Woody Cook

28 January 2019


Photographer MICHELLE MARSHALL
Fashion NATHAN HENRY
Interview CECILIE HARRIS
Grooming MEREDITH LACOSSE using Weleda UK
Model WOODY COOK at PRM Models

"You can never be sad in Happyland." This is the philosophy of 18-year old Woody Cook. We sit down in his room, where he has a full view of the ocean. Water as far as the eye can see.

He is the son of the beach. Loves the sun. Loves the sea. He can run barefoot on the rocky shore. Every day he spends a few moments outside of his room in the ocean breeze, simply taking in the calm of the view presented to him. You can't blame him - we all would. Recharging. Finding that inner peace to help you deal with whatever may have been thrown at you that day. If the sun comes out, Woody is straight out on his balcony - face to the sky, charging like a solar panel.

There are smiley faces all over his house. Literally. In every imaginable space and form. In the living room, in the kitchen, in the hallway, on the walls, pins on hats, figures on shelves, on the roof, and in his room. It all stems from a story his father told him (spoiler alert: it's included in the below interview). It's impossible not to crack a smile. Okay, Woody was dealt a lucky hand at birth, but ultimately, no matter your situation - happiness is a choice. And Woody has tasted both sides. He chooses to steer towards positivity, and he wants to make people happy.

Life is a series of choices and kids of today have access to more knowledge, information, and choices than I was ever presented with during my teen years. When the world is at your fingertips, nothing seems impossible. But some things you don’t choose, they are chosen for you - embedded in your core - and it’s more about an inner discovery and coming to terms with it. Accepting it. And his generation is all about acceptance. When Woody discovered that he likes both girls and boys, it wasn’t a big deal. Not to him, not to his friends. Woody is bisexual. Love who you want. Be who you want. 'Is this the age of bisexuality?', we wonder together. A generation so accepting that everyone, more and more, is now able to be exactly who they are - without the restrictions and insecurities of previous generations. It’s a curious question. Beautiful even. Woody thinks so.

Spending a day at his home, we definitely left a little happier than when we arrived. And on the train on the way home from Brighton, the sea breeze still stroking our hair, we choose happiness too.

"I used to have my bed here by the window, so I could hear the ocean every night when I went to sleep. I found it quite soothing, and it makes me feel at home. Now my bed is a bit further into the room, and I can only hear it if the water is quite close in. Whenever I'm close to the ocean, I feel at home".

'Cause you've grown up here?
Yes, I've always been by the sea. I like being by the sea. It's easy to navigate; that way is the ocean and from there you'll know where everything else is.

You've grown up with this beautiful view. Wide open ocean. What is your relationship with the ocean?
It never gets old. I feel like I'm the son of the beach. I've grown up there. I can run on the stones barefoot, which many people can't. It's a bit of a party trick. It just feels natural and calming being by the sea. Sometimes I get a bit stressed out when I'm in London, there is so much going on there - but when you're by the sea, you know that when everything gets too much, you can just go to the beach.

Do you do that quite often, as now you're spending a bit more time in London after you got signed to PRM Models?
I don't really mind it, I always have a good time there. But there is nothing more calming than just sitting by the ocean. I do it pretty much every day. Especially when I'm really stressed out, I'll sit out there - and you also get that mild ocean breeze and the coolness. It's very natural. And it's the furthest thing from sitting in a warm, sweaty school. It's beautiful.

How do you experience London, as that's completely opposite to this?
London is really cool, there are all these landmarks and it feels like a really buzzing city. I really like that, and I really enjoy going up there, but I don't really want to live there - not anywhere that wasn't by the sea, as I really like the seaside.

I understand where you are coming from with that as I grew up by the seaside in Norway. So being here today, I feel like I can breathe again for a little while. How would you explain to someone who doesn't know you who Woody is?
Top question. My philosophy is that I really like making people happy, and I want to get into a place where I can make people happy. I want to leave the world a better place. Me, per se, I'm quite talkative and enthusiastic. I'm not a fan of sitting inside all day at home or college - I feel it's really restricting and I'd much rather be out and about. I love being outside. I also love spending time with my mates - when I'm with my mates I feel so at home. I really like festivals, and I'm bisexual. I'm a bit of a free thinker. I don't care what gender someone is. I'm quite laid back about most things in life, including my sexual orientation.

