Liz Taylor

Liz Taylor

Liz Taylor © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

The formidable Liz Taylor is a successful CEO, business leader, events guru, speaker, and author, with an incredible career spanning over 35 years.

“- you can never fail at anything you do; you can only learn from it!”

The formidable Liz Taylor is a successful CEO, business leader, events guru, speaker, and author, with an incredible career spanning over 35 years.  As if Liz’s career resume isn’t impressive enough, once you hear how she built her empire whilst raising two daughters as a single mum, her business journey becomes even more inspiring. Through sheer determination, hard work and making the most of every opportunity, Liz has managed to build a widely respected multi-million-pound company, invest in an impressive property portfolio and educate her two daughters privately and through university. We were lucky enough to sit down with Liz and listen to her share her story with us. It’s hard not to feel inspired and motivated after listening to this powerhouse of a single mother.

At the beginning of the interview we explain to Liz that as working parents we want to know how did she do it?!’ She begins by sharing how that is the very question her own daughters have recently asked her, now that they too are experiencing life as a working mum…

“It’s really interesting because my eldest daughter, who’s almost 38 now, has just started working for me and she did her first event this weekend. It was down in London, and I was staying with her on the Friday night. I babysat and I let her run the event. And when she came home at around midnight, she said to me ‘Mum, I don’t know how you ever did it?!’ And I think that was the realisation, she’s got two children herself now, she’s a working mum and she’s juggling all the balls, just like I did. The difference is that she has a husband, and I didn’t.”

 

So, take us back to the start of your career and life as a young mother. How did you end up stepping into the world of events and running a business, and how did you manage that alongside being a mother?

“Goldie was born in 1984 and Katie followed fourteen months later in 1986. I divorced when they were just 2 and 4 and left with nothing other than a deposit for a home.  

Financial circumstances were challenging and having come from a retail background I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. But I knew that I had to work.

When Katie was born I had just started to tiptoe into the business of events, as a friend of mine was holding a bar mitzvah and she asked me to help her. Whilst I was helping her, she said, ‘Why don’t you do this for a living? You’re so organised’. At that time there were no event organisers in the Northwest and just a couple of competitors in the South. . Marks and Spencer’s had given me the grounding I needed for events, it was a fantastic education from an organisational perspective, and so after organising this bar mitzvah and I saw an opportunity. I followed my gut which has been my mantra since I started.  My first stop was the Midland Hotel, which had been bought out by the Holiday INN . I had come up with a scheme for a friend of mine who had a fashion business and I cold called the hotel to see if they were interested in it. During the course of conversation the sales director said that they wanted to do a Hollywood night to relaunch the hotel. That was it – someone had opened a door and I jumped right in  I put the launch event together, Ainsley Harriet’s dad was a pianist at a place called Bavadage in Manchester – a cross between Louis Armstrong and Sam Cooke and I persuaded him to perform at the event. I filled the pool with balloons, hired Hollywood lookalike and needless to say it was a massive success. As a result, they gave me two more projects and Liz Taylor Associates was formed. Decision made I was of the view that my USP was me. I loved sales, and I understood early on that these hotels would, initially, be my main source of income. Some months later Granada Studios was being developed as an amusement park and venue. With luck on my side I  meet two guys – Paul Danson and Cameron Milne – who were designing it.  They introduced me to the new sales team and as a result I became their  preferred supplier .So, if a company went in to do a motivational event or a gala dinner they were referred to me  for all the services and that was how I knew how to  grow  the business.”

Liz Taylor
Liz Taylor IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

How did you manage the juggle of starting a new career and business with two young children? That must have been really tough at times?

The children were at private school which was funded by an inheritance they had. Circumstances were such that unbeknown to me that fund was no longer available, but I was determined that they would be my priority and fought tooth and nail to keep them in school. So, I employed a young woman from Scotland, who lived with me for ten years as a nanny and for the first five years of paying her wages I was literally still building the business, so it was very ‘hand-to-mouth’. But I just went for it – I worked all hours. At 4 o’clock in the afternoon I used to be distraught because I knew they were coming home from school, and I wasn’t there to meet them. At weekends I used to go out to work too, I worked Saturday nights and Sunday Nights and then my mum would step in, or the nanny would step in, so it was tough. But in retrospect, when I look back, they’ve got an amazing work ethic. They were covering chairs for me as soon as they could hit their teens. !  Then when they were around 14 years old, I sent them to work in a coffee shop in Hale as a Saturday job, because the work ethic to me was massively important. The girls witnessed me working hard, but we were living in a very, very affluent area and the Jewish community is a small community. Ours was always the smallest house, and I was the only working mother, but I always used to say to my girls ‘a big house is not always a happy house’ and that was always reflected in our relationship borne out of love and respect.  Even now I know the relationship that I have with them is much closer and much more special than it would have been had they been brought up in what I would call a ‘normal’ home. I was confident and determined, and every opportunity that had I used. Every spare penny and any time I took dividends I would buy a house. I started with a little terraced house, and I’ve got 14 of them now. I’ve just been very focused. It’s been a rollercoaster on occasion, but I was determined to set an example to both the girls and me.

So, to any working mother I just think ultimately you come out a much better, a stronger person, if you prioritise – and when I say prioritise, I mean you’ve got to prioritise yourself as well. As long as the children are loved and cared for and looked after, you don’t have to be there 24/7. To me 10 minutes reading with a child is worth more than 5 hours at the supermarket or doing other errands with them. It’s the quality time that matters. I was at every parent evening, I was at every school play, and I would tear myself in 10 to be there. I remember I did my first Asian wedding in Newcastle for 1700 people 35 years ago – I didn’t have a clue what I was doing! It was a massive, massive event and I remember driving back at three o’clock in the morning, because I wanted them to wake up with me at home. Those are things that you do as a working mum.”

“…You can put me anywhere, I’ve sat next to Prince Andrew at Buckingham palace; I’ve had dinner with Prince Charles, all of them and I’ve never felt intimidated, and I think that has been my biggest strength.””

Did you have any set rituals and times where you would ‘switch off’ and just spend time as family?

“Yes, as my kids were always my priority. I’m not religious but Friday night the sabbath dinner was always something that was very important to me, so my kids were never allowed out on a Friday night. It’s like Sunday dinner, you sit round the table, you talk about the week and sometimes I used to entertain friends, or we’d get asked out, but I was always very, very hands on, and my girls were always with me on a Friday night. They were the things that provided the stability in our home. So as crazy as my schedule would get, I would always have that Friday night with them and unless it was an extremely big deal, I wouldn’t work on a Friday night. Now both my girls are working parents they do the same, they light the candles on the Friday night, they have the chicken soup and the chicken dinner and that for me is the glue.”

 

Aside from being determined to make it for your girls, what do you think is behind your unbelievable focus and drive?   

“Well, I’ve always had the fire in my belly. I was privately educated. My parents separated when I was 17.. I always wanted to do Law – my father was a judge, but that all changed when he left because I went off the rails. I left school flunking my A levels  and I joined M&S as a management trainee, I had always had a Saturday job and I loved selling. I was a hustler!  I always wanted to work, I always had that work ethic independence was and still is key.  What I especially I loved about the events business was that you could use your imagination and take these events beyond their [the clients] wildest dreams. I love the creativity. The magic and the madness.

 You can put me anywhere, I’ve sat next to Prince Andrew at Buckingham palace; I’ve had dinner with Prince Charles, all of them and I’ve never felt intimidated, and I think that has been my biggest strength.”

 

Looking back is there anything that you would change if you could?

“No, I wouldn’t change anything, because I think that you can never fail at anything you do; you can only learn from it. If  it doesn’t quite work out or it’s not what you want it to be, it’s a learning curve. I think the fact that I was single made me much stronger and more successful, because how could I not be? I think the only thing I would change is that I wouldn’t worry as much, because everything will be ok, it’s never not going to work out right in the end.”

 

What advice would you give to any career parent that struggling to juggle everything?

“I think the advice that I would give to anybody who is juggling all balls, when you can’t see the wood for the trees, is trust your gut instinct – always trust your gut instinct. You might make mistakes, but you won’t fail. Following my gut instinct has always done me well.

And I think the biggest part of the struggle is the guilt – you only struggle if you feel guilty. But you can’t feel guilty, you’ve got to just get on with it.”

 

Do you think the pressures we feel and the judgements we worry about as working parents, come from society or from within ourselves?

“Yes, I think the pressure comes from within, we live in an age where particularly with all the magazines and reality programmes and social media, we are all influenced by what we see, what we read, what we think we should be doing, how we think we should look, do we go for plastic surgery etc, we’re all influenced, but as you get older you realise that the only person that can influence you is yourself and what you choose to do with your life is your prerogative. To me as long as you love your kids, as long as you care, and you give your child that sense of security – that every child needs -then you’ve got to do what you can do in order to give them the best that you can, and you can’t be influenced by anybody else.”

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What do wish you would have known then what you know now?

“I wish I’d have known that I would be successful, independent, and that I’d be ok. I’ve been through two really tough divorces and some really trying times, I had a breakdown after the last marriage and if I knew then that I would be very successful and so very happy it would have helped me through that. And I don’t just mean from a financial perspective, I mean emotionally, my career and being a mother has fulfilled me and ticked all my boxes. I have a great life and I love it!”

    

Written by Lolo Stubbs
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM PITFIELD

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Michelle Griffith Robinson – Olympian, speaker and women’s rights ambassador

Don’t watch the person in the next lane, slay in your own lane – because you’re in control of where you’re going!”

Michelle Griffith-Robinson OLY is one of those people who has an incredible presence, and you can literally feel the good vibes radiating from her. She is a strong, independent, and successful woman with a truly motivating story. Michelle is a Life Coach, Ex-Olympian, Personal Trainer, Women’s Aid Ambassador, Diabetes UK Ambassador and Menopause Campaigner – as if that wasn’t enough to juggle, Michelle is also a Mum of three children, Reese, 18, Eden 16, and Elijah 8. We could have listened to Michelle’s inspiring stories and words of wisdom all day. Her thirst for life and desire to succeed are certainly strengths to be admired, but another quality that we took away from our interview with Michelle was her refreshing approach to dealing with the curve balls that life inevitably throws at you, and how she seemingly takes everything in her stride, with her words “they’ll be alright” echoing throughout the interview.

