Spotted in Primark at 15, the single mum who is the new Naomi Campbell (and is now making millions after leaving her drug dealer lover)
- Jourdan Dunn, 24, fell pregnant at 18 just as she started modelling
- Weeks after the birth, her lover was jailed for cocaine possession
- Determined to give son a good life, Jourdan continued to work
- She is now one of the world's top models, she made £2.4m last year
Meteoric rise: Model Jourdan Dunn raked in £2.4 million in the past year alone from Burberry and becoming the face of Maybelline cosmetics
As she strutted down the red carpet at the MTV Video Music Awards in California last week, pausing to pose artfully for photographers, Jourdan Dunn looked every inch the supermodel.
Showing off her willowy frame in a black bandeau and long skirt by French designer Balmain, on Sunday the 24-year-old mingled with the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Beyoncé, eclipsing both with one dazzling smile.
Feted as one of the most beautiful women on the planet — that rare combination of feminine elegance and cool — she seemed perfectly at ease in such celebrated company.
Then so she should. Her name may not yet be as globally famous as theirs, but Forbes Magazine has just made Jourdan the first black British woman to gain a place on its list of the world’s highest-earning models.
She raked in £2.4 million in the past year alone, working for the likes of Burberry and becoming the face of Maybelline cosmetics.
Her high-flying career has seen her model for every major fashion house, appear on numerous Vogue covers and appear in catwalk shows from Christian Dior to Victoria’s Secret.
It has earned her a bevy of celebrity friends, including model of the moment Cara Delevingne, as well as singer Rita Ora, not to mention a jet-setting lifestyle and an army of fans who follow her every word on Twitter.
A gilded existence indeed, but Jourdan’s ascendency has not been quite as smooth as her polished appearance might suggest.
The great-granddaughter of Jamaican immigrants who came to Britain in the early Sixties in search of a better life, she comes from a long line of strong, independent women often let down by the men in their lives.
She was raised in Greenford, West London, by a single mother who took on three jobs to make ends meet after Jourdan’s father left the family home when she was a toddler. Jourdan then became a single mother herself after becoming pregnant at 18, just as her modelling career was taking off.
Her son Riley, now four, was born in 2009 with sickle cell anaemia, a blood disorder he inherited from Jourdan and her then boyfriend, Jordan Cummings. If that wasn’t enough to cope with, Cummings was arrested (and later jailed) for drugs offences two months after the baby’s birth.
A tumultuous young life, then, but a family friend told the Mail that the Dunn family are ‘incredibly strong’.
Scroll down for video
Jourdan Dunn looked every inch the supermodel as she strutted down the red carpet at the MTV Video Music Awards in California last week
‘You don’t mess about with any of them,’ he said. ‘If you do, it’s like fooling around with a hornet’s nest. They are very loyal and they look after each other. They’re survivors, particularly the women. Right from the moment the Dunn family arrived in this country, they were aspirational.’
If proof were needed of just how far the Dunn family has come since leaving the parish of St Thomas in Jamaica in the early Sixties, a trip to the gritty streets of Harlesden in North-West London would provide it.
There, outside Tavistock Community Centre in July, a small blue heritage plaque was unveiled to The Cimarons, the UK’s first home-grown reggae band, which performed on Top Of The Pops, sang with Bob Marley and was, for a time, managed by Paul McCartney.
Among the five-strong group, which still occasionally performs together, is Jourdan’s grandfather, bassist Franklyn Dunn. On the day the plaque was unveiled, Jourdan was jetting to New York for her latest assignment. Somehow, you imagine Franklyn would understand her not being there.
For Jourdan’s career has been the epitome of glamour, in direct contrast to her unstarry upbringing. Her father, accounts clerk Rodney Alveranga, who was 21 when she was born, left the family home when his daughter was just three and has since remarried and started a new family.
