Timothy James : The Museum of Contemporary Art, The Rocks : Sydney, Australia
“You get pigeonholed with briefs coming through for jobs; like “Hipster guy”. What even is that?! If someone asked me to define a bloody hipster I couldn’t even tell you what it is….someone who tries the non-side of cool to become cool? I don’t know. I’m just a guy with a beard. I’m not trying to redefine anything, I’m not trying to be something I’m not; I just one day decided to grow a beard and happen to work in fashion now”
Originally sketched in his hometown of Halifax (West Yorkshire, UK), Timothy James’ blueprint for his Australian adventure has undergone some major revisions in the last couple of years; but with a wonderfully transient living situation that allows him to enjoy his newfound modelling career in Sydney, brought about by his dashing good looks (complete with conveniently on-trend beard) and some 44000 Instagram followers, he’s not complaining. And his fans love him; really love him. From the conservative, “You’re so handsome”, to the confrontingly direct, “Put a baby in me”, his Instagram comments reflect a complete cross section of commentary from people who enjoy him as their hand-held poster-boy. And with his follower numbers now topping half the population of his hometown, he’s genuinely surprised – even awkwardly flattered – with the community that has organically banded around him (regardless of the individual motives!) and is grateful for the work and experiences that have come directly from it.
This current position in sunny Sydney is a far cry from his previous life in Northern England where, as a scattered teenager, he’d made the decision out of school to join the Air Force. The plan was to create some structure to his existence by reigning in his attraction to distraction, as with his broad and shifting interests came a seemingly default setting to never get one thing completed before moving on to the next. But in a surprising twist that would change his work ethic forever, the RAF insisted he complete a degree to complement any future role in the Armed Forces.
“They said, “We think you should go to university”; they wanted me to do engineering and I said all I’m interested in is architecture. So I went to do architecture with the idea that after three years of doing the degree, I’d then go to the forces and start my officer training. I went in to study for architecture and the passion for it just kinda came alive, so I did a bachelor degree (and) went to work as a junior architect. I then did my masters and, after the 8 years it took to qualify, I decided I couldn’t go back”
For the guy who’s family and friends used to joke “never finished anything”, his studying surfaced a determination and passion that marked the beginning of a shift in him. Throwing himself into the course and accepting the realities of the actual grind and dedication it takes to accomplish this kind of success, he worked hard for years and remained committed to the goal of completing his studies; but things nearly went of the rails when he decided to celebrate his graduation early.
“Me and a friend had taken a summer break. We got a car, filled it was pasta and soup and put surfboards on the roof and thought…let’s go to Europe. We drove around France, Spain and Portugal living at the beach in the car, enjoying the place. Surfing but just seeing everywhere as well, and it was a case of – we’d wake up and say, “Where do you want to go?” . It was halfway through that I got the phone call, “You’ve got some results here; you failed a module. You’ve gotta redo it”. And I said, “I’m not coming back – we should drive across the world!”. And my mother said to me, “Finish it; just finish it. Everyone expects you to fail…you’ve started things before and stopped them, and this is what everyone expects””
It was the coaching he needed to refocus and reengage, and once he completed his Masters qualification, a plan was hatched to travel to Australia with his girlfriend (also a qualified architect) and explore the options within the architectural landscape of Sydney. Unfortunately, the then seven year relationship didn’t survive the sea-change but, having already taken to the Australian culture like a local, Timothy chose to stay. With a total shift in his everyday life he found himself forced to take on new challenges, meet you new people and begin to shape this foreign, single-life existence. And by answering an online casting for a male model, he would inadvertently set himself on an unexpected and life-changing course.
“I had done a studio shoot that was not paid, they just wanted someone with a beard for the light and the way the light hit my face they thought was interesting. So I just did a shoot with this guy and it ended up going down well and I probably put 2 or 3 online, but I wasn’t by any means a model; you’re not a model unless you’re getting paid to do something! So I met an agent, they expressed interest, signed with them. Unfortunately they didn’t do much, so I thought I can still build my own profile on Instagram. There’d be no point of contact, no mutual arrangements or anything otherwise, and that’s the most interesting thing about it. For me, the value lies in the people I’ve met; especially coming to somewhere like Australia and not having a network already here”
With his SoHo look, Northern England accent and GQ vibe, he’s a mix that the market currently can’t get enough of, and he’s acutely aware that his now-trademark beard has kicked opened the doorway to his booming success and enviable lifestyle.
