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Neelam Johal: Burberry's Newest Face

Komal Basith

"I’m from Coventry in the UK, but I live in London now because of work. My parents were born here, but my grandparents were born in India; they’re from the Punjab. When I was 13 and living at home and going to school, I used to get scouted a lot by different agencies. But there aren't really any modeling agencies in Coventry, so I didn’t pay any attention to it; besides, I didn’t really look like model material at that age. (Laughs) 

But I kept the cards I got and when I was 14, I came in to Models1 agency with my mum and I got signed on the spot. I remember Googling them and it said, “Europe's Top Agency” and I thought if I get signed, I want to get signed to the best. I stayed in school afterwards; Models1 were really supportive of that. I’d always planned to go on a gap year once I turned 18 just to give modeling a go because even though I was signed, I lived away and I hadn’t really given it my all.

The day after my exams for my A levels, I got a call from Models1 saying Burberry had requested for me. This was three months before the  Spring 14 show. I met Elliott Smedley, who’s a stylist at Burberry, and the casting director, Leila. They asked me to walk for them and I’d never walked down a catwalk before, not even at Models1. I’d never even done a show! (Laughs) I

had these heels on, they had these crazy diamond straps and they were so, so high. My feet were wobbling and I couldn’t walk, and as soon as I finished I said to Eliott, “I feel like such a klutz!” And he said,“Don’t worry, we love you. Can you wait and meet Christopher (Bailey)?” 

10 minutes later Christopher came down and he was so nice, we got on straight away. He asked me about school, and I walked for him and he said to me “You’re going to be our new Burberry girl.” But because he’s so nice and it all just felt like a dream, I thought, OK, this is never going to happen, I’m not going to get my hopes up.

I called Models1 in the evening to see if I had any castings for the next day and they said,“Burberry’s confirmed you.” I was just like, “What?!” (Laughs) And they said, “Yeah, Burberry booked you as a global exclusive for London Fashion Week.” I was so shocked.

Because it was three months in advance, I couldn’t even tell anyone, it was so tough! On the day of the show I uploaded a picture of myself to Facebook and everyone was like, “Is this for real?” (Laughs) 

It’s really funny because my parents weren’t actually there for the show. They’d booked us a family holiday because I did really well on my A levels, so they were in Turkey watching it on the live stream. I couldn’t be there but I didn’t mind because I’ve literally become so close to everyone at Burberry. They’re like a family.

I knew that I was the first Indian model to walk the catwalk for Burberry, but I didn’t know I’d also be the first Indian model to be in their campaign until about a month after the show. About a week before I got optioned for the campaign I met Mario Testino.

At the show Christopher was saying to me, “I really want you to me my friend Mario, I think he’s going to love you.” So I met Mario, and he was really nice. When we were shooting the campaign he told me he called Christopher after he met me and said that I had to be in it.

Even when I talk about it now, I get butterflies… it just feels surreal. In reality, there are girls who’ve had an amazing season and gone on to New York and Milan and Paris and I’ve only done one show my whole career. When my agency found out we were all crying, we were so happy. We were all over the moon.

It’s so exciting, and I’m just so grateful. It’s very humbling to have people believe in you. After this I’m going to go to the Burberry store to see the campaign in the window because I haven’t seen it yet! I can’t wait.




I’ve been really lucky with my skin. Even as a teenager, when most people are getting acne, I haven’t had to deal with any of that. Touchwood! I don’t really do much to my skin. I think it’s best to just leave it alone, so when I wake up in the morning I wash my face with the Lush Coalface soap, and then about once or twice a week I use a face mask from Lush called Cupcake.

Whenever I wear makeup, I take it off every night, regardless, using makeup wipes and then Bioderma’s Crealine. I feel like the Crealine fully takes all the makeup off and it just makes me feel clean and ready for bed.


When I go for jobs and castings I can’t wear any makeup at all, so I just wear Carmex because it really helps to make sure that my lips don’t get chapped.

When I go out at night I do like to get glammed up. I like wearing false lashes, and I quite like the ones from MAC because they don’t feel heavy or like you’ve got anything on.



I’d say that lip gloss is probably my favourite beauty product. I’m really loving the Lip Glow from Burberry at the moment. I get lots of makeup tips from Wendy (Rowe, Beauty Artistic Consultant, Burberry). She told me not to use foundation all over my face but just apply some on the T-zone for a more natural look – they’re all about the natural look at Burberry.

I love how Wendy does my eyes as well; it’s surprising to people but regardless of the models’ skin colour, all the girls wear similar shades of makeup on the catwalk and in the campaigns. It’s more about the technique and knowing what works for your face.

For example, you might see a really pale-skinned model wearing a red smokey eye on the catwalk and then a really dark-skinned model with the same smokey eye. You should be able to play around with colours regardless of your skin tone.

Being a model of colour hasn’t really affected how makeup artists approach my look – in an industry of professionals, they know that what really matters is being able to have fun with colours, instead of being hung up on the colour of your skin."


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