Up until my early twenties, there were only two things I wanted to do with my life. And everything I did fueled those things. Nothing else mattered. My whole education was geared around me wanting to pass the subjects that related to what I wanted to be. English, all the arts, history…and not much else. I am convinced I was brainwashed in the womb to be a certain way. Nothing else explains it.
Whilst I don’t think I have particularly sabotaged my education (since I have never struggled to find a job), I was certainly blinkered as to what path I might ultimately end up taking.
I was convinced I would be a published author by the time I was 20 and that I was going to have a career as a costume designer. My GCSEs and predicted A levels had got me a place at Uni in London to do Costume Design. But the thought of leaving home (I was not a well adjusted person growing up) meant I didn’t go. A few years later and not only am I not a successful author or costume designer I am working in a nursery teaching pre-schoolers. I don’t even like children.
So I left and went to college to study ‘Media’ because by that time I wanted to be scriptwriter. I got a place at Bournemouth Uni to do Scriptwriting but deferred and didn’t go there either (this time thanks to a really bad relationship choice).
Fast forward and I’m working in admin in London. My very first job was as a runner in a TV company. I thought I would be discovered, meet the right people and everything would be back on track. But 8 months of bringing home less than £800 a month ferrying tape clips across London and buying editors lunches (followed by the company going bust) was the only lesson I needed to learn that the bottom end of someone else’s creative career ladder is shit.
I applied to a BBC apprenticeship scheme with their costume department. I took my portfolio of designs and garments and waited. At the interview I was called for I was told quite categorically that if I wanted to work in costume I would have to make a choice between being a designer and a maker. I could either design on paper, or effectively work in a sweatshop. I couldn’t be both. But to me they were part of the same thing because I had always done both. So I failed the interview and, after a disastrous interview to work at Bermans and Nathans in one of the most depressing creative environments I’ve ever been in, I vowed never to do costume again. And I didn’t for some time.
But, fast forward again and I am working as a secretary in London in investment banking. Not so great. But thanks to decent wages I am also freelancing as a costume designer under my own banner. Better! I designed and made a lot of garments for my own collection for hire, for local theatre and for private commission. Stuff you BBC, you suck! But there is no money in re-enactment in the UK if you’re trying to make a living out of it. So in 2009 I stopped making costumes and turned to fashion.
The reason I am telling you all this, is that on Wednesday I went to a small venue in Manchester to see Eddie Argos of Art Brut fame on his Spoken Word tour. I won’t give away the details. If you want to know more, you’ve have to go and see him on stage somewhere in the UK. But safe to say, his entire life had been geared up to the point that Art Brut existed. At the Q&A session at the end I asked him ‘Was there ever a time you didn’t think you would make it? Was there a Plan B?’ I was unsurprised that there wasn’t. In fact I don’t think it even crossed his mind. He would be in a band regardless of how successful they were going to be. But whilst the story was quite condensed I guess there were large chunks of time where he was not in a band and he must have wondered what he was going to do with the rest of his life.
I was thinking about my journey and when I realised I had ‘made it’. I don’t regret my blinkered narrow approach to my career. I was a difficult creative person, who was bloody minded enough to sabotage anything to stay on that narrow track. And nothing would have changed that, not even if I’d had a crystal ball.
Just like Eddie Argos I believed there was only one thing I was meant to be. And nothing was going to make me sway from that train of thought. At least, not on a permanent basis. It’s only as you get older you realise that not everything is destined to be. You should always have a plan B, even if it’s not the last plan you ever make. I made mine in secretarial, which at the very least gave me the financial freedom to do the stuff I wanted and gave me top touch typing skills – which is handy for a writer.
But you do get jaded as you get older. When I was young I thought I could conquer the world that nothing was going to change my plan. I was going to be one of those ‘discovered’ talents you read about. But the truth is, things don’t always go your way and there is no such thing as an overnight success. And for every success story there are millions of dashed hopes. And then there are the plans that take the long way round…..
In 2012 I finally started my own business in fashion. From those first dreams as a 12 year old convinced I would be running a business designing and making clothes, it took me 26 years to get there. And it’s all my fault. My other dream to have a book published by the time I was 20 didn’t happen either but in 2014, 20 years late, it finally did. I guess I just misinterpreted my timescale.