The model show that's had one Elle of a makeover: With two new judges, expect some fireworks, warns Ms Macpherson



21:41 GMT, 6 July 2012

Elle Macpherson has brought in two feisty new judges to join her and fashion designer Julien Macdonald on Britain & Ireland’s Next Top Model – so expect plenty of fireworks, the team tell Lisa Sewards

Stand by for the most competitive and brutal Britain & Ireland’s Next Top Model ever. And that’s just among the judges.

When the new series starts on Monday, Elle Macpherson is back but, as a producer of the show as well as head judge, she has brought in two major additions to the judging panel.

Out go sweet-faced male model Charley Speed and controversial stylist Grace Woodward. In come US male supermodel Tyson Beckford and reality TV star and fashion designer, Whitney Port.

Tyson Beckford and reality TV star and fashion designer, Whitney Port join Elle's judging panel

Tyson Beckford and reality TV star and fashion designer, Whitney Port join Elle's judging panel

Elle admits she has to keep freshening up the show to keep viewers interested. But who would have thought she’d bring her ruthless judging tactics to bear on her own panel Yet here I am sitting opposite the most outspoken of them, Welsh fashion designer Julien Macdonald, and he’s a sliver of his former self.

‘After the last series Elle told me I was fat,’ he says. ‘She said, “You’ve put weight on.” She was right. So I said, “Elle, I’m going on a diet for the next show, don’t worry.” I said I was fat and happy but that I’d like to be slimmer and happier. I hired a nutritionist and a personal trainer four times a week, burning 1,500 calories every session.

Elle gave me advice and, being a nosey parker, I copied her healthy lifestyle as she eats no processed food and has lots of fresh fish and juices, even if she does have a guilty thing for organic chocolate. I wasn’t allowed any cakes or even alcohol for four months.

Then, when Elle saw my weight transformation, she said, “Wow, you look amazing.”’

Elle Macpherson attends the Bloomberg & Vanity Fair cocktail reception

Elle Macpherson attends the Bloomberg & Vanity Fair cocktail reception

Julien is happy to dish out criticism on the show, sometimes outrageously – he once told a contestant, ‘You look like a girl who should be eating a Cornish pasty.’ How did it feel when Elle turned the tables on him ‘She was right. I knew I’d put on weight and was eating too much. Both my parents are large and in our family we like our food and our cake and we definitely eat it! So my mother couldn’t believe it when she saw me and said, “Oh no, where’ve you gone”’

These days he’s relaxed the rules a little, just enough that when I meet him for tea at Claridges he has an egg sandwich and half a piece of chocolate cake. But all the hard work in the beginning was worth it, as Julien, 41, avoided the axe that struck Charley and the feisty Grace, who was said to have crossed swords with Simon Cowell during her stint as a stylist on The X Factor as well as allegedly getting close to finalist Matt Cardle. So now Julien’s a veteran, and holding his own, with Elle, against the two mouthy newcomers. ‘Elle is much tougher this series because these Americans are loud. So there were lots of times when she told them to shut up and so did I.’

‘Elle is much tougher this series
because these Americans are loud. So there were lots of times when she
told them to shut up and so did I.’

And although he’s been told by TV executives to keep away from the Cornish-pasty-type comments, he hasn’t heeded the warnings. During the series we see him telling Anne Winterburn, 23, from Bedfordshire, ‘You’re weird, you’re odd. You have a small head, a massive nose and chunky thighs – you’re interesting.’ To buxom Oxshott student Letitia Herod, 18, he says bluntly, ‘Don’t stick your t**s out or you’ll look like a Page 3 girl,’ then tells his fellow judges, ‘She wouldn’t fit into any of my clothes.’

Julien makes no apologies. ‘This is an entertainment show, after all. I’m very honest with the girls and it’s my job to advise them. I’m a lot nicer than the monsters they’ll meet in the business. I still see models from previous shows and they say, “I know you were mean, but everything you said was true and now we know how tough the industry is.”’

So he’s back in his spikey stride – even though he began the series with a few misgivings. ‘The second series was fun but for this one I was nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. I’d never met Whitney or Tyson. I wasn’t a fan of Whitney’s show The Hills either. Now we’re like one big family – though as judges we disagree more than on any other series.

