When she was 15, Fiona Harrington almost became a model. Three decades later, the Middlesbrough teacher is proving she still has what it takes.

Fiona Harrington has proved it’s never too late to strut your stuff by winning an award in a top modelling competition. By daytime, she’s a teacher in Middlesbrough, but despite missing out on a catwalk career when she was younger, she never gave up on her dream of modelling.

Now 43, the mother-of-two from Billingham has just wowed the judges in the final of TopModel 2019 and been awarded the Natural Beauty Curves title against much younger competitors. Fiona tells The Northern Echo about the experience – and about her attitude to life and beauty.

Tell us about your modelling dreams

When I was 15 I had the chance to model for top London agency Elite, but I didn’t take it up after being taunted at school. When I was 42, my husband left, I lost three stones, and it made me think. I didn’t want to have any regrets in life, so I went to London, got an excellent portfolio, entered lots of competitions and got some great modelling opportunities.

…and the TopModel competition?

One thing led to another and I got a place in the final of TopModel – winners have ended up in magazines like Vogue and walked at London Fashion Week. (I also gained a place in the final of other competitions, such as Ms British Isles and Ms Galaxy, which is a pageant, but I wanted to be a model rather than move into the pageant world). I had to do two walks – the first was in the fantastic outfit created for me by fashion specialists at the Northern School of Art’s Body Contour degree course; the second in a blue velvet Omar Mansoor creation. This win will help me gain other opportunities. I’ve just been for a casting to walk for Leicester Fashion Week and TopModel organiser Geoff ?? has asked me to help mentor the girls that come through next year, so I’m so honoured to do that.

As the Natural Beauty award winner, what is your health and beauty regime?

I must have good genes! I use a moisturiser daily and before I go to bed so perhaps that’s the secret. I use different products, but usually L’Oréal. I go the gym four or five times a week, focusing on core and doing plenty of sit-ups. I eat a lot of salmon and eggs, but I’m not overly focused on an eating plan. I am very lucky and don't have to watch what I eat.

How would you describe your style?

I’m a teacher so it’s usually skirt and top and heels for work. At home, I’m usually found in jeans and T-shirt or jumper. When I go out, I like to look good. I mostly wear Ted Baker. I also have a few outfits from Joi, a Middlesbrough boutique that has lovely one-offs, as I like to be different.

What is your favourite thing in your wardrobe?

A Ted Baker outfit with a mint coloured skirt and top, plus heels with a huge pink bow on the back. Or a recent outfit I bought that was a similar one worn by Kylie Jenner that came from Joi.

Heels or flats?

Heels. I’m mostly in heels even though I’m nearly 6ft tall. When wearing jeans, I’ll wear flats, but I love my heels, usually four inches. I’m used to them with modelling.

Up-do or down?

Usually for modelling, they like to straighten my hair, but I always leave it naturally curly. At work, I put it up into a ponytail.

How do you keep fit and well?

I go to Atom Health and Fitness in Wynyard. My favourite class is one run by Gordon Hindson, who had become a very good friend and helped me focus on getting fit through support and making it fun.

Any tips for keeping the years at bay?

Apart from keeping fit and healthy, it’s about having a positive outlook. Keep smiling, make the most of everything. I have an amazing group of friends and family and I’m just ‘living my best life’, staying positive even when at times things might challenge me.

What life lessons would you pass on to your students?

I would definitely say don’t listen to others. If they put you down, it’s usually because they aren’t happy in their own skin. They may be jealous or not having a good time. Don’t listen to negativity, and whatever you want to do, go out and grab it. If I can be a model at 43, then anyone can do whatever they wish to. Don’t allow anything or anyone to get in the way of your dreams!