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Fiji Time: 6:59 AM on Monday 21 April

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Rags to riches

Margaret Wise
Friday, June 21, 2013

A SAVUSAVU-born international photographer is now a household name in the fashion world having successfully completed a stint as a judge and lead photographer on the reality show, Caribbean's Next Top Model.

But Pedro Virgil, 40, whose personal portrait belies the face of someone who "comes from the bush", says he will never forget his formative years where life was lived without electricity, and studying at night was accomplished using candles and kerosene lamps.

His mother, Sikiti Lum, is from Namuka-i-Lau while father Charles Wakeham is from Savusavu.

"I have never forgotten Fiji, never forgotten," he shared.

"My mum was born in Namuka-i- Lau but raised in Lekutu, now that is bush. Even people in Fiji have not been to Lekutu.

"Based between Europe, the US and now the Caribbean, sometimes I can be in a penthouse or some place splash like that and I just think of my mother.

"I sit down and I become so thankful to God for my mother and for the opportunities.

"I thank my mother for bringing me out of Savusavu, and then Labasa where I grew up, and to Australia. For supporting me all the way, through all the decisions that I made.

"Without my mother's love and support I would have been nothing."

Migrating to Australia with his mother when he was 16, Virgil's journey to succeed as a performer and artist is marked with struggles and perseverance.

"My interest in performing started in Labasa when we would peep through the windows of neighbours who had TV sets at that time," he said.

"My favourite was the Australian show, Young Talent Time.

"This journey was tough. I got a lot of 'no' and rejection but I never gave up, supplementing my income through singing."

Virgil exploded on to the world stage after undertaking a community charity project in Newcastle to raise funds for the upgrade of the stadium there.

The calendar project featuring local rugby players was so successful, he decided in 2008 to replicate the project using Australia's hottest first grade rugby players and a whole line-up of other national sporting heroes. GODS of FOOTBALL became an internationally-recognised brand and from there began Virgil's rapid rise.

Today, his bodies of work have an international following and he straddles a client list which includes big brand names such as Calvin Klein, Sony Ericsson, Van Heusen, GQ Magazine, Australian Vogue, Inside Sport, Men's Health, Men's Exercise, Sports Illustrated, GT (UK), DNA magazine, FHM Magazine (UK , USA , AUST), and ALL IN MAG (USA).

Virgil's long list of corporate work is not limited to magazine covers and editorials. He has also worked on television shows including Australia's Next Top Model, Project Runway seasons I & II and Football Superstar and Australian Idol.