Ruth Willmer, Sarah Tilleke, Olivia Donaldson, Anouska Freedman and Shenika Rule. Picture: Fabrizio Lipari

There could be nothing more surreal for an aspiring model than having industry superstars Naomi Campbell and Nicole Trunfio fighting to be your mentor.

But that's exactly what's happened to WA-raised, Sydney-based beauty Sarah Tilleke, who has made it into the top 12 of the Australian version of The Face alongside fellow West Australians Olivia Donaldson, Shenika Rule, Ruth Willmer and Anouska Freedman.

Campbell, who "faced off" against fellow supermodels Coco Rocha and Karolina Kurkova in the US version of the reality TV modelling search, is competing against Trunfio and Cheyenne Tozzi to mentor an eventual winner, who will become an ambassador for global skincare brand Olay.

"I totally look up to Nicole Trunfio and she has been such a role model for me so it was really hard to go with Naomi," the 18-year-old brunette told AAA of her decision to join Campbell's team.

"I mean, Naomi, one of the original supermodels, and Nicole, who I've looked up to since the beginning of my career. In the end it came down to feeling like Naomi fought for me just that little bit harder. She convinced me just with what she said to me on the day."

Tilleke insists Campbell is nowhere near as scary off-camera as she seems on-screen.

"She's Naomi and she has this reputation but off-camera she was extremely nurturing," Tilleke says.

"I'd call her 'coach' and she'd kind of laugh. If you needed a kick up the bum, she was the first one to give it to you. In the photo shoots she was tough and it could be kind of scary to be on the receiving end of that but she was like a second mother to us and we'd literally just hang out with her for hours."

One of the aspiring model's first challenges was a "raw" beauty shot with no make-up or props.

"A couple of girls had done their shots when Naomi came backstage and said 'I'm really not impressed'. Apparently she said she wanted things to be really simple but I must have misheard. I thought she wanted something dramatic so I came in and did this massive hair flick.

"Later the camera crew came up to me and said 'Wow, you disobeyed Naomi!' I didn't even realise she'd said to do the complete opposite. I must have done something right because the photo got me through."

Tilleke, who was first discovered handing in her resume at a supermarket, says she could never have imagined a year ago that she would be working with Campbell on a TV show.

"On our first meeting I was like a nervous little schoolgirl," she laughs. "But after a while you really do almost forget that she's this colossal figure in the modelling world."

The West Australian

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