Introducing: Cherri Pi

NOCTIS strive to inspire you, NOCTIS strive to keep you coming back.
We think it's important to see what's out there, see who's trying to do something good with their life, and to see what we can do to make a difference. Every now and again, we like to give you something different, a spout of inspiration if you will. We interviewed aspiring model and former Paralympian, Cherri Pi; known to many as Leanne Stephen.
She uses a wheelchair, bu read what she had to say about moving from behind the lens, carrying the Olympic torch and what her dreams are. She always likes to relax in her underwear, but who doesn't do that now and again?
When did you first start modelling, how did it all begin?
I've always loved photography and found myself studying it at college. I loved having a specific idea and making it into something solid, so for a while i was behind the camera. As a present, my mum bought me a "Makeover Day" session with a friend, I had my hair and make-up done and had photographs taken. It made me seriously think about the disabled models in the industry, to put it simple I could name very few, if any at all. I decided I wanted to try and find someone who had a disability similar to mine, so that they may share the same passion about wanting to change the perceptions of the public on what 'disability' was. It wasn't long before I decided to do it myself.
That was about two years ago and I haven't looked back. I absolutely love modelling with a passion but really you could say it happened by accident, I never intended to be a model more a 'role model' I guess :)

The type of "disability" itself isn't important because that isn't our focus, but did it cause you any problems at first? 
When I was younger I guess; times were a little different to the way they are now. Having a disability was 'different' and 'weird' - people had their own opinions about it and I guess still to this day they do but it seems more positive and hopefully it can only continue this way. Previously to modelling I was part of the Great British Paralympic Table Tennis Team for 10 years. I think with London holding the Olympics/Paralympics people were exposed to disability in a positive light. I'd also like to say I carried the Olympic Torch, yay!
Since modelling I can honestly say that, touch wood, I have had no problems caused by having a disability; at the end of the day it is one of the main reasons I want to model and being 'different' is something I'm proud of. Just because my 'difference' is perhaps more obvious than some others peoples, surely doesn't mean anything and if everyone was the same then life would be pretty boring. I now strongly believe that it isn't my problem, it's other peoples. If they can't accept disability then they need to sit down and think about what it's really like.

What are your dreams and ambitions?
Ideally I just want to change peoples perceptions of 'disability' and create a positive image. I believe that there should be disabled models in the industry too as 'we' can do the same job as anyone else, granted some things may have to be different but so what? Different is good and everyone is beautiful.
I would love to be a role model for other girls in a similar situation to me and make them feel better about themselves, give them confidence to feel beautiful and for them to realise how beautiful they are.
How do you set out to show you can work just as hard as everyone else in the industry?
I suppose in a way I do feel I have to prove myself and feel that I have to thank photographers for believing in me, supporting me and accepting who I am as a person and what I want to achieve. I do that by always giving 110% into every shoot to create the best possible outcome.
I feel I'm a friendly and reliable person, I always arrive to shoots on time and I like to bring my own ideas to a shoot and work as a team with the photographer. I like to have good communication and always like to be well prepared; Whilst shooting, I'm always considering different ideas and most of all I push my body to the absolute limit
I guess the thing that proves how hard I work is the point when photographers turn round and say,
'I've really enjoyed this shoot, I totally forgot you even had a disability'
Job Done!

As a model, describe yourself in 5 words.
Hard Working, Determined, Reliable, Positive, Unique/Different :)
I know you mentioned being open to new, creative ideas but do you have a preferred style of working?
I don't really have a preferred shooting style as I believe that being able to shoot in different styles / themes is another good trait of a great model. Shooting different styles opens more doors and more possibilities for me in order for me to achieve what I want to in terms of being accepted as a disabled model. I don't necessarily want to be known as a disabled model - perhaps just a model that happens to be disabled.
Having said all that, my bright red hair has lent itself well to finding my way into doing lots of pin-up style shoots and I do really enjoy those. I have a bit of an obsession with victory rolls in my hair!
So tell us, what do you do in your spare time?
I actually work in a gym (another thing I wanted to prove disabled people could do) but when I'm not working or modelling I guess I just do pretty 'normal' things like everyone else. Spending time with my family and friends is really important to me, they've always been so supportive in everything I've done. I love to chill out in my undies, listening to music and reading. I also have a big passion for tattoos and drawing, I love the art and skill involved, and love being creative myself.

What plans do you have for this year, both personally and professionally?
In terms of modelling, I want to continue going forward. I'd love more people to support me and what I'm trying to achieve. 
I'd like to work with new photographers and build my portfolio, maybe even get involved in some events and offer advice to other people in a similar situation. I'd absolutely love to get more publications this year and work with exciting clothing brands, jewellery companies and bands. 
Personally, I really want/NEED to go to the gym more, it generally makes me feel better. I don't really know what else I want to happen as in all honesty my personal life revolves around my modelling life.
What happens happen.. 
Finally, where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I'm going to be honest. I don't really want to look that far ahead yet incase things don't quite happen that way. I've learnt to just take every opportunity as it comes and not really plan because if I get excited and it doesn't happen there's only one feeling.
After saying all that in an ideal world I'd love to be known as a model (that happens to be disabled) not a disabled model. I'd love to be supported by a well known model agency. Having that support would mean a lot. 
I'd love to get to the point were people know me as 'Cherri Pi, that model girl' :) ... In 5 years I'd like to be able to say that I'd be happy in a stable relationship and in my own house. As long as my family, friends and myself continue to be happy and doing what we love while discovering new friends and challenges along the way then life can't be all that bad can it? 


See this post on the NOCTIS blog here

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