Rachel Hunter's rise to the top

New Zealand's most successful and high-profile model, Rachel Hunter, celebrates her 40th birthday today. Stuff.co.nz looks back over her 40 years.

Hunter has come a long way since her days as a Tip-Top model in New Zealand.

After shooting to fame after a Sports Illustrated magazine shoot in 1989 she's gone on to grace the cover of countless magazines, appear in several reality TV shows and films, woo several of the world's biggest stars, and has started her own clothing and swimwear lines.

HER COLLECTION: Rachel Hunter with some of the clothes in her Rachel collection on display at the Warehouse in Glenfield mall.
HER COLLECTION: Rachel Hunter with some of the clothes in her Rachel collection on display at the Warehouse in Glenfield mall.

Born in Auckland in 1969 to Wayne Hunter and Jeneen Phillips, Hunter left Glenfield College on Auckland's North Shore with just a School Certificate.

She broke into the international modeling scene aged 17, appearing in such high-profile magazines as Vogue and Cosmopolitan and a 2004 spread in Playboy which reportedly netted her $2.75 million.

Her life in the public eye really took off when she met and later married aging Scottish rocker Rod Stewart when she was 21, with whom she has two children to Renee,16, and Liam, 14.

The pair separated nine years later in 1999 and finally divorced in 2006, with Hunter reportedly pocketing $13 million of Stewart's $260 million fortune.

The blonde beauty was recently reportedly heartbroken after her much younger fiancée, professional ice hockey player Jarret Stoll, 27, reportedly emailed guests to tell them their wedding was off without giving a reason.

It was reported Hunter's "princess complex" had led to the breakup.

As well as Stoll and Stewart, she has been connected in the past with singer Robbie Williams and actor Bruce Willis.

Her private life has been tabloid fodder for years though she has tried to keep parts of it private.

"As far as my personal life and my relationships with people - and we all know who they are - it's one thing I'll never ever go into ever again," she said in the documentary Rachel Laid Bare.

Hunter was forced to deny she had had any plastic surgery after a picture of her in a revealing bra, which prompted Stewart's new wife Penny Lancaster, whom Hunter apparently does not get along with, to claim Hunter's breasts were fake.

British tabloids jumped on the claims, suggesting that most of Hunter's body had been retouched, claims which Hunter denied.

Hunter, who placed 34th on men's magazine FHM's list of Sexiest Women in the World in 2003, has featured in a number of reality TV programmes including The Real Gilligan's Island, Strictly Come Dancing, Dancing with the Stars and Celebrity Paranormal Project.

On her website she says she is attending acting lessons and trying to build her acting resume.

The fashion designer has made appearances on The Drew Carey Show and Suddenly Susan, as well as appearing in seven films including A Walk in the Park, Two Shades of Blue and Just a Little Harmless Sex.

She has also appeared in a number of music videos, including the chart topping Stacey's Mom by Fountains of Wayne.

In Rachel Laid Bare, she described her rise from a Kiwi beach bum to someone who wouldn't get out of bed for less than $50,000,

"I was basically the reluctant girl who became a sensation down there and became a sensation up in the States, and became one of the biggest editorial models in Elle magazine and Harper's Bazaar and all that. And then there were the contracts," she said.

She said she was worth about $20 million.

The Los Angeles resident is also a vocal animal rights campaigner.

She is an ambassador for the Born Free Foundation which helps to prevent animal suffering, protects threatened species and keep wildlife in the wild, according to the website and has established the Rachel Hunter Gorilla Fund.

On top of this she found time to star in a court case.

In 2004 she was groped by a Christchurch teenager who managed to escape without a conviction but was forced to apologise to the supermodel and make a $100 donation to Women's Refuge.

Hunter's agent, former All Black Andy Haden said she was spending her birthday in LA with her family and friends.

He said she would be in New Zealand in 10 days time to promote her new range of clothes through The Warehouse. She also has a swim wear range called Lola.

She was last in New Zealand, along with ex-fiancée Stoll, in August.