Photographer: Michael Laing ‘MAL Photography’ Styling: Lily la Mer Assistant: Francisco Baena, Skins Elliot
Interview with Professional Mermaid Lily la Mer
“My modelling career developed naturally out of working as a showgirl and performer.”
In short could you tell us a little bit about yourself, Lily. Where are you based? What you do? Hello! I’m a Professional Mermaid and internationally performing showgirl, also using those skills to work as a specialist and underwater model. Myself and my fiancé run the company Lily la Mer Ltd, creating beautiful themed entertainment for events and organising really unusual photoshoots like our Underwater Photoshoot Series. We’re based in London UK but travel all over the world for work and pleasure. It’s my personal challenge to swim as a mermaid in every ocean on the globe!
How did you come up with an idea to fuse all your talents and become a model? My modelling career developed naturally out of working as a showgirl and performer. We needed images and videos for promoting our entertainment to events, so I was directing and modelling in a whole range of photoshoots to create those images. Photographers very quickly began calling me to arrange their own specialist shoots because the photos created are so different from the standard fashion, art nude etc that are found in most portfolios. Although I do work in those ‘standard’ modelling styles too, my favourites are definitely the underwater, acrobatic and costumed shoots!
What has been your most memorable moment in your career so far? Almost head-butting a shark. It was an accident. I was swimming as a mermaid in the Blue Planet Aquarium (UK) to entertain the public who were walking through the shark tunnel, and suddenly I was grabbed by two safety divers and held down at the bottom of the tank. It was really surprising and I was running out of air but they took a while before they let me go and swim to the surface. When I reached the surface, my dive supervisor told me that while I’d been focused on the public, a 3 metre long Sand Tiger shark had swum straight over my head, missing me by a few inches. If the divers hadn’t held me down then I would have swum straight upwards fast and head-butted it in the stomach! My fiancé was watching from the tunnel and almost had a heart attack! Sharks don’t attack humans usually but it would have been totally fair to consider that an attack and bite back, so I was lucky to have such a great team of safety divers. The experience doesn’t make me scared of sharks at all, I love them. I kept performing and the whole thing was just really funny!
Which of the projects you have worked on are you most proud of? At the moment I’m proudest of our Underwater Photoshoot Series. They started out as a way to get underwater images of our mermaid acts and have become something much bigger. We’re making underwater images accessible to a huge range of hobbyist and professional photographers, and it’s amazing to see their enthusiasm and the stunning images they create at our shoots. It’s something that most photographers aspire to but never get to add to their portfolio, either because they aren’t comfortable in water or they can’t afford the specialist equipment and training. But with our shoots, the photographers stay dry and shoot the models through the side of a clear tank. It’s so wonderful to be a part of making people’s photography dreams come true, and sharing in their success when they win competitions and get published with their underwater images.
What are the biggest challenges you experience in your career? All the same challenges as for running any other business! Managing staff, making sure all legal requirements are met, budgeting and forecasting. Finding customers and making them incredibly happy. Plus lots of additional challenges that are unique to the industries – rigging trapezes into strange venues, getting chlorine in your eyes as a mermaid, that kind of thing.
What are your future goals? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Traveling the world, performing and modelling as a mermaid & showgirl. Pretty much the same as I’m doing now but more of everything! More extravagant costumes & props, more traveling, more beautiful tropical islands! We’re focusing on growing the business in a sustainable way that will allow us to provide employment to more people too, which would be great as I love having the opportunity to give people their dream job.
What do you love most about being a model? I most love being able to create and then crystallise a moment so that it can be shared across the world and across time. Bringing ideas into reality and then having them immortalised so that other people can see your vision – it’s so much more powerful than just dreaming. Dreams can be beautiful but photographs and videos can be shared. Costumes and characters really come to life in performance but it’s through media that they can be shared with people who otherwise would never have the opportunity to see that creation. It’s a way of sharing beauty, wonder and inspiration with people all around the world. Even though you’ve never met, you are connected and have the chance to influence and inspire one another. It’s the most amazing thing about modern technology.
Who or what influenced you? How do you stay inspired for so many activities overall? Inspiration can come from anywhere. Travelling, art galleries, historical costumes, and a lot of cross-pollination between the different industries that we work in. I love taking an idea and adapting it for a new market or a new purpose. There are loads of people who inspire me with their designs and also with their personalities and approaches to life. I’m always reading, sketching and trying to get as many different experiences as possible. Keeping creatively inspired can be challenging when working to lots of consecutive deadlines – being creative in a really short timescale and with a very specific commercial brief – but it’s something you get used to doing. I don’t really get creative block anymore. If something isn’t flowing then I work on another project until inspiration comes back – there are always a lot of projects to choose from!
Tell us more about school and university talks you do. What message do you want to convey? Speaking with students at schools and universities is one of my favourite parts of my job. It’s voluntary work and is usually focused on business and creating your own business within the creative industries. The main lesson I try to share with students is what I wish I’d known at their age – that there’s no need at 16 to try and decide your future career! There’s so much pressure from school and parents to choose what you want to do for the rest of your life, when in reality there’s no way a young person has enough knowledge and experience to even know all the options let alone to choose between them. When I was 16 there were no professional mermaids in Europe and hardly any in the world. No-one had heard of them. How could I possibly have known that would be my career? The most important thing is to pick something that you love and do it to the best of your abilities. Then you can always switch path later – or invent a whole new path!
What is the most difficult part of your live aerial and fire shows? Do you have a team to help you? We’ve been doing them so long that they don’t seem difficult anymore! My team are amazing too which makes my job a lot easier. We have loads of safety procedure in place for working with fire so in terms of tech the shows are now fairly plug and play, with slight adaptions depending on the venue. Aerial can be a lot more challenging with rigging into unknown venues at short notice. Then you get the curve balls! For example I’ve had a whole group of twenty children ushered unexpectedly onstage underneath my aerial hoop during a dress rehearsal, and my personal favourite, an outdoor aerial hoop act that got called off last minute because of a hurricane. Most shows run very smoothly and almost all issues are things that we can work around and then still pull off an amazing show – the public would never know!
What was the funniest moment during your shows in general? And the most frightening moment? Funniest moment… while working as a mermaid in a stunning private penthouse for a very serious multi-billionaire international businessman for his granddaughter’s birthday party, and being introduced to him for the first time by his four year old granddaughter as ‘Moo Moo, my silly grampa’. It was a beautiful moment.
Most frightening… I’m honestly not sure. There are often moments of adrenaline where you get a quick buzz of fear, but that’s such a part and parcel of performing extreme stunts that I don’t really notice it. I’ve been working with aerial and fire for so long that the fear becomes background. If you almost miss a trick then you get a buzz that feels like when you miss a step and think you’re going to fall, but it’s always recoverable and you just ignore it and keep performing – and keep smiling!
The best advice you have ever been given in your career. Don’t head-butt sharks.
What are your interests and hobbies next to modeling and live shows? What is your favorite way to relax? Between business, training, shows, photoshoots and making costumes, we honestly don’t have much free time! When there’s a day to relax, I usually spend it with my family. There’s a new baby in the family so I love making her smile and laugh! It’s very therapeutic. To relax during the week I usually do art, mostly costume illustrations, and also stretching/yoga and walking & climbing trees in the woods near our house. I also grow orchids and make jewellery.
Where can readers and potential clients find more information about you?