; in another, he wore a James Bond-style tuxedo. His modelling adventures took him to India, Thailand and the Isle of Skye. I was proud, of course, but it was also hard not to laugh.
Even weirder was Dad’s sudden arrival on Instagram. No teenager is delighted, exactly, when their middle-aged parent joins social media, and soon I couldn’t log on without seeing three or four of his new “promotional” shots. They usually came with slightly cringe-inducing hashtags like #malemodel and #silverhair. Worse still, some of the photographs featured me. But when I realised how many modelling gigs he was getting through Instagram, it made perfect sense.
That said, I decided not to tell my friends. As a group of quick-witted lads, I knew they would tear into me like a pack of dogs the moment they found out. Inevitably, they stumbled across Dad’s Instagram account eventually, as it had quickly accrued more than 1,000 followers, and the jokes came pouring in. They sent me screenshots of Dad’s latest modelling photos, and teased me that I wasn’t as “fit”, despite being 40 years younger. It was all in good humour, of course, and eventually I became totally comfortable with Dad’s newfound pursuit.
My sister, who is two years younger than me, took slightly longer to acclimatise.
I’m now immensely proud of Dad. He’s in his early 60s, on a new path that he absolutely loves, and it brings in a few extra quid along the way. If a modelling opportunity comes along when I’m his age, I’ll grab it with both hands.
When I started at Birmingham University in September, I decided not to shout from the rooftops about Dad’s career – I didn’t want everybody to think I was bragging. But they quickly found out anyway (thanks again, Instagram) and it’s become a source of some amusement between me and my new mates.
All that said, I’m totally behind Dad’s modelling efforts. There’s no reason that men must abandon their looks as soon as they hit middle age, so why shouldn’t he make a little effort to look sharp? I just hope I look as good at his age.
• As told to Luke Mintz.
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)