Although Michelle had a successful athletics career, with 15 years at the top of her game, personally she was involved in a couple of toxic relationships before meeting her husband, Matthew, at the Commonwealth Games in 2002, where they were both competing. Just a few months later when they finally got together, Michelle knew Matthew was the man she wanted to have a family with.

Have you always wanted to be a mum?

“I think I’ve always known I wanted children from about the age of 25 but being an athlete, you often think ‘oh is that just a dream, is it pie in the sky’, you know, because you are so dedicated to your craft and your childbearing years in the main are spent competing. I also went through a few difficult relationships in my teenage years and into my early twenties as well, so having children then was not something I even considered. I had made a conscious decision that when I had kids it had to be with the right person. Then I met Matthew, my husband, it was in a dining hall at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester and there was around filled a thousand people in the room.  He was representing Wales for Rugby 7’s and I was doing the triple jump for England. I was with my best friend when I spotted him, and I said ‘God that guys good looking. I’ve to go and tell him!’ and my friend said, ‘you can’t go and tell him!’ And said ‘no I’ve got to, I’ve got to go and tell him!’, she laughs. “I said, ‘Hi I’m Michelle’ and he said ‘I know who you are I saw you in newspapers yesterday’ – and I had been re-enacting a series of Gwyneth Paltrow shots, they were quite revealing. And he was a really nice guy. I asked for his number, and he said you’re a lovely girl, but you can’t have my number. But can I have yours as I’m in something [relationship] at the moment.’  So, I thought he was a bit of a cheeky git, but I gave him my number anyway. And that was the July and at the end of October he called me. Three months later! Keeping me on my bloody toes he was! I must say I wasn’t there waiting though don’t worry!” She laughs again, “And as they say the rest is history! We’ve been together for 20 years now, and I often say, ‘God is not sleeping, and God doesn’t give you more than you can bear.’ So, you know it was just about timings, and I’m lucky that I managed to meet my knight in shining armour, and he is you know. I had children very quickly after we got together, it was literally months later that I fell pregnant and we had our first daughter Reese, she was born premature, five weeks early, in September 2003. Having your first child is life changing for anybody, and for me I went from being this athlete that’s sponsored, and where the phone never stopped ringing and always having lots of people around me, to then suddenly after making that transition into parenthood, the phone stopped ringing and I was no longer the nucleus.”

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Michelle Griffith-Robinson © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD MAGAZINE
Emma Neville
Michelle Griffith-Robinson
Michelle Griffith Robinson. IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY for BROOD

So how did you deal with that, both emotionally and financially?

“Fortunately for me I had already set up a PT company in 1999, whilst I was still doing track and field, as I always tell people that in anything you do, most jobs have a shelf life, and you need to make sure that you have something to fall back on. So luckily, I had built a great reputation within that industry too. And I was at an Aids Charity Event in 2001, and I met Mel B (who is now the patron of Women’s Aid and I’m also an ambassador for the charity) and I remember meeting her and in her very Northern Leeds accent she said, ‘I want abs like f**king yours!’ And a couple of weeks later her agent rang and I started to train her, and I did so for two and half years, until she went to America. So obviously aside from the platform I had as an athlete, to train someone that is as high profile as a Spice Girl completely propelled my business and I ended up with a lot of attention in the press. So, it’s about taking those opportunities when they come and doing a good job when you get them. I always say to people ‘Grab your opportunities because those opportunities will only knock once! So, take them and gamble.’”

So, after Reece was born, did you managed to compete again or did becoming a mother mean that part of your career ended?  

“No, after I had Reece, Matt started to train me, along with my coach Frank, and I just missed the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. Then I carried on training for another two years and I made it to the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006. When I look back at that transition of training and competing after becoming a mum, it was hard because I was having to leave Reese to fulfil my dream. And I had to go to Cuba to train – Cubans are excellent triple jumpers. My grandmother was actually Cuban, so it was extra special to get to go and see where my grandmother grew up, but leaving Reese for two weeks felt like 22 years to me! She was only 8 months old at this point, but my husband who is very pragmatic said, ‘if you want to make the Olympic games, why would you not want to go and train with the best in the world? Because if you’re doing it, then DO IT! You’re either in or you’re out.’ And he was right, so I went to Cuba. I left Reese behind, and she didn’t even bat an eyelid when I came back, she just started saying ‘mama, mama’. We all know the juggle is hard, but you’ve got to do it for yourself. Parenting is a struggle, you’re permanently juggling, but it’s been the biggest joy to my life and feel exceptionally blessed to have my three children.”

So now you have three children and various career roles, how do you juggle everything now and how did you adapt over the years?

“I’m a very proud 50-year-old mother of three children. My eldest daughter is 18, our other daughter is 15 and our son, our youngest is 8. And I often look back at times where it’s been a struggle, and I still say it, ‘They’re going to be alright!’ If they stay in your bed until they’re ten, ‘They’re going to be alright!’ If they are still in a nappy by 5, ‘They’re going to be alright!’ Generally, no matter what, they are going to be alright. I think we just put so much pressure on ourselves to ‘Mrs perfect’ or ‘Mr perfect’, but I’ve let that go.

So, when did your athletics career end and your passion for coaching begin?

After I had Reece and I had completed the Commonwealth games in 2006 I retired. I fell pregnant that night in Melbourne. I went onto have Eden and we were living in the middle east at the time, my personal training company was still going strong, and it was around this time that I started mentoring young people, as I had always had a passion for developing the growth of the future. Helping people with their mindset, it’s all very well having all the GCSE and A Levels in the world, but you need to have the skills to manage yourself. At this point joined a company called the Dame Kelly Homes trust, which Kelly founded on the eve of her retiring, and I’m still a mentor for them now, working with 16–25-year-olds. I’ve worked with some really deprived young people, and all some of them really needed was an arm around them and for somebody to say you’re going to be alright, but question them as to why they keep demonstrating the same destructive behaviour time after time? We often forget if we keep doing the same things time after time, why would you expect a different result? You need to switch it up. Change it up. But fear can prevent us from switching things up, people like to stay in their comfort zones.

And it was about 4/5 years after starting that, that I went into Life Coaching. I recognised that through training with PT my clients, I was also coaching them as well. Because when you’re a PT people open up – you here all their shit and then some! So, I enrolled to do a degree in Counselling, Mentoring and Coaching, but then the trust kindly offered to pay for my diplomas in Life coaching, performance coaching and coaching in education, so that’s what I choose to do.”

“I’m big on affirmations. I’ve got things stuck all over the walls, because sometimes you still need those reminders to say I am enough!”

Having had such a successful athletics career, you must have had to develop a very strong mindset yourself, do you think this gave you the perfect foundation to become a Life Coach?  Equally it must help you in your own approach to life and that as a parent too.

“Yes, I always think about the main things that I have learnt through sport and that is you’ve got to have the mindset of a working at a high-performance level every day. You’ve got to know that sometimes you’re going to hit the floor. You’re going to get injured, but what are you going to do? Put the cover over your head and go on a downward spiral or are you going to choose to take the cover off your head, except that you’re injured and find a way to bounce back. And this applies to the curve balls that life throws at you. So, resilience is key. I’ve past that on to my kids and my mother past that onto me. My mum is the most amazing resilient women I know.

Another one I would say is your authentic self. People find out if you’re a fraud, just be you. You can be at peace with yourself when you are your true self. Stop comparing yourself to everybody else. As parents, we do that too much, comparing whose child has done what first – just get rid of all that and focus on what works for you and your circumstances. No one else is in your position or a part of your household. For example, my eldest daughter took the longest to walk in her Montessori group, she was 16 months old before she started walking, and I was begging her to walk because she was the last one, but now she’s forth in the country for triple jump. So, let’s put it into perspective they are going to be alright.

And lastly, I’ve learnt that you need to manage your own expectations – do what works for you. Because the more you keep comparing yourself to others, the more you are going to be unkind to yourself. You’ll end up not feeling good enough – but you are enough – and you need to be able to say I am enough. I can say I’m enough, you know, these 32F saggy boobs are brilliant! They’ve fed my three children! I don’t give a shit about how they compare to other peoples; I’m not interested. But that comes with age.”

You have such a positive outlook; do you do anything to help you maintain that?

“I’m big on affirmations. I’ve got things stuck all over the walls, because sometimes you still need those reminders to say I am enough. I think the best you can do though when you are having ‘one of those days’ is to look at your progression and the trajectory of where you are and where you have come from. Having children, running a business, etc and then when you break it down, you’ll think, bloody hell – I’m proud of me! Just focus on slaying in your lane. Don’t watch the person in the next lane, slay in your lane – because you’re in control of where you’re going!”

 

Are there any standout moments that were particularly challenging in your life, where you have had to implement some life coaching techniques to help you through?

“When I reached 40, I wanted a third baby. I fell pregnant very quickly and unfortunately, I had a miscarriage at about 8/9 weeks. I think that made me more determined, but my husband thought it might have been a sign and seemed reluctant for us to try again. Upon reflection I didn’t really like the responses I was getting from my husband after I miscarried, and I spoke to him at length about it a little while. I didn’t feel he was being very supportive, but when I spoke to him, he explained that he didn’t know how to be supportive, that it was hard to know what to say and he was just so worried about saying then wrong thing. And I took that on board, but I said I still wanted us to try for a third baby. It turned out he was also concerned about me putting myself through that again, especially because I get very sick with Hyperemesis Gravidarum. So, once we had communicated properly it helped us. 5 months later I went to a fertility clinic, because I hadn’t fallen pregnant. And the doctor asked how old I was, and I said I’m forty, that I’d had a miscarriage and I hadn’t fallen pregnant since, and she just said keep trying.  Just keep trying, one day I will bump into you in the supermarket, and you will be pregnant. And believe or not…five months later I bumped into her at the supermarket, and I was pregnant! And September 2013 my son Elijah was born. And I talk about that part of my journey as I know it’s something that can affect a lot of women and it can make you feel like a failure. It can really hard even when you are successful in every way, the one thing you just expect, or assume, that your body will be able to do it’s not doing.

How did bringing a third baby into the family change the dynamics within the family and do you do anything to help to keep the balance in such a hectic household?

