From gracing the covers of magazines to reinventing herself as a presenter and body positivity advocate, Jess Davies talks about her international adventures and how she’s seen Wales in a new light.
First of all Jess, 149,000 Instagram followers? How did that happen?!
I know, it’s mad! I’ve been on Instagram since it started ten years ago. There weren’t that many people on there at the time so it was easy to start building an audience. I was also a model, so that helped!
How did you get into modelling?
I started doing pageants when I was in secondary school at Penglais in Aberystwyth, and I entered Miss Wales when I was 16. I really enjoyed having my hair and make-up done – it was so fun! When I moved to Cardiff to study Sociology, I had an agent in London and it all went from there. I was advised to go into glamour because of my body shape. People have a preconception about glamour modelling, but I always did it through an agent and I was treated well. It gave me so many amazing opportunities.
It gave you the opportunity to see the world, too!
Yes, one of my first proper shoots was in the Bahamas! I’ve worked across America from New York to LA and Vegas. I’ve also worked in Spain, Mexico and Bora Bora – that was definitely a tick on my bucket list! Being paid to travel was also a big bonus!
How did people respond to the fact that you were from Wales?
I was gob smacked that people didn’t know about Wales, never mind the language. Even in London people didn’t know much about us. I am passionate about Wales and always used the opportunity to speak about my home and our language. I used to play ‘The Welsh Game’ where the other models would ask me what things were in Welsh. Popty ping – Welsh for microwave – always made them giggle!
How can we raise our profile?
It’s great seeing Wales being featured on Netflix programmes like The Crown and I loved seeing Ant and Dec presenting I’m a Celebrity from Gwrych Castle. I think that the more people see Wales on screen and the more we talk about our country, our heritage and our language, the better. When I was in Boston, everyone celebrated St Patrick’s Day; we need more people getting involved in St David’s Day!
You were born in Hereford – when did you move to Wales?
When I was six. My father was a policeman in the Met in London, and we moved to Aberystwyth as he’d been offered a job there. We lived in the small village of Penrhyncoch and I attended the local Welsh school and learnt Welsh. I loved it and loved competing in all the sports competitions with the Urdd. I tried poetry too but was rubbish at it!
You are doing this interview in Welsh, so it’s stuck with you?
Yes! My parents don’t speak Welsh and I went to an English secondary school, but having travelled a lot I rediscovered my passion for the language, and since reinventing myself as a presenter I’ve really enjoyed working in the Welsh-language media.
Has the language opened doors for you?
Yes and it’s enabled me to do programmes and content that isn’t always seen and heard in Welsh, like items about Welsh sex dungeons on S4C’s Hansh! It’s also enabled me to see Wales in a different light as I’d not really done anything in Welsh since primary school. My first job was presenting a programme about Merched y Wawr’s 50th birthday. We filmed at the National Eisteddfod – it was my first experience of an Eisteddfod and Maes B and it was amazing seeing all these young people enjoying the Welsh culture and music. It was the same when I visited the Royal Welsh Show, too.
What led you to the world of presenting?
I’ve always been interested in people and the entertainment world. I’ve been creating content for my Instagram, vlogs and so on so it just came from there. In the last year or so I’ve been lucky to film for S4C’s Hansh and BBC Sesh, and I’ve just finished a documentary for BBC3. I’ve been doing radio work for BBC Radio Cymru and Radio Wales too. Speaking two languages gives me more opportunities.
You are also doing some amazing work to promote body positivity and mental health.
Thank you! Yes, this is really important to me. I know how much pressure there is for people to look a certain way and social media can be cruel. I’ve had some bad experiences online and I want to use my profile to encourage positivity. I’ve been working with the Royal College of Psychiatrics on a four-part Instagram series called Positivi-tea and Talk, where I and three others have been discussing mental health. I also share ‘real’ images of myself so people can see the ‘real’ me.
How have your male followers responded to the ‘new’ Jess Davies?
It’s been really exciting seeing how my work has helped men learn more about gender equality and mental health. I’ve had so many men messaging me thanking me for opening their eyes to these important subjects and how that helps them raise their own daughters – that means so much to me. I have a lot more female followers now, too, so it’s all really positive and I just love how my journey has led me here.
A massive thanks to the amazing Jess Davies for her time and for sharing her story. You are doing amazing things and helping put Wales on the map! If you aren’t amongst the masses following Jess online, her Instagram account is @_jessdavies.
If you would like to share your story and become a member of Wales International email firstname.lastname@example.org. We can’t wait to hear from you!
Heulwen Davies, Cymru a’r Byd