Tyra Banks

Tyra Banks is a supermodel who has moved from posing in front of the camera to calling the shots behind it. Her TV show, 'America’s Next Top Model', is a huge international hit and has been syndicated worldwide.

Tyra Banks was born on 4 December 1973, in Inglewood, California. Her father, Don Banks, was a computer consultant and her mother, Carolyn, was a medical photographer. Banks' parents divorced when she was only six-years-old, but she says that she was too young for the divorce to have much impact on her: "As far as I could see I had it made," Banks remembers. "I stayed with Mommy on the weekdays and Daddy on the weekends. I had two birthday parties, two Christmases. Double the presents, double the love."

Banks says that she developed a love for food, and not always healthy food, from a very young age, devouring fried chicken, candied yams and pork chops at family gatherings. "I was taught to enjoy food, not to fear it," Banks recalls. She developed healthier habits, too, and began working out with her mother's exercise group at the age of six. After her grandmother passed away from lung cancer, Banks also vowed never to smoke. Banks confesses that she was somewhat of a "mean girl" in school. "I was popular, gossipy," she recalls, "and if I didn't want one of the other girls to be in the clique anymore, for whatever tiny little reason, I voted her out."

When she attended Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles, however, she found herself on the other end of the social food chain. A sudden growth spurt left her tall and gawky and her classmates gave her the cruel nickname 'Giraffe'. "I went from being the popular girl who looked normal, to being considered a freak," Banks remembers. Nevertheless, she says that the teasing and abuse taught her the importance of kindness. By 1989, at the age of 17, Banks had outgrown her awkward phase and began to resemble the tall, curvy, caramel-skinned and green-eyed beauty who would light up catwalks and magazine covers for years to come.

However, her first attempts to find a modelling agency were met with rejection and discrimination. Banks remembers that one agency said she looked "too ethnic", while another said that it "already had a black woman and didn't want another". Then, in 1990, while still in high school, Banks landed a contract with Elite Model Management, the largest modelling agency in the world. Later that year, she shot her first print piece for Seventeen magazine. After graduating from high school in 1991, Banks enrolled at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, but decided to forego college when Elite offered to send her to Paris for high-fashion catwalk modelling.

She recently admitted in an interview with CBS that turning down a place at college was "one of the most difficult decisions of [her] entire life". She said that she made a commitment to try modelling for a year and if she was not successful after that time she was going to go back to university. Success did not evade her and she rose swiftly through the ranks of fashion modelling to become one of the world's top supermodels. She booked 25 catwalk shows while in Paris in 1991, an unprecedented feat for a newcomer to the industry.

But by the mid-1990s, Banks began to gain weight, a sin forbidden in the world of super thin clothing models. Unwilling to starve herself to achieve the desired physique for high-fashion models, Banks decided to return to the United States and switch to swimwear and lingerie modelling, where curvier models are more welcome.

"I made my living being 20 or 30 pounds heavier than the average model," Banks says. "And that's where I got famous. Victoria's Secret said I sold more bras and panties than anybody else, and I was traipsing down that runway with 30 pounds more booty than the other girls."

Banks created the worldwide hit show, 'America's Next Top Model' in 2003, which she also produces and presents. She also had her own chat show, 'The Tyra Banks Show', which ran between 2005 and 2010, and fits in the odd bit of acting. In 2009, she was the executive producer of 'True Beauty', in which several models competed to be named the most beautiful person, without being told that the main purpose of the show was to choose the one with the best personality and virtues.

Banks started her acting career in the fourth season of 'The Fresh Prince of Bel Air' playing Jackie Ames, an old friend of the main character played by Will Smith, in 1993. She has appeared in several other TV shows including 'New York Undercover' (2007), 'The Hughleys' (1999), 'MADtv' (2000), 'Felicity' (2000), 'American Dreams' (2004) and teen drama 'Gossip Girl' in 2009. In 2000, she acted in the film 'Coyote Ugly' followed by 'Halloween Resurrection' in 2002.

She also made an appearance as herself in the 2008 comedy 'Tropic Thunder', which starred Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey JR and Steve Coogan. Banks has also written books, released a single and recently came out of retirement to model again. In 2004, she released her debut single 'Shake Ya Body', complete with a music video featuring the six finalists from 'America's Next Top Model' but it flopped.

She wrote her first book in 1998 entitled 'Tyra's Beauty Inside and Out'. Banks completed her first novel 'Modelland' in September 2011. It is the first in a planned three-part series about four girls that have been accepted into an exclusive modeling school. It reached the New York Times' Bestseller list in October 2011. She recently announced that she is taking classes at Harvard Business School, in a bid to complete her unfulfilled ambition to attend college. She enrolled in the university's elite business management programme, which the model-turned-business-woman described in an interview with CBS as "pretty exclusive" and "quite expensive".

While being a costly exercise - $31,000 per year for tuition – she said she believes the investment is "so, so worth it". Talking about her decision to go back to college, Banks said in an interview with MTV News that she believes it is a "positive thing" for young women to see that they can be educated and "still be fabulous and fierce". Not content with gaining a qualification from one of the country's top business schools, Banks has also been busy promoting her new fashion website, TypeF.com. She told ‘Early Show’ host Chris Wragge that business school taught her to stick to what you know, or as she describes it, your "core competency".

Taking that advice in hand, she chose to launch a site about fashion and beauty in March 2011, as that is what she says she knows best. Banks explained that the site has been designed as a place where people can get "personalised information ... based on their specific body type".