Tag Archives: fulfillment

Interview with composer Debbie Wiseman

Debbie Wiseman (c) Michael Leckie

Image credit: Michael Leckie for the Sunday Times

Have you ever listened to a music album obsessively on repeat? I am normally a fussy listener, taking advantage of the ability to pick and choose tracks in the digital age. Last weekend, however, I found myself captivated by the Debbie Wiseman’s soundtrack to the BBC series Wolf Hall. Its music is highly original: urgent and timeless at the same time, mixing traditional Tudor era instruments with the drama one would expect from a contemporary TV series. The soundtrack, released in March 2015,  went straight to #1 on Classic FM, staying in the top ten for weeks thereafter.

I have been dying to interview Debbie Wiseman MBE ever since I had listened to her interview with Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs. Debbie is one of Britain’s most successful classical musicians, composing, conducting, teaching and presenting music. Her music credentials in film and TV include Wolf Hall, Flood, Jekyll, Father Brown, Haunted, Land Girls, to name a few of her 200+ music scores, composed over the last 20 years. In 2004 Debbie was honoured with an MBE for services to the music and film industry. She has been awarded Honorary Fellowships at both colleges where she studied, Trinity College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

With such a diverse portfolio of works and roles, I asked Debbie: “What brings you most joy?”

“Writing, sitting at my piano, finding an idea and then exploring it until the magical moment when it feels just right – that’s priceless. Of course, it’s not always easy, but the sheer love of writing music means I enjoy every step of the process.”

While writing is typically a solitary process, the collaborative nature of composing music for TV attracted Debbie to film and TV projects. It’s a different experience working together with the director, the editor, executive producers and sound mixers. For a creative person, it helps a lot to be able to ask someone you trust: “What do you think?”

BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies was Debbie’s sixth collaboration project with BAFTA Award winning director Peter Kosminsky. Normally, TV deadlines are tight and you only get 3-4 weeks to get the score ready. With Wolf Hall, Debbie had a lot more time to experiment and try things out. In fact, she wrote a couple of pieces before Kosminsky started filming. The director had the music playing on his mind from the first day of shooting. Then Debbie wrote music for the specific scenes, feeding off first rushes. They spent a year working together to produce the series and the music to the public and critical acclaim.

What would you advise your 15-year-old self? Be brave, be positive, be tenacious. Look after yourself and everybody around you. Once you find that special something that you love doing, all other questions fade away, and everything else falls into place. [By the age of 15, Debbie already knew that she’d wanted to be a musician and was becoming interested in composition.]

What are you good at? Creating something from nothing: time and time again I come up with something that previously didn’t exist. On the other hand, I am not very good at practical things:  shopping, cooking, directions… Luckily, my husband is very good at the day-to-day stuff!

If you can do anything, knowing that you would not fail, what would you do? I’d still not attempt to cook! The possibility of failure is actually a good thing: it drives you to do your best.

What is your greatest achievement? The ability to do the job that I love.

Who inspires you? Many people have been inspirational to me in life: my mother, my Dad, my composition teacher… I am always inspired by the films that I work on.

Currently, Debbie is working on the score for a new 10-part drama series called The Coroner for the BBC and also the series 4 of the BBC’s Father Brown drama series, starring Mark Williams.

Wolf Hall is available on iTunes or from Amazon. For Debbie Wiseman’s full discography, please visit her website.

Meet illustrator Alexandra Burda

Alexandra BurdaAlexandra Burda (28) is an illustrator. She lives in Romania.  

I have been drawing forever… Ever since I can remember, I have been drawing and sketching. I remember drawing rooftops as a child.

I studied Graphics at the Art Academy of Bucharest… I could not imagine earning money as an artist. I thought I had to find a job which would be deliberately boring, but pay for my canvasses and brushes. I ended up working in a call centre for a Swiss internet provider in Brasov, but only lasted a few months.

It really gets to you… The time you spend in a soulless office, the habits you acquire just to pass the time and cheer yourself up. That job was changing my personality. At the end of each day I did not have the energy or the inspiration to draw. I suppose I’m grateful for the experience, because it showed me that art is more than a hobby for me. I became determined to make it work and started taking on illustration projects.

