My mother says that I was the main attraction at her wedding. Maria da Conceição Barbosa dos Santos was eight months pregnant when she married João Henrique dos Santos, my father.
I was born on the 31st of August, it was the year 1979. The city? Belo Horizonte, in the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil. I know that I was conceived by accident, the reason for my parents’ marriage.
The marriage was forced, seeing that both families were too conservative to allow such a thing. My mother was only twenty years old when I was born.
Immature and of simple possessions, my parents did not have the conditions to face the responsibilities of having a child, and so the maternal and paternal families helped. And in time, three more brothers and one sister came along – my beloved younger siblings.
The difficulties that my family went through were immense and my father used to beat me up constantly, maybe because of the drinking. My mother, because of that, wisely sent me to her parents’ house, in spite of the pain of not being close to the son she always loved. My grandparents, João Elias dos Santos, better known as João Nestor and Mônica Silva dos Santos, farmers, lived in a city in the interior of Minas, called Campina Verde. I know how beneficial that move was for me, mainly because I was undernourished and fragile. The healthy food of the countryside gave me back my strength. It was a simple house, there was no electricity and the stove was a wood burning one. For a few months I lived the best moments of my life on my grandparents’ farm, in full contact with nature.
At seven years old when people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I used to say, full of conviction, that I want to be an ecologist. The adults would say that there was not much money in that profession. They did not know that it was not for the money that I wanted to be an ecologist, but rather because my sensibility towards nature made me cry when I saw someone cutting down a tree. From seven to twelve years of age I went through many difficulties with my family. There was not much food and although school was public, my parents did not have money to buy the most basic school materials. Even so, I tried to apply myself in my studies and I confess that one of the motives that led me to not miss one single day of school was the school snack or breakfast, served at school after the second class.
I always dreamed a lot and I had an immense willingness to take my family out of that precarious situation. It infuriated me that I could not find a job at my age. In spite of that, at seven years old I had already started to sell in the streets and at school: ice cream bars, peanut candy, coconut and other delights that my grandmother made. From seven to twelve years of age I helped my mother to assemble and sell trinkets and clothes in the neighborhood, going from house to house.
My father spent most of his time unemployed. My grandparents used to send money to help us every once in a while, but he, alcoholic, ended up spending a good part of it on drinking. At that time I saved money under my bed to buy toys, but faced with the situation as it was I ended up giving the small change to my mother. She says that that little money was worth much more than the dollars I am able to provide her with today.
From twelve to fourteen years of age I went back to live with my grandparents. There, I helped with the farm work and I loved to play sports. I was proud to be considered the sportsman of the city and to show off the medals I won in sports like volleyball, in which I achieved best athlete. That physical strength allowed me, at thirteen, despite the young age, to perform the farm work and go with the cowboys taking many wild bulls of the Nelore race from one farm to another. They were arduous workdays that occurred precisely during school vacations.
The memory I have of my grandfather is that of an honorable man. One of the most wise men I have met, although he had only completed the fourth grade and could hardly read or write. He was a man of few words, but he was true to his word. Friends and family considered him an “uncle scrooge” because he did not let go of a cent very easily… At the same time, one morning, when the other workers and I had to get up at four in the morning to milk the cows, one of the workers could not wake up because he was very tired and his body hurt. I did not hesitate to tell my grandfather: - Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it! At seven twenty in the morning my grandfather came into the cowshed and pointing to a corner, said to me: - Can you see that calf there? It’s yours! That calf reproduced, providing me a few cattle and the certainty of my grandfather’s integrity.
At fifteen, I went back to the urban life where I was born. At that time, I helped my father to sell products, mainly water filters, and I worked part of the time in construction. Another thing that I am proud of is that I helped to build all the houses of my family on my mother’s side. When my parents got divorced, I sold all the cattle I had on my grandfather’s farm to help the family. And that marked me profoundly. CEFET is considered one of the best centers for high school, technical and higher education in Brazil. It was there that I was, studying engineering with a specialization in road construction. It is well known that it is very hard to get into this school due to the number of candidates per opening. Since my goal was an education of the highest quality, I studied hard to be able to enroll in the school. I remember that I was the only one from my neighborhood and my school to go to CEFET.
At this time, I was a part of the student movements and I considered myself a revolutionary kid, furious with everything wrong in the world. With my student group I used to close the main streets in my city and poke at politicians that were not performing their duties correctly. At that time, Brazil was going through a lot of reforms and they privatized almost everything. I was against the privatization of mineral resources, because I was afraid that the private companies would not respect nature or the guarantee of employment, and besides, I defended that the state-owned companies were strategic for the country. Because I actively participated in this troubled moment, I believe that that school was a great advantage to a young man like me that loved to learn and overcome new challenges.
Up to twenty-two years of age I did a bit of everything: construction, retail, public services, school, restaurants, farmer’s market, office boy, design, and work in a warehouse. Accounting and management were my last jobs before I started my career as a model. And quickly I succeeded in another conquest: I became one of the best in the world in that profession. I remember well when I received the proposal to go to Paris, all expenses paid. I was not twenty-two years old yet. Although I did not pay much attention to fashion, I saw in that opportunity a way to meet people from other cultures. I never imagined that I would reach the top of the fashion world.
When I was twenty-three I received the news of my father’s death. Before the accident happened I was starting to succeed in fashion and the first thing I did, seeing my father abandoned, was to find him and tell him that the past did not exist and that I was there to help him. In all truth, the thing that I thought about the most, when I was working abroad, was how I could help my family. So much so that I started a production company in Belo Horizonte just to give a good job to my family members.
Today, I have many projects and dreams to fulfill. Since 2004 I have dedicated my time to those projects apart from the fashion world. I removed myself from the capitals of the fashion world, I gave up my house in New York. Only I know how difficult this was. My agents were reluctant to accept this drastic exit from the routine of a model. After all, there were offers from Hollywood, from the world of soap operas and presenting TV shows, well, to be even more famous in show business. That was not what I wanted anymore.
I dedicate myself now to artistic activities, and the work of creating requires a lot of dedication and effort. That is why I decided to focus my strength on bigger projects. The principal one is to help people to achieve their dreams also. This book was one of the ways I found to be useful in that way. With the experience and the strength of my twenty-six years I want to participate in the preservation of nature, the defense of life, of human dignity.
I am thankful for having the privilege of living both sides of the coin: the extreme glamour of the spotlights of fashion and the discovery of the simple things in life, of true sensations. Although I have always traveled to the best places in the world, enjoyed the best hotels, been invited to big parties and events, I confess, from my heart, that what I love the most is to be by the sea, fishing for my own fish and preparing it right there, beside the woman of my life.
When someone asks me how I achieved all of this, I answer humbly: - it was luck. And when someone wants to know what kind of man I am, I say: - I am an eternal apprentice that believes in just three things in life: true love is all that we need; death is certain; and we plant what we harvest, seeing that the universe is a constant exchange of energy…