“He’s an exceptional gift. He’s thoroughly loved by everyone, and his two sisters just adore him. He fit’s in perfectly. But one thing I noticed with the third baby I was like you know what this boy has got to get on with it. Life is not always ideal and perfect, and on busy days if he has to have a McDonalds, or a sandwich and a bag of crisps in the car – he’ll be alright. So, you need to recognise that, but you also need those moments of calmness where you can put things in place that look and feel magical. So, Wednesdays and Sundays are our days where have our family time. Where we sit down and talk, without phones, without interruptions, just us having fun together and being present with each other. And that’s something that I would recommend to everyone people, to find somewhere within your routine for that quality time with your immediate family. Because before you look around your kids are off to university etc, so you want to hold on to those magical moments and create lasting memories.”

Does that help getting through those fast-paced days where you are busy juggling everything and you might not feel like the best parent in the world?

“Absolutely! And I actually think that it enhances us as a family. People always say you guys are so good as a family and we are. We’ve been very strict with the kids learning and education, we make sure they do sport and music. We’ve given them the opportunities to flourish, and then what path they choose to go down is down to them. But they can’t look back and say well my parents didn’t give me this. Bearing in mind I came from a broken home, my dad was a plumber at Wembley stadium, my mum was a nurse. And I was a latch key kid, I feel bad as my older brother was kind of lumped with me, so when he wanted to go play football, he couldn’t he had to look after me. Whereas when I wanted to go to the track and train, I was able to do that. But those opportunities to train didn’t come from my parents – this is something that I say, you need to call on those around you. You have call on your friends, your neighbours, your teachers etc and don’t be afraid to do so. You need to learn to ask, ‘Can you please take my son to football, and I’ll return the favour.’ Once you create that community feel – because we’re all in this together, we’re all struggling and juggling – then there’s no shame in it. Once you realise you don’t have to try and do it all on your own and that barrier comes down, then you relax.

I’m away now for 3 days and there’s food in the fridge, there’s food in the freezer and I said to my eldest daughter who is now driving I said, ‘Reese if they need anything would you mind popping out.’ And she said ‘of course, but they’ll be fine.’

Do you think it’s important that we all accept that we can’t do it all ‘perfectly’ all the time?

“Yes, you have to think to yourself who needs to be where, at what time, and if someone has to miss swimming, they have to miss swimming – they’re going to be alright! When we relax and let that go and stop trying to be the perfect person, because there are no perfect people. I’m the imperfect perfect mother, I drop the ball plenty of times, but other times I lift the ball and I carry it brilliantly. You’ve got take the rough with the smooth. Sometimes we are very critical on ourselves as parents, and I think as long as we are role modelling the correct behaviour and attitudes towards our children – we’re doing alright. I think it’s more important than ever to teach it to our children, that perfection doesn’t exist, especially with all the extra pressure they have now from social media etc. ‘I can’t that picture because this doesn’t look right or that doesn’t look right’ they say to me, Mummy you can’t go on Insta looking like that, and I say why? Because we need to normalise being real.”

Do you have any tips for other parents that are struggling with ‘the juggle’?

“Vulnerability, Authenticity, and transparency – VAT I call it. Show them those three things and they’ll be alright. Don’t try and be something you’re not and recognise that we are all just doing our best. We are all WIPS – Work in Progress.”

Written by Lolo Stubbs
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM PITFIELD

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Philanthropist, qualified counsellor, wife, and doting Mum of two

“the first big thing that I did for them was a fundraiser which was 3 days, 3 countries and 3 mountains, I was quite nervous going as it was with a group of ladies that I didn’t know bar two of them, but collectively, we raised £178,000 ”

Philanthropist, qualified counsellor and doting Mum of two, Emma Neville, has always kept herself out of the public eye despite her husband, Gary Neville’s, extremely high profile and widely documented career; meaning that a lot of Emma’s personal achievements and her incredible dedication to support so many charities have gone under the radar. Emma is exceptionally modest about her charity work and what she has achieved already in her career as a counsellor. It’s a journey that she embarked on around five years ago; after spending many years embracing her role as a full-time mum and taking the lead with the family’s home life to counterbalance Gary’s demanding career schedule. But as the girls got older Emma realised, she wanted to do something for herself, consequently pushing herself out of her comfort zone and pursuing a lifelong ambition of becoming a qualified counsellor. Emma also accelerated her contributions to several charities through volunteer work, rather than ‘just’ making monetary donations. Emma volunteers for many charities including Destination Florida, Bury Cancer Support Centre, Girls Out Loud, Child Bereavement UK and she is very passionate about enhancing the amazing work that these charities already do, as well as helping to raise awareness for them. 

When you meet Emma, you can instantly see why she is so well suited to her chosen career path, as her warm and endearing nature shines through. It was an absolute pleasure to chat to Emma and listen to how she has carved out her new career path, whilst making a difference to so many people’s lives, and to hear how she balances that alongside her role as Mum. We chatted away to Emma before the girls, Molly 13, and Sophie 12, returned home from school and joined us for our photo shoot; that we managed to squeeze in between school finishing, teatime, and netball practise!

So, why don’t you just tell us a little bit about what you have been up to since embarking on your new career.

“I qualified as a person-centred counsellor in 2019 – I never thought I would actually finish it as lockdown came along and it was really difficult as I’m very much a classroom learner and without the classroom, I didn’t think I would have been capable of doing it on my own. But I got there, and I passed, and I was really proud of my little self! I gain my 100-hour client learning at two placements; one was at the Simeon centre, and one was at the Bury Cancer Support Centre. They were two very different organisational structures, I enjoyed both ways of how the client process worked. After my placement finished at Bury Cancer Support Centre, they asked me if I would like to stay on and continue in the role, and I was so happy that they had asked me as it was such a special place that I accepted straight away!

Emma Neville
Emma Neville and her two daughters © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD MAGAZINE
Emma Neville
Emma Neville. IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY for BROOD

I’ve completed numerous other courses since looking into different modalities, such as transactional analysis, working with children and adolescent counselling course and trauma and PTSD. It is really important to me that I make sure I’ve learnt as many skills as I possibly can, so that I can offer people the best support possible.”

What made you enter the world of counselling, to take the first step and start the course?     

“Well, I had always wanted to do it, I remember contemplating it when was working at wholesale jewellers in my twenties, and I was obviously quite young then though so I’m really glad that I didn’t do it at that point in my life, as I feel like the life experiences I have had since have actually helped me become a better counsellor. So, even though it is something I’ve always wanted to do, I feel like I’ve done it at the right time in my life.

It was actually through working with a charity that I decided to take the plunge and start the course. I was at a ladies lunch at the Hilton in Manchester and Gary Barlow was speaking as an ambassador for Child Bereavement UK and I got chatting to Liz Taylor, who had put on the event, and I asked who the CEO was, and Liz introduced me to Anne Chalmers. I had a really good chat with Ann, and she gave me her card. I left the event with an overpowering urge to be involved with them somehow, I wanted to help them to do more; hearing all the stories and watching the videos had really touched me. But I didn’t want to just make a pledge and give money though, I wanted to do more than that, I wanted become hands on with the charity. So started doing some volunteer work for them on their family support programmes, which run from a centre in Widnes. I would do one weekend on and one weekend off there. We would read bereavement books with the children and do various craft activities with them and talk about the special person that they had lost. These children would have lost their Mum, or their dad, or their brother, or their sister. People used to say to me ‘How can you do that it must be really depressing?’, but for me those Saturdays were my favourite Saturdays out of the month. I would leave there feeling so privileged that these amazing children had let me into their lives. And as the weeks went on, it was just so wonderful to see the children’s personalities grow and develop, and to watch all the friendships form between the children. They were making friends with other children that they could relate to, as they had all shared similar experiences. So, it was through doing that volunteer work that gave me the push to become a qualified counsellor.”

 

Destination Florida Charity

“…I explained some of the children that I’m working with have lost their mummy’s and daddy’s, or brother’s or sister’s, so I was needed there to help those children.”

So how long had you been doing volunteer work before you decided to enrol onto the Counselling course?

“I did it that for a year and I did some training with them whilst I was there, and then I just thought right it’s time for me to take the next step and I enrolled on a part time course, at night school for my Level 2 qualification. I hadn’t studied for a long time, so it was a big thing for me to go back into the classroom. Then I progressed onto my Level 3 and then Level 4 – which is a two-year course with 100 hours placement. So, it took me three and half years in total to become fully qualified.”

 

During those three and half years of studies and placements, how did that impact your mum role and how did you find the juggle?

“I did feel guilty doing the work on the Saturday at times, because obviously the girls are at school all week, but I looked forward to sharing how my Saturday had gone with them once I got home. I’ve always been open with them as well and explained that some of the children that I’m working with have lost their mummy’s and daddy’s, or brother’s or sister’s, so I was needed there to help those children.”

Are the girls proud of you now that they are that bit older, and they can understand more about what you do and what you have achieved?

“I think so!” she laughs, “They’ll often ask me what I’ve done that day – sometimes they’re not listening to me (she laughs) but other times they really do take an interest and they’ll ask about the books that I’m reading etc. When I’m putting on a charity event though I like to try and get them involved, so I will ask them to come up with ideas for fundraising etc. I actually did a placement at a hospice in Radcliffe, and they did a stall and was selling toys to try and raise money for the hospice. I think it’s really important to get them involved and I hope that they themselves will go along the path of getting involved with doing some aspect of charity work too.”

 

Did you feel like you had to wait until the girls were a bit older in order to start your education and career?

“I definitely wanted to be with the girls when they were younger and be that mum that can do every school pick up, but as they started to get a bit older, even from the age of about 7, they would start taken themselves off to do things for themselves and it just felt like it was the right time as a whole for us all. In hindsight I think I would have liked to have started this journey earlier. But I suppose everything happens at the right time in the end, and I still had and do get, those feelings of mum guilt, even though I know that they are fine. I would have struggled to have started my studies now as they have so many activities and commitments after school, but back then they had only just started playing netball, so it wasn’t too intense at that point trying to manage everything. I am also not very good at delegating and that came from my own feelings of wanting to do everything for them, so I’m lucky that the career I have chosen actually fit’s in really well for us a whole, as it’s quite flexible, so I’m lucky that it didn’t add too much pressure. It was very important to me when I started it that I could schedule it into my family life without it affecting it too much.”

 

Has having a career helped you to find your own identity outside of the parent role?