Making money as an artist is not easy… but I think I’m truly lucky to be making money from something I love. Most of my clients come from the US, UK, Australia and Canada. I live in Romania, but my art travels far and wide!

In creative work, it helps to have a deadline… Deadlines help me focus, but at the same time I often find them a bit stressful. I usually try to take as much time to think as possible before putting pen to paper. Having enough time to think and research is so important: everything seems to fall into place afterwards.

KikuWhen I am not working on a brief, I like my mind to travel…

I came across a word “kiku” which is  a “chrysanthemum” in Japanese and also means “to listen”. It perked my interest and I wanted to explore a possibility of capturing both meanings at the same time. I wanted to show a transformation of the word “kiku” depending on a context, to tell a story…

Like any other means of creative expression, painting is therapeutic… Last year I lived in a tiny 5 sq. m room, which was very cold in winter. I was drinking tomato juice and watching a BBC documentary about great painters online. Sometimes the most ordinary objects can inspire you to produce some of your best works of art.


Image credits: www.alexandraburda.com 

Romania… is not breathtaking… It is a small country. Grass and shrubs grow from every nook and crack in a city. When no one is looking, a new tree pops up. Have you ever noticed that?

I wish I had more… Time. And more space to work would be nice. And healthy snacks for when I feel peckish. Is this too much to ask?

Babushka and Me

I recently worked on a cover for Babushka and Me: Stories from a Soviet ChildhoodI read the stories and I thought about my grandmother and my own childhood. Romania too was affected by communism, shortages and a difficult transition to a market economy. My grandmother was a legendary cook and always made treats for us. I remember her holding my hand very tightly when we walked along the streets. I thought it would be a good way to portray a relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter. There is love and trust; an intangible magical bond and hope for the future, represented by a circus dome.

If you’d like to see more of Alexandra’s work and perhaps commission her to produce an illustration for you, please visit www.alexandraburda.com.

My own ‘Mission Impossible’

Two years ago the theme of the very first Ladies Who Impress celebration was Mission Impossible. I brought some post-it notes and encouraged everyone to write down a ‘mission impossible’, a mountain they aspire to climb. We are all different, so for someone running a 5,000m race is equivalent to climbing a 5,000m peak for another person. Of course, one’s mission doesn’t need to be a physical challenge at all. Keen to lead by example, I wrote down my own ‘mission impossible’. I’ve kept the post-it note.

Write and Publish a book

The emotional whirlwind of that first event was followed by a snowfall of ‘things to do’, ambitions, aspirations, daily routine, ideas and projects. There was Ladies Who Impress to grow and nurture; there was a job to do to pay the bills; there were thousands if not millions of tiny snowflakes slowly and steadily piling on top of that post-it note, until it disappeared from view.

At the very beginning of this year I read the childhood’s memoirs of Clare Balding, My Animals and Other Family. I loved the book, in fact, I cannot recommend it highly enough. In the Acknowledgements section, she wrote: “I have never written a book before, partly because I was scared and partly because I kept telling myself I didn’t have time.” This was my light bulb moment.

It is so very easy to get caught up in things, label yourself as “busy” and flick one day after another just like pages of a Kindle book. This summer I went on an annual pilgrimage to Russia to see my family, and I decided that I will carve out time to write a few stories I have been visualising in my head for the last two years. I also gave myself permission to write, in other words, I packed the bags for my ‘inner critic’ and sent it away.

Last Friday Babushka and Me: Memories from a Soviet Childhood has been published on Amazon. The stories took two months to write; they were edited by the brilliant Joy Tibbs and illustrated by an amazing artist – Alexandra Burda.

Babushka and Me is a collection of memories from my Soviet childhood. I grew up in a country in which bananas were like gold dust; circus was endorsed by the Communist Party as ‘the people’s art form’; sport was practised as a discipline, rather than as a recreational activity. Soviet children learned to read by absorbing stories about ‘Grandpa Lenin’ and joined the ranks of the young ‘pioneers’, who proudly wore their red neckerchiefs to school.

