Cutting an arresting figure with beauty and brains in equal measure Laura Shields is of British and Sri Lankan heritage. Signed up to premier UK model agency Elite at the age of 14, Laura went on to represent the United Kingdom and came within the top 10 of the Miss International beauty pageant in 2004 and was placed third in the Miss Europe pageant in 2005. Armed with a degree in Chemical Engineering, Laura is also a member of MENSA with an IQ score of 158 placing her within the top 1% of brains in Britain. Her modelling career has taken her across the world and she has starred in various advertising campaigns ranging from GAP to Fahrenheit. She also worked as a hostess on the hit US game show Deal or No Deal alongside Meghan Markle and starred in Justin Timberlake’s raunchy music video ‘Tunnel Vision’. She has appeared on the cover of many magazines and in addition to once being touted as a possible Bond Girl, was voted as one of the 100 Sexiest Women of the world. Proud of her Sri Lankan lineage derived from her mom, Laura’s winning combination of brains and beauty makes her stand out from the crowd.
Text Tina Edward Gunawardhana
What is your connection to Sri Lanka?
My Grandpa Perera was a Sinhalese who was born and brought up just outside of Colombo. My mother, Hema has two other sisters and one brother. They emigrated to London which is where my mother, Hema, spent her childhood. Unfortunately my grandpa died when my mother was 11 so I didn’t get to know him. When my girls get a little older I plan to go back and learn more about our family tree.
How old were you when you started modelling?
I was 14 and at that age I was already 5’10 in height which was a great advantage.
How were you discovered?
I was shopping in Manchester with friends when I was approached by a scout from Elite model agency which is a premier model agency in the UK. They signed me after a test shoot and my career progressed from there.
What made you embark on a chemical engineering degree?
I’ve always loved science. like that we get to learn about the World and Universe around us and therefore we also learn about ourselves and improve our living standards. In broad terms, chemical engineers conceive and design processes to produce, transform and transport materials — beginning with experimentation in the laboratory followed by implementation of the technology in full-scale production. I liked that there were many different fields in science I could go into as a chemical engineer.
How did you balance your modelling career with your academic work?
My parents only allowed me to model if my grades didn’t slip so that helped as education was always the priority. I would model during the holidays and catch up with schoolwork if I was away. Modelling also helped me pay for my education. You are a member of Mensa with an IQ above 140 placing you in the top 1% of the people in the UK.
Are people ever surprised to learn about your intellect?
I actually joined Mensa with an IQ of 158. I took the test due to school wanting to know and was surprised to be accepted! I think IQ gives a hint of someone’s intelligence but I think that there are many different factors which needs to be taken into account, not just IQ. Back to the question though, yes people are surprised. I think more so when I first got my degree and was also a model but now with the internet and social media we can see lots of beautiful women who have achieved great things.
Why did you decide to take part in the Miss UK International beauty pageant?
I actually went to a regional contest to support a friend and then got asked to participate in the competition.
What were the other beauty pageants you won?
I came within the top 10 in Miss International 2004 and 3rd in Miss Europe 2005.
How supportive were your parents of you taking part in beauty pageants and modelling?
My parents were very supportive as long as I got my degree. My mum would travel with me to London when I was young and both helped me in my career.
What are the highlights of your career?
Maternity modelling! That aspect of my career has helped me to create memories I can share with my daughters who are the most special to me.
Where in the world did your modelling career take you?
France, America, Japan, China, Italy, Germany, Bahamas and so many other places.
What inspired you to achieve your outstanding accomplishments in both your modelling and academic career?
Modelling was always something fun and I never viewed it as a serious career so I wanted something to fall back on. I think modelling depends a lot on luck and these days it depends more on family connections and your social media presence.
What made you leave UK and make your new home in the USA?
I had an agent in the US and went there one summer to work. I even gained my green card. Despite that I never planned to stay in the US. That summer I was booked to appear on the hit American Game show ‘Deal or No Deal’ and soon after that I met my husband in Los Angeles and I decided to stay on.
How did you get the opportunity to star in ‘Deal or No Deal?’
