Today, we are honoured to have an interview with model Jay James. Jay is a beard and tattoo model, and also a brand ambassador. (Plus, he is an all-round top guy 😉.)
Recently, I got in touch with Jay via Instagram and he agreed to an interview.
Your name is Jay James, but your Instagram account is @benandonner. Where does your Instagram name come from and is it linked to your career as a tattoo model at all?
Firstly, my Instagram account’s name is not linked in any way to my modelling. Benandonner’s actually a folklore from Scotland. It’s about a powerful Scottish guy, with ginger hair and a ginger beard, and he was very thick. But he was a big guy. And apparently he had a war of words with another big guy, a giant from Ireland, called Finlay.
To cut the story short, Finlay’s wife dresses him up as a baby and deceives Benandonner by making him think that if the baby is a giant, how big must the dad be? And that was Benandonner.
So, when I joined Instagram three years ago, I didn’t know what to call myself and I called myself @benandonner. Because it comes from Scotland and my heritage is Irish and Scottish.
This blogger: (*Laughs*.) That is genius! I love the story and think it suits you. I will definitely be looking up the folklore tale.
What was the spark that gave you the idea to become a tattoo model?
That’s a good question. To be honest, there was probably one man who, while he wasn’t the spark, he gave me the idea. And his name is Lal Hardy. Anyone who knows about tattoos in this country (England) would have heard him of him. He’s probably the most famous tattoo artist England’s ever produced.
I’ve got very close to him. I’ve known since I was about eighteen, he’s done my tattoos and he’s helped me out. In fact, Lal is a bit of a mentor to me as well. He said to me about six or seven years ago that life is short: if you want to dress a certain way, have tattoos, grow a beard, etc… So long as you are not hurting anyone, go for it, different is good.
I got teased a lot at school for being ginger, blue eyes, tall and thin (before I put on size). So, I thought that Lal has got the right idea. Subsequently, the tattoos came, I grew a beard, and I made different lifestyle choices. So, I suppose that Lal was the one who introduced me to the culture that got me into modelling.
This blogger: That’s great! Lal sounds like a good role model and inspiration for you. Plus, I bet no-one teases you now. (*winks.*)
According to a couple of your Instagram posts, you have a tattoo of Johnny Cash on your arm and one of Elvis on your chest. What is it about them that you like so much to have them tattooed on you?
They’ve all been done quite recently actually and were done by Lal’s friend, Sharnie Pilar. The one of Elvis isn’t finished because of Coronavirus, so hopefully that will be done soon.
The reason these guys mean a lot to me is because, growing up, I remember my mum and dad rocking, rolling and driving to Elvis songs, Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly, all the fifties sort of music. Ever since, in the car I have always loved listening to them. As a result, these people have meaning to me, so I got them tattooed onto me.
What other tattoos do you have inked on you? And do any of these have special significance to you?
Before I was a beard and tattoo model, I was a professional rugby union player. I played for seven years/seasons, and I did a lot of touring; particular, in the south Pacific, like Samoa, Fiji and New Zealand. So I have some authentic tattoos, including a papaya tattoo, which starts at the naval and goes down to mid-thigh, and goes all the way around. Indeed, it’s a coming of age sort of tribute. Most Samoans have it done in their mid- to late-teens; it’s like becoming a man symbol. So that meant a lot to me. In fact, Lal did that one for me.
Also, I have a very special tattoo on my wrist that is done with a boar’s tooth and a bamboo shoot. It’s four lines, and they were hammered into me by a master tattoo artist in Samoa. There, they do a ritual: you pray, and you get all the blessings. The four lines are called a Talumi Band, and it’s full of humility, respect, individuality, and sort of like a guidance thing. And it takes three months to heal!
This blogger: Thank you for enlightening me on cultures in the Pacific. I had no idea about this. Oh, and with regards to the Talumi Band, it sounds incredibly painful. Better you than me. In fact, better them than me! (*chuckles*.)
You are also a beard model. I had never of this type of modelling before. What does it entail? And must the beard be a certain length to qualify?
That’s a cool question! When I tell people I’m a beard model, they think I’m joking. But I am really not. It started about four or five years. Around then, the barber industry went through the roof as a lot of guys started to grow beards; especially due to the hipster movement, which happened around major cities, like London, around the arty areas, like Shoreditch. And guys started to take care of their beards, so you could get conditioners and oils. Having a beard became quite a big thing really.
As it went, a lot of barbers wanted guys with beards to do modelling: hair, products and other stuff. So it came about to be a beard model, even specified to be a beard model. Probably the guy you can thank for that was one of the most famous alternative models out there now, which is Ricky Hall. By the way, he’s absolute gentleman and check him out on Instagram as @rickysamhall. He’s a legend and works for all the top brands. It’s because of people like him and Jimmy Q that we’ve got to thank for beard modelling.
