From Catwalk model to model soldier

Every year people from around the world, from a variety of backgrounds and diverse cultures, decide that a career in the British Army is what they would like.

One such person is Corporal Nazelle Joseph, who serves with the Adjutant General Corps Staff and Personnel Support (AGC SPS) currently attached to 15th Signal Regiment based at Swinton Barracks, Perham Down, Tidworth, Wiltshire.

Nazelle was born in St. Lucia, an island country in the eastern Caribbean Sea, where life as a youngster was, she says, a very special place: “Growing up was amazing. We were always outside playing in the sunshine by the river and picking lots of different fruits, it was great.

“The big difference between the UK and St. Lucia is the weather. It gets cold here and that doesn’t happen back home.”

Nazelle has now been serving for over 10 years, having joined in July 2011. But the military wasn’t her first career choice. She explains that prior to enlisting, she was doing something completely different:

“I’ve made so many friends, I’ve learnt so many different things. I’ve learnt about different cultures, values, and standards. It’s changed me so much; I am a totally different person from the one I was when I left St. Lucia to join all those years ago.”CORPORAL NAZELLE JOSEPH, 15TH SIGNAL REGIMENT

“Before I joined the Army, I used to be a model. I was a catwalk model. I also featured in commercials back home too. So, becoming a soldier couldn’t have been more of a contrast. I soon realised that the Army would come out on top as you would have a much longer career as opposed to modelling which you can only do for a certain number of years!”

So, how did it come to be that a catwalk model found herself signing up to the British Army?

“I was visiting the UK and my friend here was in the Army. I didn’t know anything about it and he suggested that I joined. I had no family in the military just this one friend who was serving. So, he convinced me and, on his recommendation, I decided to sign on the dotted line.”

It wasn’t long before Nazelle’s modelling was eclipsed by her military career. A move her family were shocked to hear when they were told the news. Nazelle explains: “They didn’t think I’d pass my selection, they thought I’d be back home in a week. When I told them that I had passed they were surprised to say the least!

“Now, they are so proud. My mum has pictures of me in uniform all around the house. And whenever I go home people always ask me questions about what it’s like to be a soldier.”

Now signed up and a soldier in the British Army, Nazelle reflects on those first weeks going through basic training: “I’m not going to say that it was easy. The first two weeks I remember crying every single day. The food was totally different to what I knew, the culture and discipline was new to me and having to get ready in just a few minutes was a real shock as well. I was totally out of my comfort zone. But I was determined to adapt and stick with it and am so glad I did.”

Once she had adapted to the military, Nazelle began to see everything she was doing as a personal challenge. She began looking ahead and making plans for her future: “I saw people of a higher rank achieving and I thought that’s where I want to be one day. So, after the tears I decided that I needed to get a grip of myself. From then on, I wanted to be the best at everything so that I would get promoted. Looking at all the training that was going on around me I realised that I wanted to be one of those that did that teaching in the future.

“Inclusivity is now such a huge thing in the Army. There are so many different activities you can go to, there are networks within the Army that you can speak to if you need to. There are cultural events that you can attend to gain an understanding of a person’s background.”

“Ultimately, I would like to be an instructor at Sandhurst. That would be a massive achievement for me and my cap badge. I would be able to teach future officers of the British Army. And further down the line I would like to commission into the Adjutant General’s Corps Staff and Personnel Support. They manage the Army’s most powerful weapon: its personnel. I always say to myself, “If you want to you can achieve anything that you set your mind to.”

Reflecting on her former career, Corporal Joseph says there was a major obstacle that she had to overcome when she joined up: “Firstly, being a former model, models do not run! That was the biggest challenge for me. When you’re a recruit you do lots of running and I really struggled with that. But perseverance paid off and through lots of night runs I managed to get my times down. So much so that I was even getting better times than some of the boys. Everyone wants to compete. Everybody wants to win awards and prove that they are the best and I am no different.”

With a decade of military service now completed she says she really feels part of one big ‘team Army’: “I’ve made so many friends, I’ve learnt so many different things. I’ve learnt about different cultures, values, and standards. It’s changed me so much; I am a totally different person from the one I was when I left St. Lucia to join all those years ago.

“I’m now more disciplined. I’ve learnt to think on my feet. I push myself a lot more striving to be the best.

“It has not been easy but if you are focused and you have a goal to reach then you can achieve what you want.”

And she adds that over those years she’s seen some significant changes taking place too: “Inclusivity is now such a huge thing in the Army. There are so many different activities you can go to, there are networks within the Army that you can speak to if you need to. There are cultural events that you can attend to gain an understanding of a person’s background.”

Females being able to join the infantry was one of the biggest changes recently. How the army has become more relaxed towards hair styles is significant too. I also remember when I first joined, I didn’t see many officers of ethnic minorities but I see so many now which is brilliant. It shows that we are all inclusive. Of course, every organisation has its ‘bad eggs’ and the Army is no exception. But 99% of people I’ve encountered are great. They get on, do what they must do, be where they need to be. They look out for each other. It’s a good place to come to work.”

With her mind back to the sunshine and warmth of St. Lucia where she grew up and knowing what she knows now, what advice would she offer her younger self on considering a career in the British Army: “Go for it but do it quicker than I did! Anything that you want to do, do it. If you face things with a positive attitude you will succeed.

I have a nephew who I am trying to get to join. I’ve told him that it changes you for the better, you make a lot of friends. It teaches you discipline; it teaches you comradeship, values, and standards. And the most important thing, it teaches you to become a good person.”

Nazelle has no regrets about having swapped the catwalk for combat and says she now has her sights set on a long and rewarding career in the British Army:  “it’s great to be a part of this organisation. You get to do such a variety of different jobs, plus there are opportunities to travel all over the world too. It is brilliant.

It’s one of the best things I’ve done. It’s one of the best career paths I’ve chosen.”

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