Determined to support Jourdan and her two younger brothers, Antoine, now 21, and 17-year-old Kain, her mother Dee juggled three jobs as a receptionist and secretary while raising her children.
Family: She became pregnant at 18 just as her modelling career kicked off. Riley (pictured in 2012) is now four
Dee’s mother Cynthia, who knew from bitter experience how hard it was to be a single mother, also stepped in to help with her grandchildren.
This loving but austere lifestyle might have gone on unbroken if Jourdan hadn’t caught the eye of a talent scout in the Hammersmith branch of Primark nine years ago.
Even as a 15-year-old schoolgirl, her looks were striking. At 5ft 10in tall, she towered over most of her contemporaries at Acton High School in West London and yet as a young teen, she claims to have been self-conscious about her skinny frame.
‘I’d look in the mirror and hate myself. I thought I was disgusting,’ she said a year ago. Yet it took only moments for the representative from Storm, one of the most famous modelling agencies in the world, to see she was a star in the making.
A meeting at the agency’s London offices with her mother resulted in a signed contract. A year later, in 2007, Jourdan made her catwalk debut at New York Fashion Week.
In 2008, she made headline news at London Fashion Week when she spoke about the issue of colour in the fashion world, saying: ‘London’s not a white city, so why should our catwalks be so white?’
Just weeks later, she became the first black woman to model for Prada since Naomi Campbell in 1997. A few months after that, she was named model of the year at the British Fashion Awards.
And now Dunn has gone on to achieve what Naomi Campbell, Britain’s first black supermodel, could not, in part because Forbes invented the models rich list in 2006 after the peak of Campbell’s success.
But back in 2009, having only just made a name for herself, Jourdan saw her brief modelling career flash before her eyes when she became pregnant.
The father, Jordan Cummings, a teenager from Islington in North London whom she had been dating for several years, was hardly the kind of man to offer a stable future.
Given what her own mother, Dee, had gone through as a single mother, Jourdan was worried about breaking the news after taking a pregnancy test in a toilet cubicle at Heathrow Airport en route to Jamaica with her mother and brothers.
‘It was the worst plane trip ever. It was very emotional telling my mum, very emotional. It was one of the hardest things of my life. She had me young, she was blaming herself, she was very angry, she was upset.’
Journey: The father, Jordan Cummings, was arrested and jailed shortly after Riley's birth. They are no longer together but stay in contact for the sake of their son, while Jourdan fulfills her dream of being a top model
Jourdan knew she was a carrier for sickle-cell anaemia, which can have life-threatening complications, and when doctors told her the child had, indeed, inherited the disorder, she was determined to maintain a strong front.
Seven months pregnant in 2009, she proudly strutted down the catwalk for Jean Paul Gaultier, but later admitted feeling ‘so guilty and so horrible inside’. The arrest of Cummings just weeks after Riley’s birth made matters even more stressful. In February 2010, he was jailed for three-and-a-half years for possessing cocaine with intent to supply.
The pair are no longer together, though 24-year-old Cummings’ mother, Jenny Hobart, told the Mail this week that they keep in contact for the sake of their son.
It was Jourdan’s mother who came to her rescue, offering to care for the child while she fulfilled her modelling assignments. Within ten weeks of Riley’s birth, she was back at work, picking up her meteoric career where she had briefly left off.
She said: ‘I have seen that doing this can help him and give him a better start in life. I’m doing it for him.’ As a young, black woman making her way in an industry dominated by white models, her achievement is remarkable.
This week when a Twitter follower pointed out that British Vogue hadn’t put an individual black model on its cover since 2002 and called for them to rectify that with Jourdan, the model furiously replied: ‘So, if British Vogue puts me on the cover now it would be because they were bullied into it, not because I’m deserving of one . . .’
Her appearance on the Forbes models rich list may well suggest a sea change in attitudes within the fashion industry, but having battled to come so far, Jourdan Dunn is clearly determined to be seen as a force in her own right.
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook