Tabea Weyrauch: Girl, Interrupted
As Tabea Weyrauch, the winner of RTE's 'The Model Scouts', poses for her first cover shoot, she tells Liadan Hynes about a roller-coaster year of lying to her friends and slipping off on school holidays to model around the world. Today's LIFE cover is the beginning of her international career, but first this 17-year-old has to do her exams. Photography by Agata Stoinska
When Tabea Weyrauch, winner of RTE's recent reality-TV show The Model Scouts entered the competition, she had no idea she was signing up for a television show and the prospect of an international modelling career.
"I thought it was local, very local, and then there were TV cameras everywhere, and RTE The Model Scouts signs. I was like 'Whoa, what is this?' I was just freaking out in the queue," she remembers. "I thought, 'seeing as I'm here, I may as well go for it'," she continues, with a typical display of Northern pragmatism.
Her entry into The Model Scouts competition in January 2010 had been something of a last-minute affair. Home from school due to illness, when a friend mentioned some local modelling auditions, Tabea practically jumped at the chance get out of the house.
"There was this thing on in the Foyleside Shopping Centre in Derry," she says vaguely. "I was actually really sick, and I was just bored being at home all the time, so I went down there."
Unwittingly, she arrived dressed like a seasoned pro, in jeans, a T-shirt and a blazer. "It was just very simple, but it turned out that that was very good, because everybody else was sort of very dressed-up." After being asked to remove what little make-up she was wearing, Tabea walked for the judges. "I had to do a wee walk for them and they filmed it with their wee special camera."
Unbeknownst to Tabea, she was auditioning for two of the modelling world's most powerful people: Jeni Rose and David Cunningham, vice presidents of international development at IMG models in Paris and New York, respectively.
It was their first trip to Ireland, to search for a new face, a process which would be filmed for RTE's recent show The Model Scouts. The winner would receive a cover shoot with LIFE magazine and a year's contract with IMG, which represents international modelling heavyweights such as Gisele Bundchen, Naomi Campbell, Leonardo DiCaprio's girlfriend Bar Refaeli, Daisy Lowe, Lily Cole, Heidi Klum, Orlando Bloom's new wife, Miranda Kerr, as well as actresses Liv Tyler, Milla Jovovich, and Mischa Barton.
IMG could well lay claim to being the most prestigious agency in the world. "It was a bit scary," Tabea admits of first meeting Jeni and David, "because they looked very senior, and very important. And I was a little bit intimidated at first, because I didn't know it was for TV."
Before The Model Scouts, Tabea, who was born in Hamburg and moved to Derry when she was six years old, was planning a career in engineering. She is currently studying maths, physics and German for her A-levels.
"I had sort of thought about it," she says of the possibility of a modelling career, "but I don't think I'd have ever acted on it. I think I'd have just been too shy or too embarrassed to actually get started."
At the interview, she was told not to cut her hair or pluck her eyebrows, then sent on her way. "I didn't really think much was going to happen," she recounts of the two months that passed between her original audition and her recall.
"Then, one day, I came home from school and my step-dad, Paul, said, 'Right, calm down. I mean, this may be nothing, so don't be getting overly excited, but The Model Scouts, they want to see you again; you've got on the shortlist of the final 21.' I was just, like, trying to contain my screams. I really couldn't chill or keep calm at all. I was really excited," she laughs.
A few weeks later, Tabea, along with her stepdad, travelled up to Dublin so Jeni and David could have another look at the final 21. "It was really nerve-wracking. At that stage I thought, 'OK, I really want this' -- to get into the final 12 and achieve that."
Having left Derry only half-aware of the possibilities that lay ahead, the then 16-year-old Tabea, along with her fellow 11 finalists, was suddenly thrust into a leading role in a television show.
"It was just a bit surreal, what happened with us," she remembers. On being chosen, the 12 girls immediately went to Carton House for their first photo shoot and the filming of the second episode. "It was really new, really strange, but very fun," she recalls.
In person, Tabea is a gentle, somewhat dreamy presence, with a natural grace, possibly thanks to her passion for modern dance. She's not the most immediately striking girl in the room; hers is rather a grow-on-you sort of look. Her perfect, sallow skin is complemented by the light-brown trench she is wearing. She's easy company, seemingly older than her 17 years. "I'm shy in a way, but not reserved. I'm able to speak up for myself, but sometimes I'm a little bit more quiet, I guess."
She's typical of the girls from The Model Scouts, who weren't remotely Next Top Model-ish, or X Factor brash, probably due to the fact that casting for the show placed an emphasis on actual modelling potential, rather than how likely the girls were to break down, or to bitch about fellow contestants.
"They were very supportive," Tabea says of her fellow finalists, most of whom so impressed the judges that they, too were given modelling contracts with IMG. "I wouldn't have expected them to be so helpful toward each other. Shannen Gormley was a particular friend, although she was eliminated quite early. The eliminations were actually the worst part, because they just seemed so unnatural. Bringing us all there, and we've all got our eyes on the prize, and we're all just hoping for it -- and they take it away from you. It's just cruel, really," she smiles, shaking her head in sad bewilderment.