“Yes, definitely. I felt a change around the time I was thirty-five and I really felt that I needed to do some for myself and to see what I could achieve in my own right. I realised that I do want to feel important and valued as a person, and not ‘just’ as a mum. When I only had that mum role, I would drop them off at school, come home do the housework, get the shopping in etc and before I knew it was time to pick them back up again, and I can remember thinking the days just go so fast, ‘how do people do it?’. So, I always really admired working parents. I think because Gary’s work life has always been so full on, I never know his schedule and when I do it changes that much, that was why I never really pushed myself because I felt like I had to fit around that and take the lead with the girls. And I know Gary would have supported me if I would have wanted to do something back then, but I felt like it was the right role for me at that time. When I started my course and I was one of the older ones on the course and I had a lot of self-doubt, where I questioned whether I was capable or not, but I really felt it was really important to keep going and push myself. I needed to prove to myself that I could do it. I knew if I would have just given up that I would have been so angry with myself, that no matter how much I was struggling and doubting my capabilities, I made sure I turned up to every class and got through it.”

 

 

Obviously, Gary has very high profile and has had a very successful career, so you didn’t necessarily need to build a career of your own from a financial point of view, so your driving force has been to help a number of charities elevate their services, raise awareness and funds. Tell us a little bit more about that.  

“When I started volunteering with Child Bereavement UK the first big thing that I did for them was a fundraiser which was 3 days, 3 countries and 3 mountains, I was quite nervous going as it was with a group of ladies that I didn’t know bar two of them, but collectively, we raised £178,000 and it felt incredible to give back and I felt really proud. Then a few months later I connected with Mike Hymanson (Chair of Trustees) from Destination Florida (A Children’s Charity that takes children with life-limiting conditions away for a once in a lifetime magical holiday) I knew Mike through friends, and after we chatted, he asked me to go on the fundraising board for them and I said yes. When I started on the board, initially it was very much about how I could encourage the connections I had to contribute and pledge money and that alone just didn’t feel like enough, I wanted to do more. So, I started to thrive when I was able to tap into my creative side and come up with ideas. So, I’ve worked with them for two years now, helping them organise events and fundraisers. I’m really looking forward to going on a trip with them to Disney in 2023.

Emma conscientiously checks back to her notes at this point to make sure that she includes all the charities that are close to her heart. We’re very impressed with how organised she is, (it’s not often BROOD interviews are organised!) and she jokes that Gary always says, ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail!’ so she has done what he’s always telling her to do!

“So, then I heard about another charity – Girls out loud (a social enterprise designed to empower girls to channel their potential and make better life choices), so I joined their big sister programme and that was life changing for me! It was working with year 9 girls, going into to schools to see them for an hour, outside of the classroom. They would give you a structure, but you could choose how you approached each week yourself, as it always depended on how open the girls would be with you, because some days they wouldn’t want to talk, so you couldn’t just pull this worksheet out and start trying to go through that with them. It was amazing to meet my ‘little sister’. She was such an open and honest girl, and she was trying to build her confidence. We would talk a lot about resilience, and we made mood boards, vision boards and mantra jars, things like that. The hour would fly by, and I always wanted to give more time. I did that for 12 months.  I really enjoyed the programme and I found it really interesting to see just how much social media influences their lives. I absolutely love that charity and I can’t wait to do more with them.”

Do you think having teenage daughters of your own helped prepare you for that role?

“Because I know that I’m a bit of a rescuer I was conscious not to take on that mothering role, and I definitely didn’t want to talk at my ‘little sister’ because I’m the ‘big sister’ and I’m meant to know more. But it wasn’t like that at all, it was a two-way street, I learnt a lot from her about life as a teenager at school and what they do after school. It did make me feel relieved that it wasn’t me at school! It also made me realise that I might need to give the girls some slack sometimes, as it’s a lot to deal with being at school. Working with Girls Out Loud gave me an insight into life at high school and what children go through, so that’s something I will be mindful of when it comes to the girls. We did a study around screen time and there was one girl had been on her phone for 16 hours and that just blew my mind! I couldn’t understand how that was even possible? But she explained that she was up until 2am most nights on her phone. It was eye opening to see just how much social media influenced their lives.

I remember one of them saying when she discussed not taking her phone with her when she went out, she said, ‘I was just able to ugly laugh without my friends taking a picture of me’ This was a 14-year-old girl! It’s just frightening to think they have to think like that because everything is documented and before you know it someone has posted your picture on social media whether you like it or not.”    

 

What advice would you give to the BROOD readers who are parents of teenagers?

“I would say just listen to them and try and just keep conversations going. I know that can sometimes be difficult, but just asking how they are is a good start. I also think a big thing for us, as parents, to make sure we own up to our own mistakes and learn to say sorry, because when we’re in the heat of the moment and we’re stressing at them and complaining, sometimes just saying ‘I’m really sorry about this morning, I wasn’t in a good place, and I was rushing and I shouldn’t have stressed at you’ that can make a big difference. Sometimes we put a lot on them, especially when I think about the morning chaos and when parents get stressed, it makes you wonder does your child leave the house or the car and take that stress and negativity into their school day?  So, I think holding your hands up and owning your mistakes is very important. Children can read you; they know when you’re not yourself, so being open with them can put their mind at ease that it’s not on them. Just letting them know that we’re not perfect either. That it is ok to not be ok.”

 

Have you had any ‘BROOD moments’ since embarking on your career, where something has happened with the kids, and it just turns chaotic, and you end up plagued with the dreaded mum guilt?

“There are loads of things that have happened!” she laughs, “but there was one time that stands out, right at the beginning of my starting this journey and it was when I went on the charity hike for three days. Basically, Sophie had an ingrowing toenail, and it was something I had meant to get looked at, but I didn’t get chance to before I went away and then whilst I was there Gary sent me a picture and half her toe had gone blue! I’d just climbed a mountain; I had another one to climb the next day and the day after that and I remember thinking ‘Oh my god! What am I going to do!’ I felt terrible, and then Gary rang me – not in the best of moods!” she laughs, “and he said, ‘I thought you’d dealt with this!’” We all laugh at this point, understanding this exchange between parents all too well. “We had the normal exchange that we have, and I said to him ‘well you’re a parent too, so you’ll have to deal with it’. But then I got off the phone, I went into this room, and I just cried my eyes out, I felt terrible for not being there and I just felt like I needed to get home. I was imaging the worst and I just felt so bad, but this lady really helped me to calm down and she was from the medical profession, and she was like ‘ring Gary, tell him to draw a line on her toe and as long as the blue doesn’t go below this line it will be fine’. So, I rang Gary to ask him to do that so I could have piece of mind, and he had already spoken to a doctor that had said it was going to be fine, which was huge relief, because when I first spoke to him it felt like it was the end of the world, like she was going to end up having to have her toe amputated and it was all my fault!”

So, what are your plans in terms of your own personal development and within your career?

“Well, the Bury Cancer Support centre has been open for nearly 20 years now, so they are doing a big fundraiser for their anniversary next year, so I will be helping with that, which I’m really looking forward to. I will also continue to volunteer with them because they really are an amazing charity. It is a cause that is close to my heart, and the work they do is just invaluable. I will also continue my work on the fundraising board with Destination Florida, and I’m looking forward to working with Girls Out Loud again.

For me personally, I just want to keep looking out for different charities that I can volunteer for and help with. I want to continue working with teenagers and get more involved in a teenage charity, as it really feels like that is the right fit for me and somewhere I can help to make a real difference. Working with teenagers can be challenging, but it’s a challenge that’s worthwhile.

I will continue to keep doing courses that are going to add to my skill set, so that I can continue to keep improving my skills as a counsellor. I’m currently doing a menopause coaching certificate and I’m hoping this will help many ladies and clients that I have and it’s a subject that I’m really passionate about.

I have achieved certificates in Holistic therapies, such as reflexology, Indian head massage and Hopi ear candles over the years and I’m really interested in these therapies so I will also further my skills in this area, as I feel it goes hand in hand with counselling and client wellbeing. My love of learning has definitely come back, and I just love learning new things.”

 

 

 

Written by Lolo Stubbs
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM PITFIELD

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Inspirational mum in business, and events guru, Laura Wolfe, is unsurprisingly one of the most well-respected women in her industry. Alongside her flourishing career, Laura, is also a doting mum of two boys, aged 11 and 16 – and one very cute cavapoo, Teddy!

“I always say ‘the juggle-struggle is real’ – and it absolutely is!”

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Laura’s story is a compelling one filled with incredible highs and devastating lows. Personally, she has gone through the heartbreak of a divorce and the loss of her dad, and it was only just over 5 years ago when Laura lost everything as her business went into insolvency. Consequently hitting rock bottom. Plagued with overwhelming mum guilt and consumed by the excruciating feelings of failure, Laura initially wanted to hide away, bury her ambitions, and get a job working in a supermarket. But then, with the support of her incredible family; her mother, her brother, her sister, and her partner – who have supported her no matter what; Laura courageously coached herself back into a stronger mindset, and she inspirationally jumped back into the world of business! And thank goodness she did, as it was only two years later that she embarked on an 18-month journey, that would become the highlight of her entire career. That career highlight being that Laura was appointed to manage Manchester City’s captain Vincent Kompany’s testimonial season; seeing her work alongside Vincent Kompany himself, and Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, to raise over £850,000 for a homeless charity. The fact that Laura is a lifelong City fan meant that this amazing opportunity had added meaning to her.

As a loving mum and daughter (as Laura also helps to look after her mother) and several formidable business ventures, it’s no surprise that Laura’s schedule is jam-packed. So, we asked the question so many people want to ask – how does she do it?

“I literally get to a Friday night, and I don’t understand where the week has gone!” she laughs.

We all know how hard it can be to achieve that ‘work life balance’ when you are running a business and juggling life as a parent, do you allow yourself any ‘me time’ and how do you fit that into your hectic schedule?

“I love going to the gym. The gym for me is my time – my hour. And to fit that in I have to do the 6am/7am class. It’s not always possible, like recently I’ve been too tired to get up and do it. But I do try to incorporate it into my routine as much as possible. Last week for example, I was in London on the Tuesday, my partner Daniel was away on the Wednesday in Newcastle, the kids were at their dad’s and the dog has gone to his doggy hotel – which sounds ridiculous, but because we’re all away and out, we just know he’ll have a lovely time there with all the other dogs and that’s obviously an extra weight off your mind. So, it was just me and I could have slept until 8am, but instead I got up to do my gym class. I could have used that time to catch up on my sleep, but I just know on the days that I do go to the gym; I feel much better than the days I don’t. Without a doubt. And I love it! It’s changed my life – so for me it’s a massive thing. And most of the time it’s doable until it’s half term or other school holidays, or my mum needs something, or my kids need something – then something’s got to give and usually it’s your ‘me time’!

