Gemma Ward was born on 3 November 1987 in Perth, Western Australia, the second of four children to Gary and Claire Ward. Her older sister Sophie is also a model and she has younger twin brothers, Oscar and Henry. She was educated at the Presbyterian Ladies' College and Shenton College.
As said herself in a Teen Vogue interview, she accompanied her friends to a modelling competition and ended up being scouted herself:
I had come straight from my auntie and uncle's farm, and I was wearing this big gray barn jacket with mud all over it. When the scout came up to me, I said, 'No, thank you.' They forged my mum's signature [for mandatory parental consent], and pushed me in front of the cameras.
Ward didn't win the competition, but Vivien's Model Agency picked her up after seeing a small picture of her in Kurv, an Australian-produced arts, culture and fashion magazine.
At only sixteen, Ward was the youngest model to be listed by American Vogue as one of the nine "It Girls" in the modeling world. She has been in shows for designers such as Prada, Versace, Gucci, Chanel, Valentino, Alexander McQueen, and many more. Ward has also graced magazine covers such as Vogue, W, and TIME Magazine's Style and Design issue. In September 2004, at the age of 16, Ward became the youngest fashion model on the cover of the American edition of Vogue and was the first model to appear on the cover of Teen Vogue magazine. She is the first model since Kate Moss to be the face for Calvin Klein's perfume "Obsession Night for Men" along with Philadelphia male model, Drew Keilt.
To date Ward's clients have included Balenciaga, Burberry, Calvin Klein, Christian Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Hermès, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Jil Sander, Karl Lagerfeld, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Rochas, Swarovski, Valentino and Yves Saint-Laurent, and, altogether, Ward has appeared on 30 covers of Vogue magazine worldwide.
British photographer Nick Knight stated, "Gemma is one of the very, very few models who look as though they come from another dimension." Fashion designer Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler told Teen Vogue in February 2006 that, "She looked like no one else at the time. She was this alien, and fashion is always looking for newness." Her look inspired a new generation of baby doll-like models such as Vlada Roslyakova, Heather Marks, Lily Cole, Lisa Cant, and Jessica Stam.
In Allure magazine (October 2006), Ward is described as "the model of the moment." Allure's creative director Paul Cavaco knows why: "We went through a period that was very va-va-voom, but now the pendulum has swung back. Gemma is ethereal, not earthy." Photographer Michael Thompson says, "She's an exotic blonde, the rarest of creatures."
Ward appeared on the cover of the first issue of Vogue India; photographed by famed photographer Patrick Demarchelier. This is the second time Ward has appeared on an inaugural issue—the first time being the first-ever cover of Vogue China in 2005.
In July 2007, earning at an estimated total of $3 million in the past 12 months, Forbes named her tenth in the list of the World's 15 Top-Earning Supermodels.
In August 2008, reports surfaced that Ward was to retire from modeling to pursue acting. However, reports were quickly dismissed by Ward herself saying: "I was surprised to wake up this morning and read news of my own retirement. While I am taking some time off currently to rest and enjoy the company of friends and family, I am still very much a (excited and enthusiastic) working model and actress. I'm only 20, for God's sakes." Slightly over a year later, however, in November 2009, Ward confirmed that she was retiring from following a series of criticisms about her weight gain. A spokesperson from Viviens modelling agency in New York released a statement, saying: "Gemma hasn't committed to returning to modelling at any time soon", adding Ward had the agency's full support.
Again, Ward quickly dismissed the retirement claims, confirming that she would return to modeling in 2010.
Ward has long aspired to pursue acting and drama is a passion that she has held since she was a child. She starred alongside Toni Collette and Rhys Wakefield in Australian director Elissa Down's film The Black Balloon as the girlfriend of a boy whose brother has autism. The Black Balloon had its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in Germany in February 2008, where it received a Crystal Bear as the best feature-length film in the Generation 14plus category. She was also cast opposite Liv Tyler in the suspense thriller The Strangers as one of the three masked intruders, "Dollface". She also appeared in the music video for "Daughters" by John Mayer.
Ward lives in New York and is close friends with fellow models Lily Donaldson, Caroline Winberg, Daria Werbowy, and Lily Cole.
In early 2008, Ward was reported to have been seeing actor Heath Ledger after media articles linked the two together at end of 2007 holiday celebrations, shortly before Ledger's untimely death of an accidental prescription drug overdose on January 22, 2008.
-The Black Balloon (Nominated - Film Critics Circle of Australia Award for Best Actress)