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Interview with an inspiring teacher

Fiona Wilson

It occurred to me that in the three years of running Ladies Who Impress, I have not yet interviewed a school teacher. It’s about time I address this oversight. I spoke to a teacher, who chose to remain anonymous, and talked to me about her work, its challenges, frustrations and, of course, rewards.

I currently work purely as a teacher having spent the previous ten years of my career as a middle manager, including four as Head of Subject and six as Head of Department.  My current school is an international sixth form college.  It is fee paying but not academically selective.

 What were you passionate about as a child?

My greatest passion was sport, but I was also fascinated by the natural world, which led me to take a biology degree.

How did you fall into teaching?

I didn’t fall into it, I actively chose it.  In the summer after my first year at University I did “Camp America” and spent my summer teaching swimming.  This cemented my long felt desire to become a teacher.  Initially, I felt that I should do ‘something else’ before I became a teacher so that I could start the profession a little older and with a bit more life experience, but the pursuit of trying to find ‘something else’ was futile. All I actually wanted to do was teach, and so after a year of various odd jobs (including being a primary school art teacher), working in a school in Pakistan and some travel, I returned to University to do my PGCE [The Postgraduate Certificate in Education, a one-year higher education course, which provides teacher training in the UK].

What makes a good teacher?

A good teacher has many skills.  Academically, teachers must be able to explain complex ideas in such a way that students can absorb the information quickly and easily and spark students’ interest and curiosity.  However, I feel that the non-academic aspect of being a good teacher is much more important. A good teacher builds confidence, enabling their students to feel that they can achieve anything, regardless of their start in life. A good teacher demonstrates that he or she has time for the students and believes in them. Good teachers show that they care.  They listen and respond to what their students say.

Are you a good teacher?

Yes.  At least my students say that I am.  Whilst I am perfectly adept at the academic side of teaching, the bit that makes my students rate me highly is the ‘other stuff’, the pastoral care side of the job.  Of course, there are days when I think I’m a pretty terrible teacher, and nothing I say makes any sense – we roll with it on those days…

Can you share a story of a moment which made you feel proud of what you do? 

This is quite a hard question because the moments I am most proud of are perhaps not the most obvious ones. Of course, it makes me happy when students do well in their exams, but often it’s the little things which really matter: a card which said that my teaching had made them want to study the subject further; a student performing well when previously they had been crippled with nerves; a sports team going from never having played the sport before to winning a string of matches and developing the camaraderie and ties that a good team has. These little things make every day different and make me proud to be a teacher.

Do you ever get questions from your students which make you think “I have no idea what’s the answer, I’d need to look it up.” If so, how do you deal with that?

Yes!  That’s a brilliant moment.  It happens more often than you might imagine. Sixth formers often come up with questions, which make me think.  I have no issue with being honest when I don’t know something. I have built their trust and they are happy for me to come back to them.

We hear a lot from teachers complaining about endless paperwork. It must be de-motivating – how do you deal with it?

Administrative tasks are frustrating when they don’t seem to promote learning. Since I have to get on with them, I have to convince myself that the paperwork is important.  Education these days is largely about accountability, and I find it so very wrong. If instead of spending time on proving that we had done something, we were actually teaching, our students would do a lot better!

I am very lucky that I currently work in a school where this isn’t a particular problem, but my friends and former colleagues are drowning in paperwork. Accountability is good, but there should be a greater degree of trust. Research shows that the very best form of feedback is verbal feedback. It allows you to have a dialogue about the piece of work, and it’s interactive. But verbal feedback has no evidence, so teachers are asked to indicate when verbal feedback has been given. The authorities seem to care less about students’ progress and more about the “verbal feedback given” stampers, which have become ubiquitous.

Do you agree that British schools are more about schooling than education? 

Yes.  It is all about getting the kids above the C grade bar.  Or, if they are cleverer, getting an A*.  The syllabuses are huge, time is tight and classes are large. There is no time and no encouragement to take a lesson to develop a proper answer to an interesting but slightly tangential question. We all want to get the students to think independently, but the reality is that the pressure for results is so high, that allowing students to think for themselves is ridiculously high risk.  Instead, teachers spoon-feed in ever increasingly creative ways so that the students are guaranteed to do well.  The wheels then fall off at University, or for some at A-level.

What do you need to vent about? 

There is a lot written about the lowly position of England in the global education system. In response the government sent some people to China and Singapore to try and establish what it is that makes these countries so good. Objectively, Chinese students should not be so successful with crowded classrooms and lessons taught in an autocratic style. But the fundamental point is surely about the position of education in society and the status of educators and the school in general.

