Paul Sculfor, East London’s first male supermodel who was once dubbed “the face that’s worth a million dollars”, has had quite the rollercoaster life and career. The well-known story is that, back in the early ’90s, Paul won a modelling competition after his mum sent in an application without his knowledge, and was suddenly catapulted to fame, dubbed “The Face of ’92” and the “original male supermodel”. After working with some of fashion’s most esteemed designers and travelling the world, the pitfalls of overnight success and living the highlife took their toll.
Today, Sculfor is refreshingly candid about his struggles with addiction and burnout. In fact, it is his journey to recovery that has guided his later career, after stints in acting and as a TV presenter. Living in east London with his Italian-born nutritionist wife, Dr Federica Amati, and their children, Sculfor has channelled his life experience and passion for helping others into his addiction recovery charity, the Stride Foundation. The charity helps people without the means for private treatment to “walk away from addiction” through tailored services and access to therapy.
So, The Islander couldn’t think of anyone more qualified to give a talk about the nuanced and complicated world of mental health than Sculfor. As part of our Penthouse Conversations series, he will be joined by his wife Dr Amati, who specialises in the impact of diet and nutrition on wellbeing, and Toby Wiseman, editor of British Men’s Health on Thursday 8 September for a frank and fascinating discussion on mental wellbeing, with a focus on life in the post-lockdown era. Tickets and information about this free event are available on Eventbrite.
TI: Your upcoming talk is about mental wellbeing and addiction. This may come as a surprise to some people. Can you explain your background and how you became involved in addiction recovery?
PS: I have been working as an international fashion model since 1992. I have also worked in movies and TV presenting. My work took me all over the world, staying sometimes just hours or days in different locations. I have lived in many different cities in Europe and spent over a decade living in LA and New York. Partly due to a heavy schedule and lifestyle, I completely burned out and checked myself into a rehab which dealt with anxiety, depression, OCD and addiction. This was the start of my journey to recovery and founding Stride Foundation with my wife and a friend.
Speaking of which, can you tell us more about your charity and the work it does?
Stride Foundation was formed because I saw a gap, which was access to support for those who can’t afford help with a trained therapist or to actually go into a treatment centre. You can get a detox on the NHS as an in-patient or a self-detox at home but there isn’t ongoing support or access to treatment for the underlying causes of addiction. As I understand, there is a long waiting list for a therapist, if that’s even possible. We are very much a grassroots foundation. What we have been able to do with our funding and connections is to put people into 28-day inpatient programmes with a therapist for aftercare, and we have connected (and funded) people with wonderful therapists. So far, people have mostly got in touch with us through word of mouth and contacts or via our website. We now have more funding and will be opening our own day rehab as soon as we find the appropriate property.
Paul Sculfor is the founder of addiction recovery charity, the Stride Foundation
What healthy habits do you swear by?
I always walk as much as I can, especially out in nature if possible. I find this helps me calm my mind and stay grounded. The old saying that a problem shared is a problem halved is something I practise every day. What I mean by that is if I am uneasy about something or in disagreement, I will discuss it with a trusted friend. I also try to sleep seven to eight hours a night and always try to eat organic food.
Personally, how do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?
I think Covid restrictions did that for me! But seriously, I used to work myself into the ground as I thought material things and prestige would gain me happiness and it didn’t; it put me into rehab – lesson learned. Slowing down and being more present enables me to be more productive and spend time with people I love. We all have to work but I think the balance is subjective.
Do you think that the pandemic and lockdown had a negative effect on mental health, and was also a “trigger” for those with addiction? Is this something Stride Foundation noticed?
Good question; in our experience it has gone one of two ways. People who are trying to get well have really grown from Covid restrictions, as it has helped them embark on a big change and given them some more time to reflect or notice that they were stuck in a pattern. For others, it has caused huge problems – I have personally lost people who gave up, which has been very sad.
“The old saying that a problem shared is a problem halved is something I practise every day”
Paul grew up in London's East End
Now that we are coming out the other side, what do you think are the best ways for people to get their mental wellbeing back on track?
This all depends on individual circumstances. But asking for help in finding a healthy community that supports individuals to practise the art of self-awareness is very important. I would also recommend learning a style of yoga or tai chi or something that brings inner awareness. Read some good books, like Shadows on the Path by Abdi Assadi. Eat as well as you can and seek a coach or therapist, if needs be. Just be honest with yourself and others of where you are.
Finally, you have strong connections to the East End of London. What do you like about the area and what do you think of the way it has changed over the years?
Yes, I do, my father’s side are from the East End – in fact, just about half a mile from London City Island – and my grandfather owned a lot of stall pitches on Roman Road Market and Rathbone Market, so I have fond memories of going down to the markets with him. I think the change here is incredible – it was inevitable as the location is great for the City and London City Airport, and you also have two major roads that connect to travel out of London from, and of course you’re right by Canary Wharf with all the fun restaurants, cinemas and gyms. My father was telling me that when he was a child this was the lost part of London that didn’t have a postcode and no real amenities, so change is great in this case!
Paul Sculfor will be talking about health and wellbeing as part of London City Island's Penthouse Conversations