Do you think your open mindset has been shaped by the open landscape, the people around you, and the generation you're growing up in?
I think it's a mixture. The fact is that I feel like I've been born in such a blessed situation, that I've got no reason to feel down. Whenever I complain about stuff, it's a bit like: 'oooh first world problems' - it's just a bit petty. There are so many bigger things in the world, but I'm in such a good position that I should be free-thinking and happy. I really feel like my friends and family are all really laid-back - especially my parents. And growing up around them has taught me sharing, happiness, and kindness. The quote: "Give a little love and it all comes back to you". That's how I feel. If I'm nice to people, laid-back, and happy - then hopefully my life will be happy and laid-back. And there is just no need to bring any more negativity into the world. There is enough of it.

There's a lot to dive into here. I've been looking forward to my chat with you today, 'cause we had such a nice chat the other day. You said that you want to make people happy. That's a really beautiful thing. How do you think you can make other people happy?
At the moment, I've got a few friends who are going through stuff, and it's just the idea that if I dedicate a few minutes of my time every day to saying something nice to them, this can make such a difference. Being positive, showing interest and that someone cares - that stability can help someone and really make quite a difference. Or if I'm at a party and I see someone looking like they're not quite having a good time, I'd rather spend an hour making them happy than just go on without them. At the end of the day, if one person is not happy, how would you like to be that person? I always find that by just giving someone the time of day to try to help them out, there is nothing like it. It makes me happy in return. Then we've got two more happy people. You need that, 'cause you can really get bogged down by things. I got a bit down a little while ago about a breakup, I was also in a car crash - everything turned on its head, and suddenly exams were approaching. It was a bit of a dark time for me. But I've always felt that if you've got some sort of a goal or an end goal, and then a lot of smaller goals you know you can achieve - as long as you do something every day, your life becomes that little bit better. Whether you go to the gym or learn something, as long as you do something to make your life better every single day, you're getting one step closer to that goal. Having that goal can be really good for staying happy. It's quite good for the enjoyment of life and staying happy. It can be really therapeutic.

You mentioned that you are bisexual. Is that a recent discovery for you or something you have always known?
Yes, I am bisexual. It’s something I’ve known for three years. I always felt, growing up, that I had all these thoughts and I just shook it off. Then one day I was at a party, and there was this girl I really liked who said: "it’s a shame you’re not a girl, I’m only really into girls - it’s great being gay". And I said, 'Yeah, I’m gay too, I’m bisexual'. I just said it as a laugh at the time, but then the next day I woke up and thought: 'Why did I say that?'. And then, the more I thought about it I thought, 'Oh my god, that explains everything!'. And then it was that miracle moment, where my entire life had been really conflicted, and I suddenly realised that was it. My friendship group is really laid-back, and I think this is sort of the age of bisexuality. We’ve come to a new age where sexuality is so much less of a thing. I mean, it can still be a thing and a lot of people still care, but there are enough people who don’t care. I feel like it’s the time for everyone to be liberal about it. If everyone is really open about it, then there is nothing that the people who don’t like it can do. All my friends were really accepting at the time. I did get a bit of shit at my school for a while, but at the end of the day, I don’t really care. And since I left that school it’s been much better. Especially at the college I’m at, there is a really big presence of the LGBTQ community - it’s really positive. There are still places in England that wouldn’t be so accepting, but I’d like to think that we’re past that - especially in Brighton, haha.

Have you had both girlfriends and boyfriends, or more shorter term attractions?
I feel like I’m more attracted to girls and I go out with girls, but I also don’t mind guys. I haven’t been out with a guy yet, but maybe something could change that. At the moment it feels more natural with girls, but I’m also attracted to guys.