As an Oxford graduate, I am frequently asked by my students: “Why are you a school teacher if you went to Oxford?” Many parents tell me: “I was no good at x so I’m not surprised that *child’s name* isn’t either” or “I hated school myself, so I don’t like forcing my child to study.” Teachers in the UK are not ranked very highly and the school itself is often viewed as a chore.

I don’t mean to say that teachers should be automatically revered, but I do think that we need to work on improving the attitudes of the majority to education. Schools need to work with parents to be perceived as safe places. If schools and parents work together, then progress can be made.

If you were the Education Minister (and assuming you had the real power), what would you do?

Remove league tables. The league tables provide an invidious way of ranking schools based purely on attainment.  Sadly, there are so many ways in which schools can inflate their results, e.g. resits or pushing subjects with very high pass rates.  League tables create the pressure to get good results, and the pressure is increasing.  With budget cuts student numbers are crucial, and you don’t want to be the school with the lowest results in town.  This means teachers bend over backwards to get Johnny the C grade, but Johnny himself can end up being totally disengaged in the process. He would learn how to pass the exam not the subject itself.  I once taught in a school that had excellent maths results.  Really truly outstanding.  The maths department were rightly proud of their achievements.  However, when I came to the bit of my course that requires maths, I discovered that whilst the students could follow a process to answer a GCSE maths question they had absolutely no concept of what numbers meant or how to apply them to other subjects.  It was frustrating, but when I raised it as a concern, I was told to leave it alone.  How  was that helping our students in the long term?

What is your greatest achievement?

Being selected for the Blue Boat and winning the Boat Race [the annual rowing race between the Oxford and Cambridge universities]. Not for the singular act, but due to the extended period of commitment and perseverance that it involved.

What are you good at?

Baking 🙂

Also, winning the trust of the students and forming relationships which then allows me to help them achieve more than they thought possible.

What is your weakness?


What would you advise your 15-year-old self?

Be brave and say “yes” to every opportunity offered to you.

If you could do anything, knowing that you would not fail, what would it be?

(A) an Ironman; (B) set up my own business; (C) re-train as a counsellor and (D) climb something really tall, like Kilimanjaro or something in the Andes.  The list goes on…

Wildlife documentaries director Anne Sommerfield

Anne in Kerry

Anne Sommerfield is an award-winning freelance film director and producer behind Meerkat Manor (BBC and Animal Planet), Animals in Love (BBC) and other wildlife documentaries. Her latest series, The Great Barrier Reef with David Attenborough, will be aired soon on BBC1.

I met Anne in 2014, when she produced the Ladies Who Impress film Maybe I’m Crazy But...This time I interviewed her about her own story and the latest series with David Attenborough.

How does one end up filming a wildlife documentary with David Attenborough?

It definitely helps to have an almost unhealthy obsession with wildlife!  Atlantic Productions, who developed the idea for the series along with David Attenborough and the BBC, approached me and asked if I’d be interested in taking on the project. It was not a difficult decision to make.  

Is it a dream job?

For me, it is the very definition of the dream job, because I’ve wanted to work with David [Attenborough] for well over a decade. His films inspired me to step into the world of storytelling in the first place. Of course, that’s not to say my job is a walk in the park – no creative endeavor ever is..!

How did you become interested in wildlife? 

I have always been fascinated by wildlife. In fact, my parents take great pleasure in whipping out old family photos of me as a child, always posing with animals. There is one particular favourite shot of me, dressed in hilarious 80’s attire, trying to creep closer to a goat…The goat whisperAt secondary school I loved biology, and once I began studying zoology in university I was totally hooked. In the current climate of the endless horrific news stories and reality TV overload there’s something about sharing humane stories. Natural history is truly worth appreciating. Wildlife TV is the equivalent of yoga: it’s good for the soul.

Is freelancing difficult or you would not imagine working any other way?

It was a challenge to begin with, not knowing if your luck will run out or if the calls for jobs will keep coming but now I love it. It gives me creative freedom. 

With the rising tuition fees, do you imagine you would still study biology or not? What would you advise ‘A’ level students in terms of choosing what to study at university?

Yes, I would definitely study biology again. It’s not an essential qualification for getting into wildlife TV, but it’s about passion. My advice would be to find whatever you are really passionate about and go with that. The people who succeed in this business are not necessarily the most talented filmmakers, but they are the most passionate ones and the most determined to tell the stories they love.

