Freeze Frame: The infamous Lara Bingle bikini ad that was banned worldwide

It’s an image most Aussies will remember with a chuckle.

Picture this: A blonde-haired, blue-eyed beauty standing in a bikini on a white-sand beach, asking viewers in a classic Aussie accent. “Where the hell are you?”

It was 2006 and the “it girl” model Lara Worthington (née Bingle) had starred in the infamous Tourism Australia advert, which aired around the world.

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Lara Worthington started with an advert from Tourism Australia. (Tourism Australia)

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Worthington’s sun-kissed good looks and her now-iconic phrase have made the model a global star.

The ad was a $180 million campaign, created by London-based agency M&C Saatchi, designed to lure tourists to Australia.

But it was deemed too controversial to be shown on UK TV due to the words ‘bloody’ and ‘hell’ it was banned in the UK.

UK networks thought Worthington’s bikini was too risque and were unhappy with the language used in the ad.

At the time, the UK had a general ban on the word “bloody” used in commercial television.

The Advertising Standards Authority in the UK has even ordered the removal of roadside billboards using Worthington’s face with the famous slogan.

Then-tourism minister Fran Bailey criticized the country’s response to the advertising campaign, calling it “ridiculous”.

“What an absolutely, incredibly ridiculous position and a greatest example of double standards you will ever find. Everyone is shaking their heads, especially since this is in a country where they allow the FCUK billboards,” she said, The Guardian reported.

“I mean, what is it about our campaign that they find offensive? I just don’t understand it.”

She added, “We’re not worried about it at all as the ad is being aired on TV, cinema, digital and print media and we’re still getting the ad’s fantastic success rate and results.”

Lara Bingle at the 2006 Nickelodeon Australian Kids' Choice Awards
The young Australian model has quickly become a household name. (Wireframe)

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In Singapore, the words “bloody” and “hell” were also removed from the ad to avoid offending locals.

Canada, meanwhile, was unable to air the ad during children’s shows because of the word “hell” and shots of people drinking beer.

Worthington herself may also have been confused by the global backlash over her appearance in the ad, but she remained mum on the reviews.

I mean, what is it about our campaign that they find offensive? I don’t understand it

The model traveled with Bailey to the UK after the advert launched to help defend Tourism Australia against the ban.

Eventually, in March 2006, UK advertising regulators backed down and lifted their ban on the word “bloody”.

However, dismal tourism figures meant that the campaign was ultimately a failure. Prime Minister Scott Morrison was later sacked by the Liberal Party in 2006 as chief executive of Tourism Australia.

Worthington’s star power, however, only continued to soar after 2006.

Lara Worthington and Sam Worthington
Sam and Lara Worthington married in 2014. (Getty)

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The 35-year-old has since become a household name in Australia. Her modeling career took her around the world, including New York, where she met her husband, actor Sam Worthington.

In 2012, she even starred in her own reality show, Being Lara Bingle. The series ran for 10 episodes but was not renewed for a second season.

Worthington is now a mother of three and runs her own skincare brand, Share the Base.

She lives a much calmer life with her husband Sam and her three children, Rocket, Racer and River.

In a 2015 interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Worthington reflected on her early fame and shared her regrets for her prolific modeling pursuits.

“I was kind of selling my soul on magazine covers,” she admitted. “I could say I was naive, but at the time I thought I knew what I was doing.

“I think I just needed to shut up for a while and figure out what I wanted to do – I was always looking for everything for everyone.”

Lara Worthington in November 2019.
Worthington has opened up about her regrets for modeling jobs in the past. (Getty)

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In late 2019, the starlet reminded the world of her infamous role in Tourism Australia advertising when she slammed former Prime Minister Scott Morrison for his disappearance during the bushfires.

“Scott Morrison: Where the hell are you???” Worthington wrote on Instagram, including the hashtags “AustraliaBurns” and “AustraliaFires” in his pointed attack.

Not since appearing in the 2006 ad has an Australian model made so many waves overseas.

It was a risk that, although it paid off for Worthington, was never exploited again.

“We tried Lara Bingle’s big bang approach and it failed,” former tourism minister Martin Ferguson told Mumbrella in 2010.

“We took a step back, took a breather and used the Australia film as a stocktaking to build a campaign that has some longevity.”

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