From the thousands of perfect photographs, it appears John Pearson has lived a model life. Or a supermodel life, perhaps. And it has been quite a ride, so far.
John got his break in modeling at age 18 when a photographer asked to take his picture when he was working in a denim shop in his working class hometown of Hull, northern England. It would be the first of many. First came work in London, then Tokyo, but the big agencies didn’t bite. So in 1986, age 21, he flew to New York to try his luck there, and within three days he was working for Bloomingdales with photographer Bob Frame — the man also behind the lens of Cindy Crawford’s first professional shoot — then a few days later he met the iconic Steven Meisel and shot an international magazine cover with Uma Thurman. It kicked off a globe-trotting career that saw him remain for decades at the very top of a profession not known for its longevity.
As the face of countless brands including Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Valentino, Burberry, Levi’s and Gap, he has starred in more than 100 commercials. He worked with world renowned photographers including Herb Ritts, Bruce Weber, David Bailey, Helmut Newton, Pamela Hanson, Peter Lindbergh, Mario Testino, Peggy Sirota and alongside the best creative minds who ran the fashion industry over the last thirty years. John had a starring role alongside his female counterparts including Crawford, Naomi Campbell, and Linda Evangelista in the era-defining music video for George Michael’s hit ‘Freedom 90!’, directed by David Fincher. Prestigious UK newspaper The Sunday Times named him the ‘The World’s First Male Supermodel,’ Interview magazine saluted him as an ‘Industry Legend’ and AnOther Magazine called him the most ‘Iconic Male Model of All Time.’ And he was the only man to consistently feature in GQ US over three decades. During this time he has also moonlighted as an actor, writer, restauranteur, editor and producer.
But behind every picture, there’s a story. John lost his father to asthma age 11 and did not get into modeling for the fame or glamor, but because it offered escape, adventure, and an honest living to provide for himself and his mother and sisters back home in Hull. And despite his unrivaled success in his field, his friends know the father-of-three best as a devoted and down-to-earth family man, a great listener, raconteur, and an inspiration to stay happy and healthy through life’s ups and downs.
But he admits that has not always been as effortless as he can make it look. And now, as co-founder of Mr Feelgood, he hopes to continue to gain knowledge, share the lessons he has learned along the way, and evolve alongside others on their own journeys, assisted by a growing community on this site. Talking about subjects from mental health to fashion, society, culture and enterprise… nothing is off limits. We feel it’s vital to start a conversation, develop a safe space for expression and exchanging ideas that help raise everyone’s game. And to have a laugh on the way too…
So for starters, John will be the inaugural subject of our ‘Who The F*** Are You?’ profile — 20 questions to help get to the heart of who we are as men. So let’s go!
Who the f*** are you?
I’ve been wrestling with this mystery my entire life. I have a basic idea, a silhouette, but need to shed more light with constructive investigation — which of course where I’m from seems self indulgent — so perhaps I’m someone who worries too much what others see me as! There you go, BINGO! I’m someone who needs to do more f***ing work on himself! And hire a shrink or a life coach… but don’t want to waste money. Maybe I need to work on self esteem! I’m hoping our mutual adventure here on Mr Feelgood will illuminate somehow.
How are you feeling right now?
Stressed, worried, concerned — and then inspired. Spiritually connected and in awe of the magnificence of it all and the minuscule role I get to play — I’m still trying to figure out what that part is! Part superhero, part victim…. always attempting to tip the scales towards the former.
Where did you grow up and what was it like?
I grew up in Yorkshire. My parents divorced when I was aged four. My two older sisters and I left with our mother. My father remained in the family home. We went from a seemingly comfortable middle class family to living on a council estate two hours away. It was a shock, it was scary but it was also a great motivator to get up and get out and create my own life. As children, you learn to adapt, to maintain or seek a status quo that is calm. Whatever the physical and geographical backdrop, the real issue is navigating the emotional turmoil which effect different people in different ways depending on their sensitivity and ability to cope and compartmentalize.
What excites you?
New beginnings, communication, genuine connection to humans, to ideas, to art — having a plan and a group of brilliant partners to play and pursue a creative goal with. And music, theatre, art. Seeing my children and wife thrive, my friends and community blossom. Witnessing the underdog take down the behemoth which is both thrilling and most times necessary for progress. And the footie (or soccer, for our US friends)!
What scares you?
Not living my life to its fullest nor achieving my potential. Not being a good father or husband. Poverty (the return to it). The state of the world right now and the inequities ever present, though I do sense a glimmer of hope, of fundamental systematic change — all people must have the opportunity to rise.
What is your proudest achievement?
My family bar none.
What is the hardest thing you have ever done?
Professionally, winning a gig and being separated from my young family for three months. Being sent to Borneo for a TV gig that I was absolutely unprepared for and not having support in said situation.
Who was your greatest mentor and what did they teach you?
Having lost my father at age 11, I never had a mentor — I’d absolutely LOVE a mentor. I think I raised myself, studying the favorable characteristics of all my friends’ fathers growing up and building a composite, a hybrid of them to work towards. They taught me how to communicate, how to have fun, how to work for something. How to listen. How to help, how to add value to any situation or at least attempt such.
Who are your fictional and real-life heroes?
Fictional… probably Pip in Charles Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’….and 007 now and again! And in real-life, Martin Luther King Jnr is about top of my list and every unsung hero/heroine working the frontline during this Covid crisis, once again showing us the greatest aspects of character common to humankind. Also Bertrand Russell, and I have a soft spot for Ernest Shackleton and Victorian explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton. There are also a handful of close friends who are extraordinary in the way they deal with the cards they have been dealt.
What’s your favorite item of clothing in your wardrobe?
My old and very well worn Belstaff leather Trialmaster motorcycle jacket. I’ve had so many fantastic adventures riding motorcycles in it and hope one of my son’s will treasure it one day and feel the joy their old man experienced when they wear it.
What music did you love aged 13 — and do you still love it now?
David Bowie and Roxy Music …timeless tunes.
What is the most inspiring book you have ever read?
Oh God, too many but did absolutely love ‘The Master and Margherita’ by Mikhail Bulgakov and Milan Kundera’s ‘The Book of Laughter and Forgetting’…. and and and…..damn that’s such a difficult question.
What’s a movie that left a lasting impression on you?
Again, too many to list, but Mike Nichol’s ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ is up there. It’s a film I’m trying hard to convince my kids to watch. I do this with many movies, and the standard play is they acknowledge, ignore, time passes, then they watch it and come back and say, “Dad, you have to watch this!” Also the French film ‘The Intouchables.’ I watched it flying home from Europe, convinced the kids to watch it and then my in-laws. They all to this day still rave about it and recommend to their friends. If you want your spirit lifted, check it out.
What is your favorite word or saying?
LOVE. One syllable, universal, the be all and end all of everything. As for sayings… “To attempt may mean to die, but not to try is never to be born.” And… “Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore, so do our minutes hasten to their end.” The latter is a sonnet by Shakespeare. ‘Memento mori’ seems to have taken a hold these last couple of years which rings similar with the great Bard’s quote — not in a negative way, more so as a staff to stay present, grateful, motivated by the passage of time and the inevitability of death.
What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?
He was kind, he loved and he lived his fullest life….and finally published his book (which was amazing and inspired!) He battled procrastination and won!
And finally, a quickfire five favorites…
Navy blue convertible Ferrari 250 GT California.
Manchester United since I was four.
Sunday roast (sorry veggies).
Lotus oil from Lake Shrine.
Lost Explorer, Buck Mason, Taylor Stitch — local businesses doing it right.