‘All the girls say about Tyson, “Oh my God, he’s gorgeous.” He’s a perfect man – caring but also tough. Whitney represents the younger girls who watch the show. She’s 27 and brings youth and beauty, plus she’s grown up in LA and girls aspire to her lifestyle.’ But does she upstage Elle ‘Oh no, Elle is still the queen,’ he insists, smiling. ‘But Whitney’s very opinionated and dares to speak up against her.

‘Last year, Charley and Grace liked to gang up on me and shout at me and Elle was the voice of reason. But she’s not in this series as she really speaks her mind and is much tougher because the girls are younger and need more advice. Everyone’s afraid of her.’

Whitney Port made a fashionable name for herself on hit MTV show The Hills

Whitney Port made a fashionable name for herself on hit MTV show The Hills

There are the odd moments when Ms Macpherson shows her softer side. ‘It helped that she fell in love during the show [with Scottish banker Roger Jenkins],’ says Julien. ‘I’d say to her, “You’re in a good mood.” And she’d say, “Well, I’ve been away this weekend with a gorgeous man.” So over the series she gets very happy and sexy,’ he laughs.

But what do Tyson and Whitney have to say Isn’t Elle a bit like Simon Cowell on The X Factor Everyone knows the other judges’ opinions matter until they differ from his. Tyson, who shot to fame as the face of Ralph Lauren, admits, ‘Elle’s a tough cookie. We’ve had fights where I end up saying, “I’m not talking to you,” and she says, “Well, I’m not talking to you either” so we don’t speak for a few days. But we respect each other.’

And Whitney admits she was terrified of meeting the supermodel. ‘I was intimidated. She’s so gorgeous but then I realised her personality is warm but empowering. She was always encouraging me to speak up and although we all knew her opinion weighed more heavily than ours, who went through was also a group decision.’

As executive producer on her third series of the show, Elle believes it’s better than ever, with guests such as Alesha Dixon, Mel B, model Erin O’Connor and former Pussycat Doll Kimberly Wyatt. The winner gets a contract with model agency Models 1, a cover shoot in Company magazine, as well as a contract with Revlon, an apartment at London’s 51 Buckingham Gate and an international campaign with Miss Selfridge.

But for years the British version was the poor relation to the American original. The first presenter was Lisa Butcher who proved to have little onscreen personality and left after just one year. Lisa Snowdon followed for four years but was criticised for being the contestants’ ‘best friend’. That’s not an accusation that could be levelled at Elle, who is definitely The Boss. But how does she compare to the camera-hogging Tyra ‘the Tyrant’ Banks, judge and mentor to the models on the US show
‘Can I make a confession’ says Elle, 48. ‘I’ve never watched America’s show. I’ve lived in London for 14 years. I’m immersed in Britain and I wanted to make a show for us. This year the guest judges are the best yet and so is the quality of the girls who auditioned.’

Julien disagrees. ‘The girls are not brilliant – I wouldn’t go that far. There are 20 girls who are a variety of Britain and Ireland’s best and worst. If there were 20 brilliant ones, there’d be no show. But the final two girls are the ones none of us thought would have ever got there. It’s fascinating.’
It is indeed fascinating watching the raw recruits blossom – for the judges as well as the viewers. Elle says, ‘I love the make-over episode the most because I have a clear vision of how every girl can look their best. There was one girl I wanted to see with very short hair, like Halle Berry. When she took out her extensions she had incredible hair and Tyson, who was mentoring her, said, “You can’t cut it.” I told him “You can’t be emotional about this,” and he started to waver, saying “OK, we’ll cut if off as I can see you’re not very happy.”’

Did it end in a compromise ‘It was a case of meet-you-in-the-middle,’ she argues. ‘The hair was cut, but to a mid-length.’ So, really, a compromise. ‘No – no compromise,’ she insists with a steely glare. Even with the shouty new American judges, Elle is clearly still top model.

Britain & Ireland’s Next Top Model, Monday, 9pm, Sky Living.