As someone who has watched every single series of Britain's Next Top Model (as well as America's, Canada's, even Australia's at a push), it was with great expectation that I abandoned my Sunday lie-in and battled the crowds to reach this weekend's BNTM Live. Held in the ExCel Centre ("This is where they did the X Factor auditions!" I screeched excitedly to my friend), the 3-day extravaganza was billed as 'London's biggest fashion and beauty fix'. What's more, there were free cocktails on offer.
One thing that quickly became obvious upon entering the event was that getting the full Britain's Next Top Model Live experience would involve some serious spending. There were plenty of exciting stalls, including Jonathan Aston tights (drool), Zandra Rhodes shoes and one pop-up shop filled almost entirely with cute hats bearing animal faces (we weren't allowed to take photos but rest assured I looked particularly fetching in the puppy one). However, prices weren't exactly rock-bottom and I could definitely imagine getting carried away had I not spend all my money on pub food the night before (in my defence I was up north, it was cold and I was starving). Certain stalls were particularly popular - the Bourjois '2 for £10' make-up offer had women swarming about like Japanese tourists round a Beefeater. There was also a gigantic queue for the free manicures and massages, although, unsurprisingly, not quite as many people gagging for the fish pedicure, which involved plonking your feet in a bucket full of fish and waiting for them to nibble the dead skin off. Yum.
Over on the Open Catwalk, Emma Willis did a sterling job of presenting despite a slightly quiet crowd and Eliza Doolittle (who I spoke to recently) gave an incredible acoustic performance, which included her debut hit Pack Up and new single, Rollerblades. However the highlight of the event was undoubtedly the main catwalk show, which featured this season's finalists strutting their stuff in a selection of fabulous outfits ranging from rave-tastic neon gear to some metallic numbers even Lady Gaga would be proud of. It was certainly unlike any catwalk show I've ever witnessed before - not only was it nearly an hour long but alongside the models there was a dance troupe, singer Jessie J and most importantly, a bunch of topless male models who got by far the biggest cheers despite doing little more than mooching around in swimming trunks ("I feel like I'm on a hen night" my friend whispered worriedly).
Throughout the day it was clear from the amount of immaculately made-up, 6ft tall girls swanning around that many people had come along to be 'spotted' by model scouts. BNTM Live was certainly the right place for it, with top agency Models 1 looking for the 'face of the future', alongside brands such as Reebok, BECCA cosmetics and Wonderbra, all of whom were on the hunt for models. There was also the opportunity to get up on stage and take part in live demos (we saw one poor girl quietly endure half an hour of having her hair trussed up into an elaborate bird's nest), as well as the chance to 'pout, pose and feel the fame of being a supermodel' in a paparazzi booth that re-created photoshoot backdrops from the series.
The food area, which consisted of pick 'n' mix sweets, shoe-shaped chocolates, ice cream and the ubiquitous array of adorable cupcakes, confirmed that Britain's Next Top Model Live was essentially one great big girl-fest. In fact, the only men we saw there were middle-aged blokes who had clearly been dragged along by their wives and daughters, probably to provide the oh-so-necessary credit card payments at various points throughout the day. Luckily, I was able to resist the splurging (largely through lack of choice) and bumbled off happily at the end of the day having acquired a free bar of Thornton's chocolate and some wonderful memories of scantily-clad male models. All in all, a good day out.