THE MALE MODEL & THE NERD
Life with the UK’s most eligible man
Pulling up to the red carpet, I could see the bright spotlights searching overhead. The music was blaring, punctuated only by squeals from the crowds that filled Leicester Square. I quickly brushed my hair back with my fingers and applied a slick of lipstick before gazing over at the man sitting next to me. “Do I look OK?” I mouthed. He smiled, gently squeezed my hand, and said,“You look lovely.” That man is my husband, also known as Paul “milliondollar face” Sculfor, and he’s the one the crowds want to see, not me. A real male supermodel giving his finest blue steel for the premiere of Zoolander 2, playing up to the parody of the film’s main character. As usual, I stood back and smiled on, as he expertly angled his face to the paparazzi, the flashes making my eyes flutter, pride swelling in the pit of my stomach. We walk hand in hand into the cinema, saying hello to Valentino, Lara Stone and several other fashion figures on the way in, before heading to the green room, which smelled of freshly popped corn and expensive perfume.
Earlier that day I was eating a packed lunch at my desk inside Imperial College’s department of Primary Care and Public Health, discussing the latest publication by our colleagues in the
British Medical Journal. My hair was in a messy braid and my outfit was more comfort than couture. I’m a research postgraduate at the School of Public Health, hoping to complete my PhD later this year. I’m a self-professed geek and a scientist; a working woman with little interest in fashion. So how did I end up married to one of the most famous supermodels in the world?
I grew up in Rome, surrounded by a big Italian family. We took trips to the seaside, ate home-cooked meals and spent warm afternoons playing in the sunflower fields at the end of our street. I inherited my love for biology and the medical sciences from my mother – currently senior scientific advisor at the European Medicines Agency – who’s one of the smartest people I know. Despite my love affair with science and academia, I had always wanted to travel and longed to work in a fast-paced, sociable industry,
“He was too handsome to be good news”
rather than be cooped up with a computer. I dreamt of one day working in New York, so at age 24, I did just that. I started producing pop-up events at international film and art festivals with a brilliant brand of nightclubs called Bungalow 8, travelling the world and handling sponsorship budgets and super-private guest lists; applying all of my scientific rigour to bring some order to an industry filled with big creative personalities.
It was in a club on London’s Drury Lane, on Valentine’s Day 2014, that everything changed. I had produced a Fashion Week party – not the setting I’d imagined meeting my future husband in, but that was to be the first of many surprises during our courtship.
I didn’t know who Paul was when he was introduced to me; I’m terrible with names and not really interested in celebrity gossip. What I did know was that he was too handsome to be good news, so when he showed an interest in speaking to me, I was instantly suspicious. Thankfully, my friends encouraged me to let my guard down. “Live a little,” they said. So with a glass of tequila inside me, I managed to string together a cheesy chat-up line, and we ended the evening with a goodnight kiss.
There was something about him, a magnetism that was undeniable, but when he asked if I’d like to leave with him, I refused and denied him the pleasure of having my number.“Why would we see each other again when we clearly have nothing in common?” I thought, naïvely. The only thing I left him with was a selfie of us on his phone, which I cheekily uploaded to his Instagram page with the caption “Met the love of my life tonight”. Clearly, the tequila I’d drunk had given me prophetic powers.
Back in New York, I carried on with my life. I didn’t think I’d ever see Paul again, but when his work brought him to the city, he tracked me down and asked me out. I assumed he was a player and not genuinely interested in me, so I cancelled on him twice and ended up going to the same event as him with someone else, all in the space of a week! When we eventually did get together for dinner, I could sense it was my last chance to show him that I was actually a decent
person. I arrived soaking wet from the April showers in New York, to a vision of Paul sitting, impossibly handsome, waiting for me. My inner voice screamed at me: “Why are you trying to mess this up?!”
Dinner lasted until they threw us out of the restaurant. Sure, Paul was good-looking, but I’d assumed we’d have nothing in common. I turned out to be wrong. He was funny, kind, sincere and interesting. I realised that the assumption that male models are all vain and shallow was ridiculous – modelling is a job, not an entire person. We spoke about science, art and travel; he was interested in my studies and understood why I had interrupted an academic career in Public Health to work in New York for a couple of years.
