Beauty queen twins Gay and Zoe Spink won a string of national titles in their youth. Now both are in their 60s and are enjoying a resurgence. Interview by Neil Hudson
Identical twins Zoe and Gay Spink’s modelling careers took them all over the world and saw them rub shoulders with the likes of Michael Douglas, George Peppard, Telly Savalas and more recently Sharon Stone.
The Yorkshire-born sisters won prestigious beauty contests when they were younger: Gay was Miss Great Britain 1973 and Miss Yorkshire Rose the same year and in 1976, she won the Butlins Holiday Princess title, which came with an Austin Princess car she had to drive from Bournemouth to Halifax at 30mph, while Zoe was crowned Miss Yorkshire TV Times in 1972 and went on to win Miss National TV Times the same year. She also won Miss Britain and Miss Silver Jubilee in 1977.
It gave them a springboard into the lucrative world of modelling and saw them working for brands like Selfridges in London, where they had to wear diamonds worth £100,000, clad in nothing more than skimpy platinum bikinis.
“The diamonds were so expensive we each had to be handcuffed to a security guard,” recalls Zoe, now 65. “We had so much fun doing all kinds of jobs like that. I remember winning the Yorkshire title and being presented with the sash by Richard Whiteley.
“When it came to the finals, I had my hair cut the same day, into a plane bob, I didn’t think I stood a chance against the others but I won. The work didn’t really ease off until I met my husband in my 30s and had a family.”
In 1976, I won the Butlins Holiday Princess title, which came with an Austin Princess car I had to drive at 30pmh from Bournemouth to HalifaxGay Spink recalls a previous competition
It was a far cry from their ‘tomboy’ youth, largely spent outdoors, climbing trees, riding ponies, fishing with their uncle Tommy, running through fields come rain or shine and on one occasion collecting frogs from a pond, which they carried home in a basket, much to the surprise of their father, Neville. They also got up to some tricks at school, sometimes switching chairs to confuse the teachers and Gay recalls one incident which saw her receive a stern dressing down from the headmistress.
“I was moving furniture and I broke the headmistress’s chair, I put it back together but it collapsed when she sat on it. The whole school was brought into the hall to find out who did it and I had to own up. I got a severe telling off.”
Their path into modelling came after their late mother, Betty, who died in 2015, was entered into a beauty contest on a whim by their father. She won the heat and went on to compete in Miss Great Britain 1948, making it all the way to the finals, coming second to a contestant she had beaten in the previous round.
Gay recalls: “Mum would reminisce about the fun she had competing, both in beauty contests and ballroom dancing. I think that gave us the confidence to enter contests. My boyfriend (now husband) Paul gave me a lot of support, often driving me to the competitions but I never let him watch me so he would sit outside in the car and watch a portable television.
“The beauty pageants of today are very different than when we entered them. Back then it was mainly for fun, nowadays there is so much at stake in terms of prize money and potential work contracts. The girls are more serious about every aspect of appearance and clothes.”
Zoe, who is 25 minutes older than her sister, concurs: “We used to sit and look at Mum’s pictures and I think it was all so much fun. At some point, I think we just thought if she can do it, so can we.”
And they did. Zoe and Gay dominated beauty contests in the 1970s.
Starting families, though, brought a natural halt to their modelling. Gay has three children, Adam, Simon and Emma and a granddaughter Mia, four-and-a-half; Zoe has two children, Lara, a solicitor and Suzanne (herself a former Miss Earth in 2009, who is now an actress) to late husband, Akin, who died in 2015. Recently, however, they have found themselves in demand again, landing contracts with Fitness First, Remington, Monarch Airlines and dermatology brand
Galderma UK, a job which saw them meet movie star Sharon Stone.
Zoe laughs: “We knew it was going to be a movie star but now which one. We rehearsed all day with her, she called us ‘the beauty queen twins’. She was really lovely. We’re doing more work now than what we’ve ever done. We both keep very fit and so when we cast, they usually knock about 11 years off our age.”
Zoe’s fitness regime is dizzying, considering her age and involves pilates, gym, yoga, swimming and more.
Gay took up running after the birth of her third child and regularly takes part in 10k races. She’s also run the London Marathon five times and competed in the elite race in 1994, finishing in three hours 12 minutes. Nowadays, she contents herself with triathlons and open water swimming.
“Triathlon became a natural progression as they took the pressure off my knees with the swimming and cycling.
“I competed with the Brownlee Brothers at Liverpool docks and swimming with jellyfish when they were at the start of their careers suffice to say they beat me. I did get on the podium in my age group. I competed at Salford docks Manchester and at several other open water events. I am thinking of taking part in six mile open water swim in the Canaries on the Island of El Hierro in October this year. Until recently scuba dived, diving a total 36 dives over a number of years, my biggest thrill was when a turtle swam straight for me. I also mountain bike and ski.”
Zoe adds: “I was very shy at school, I never spoke a word and growing up, I had no idea what I wanted to do. Now I know: something with acting and film and photography. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed and I’m still having the best time of my life at 65. If I am honest, I thought all this modelling work would just dry up at our age but it hasn’t.
“I’ve just done a shoot for Wonderland magazine. Twins seem to be in fashion. In January, I was in Portugal for two days for a Monarch Airlines commercial and I also did something for Remington. I’ve just been signed by international Grey Model Agency, based in London.”
But how does she feel about the industry as a whole?
“I think we got it at the right time, people have to pay to enter these competitions now, they have to have a sponsor and it’s a lot more serious.”
Aside from modelling with Sharon Stone and travelling to Oslo to film a supermarket commercial, Gay was recently one half of a couple on a Stoneacre advert and still goes to casting calls.
But both seem content with the pace of their lives. Gay says she loves having family time and walking in the hills with Paul after which they enjoy pizza and a few glasses of wine and being bamboozled by questions from her granddaughter, while Zoe says she is enjoying being so much in demand once again, although she enjoys the theatre and makes sure to have a family holiday once a year.
Twins Zoe and Gay Spink began their modelling careers in the 1970s and between them won a string of regional and national titles, including Miss Great Britain 1973, Miss Yorkshire Rose 1976 (Gay) and Miss Britain 1973 and Miss TV Times 1972 (Zoe)
They followed in the footsteps of their late mother, Betty, who made the Miss Great Britain finals in 1948
Since then they have worked with big movie stars, the latest being Sharon Stone
Zoe’s daughter Suzanne was Miss Earth 2009