There is no standard on a beard, and nor do you need a full beard, which I don’t have. My side burns don’t grow, you see. If they could grow, then I would have nice, big ginger Viking Beard. (*Smiles.*)
How did you find out and become this kind of modelling?
I found out just through social media, really. People like Ricky Hall. Also, when I saw big companies like Armani and Prada start looking at not so much the ‘typical’ tall, handsome type of model, but the more rugged Viking-style, I thought: ‘Hang on a minute, I have a beard. I can maybe do this.’
And thanks to Instagram, and this is truly the power of Instagram, a lot of people just liked my pictures. With a bit of word of mouth, before I knew it – and I don’t mean to sound big-headed – I was in demand! And it came out of nowhere. Literally nowhere. In fact, out of nowhere it’s given me a career!
This blogger: It just goes to show that if you put yourself out there, good things can happen.
Back in September, you posted an old photo of yourself, clean shaven. What made you decide to grow your beard? And has having a beard changed your life for the better?
In answer to the second part of that question, one hundred percent yes! Believe it or not, it’s given me more confidence and an identity too. Plus, it has given me opportunities to work in a creative industry that I never otherwise would have had.
The reason why I grew the beard was because I was in a relationship that ended. It was quite a destructive relationship really. And when I left there, for personal reasons, I was very demoralised. I lost a lot of weight. In fact, I am pretty unrecognisable to how I am today, physically and definitely emotionally. And I started to get some tattoos, Lal was a very inspirational character. And one day, I just thought that I wanted to change something. The haircut changed slightly as I went back to an ‘old school’ pompadour, and it was then I decided to try a beard. So, I first grew it for Movember, just grew the moustache. And that grew quite well.
Then, when Movember ended, I thought: ‘do I shave it or do I carry on?’. I carried it on, got a few compliments; and as it got more shape and length, I decided that I quite liked it. And I’ve never looked back. Although, it is weird when I look at photos of myself with no beard. It’s a different person. A different Jay! (*Laughs*.)
Jay James – As well as being a beard and tattoo model, you are a brand ambassador for a company called Sweyn Forkbeard, named after the first Viking King of England. What does Sweyn Forkbeard do? And how did you come to be their ambassador?
Sweyn Forkbeard is a brand that specialise in male-grooming products. So, hair, beard and shaving products. In short, anything to do with a male-grooming procedure, they will have the best organic, made-in-London products. It’s all really good oils and shampoos, as the products don’t just look after the hair but the skin as well. You see, Sweyn and its owner, George, are all about the aftercare. They want you to feel good, and not have itchy skin or a rash. So, they give you the products that work for you.
I came to be their brand ambassador because George messaged me on Instagram, out of the blue, asking me if I wanted to try a few of his products for free. So, I did. I’ll be honest – and George will probably have my head for saying this – I thought there was a catch. No-one gives stuff away for free, right? But there wasn’t! He called me a few weeks later, asking me for my thoughts of the products. I told him they were fantastic and that I use them every day. Then, he said: “How would you like to be an ambassador? All you’ll have to do is advertise Sweyn’s products through social media and your connections. Oh, and occasionally you can dress up as Sweyn the Viking for photos.”
That was how I became their brand ambassador, and it’s gone from strength to strength. Next up, when Coronavirus has blown over, we are going to make some videos and clips.
What does being a brand ambassador for Sweyn Forkbeard mean on a day-to-day basis?
On a day-to-day basis, I am very fortunate that they let try out some of their fantastic products. So, my daily beard routine is that I obviously shower. So, I use their shower gels, balms and shampoos. They are all different flavours and fragrances. Personally, my favourites ones are the sandalwood ones. Then, I wax it, and the same the same goes for the hair too. Then, I use their brushes and combs. So, it’s all about the procedure.
Currently, they’ve actually been really clever. Because of the Coronavirus, they have stopped the production of some of their products. Instead, they are making hand sanitiser, and they’ve done that very quickly. It’s online now, so if you want to buy it, check it out now!
This blogger: You are a good ambassador for them, from this interview alone. (*Smiles*.)
Do you represent any other brands? If so, would you like to give them a shoutout?
Cheers, Paul! I would like to, yes; just two or three. On my Instagram bio, you’ll see one called Fade The Itch (@fadetheitch). They have been really, really good to me over the last few years. They are a tattoo aftercare company that specialise in this serum that goes onto the tattoo. This serum heals the skin a little bit quicker and keeps the colour. It puts a layer onto the tattoo, to safeguard it against a knock or a scratch. Interestingly, Fade The Itch have also put out hand-sanitisers that last up to six hours! So, check out Fade The Itch.
Also, I am a member of the British Beard Club. Dave, the President of the club, took me on board a couple of years ago, and I try to do all that I can for them as well. They do a really good job. So, to the British Beard Club and Dave, I give them a thumbs up. They are fantastic.
