… And God Created Gisele
How does the world’s most successful supermodel—darling of the cameras, advertisers, and tabloids, and worth an estimated $150 million—make her life even more fabulous? By marrying star quarterback Tom Brady, then setting her sights on a higher consciousness. As Gisele Bündchen embarks on her next chapter, the exuberant 28-year-old beauty tells about her secret engagement, the shock of finding out Brady’s ex-girlfriend was pregnant with his baby, and how they’re working out the bi-coastal routine of a new family.
Gisele poses above the New York City skyline on the Plaza hotel’s Royal Terrace Suite balcony. Photographs by Mario Testino; styled by Sarajane Hoare.
Bounding down the stairs of her Greenwich Village town house to greet a visitor, Gisele Bündchen commands the shock value of a close encounter with a giraffe: you can hardly believe an earthly creature is built this way.
Everything about her is so elongated and slender—those impossibly attenuated limbs! the swanlike neck!—that she seems almost preposterous, like a cartoon figure. Nearly six feet tall by the age of 13, she spent her childhood being teased by classmates who called her Olive Oyl.
But Popeye’s rail-thin girlfriend never tantalized anyone with the luscious curves that catapulted Gisele to stardom in her late teens, replacing the pale, wasted “heroin chic” of that era with “the return of the sexy model.” Since then, the tanned, athletic Brazilian beach babe who seemed born to wear a bikini has become the world’s most successful supermodel, amassing a fortune estimated at $150 million; last year alone, according to Forbes, Gisele earned $35 million. The 16th-richest woman in the entertainment industry, she has been featured on more magazine covers than any other model and has appeared as the face of more than 20 brands internationally, with current contracts including Dior, Versace, Max Factor, Ebel watches, and the Dolce & Gabbana fragrance The One.
More photos: A retrospective of Gisele’s appearances in our pages, and Gisele off the catwalk. Also: Video from Gisele’s September 2007 cover shoot. Photograph by Patrick Demarchelier.
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At 28, Gisele has already spent 14 years in front of the cameras, not to mention in the gossip columns—and now she’s begun a whole new chapter of her life. On February 26, seven days after our cover was shot, she married New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in a private twilight ceremony at a Catholic church in Santa Monica that was followed by a small gathering at the couple’s home in Brentwood.
Although the union had the iconic inevitability of typecasting, all-American-style—“the jock marries the prom queen,” as one Web site put it—the news surprised even their friends. Earlier the same week, Gisele had been partying at Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, where she made an appearance for Pantene hair-care products that was widely photographed—and then she suddenly turned up married in Los Angeles. But Gisele, who once described her ideal wedding as “a simple ceremony,” always knew she didn’t want an enormous extravaganza. “I don’t like parties. I prefer something more intimate, just for the closest people.”
Which was precisely what she got. Crestfallen, the paparazzi press had to settle for an after-the-fact description of Gisele’s attire: “The bride, 28, donned a form-fitting ivory lace strapless gown with a trumpet skirt, scalloped edges, long train and a floor-length veil with attached handmade satin roses and attached satin headband, all by Dolce & Gabbana. Her three dogs also wore matching Dolce & Gabbana floral lace collars,” Us Weekly reported.
To Gisele, getting married was merely a formality. “I already feel that way,” she told me a few days before the wedding. “We’ve been together over two years; we’ve been living together. My idea of that is you have a partner who’s got your back. When I’m weak, you can be strong; when I’m strong, you can be weak. That’s what I believe marriage is. Loving someone, you want to grow with them, share with them, share the same values, the same feelings about things, the same beliefs.”
And Gisele—who was raised in a large Catholic family by parents who have been married for 37 years—is convinced she has found her soulmate in Brady. “He’s very close to his family,” she said. “He’s Catholic. His parents have been married 40 years. He’s got a pure heart. That’s all that matters—he’s got the purest heart. I feel grateful because I have a lot of love in my life. I found the person I’m sharing my life with. I have a good man.”
In the months leading up to the wedding, the tabloids buzzed excitedly with rumors of impending nuptials, claiming that Brady had proposed on a private jet on Christmas Eve or that he had gotten down on one knee with a diamond solitaire in mid-January—neither of which was true, according to Gisele, who says they were secretly engaged for considerably longer but she avoided wearing her ring in public because she didn’t want to draw any more attention to herself. The fact that their stealth wedding remained dignified and discreet, and that the news didn’t leak until after it was over, represented a noteworthy victory over the celebrity media that have remained obsessed with Gisele’s every move since she became Leonardo DiCaprio’s girlfriend nine years ago.
Heightened by the raging “Leo-mania” that followed Titanic’s popularity as the highest-grossing film of all time, the irresistible pairing of gorgeous supermodel and heartthrob superstar kept the gossip columns in overdrive throughout their five-year relationship, which was fraught with dramas that included an eight-month breakup, a reconciliation, and recurring reports of Gisele’s exasperation at Leo’s womanizing ways.
Even the end of their romance, in 2005, failed to stem the flow of slavering updates: Leo still can’t believe Gisele dumped him because he refused to make a commitment! Leo drunk-dials Gisele just to hear her voice! Leo wants his current girlfriend, Israeli model Bar Refaeli, on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue—just to irritate Gisele!
But Gisele herself had moved on. At the end of 2006, she fell in love with Tom Brady—an event she describes as practically instantaneous. “I knew right way—the first time I saw him,” she says. “We met through a friend. The moment I saw him, he smiled and I was like, That is the most beautiful, charismatic smile I’ve ever seen! We sat and talked for three hours. I had to go home for Christmas, but I didn’t want to leave. You know that feeling of, like, you can’t get enough? From the first day we met, we’ve never spent one day without speaking to each other.”
Until then, Gisele was happy to be on her own. “I’d been single for a year, and I wasn’t looking for a relationship,” she says. “I’d always been in serious relationships, but you learn a lot about yourself when you’re by yourself, and I was enjoying that process. But you don’t choose.”
Not when it comes to a coup de foudre, anyway. Does she believe in love at first sight? “I believe in feeling connected. Love is something that grows, that comes from nourishment; it builds. But there is a great feeling that happens, that is telling you, I don’t want to leave this room! Whatever that’s called, that’s what happened.”
Their initial bliss was soon dispelled by an unwelcome development. Brady had recently broken up with his girlfriend of the previous three years, Bridget Moynahan, a model and an actress. Soon after he got involved with Gisele, Moynahan announced that she was pregnant with Brady’s child and would have the baby on her own.
“It was definitely a surprise for both of us,” Gisele acknowledges with a rueful smile. “In the beginning you’re living this romantic fantasy; you’re thinking, This can’t be true, it’s so good! And then, Whoops—wake-up call!” She rolls her eyes. “We were dating two and a half months when he found out, and it was a very challenging situation. Obviously, in the beginning, it’s not the ideal thing.”
Moynahan’s pregnancy made Gisele wonder whether she should encourage Brady to re-unite with his former girlfriend. “You question at times—‘Should I stay here? Maybe you should work this out,’” she admits. “But when people break up, it’s for a reason.”
In retrospect, she believes that dealing with the challenge only strengthened her commitment to Brady. “I think it was a blessing, because otherwise I don’t think I would have known what he was made of, and he wouldn’t have known what I was made of,” she says. “I wouldn’t have seen the integrity in him—the way he was a good person through all the times. I was like, You have the heart in a good place! It made me feel more in love with him; it made me realize who he was. Our relationship has become so much stronger, and I think I wouldn’t be as certain as I am today if it weren’t for that.”