“Having a look that suits a trend obviously helps so I’m under no illusion. It’s in, it’s this trend; it makes money so…so what!? But you gotta a pick who you work for, because you can shoot for everyone in one season then no-one wants you anymore. You’re like an old toy put on the shelf; it’s crazy how you’ve got strategise how you appear in places. But then the annoying thing is, so many that contact me wants me to shave it? Or they want it this length or that length, or to grow it out…I don’t really understand. I guess it’s fashion; “We want ‘that’, but can you can change ‘this’?” Seems silly; surely there’s someone else behind you that can fill your boots straight away”
At the moment he’s enjoying himself; that’s abundantly clear. Having half-fallen into a great professional circumstance that now sees him supported by a quality agent and team, he’s savouring his situation and the freedom and variety it allows to meet new people and explore new experiences; all the while remaining realistic to the demands of the fickle industry with an honest position to walk away should it cease to be fun and inspiring.
“I’m not forcing anything, not trying to socially climb, I just like what I’m doing; I like the work. And if I don’t like the job, I don’t do it. It’s nice to be able to say that; if I don’t want to do a certain look or a certain endorsement then I just say, “It’s not for me, thank you”. I wasn’t in that position before…starting out…I had the feeling that I had to do everything because it might lead to this or that. I’m not established, by any means, it’s just nice to be supporting myself, choosing where my career goes”
Tim’s also stumbled into a somewhat nomadic living situation that allows him to enjoy the myriad microcosms on offer in Sydney through live-in dog minding arrangements. It’s an appreciated luxury he’s been afforded for most of his time abroad, and is perfect for a dog lover who’s constantly seeking new experiences and stimulation through new and interesting places and people. But despite only being 31 and savouring the lifestyle this improvised existence currently affords him, Tim still finds the need to confront the seemingly endless and predictable enquiries about his plans into the future.
“Everyone asks me the same question, when are you going to settle down? I’d settle down if I could, so I still feel too young to answer that question. I’ve got friends at home now, a lot of friends at home, they’ve got this job, partner, house, kids on the way, cars, all this..all these trappings of a “normal” successful life and stuff, sometimes they go, “Oh, you’re living the dream!”. And I think, “Am I? Really?”. I dunno”
It’s taken a while for his family back home to completely comprehend his modelling career – which, until recently, was something his Dad would (with a grin and a healthy dose of sarcasm) point out as not being a “real job” – but they can rest-assured that he’s acutely aware of the sunset-clause that comes with the benefits of using his look to facilitate his lifestyle. The eight years of study his parents worked hard to see him complete are always front of mind and, if anything, the modelling pursuit is now allowing him the freedom to engage with his creative and architectural agenda in a very personal way. To use his spare time to conceive of ideas without the pressure of mundane daily tasks, and to understand how his online following could actually support his future projects. Drawing inspiration from organisations like Architecture For Humanity, he’s sketching a plan to leverage the support he has for his look into something more significant down the line.
“I start to think about where I am and what I can do to use what I’ve got now to help this. Currently I use social media as a supplement to my career in modelling and it helps a lot; you’ve got this instant portfolio in someone’s hand and it’s great. But if I could use that then to, say, go and help a village in Peru where I’m gonna help build a school, I could use social media to raise awareness, help fundraise, and go and apply the skills I’ve got to greater affect rather than just trying to get a nice car or a nice house. Now you can get in front of people in a way you couldn’t before, and if you can use that for something bigger than yourself, then that’s great; I’ve seen people do that and I’d like to be one of them”
Recently, Tim’s been nominated as the Australian Cleo Bachelor Of The Year (and has since made the top 30 selection), and there’s no doubt that with a healthy dose of good humour he’ll easily take it in his stride. Tim’s serious enough to ensure professionalism and great results for clients, but grounded enough to enjoy a healthy perspective on all the attention; clearly stemming from his family and the learned confidence he has in himself. After all, he’s already proven that he can accomplish what so many thought he couldn’t, and given that he’s happily riding the crest of an unexpected, fun, and rewarding wave of success, who wouldn’t soak up the experience with a smile and enjoy the ride while it lasts?
Join the crowd at Tim’s Instagram profile (click here)
Follow his progress with the Cleo Bachelor Of The Year – Australia