Babushka and Me is a journey back in time and a tribute to the unconditional love of my grandmother.

Babushka and Me

Babushka and Me is also very much a ‘Ladies Who Impress‘ story: I am convinced that with a dash of talent, a pinch of confidence, a dollop of courage, a spoonful of perseverance and a ladle of hard work, any ‘mission impossible’ is possible for women of the Ladies Who Impress community, i.e. YOU and ME!

The book is available on Amazon. If you are not based in the UK, simply go to your local version of Amazon and type in “Babushka and Me” or my name (Jana Bakunina) in the search box.

If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download a free Kindle app from the same page on Amazon and read the stories on your tablet, phone or on your laptop / desktop screen.

I sincerely hope that you enjoy the stories. Feel free to email me and let me know what you think!

A Dash of Talent with Lois Pryce, Susan Ma and Vivienne Clore

A Dash of Talent at Grace Belgravia by Abby Chicken Photography

A Dash of Talent at Grace Belgravia by Abby Chicken Photography

What is talent?

Is it an innate ability or capacity for greatness, which needs to be developed?

I lean towards the latter. As journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell explained in his book Outliers, success is not a simple derivative of natural ability be it in business, sport or arts. It takes practice, supportive environment and time to develop talent. And yet we tend to compliment people for being “talented” rather than praise them for tenacity, hard work or simply for being brave and giving something a go.

This summer the artist Marina Abramović spent 512 hours at the Serpentine Gallery, engaging with visitors. British Athlete Jo Pavey won the 10,000m gold medal at the 2014 European Championships in Zürich, ten months after giving birth to her second child, to become the oldest female European champion in history at the age of 40 years and 325 days. Both women put in a lot more than just talent to achieve career heights.

Just how much talent do we actually need to achieve success or fulfilment? We went on to explore with three wonderful guests: Vivienne Clore, Lois Pryce and Susan Ma.

Vivienne Clore

Vivienne Clore joined a theatre talent agency The Richard Stone Partnership as a secretary, starting with a typewriter and dictations, and working up to becoming a partner with her own client list, including such names as Jo Brand, Joan Collins, Bridget Christie, chefs Michael Caines and John Burton Race. With over 30 years in the business, Vivienne knows how to spot talent.

For her talent is a natural ability, and her role as an agent is to help nurture and grow it. Vivienne is convinced that women make better talent agents because of their greater empathy, ability to listen and multitask. She credits her own success to the fact that she had always loved being around creative people and that she is naturally more inclined towards putting other people into the spotlight.

Lois Pryce

Lois Pryce by Abby Chicken Photography

Lois Pryce  ditched her job at BBC at the age of 29 and set off on a two-wheel adventure from Alaska to Ushuaia in 2003. She does not rate herself as a naturally born motorcyclist but she enjoys it: “all the thrills of movement, travel and adventure, and the simple idle pleasures of just sitting and thinking in the great outdoors. You can’t beat it!” For Lois, adventure is a personal thing, “it means whatever you want it to”. She discovered her passion for travel writing and has since published two books:  Lois on the Loose about her American adventure and Red Tape and White Knuckles about Africa.

On the night Lois talked about her simple lifestyle, living with her husband on a boat, having had to take on temporary jobs, even working as a motorcycle courier in London. But she has found creative fulfilment in travelling and writing about it, running a travel film festival with her husband and giving talks around the world.

Susan Ma

Susan Ma by Abby Chicken Photography

Susan Ma has quite a story to tell. From the stalls of the Greenwich market, Susan grew her natural skincare brand Tropic to turn over £3 million in 2013. Lord Sugar, who had partnered with her even though Susan had lost in the final of the 2010 Apprentice series, must be pleased.

During the interview, Susan told us about her challenging childhood in the communist Shanghai, then in Sydney where she had to teach herself English before moving to Britain with her mother to start all over again. Susan believes talent is something one grows and develops and that we are all capable of achieving tremendous heights, provided we are hungry for it.