I think it’s worth knowing that “talent” can be cultivated.  You can learn on the job and hone certain skills, but you absolutely cannot fake real passion, and there is no substitute for it.

What is your greatest achievement?

Working for the BBC is always a privilege, and the current project with David Attenborough is truly an honor. I’m still pinching myself. But I am most proud of the first film I had ever directed, There’s a Rhino in my House. It sounds mad, but it is a beautiful story about a family in Zimbabwe, who fought to protect the endangered rhinos. The film helped to raise awareness of the conservation issues in Zimbabwe, and we even raised some money for the family’s conservation project. 

What are you good at?

It’s a terrible question to ask an Irish person! I’m good at sniffing out a story and realising the emotional potential of a film. I tend to put my heart and soul into every film I make and I think that helps. 

What is your weakness?

Perfectionism can be a problem for me… I tend to labour for far too long over scripts and sometimes I wish I moved on quicker and came back to the polishing part of the process later. 

What would you advise your 15-year-old self?

Be nobody else but yourself. Not everyone will get it. That’s ok. Mean people are really sad people in disguise. Read more. Read everything. But whatever your read, read Oscar Wilde.  Most importantly, if you really want to be a goat whisperer, be a frickin’ goat whisperer!

If you could do anything, knowing that you would not fail, what would it be?

I’m guessing bank thief is not the sort of answer you’re looking for..? As clichéd as it sounds, I really am doing what I love. The risk of failure is an important part of life and of any creative project. When we fail, we learn a big lesson about ourselves, and that’s a lesson worth taking. 

The Great Barrier Reef with David Attenborough will be aired soon on BBC1.




Interview with Dr. Helen Johnson of Goddess Acumen

Dr. Helen JohnsonI met Helen Johnson at Oxford sixteen years ago. But it’s Doctor Helen Johnson now, which is partly why I’ve asked her for an interview. I was looking forward to speak to her about her academic work and this important milestone which must have taken a lot of time, patience and sacrifice to reach. It turns out that Helen, like any other woman, wears a lot of hats. During our conversation she puts one on, plays with it for a while, swaps for another and piles yet another on top. Women, the unsung masters of juggling and multi-tasking, never cease to amaze me.

Helen has a BA in Philosophy and French from the University of Oxford. She briefly entertained an idea of becoming a barrister before finding herself interested in public policy and justice. After getting a Masters degree in Policy Studies in Edinburgh, where Helen spent a lot of time volunteering with women’s organisations, she met Professor Roger Matthews of the School of Social policy, Sociology and Social Research at the University of Kent.

Under Professor Matthews’ supervision, Helen has spent nearly four years on research and her thesis, which aimed at helping women leave prostitution in an effective and sustainable way. Helen explains: “I interviewed thirty women who have either already left sex work or were thinking of leaving it. I realised that while current social policies in the UK address the immediate needs of those women, such as shelter and short-term emotional support, in the longer term, they are on their own.” Helen worked on putting together emotionally intelligent services to help vulnerable women build up self-esteem, confidence and trust. “When you make big changes in your life, it is common to feel stuck after a while when you are struggling to integrate within the new community. It is also very important to feel you are doing something meaningful to help with establishing a new identity.”

Listening to Helen talking about women who went through sexual violence, drug addiction, abuse and homelessness, I cannot help but think that anyone could benefit from looking at changes in an emotionally intelligent way: pursing a career in a new field, retiring from work or recovering from a debilitating illness require more than a leap of faith. I am also interested in understanding one’s identity so I ask Helen about hers.

“I am a freedom fighter, a goddess and a surfer!”

In addition to that, Helen is also an entrepreneur and a holistic practitioner. Her work on the PhD was psychologically draining, and Helen discovered the benefits of yoga, meditation and EFT. EFT stands for Emotional Freedom Technique, a psychological technique which clears negative symptoms through tapping. A problem may be physical (e.g. a headache) or emotional (e.g. feeling nervous before an interview) but EFT is said to be effective in ‘clearing it out’. “My professional and personal lives converged”, explains Helen. Alongside her academic work on emotions of disistence, Helen trained as a neurolinguistic practitioner, earned a certificate in EFT and mastered hypnotherapy.

