Newsmaker: Gisele Bündchen

Gisele Bundchen was first spotted when she was 13, and now at 34, shows no signs of slowing down.

Gary Wing for The National
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“Who are they speaking to when they come up with these numbers? Not my accountant, that’s for sure.”

The words of Gisele Bündchen, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal's luxury lifestyle magazine, WSJ, in November last year, when quizzed about her persistent ranking as the world's highest-paid model. And if you've ever poured over the Sunday Times Rich List and wondered, when the rich and famous do everything they can to keep this sort of information private, just how the analysts come up with the published figures of personal wealth, the woman most know simply as Gisele will be scratching her head along with you.

That hasn't stopped Forbes from this week naming her, once again, as the highest earning clotheshorse on the planet. "Year after year since 2002," said Forbes, "Gisele Bündchen has made more money than any other model in the world.

If Forbes is to be believed, Gisele raked in some Dh172.59 million. In one year. And that’s on top of the cash earned by her husband, American Football star, Tom Brady (Dh114.94 million last year, just in case you’re curious) – combined they regularly hit the number one spot in ‘World’s Highest Paid Celebrity Couple’ listings, beating the likes of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and Beyoncé and Jay Z. Gisele can question the workings out all she likes but it’s obvious to anyone that she’s doing rather well for herself.

According to Forbes, the ‘Brazilian bombshell’ has “lucrative contracts from H&M, Chanel, and Carolina Herrera” and gets “a cut of sales from jelly sandals she designs for shoemaker Grendene. The face of Pantene hair products and Oral-B in Brazil, Bündchen’s line of Hope lingerie – Gisele Bündchen Intimates – also plumps up her paycheck, which has increased $5 million from 2013.”

Linda Evangelista, arguably the woman for whom the 'supermodel' phrase was coined, famously said in an interview published in the October 1990 issue of Vogue, "We don't wake up for less than $10,000 a day." At the time, the statement caused something of an uproar but, to put that into some perspective, Gisele could say she would remain under the eiderdown unless there was at least 12.8 times that amount on offer for the day.

It’s easy to see why Gisele is in such demand, even after nearly two decades in the job. She’s 1.8 metres tall, she has curves and a nose she thinks is too big. She has flaws. And her womanly figure effectively put an end to what’s known as the ‘heroin chic’ phase of modelling that was so prevalent in the mid 1990s. We have a lot to be thankful for when it comes to this woman, who has featured on so many magazine covers in her career that she ranks second only to the late Diana, Princess of Wales for the title of the world’s most prolific cover star.

Gisele Caroline Bündchen was born on July 20, 1980, in Três de Maio, a municipality in the state of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil. She has been very open about her upbringing and says her family's circumstances were modest. "I grew up in a house with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, for eight people," she told Vanity Fair in a 2009 interview. "My mother was a cashier in a bank for 35 years. My father had many jobs: he was in construction, then he did something with packaging milk, then he worked for Amway; he gave courses about self-awareness. He was away a lot."

She says her mother was the one who was more concerned about how to bring home the money. “She worked and devoted herself to us. She is my hero. She did everything. She was a really great mother; she was always teaching us, helping us, talking to us. My father was more the philosophical person; my mother was the realist.”

Her childhood revolved around her five sisters (one of whom is her twin) and she says the girls participated in every activity available in their small town. “We did ballet, gymnastics,” she told Vanity Fair. “I think my mom was trying to keep us busy. She had to work, so we went to a modelling course – me and my twin and one of our sisters, Gabby, who’s like the second twin because we’re one year apart. We were the three musketeers, and we did everything together.”

That modelling course took place in 1993, when Gisele was still only 13 years old and, the following year, while she was on a school trip in São Paulo, she was approached by a stranger in a fast food outlet who told her she ought to be a model. That stranger turned out to be a representative of Elite, the modeling agency famous for launching and nurturing the careers of many starlets over the decades. Gisele was subsequently selected for a national contest, the Elite Look of the Year, in which she came second, and she came fourth in the Elite Model Look world contest, held in Ibiza, Spain. That Elite rep really did see something in her.

Gisele, at the tender age of 14, moved to São Paulo to get her career off the ground and just two years later she was appearing at the New York Fashion Week. In 1997 she travelled to London and auditioned for no fewer than 42 shows, displaying the kind of persistent go-get-it attitude that has served her so well over the years. It paid off a year later when she starred in Alexander McQueen’s “Rain” spring show, in which she demonstrated an uncanny ability to walk in vertiginous heels on a slippery runway. She’d done it; the phone hasn’t stopped ringing since.

In 1999, Vogue dubbed her "The Return of the Sexy Model", and she was one of Victoria's Secret Angels for the American lingerie company from 2000 until mid-2007. She's credited with having pioneered the "horse walk"; a stomping movement created when a model picks her knees up high and kicks her feet out in front, and both Claudia Schiffer and Naomi Campbell have said that Gisele Bündchen is the only true remaining supermodel.

By 2004 she had become the highest-paid model in the world, again according to Forbes magazine, but she had more than glossy covers and runways in her sights and had a stab at a film career, too. First off she appeared in the dire Taxi in 2004 – the US version, not the French cult classic – with Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon. Undeterred, she took a small role in The Devil Wears Prada two years later, in which she starred alongside Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway.

During this phase she had become a household name due to the fact that she was in a romantic relationship with Leonardo DiCaprio, something that lasted between 2000 and 2005. She claims to be on good terms with him and DiCaprio seems to have gotten over her and on with his life.

As for Gisele, she met Tom Brady in 2007, after a mutual friend set them up on a blind date and the pair married on 26 February, 2009. Brady is a quarterback for the New England Patriots team and the couple has two children: son Benjamin Rein Bündchen Brady, born in 2009, and daughter, Vivian Lake Bündchen Brady, born in 2012.

In 2010, Gisele stirred a hornet's nest when she told Harper's Bazaar how important breastfeeding is for her, saying there should be a law preventing mothers from using formula milk. "I think breastfeeding really helped [me keep my figure]. Some people here [in the US] think they don't have to breastfeed, and I think 'Are you going to give chemical food to your child when they are so little?' I think there should be a worldwide law, in my opinion, that mothers should breastfeed their babies for six months."

She views giving birth as work, pure and simple, telling Harper's that she had a natural birth at her home in Boston after meditating throughout her eight-hour labour. "It prepared me mentally and physically. It's called 'labour' not 'holiday' for a reason, and I knew that. You want to go into the most intense physical experience of your life unprepared? That doesn't make any sense to me. Then I was ready and I thought 'OK, let's get to work'. I wasn't expecting someone else to get the baby out of me." Six weeks after giving birth, she was back modeling swimwear – the power of good genes.

She claims to live a fairly normal domestic existence and lives cleanly, unlike many of her modeling fraternity. She is also a generous philanthropist, a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme and sits on the board of the Rainforest Alliance, which is dedicated to conserving biodiversity and sustainability – something reflected in the homes she and Brady have had built, which have the smallest possible environmental impact and carbon footprint.

Model, multi-linguist (she speaks six languages), actor, wife, mother, giver and environment warrior princess – Gisele Bündchen works hard for the money honey and, although leaving school (and home) at 14 is not to be recommended, for someone from a Brazilian backwater her meteoric rise to worldwide fame and adoration is nothing short of a fairy tale. Just stay away from those burgers and hope there’s an Elite scout lurking somewhere nearby.