“I always say ’the juggle struggle is real’ – and it absolutely is!”

Laura WOLFE IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD

With such a hectic schedule how do you manage to fit in your ‘mum jobs’ alongside the demands of your business? 

“My children are split between me and their father. They are with me for 8 nights and then with him for 6 nights. It’s not my choice, but it’s what you have to do, because their dad loves them too, there’s no doubt about it. But I’m still their mum whether they are with me or not, and the organisational side of things still falls to me. I’m naturally a control freak and it took me a long time to let that go, but I still need to make sure everything is done and that everything is in place so that they can do what they need to. So, whether they are with me or not they will still ring me, and you still have those ‘mum jobs’ to do. I’m so lucky my partner Daniel is brilliant. He will take my youngest to football on a Saturday and Sunday. He loves that, he played a lot himself when he was younger. So, he’s brilliant, but of course it’s still challengingly. I can be in London at an event, like I was on Tuesday. My eldest calls me and he’s stressing about something – which is fine because I’m his Mum and he needs me – so obviously I have to take that time out to sort things out things like that. The kids always come first. No matter how busy I am, there are moments I don’t want to miss because they are important moments, and they need their mum there.”

Laura Wolfe and MCFC player Vincent Kompany
Laura WOLFE with x-MCFC PLAYER vincent kompany, TAKEN FROM LAURA’S INSTAGRAM account

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You have an extra role to juggle in looking after your mum, how do you manage to fit that into your busy schedule.

“Mum is 84, she’s fantastic, she’s been there supporting me all my life. So now it’s my turn. My father passed away in 2015. My brother lives in America and my sister lives in Israel. We’re a really close family, but geographically we are massively dispersed, so the day-to-day falls to me. So, during Covid again, it was down to me to look after my mum – we live 5 doors down from her – which has brilliant benefits; she’s got an incredible relationship with my children, well all of her grandchildren really, but obviously with us being so close by, she does a lot with my kids and sometimes I couldn’t manage without her support too. But mum can get herself in a bit of mess with things like her phone etc and she needs me to go and help her, which I had to do yesterday and before you know it, it’s two hours out of your working day.

I grew up in a Jewish household with a mum who gave everything to her family – and I mean everything! Before my mum had me, my parents lived in Maidstone, and she was about to be made Mayor of Maidstone. She was a woman in her twenties, with all these men in a room smoking and she was sat there looking glamourous – and this was in the days where women didn’t do that! But then Dad’s job brought them up here and since then she gave her life to family and the community. She’s got an MBE for her services to the community. So, she’s a force. At 84, she’s still a total inspiration and as involved as ever, which is just amazing!”

And you’re also a mum to a gorgeous little cavapoo, Teddy, which is obviously another responsibility that you have to manage. Tell us a bit more about Teddy and how you make that work. 

“Our puppy Teddy is a lockdown down puppy. We love him, he’s like another baby to me. I would have wanted another baby – as I’m one of three and we’re so close – but it just wasn’t to be for me, as my life went in another direction. So, we love our pup, but because he was a lockdown puppy, he’s not good on his own. So, obviously we have to factor him into our schedule too. We’ve organised it really well now, he goes to doggy day care, and he absolutely loves it! It’s like playgroup he’s got a ball pit, slide paddling pool – I mean it sounds ridiculous, but he loves it so we know he’s happy when he’s there.”

Obviously, the events industry was hit incredibly hard through covid, that must have been tough, and you would have obviously had the boys the home-school too. So how did lockdown impact you professionally and as a parent?   

“Lockdown was an absolute nightmare! I mean for all parents it was just so hard. My eldest was 14 at the time and he slept all day and gamed all night. He only really came out of his room to eat and grunt something, but I just went with it because I had to. He couldn’t swim or do any of the things he would normally be doing, so it was awful and it was hard emotionally. My youngest needed home schooling and at the start school didn’t actually give them that much to do and he is so ridiculously conscientious that he would get it all done straight away. And as you said my businesses then was events and football – there were no events and no football. I remember the day they said it was all happening and we had to shut the office, we thought we would all be back in three weeks. We were really busy at the time, we were gearing up to do the PFA Awards etc and obviously none of those events went ahead and lockdown went on much longer than we all anticipated. I was running – a lot – but also eating – a lot! I was baking bread – in fact my youngest will say mum you never bake bread anymore! And I’m like ‘When am I meant to fit baking bread in now?’ (she laughs)

But as time went on and I realised that this wasn’t going away quickly, I set up my concierge business – looking after footballers primarily. Like helping them find a place to live if they’re moving from overseas, or to help them find a school etc. So that was great because that kept me busy setting that up. Then I’m really friendly with Brian Horton, ex-football manager and brilliant guy and he had written a book and I said to him ‘Who is doing the media for you book? I don’t do PR, but do you want me to help you?’ He said yes, will you speak to the publisher. Which I did, and I did the media for the book for him – just because I wanted to – and it went brilliantly, and the publisher asked me how much I charged! I didn’t know what to say as I’d never really done it before. But that was October 2020 and now we’re in May 2022 and I have provided the media relations for all of those books. (Points to an array of books displayed with pride in her office) I generally do the personality led books and so it’s great to work with so many inspiring sports personalities.

Then in February 2021 Women In Football got in touch and asked if I would meet with them as their head of events was really unwell with covid. It went really well and I’m still working for them now and we’re doing some really great and exciting things.

As much as covid was incredibly hard, it gave me was a chance to rethink things and look at things differently, and without that happening I would never have done the media side, or the Women in Football and I love it, and I’m good at it!

And of course, fast forward to now and the events industry is booming again. A lot of people have left the industry too and so there aren’t as many companies or freelancers around, so its crazy busy at the minute. But I’m not complaining as I’ve been on the other side where I lost everything! I’ve made some bad choices, put the wrong people around me, thought I knew how to do it and listened to people I shouldn’t have, and I lost everything!”

That must have been extremely hard. Do you think that’s almost part of the process though, to be successful? To make the mistakes, to endure the struggles and then grow through them.

“Well, I feel I have a lot of catching up to do because my divorce took its toll on me, I lost my dad, and having kids is really difficult. And when things are going well it’s great, but without going into it too much, like all kids, my kids have had their issues, and as a parent you find yourself dealing with those too, both emotionally. And sometimes that has been really hard and heart-breaking. Kids can say things they don’t mean because they’re hurting and you just want to make it all better for them, and sometimes you can’t.

At the end of 2017 when everything went, I was made bankrupt and my business went into insolvency and there were lots of different reasons for that and I remember sitting at Oddfellows in the park in Cheadle, with my brother who over from the US and Daniel, my partner. And I said to them I’m going to go and work in Marks & Spencer, and I was serious and do you know my reason for that was that they give you 20% discount on the food! And Daniel was so angry, to hear me be so defeatist like that, but my brother said just let her go through it. I just thought I can never show my face in Manchester again! No-one will ever want to work with me again! It was just horrible. I was let down by some people, but ultimately, I take responsibility for what happened. And then I ended up starting up another business, but it was completely different to the business I had before in that it was me front and centre, it reflected me and that’s what people wanted and always had, but I had tried to make the other business into something it was never going to be.”

It’s very inspiring that you went back into the world of business despite going through that and it obviously takes a lot of strength, how difficult was it to get back out there and start over again?

“I had a really lucky break in 2019, it was Vincent Kompany’s testimonial season at Manchester City and he came to the NWFA to present an award to Brian Kidd with Gary Neville and I met his business partner and the guy that manages him and I got on really well with them an then after we had had a coffee they gave me the gig to run his testimonial season so I worked with him for 18 months. And as a city fan that is like your ultimate dream, like I can’t even tell you what that meant, it was incredible. And when it was over, I was kind of like what do I do now? And he said good things will come to you, just trust the process.

Then when I started working with him the trolls came out and I remember sitting at my desk and Amy, a colleague and friend who had been with me throughout it all said ‘Laura don’t look at Twitter, don’t look at it!’ and obviously I did and it was just disgusting, the things they were saying about me, about my mum, there was antisemitic stuff, there was stuff about what happened with my old business and there was stuff about my partner and this was all because I was working with Vincent Kompany and Andy Burnham – because we were raising money for the homeless. And it was just horrific and because I wasn’t expecting it, it really knocked me. Honestly?  It made me not want to be here anymore.  It’s tough to admit that, but it’s true.  And I remember Andy Burnham rang me and said I signed up for this, this is part of my job, but you didn’t, the only reason they are doing this is because you are actually doing something positive. I know its horrible but just keep doing what you’re doing. And Vinny’s team were like, we’ve got you, if it carries on, we’ll sort it but for now let’s just ignore it. And when I started working with them, I had told them everything, so they knew everything, you know ‘This has happened to me, I’ve done this, I’ve done that, this is what happened, and it was a part of my life.’ They didn’t care, in fact they already knew about everything anyway, but the fact that I told them without them asking me, I think that showed them that I’m ok, you know. So that was extremely tough, and I blocked my account for ages and was then like sod it! And I got to the point where I though ‘I actually don’t care’ It’s actually something that we’re trying to stop through Women in Football, because unfortunately it’s something that is prevalent for women in football. I just don’t understand why, but it happens.”

Obviously 10 years ago in Football you didn’t see many women involved in football, have you had to fight even harder to carve out your career because of that?

Oh yes! Most men have probably never been asked to explain the offside rule, but I have many, many, times! We were talking about this at an event the other night and we all agreed that you don’t have to know everything, because men don’t know everything either. And I don’t know everything, and I didn’t know everything ten years ago, but I never pretended to know everything. But when you’re going into a room full of men and who already have preconceptions about you, it can be intimidating. Even going back to when I moved to Manchester, and I went to work at the Institute of Directors, I was the youngest and only female regional director they had, and that there had ever been before! I remember thinking to myself we’ve got to change this. I’ve seen some awful stuff over the years and heard some awful stories, I’m fortunate to not have experienced it too myself but it definitely something that happens. We have come a long way, although there is still a lot further to go. I’m a firm believer in women supporting other women to pave the way forward.”

