The Scottish model whose career took off at 60

By Steven Brocklehurst
BBC Scotland News

media captionGillean McLeod was 60 when a swimsuit photoshoot launched her modelling career

Gillean McLeod only had her first professional photos taken when she was in her early 50s and her career as a model did not take off until a swimsuit shoot at the age of 60.

The photo for an H&M campaign shows Gillean in a simple black swimsuit, wearing no make-up and with her long white hair hanging down naturally.

When the clothes retailer posted the image on Instagram it quickly went viral, attracting hundreds of thousands of likes.

image source, Gillean McLeod
image captionGillean's H&M swimsuit campaign went viral

Since then Gillean's modelling career has taken off, with her heading campaigns for brands such as Boots the chemist, Levi's jeans and Schwarzkopf hair products.

Before she finally stepped in front of the camera, Gillean had worked backstage for years as a stylist.

It was a photographer friend who convinced her to let him shoot her first portfolio.

She quickly attracted interest from modelling agents but, although she landed some work, she was also turned down for lots of jobs.

It was the swimsuit shoot in 2016 that changed everything, 63-year-old Gillean says.

The Scottish model was born in Indonesia to a Scottish father and an American mother.

image source, Gillean McLeod
image captionGillean says older models are now being used more often

She grew up in Borneo, flying to Penang in Malaysia for school until she later went to secondary school in Scotland.

"I really loved Borneo because I liked where we lived so much," she told BBC Scotland's The Nine.

"Our house was an experimental fruit plantation of sorts so there was every fruit tree you have ever heard of in our back garden.

"Then we got to go out on the boats to islands and stuff. It was paradise. We lived surrounded by beauty and lots of friends and no parents."

It was also a life lived in the outdoors with plenty of swimming and hiking to keep her healthy, she says.

Although she was educated in St Andrews, she returned to Borneo until she was 17 when her parents moved back to Scotland.

image source, Gillean mcleod
image captionGillean says she always felt tall and gawky as a child

Gillean says that when she was young she did not ever consider herself beautiful.

"I was so skinny. I was always thought of myself as tall and gawky," she says.

"Then by the time I reached an adolescent and was at school in Scotland I had terrible acne for most of my teen years. So that resulted in crippling shyness and being very self-conscious about that."

In her 20s, Gillean moved to London and, although she says she was approached about modelling, her teenage acne had affected her self-esteem and she always said no.

Having lived in Los Angeles for decades, Gillian was finally persuaded to have some professional photos taken.

"I wasn't really convinced because I had always been really shy, especially putting my face in front of a camera," she says. "But I did it."

She says: "I had couple of jobs until I was about 60 and then I did a story in a bathing suit that went viral."

Gillean now has a flourishing career, recently working in Germany, New York and Los Angeles.

Her campaign for Oliver People's resulted in a massive billboard in New York's Times Square, which Gillean flew out to see.

image source, Gillean McLeod
image captionGillean in Times Square with her billboard in the background

Gillean warns young girls looking at Instagram and magazine images that they are not real life.

She says they are shot by professionals who use the best lighting and the images are almost always retouched afterwards.

"You have to believe in yourself and eating healthy really helps a lot too," she says.

According to Gillean, there are now more older women being used a models.

"I don't think I started it but that H&M campaign made more people aware of how women can look in their 50s and 60s," she says.

"I am with an agency in New York where almost everybody is over 60 and they are gorgeous."