Helen founded Goddess Acumen, where she helps women find a sense of balance in every aspect of their lives. Using holistic techniques such as EFT, neurolinguistic programming and personal coaching, Helen helps her clients let go of their limiting beliefs and reach their full potential. Goddess Acumen is a playful way of representing female energy through Greek goddesses, described by Jennifer and Roger Woolger in their book The Goddess Within. To illustrate, Demeter stands for motherhood and nurture, Aphrodite symbolises sensuality, Athena is a warrior and also a goddess of intellect and wisdom. (To learn about all six goddesses, click here.) What Goddess Acumen is trying to cultivate is that we feel happiest and perform at our best when our energies are in balance. Inevitably, it is not easy to achieve, but even identifying our weakest links is a start.

“Even the most driven women need to nurture themselves, otherwise they may run out of steam or burn out”, says Helen. I find myself nodding.

To learn more about Goddess Acumen and its holistic services, please visit Helen’s website

Interview with Alex Hely-Hutchinson of 26 Grains

Alex Hely-HutchinsonI meet Alex Hely-Hutchinson in the Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden where the 25-year-old entrepreneur opened her first 26 Grains café. It is a temporary venue but it’s impossible to imagine a better location for a health food joint, cooking up fresh porridge from a variety of grains, milks and scrumptious toppings: oats with hazelnut butter and almond milk, summer berry smoothie bowl with granola and bee pollen or tomato, coconut, avocado and halloumi brown rice bowl for a savoury tooth. It’s the middle of the afternoon but the café is busy. I notice the customers like taking pictures of their bowls – they are indeed the prettiest bowls of breakfast staple I’ve ever seen in what’s swiftly becoming London’s porridge mecca.


I ask Alex what inspired her to set up 26 Grains. Alex studied Economics at Trinity, Dublin. Students were encouraged to spend a year abroad, and she chose to go to Denmark. Alex fell in love with the Danish lifestyle, food, Copenhagen’s sense of community and the concept of hygge, meaning “cosyness”, “comfort”, “camaraderie”. She experienced it first hand in Danish cafés where friends meet to enjoy steamy bowls of porridge cooked with various grains and always topped with spices, nuts, berries or fruit compote with unapologetic flare. What a contrast with boring “oats, milk and sugar” combination Alex was used to at home!

Back in Britain, Alex spent the summer working with Jenny Dawson and her social enterprise Rubies in the Rubble making chutneys from discarded fruit and vegetables from London’s wholesale markets. After graduation Alex got a job with a health food brand Rude Health helping founders with PR and communications. The experience at food start-ups helped her make up her mind to launch a venture of her own.

“There is a great sense of community among women working in food from entrepreneurs to bloggers to women who simply love food and help spread the word about new projects”, says Alex. She started with pop-ups offering 26 Grains at independent cafés and other venues, catering for events before opening her first own shop in Neal’s Yard in June 2015.

“If there is something I’ve learned in the 11 months prior to opening my own store is that things don’t all happen at once. Everything takes time.”

Her patience paid off: even at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, customers flock to 26 Grains for a bowl of porridge. Alex is already masterminding next steps: improve brand awareness, write and publish a book of 26 Grains recipes, launch a retail product, perhaps. “My priorities right now are quality and consistency”, says Alex, which makes me think I am interviewing a seasoned businesswoman, wise beyond her age.

I ask Alex what she likes best about her business and she tells me about the relationship with customers. “It’s really humbling to see people making time for a freshly made bowl of porridge in the morning. They don’t mind waiting and we like chatting to them.” It’s hygge again, a sense of community Alex is determined to ingrain in London.

I also try to probe into the challenges she has encountered as a budding entrepreneur. “I am inherently bossy by nature so I sometimes find it hard to let go and let my team get on with their jobs. But it’s been a learning experience, I reckon I am a better boss now.” Alex also confessed that she found it hard to be on her own. “Sometimes I think it would be good to have another person who is similarly invested in the business and has the same vision for it. There is so much to do like being the face of the brand, speaking to the builder or a supplier, being an employer and thinking ahead that I wish there was someone I could share all these responsibilities with.” Luckily, Alex knows a lot of people her age who have similarly started their own businesses. “Apart from my family, there is a lot of support through shared experience among my peers.”

We talk about women in business and Alex says that she tends to consider everything twice before making a decision, while a man would just go with a hunch. Sometimes it feels to her as a waste of time; “I wish I just bit the bullet”, but on other occasions it pays to take time and weigh all options. “Ultimately, running your own business is the best school and the most rewarding experience whether you get it the first time or not.”

What is your greatest achievement? Probably seeing a customer coming back – it’s a really special experience to see someone return for another bowl of porridge because they liked it the first time. I also served about 250 bowls of porridge to people who slept rough last November to raise money for Centrepoint [UK’s leading charity for homeless young people].

