In 2003, a 14-year-old Cat McNeil won the Girlfriend Model Search. This week, she got married.

When model Cat McNeil was 14 years old, she applied for a motorcycle apprenticeship. 

"But the guy just looked at me and said, 'You don't look like the mechanic type and sent me away," she shared

It was 2003. And the lanky tomboy lived on acreage in the Brisbane suburb of Logan, surrounded by horses, dogs, cats and chickens.

"I was just a normal kid living in the bush," she told The Age. 


But then, everything changed. 

At the encouragement of her mum and grandmother, the shy teen entered the Girlfriend magazine Model Search competition. 

She won - a week after her 14th birthday - beating fellow contestant, Ruby Rose (they later dated and got engaged - but more on that later). 

The prize involved a trip to New York where she signed with the agency, Next. But they sent her home to "mature" for a few years.

"I had blonde hair and was a bit chubbier," McNeil recounted with a shrug.

She moved to Sydney, and landed some big gigs: Harpers Bazaar, Vogue and Australian Fashion Week. 

Then at 17, she returned to the Big Apple. This time, to be catapulted into the international spotlight. 

But acclimating to the newfound attention didn't come naturally.

"I tried to blend in with the wall as much as I could. I was just like, 'Please don’t see me'," she reflected with Vogue

Indeed, they saw her. 

Through her Paris agency, in 2006, McNeil garnered an exclusive contract with the revered - and controversial - photographer Mario Testino. He shot her for the British and French editions of Vogue, and captured her for campaigns for Hugo Boss and Dolce and Gabbana. 

"He was so struck by her pillowed lips, her Amazonian legs, her sultry adult face — so radically unlike the whittled marionette blanks that have held sway for the past couple years," gushed The New York Times fashion columnist, Guy Trebay in 2007. 


Then McNeil walked the Yves Saint Laurent show in New York.

"Who is she?" was the question on the lips of many.

"I live for that girl," remarked Lauren Goodman, fashion director of Condé Nast's Domino magazine. 

Speaking to The New York Times, respected casting director James Scully praised McNeil as "utterly gorgeous, an old-school-type beauty", before adding, "I think we're coming into a more voluptuous time".

Cat McNeil walks in the Just Cavalli runway, 2007. Image: Getty.


British Vogue deemed her one of the 'Head Girls' and a model to watch. The now-defunct listed her in its top 10 new faces for 2007.

The industry was besotted; over the next two years, McNeil was everywhere

She became the face of Donna Karan and Versace. She walked on the runway for Roberto Cavalli, Gucci, Alexander McQueen, Fendi, Givenchy, Chanel, Christian Dior and Hermès - to name just a few. She opened and closed shows and featured in almost every edition of Vogue.

But it took a toll. And by, 2009, at the height of her fame, McNeil took a step back. 

"It felt like I couldn’t keep track of what was going on—I was over here, then going over there, I was invited to this party—I’m a very private person, so it’s a lot to handle," she recently opened up to The Oz.

"I still look back today and there are photo shoots where I’m like, 'I don’t even remember that...' because I was just working so much."

Around the same time, McNeil was photographed in a kiss with model friend and then-MTV host, Ruby Rose at LA's Roosevelt Hotel. According to reports, McNeil's agents were "furious" when the pictures emerged, believing the association could jeopardise her career prospects. 


But McNeil had never shied away from her bisexual identity, having been previously linked with Danish model Freja Beha Erickson (and she is an advocate for LGBTQ causes).

McNeil and Rose eventually became engaged, before parting ways in 2010.

The Queenslander packed up for London - and took an extended hiatus for two years. 

During that time, she didn't pick up a single fashion magazine. 

And then it was announced in the November 2012 edition of Vogue Australia: "Catherine McNeil is back".

The following year, she erupted back on to the Fall/Winter runways. 

"I got a bit bored and just needed some mental stimulation. I missed the people I was working with, so I thought I'd keep it going and see if they'd have me back. It turned out alright and I'm having fun again," she told i-D.

Famed casting director Piergiorgio Del Moro told Vogue, "Cat has proved time and again to possess the best qualities of a model."

"She chooses to reinvent herself often and with each change, she manifests a unique and special moment."

Shortly after in 2013, she also announced her engagement British male model Miles Langford - though again, it was later called off. 

But the catwalks and high fashion campaigns continued. 

Again, the pace was dizzying. 


Off the runway, the tabloid press critiqued McNeil's "hard partying lifestyle" and "extreme weight loss".

And then the pandemic hit. A forced pause. 

In the stillness, McNeil's mental health hit a low. She returned to Australia.

"I got really depressed through the first part of Covid," she told The Oz in October, continuing, "and my mental health is really important to me, so I went to this place called the Health Retreat on the Sunshine Coast... And, um, I got my sobriety back."


An escaped tear rolled down her cheek. 

"Now I’m learning who I am as a person, and I think that’s great in my 30s."

In January 2023, McNeil married NBA player Miles Plumlee, whom she has dated since 2018.

She wore a bow-detailed, cut-out crepe gown by the French label, Mônot.

"Mr and Mrs Plumlee," McNeil wrote on Instagram.

"By far the happiest day of my life!!! Thank you to everyone that made this possible. Love you all."

Following their ceremony, the couple held their reception at the popular New York restaurant Locanda Verde with friends.

With many congratulating them on socials, including ex-fiancée Ruby Rose.


Since the pandemic, McNeil has learned to find joy in slow. 

She discovered solitude in gardening. 

And has also returned to riding motorbikes. 

Musing on the mechanic who told her she didn't look the part of apprentice, almost 20 years later, McNeil laughs, "I guess that happened for a reason, it pushed me into this other career."

And now, at 33, she has made peace with the immensity of her career - and grappled with the weight of it.

"I’ve realised there’s more to me than my job, but it takes a while to figure that out. And for the longest time, I was like, if I don’t have modelling, then who am I?" she said.

With that understanding has also come acceptance. A self-determined confidence.

In August 2022, she featured in a Ksubi campaign. 

And hands on hips, she stared down the camera on the front cover of the November edition of Vogue Australia. Words hang over her right shoulder: 'Catherine McNeil's great comeback'.


Image: Instagram/@catmcneil

She laid low from the limelight for the past three years, but McNeil remains the queen of making an entrance.

Keen to read more from Rebecca Davis? You can find her articles here, or follow her on Instagram.

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