What is it about girls and what is it about guys?
The dynamic is really different with the two. Guys are much more straightforward with everything, but I prefer the dynamic with girls. Boys are more open to hanging out together and getting to know each other.

We have talked to a lot of gay guys but not so many bisexual guys, so I find that really interesting.
The reason I can’t choose is because one day I feel it's completely girls, and another day I could be thinking about guys. I don’t know if it’s a gay time of the month, haha. But it changes from day to day. It’s very fluid. Love is love, you can be who you want and love who you want. That’s my viewpoint.

That’s such a beautiful thing, which brings me to Generation Z who is so much more accepting than previous generations. What do you feel are the great things about being part of this generation?
The good parts are opportunities in the creatives industries. All these new films being made, full streaming services - it’s a gateway for creativity. You’ve never had more choice in what you want to watch. There is so much being made and there’s a little bit for everyone. With the Internet, there is always somewhere to go to find out anything you want - the world is at your fingertips. Then acceptance as well has gone up increasingly - the word is a more accepting place to be. Support for mental health has gone up incredibly. All these things we didn’t diagnose before, now we know what they all are and there is a lot more support for those who need it.

What about the bad parts?
The bad part is the reliance on social media. People can be so bitchy behind your back. You can’t really escape it when you’ve got social media. And with things like Instagram and likes, it can make you feel quite worthless when someone has all these likes and everything is based on lies. It can make a lot of people feel worse about themselves. I wasn’t allowed a Nintendo DS until I was nine or phone until I was 14. My sister had an iPad at four and now has a new iPhone, and she is eight years old! Children with technology. The Internet is a big place with a lot of bad stuff, and I don’t think they should be experiencing it at such a young age. There are so many other things to experience in life. We’re all addicted to our phones at this age and you don’t want to be addicted to your phone from the age of four. You’d never go outside. And then the last thing about acceptance; although we are very accepting, I think acceptance for trans people is still awful. As much as we don’t mind sexuality anymore, I feel like we’re still really backwards around people who are trans. A person is been born like that, so I don’t understand why we should treat he or she any differently. I’ve got friends who are trans and I’ve heard some horrid stuff. It feels like there is a lot further we need to come in acceptance for trans people.

Generations older than you didn’t grow up with the same amount of acceptance, how have your parents accepted your bisexuality?
I told my mum and her first reaction was: “You can’t be, you like girls?”. I got her to look back upon her group of friends and she started to realise she knew more bi people then she thought. I think it was a bigger thing in her time. Some people assume it's an in-between before you are gay. But really, it’s a thing on its own. I’m sure a lot of gay and straight people who are in that generation are bi, but have never come out or never even realised it because it wasn’t really talked about.

Maybe we never dared to be curious about it because it wasn’t so accepted then? I’m pretty sure if I grew up where you are now, that I’d be bisexual. I would have the confidence to experiment and feel accepted. But it never really was a possibility in my mind because of the environment we grew up in.
I don’t really know about the generation above that again. None of my grandparents knows and they might be finding out after this interview. It might be interesting, but I feel like this was the time. There are a ton of people out there who should have the confidence to come out and be themselves. 'Cause there is nothing worse than not being ourselves.

So I guess in your quest of wanting to make people happy, this is one of your steps.
Yes! If I can’t be open, then I’m not being a good example.

What relationship do you have with mental health?
My entire life I’ve been as happy as could be. I’ve had a few things happening in my life; my parents divorced and the suicide of my mum’s boyfriend. I was happy through all of it, but then at some point last year I felt really down. It’s the first time I’ve ever been like that, and I was feeling really shit for a long time. I had lots of friends and I worked really hard trying to understand why I was feeling that way, but I pushed through and I’m back to being happy again. I had always been very passionate about it, 'cause I have quite a few friends who do suffer from depression and anxiety - and it’s such a pressing issue. It’s so horrible feeling that way. And then having felt a bit of what it was like, I feel even more passionate about it. The little things mean the most. If someone has anxiety, even small things can properly blow out of proportion. I’ve been on the other end of that, I’ve been making the wrong jokes and wondering why someone would get upset from something that was just a joke. Having then been on the other end, overthinking things, I know that it’s out of your control. You believe things that you know aren’t true, but it’s in your mind, and there is nothing you can do about it. And I think people need to know, with depression and anxiety - it may seem like that person overthinks it, but it’s the way their brain is programmed. They can’t help the fact they are feeling and thinking that way. That’s why they need support from their friends and family.