A few years ago, you broke your wrist in Cape Verde. How did that affect your career as a model and brand awareness figure? Has your wrist completely healed now?
This was a freak accident. It ruined the holiday and did a lot of damage. In fact, it took nearly two years to heal as I needed complete reconstructive surgery. There are pins and stuff in it now, and it has not completely healed. I’ve got ninety percent rotation in it and about niety-five percent use in it. I can’t lift heavy weights with it and I can’t box like I used to.
So, it has affected me in a lot of ways. Fortunately, though, I am an industry where I just have to stand and perform. However, as I was just started out modelling at the time that I damaged my wrist, it affected me a lot as I was in a cast. Also, my confidence was very low. Also, I couldn’t train and lost a lot of size. Plus, I have a lot of mental health problems, which I am quite open about. And my mental health really deteriorated through this time.
If it weren’t for my family or my partner, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here now, in terms of modelling. Probably, I would have just gone under because I couldn’t work, I didn’t feel great, no-one wanted to hire me with a cast. In general, if you are not careful, and you don’t have the right people around you, medication alone won’t keep you stable. But, as I said, I have a really nice support system in my sister, parents, my dog and my partner, who is a brick. It’s because of those guys that once the injury had healed, I was able to get my mind right and get back work again.
In another Instagram post, which you put up very recently, you wrote that you have been sober for two years. What made you decide to quit drinking?
For a very simple reason: I used to drink way too much. I like to go out for a pint of beer or glass of wine at night or at the weekend. But whereas most people can leave it at that and go home from the pub or bar, I was sadly the person who want one more. And when I had one more, I would then be having another and another. I’ve always had the mindset of ‘let’s go on’, ‘where’s the party at’, ‘where’s the drink.’ Consequently, I was always the last man standing. I don’t mean this in a bravado way, but in way like ‘I want to keep the party going.’ I could do this for one, two, three nights in a row.
A couple of years ago, I realised I was getting on and was – still am – in a good relationship. So, for personal reasons, especially as I was going down a dark tunnel back then, I asked myself: “What way do I want to go?” So, I decided to kick the drink and now I am two years sober. And I won’t go back. I’m just a bit more of a coffee snob now (*laughs*).
This blogger: That’s very honest of you to say, Jay. I really appreciate that. Again, you’ve come a long way and it sounds like you’ve made the right decisions. I really want to praise you for that.
Do you have a message for anyone suffering from alcoholism?
I do. You hear the rich and the famous say: ‘If I can do it, you can do it.’ But I am no-one special. I am a normal bloke that just fell into modelling and have been very lucky.
Drinking sort of gets hold of you. With me, I didn’t think I had a problem as I didn’t get up and pour vodka in my cornflakes. I just kept telling myself: “Jay, you’re all right. You just like a party.” But there are levels of it. I didn’t drink for three, four or five days in a row. But when I did, I couldn’t stop. I could stay in the same clothes for days and just go on a big bender.
So, my message is – if you think you’ve got even a slight problem, be honest with yourself. That’s the first thing. Second, if you’ve got a support network around you, use them as they care about you. Just talk about it with them, whether that’s your partner, your brother, sister, parent, etc…
I didn’t personally use organisations, but I know people in them. Use them, as they are a sterling support network.
This blogger: That is a great and positive message, Jay. Thank you for sharing it with us.
What else would you like to do career-wise or as a hobby, on top of being a model and a brand ambassador?
I own a small independent production company with my partner. We do entertainment events, make-up events, burlesque, photo shoots, video shoots. But one thing we have done together is written a script for a film, and I would love to produce this film one day and see it come to the screen.
Plus, if it goes this way organically, I would like to do some more acting. I have done a few walk-on parts, been a bouncer, a Viking and a soldier. I would like to do more of that. The film is the big one, though. I would love to get it out there.
This blogger: You will! Just keep at it, Jay. You will get it out there.
Lastly, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I like to socialise and go out in London (when you are allowed to). Otherwise, I am quite a homey person. I like being with my dog and with my partner, going for coffee. Occasionally, I smoke a cigar, it’s my vice.
Otherwise, I like being in the gym, spending time with my family, and travelling. Oh, and I love getting tattoos (*chuckles*). That’s me.
End of Interview
That brings our interview with model Jay James to an end. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Jay for taking the time out to speak with me. I wish him only the best with regards to his modelling and his production business, and him being a brand ambassador. Plus, I hope he continues to enjoy his travels, and that one day he fulfils his ambition of having his film light up the big screen.
You can find Jay on Instagram and follow him as @benandonner. Also, take a look at the companies and organisations that he is an ambassador for: Sweyn Forkbeard, Fade The Itch and The British Beard Club. Jay is a terrific ambassador, and if you are looking for someone with a beard to represent your company, get in touch with him.
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