"It wasn't competitive, because you didn't want anyone to leave. I think we were all just waiting for, like, a surprise. That they would be like, 'OK, today nobody will be eliminated.' And even when you do get through yourself -- even though that's wonderful -- you're still sort of grieving for the other person, so it takes a while for you to feel, 'Oh, that's good for me.'"
In front of the camera, Tabea poses with the ease and confidence of a long-time professional, and, at certain angles, possesses a remarkable similarity to Keira Knightley. She gets a shot within minutes, and moves easily, without needing much direction from the photographer.
"At the start it was a bit weird, trying to move my face in different ways, trying to get through different expressions, but you do get the hang of it very, very quickly," she says in her soft Northern brogue. "And it doesn't feel uncomfortable. You naturally improve; you fall into it, in a way."
Until now, Tabea, who is in her final year of A-level studies and turns 18 in March, has lived at home in Derry with her stepfather, Paul Gosling, a finance journalist, and her younger brother and sister. Her mum spends a lot of time in her native Germany, where she works as a translator.
"It's changed me in many ways," she says of the show. "Like, I feel it more than I know how to describe it. Looking back now, I see how I started off, and I just feel like I was such a young girl back then. Like, I just think, 'Oh you, you're so young and small, you just don't know anything.' I just feel so much more grown-up and wise, in a way.
"You have to be able to cope well with being away from home," she muses on what makes a good model. "You have to be able to deal with criticism. Be thick-skinned, basically."
Tabea, who is an ardent runner -- "indoors, outdoors, anywhere" -- shrugs off any concerns about the pressure to be thin. "Oh, I don't watch my weight; I don't really think about it so much. We got a 'how do you nourish yourself' nutritional talk when we were in Paris. I just sort of eat well anyway, so I don't really think about it so much."
The show has already given her a taste of the independence and self-sufficiency required of a successful working model. "I love travelling and I'm quite independent anyway. In Australia, we were sort of put out there by ourselves, on our own two feet. We were there as real models -- we had to go to the castings by ourselves, and if they wanted us, then they could book us for the shows."
She succeeded in garnering several bookings, and took part in shows during Sydney fashion week. "The catwalk experience was just really exhilarating. It's really tiring getting hair and make-up done. It doesn't really seem like it, but it's quite exhausting. But it is just very rewarding, and very worth it, when you're going down the runway."
Tabea and most of her fellow finalists were still in school during the filming of the show, so recording had to take place during holidays; the Easter holidays saw them in London and Paris. They were also under strict orders to tell no one apart from immediate family.
"That was really difficult," she says. "I kept having to make these really pathetic excuses. I just often said, 'I'm away to Germany.'" She told two of her closest friends, who kept it secret. "I feel if I wouldn't have told them, 'cause I trust them so much, that I probably would have just let it slip anyway, 'cause I just would have burst."
Filming for the show broke for the summer holidays, with only four finalists remaining. When did she start to think she could win? "I never really realised it until the finals, to be honest. I never really thought about the final much until I was in it. I never really thought, 'Oh yes, I need to do this to win.' I just sort of thought, 'I want to get a lot out of this.' And that sort of led to me never wanting to leave the competition. Because I wanted to be there for everything that the girls got to participate in."
Competitive streak or not, since winning, she has developed a fierce determination to take this thing and run with it. For now, she is limited by her studies; the school holidays will be spent working on her portfolio in Paris, but the agency are reluctant to promote her until she is 100 per cent available for work.
"So, basically, the day after my last exam, I'm going to leave and go, you know, into the big world," she smiles, hugging herself in delight at the thought of it.
"I think I'll start off in Paris, and then, probably a few weeks later, into New York -- I can't wait," she gasps. She plans to be a model for five to seven years at least, she emphatically tells me, although "some models, like Caroline Murphy, they haven't stopped going at all. In five years' time I hope to have made a good and respectable name for myself within the modelling industry."
Does she see herself modelling in Ireland? She smiles sweetly, and tactfully sidesteps with, "the aim was really to be an international project. I think for the time being, I'll just be international."
The prize specifies a year's contract, and the spectre of being dropped is something that has occurred to her. "My step-dad sort of sought reassurance, when we were in New York, from the agency there as well, that if things really do not work out, and it just seems as if I'm falling into debt and just wasting my time, that they will eventually tell me, and that they won't string me on. If I just go on for years and years falling into debt, making no money, and just sort of wasting my time in a way, then they will tell me."
She almost physically bridles at the thought of this. It's hard to imagine this bleak outcome being Tabea's future. She shakes her head: "I don't think that they drop you after a year, it's not really what they do."
Photography by Agata Stoinska
Assisted by Aoife Herrity
Styling by Liadan Hynes
Assisted by Dearbhla Neena and Roisin MacDermot Casement
Make-up by Vivien Pomeroy, Brown Sugar, 50 South William St, D2, tel: (01) 616-9967
Hair by Michael Doyle at Peter Mark, Stephen's Green Shopping Centre, D2, tel: (01) 478-1297
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