How do you think you got to that space for a little while?
I’m not really sure what first put me into that space, but I felt this lack of any achievement. I didn’t think I was doing anything or getting anywhere in my life. I felt like I was stuck where I was. I felt really distant from my friends - like no-one actually really liked me - and that I was nobody special. And then I was stuck like that for a while. I thought it was my girlfriend’s fault and so I ended up breaking up with her - which made me feel worse, 'cause she meant so much to me and still does. But it wasn't, which made it even worse - and in the midst of all that I was then in a car crash, which wrote off my car and almost killed me. A car hit my driver side door at 50 mph and I’m lucky to be alive. After that, I got into one of those headspaces. I felt like I was doing really crap at college and like no-one cared enough around me. I set my eyes on making it better. I started going to the gym quite a lot and spending more time with the people I really love - people I really wanted to see and have around me. And I stopped doing everything for everyone else. I was trying to make everyone happy, and I realised that sometimes you need to make yourself happy before you can make anyone else happy. So I pushed through it.

Looking at the ocean maybe?
Haha, yes! Just sitting there taking in mother nature. The sun really helps as well. I lie out there as soon as the sun is out. Wear as little as possible, get as much sun as possible, for as long as possible. Charging like a solar panel.

Would you say you’re an emotional person?
I used to be quite an unemotional person, a bit distant. Things didn’t phase me in the past. I felt disconnected. But then again, I feel a lot of happiness. I feel certain emotions more, like happiness and joy. I don’t like to be hung up on being sad.

If you do get to an unhappy place, what do you do?
There are certain friends that I can never be unhappy around, it just makes me so happy being with them. So I go see them, have a load of sleep, and talk to my parents about it. Go out and do something. A lot of the time, sitting around the house can make it worse. If you’re feeling unhappy and you just sit there or you're just on your phone - it’s so much worse than if you go out and see people. Even if it’s just for a couple of hours, chatting about how you’re feeling. Laughing is the best medicine. If you go and have a bit of a giggle with your mates, it can change your perspective on everything and get you in a brighter mood.

Are you okay with your own company?
I am. There was a time when I really didn’t think I was, but that was after the breakup, so I had a reason. But yeah, I’m usually pretty happy on my own. I’d rather be with other people though. I don’t like sitting inside all day, I prefer to go out and do something. If I feel like I’ve stayed at the house all day, I feel like I’ve achieved nothing and it’s a bit of a waste of time. We’ve only got a certain amount of days on this earth. If you sit inside all day, you’re wasting it.

Does your happy attitude come from all the smiley faces around this house? They’re everywhere.
I mean, the smiley faces came from a story my dad told me about Happyland and when he was in a bad place. He and his girlfriend went on holiday, they weren’t doing so well and felt really unhappy. They had these patches of the acid house logo with a little smiley face on it, and they ended up putting them up all around the hotel room in the most stupid places. Everywhere they looked there would be a smile. It made them giggle and laugh so much about the fact that there was happiness everywhere. Like, you can never be sad in Happyland.

So that’s been brought over to you now?
Yeah! I’ve learned lessons from my dad and mum. About being laid-back, and to give a little love and it will all come back to you. Sharing. If you’re nice to everyone, everyone will be nice to you. It’s about being happy.

It’s a simple rule, but very effective. Very true, nobody is going to be mean to you if you’ve been nice to them.
At my last school, there were loads of people who were mean to me, and I’d just be nice to them. It’s not being nice for something in return, it’s just the way to be. There is no point in being rude to people. There is no point in making anyone unhappy. Of course, I have made people unhappy, but I've never done it to make them unhappy. It’s how life is. But on the whole, trying to increase happiness.

