We talk to the American supermodel Tyson Beckford, who was at the Atlantis Palm Jumeirah this week to shoot for Britain and Ireland's Next Top Model.
Supermodels descend on Dubai for a sunny shoot
The Australian Supermodel Elle Macpherson was in Dubai this week filming episodes for Britain and Ireland's Next Top Model, a spin-off from the hugely successful hit show America's Next Top Model.
Macpherson, commonly known as "The Body", along with fellow judges Tyson Beckford (American supermodel), Whitney Port (The Hills), Julien McDonald (fashion designer) and 17 model hopefuls, were shooting at the Atlantis Palm Jumeirah.
Beckford, a former lead model for Ralph Lauren as well as an actor (Biker Boyz, Zoolander), took some time out from shooting to relax poolside and talk about the shoot.
Two of the girls were eliminated after the team arrived last Thursday, while another was sent home on Monday night. The show, now in its eighth season, is set to wrap up in Toronto in April and will be broadcast on television in the summer, revealing the winner, who will get a modelling contract.
"The idea to shoot [in Dubai] came about through Elle and the hotel has been so gracious to accommodate all of us," said Beckford. "We are shooting mainly in Britain and the weather there is not really bikini weather, so we're filming a lot of the beach and swimwear scenes here. By the time we get back to London, we want to have 14 girls to go into the house. So this is the trim down."
Beckford has also appeared as a guest judge on Heidi Klum's Project Runway and on America's Next Top Model, created by the supermodel Tyra Banks.
"Being a mentor, you are helping them be the best model they can be. It's almost like model boot camp and you're trying to teach them a million and one things - until you figure out who is gonna be the best of the best," said the 42-year-old. "I look for determination - personality and beauty is part of it and a girl who can walk - someone who can represent a brand and not be boring to the consumer."
Although filming is focused in the Atlantis, Beckford, who also races cars and motorcycles, has managed to squeeze in some local sightseeing.
"I saw the world's tallest building, some of the neighbourhoods, shops and been to nice restaurants," he said.
Beckford was first discovered in the early 1990s in a park one Friday afternoon in New York, when the editor at the time of the hip-hop magazine The Source approached him. After his photos were published, the magazine was flooded with enquiries about the young model, born to a Panamanian-Jamaican mother and Jamaican-Chinese father who also has Portuguese and Spanish blood. The following year, he was working for Ralph Lauren.
"I never thought I had the chance, I can't even explain it," he said. "They hadn't seen a person of colour with such a mix and it just took off from there. If you ask some of the people I work for, they'll tell you I am more of a spokesperson who also happens to model."
Ralph Lauren, whom he stays in touch with, often called him an "icon", said Beckford.
"I had more personality and was vocal. I did as many interviews for the company as I did advertisements because I understood the brand. Ralph would have me do interviews, sign autographs and meet and greet in stores - which was never really heard of. So I kind of helped change the industry as we know it."
His experience, teamed with that of Macpherson's, has proved invaluable.
"Elle is cool. I've known her for a while and it's great to work with her because she's such a smart business woman. For her and I both to be supermodels and understand what it takes and shoot with amazing photographers in the craziest locations and to convey that for TV - it's not easy to do and she does a great job," he said. Today, Beckford also campaigns against domestic violence, raises awareness in the fight against Aids and encourages cancer screenings.
In 2005, Beckford, who has a 13-year-old son, was involved in a near fatal car crash in New Jersey while going out for groceries. He broke his nose and eye socket. The experience changed his life forever.
"My life flashed before me and there were many things at the time I thought I didn't get a chance to do yet, and I thought about seeing my son again," he said. "The cop said, 'You'll never model again', I just thought, 'Really? Do you think I'm sitting here worrying about that?' I'm fighting for my life. People get so caught up with image and what you are that they really don't take the time to get to know who you are."
The first thing he did after recovering was fly to LA to see his son, who has been a backup dancer for the likes of Swizz Beats and Lil John.
"We're very close; he's a good guy," he said.
While in the UAE, he said he has constantly been tweeting his fans about his experience.
"A lot have never been to Dubai, so I'm constantly tweeting pictures," he said. "It's exciting and my followers love to see who I'm hanging out with, cool cars, art and architecture."
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