Susan talked about the Apprentice with great enthusiasm describing the contest as a crash course in entrepreneurship, with access to incredible perks and learning opportunities. She came out knowing she wants to grow her own business and succeed. She did, and she is now helping other women supplement their household income through social selling of Tropic skincare. (By the way, the products are amazing, try ordering a few from the Tropic website).

It was a inspiring night, hosted at the beautiful Grace Belgravia, where women (and a couple of men!) of the Ladies Who Impress community gathered once again to celebrate talented(!), tenacious and successful yet grounded female role models.

You don’t need buckets of talent to brave something new or achieve fulfilment.  A dash of it is just about right.  Talent might be the opening but it’s courage, perseverance and hard work that make all the difference.

I’d like to leave you with a quote by Henry van Dyke:

“Use what talent you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.”

Lois, Jana, Susan

Lois Pryce, Jana Bakunina and Susan Ma by Abby Chicken Photography

Ladies Who Impress in the audience by Abby Chicken Photography

Ladies Who Impress (and a gent!) in the audience by Abby Chicken Photography

What happened at the Groucho Club

Two years ago I hosted my very first Ladies Who Impress event at the Groucho Club. I was fretting over so many things. Will the mic work? Will my interviewees arrive on time? Will I actually pull it off? I kept making mental notes and writing lists, I bombarded the Groucho Club with emails, I prepared and rehearsed my speech. There was just one thing I have not thought of: chairs.

It was a cosy room, and I thought chairs would just take up the space and make it all too formal. Of course, it was a huge mistake: just who would want to stand through the show after a long day at work?

And then something magical happened: women in the audience simply sat down on the floor as soon as I started my first interview. Sarah Hyndman, a super creative graphic designer, would not mind me saying that she was a bit nervous. So was I. But we got the nod. It was such a simple but an empowering gesture.

Who was in the audience that night? Only about a third of women who joined that very first celebration were my friends. My wonderful friends helped to spread the word, and tickets were soon sold out.

Every single woman in that room was bright, talented and inspiring in her own right. She was curious, of course. And an ace at multi-tasking. She might have lacked confidence or felt a bit bored at her job. She certainly aspired for more, be it in terms of career, creative fulfilment or just wanting to feel and act more authentic, rather than be constantly juggling hats. Every woman in that room was a Lady Who Impresses.

If you were in that audience, you know exactly how it felt: the room was full of warmth, empathy and support. All of a sudden, everything seemed possible. It’s as if we gave each other permission to dream, to make the most audacious plans, to try new things and lose the fear of failure. It was mind-blowing.

Yesterday Stylist featured the upcoming Ladies Who Impress event in their ‘Outgoing’ section. It’s a bit of a coup since it’s the first time we appeared in the press, and Stylist cannot be a better platform for Ladies Who Impress.StylistHowever, it’s not because of Stylist that Ladies Who Impress has been growing from strength to strength. Everything we have achieved in the past two years is a testament to our audience – you.

It’s you – reading our weekly newsletters, sharing stories of inspiring women, published on the website, coming to events and creating that special atmosphere every single time is what makes Ladies Who Impress what it is: a community of like-minded women, who aren’t defined by clichés of the day.

Here are some of my ‘favourite’ clichés women (and men) tend to be labelled with:

“If you are successful, you must be a b*tch.”

“If you are a freelancer or an entrepreneur, you don’t have a life. You certainly aren’t interested in anything, other than your business.”

“Every woman will get broody at some point.”

“If you are a young mother, you must say good-bye to socialising in the evenings.”

“If you are a mother of two or three, it’s inconceivable you have interests beyond ballet and tennis classes.”

“And if you are a man, you aren’t supposed to be inspired by female role models.”

This is not what you are about.

What happened at the Groucho Club on that very special night two years ago was magic. You came along and supercharged the atmosphere with passion, ambition, tenacity and genuine sisterhood. You lit up that spotlight that has since shone light on sixty five Ladies Who Impress I have interviewed so far.