What would you advise your 15-year-old self? Do it the way you want the first time. Stop doubting yourself, stop making lists, just go for it.

What are you good at? I don’t know… I am good at sweeping the floor! Oh and I can guess what a customer will order from how they look.

What is your weakness? I am not so good at pulling the trigger when making decisions.

What would you do, if you knew you would not fail? I’d become a popstar! (Laughing) No, I’d do something to engage children in cooking and appreciating healthy, wholesome food.

To find out more about Alex and 26 Grains, please visit www.26grains.com

Interview with PR expert Anji Hunter

Last week I recorded an interview with Anji Hunter, an expert in Public Relations both in politics and in business. Anji worked for Prime Minister Tony Blair MP from 1987 to 2002, in opposition and government, becoming Head of Government Relations in Downing Street (1997), where she was the key liaison with the Cabinet, Civil Service, the Labour Party, Opposition Leaders and other governments. Anji was once described as “the most influential non-elected person in Downing Street”.

Later she became Group Director of Communications at BP before moving on to join the world’s largest PR firm, Edelman. as a senior adviser.

We talked about her career, but also addressed some questions close to all of us: “Can women have it all?”, “Do women help each other enough?” and “How to ask for a pay rise?”…

Please leave a reply above or a comment via Facebook below – join the conversation!

Interview with artist Kristjana Williams

KSW Portrait Sep 2013Welcome to Kristjana S Williams studio! True to the spirit of its owner, it is full of vibrant colours, delicate patterns, fabulous maps and magical creatures…

Kristjana Williams was brought up in Iceland. She first studied Electrical Engineering in Iceland but maths wasn’t her calling. Her passion was art, something she had felt was not viable enough to pursue seriously. But when Kristjana had come to London, she enrolled in a design course with City Lit (which offers evening and weekend adult learning courses). And then she got into Central St Martins to study graphic design and illustration at the age of 25. It’s fair to say, Kristjana never looked back.

Today she is a equally successful as a fine artist and a commercial designer collaborating with such brands as Fortnum & Mason, Heal’s, Liberty, Paul Smith and Cole & Son.  Kristjana exhibited her work at London’s V&A, Design Shanghai, created art work for the Connaught Hotel and is currently working on her biggest commission to date: a giant map of London for the Shard.

It’s a five-metre map of London with Kristjana’s signature colourful collages, exotic flowers, historic characters and pieces, juxtaposed against black-and-white Victorian engravings. “The work that goes into scanning, printing and cutting all the patterns is incredible”, explains Kristjana who has three more designers in her studio to help her. I am leafing through the Victorian engravings book of royal menagerie from the 18th century, while marvelling at the contrast between the sleek outside image of Shard and the delicate design, paying homage to London’s history, being created by Kristjana for one of its interior bars.


In addition to the Shard commission, Kristjana is also working on a ceramic range for Fortnum & Mason, which will be out for Christmas 2015.

“I love that I don’t have to pigeon-hole myself, say, as a fine artist. I can also making a living by doing commercial work that is also affordable to the general public: prints, wallpaper, cushions,” says Kristjana. “I also love collaboration. It’s a fantastic experience to work with craftsmen such as upholsterers, furniture makers, embroiderers.”

Kristjana’s love for colour goes back to her childhood in Iceland, where she craved light, colour and magic during long and dark Scandinavian winters. Quite unlike traditionally calm and understated Scandinavian design, her work is always vibrant, vivid but also delicate in its attention to detail.


What is your greatest achievement? Apart from my children, it must be The Connaught commission. It was a true labour of love. The brief was to capture the spirit, richness and magic of the unique Mayfair hotel. It’s a two by three meters collage artwork with traditional Victorian etchings, which took six months to create.

What are you good at? Coming up with ideas. My only problem is that I never seem to have enough time to realise them all…

What is your weakness? I want to do everything… I get a fine art commission which is an enormous project in itself but at the same time I also take on commercial projects I am excited about so it becomes overwhelming. I think this thirst has held me back as much as it has pushed me forward. Now that I am forty, I am finally better at pacing myself but it’s been a journey and a half…

What would you advise your 15-year-old self? Calm down! Be less anxious… I also wish that I saw the opportunities available to me as a creative, because I did not see them as a 15-year-old. My creative drive was strong, but I could not see it as a profession, only as a hobby.

If you can do anything, knowing that you would not fail, what would you do? Go to the Moon! That’s the first thing that popped into my head. I don’t really want to go into space. I’d rather get a diving boat especially designed to travel deep down to the bottom of the ocean and explore the world at the core of our planet.