What advice would you give other mums who are also striving to achieve success in their careers?

“I think you always strive for more. You always think that you’re not doing well. You always think that you could have done something better. I have the worst imposter syndrome. But I think firstly, you can’t regret anything – and that’s something I’ve had to really work on – learning not to regret things, because it nearly finished me! Secondly, know that you’re not on your own. The more you can open up and talk about things the better. I used to have this outward facing thing, particularly on social media, that everything is brilliant, everything is fantastic. Always saying, I’m fine to anyone who asked. So, no one ever knew that underneath my world was crumbling and falling apart. That I was losing everything. That I felt like the worst mum in the world, because I just couldn’t be there for my kids in the way that I wanted to be because I wasn’t emotionally strong enough, and I didn’t ask for help. But everybody struggles. Everybody fails. I failed very dramatically and very publicly.  Get yourself a girl gang of cheerleaders too.  Everybody needs their girl gang.  Mine is ace!

And thirdly be kind to yourself, I am not kind to myself – I need to listen to my own advice on this one. I’m always telling myself I should be doing better; I should be doing more. And it’s constant and I’m always on the go until I remind myself that’s not sustainable and I’m a human being, and that something has got to give. Oh, and learn to say no as well – it’s ok to say no. You can’t be the best friend in the world, the best mum in the world, the best partner in the world, the best person in the gym, the best businessperson etc… I can’t do it! Nobody can and you just need to remember that.”

 

Laura Wolfe

FOLLOW LAURA’S JOURNEY:

Written by Lolo Stubbs
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM PITFIELD

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Culinary genius Simon Wood’s Inspiring Journey and his goal for a Michelin star

Culinary genius Simon Wood’s Inspiring Journey and his goal for a Michelin star

SIMON WOOD OF WOOD MANCHESTER AND WoodKraft Cheltenham. IMAGES © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD MAGAZINE

“I want to have a Michelin star restaurant and I’ll do it! It might take me ten years, but I will do it!”

Culinary genius, Simon Wood, rose to fame as the winner of MasterChef in 2015. In 2016 his debut cookbook – At Home with Simon Wood was published and in 2018 he realised his dreams when he opened his first restaurant – Wood Restaurant in Manchester. He then opened his second restaurant in the December of 2018 – WoodKraft in Cheltenham. But the road to success was not without hard work, sacrifice, and enduring lots of challenges. Simon became a father at a young age and at the time he was working at McDonalds. By the time he was 22, he and his partner had three young children, life was far from easy and career success was seemingly a world away. So when we had the pleasure of sitting down with Simon at his sophisticated Manchester restaurant, we were bowled over by the father of four’s inspiring and incredible journey, and we are sure it will inspire all of you too!

Simon Wood
SIMON WOOD. IMAGES © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD MAGAZINE
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As soon as we sat down, Simon was so welcoming and jumped straight into a conversation about how dramatically his life had changed since he first became a father…

Simon – “By the time I was 22 I had three children under 5 years old, so I know what it’s like earning £140 a week and making it stretch. ‘Can I get a beer on a Friday night, or do we need nappies?’ Of course, you always have to choose the nappies. That’s the way it was. Then I ended up being a data scientist and made a successful career out of that. Then MasterChef happened and here we are – I’ve got no money again!” He laughs “I’m a grandad now as well, my middle lad has had his first child, so my granddaughter is one and a half. I’m still not sure I’m ready to be called a grandad yet either!” he laughs.

So, has cooking always been a passion of yours?

“Yes, I’ve always done it. I’ve just always loved cooking. I used to find ways to make ends meet, whilst raising three children. I would regularly cook for friends and family, and host dinner parties. And I would do buffets, weddings, christenings – any private events really, just to earn a bit of extra money on the side at weekends.”

And you mentioned earlier that you first became a data scientist. How did that come about?

“I’d spent a lot of time learning about data, initial basic programming, so I became a data scientist and no one ever wakes up and says ‘I think I’m going to become a data scientist.’ People don’t do that. But looking back, it was great learning curve, and it still helps me now – with percentages, GP calculations, wage calculations, negotiations etc – so there’s lots of aspects from it that I still use today. Back then I also managed quite a big team so again, that helped me gain experience as I obviously manage a large team now too. I also met some great contacts doing that, for example, through one of my contacts as a data scientist I ended up cooking for Billy Ocean and Pink Floyd – which was mental.”

We imagine this industry doesn’t lend itself to family life does it, how did you find that adjustment as a father?     

“I was all set to be chef from an early age and I didn’t do it, because life took me in a different direction and it was family life that changed that – of course in a nice way, I have no regrets. I wouldn’t be where I am now without doing it the way I did. I’d probably be sick of it, pulling my hair out, trying to earn a living somewhere else with two or three failed restaurants behind me. That’s the reality of it, that’s what can happen if you’re not focused. But as it stands, I’ve got a good platform, a good springboard, and a good support network around me (within the Manchester industry in particular.)

People that have supported me and have told people about us, now other people want to come down here, its great! As well as the good food, it’s about being hospitable, it’s called hospitality for a reason, it’s about earning a living but enjoying what you do as well.”

Simon Wood
SIMON WOOD. IMAGES © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD MAGAZINE

Covid notoriously hit this the hospitality industry really hard, how much did this affect you, both as a business and as a family?

“Going back to the family thing, every one of my family has worked in this restaurant. Because being honest, I’ve needed them to. Everyone seemed to quit after covid. Despite the staff being kept on furlough for 18 months or so, everyone came back but did six services then left! We lost around eight staff in total. This was hard. They were people we’d been loyal to. Really loyal, even when we’d struggled to find money for their wages, I couldn’t see them struggle, so had to take it out of our my own pocket before the government paid it back in 6 weeks.

Plus, they’d all accrued holidays while they were all off, so when we re-opened, six services in and our head chef just quit, our sommelier, followed by our assistant manager. The Chef de partie was being offered head chef roles elsewhere, even though the restaurant offering them wasn’t ready, the industry was on its knees, and it was brutal. That was probably the most challenging time. I had my sons on the pots, I had my daughter and her mum polishing cutlery and glasses in the back. I was taking peas home to pod on my day off because I didn’t have enough time to do it there, all kinds of stuff had gone on, but that was a challenging time and I’m lucky I have a great family. They’ve all been really supportive of me. They’ve been through the whole journey, of course, since MasterChef especially, it’s been beneficial for me, there’s no escaping that but it has been for them too, because it’s given us [all] a fantastic quality of life, maybe not fantastic, but it’s certainly a better, more diverse, and interesting one! The people that you see, the people that you meet and that you cook for. Even doing things like this. That’s what makes hospitality worthwhile, it’s a network of enjoyment, I guess. It’s hard, you know. We might do 80 hours in four days, and then I wake up on a Sunday morning to go get Charlotte, my daughter, because it’s her day with me and I can’t get up – literally; so I have to sit for a minute and finally start to wander round like a 90-year-old, then finally by 4 o’clock when you’ve had a glass of wine, you can move around again a bit quicker.”

How do think it has impacted and inspired your children overall?

“Growing up, the lads have had other jobs over the years, that weren’t in the restaurant sector, but when they’ve come in to help out here, done a day on the pots, then suddenly whatever job they’d been doing before, doesn’t seem so bad. They’d do 7 and half hours with an hour’s lunch break at their work place, whereas here, when you’re 7 and a half hours in, it means it’s only half past three, and we haven’t even started service yet! When you’re in at 8am and you don’t leave until 1am – that’s working hard! So, it’s been good for them to see how hard it is, its definitely been grounding for them. They’ve learnt a lot from that, but so have I. You know I came from an office background originally, I used to go in the office early around 6.30am to miss the traffic and get an early start, but I’d always leave early and be home by 6pm. So, it’s not that long of a day looking back – for an office day, it’s probably quite long for an office job now I guess, but in this [restaurant] world it’s not at all.”

You’ve obviously always had a strong work ethic, do you think that has come from you having such a lot of responsibility from being a father at such a young age, or has that come from somewhere else?

“I got that from my parents, you know, I was always told, if you want money, you go out and get a paper round. Whereas I probably made the mistake of saying to mine not to – I felt like it was a bit risky them being out that late, for not a lot of money – I wasn’t sure it was worth it. So I didn’t push them in that direction. Well, at least with my first lad I didn’t, whereas my second lad he wanted to, so he did it regardless. And my third lad works the same hours as me in a Michelin star restaurant – as he’s a chef now too. So, it’s funny how your dynamic changes throughout. But in the end, they have all worked really hard, following their own passions and they really enjoy it. And that’s the key isn’t it, it’s making sure you’re doing something that you enjoy. We all know that if you’re enjoying it, it’s not really work. It might be stressful, it might be difficult, but it’s still enjoyable. If even on your worst day you can think – it’s alright – well, once you’ve thrown a few things that is. He laughs.

The margins are tight, there’s all kinds of things that you have to do but if you love what you do it’s worth it. We’ve even slept in the restaurant to save hotel bills; we’ve done home deliveries to save on fuel – you name it, we’ve done it. It’s definitely not as glamorous as it might seem on the outside sometimes.”

I think that’s something that we feel very passionate about with BROOD, is getting across the reality of what goes on behind the scenes in order to get to that success or achieve your dreams, whilst juggling your kids, as it’s very rare that it happens overnight or without sacrifice.

“Oh yeah, for around 6 years, I worked in a warehouse in the morning at half past six until quarter past three and I would pick the kids up from school, then my missus would go out and work in the same warehouse and do the half past three while 10 o’clock shift – and that’s how we did it back then, because we had to. It was hard. And some weeks you would throw in a bit of overtime on a Saturday to make ends meet, the lads would have football on a Sunday and then your week would start again! Then I started to dabble in IT in the late 90’s, taught myself basic programming and different other bits, and just progressed from there and ended up being quite successful in a more corporate industry, because I needed to do something more than what I had been doing. I couldn’t even afford a computer to practise on, but I was determined to change course no matter what. Once I got into that industry, and I had the tools to progress, I did it quite quickly. In a year I was managing the team, in two years I was managing the department and then I moved into the university side of things – looking at statistics there.”

So, at that point you had obviously carved out a new career for yourself that you were doing really well in, what made you decide to do MasterChef?  

