From premières to prisons

How the rewards of volunteering make up for moving from the “A-list” to no list at all.

close up of plastic model with lipstick

I started my career as an actress. My more memorable moments in the spotlight were as the body double for Elizabeth Taylor (personally chosen by her, perhaps because of my big boobs?) and various scantily clothed cameo appearances on The Benny Hill Show (personally chosen by him, perhaps because of my big boobs?). But in 1971, at the tender age of 22, I gave up acting and started my own model agency.

Thanks to being featured on the cover of the Sunday Times Colour supplement and the publication of my autobiography in which I was given the rather dubious billing of “Britain’s Top Model Agent” I had, for 35 years, a life of glamour, publicity, and chauffeur driven cars to take me to parties, premieres and interviews.

I appeared as a guest on numerous radio and TV chat shows including “The Jonathan Ross Show” (not the highest pinnacle of achievement but still…..)

But 8 years ago all that changed when I decided to retire.

I had never given much thought as to what I might do in my retirement. The agency had been my life, a cocooned world full of soft focused edges. But that world began to be less interesting as the gap widened between me and the models on my books.

When I started the agency I was 22 and so were the models; we had lots in common and had fun together. But when I reached 60 they still had to be 22 or even younger and I felt that it was fairer to them to have someone more aware of modern trends to manage their careers (and egos).

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And that is when a different world opened up to me.

I trained to become a Samaritan. Now I do 4 hour shifts on the help lines for those in distress and I also work in prisons talking to the visiting families about how they are coping. After all, many of them have done nothing wrong but find themselves in a situation causing great worry, financial difficulty or isolation. Parents, partners, friends, sons and daughters are all affected when someone they know has been sentenced or is in prison on remand awaiting trial.

adult holding child's handI also volunteer at Great Ormond Street Hospital on the Cardiac Intensive Care Ward where my role is to assist the families of the children either waiting for or recovering from major heart surgery including transplant operations.

These operations can take up to 10 hours and waiting for a child to come back from surgery can be a frightening and lonely time. As I wait with them dispensing tea and tissues, I reflect on the life I had.

Yes I miss some aspects. I’m certainly not on the “A-list” any more for glitzy nights out. My sparkly dresses hardly ever see the light of day.

I’m not invited to parties or premières where I have chats and drinks with Brad Pitt or Daniel Craig (ok I made that bit up, wishful thinking).

But I’ve been there and worn the t-shirt and on balance, life is better now.

About Yvonne Paul

Yvonne Paul was born and lived for many years just off the famous Portobello Market in London. After an unhappy marriage in her early 20’s and left with a young daughter to support she took a variety of jobs including being a “Bunny Girl”. This led to small parts on TV and in films including appearances on The Benny Hill Show. She started a Model Agency in 1972, which she ran successfully until retiring in 2007. She has been happily married for 37 years to her second husband Edward who owns a record company and has a daughter and two grand children. She now lives in Queens Park London.