Books & Art

Joey Mead King, the Eternal Cool Chick, Doesn't Hold Back in Tell-All Memoir

It’s a brutally frank look at the life of the model and host.
ILLUSTRATOR WARREN ESPEJO
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In Runaway Model, Joey Mead gives readers a hard, unflinching look at her life outside of the glare of the spotlight. Some might wonder what else a person who’s lived most of her life in the public eye and who’s done countless magazine covers and interviews has to say. Quite a lot, it turns out, as with many people whose faces we often see staring back at us on print pages, TV, and digital screens.

Mead is a familiar face and name in most social circles in Manila and across the region. She started modeling in her teens and has worked pretty much nonstop for over two decades. But if you’re thinking the book is just another run-of-the-mill memoir from a bored celebrity that does nothing but name-drop other celebrities or tell stories of the excesses of the party scene in the '90s and 2000s, think again. 

She does tell stories, but about things like encountering racism and bullying in school, about experiencing sexual harassment from a family member, and about toxic relationships that almost killed her.

In fact, the book doesn’t start by easing us into what life was like for a young Filipino-Iranian kid growing up in 1980s Australia. In Chapter 1, she dispenses with formalities and goes right in with a telenovela-worthy story about discovering that the man she’s always thought was her father actually wasn’t, and that relatives she thought were aunts and uncles back in the Philippines were actually half-brothers and half-sisters. 

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Mead minces no words describing her fractured relationship with her mother, whom she said wished she had aborted her and advised her to become a high-class escort when she grew up.

“I decided I would tell the truth,” Mead writes. “Even if it got me in trouble. Even if I often heard the word traitor hurled at me from my teen years until my early 40s. I was calling mom out on her lies because I didn't want to end up like that.”

Mead spent a couple of years as a teenager on her own in Manila, where she first became exposed to the glamorous world of modeling. She describes taking public transportation on her own—tricycles, buses, jeepneys, you name it—and meeting people who helped her get a foot in the door. After a brief stint back in Australia, where she discovered just how irreparable her relationship with her mother was, she decided to come back to the Philippines and start living life on her own terms.

Assisted by co-author Lara Parpan, Mead writes purposefully and matter-of-factly, even about awkward or delicate matters. 

About her looks she says: “To my face they said I was gorgeous. A standout. Perfect for the shoot. Behind my back, however, it was, ‘Her boobs are too big.’ ‘She has bad teeth.’ ‘Her hips are too wide.’ I was criticized from every angle.”

She devotes several pages to an ex-boyfriend who was verbally and physically abusive, whom she calls CM.

“When we entered my apartment, CM and I sat across each other. He started with, ‘Tell me: What did you do wrong?' I learned how to approach this by just agreeing. I thought I had some control of the situation. Then, he said, ‘What do I do when you disobey me?’ I realized I was trapped. He got up, threw me on the floor, and dragged me to my bedroom. I tried to fight back, but he held me face down on my bed with my arms behind my back, his left hand holding both my wrists in a vise while his right hand punched my ribcage. I thought of the knife in the kitchen and desperately hoped he didn’t see it. I really thought I was going to die right then and there.”

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Mead’s story is one of survival and hope, though not the one we’re used to. Many memoirs are vanity projects; a way for people to sanitize their stories and present only what’s palatable or illuminating. Mead’s approach is one of fullness and complete transparency. By telling her story, she introduces us to her demons and promptly exorcises them in the process. When we get to the end of the short book (only 125 pages), we get a sense that a gigantic load has been lifted, not just off of her, who had to carry these things all her life, but from us as well, who briefly goes on this journey with her.

At surface level, one can look at Runaway Model as an inside look at the life of a celebrity—the constant jetsetting to exotic locations, the nonstop parties and late nights out, and the rubbing of elbows with superstars like Keanu Reeves and Gerard Butler. But it’s also a story about a woman finding her place in the world, a reminder of the rewards of sheer doggedness, and a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of arrogance. Most of all, it’s an eye-opening and brutally frank treatise about the search for identity and how far we’re willing to go to find ourselves.

And yes, Mead talks extensively about her relationship with her wife, the former Ian King, who is now known as Angelina Mead-King. The press about this unique coupling has been relentless since day one, and while they have talked about it a few times in the past—and even starred in a special TV feature called The Kings—Mead (who also now goes by Mead-King) goes even further in the book. She discusses her initial misgivings that eventually turned into anger and resentment, and finally, to acceptance and love. 

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To be clear, the Kings don’t owe anybody anything, least of all busybodies who have the emotional understanding of a housefly, but that Mead chooses to let us in, even about something as intensely personal as her feelings about her spouse, only heightens her resilience, and her cool factor.

And that’s what she is. If you didn’t already know, Joey Mead-King is the eternal cool chick. And this book is just more proof of that.

Runaway Model is published by Summit Books, a unit of Summit Media Inc., which also publishes Esquire Philippines. It will be available in January 2022.

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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