“Well, I’d gone to work one morning, and my boss had really got up my nose! So, I clicked off my emails, got myself a coffee and started to look on Facebook and a little advert popped up at the side and it said, ‘Are you the next champion?’ [of MasterChef] so I just clicked it and that was that. I got on and won it! I had always been that guy at home questioning ‘Why are they cooking that!’. Everyone had always said to me, ‘Why don’t you do it?’ But in reality, I applied in temper. Everything I wrote in that application was very honest, but it probably had a little edge to it!” [We all laugh.]

“After getting through the application process, you do three telephone interviews, then you go to a hotel, take a dish with you – I was shaking, frightened to death at that point. And after that, once you’ve got through all that, you get into the kitchen and that’s it – the rest is history.”

At what point did you think, I could win this?

“I was never over confident to start with, I have to be honest, but there are points that I do remember where, at the end of each show you would walk around and look at what everyone else had done and you get to taste the food, I started to think, ‘Mine’s better than that, it’s better than that, it’s better than that one’ and it was at that point that I’d think, ‘I’m alright here’ and then I’d get through to the next round. Looking back, there was a couple of pivotal moments, like we’d had a shocking round as a team, I didn’t think it was managed properly and I lost my temper. So then I ended up running the team for the episode with the red arrows, and I was like a top gun geek and I was on the runway with red arrows and they’re flying around and I’m running the kitchen and I was just like, ‘this is me, I’m done now, I’m happy’ and I think it was there where a little switch clicked and it made me a little bit into what I am today, tenacious, direct, driven and passionate. I knew 100% from that point that was what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be.”

You have achieved so much already, what other goals do you have and what do you want for the future of your business?

“Well, we’re pushing towards a Michelin star, so my aim is to get a Michelin star, I want to have a Michelin star restaurant and I’ll do it! It might take me ten years, but I will do it! One way or other, because that’s my goal. I’m going keep trying and we’ve got a great team here. It’s really enjoyable despite it’s ups and downs, the kids are a little older now, my youngest Charlotte is taking her exams soon.”

Do you ever switch off? And if so, do you find it easy to switch off?  

“You’ve got to try and find a way to run a business by keeping your stress levels down so that your home life isn’t affected. Like on my Sunday, that’s my day with my family, so if I’m having an off day  I’m stressed, you know, that’s not how I want that day to be but it’s ruthless at times so it can be hard to switch off.

Especially when you’re tired, your body’s broken and you’ve not broke even that week, they’re the weeks you’ve got to try harder than ever to find that balance. But most Sundays, I manage it, and we’ll either watch the football or eat out so I’m not cooking, and when the boys have gone home me, and Charlotte will watch a box set or something together. We’re closed Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, which highlights how hard the other days are. Although we’re meant to be off on a Tuesday and a lot of us (the chefs) still come in, because we all know what needs to be done. You can’t really switch food off though, because it’s not up here (points to his head) it’s in here (points to his heart).”

And finally, what tips would you give to anyone else starting out into the world of business or looking to achieve their career goals? How does someone find the type of drive and determination that you’ve got?

“I think circumstance can dictate the amount drive that you have, like my dad died when I was 11. I had a paper round then, then I went working at the working mans club, then onto McDonalds at 15. So, I’ve always worked. I think family or personal circumstances change your work ethic. I think I would advise any young people wanted to find that work ethic to come into hospitality because it’s fun, it’s fast, it’s frantic, it’s ferocious – it’s always entertaining and it’s always hard. I think it’s something people can learn from very quickly. Hospitality is just a great steppingstone no matter what you want to do. If you can cook or pour a pint, you’ll never be out of work any where in the world – simple as that!”

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Interviewed by Lolo Stubbs
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM PITFIELD

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Interview with Renowned Celebrity Make Up Artist, Cassie Lomas

Interview with Renowned Celebrity Make Up Artist, Cassie Lomas

CASSIE LOMAS, HER HUSBAND CHRIS BELL AND THEIR CHILDREN ELKIE & SPIKE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD MAGAZINE
“I can’t see obstacles, so if I want something, this is my motto, ‘Just make it happen, let’s just make it happen!”

Renowned Celebrity Make -Up Artist, Cassie Lomas, has built an incredible empire since breaking into the Make Up industry in her early twenties and her impressive portfolio of businesses include one of the UK’s most respected Make Up Academy’s – CLMA, an esteemed line of professional make up brushes, a make-up line within Superdrug and Creatives Make Up Agency – which has helped launch and support the careers for hundreds of upcoming MUA’s; all whilst being a doting mum to her two gorgeous children, Spike and Elkie. We sat down to hear how Cassie carved out her own path within the Make Up industry; how teamwork with her husband, Chris, has most definitely made the dream work, and how the last decade of sheer hard work and determination, has led to now finding the ultimate balance between her career and motherhood. You cannot help but feel in awe of Cassie’s formidable drive and what she has achieved already; but it wasn’t always easy, and her story is sure to motivate us all, to see that we can achieve anything that we want to, despite any obstacles that may get in your way!

Cassie Lomas
CASSIE LOMAS. IMAGES © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD MAGAZINE
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What made you decide to become a Make Up Artist and how did you get into the industry in the beginning?

“Well, I went to a girls grammar school – I went to Manchester High School for girls, so I was brought up in a very academic environment, where I was expected to go and become a lawyer, or an accountant or something along those lines and I felt a lot of pressure at the time because I’m fairly bright, but I wouldn’t say I was really academic, you know, I’m not one of those super intelligent people, I’m much more creative. So, for me at that point, there weren’t really any creative options, it wasn’t something that was talked about back then. And I only really knew about make up because I had previously done some modelling so had some experience of being on photoshoots, and I was doing my A Levels and someone came round college with these options for a night course, and I saw Interior Design and thought, ‘oh yeah, I’d love to do that!’ and then I saw Cosmetic Make Up and I thought, ‘Well maybe I’ll do Make Up so I could earn some money on the side while I go to Uni!’ Or you know have a year out and just do Make Up, so that was why I started it. And from there, well I realised it wasn’t quite that easy.” (We all laugh) “But once I’d started, I thought, ‘Well I can’t stop now,’ and I loved it, I was so passionate, and it’s been my hobby since then and I was 17 then.”

Obviously, you went on to create a successful career for yourself, when Make Up wasn’t really seen as a ‘proper’ career choice at that time.

“No, it wasn’t seen as a proper career at the time, and it’s never been intentional, well not that I remember, you know, I never really intended on becoming a Make Up artist. I remember, because I did a business degree at Uni, so all the time that I was finishing my A levels and doing my business degree, I was doing make up on the side and I was building my portfolio and then I remember saying to my mum, ‘I think I want to move to London and give Make Up a go.’ I was adamant about the best, I didn’t just want to do Make Up, I wanted to be the best and what I had found whilst I was starting out was that wherever I went everyone kept saying all the best people train at London College of Fashion and it really stuck with me. So, I thought, ‘Right, well if I’m moving to London, I’m going to go to London College of Fashion.’ So I did, I rang my mum and said, ‘I definitely want to move to London, I think the best way to go is as a student because it’s cheaper’ because at the time you still got funding to go to Uni. So that’s what I did, and I got in, I got a place on their HND Fashion Make Up course and by this point I’d already been doing Make Up for 5 years. So, I was quite far into doing it already, I’d had an agent, I’d been working with celebrities, and I went down to London, and it was obviously all new. I was working in a nightclub at night – a celebrity ‘hotspot’ you know, and I would be at college all day. And then I got a big break, working with an amazing make-up artist assisting her and just progressed from there. Within the space of two to three months I was flying around the world. And it never really stopped, and I got to about 25, and I bought a flat in Chelsea, I bought a brand-new car cash, I was shopping on Sloan Street, Champagne was the drink that I drank on my nights out and this was all in my early twenties and it was lot, when you think back. I was so fortunate and so lucky to be able to experience that, then suddenly it stopped, and I had no money. I couldn’t afford to pay my mortgage, my main client wasn’t working anymore, so I decided at that point I was going to stop working with celebrities and I wanted to become a Fashion Make Up Artist – like high fashion. I wanted to do London Fashion Week and editorials. So, I started saying no to all my money jobs and I changed my agent, and I went down the fashion route. So, then I found myself getting the tube across London, with two suitcases, to do magazine shoot – for no money at all and I get there, and they would say, ‘She doesn’t actually need anything. Maybe just do that with her hair’ (lightly ruffles her hair) and I would just think ‘Wow, I’ve just travelled two hours to get here, I’m not getting paid and now I’m not even allowed to touch the model!’ So I did this for about six months and I really struggled with it because I like putting Make Up on people and the fashion industry is not about putting Make Up on and you have to do so much free work at the beginning, that for me to go from earning a lot of money and flying around the world on jets to getting the tube across London for no money and then your work not even being appreciated as such, it was a real culture shock. And I found myself at this point where I couldn’t afford to pay my mortgage, I had this flat in Chelsea with my best friend, I’d been living the high life and it had just all gone. I’m skint, what do I do? So that was a real moment for me, and I found myself at this point where I had to make a decision because to be in this decision at 25 where I’d had all this success and I now had responsibilities, but no money, I thought what am I going to do? And I thought right I can either now think this hobby is enough, I’ve took it as far as I can and I need to now go get a ‘real job’ because as I said Make Up was never looked upon as a real job, although my parents always supported me so it never came from that, they were always like you should do what you want, it was more from society as a whole. So, I thought do I know start applying for jobs in marketing which was what my degree was in, or I do I go and get a job in pizza express which was my favourite restaurant and I can start trying to earn money again in make up and go back to what I love which is working in music and with celebrities and so that’s what I did. I decided that fashion wasn’t for me, I’d had such a great few years doing what I was doing and so I went back down that route.”

Adrian Adair Morson Group
CASSIE LOMAS AND HER DAUGHTER ELKIE. IMAGES © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD MAGAZINE

You’re obviously very passionate about helping MUA’s start and maintain their careers and you’ve kind of put choosing to be a Make Up Artist as a career choice on the map, does that stem from what you experienced? Or what made you decide to start the academy? 