Even on your roof, there is a huge smiley face that you can see from the sky, I’m sure.
Yes, just broadcasting happiness, haha! Anyone looking closely at Brighton, they can be happy now too.

What is your happiest place?
It’s going to have to be in the sun at a festival. There is something about everyone being really happy. You’ve got thumping music in the background, you’ve got food trucks, the people, you’ve got all these strangers, and it’s the only time where you can walk up to a stranger and have a conversation with them without it being weird. At a festival, it feels like everyone could be your friend.

You mentioned long term goals. What are yours?
My long term goal is to do something in front of or behind the camera. My more immediate goal is to get into Bristol uni to study film and drama. After that, we'll see what comes. But I'd love to get into that industry, and at the same time spread positivity.

What is it about the film world that makes you want to go into it?
I've always been obsessed with the media. As someone who's dyslexic, I've always found that for me there was something about film and TV that is really captivating. With acting, I’ve been in quite a few of my friends’ student films. It’s a fun thing to do, I really enjoy it. I did this one role where I was playing someone that’s dead.

Haha!
It sounds really weird, but basically, I was sort of their imaginary friend. I wasn’t just a body, haha. In the film, it was like I was there, but in the final scene, it reveals that I’m actually dead and just a figment of their imagination.

If I were to watch that film, you’ve just ruined it for me.
Yeah, haha, if you ever watch that student film, you’ll be one of the hundred people who’s seen it. But I really enjoyed it, and it was so interesting and fun. I also really love music. I’ve got a guitar and equipment to record. I like a mixture between rap and R&B, less lyrical, more musical - that sort of sound. Across things like Katranada and Tom Misch that are much slower paced - I really enjoy making it. I write quite a lot of lyrics as well. I’m just storing them up at the moment. I wrote a song about my ex. I know it’s a bit cliche, but it was really therapeutic to get out all my emotions into a track. I got to say all the things I couldn’t say. Whenever I wanted to say it, I froze up or freaked out - but in a song, I could say what I wanted to say. I’d love to release it on Soundcloud this summer. There are a lot of things and ideas in the pipeline.

I admire so many artists and how they communicate a story or an idea through music. They have this ability to spread a message through their songs, and the idea that you can spread a message through song - I really want to be able to do that as well. The music industry is so desaturated though, as it’s much cheaper to make music now. Anyone can do it, so you’ve really got to stand out. You can’t do the same thing as everyone else, 'cause otherwise, no one is going to listen to it.

What impact do you want to make in the world?
I want people to feel like it's okay being themselves. Even if one person feels more accepting of themselves and it can help them through a rough patch. The idea that it’s alright and it will be alright. Things can be shit, but things get better. Life is like a rollercoaster; sometimes you just need to throw your hands in the air and let it take you somewhere. I’d love for my impact to be that more people have a good time. We’re only here once, so you’ve got to make it as good as you can.

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Above: Woody wears Jacket by MCQ.

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Above left: Jacket by BALLY, Shirt and Jeans by XANDER ZHOU
Above right: T-shirt by J BRAND and Jumper by JIL SANDER

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Above left: As before.
Above right: Coat, Shirt and Tie by CELINE by HEDI SLIMANE

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Above: Coat, Shirt, Tie and Trousers by CELINE by HEDI SLIMANE

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Above left: Jacket by WOOYOUNGMI and Vest by JOHN LAWRENCE SULLIVAN
Above right: Vest by LANVIN and Shirt by CASELY-HAYFORD

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Above left: Vest and Trousers by LANVIN, Shirt by CASELY-HAYFORD
Above right: Jacket by MCQ, Roll Neck by CALVIN KLEIN JEANS, Shorts by JIL SANDER and Shoes by SANDRO

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Above: Woody wears Jacket by BALLY, Shirt and Jeans by XANDER ZHOU and Shoes by SANDRO

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Above left: Full look by CELINE by HEDI SLIMANE
Above right: As before

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Above: Shirt by BALLY and Trousers by STELLA MCCARTNEY

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