I’ll never forget the pure joy and lightness of step I felt walking away from that date. I can still see the sunshine filtering through the West Village streets the next day, feeling so full of hope that there was a man out there who could make me feel so alive! I still assumed I’d never hear from him again, of course, but I was at least grateful to have met him.
A few days later my phone rang. It was an unknown UK number.“How many Pauls do you have calling you to ask you on a second date?!” Paul joked when I picked up. He’d got my number through the mutual friend who introduced us. I pointed out that I was living in NYC and he was living in London. “Well, what are you doing for Easter weekend?” he asked. I was free, I told him. “Come and join me in Barbados then,” he said. I agreed, and he sent me my ticket confirmation once he’d booked. I got to the airport and everything was taken care of. It was three weeks after our first date. That day I smiled so much that my cheeks hurt.
In Barbados, he asked me to be his girlfriend. I knew there was no point fighting the fact that I’d fallen hard for him.
Of course, I was nervous about how much attention he must get from other women, but Paul quickly nixed those insecurities. He made it very clear that he was interested in me and only me. I soon realised that inappropriate female attention is as annoying to him as being wolfwhistled in the street is to me. Most women only want to say hello to him and have me take their photo, which I usually offer to do! Paul has a very good sense of when people are staring and will swiftly avoid awkward situations. On the rare occasion that women have approached Paul with less elegant intentions, I am invisible to them. But those types of women are so far off being his type that I can only feel sad for them. Crucially, Paul knows exactly how to handle it, and we have a connection that allows me to sit back and giggle. Occasionally, it’s undeniably useful to have Paul do the talking. His charm has got us through some interesting airport situations, and I have to admit that it’s amusing to see other women laugh at his puns and melt a little when he smiles at them with that toothy grin of his.
When Paul asked me to marry him, on an idyllic beach in perfect
“Women melt when he smiles at them”
Mustique, time stopped and I had an out-of-body experience. I couldn’t believe it and yet, at the same time, I knew that moment would come; I had no doubt from early on in our relationship that Paul and I would spend our lives together. Being married has definitely given me new confidence when meeting people at events; it’s such a great feeling to say that he’s my husband.
There have been times when some of his fans have become a little too invested, but I don’t give it too much thought. Paul’s pin-up status is a by-product of his work, not the focus of it, so it’s not something we spend much time discussing at home with a cup of tea. I’m glad to see positive comments on his social-media accounts, as I know how damaging the industry can be for self-esteem. People have a hard time understanding that part of being a model for work includes going to events and dinners. It may sound awesome to have to go to the gym, make sure you’re groomed, and attend parties and fashion shows for your day job, and it is in so many ways, but it also means having to be sociable and look immaculate even when all you want to do is eat chocolate digestives in front of Netflix. When we attend events together, my role is to support him in his work, while also enjoying the company of wildly varied and often fabulous people. Normally nobody is interested in the research I do, but for me, these events are a lovely break from my more mundane reality.
I would be lying if I said there haven’t been occasions where I’ve felt our worlds were very different. I was once preparing for an exam at the library in St Mary’s hospital, super stressed out, surviving off stale coffee from a plastic cup, and feeling sorry for myself, when I saw a story about Paul and Abbey Clancy laughing on a swing on a beach in Jamaica while filming Britain’s Next Top Model. At times like that, I feel the big difference in our work, especially as Paul travels so much. Sometimes it’s hard to talk face to face and reconnect.
No, Paul isn’t the man I thought I’d marry growing up. He’s much, much better. Beyond Paul’s famous face and perfectly proportioned body is the person, which is who I’m in love with. Besides being a model, he is a brilliant father, a petrolhead with encyclopaedic knowledge, a dedicated philanthropist for our charity, Stride Foundation, a talented interior designer, a pun-tastic joker and a great listener.
Last summer, we were at a pool party in Mallorca watching Pixie Lott sing to a gathering of all of the biggest male models in the world. It felt like being in an MTV video. The nicest element to these pinchyourself moments is that all of the models, Paul’s colleagues and friends, and their partners are some of the most genuinely friendly people I’ve met. The “Select Men” (the models signed to the same agency as Paul) are like a family, not bitchy or competitive, and all of them are interesting people who just happen to have won the genetic lottery and been offered the opportunity to make a living from it.
Just a casual night in at the Sculfors’
“Smile all you want,” she thought. “I’m not sharing the croissants”