Life is pretty good if you’re Tyson Beckford.
For 17 years he has been lusted after as one of the world’s most beautiful people. He’s fronted myriad international fashion campaigns and is currently filming Britain & Ireland’s Next Top Model with Elle Macpherson. He owns and races three motorbikes — a Ducati, a Yamaha and a Jesse James West Coast Chopper — and two drift-racing cars. And at 41 he’s dating a Victoria’s Secret model, Shanina Shaik, who is half his age.
So he must really love fashion? ‘It’s all BS,’ he says. ‘You have to recognise the fashion industry can be ugly, mean and shallow. One day you’re invisible, the next you’re fabulous.’ It’s a lesson he’s imparting to his girlfriend. ‘When I found her she was a regular girl. I helped place her with the right people, get her teeth cleaned, her body toned up,’ he says, framing himself as the Henry Higgins of fashion. ‘Everything changed and now everyone wants a piece of her. I hear people say, “You can do better than Tyson.” I’m like, “Really? Really?! I created her!”?’
He shrugs his massive shoulders.
Tyson grew up in upstate New York. ‘My friends were in gangs. Today a lot of them are dead or in jail. It was a horrible time and I vowed once I left I would never go back.’ It’s hard to believe but back then Tyson, who has African-Jamaican and Chinese ancestry, was skinny with buckteeth. But in his late teens a sudden growth spurt took him from 5ft 8in and 145lb to 6ft 1in and 185lb, and with his body sculpted by weights and athletics, he was soon picked up to be the face of a series of campaigns for Ralph Lauren.
He went on to play Toni Braxton’s love interest in the video for ‘Unbreak My Heart’, which saw him smouldering semi-naked — broad shoulders, strong jaw, unfeasibly immaculate abs — with her in the pool, the shower... ‘I’d always wanted to act, and that gave me a chance to show the world I wasn’t just a pretty model but that I could portray a character without speaking. I love silent film, Charlie Chaplin and The Artist. Inside, I was always acting. An actor playing the role of a male supermodel.’ And his cameo in Zoolander? ‘I was playing myself, which is one of the hardest things you can do.’
Next to acting, Tyson loves music (a passion he shares with his 13-year-old son Jordan, from a relationship with the stylist April Roomet) and motorsports, though for the moment he lacks sponsorship to race his drift cars. ‘Man,’ he sighs, ‘my cars are on bricks. It’s too expensive to do without funding. I don’t know what to do with myself...’ Does he love racing more than sex? ‘Mmmmm,’ he growls. ‘If I had to give up one of them, it would have to be the sex, even though I’ve got a hot girlfriend. She’ll understand,’ he smiles, shooting me a look that’s pure Blue Steel. ‘She’s a speed junkie, too. She rides on the back of the bike with me and we do wheelies, though we don’t let her agent know, or her mum. Sometimes I really gotta take her and go. You need that thrill.’
His life doesn’t seem short on thrills. ‘As a supermodel I go with the other supers round the world: Dubai one day, Paris the next. There’s partying. I’ll wake up in a hotel room and there are people all over the floor and I’m like, “Is this really happening?” One time in Miami I woke up in the bathtub.’ Working with female supers continues to be a rush. ‘I play second fiddle to them, but that’s fine. Linda’s great, and Elle, Naomi — though I’ve seen her dark side. They all like to have fun.’
But for all his jet-set life, Tyson’s ultimate passion is football — and Arsenal. The other night he accompanied Arsenal’s Johan Djourou and Chelsea’s Didier Drogba to a match. ‘I was always a fan of football but then the king came. [Thierry] Henry. I was like, “Who is this Frenchman? I must know him!” Now he’s a friend. I’d trade my life to be a footballer any day of the week.’ ES
Height 6ft 1½in
Nickname My girlfriend calls me Tyty. I call her Kangaroo — she’s Australian and pounces on me whenever she feels like it.
Chat-up line ‘Hello. How are you?’ I don’t think guys should have lines, you should just say hello and not in a cheesy, corny way.
Seduction dinner Shanina loves my chicken. I do it barbecue or jerk. When she has a bad day I cook it for her and it makes her smile.
Exercise regime At the moment, cardio and abs. I have such muscle definition I don’t need to lift weights any more.
Best ab exercise I hang from the bar and do leg lifts, pointing my toes.
Best health tip Hydrate.
Favourite food Fish and lobster.
Favourite fruit Pineapple.
Favourite drink Pineapple juice.
Anything else? I hate champagne. I’d rather have a beer.
Favourite piece for 2012 My Arsenal sweatshirt.
Fashion trend for 2012 Real men. On the catwalk at Milan there were fewer skinny models. I was walking with men, not boys.
How do you look good in a photo? Don’t overthink it. Be yourself.
Favourite track Tupac’s ‘Me Against the World’. I feel like it’s me against the world to this day.
Favourite chocolate Dairy Milk.
Is it tough to be really, really good-looking? I used to get ‘He’s too good-looking’ but I haven’t heard that in a long time.
Do you get out of bed for less than $10,000? In this economy, you do it, but you have to know your worth.
Original article published in Evening Standard, in March, 2012