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Michelle De Swarte’s private life from modelling to ending up homeless before BBC comedy Spent

Spent,Mia (MICHELLE de SWARTE) ,Various Artists Limited,Ludovic Robert
Michelle De Swarte stars as Mia in the BBC comedy drama Spent (Picture: BBC)

Model-turned-actress Michelle De Swarte stars in the new BBC comedy drama Spent – following queen Mia as she finds herself suddenly and unexpectedly reckoning with life on the breadline.

Airing on BBC2 and iPlayer, its six episodes see Mia attempt to adjust to a life in poverty when her catwalk career comes crashing down around her.

Rapidly approaching the wrong side of 40, Mia’s career is over and she’s left both destitute and homeless – resorting to sofa surfing to keep herself off the streets.

The show show also stars Juliet Cowan as mum Chrissy, alongside former Coronation Street actor Delroy Brown and Bad Girls’ Victoria Alcock.

It was written by Michelle, 43, and is loosely based on her own career in the fashion industry – and subsequent downfall.

Who is Michelle De Swarte, and how closely does Spent resemble her own life?

Michelle De Swarte
Michelle started out as a model aged 19 (Picture: Shutterstock)
Katherine Ryan and Michelle De Swarte in The Dutchess
Michelle acted opposite Katherine Ryan in The Dutchess (Picture: Netflix)

What has Michelle De Swarte been in before?

Before creating Spent, Michelle made her acting debut in the Netflix sitcom The Dutchess, opposite its creator and star, Katherine Ryan.

Michelle played Bev, Katherine’s best friend and business partner, and appeared in all six episodes of the series.

She then went on to star as Natasha in Sky Atlantic’s comedy horror series The Baby, playing the terrified mum of the sinister and domineering baby of the title.

Michelle De Swarte and a baby in The Baby
Michelle played the lead in horror-comedy The Baby (Picture: Ross Ferguson)

Her other TV appearances include the ITV2 programme The Fashion Show, which she hosted along with Abbey Clancey and George Lamb, which aired in 2008.

Since then she has appeared in the jungle spin-off I’m A Celebrity Get Me out of Here Now! and episodes of Never Mind the Buzzcocks and The Last Leg,

She also showcased her comedic chops in a 2023 episode of Live at the Apollo, opposite fellow stand-up Geoff Norcott.

Joseph Ollman and Michelle de Swarte in Spent
Michelle stars in the comedy drama Spent (Picture: BBC)

Inside Michelle’s fashion career

Prior to her television breakthrough, Michelle started out as a model after being scouted by an agency aged 19 while working at a Clapham bar.

During her career as a fashion and catwalk model, Michelle featured in spreads for Harper’s Bazaar, Italian Vanity Fair, and V.

She has been photographed for Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger, Cartier, Betsey Johnson, Gap, H&M and Levis; including campaigns for Sephora and Neutrogena.

In subsequent years, Michelle has talked about her time in the fashion industry – including being pressured to have cosmetic surgery by her former agency, and running into sex offender Jeffrey Epstein in New York.

Michelle de Swarte and Abbey Clancy
Michelle presented The Fashion Show with Abbey Clancy for ITV2 (Picture: Shutterstock)

The collapse of her fashion career and winding up homeless

However, like Spent’s Mia, Michelle’s career in modelling came crashing down.

Her time as a catwalk model ended abruptly after she fell down repeatedly while on stage for the Gucci Fall/Winter 2002 Ready-to-Wear fashion show.

‘When I was walking down the catwalk, I’d just be thinking: “I hope I don’t fall.” And then I fell. To this day, that is still one of the funniest things I’ve ever done – fall on my arse on a Gucci runway,’ she told The Guardian.

Michelle de Swarte and Julet Cowan in the BBC's Spent
Like Mia, Michelle found herself homeless when disaster struck (Picture: BBC)

With the fall of her career, so came a period of homelessness which is reflected in Spent – although, unlike Mia, Michelle found herself sofa surfing in LA rather than London.

‘I was technically homeless but didn’t realise it,’ she told The Big Issue earlier this year.

‘I didn’t understand the severity of my situation. I was staying at people’s houses, but I did it for a few years.’

Michelle De Swarte
Michelle started modelling as a teen before pivoting to stand-up comedy (Picture: Shutterstock)

Michelle continued: ‘Someone had to tell me I was homeless. They told me as sort of a joke. I was keeping up the pretence that I was ‘travelling’ but I was only meant to stay with my friend for a few days and had my whole life with me.

‘She joked about me being this chic bag lady and said “you know what? You’re high end homeless.” I laughed, but then I was like, “What?” she said, “Well, you don’t live anywhere.”

‘I was in such denial. If I’d admitted it to myself I probably would have had a breakdown,’ she added.

Katherine Ryan and Michelle De Swarte
Michelle made her acting debut in Katherine’s own sitcom (Picture: Shutterstock)

Michelle poured her experiences into a stand-up comedy routine, which she wrote down – impressing Peep Show creators Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain.

In 2019, she returned to London, teaming with Katherine Ryan to appear in The Dutchess and, later, star in The Baby.

The script that Michelle’s story ultimately became was commissioned by Various Artists Limited through the BBC – originally shot as a pilot and titled High End Homeless in 2022.

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