Feos con Cache, The Ugly Agency, LING, Vueling in-flight magazine
A telephone is answered in an office on London’s Edgeware road. “Hello ugly,” a cheery receptionist says. I’m shocked! “How on earth does she know?” I think to myself. She’s neither psychic nor being rude, though, she’s simply taking a call at the biggest ‘character modelling agency’ in the world.
In1969 acouple of fashion photographers put an ad in a London newspaper looking for character models, in other words, the fat and skinny, ancient and ugly, lanky and shorty. And so was born the Ugly Agency. And they’ve never had to advertise since.
Ugly is where you go if you are tattooed from head to toe, including your lips; hold the Guinness Book of Records award for the most bodily piercings (Elaine Davidson, 2,520); or are a long way past retirement age but would like to make a little extra as everybody’s favourite aunty. Everyone from ‘from trannies to grannies, burlesque to bikers, wee folk to rock blokes, we have the rarest and most eye-catching individuals in the country, ranging from 18-100’ says their publicity.
Every eighteen months Marc French, Ugly’s owner, holds auditions at their offices, usually with more than two hundred wannabee Ugly’s forming an orderly line around the block, waiting for their few moments of (relative) fame. Even after twenty years running the business he still loves to see these gatherings of the weird and wonderful arriving at his door. “One of my favourite memories is when I came into the office and saw two tiny little old ladies with perms sitting knitting, and on either side of them were a Hell’s Angel and a Sumo wrestler. The four of them were chatting away like old friends. It really made me laugh.”
Every model has their unique selling point, but Rachel Harrison is the only one who has a ‘huge mouth’ listed as one of her main attributes on her model card, – and it’s brought her a lot of work. She was nervous when she went for her audition but to catch Marc French’s eye she did what she calls the ‘fist job’, putting her whole fist in her mouth, not as easiy as it seems. (“You really have to warm up and practice.”) The auditioning panel thought it was amazing, and Rachel has kept the ‘fist job’ as part of her audition repertoire ever since.
“I’d never have considered modelling if a friend hadn’t handed me one of Ugly’s leaflets, I’m afraid a ‘huge mouth’ doesn’t cut the mustard with your normal model agency, but for quite a few years modelling was my main income.”
Probably the only time Ugly has struggled to fill a booking was when Virgin wanted four Sumo wrestlers to dress up in ballet tutus. Two they could do, they already had them on their books, but four – a bit of a problem, and the producer was adamant that he needed four. So Ugly found two more very big chaps, dressed them as Sumo wrestlers and then dressed them it tutus. Problem solved.
Standing out in the crowd can be a big pull as far as being an Ugly model is concerned, but being completely and utterly mundane can be even better. “Our highest earning model is a complete and absolute nothing as far as looks are concerned. He’s as normal as normal can be, but for the last twenty years he’s been making a very handsome income for the simple reason that he will never stand out in a crowd, you wouldn’t recognise him from one shot to another and he can be any age, profession or social class. Mundane is perfect.”
It could soon be the chance for the Spanish to discover just how Ugly they are, because Marc French is looking at opening an Agency in either Barcelona or Madrid. “I tried agencies in New York and Los Angeles, but they didn’t work. I think in many ways it’s a very European thing, so I’ve decided to try closer to home.’
But don’t go getting tattooed or pierced just to be Ugly. There’s probably no physical form, shape or deviation that Marc hasn’t seen, but they are all one to him. “Everyone is unique. Whether you are the original geek or tattooed from head to toe, there’s a place for you. But the most important thing is just to be yourself.”