Former fashion model Bernadette Gledhill helping to boost teenagers’ body confidence
PUBLISHED: 00:00 28 March 2014
Bernadette Gledhill talks to Jo Haywood about the importance of walking tall
At the tender age of 14 and already 5ft 8in tall, a very shy Bernadette Gledhill was signed up for a course by her mother at the Louise Morton Charm School in her home town of Huddersfield.
This was the spark that ignited her passion for fashion and beauty, and gave her a long and illustrious career that has taken her from the catwalk to being a model agent, producing shows and training youngsters to follow in her confident footsteps as part of Morton Gledhill, an agency she launched with her former mentor Louise Morton, who died in 2006 at the age of 88.
‘I think the idea initially was for me to learn how to stand tall and walk well,’ said Bernadette. ‘But I became completely hooked on the fashion and beauty industry.’
She trained in make-up and beauty for a year after leaving school and, at 19, was signed up by Bond Street model agent Gavin Robinson.
‘I always felt very lucky to have worked with the most amazing people and modelled, mainly catwalk, until the ripe old age of 39,’ she said.
She believes her own modelling experience provides her with a unique insight into the modern industry – even though the business itself has changed dramatically in the last 20 years.
‘Modelling has become a celebrity business with some reaching ‘supermodel’ status,’ Bernadette explained. ‘It’s important though not to forget the hundreds of working models who are absolutely beautiful, professional and hard-working and who still have amazingly successful careers.’
Her own experiences now fuel her work, particularly when it comes to inspiring confidence in the younger generation.
‘I train many girls and boys not just as an introduction to modelling but also on confidence courses,’ she said. ‘Grooming and confidence skills remain the most important items on my list. Eventually this becomes a way of life and carries you through every situation, whatever path you choose.
‘Developing confidence is key. Good grooming, dressing for the occasion and feeling comfortable in your own skin will take you anywhere.’
But what if ‘anywhere’ is the catwalk? What advice does she give aspiring models hoping to walk in her extremely fashionable shoes?
‘Concentrate and work hard on your studies as you always need a fallback career,’ said Bernadette. ‘Luck definitely plays a part, but a good model with the right personality and attitude should hold their own for 20 years or more.’
As a key player in the industry, and through her work in schools across the county, she’s well aware of the negative impact our societal obsession with appearance can have.
‘This is a subject that I get quite upset about,’ she said. ‘I see so many young people – particularly girls – suffering from peer pressure and bullying. This is sometimes the reason they enrol on a confidence course.
‘To see them slowly develop their self-esteem and confidence is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work.’
Among the many projects Bernadette and her talented team are looking forward to this year are the final year collection show at Doncaster College; Huddersfield University’s degree show (‘the talent here is so amazing with so many young designers moving on to work with international names’); the Great Yorkshire Show catwalk collections; and The Princes Trust’s annual ‘meet the designer’ event.
‘We’re also going to be working with breast cancer care teams from Calderdale and Kirklees, which we’ve done for many years,’ she said. ‘We train around 40 ladies of all ages to model. Some of them might be undergoing chemotherapy or recovering from surgery so this is a very difficult time.
‘We train, build confidence and prepare them for a catwalk show in front of their family and friends. To see the ladies at the live show, with an atmosphere that can only be described as electric, is unbelievable.’
So, would she say that, as a county, we’re a pretty fashionable bunch? (As someone who values her looks, you can probably guess her answer.)
‘In Yorkshire we dress brilliantly for different occasions, whether it’s smart-casual, country or business, and we have no problems at all with glamour,’ said Bernadette astutely.
‘We are very lucky throughout the entire county to have such an amazing range of fashion stores and independent fashion retailers. Where else could you go to have our choice?’
Very occasionally, however, some of us (mentioning no names) make the wrong fashion choices, despite coming from one of the most stylish counties in the country. So what are Bernadette’s final words of wisdom to get us back on the right fashion track?
‘Style is not about money,’ she said. ‘And it’s not about wearing the most up-to-date item of clothing. In fact, trying hard to keep up with fashion can be a disaster.
‘The most important advice I can give is to develop an individual look that you are comfortable with. And remember my favourite quote: fashion can be bought; style one must possess.’