SI.com's Arash Markazi is spending the week reporting on this year's Sports Illustrated swimsuit launch. The issue hits newsstands on Feb. 10.
NEW YORK -- The only secret more guarded at Sports Illustrated than the identity of the annual swimsuit cover model is how that secret is finally revealed to the cover model. Most models think they will be told a week or so in advance in order to prepare them for the upcoming media blitz and travel demands that come with being that year's cover girl. The truth is the model isn't told until a few hours before the cover is revealed.
When Bar Refaeli walked into her modeling agency, located in a quaint office on the second floor of a nondescript building in New York, on Monday afternoon she thought she was there for an audition and fitting for an upcoming MTV show. It was a meeting she was hoping to postpone because she was still upset about not getting the cover, figuring like most, if it was going to happen she would have known by now.
As soon as she opened the door of her agent's office, however, she was greeted with a blown-up picture of this year's cover sitting on a chair and Sports Illustrated swimsuit editor Diane Smith, who handed a speechless Refaeli a bouquet of flowers.
"Oh my god," said Refaeli, welling up with tears after seeing herself on the cover. "Wow, wow…wow."
"Isn't it gorgeous?" asked Smith. "Aren't you gorgeous?"
Refaeli was then congratulated by her agent, Scott Lipps, and everyone else at her agency, One Management, who had done their best to contain their excitement before finally letting go as if they were at a surprise party. As she received one congratulatory hug after another, she exclaimed, "I feel like I'm getting married."
While she might not be getting married, Refaeli knows that she will be fielding countless questions about her significant other, Leonardo DiCaprio, in the upcoming days as she embarks on an exhaustive media tour. That doesn't necessarily mean she will answer any of those questions. As tightly as the secret of the cover model is kept, Refaeli seems just as adamant about keeping her relationship with the actor private. That much was evident as she deflected questions about DiCaprio with the same skill as a politician while talking to Entertainment Tonight and other outlets just minutes after being shown the cover.
"I've been getting those questions for years," she said. "I always answer them the same way. I don't talk about my private life."
Her life, however, changed forever at 5:16 pm EST, about five hours after she was first shown the issue, when a 20-foot billboard of this year's cover was unveiled on the corner of 53rd and Broadway, across the street from the Ed Sullivan Theatre where the Late Show with David Letterman was being taped. Letterman later officially revealed the cover on his show about six hours later Monday night with Refaeli set to appear as a guest on the show Tuesday.
"What? I'm going to be on Letterman? Wow!" Refaeli said when being briefed on her upcoming schedule. "I can't believe this. It's been my dream to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated since I was 15 and I finally got it. I still can't believe it."
As Refaeli was being toasted with glasses of champagne in her agent's office, Smith gave her one last piece of advice about the life-changing journey she was about to embark on before she left.
"Get ready Bar," she said. "It's going to be a whirlwind week."