THE flaming locks that made her the target of school bullies are now Alexina Graham’s greatest asset.
The 29-year-old model has become only the second Brit to earn her wings as a Victoria’s Secret Angel, after Rosie Huntington Whiteley.
And she is the US lingerie brand’s first red-headed Angel.
Not bad for a self-confessed “ginger geek” from Worksop, who is the step-daughter of a binman.
Alexina’s mum Sarah Dolby, 55, told The Sun: “We’re over the moon for her and so proud of what she’s achieved.
“It was a dream of hers to be in Victoria’s Secret ever since she started modelling.
“She hasn’t let the modelling world get to her head though — Alexina is very professional and doesn’t really get involved with the partying side of the job — she gets high on water.
“She’s still completely down to earth. Everyone she works with comments on that fact.”
These days Alexina is based in New York and flies all over the world on assignments.
It is a far cry from her modest background growing up in Nottinghamshire with Sarah, stepdad Paul, 56, and her half-sister Elle. Her mum split from her dad David when Alexina was just a baby.
Sarah says “Alexina’s biological dad isn’t on the scene.
“Paul has been in her life since she was two, so he’s always been her father figure.”
Alexina didn’t have the easiest time at Valley Comprehensive School in Worksop.
She once said: “Like most redheads I did get bullied at school because we just stand out. I was this skinny little geeky thing with no boobs.
“But now I have embraced it as a woman.
“Having red hair is now a powerful part of my identity.”
A school friend, who doesn’t wish to be named, says: “Alexina was a typical geek — the first to arrive at school and the first to hand in her homework. She just turned a blind eye [to name-callers] and tried to carry on.”
She adds that Alexina was the last person she expected to become a model: “She had a straight up and down body, train-track braces, never wore make-up or anything like that. She wasn’t into fashion at all.”
Mum Sarah said: “In my eyes, she was never an ugly child. While I always thought she was beautiful, she did have a bit of a hard time at school.
“She was tall, gangly and had red hair, so life wasn’t always easy.
“She came out of it a stronger person, though. It’s definitely made her more empathetic towards people.”
Despite the taunts, Alexina had a quiet self-confidence. She did ballet from the age of six and kept the family entertained with her dancing and singing. Sarah says: “Alexina is one of those people who will dance in a supermarket if she likes the song that comes on — she just doesn’t care.
“She’s pretty quirky. If you were in her company you couldn’t help but have a laugh. You never know what’s going to come out of her mouth.”
Part of Alexina’s delight at getting her Angel wings is knowing she “can be a role model to red-haired children”.
The model said: “Being an Angel is part of having that media outreach so I can say to young redhead kids, ‘You can do anything you want! Nothing is impossible!’”
Although she is now part of the catwalk elite, Alexina had originally planned to do a degree then training as a midwife. She got into modelling as a way of saving up for university when studying for her A-levels.
Sarah, herself an ex-model, explains: “Alexina didn’t want to get into student debt so she wanted a part-time job.
“As she was tall, pretty and skinny, I suggested modelling.”
Unwilling to dip into her savings to pay for a portfolio, Alexina entered a Mail On Sunday modelling competition in 2007. She never expected to make it past the first round.
The school friend says: “Alexina said, ‘I’m not going to get anywhere with it. This is as far as I’ll go. I’m just a geek from school. No one from Worksop ever gets anywhere.’ ”
But her striking looks and quirky application form — on which she listed “baking a good chocolate cake” among her skills — made her stand out. She saw off 5,000 other hopefuls to win.
Recalling the judges’ comments, 5ft 9in Alexina said: “They liked my email address ‘ginger geek’.”
That win set the ball rolling. She was snapped up by a modelling agency and in 2009 was picked to walk for Burberry. Soon, other designers were clamouring for her.
She became a L’Oréal Paris brand ambassador in 2016, starring in a commercial alongside Cheryl Tweedy.
Her school friend said: “I remember going into Wilko and seeing her face on bottles of L’Oreal hair dye. It was surreal because this was Alexina from school.”
In 2017, Alexina graced the Victoria’s Secret catwalk for the first time, a gig she landed after doing a “sl*t drop” in her audition.
Alexina said: “I did this whole floor drop and when I walked off I couldn’t believe I actually did it.
“The casting agents then just shouted at the other models: ‘Whoever has to follow her, good luck!’”
Not all Victoria’s Secret models become Angels, which is considered an honour. And although she has her wings, Alexina’s feet are still firmly on the ground — she heads back to Worksop for a family cuppa whenever she can.
While her Instagram page is packed with glam photos, “Aunty Xina” also posts make-up-free selfies with her niece and nephew, 20-month-old twins Mia and Oscar.
Sarah says: “Alexina can’t go very long without seeing her niece and nephew — she completely adores them. She’s just a home bird really.”
Many might use this success as an opportunity to stick two fingers up to those old bullies, but not Alexina.
Her school friend says: “That’s just not something she’d do. She’s a really caring person and doesn’t have a bad bone in her body.”
She was clearly destined to be an Angel.
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