“So, the idea of the academy came about because I had struggled so much at the beginning, I felt like it was almost like a secret society and no one wanted to let you in and no one wanted to give you advice and you couldn’t just google the answer to things you wanted to know and I was made to feel a bit stupid on a lot of occasions and I made so many mistakes in my career that if someone would have just said, ‘Oh no, you don’t do that, that’s not the done thing’ then I wouldn’t have done it, but I didn’t know and so I wanted to open a school, not just that taught people, but that really helped them as well. That helped them get those breaks that I found so tricky to get because I thought I can offer so much, so many opportunities – not just the training, but after the training, like getting people into work. What I think every school should be like, you know our slogan had become after 10 years, ‘we don’t just teach make up, we nurture careers’ and that is what we do. It annoys me so much when people come to us to train and they’ve already paid for training elsewhere and they don’t know the most simple, basic things and people are taking their money off them and saying I can do that, I can teach you that and they’ve not even been taught to put moisturiser on the model, or they don’t know what a test shoot is. It just drives me nuts. So, I have always prided myself on teaching people everything they need to know. That’s why we don’t do loads of courses and we don’t do short courses. When I started out, I did do a short course for a week and it was a weeks bridal course and it was rammed, to the point where we had to get a new academy it was so busy. But what happened was someone rang me and said ‘Do you know such a body, they’ve got in touch with me about a job, it’s over in Spain and they’ve said they can do it and that they’ve trained with you’ but I didn’t know the person who they were talking about and then when I looked I realised that they had done the bridal course and it was that, that made me realise that people are going out after one weeks training and saying that they’ve trained with me and trying to get big freelance jobs and that was it I said ‘I’m not doing that course anymore, we need to shut it down’ and I also increased the length of time of the main course. It was a learning curve for me. But lots of people think that they can be a make up artist in two or three days and it doesn’t work like that – if you want to be the best and you want to get good jobs you must learn how to do it properly because it’s a craft. I think though because as women we do makeup everyday on ourselves, people think it’s easy, until they come in the school and they’re like ‘wow I didn’t realise how much there was to learn!’ So, the reason for starting the school was to help people genuinely and to offer opportunities that I wasn’t given. I never really had any expectations for it lasting, even in my wildest dreams I couldn’t have look forward to where we are today – we’ve been going for over 10 years.”

So how old were Spike and Elkie when you opened the academy?

“So, Spike was one and Elkie wasn’t born when I started it. I remember taking Elkie in when she was born, and I was teaching and breast feeding at the same time. I thought to myself if I have the luxury of being my own boss then I’m going to take my baby to work, and I loved it! Having that perk and being able to do that was amazing! And, because at the time I spent so much time away in London working, so when I was at home, I wanted my kids with me. I would take Spike in all the time and do-little shoots with him, which is great because they’ve both ended up being little models now, so I think being around that has really helped.”

Obviously when you’re as ambitious as you and as driven as you, it can be hard to continue in the way when children come along so how did you adapt initially when Spike came along?

“Well, that was actually one of the catapults to opening the school. When I was pregnant, I was still flying around the world doing make up – I was on tour with Lady Gaga and we visited 27 countries in two months, I was eight and half months pregnant when I got back. I literally flew home on the last day that I could fly, so spent most of my pregnancy away on my own, in Japan and all-around Europe so I literally experienced that whole journey with Chris on the phone, with the time difference and everything and I was petrified. And when I came back my agent was in London, people still thought I lived in London, I didn’t tell anyone that I had moved to Manchester because I thought they’ll stop booking me and I thought right I’m having a baby now, there’s no getting around this, so that why I decided I needed to set something up in Manchester and that’s when I said it’s the right time for the school. So I had the school, but of course I still went back to work down in London and I used to take Spike with me, I had a flat down there and my mother in law used to come with me. She would sometimes spend a week there with me whilst I worked because I wanted him there when I got home from work. It was great having that support, because if I hadn’t of had Susan (Cassie’s Mother- in-law) I wouldn’t have been able to do that.”

That’s amazing, especially for 10 years ago, because even though society is slowly becoming more inclusive of working parents it certainly wasn’t the case 10 years ago, but that’s obviously a testament to your determination and ambition.

“I can’t see obstacles so if I want something, this my motto, ‘Just make it happen, lets just make it happen!’ I say it my students all the time, I can’t see how if you want something you can’t get it? My brain just won’t allow that, because what I’ll do for example, say I want to go to London tomorrow for work and I will work back wards and I will think ‘Right how I do get there?’ So instead of thinking, I want to go to London tomorrow but I’ve got no one to have the kids, but I’ll think about what time I need to be a work, what time I need to leave and I would think who can I pay to come with me and stay in the flat with the kids, I’m just always trying to find a solution and that’s just the way I work. I just don’t know how to work any other way.”

Did you ever experience any judgement about taking your children to work with you?

“Well, I would never have taken them on to a paid job, because I was working with popstars etc and that wouldn’t have been the right thing to do, but when it was taking them into the academy, I didn’t even care what people thought. I just thought well its my academy and I feel this is the right thing to do. But actually, I had the opposite, because I remember going to the hairdressers and I was all flustered because I’d had to get a babysitter and I was like, ‘What do people usually do with their kids when they need their hair doing or their eyebrows done?’ and they were just like, ‘Well, everybody just brings their kids in’ and I remember thinking ‘Really?! People bring their kids to a hair salon. I would never have thought of that.’ And from then I realised it was ok to take my children to things, but because my brain was so programmed to be professional, turn up at work without the kids, that thought had never crossed my mind that I could take them to the salon with me!”

We all know what parent guilt is like, and getting that balance can be really hard, is that something you’ve experienced too?

“So, Chris is amazing, he said at the beginning when we said we’d have children, you know I’d moved back up north from London to be with him, I love my job, I didn’t want to stop it and he said, ‘I’ll do it, I’ll look after the kids.’ Not that he would give up work, he would still work, but that my job would be the priority basically over his job so if I needed to go off, I would go off and he has stuck to that ever since, so I’ve never had to think I’ve got a job I need someone to look after the kids in order to be able to do it. Would just pick up the phone and let him know that I need to go to London the next day etc, and I remember there’s been times where he’s rang me and been like, ‘Where are you?’ and I’d be like, ‘I’m on my way to Dubai’ and ‘Oh right, when are you back?’, ‘In 5 Days’, ‘Oh right so you can’t get the kids?’, ‘No’, ‘Oh right, OK.’ (We all laugh) and that’s just the relationship that we have. And we’ve made it work. Chris has always done the school runs, it’s only now the last couple of years that I’m doing it now and roles have kind of reversed. What happened though a few years ago was Elkie said to me, ‘Mummy I don’t want you to go to London’ well, that was it, it was like a sledgehammer to my heart, and I had never considered that my children would have even noticed that I wasn’t there because they were so happy, and Chris is such a good dad. So that was it, I was like, ‘Right, what am I going to do know. I can’t go to London and work anymore, what am I going to do?’ So, I just decided to run my businesses instead, I’ll have to stay home, take a step back from going to London to do make up and run my businesses. Now what I do is I choose the jobs that want to do very carefully, I only work with people who make me happy, and I only go if I’ve got no family commitments and I’ve learned to say no, which was something that I could never ever do before she said that to me. So, I’ve adapted, I’m still getting up everyday and working but I’m not flying around the world. Although I have got a trip coming up but it’s only two day and I will always check with Elkie first if she doesn’t mind me going and if she doesn’t want me to go, I won’t go. Ultimately, these guys are my priority.”

Have you ever worried about other people perceptions of you working ‘too much’?

“I’ve never really cared what people think and all I’ve heard is ‘Oh my god I don’t know how you do it! ‘You’re like wonder woman’ etc so because everyone was so complimentary of my success, I never felt a judgement of anyone, but I do that to myself, I judge myself and have that terrible mum guilt and I think if the children ask me to do anything it’s always a yes. I think because I’m always questioning am I a good mum? Elkie is the worst she has me wrapped around her little finger!” Laughter fills the room once again. We’d got back from camping the other week and she’d decided she’d had enough of the wallpaper in her bedroom and so at 7pm I was at B&Q getting paint, I finished it around 11pm. We got up the next morning about 7am, went to Ikea, got her all bits to finish it off and it was all done within 24 hours and that’s what she does to me! It’s like ‘I wanna be a good mum, I wanna be a good mum!’ And I think that’s because it doesn’t come naturally to me, all I’ve ever known is work. I’m not the kind of mum that sits on the floor pulling out jigsaws and playdoh, I have to work at it. So, what I’ve tried to do is find things to do with the kids that we all enjoy. You just want to do your best.”

Obviously, you will be inspiring your children in so many ways too, though, so do you allow yourself to take stock of that and feel proud at how you’re influencing them as a parent?

“I think one good thing is that is that me and Chris are opposites, he lives day to day, he’s not bothered about success, you know. He’ll work for things he wants like to get the motor home or to do up the house etc, and he really enjoys spending time with the kids. I’m very much career focused, and I struggle to switch off, but he brings me back down to earth and family life which is brilliant. When I grew up my parents taught me so much about building for my future and instilled a great work ethic into me and made me believe I could succeed in anything. It was a different upbring than what Chris had and he’d be off with his family camping and fishing and generally living life to the full. I love having those differences in both sides of our family, where I can show the kids what they can achieve if they work hard, and also how to enjoy life. They go without nothing and that includes my time and my love. I’ve made a rule now that we have every single school holiday off. We go on holiday at Christmas and at Easter, we have every half term off and the full six weeks in the summer off both Chris and I, and that last 10 years has been really hard at times, but it has allowed us the privilege to be able to do that.”

Do you have any advice for fellow mums out there who are looking to start a business or reach the top of their career?

“Firstly, I think whatever you want you can make possible. And secondly you really have to really visualise what you want. Without a goal you can’t make it happen. So, you need to know where you want to be, I do vision boards. I actually had a really bad time when I’d hit 40 because I had achieved everything I wanted, a successful career, a beautiful husband, two gorgeous children, the academy, my make up brushes and a beauty line in Superdrug, Creatives agency, amazing friends and family, big house great holidays etc and I thought what do I do now? But I gave myself a talking to and realised I just need to set new goals and work towards those. So, my advice, is set your long-term goal and work backwards. What’s your 5-year plan? 3-year plan? 12-month plan and what do you need to do in the next 3 months in order to get there? And just tick things off and you will get there. Don’t let anyone tell you no!”

Morson Group - Find your next job
Interviewed by Lolo Stubbs
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM PITFIELD

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