It’s time for another celebration. Every so often we all need a bit of a ‘pick-me-up’, a bit of magic, and I, for one, cannot wait. I’ve even got us some chairs. A Dash of Talent with Village England

Celeste Wong on coffee and acting

Celeste WongCeleste Wong grew up in Dunedin, New Zealand. Her Chinese parents wanted the best for their daughter, which translated into wanting Celeste to become an accountant, a doctor or a lawyer – safe, secure, respectable.

It’s not that Celeste was a rebel. But studying Accounting in Dunedin was really lacklustre, so she secretly enrolled to do design instead and got a part-time job in a café, learning the craft of a barista. Upon graduation Celeste started working in fashion, helping to put together fashion shows and getting more and more engaged in arts and design. At the same time, she began to think about acting.

“I always aspired to do something creative, but given my background, I didn’t realise it was actually a real possibility”. 

Once you dip into something that is your ultimate calling, it’s hard to pull in the reigns. Celeste took acting courses, signed up for student films to get experience, went to casting calls.


Celeste holding a coffee cupOne more CelesteWhen Celeste moved to London, she got a job as a barista at Flat White, a coffee mecca in Soho, renowned for its superb long blacks and flat whites. This is where she met Chris Turner, a film director and a fellow coffee connoisseur. They started chatting, became friends and co-created an art film, G(O)OD+(D)EVIL.

In the film Celeste plays both the bride and the widow, good and evil, strong and weak – her most expressive, physically and creatively challenging project to date.

“I think talent can be learned. No one has experience at the beginning of a journey. You just have to try things out and give it your best shot. Your support network is really important. If I did not have Chris equally invested in this project, if I did not have my friends encouraging and supporting me, I would not have made it.”

Perhaps it does take someone to believe in you before you acknowledge yourself. 

Sarit Packer, restaurateur at Honey & Co.

SaritSarit Packer was born in Israel to British parents. She has been cooking all her life, and it was during her military service in Israel that she decided she wanted to study to become a chef. Sarit studied in London and worked at a number of top-notch restaurants, including Orrery in Marylebone.

“I don’t know if you realise but a junior chef typically works sixteen hours a day and earns very little. I was working at that prestigious restaurant but could barely afford rent and beans on toast.”

Sarit decided to move to Israel, which is where she met her husband Itamar. Together they travelled to London and worked at J Sheekey, the Oxo Tower Restaurant and Ottolenghi. Sarit worked mostly with pastry. At Ottolenghi she developed a range of cakes, bakes and puddings before being offered a role to open Nopi, Yotam Ottolenghi’s first ‘proper’ restaurant. It gave her a first-hand experience of what it involved.

Sarit and Itamar were hoping to open their own place, cook food they are passionate about and work for themselves. Of course, it takes more than just an idea to make it happen.

“Nobody knew who we were. We put offers on restaurants, but got rejected.”

It took them two years to find a place. They walked into Fitzrovia and found a big deli with orange walls and a giant display fridge. Aesthetics aside, the deli had an almost functioning kitchen, large front windows, and the Warren Street neighbourhood had a nice feel about it.

London foodies can no doubt help me complete the story. Itamar and Sarit opened Honey & Co, a tiny restaurant serving scrumptious Middle Eastern food and offering a daily selection of irresistible cakes. Their food is adored by both punters and professional critics. Together Sarit and Itamar have written and published a book of Honey & Co recipesHoney & Co

Talking to Sarit, I am beginning to understand the secret of their success.

“Many restaurant kitchens are completely disconnected from the customers. We wanted to reverse that. Itamar often helps with the service, he chats to the customers and we take their feedback on board. We have plenty of regulars who keep coming back and spreading the word about us.”

Opening Honey & Co was a challenge Sarit always wanted. Often employers put their team members into a particular box, be it patisserie or ‘the numbers’ and neglect the fact that their employees are not challenged anymore and aren’t developing other talents they may have. Setting up on their own was a gamble, but it has been an exhilarating adventure and it paid off.

I also asked Sarit what it was like to be working with her husband.

“We have always been working together. As a chef, I would probably be seeing very little of my husband if we weren’t in the kitchen together. We have the same passion about food, our Middle Eastern roots and the community. We travel together, getting inspiration from different food cultures, we come up with new ideas together, and I would not have it any other way.”

