Meet the model mum
Nicola Barber may have struggled with confidence in the past but thanks to the support of family and friends she's now preparing to take the catwalk by storm
MODELLING might be a notoriously fickle business but mum Nicola Barber is determined to prove she can make it. At the age of 25 – which by conventional industry standards is considered old – she's putting her confidence issues behind her and preparing to take on the career she's always dreamed of.
And Nicola is making her name thanks to her success in a nationwide competition that's already seen her beat off thousands of hopefuls.
In April this year she'll take to the catwalk in London in an attempt to be crowned a winner in the Top Model UK 2013 competition.
Organisers say that the contest is one of the leading professional model search competitions in the country and Nicola hopes that it will provide the launch pad to future success.
Previous finalists have gone on to be photographed by some of the most well-respected designers in Europe and strutted their stuff at London Fashion Week.
Nicola lives in Burslem and is employed as a residential support worker.
"I stumbled across the competition on the internet," she says. "I'd applied for similar things before but I'd never taken it any further. I didn't go for the auditions or pursue it properly.
"I felt as though I didn't have the confidence to go through with it, and I've got a son, so I find it difficult to balance the two.
"It's hard when you work and you've got children to find the time to do even more."
Still, this time was different and Nicola, standing at 5ft 9ins and a petite size six, decided to send in an application.
She was further encouraged after taking part in catwalk shows for Galerie, an independent fashion boutique in Newcastle.
"I've been doing some modelling for Galerie and found I love doing it," Nicola continues. "I'd actually do it for nothing.
"I felt that it was worth going for. I applied on the Sunday night, and sent in a picture, and on the Monday I'd got a reply asking me to come along for an audition the same week.
"I had an interview in London. It was quite nerve-wracking. I've done fashion shows but never an interview in front of a panel.
"We were told on the day that we'd got through to the finals. There was a group of us who were told at the same time. I thought we were going to get sent home, and they make you think you haven't got through, so when we got the news, we were all screaming.
"There are different categories that people could enter in – editorial, over-25s, men, worldwide, commercial and natural beauty."
Nicola has been spotted by scouts in the past, and people used to tell her she should think about becoming a model.
She even signed up to an extras agency and has appeared in adverts and a Sky comedy due to be screened in the new year.
"I love the Clothes Show, and go every year," Nicola continues. "Two years ago, a scout took my photo but I never heard anything about it afterwards.
"They told me I'd got an unusual look and gave me their card but they never got back to me. I suppose I was a bit disappointed.
"Being an extra is good fun but I still prefer my modelling. There are a lot of long hours and waiting around."
F ormer Seabridge Primary School pupil Nicola went on to Clayton High School and took up a job in childcare. "I did a catwalk when I was about six," says Nicola. "It was for a clothes shop in the area and my mum put me forward.
"I'm the only one in the family who has done anything like this. I think it's just something I've always enjoyed doing.
"I read lots of fashion magazines when I was growing up and I've always taken an interest in clothes. I've been going to the Clothes Show for years too.
"I've been with agencies but I've never had the big break.
"I probably needed to go to London and push for it but I never did. I was 21 when I had Reece but then again, I've always enjoyed the career I've had anyway.
"Working with children is a job I love and still do now. Even if the modelling didn't work out, I've still got that and it's something I'd never regret. It's what I love doing."
But Nicola says she would never be tempted to audition for a programme like Britain and Ireland's Next Top Model.
North Staffordshire has already seen local success in the shape of Jade Thompson.
The 21-year-old former Keele University student from Bentilee was followed by a camera crew as she moved in to a house with her fellow contestants for the reality show fronted by supermodel Elle Macpherson.
Jade eventually secured a contract with agency Models 1, and a deal to appear on four covers of Company magazine.
"I wouldn't want to be on TV 24/7," says Nicola, who is mum to three-year-old Reece.
"Producers can twist it however they like, although I can't imagine they could twist anything about me because hopefully, I come across as a nice person.
"It's more about the fact that I'd have to be away from my son. With this competition, it allows me to travel backwards and forwards.
"Ever since he was born, he's been there. I work part-time so I get to see him.
"I want to see him grow up. I don't want to miss anything. For me, it was a better competition to go for."
Does she think that being a mum and entering an industry where many female models are still teenagers will hinder her progress?
"I do find it hard that I've had to enter an over-25 category," says Nicola. "I am still young and I look young. In the world of modelling, I'm classed as old. To enter the Britain and Ireland's Next Top Model, the age limit is 23 or 24. That's mad.
"I think it's possible to be a model and have a family.
"The world's changed. People in the industry have got children. Also I have a really good family. My mum would come to London with me, and bring Reece so I wouldn't miss out on seeing him.
"I like him to see what I do. He loves it. When he was little he loved being in front of the camera, although he's gone a little bit shy now.
"I don't think it matters how old you are. What's more important is that you've got the right look and it fits in with what designers want."
She adds: "I watch what I eat but I don't have to cut things out.
"Since I've had Reece, he keeps me busy anyway. Running around after a little one who never stops has helped me."
S he says her family and partner, Jamie Jones, also 25, has provided her with much-needed support. Jamie and Nicola co-run a web-design and T-shirt company based in Hanley.
"I've been doing more and more shows for Galerie which has helped my confidence," says Nicola.
"Jamie is a really good support. He's always backed me, whatever I do. He's as excited as me and loves the fact that I'm doing what I love to do.
"But loads of people have supported me along the way.
"As you get older you get more confident anyway. I can talk to people one-to-one but sometimes when I walk into a room full of people I don't know, it's a lot harder.
"I want to be able to go into a room and start talking. I think on that first audition, it was so scary. No-one was talking and it was strange and awkward, but I broke the ice.
"I've met a few other models on the audition and everyone is lovely. It's not like we're all stabbing each other in the back."
But she's putting her fears aside for the competition's Grand Finals in April.
"Between now and April, I've got to go for rehearsals, dress fittings, training," says Nicola, who says her ultimate ambition is to model on the Victoria's Secret catwalk.
"My final is on April 13. I'll be walking the catwalk in a range of different designer clothes. There will be a panel of judges on the day and there will be a first, second and third prize.
"The over-25s get judged on the day just like all the other categories but people can vote too, and that's taken into account. Money from the vote will also go towards the Great Ormond Street Children's charity, so the more money we raise the better. Obviously being a mum and working with children, it's a big thing for me. My family will be there to support me.
"In five years time, I'd love to say I've got a successful modelling career.
"I never get nervous walking on the catwalk but once you're up there you just get on with it, and do what you're there to do."
To vote for Nicola go to www.topmodeluk.com/over25s