Towards the end of the Nineties the supermodel concept had largely been declared dead. That was until Gisele appeared on the catwalk. The stunning Brazilian brunette, with her tanned limbs, perfect curves and piercing ocean-blue eyes, has brought glamour and sex appeal back to the fashion industry.
One of five sisters, she was born in the rural town of Horizontina in southern Brazil on July 20, 1980, and, as a schoolgirl, never turned heads. "I was taller and skinnier than everyone else and they called me Oli, short for Olive Oyl," she recalls.
But a trip to São Paolo as a 14-year-old changed her life. A model scout spotted the leggy teenager in a shopping mall and suggested Gisele go for a career in fashion. At first she refused, having set her sights on being a volleyball player, but then, thinking that a bit of extra money might not be such a bad idea, she reconsidered.
A bit of money? Named by Forbes magazine as the most successful and highest-paid model of all time, Gisele earned over $30 million in 2005, making her the world's highest-paid model. She has an estimated $150 million fortune, amassed through lucrative advertising deals with labels such as Victoria’s Secret, Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Dolce & Gabanna, Ralph Lauren, Valentino and Ebel watches. Sales of the model's own 'Ipanema' footwear range have also boosted her earnings.
The cover girl of choice for countless magazines, including Vogue and Elle, it wasn't long before Gisele caught the eye of pin-up actor Leonardo DiCaprio. He bombarded her with a charm offensive, and the two became showbiz's hottest item. They split briefly in 2001 after a series of arguments about Leo's partying but he wooed her back. However, their on-off relationship finally came to an end early in 2006 with speculation that a third party was involved.
Later that year, the catwalk queen was romanced by American footballer Tom Brady – a relationship that was set to last. The happy couple tied the knot in Los Angeles in February 2009, following up the intimate ceremony with a bigger party for the whole family in Costa Rica. Then, in June, the pair announced they were expecting their first child together, a baby boy, Benjamin, who was born on December 8 that year.
“To give life to another being, what a gift!” she said afterwards. “When he finally was placed into my arms, I looked into his precious eyes and felt an overwhelming, unconditional love. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. ‘We did it! We did it together!’ He and I. I never felt so complete and empowered in my life.”
When she finds time to relax, the horse-mad star – who was appointed Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Environment Programme – loves to escape to her country retreat in upstate New York where she goes riding. Her burgeoning property portfolio includes a penthouse apartment in Manhattan, a mansion in Los Angeles and a hotel in the south of Brazil, The Palladium Executive.
Claiming not to be bothered by her celebrity, she nevertheless has a hard time when she returns to her native Brazil where she is a national hero. "The last time I went home I had to take five bodyguards when I went dancing," she said. "Even then, guys were jumping over them to grab my butt and screaming: 'Gisele, marry me!' I had to leave."
The star puts her millions to good use, too – donating a staggering $1,500,000 to the relief effort in stricken Haiti in 2010, and supporting charities such as Zero Hunger – a Brazilian government programme – as well as breast cancer and children's charities.