If you live in London, you absolutely must pop into Honey & Co. If you mention Ladies Who Impress, they may even cut you a bigger cake slice (I’ve just made it up but do give it a go).

No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself


Marianne Cantwell with her laptopLast summer I left a prestigious job at a large media company, where I’ve been working for 3 years.

 It did not happen on a whim: approximately 6 months earlier I came across Marianne Cantwell (see photo) and Free Range Humans, a lifestyle blog, which grew into a community, and helped many souls escape corporate cages, pursue their passions and still pay the bills. Just a month after I ‘discovered’ Marianne, she published a book, Be a Free Range Human, which has undoubtedly helped me to reassess my life and jump ship.

Marianne’s blog and book made me question the conventional wisdom at school and at work where we’ve been taught to focus on our weaknesses. Remember your last review at work where your boss spent a minute to tell you how brilliant you are before spending the rest of the meeting talking about things you could improve. Perhaps your flaw is that you don’t delegate well or that you carry your heart in your sleeve. Whatever it is, in corporate environment we seem to be obsessed with things we aren’t naturally good at, but we are never encouraged to play to our strengths and make the most of our talents.

Marianne made me think about my priorities. For the first time I contemplated the relative importance of such things as income, flexible working hours, location, freedom and fulfilment. When thinking about how I want to make a living, she advised to think about the sort of clients I’d like to deal with and the environment I’d like to be in. Previously, I never gave myself permission to think in those terms.

In words of Seth Godin, bestselling author and inspiring entrepreneur:

“It’s a cultural instinct to wait to get picked. To seek out the permission and authority that comes from a publisher or talk show host or even s blogger saying, “I pick you.” Once you reject that impulse and realise that no one is going to select you – that Prince Charming has chosen another house – then you can actually get to work.

Once you understand that there are problems just waiting to be solved, once you realise that you have all the tools and all the permission you need, then opportunities to contribute abound.

No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself.”

After I left my ‘proper job’, I left behind stability and security, and my life now is more akin to a roller-coaster or a small sailing boat in a choppy sea than to Piccadilly line, more or less predictably getting its passengers to their destinations. I’m not even sure of where my sails are ultimately taking me, but so far I’ve been loving the journey: its challenges, its small victories, new opportunities and possibilities.

It had been my dream to interview Marianne Cantwell at a Ladies Who Impress event – Leap of Faith was a very special celebration indeed.


Alison Mackenzie reporting from Westminster

We are frequently unkind to politicians and are prone to blame them for being ineffective rhetoric enthusiasts. But such dismissiveness isn’t at play among visitors, queuing to enter the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. Perhaps it’s the scale and the beauty of the unique architectural heritage that creates the prevalent atmosphere of reverence, as I enter the House of Commons and meet Alison Mackenzie, ITV’s political correspondent.

“People like to criticise the government but it is this institution that drafts and implements legislation to promote justice, provide infrastructure, education and healthcare and regulates the economy to improve our standard of living”, says Alison.

Inside, the interior is even more awe-inspiring from the sombre 900-year-old Westminster Hall, where Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama addressed the Parliament in recent years, to the majestic Lords and Prince’s Chambers, stunning wall paintings and sculptures. Alison admits that she rarely skips the beat or notices the surrounding grandeur as she goes about her daily business, reporting from Westminster.

“I feel privileged to have access to the most powerful men and women in the country”, says Alison, who interviewed the PM on numerous occasions and won ITV’s Reporter of the Year award in 2005.

Alison knew she wanted to be a TV reporter from the age of 14. She was trained in journalism by the BBC, then spent some time working as a newsreader before moving into politics. She loves her job for its variety and pace and the remarkable blend of personal interactions and decisions, affecting our society as a whole. Despite all that, Alison does not take herself too seriously and tells me in confidence about her guilty pleasures of occasional show biz reporting and watching X Factor.

Showing me around the Houses of Parliament and the broadcasters’ headquarters in Westminster, Alison was in her element, sharing genuine pride in her work, which was captivating. Professional fulfilment is definitely worth striving for.