The Model Diaries | Neil Gussey

When Verve collaborated with photographer Neil Gussey and seven iconic models from the 1980s little did we know it would grow into a documentary film. Jenna Moore spoke with Neil about the movie.



Who are the models in The Model Diaries, Neil?

Miss New Zealand 1980, Delyse Borley (Nottle). She was also Most Photogenic and placed third in Miss Universe. Trudy Van Zyl, Angela Taylor, Diana Bain, Wendy Louise Oxberry, Petrina Steer (The Avis Lady), and Tracey Allen.

The seven became eight when I added the ‘Face Of The 80s’ Kirsty Lay. She and Delyse were pioneers because they both modeled overseas full-time—Delyse in Europe and Kirsty in New York—at a time when Kiwi models didn’t often spread their wings.


I call them girls, which some people find sexist but it’s not meant that way.”


How did the movie come about?

Spontaneously! Delyse and Trudy were 57 and modeling in a Femme de la Mer swimwear campaign, which sparked a story for Verve. We invited the others to be photographed with them as other 80s models. I’d just purchased a new video camera so I tried it out by interviewing the girls while they were getting their makeup done. And that was it. I added more afterward but that filming is 90 percent of the movie.


Were you surprised when it grew into a documentary?

Definitely. I only intended it to be a 10-minute YouTube film. But it organically spun off into areas with more substance like ageism. The girls talked about their ages and Wendy nailed the issue.


What did you add?

I interviewed people who could fill in the gaps I couldn’t—I was only 12 when they were at the height of their careers. Former top model Di Goldsworthy, makeup artist Nikki Lovrich, Jane de Groen, a model booker at JDW agency, and Paula Ryan, the founder of Fashion Quarterly magazine had all worked with them. I also spoke with fashion designer Liz Mitchell about her take on mature models.


L-R: Angela, Petrina and Wendy.


Is it a dig at the modeling industry?

Not at all. Models will always be a certain age and a certain size. I understand that, but I think there’s a place for mature models.

It’s obvious they’re older so it’s aspirational to see these models in, say, a fashion shoot, as opposed to an 18-year-old. Magazines should be able to put a 50-year-old on the cover without it being about ‘looking good for her age’.


What makes a good model?

It isn’t only about good bones and a great body – a model must know how to move. These girls are all pros. They still work like young models, their figures have hardly altered, and they know how to work in a modern way.




Did you do any tweaking?

No, you can’t Photoshop video. There’s no manipulation, no tricks apart from good, natural lighting. What you see is what you get.


Do the girls work hard at their figures?

They go to the gym and look after themselves, but some people are born with a certain body type. It’s genetic.



Can we see The Model Diaries on the big screen?

Not yet. I had a chance to have it on a TV Freeview channel but I’m keen for it to be played on the big screen so I’ve entered the Doc Edge Film Festival 2020 and The Sydney International Film Festival 2020. That’s why I’m not allowed to make it public right now. I understand the term ‘on the shelf’ when people have filmed something now. It means it can’t be shown as it’s waiting to be picked up by a film festival.


Wasn’t it shown at Events Gold Class Theatre in Queen Street?

I held a private screening because I wanted to thank the models. You can’t just go and play a movie at the theatre but I asked them about the possibility. Losa from Events loved the idea and told me they’d make it happen. They were amazing and gave me a wonderful deal, use of the bar and said I could invite 40 people. So we had a small premiere.

It was surreal to see it on the big screen. I was so nervous. Nobody else had seen it in its entirety. Some of the girls cried because it’s quite an experience seeing yourself on a big screen.

It’s turned into something quite wonderful—I’m not planning on making any more movies but I hope this one takes people on a journey.