I went to a casting and had no idea what it was. I did my final casting with Howie Mandell and had never heard of him. It happened all very quickly.
How would you describe your time on ‘Deal or No Deal’?
I remember having to be on set from very early in the morning and how uncomfortable having to be in heels all day was. It was fun being with lots of other girls my age and being part of a hit show. I would say overall I had a really good experience!
What was it like to work alongside Meghan Markle and the other celebrities?
When you live and work in Los Angeles you get very used to celebrities as you see them all the time, at the movies, at lunch, getting their groceries and so forth, so it becomes very normal after a while. Meghan Markle was very sweet and quiet and we would chat and relax on breaks. Everyone I met was nice. I wish I had some better stories for you!
Have you done any TV modelling? If so what are the campaigns?
I did commercials and then some independent movies that I’ve never seen and would cringe for anyone to watch. I never studied acting as it was never a goal of mine. At one time you were touted as a possible Bond Girl.
What was your reaction to that?
I’m not sure where that came from but hey I wasn’t mad at it, I was very flattered to be considered that people thought I could be a Bond Girl.
What was your experience of working alongside Justin Timberlake in his ‘Tunnel Vision’ music video?
We did an artistic nude music video so that was a little daunting but everyone was super professional and made me feel comfortable. I had given birth to my daughter a few months before, so I was nervous that my first job back would be very body focused! Justin was very sweet though and it was a good experience. You also appeared on the cover of Fit Pregnancy Magazine while pregnant.
How is maternity modelling different from mainstream modelling?
It’s a lot more fun because instead of sucking it in you can let it all hang out haha! The main difference in maternity modelling is that I was given a lot of rest time and people were checking on me a lot more. The work day was also shorter and no crazy heels! I would often be asked to eat a heavy meal, because though I was pregnant I had quite a small tummy. A model being asked to eat a heavy meal was fun. I also liked the fact that the make up was always natural. It’s also special having your future child onboard and one day having pictures to show them. I did the GAP campaigns with both my daughters which I think is pretty cool and FIT pregnancy with my first daughter. You now practice a holistic lifestyle as a vegan and a follower of yoga.
Why do you advocate a vegan way of life?
I have always loved animals and I began to question how can I truly love them if I’m eating them. I had been brought up an omnivore but when I thought about it and researched it there was no way I could ever eat animals again. Since being vegan I’ve never been healthier (as proved by blood panel tests) and stronger and apart from being kinder to myself and animals it is also kinder for our planet. I’m very aware of the environmental impact eating meat has and as a parent I want to make the planet better not worse. My diet is plant based whole foods. Yoga came into my life more recently after the loss of our middle daughter who very sadly passed away at birth. So yoga became a tool for healing emotionally and physically. I love that it is a practice not perfection and something I can do for the rest of my life. It gives me mental clarity and gives me physical strength. I take my girls to kids yoga now as I wish I had started much younger. You are a mum of two daughters.
How would you react if they also wanted to become models?
Firstly I would see if it was realistic, take them to agencies and inform them of what it involves. If after that they were passionate about it then I would support them but I would want them to be working on a backup plan. To be honest I think happiness and following your passion is extremely important.
What Sri Lankan influences do you have?
I love to cook and I love Sri Lankan and Indian food. I love spices and Sri Lankan food is so great being vegan. We eat a lot of dhal, veggie curries, rice, hoppers and kale mallung. Most of our meals are South Asian rather than Western.
Have you ever been to Sri Lanka?
I have! We went to Temple of the Tooth and the elephant sanctuary, it was unfortunately a quick trip but wow what a beautiful rich diverse country that I am proud to claim part heritage of.
What are your memories of Sri Lanka and do you have any plans to return?
It was one of my favourite trips and I must return. My daughters are aged 3 and 5 so I’ve been waiting until they get a bit older but I can’t wait to explore. The people are so warm and friendly and I love how even though it’s relatively small, it is so diverse. I want to learn more about the culture and history. All my Sri Lankan family that I know of have passed away now but I’d love to explore my own family tree more and visit places with meaning to my roots.