Hayley Hasselhoff: ‘It’s tough when your dad’s the guy from Baywatch’

As the daughter of the world’s biggest TV star, Hayley Hasselhoff grew up in the public eye, which magnified family issues and her struggle with body anxiety. She tells Martha Hayes why she’s proud of her modelling career – and of her parents.

Hayley Hasselhoff
Luke Wooden

Hayley Hasselhoff bounds through the doors of Soho House in West Hollywood, California, with the sort of confidence you’d expect of someone who has been in the public eye for most of her life and, at the age of 28, has just posed nude for German Playboy.

The daughter of Baywatch star David ‘The Hoff’ Hasselhoff, Hayley is the first plus-size model to grace the cover of the European edition of the men’s magazine. ‘It’s pretty shocking that it’s taken until 2021,’ she says. What prompted her to do it? ‘In the past I was cautious about doing a photo shoot like this, but I look at my body now and think, “I want to celebrate every moment of it”.’

Today, as we meet, I can see why. Hayley looks a million dollars in an outfit she’s proud to point out cost nowhere near that. The 90s-style black silk slipdress complementing her blonde hair and pale complexion is from Asos, as are her black sandals. It’s only the quilted leather Chanel bag, large enough to carry a MacBook, that gives her away. ‘I’ve always got dolled up,’ she explains. ‘It’s a running joke among my friends. When I was a teenager I used to go paintballing in heels.’

The shoot for this month’s issue of Playboy took place in Paris during the pandemic, which was far from ideal: ‘I couldn’t get waxed, I couldn’t get my nails done,’ says Hayley. However, her experience on set was positive. I wonder if she feels as good now that the pictures are in the public domain? ‘I look at the images and I’m proud. And my parents are both very supportive.’

Born to David Hasselhoff and Pamela Bach in 1992 – when her father was at the height of his fame playing a lifeguard on Baywatch, with a global audience of almost one billion viewers – Hayley’s was a seemingly idyllic upbringing in the upscale neighbourhood of Encino in Los Angeles, California.

‘The movie Clueless [starring Alicia Silverstone] was filmed at the house next door,’ she recalls. ‘My sister [Taylor, two years Hayley’s senior, who now works in Hollywood real estate] and I used to jump on the trampoline to watch them filming.’

Despite these obvious advantages, however, it was, a childhood marred by mental health issues. ‘I had social anxiety and it was physically paralysing to go to school.’ By the time she was 11, Hayley was being bullied because of her size. ‘I started a new school and got the whole, “You’re a fat girl”, because I was developing a bust and wearing a bra at such an early age. In childhood no one teaches you that you’re going to look different and develop at a quicker pace to somebody else. I look back at those years and I know I had to form a thick skin.’

Growing up in Hollywood, she says, made matters worse. It was an environment where ‘everyone strove to fit in rather than stand out. I was always very different. My family will tell you – one year for Halloween I dressed upas Mike Wazowski [from the movie Monsters, Inc] in a bean bag. I was always loud, vivacious and different. I liked being me; I didn’t want to be somebody else.’

Hayley dreamed of following in her dad’s footsteps and becoming an actor. As a child she had a couple of cameos on Baywatch and more recently has starred in the US dramas Huge and Why Women Kill (from Marc Cherry, the creator of Desperate Housewives). She’s currently basing herself in LA in the hope of finding more acting work.

Even being exposed to the dark side of fame – seeing her father unravel due to his alcoholism in 2007 (a viral video emerged of him eating a burger off the floor) – didn’t put her off. She is, understandably, protective of her family, when the subject is brought up: ‘When I look back at those years, I see that I had a hard time growing up. And that’s OK. I wouldn’t feel comfortable speaking openly about mental health to the extent that I do if I didn’t go through all of that.’ (Hayley hosts the Instagram Live series Redefine You: A Conversation for Wellbeing, and founded the mental health awareness initiative Check In With You – both launched last year.)

Hayley Hasselhoff on Playboy
Making history on the May cover of Playboy. Image: Ellen Von Unwerth for Playboy Germany

But when pressed as to what exactly it was that she ‘went through’, she offers this restrained answer: ‘It’s not my place to talk about the specific incidents that have happened in our family, but it is my place to say that growing up in the public eye comes with its own challenges.’

Her parents separated in 2006, after 16 years of marriage, when Hayley was 14. It was a messy, complicated divorce with both sides citing drug abuse, among other issues, and David eventually won sole custody of his two daughters. Today, however, she is happy to report she and her parents have a very good relationship, and throughout lockdown – which Hayley has spent half in LA and half in the UK with British boyfriend Dominic Farrell, a photographer and actor – she has been checking in on them. ‘I’m the one calling, saying, “You need to wash all your groceries and you need to do this, you need to do that.” I’m a care giver,’ she says.

Pamela, 57, never remarried and is based in the Hollywood Hills, while David, 68, lives in the Californian town of Calabasas with his new wife, also called Hayley. This Hayley is currently enjoying her longest relationship to date – three years and counting. ‘It was love at first sight with Dominic. I was in Kent on a getaway trip to the countryside, in between modelling jobs in London, when I first met him,’ she says, recalling that it was three days before Valentine’s Day. ‘I asked him, “Do you want to come and stay with me at my hotel?” And he stayed for three weeks.’

In terms of relationships, though, it hasn’t always been this easy. ‘There were times in my life, dark days, where I would blame my body for my lack of love. I would say: “I’m not finding the right person because they don’t want a plus-size girl”,’ she recalls. ‘Body image and mental health go hand in hand. This past year has brought a lot of clarity and allowed me to speak about things I’ve never spoken openly about, like anxiety, panic attacks and depression.’

There’s no doubting that Hayley is in a much better place these days. She has shown that being a size 16-18 is no impediment to gracing the cover of Playboy and, in doing so, given a self-confidence boost to millions of women who have struggled with lockdown weight gain. Some, however, will argue that the body positivity movement is, in fact, unhealthy and glamorises being overweight?

Hayley shakes her head. It’s a debate she’s become all too familiar with after a decade of plus-size modelling: ‘I don’t think we’re glamorising obesity. We’re saying we should be able to love who we are today.’

Our time together may be drawing to a close, but Hayley is staying put. Lifting her laptop out of that Chanel bag, she prepares to catch up on work.

‘I’m one of those people where if you tell me I can’t do something, I will tell you ten times that I can,’ she says.

I don’t doubt it for a second.

Hayley is partnering with charities Project Healthy Minds (projecthealthyminds.com) and BridgingTheGap (bridgingthegapventures.com) for Mental Health Awareness Week (10-16 May). Follow her on Instagram @hhasselhoff for updates.

Hair and make-up: Stacey Tan. Stylist: Audrey Brianne. Location: Hudson Loft.