MaskTo find out more about Kristjana’s work, please visit http://www.kristjanaswilliams.com


Interview with Jane Olphert, founder of Haleo, making the world a healthier place

About a year ago I offered subscribers to www.lifetonic.co.uk to meet me for a coffee and use me as a sounding board for their business ideas. This is how I met Jane Olphert and got to hear her incredible, inspiring story. We have kept in touch since, and finally I get to share Jane’s story with you to celebrate the launch of her website: www.haleo.co.uk!

Please visit Jane’s website and sign up to her newsletter for diet and lifestyle tips, spread the word about the healing properties of vegetable foods and ideas for making the world a healthier place.

Interview with personal stylist Esther Zimmer

Esther Zimmer came to a Ladies Who Impress celebration in April 2014. She has since become a member of the Ladies Who Impress Club and a friend, supporting both my mission to celebrate inspiring women and my journey as a solopreneur.

At the beginning of the interview I say that Esther’s story is inspiring. It’s not just in reference to her successful transition to a sustainable lifestyle doing what she loves: our conversation touched upon a couple of important questions: “Should women be judged by their looks?”, “How to turn your passion into a business?” and “How to carve out a niche in a crowded market?”. Esther did not arrive at her answers overnight, but spent months finding her own take on the styling industry, eventually finding her purpose and translating it into creating value for her clients. I am a big fan of conscious businesses and organisations: they truly stand out.

To find out more about Esther and her services, please visit www.estherzimmer.com.

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.

Sarah McCready on cooking and challenging herself

Sarah McCreadyThe final of Masterchef was a feast for the eye: the last three produced incredibly sophisticated food, one would expect to be served at a Michelin star restaurant. While the finalists’ plates looked stunning, personally, I craved something else on a Friday night: a bowl of chili with guacamole and homemade nachos another Masterchef contestant had produced on the show earlier. Sarah McCready had been highly praised for her inventive and always delicious creations, before leaving the Masterchef kitchen at semi finals. 24-year-old Sarah was one of 40 contestants on the live show, picked from a total of 4,000 applicants. She made it to the final six. Inspired by her food philosophy and success, I’ve met with her for a chat. Here is Sarah’s story.

Sarah studied History at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford and ‘fell into’ the property development industry after university. After a break-up with her boyfriend, she decided to pick herself up by applying to Masterchef.

“I am competitive, I love cooking and I tend to put myself forward for things before worrying about them later,” says Sarah, laughing.

Unlike other TV contests, Masterchef is all about testing yourself, learning new things and getting better at cooking. Sarah found herself completely consumed by the show, dreaming about food, constantly inventing new recipes and spending hours flicking through cookery books. “For about two months, Masterchef took over my life.”

If you give something a go, you are likely to come away with a valuable experience and learn something about yourself too. Sarah learned that professional kitchens aren’t really built for women: try lifting a heavy pan or grabbing a pot from a top shelf in a hot kitchen during a busy service. While some women love professional kitchens and are happy in their environment, Sarah discovered that she was most comfortable in a different ambience.

“I love party food, street food, comfort food dinners and food with a sense of humour. I like surprising my guests and making eating a fun experience.”

Her creations on Masterchef certainly had that oomph: Polish pirogi, Mexican street food, paella balls and egg raviolo were adventurous, creative and fun.

Meeting Sarah made me realise that for her Masterchef was just another challenge, an experience to test her culinary skills and boost her confidence. She has always been a high achiever: she was the first pupil to get into Oxford from her school. As a graduate, she got a job at Dorchester Living, a property development company, where she helped open a free school for a newly built community. Sarah was recently promoted to look after a new housing association, a huge challenge she is happy to take on.

A young woman who is bold and likes pushing herself makes my heart sing. She also makes me laugh: apparently, Sarah’s mum and nan finally allowed her to cook family Christmas dinner after her culinary skills had been vetted by John and Gregg (last Mastershef series were filmed in autumn). I am convinced that whatever this woman pursues next, she’ll do it well and her passion will shine through. I only hope that Sarah takes on a food-related project next: her own deli perhaps or a new product range? Let’s wish her well!

What would you advise your 15-year-old self? Stop being obsessed with things that aren’t important (looks, boys, stuff…).

What are you good at? I’m a good friend, I am good at my job and I know how to push myself. [Sadly, Sarah forgot to mention she was good at cooking so I had to remind her!]

What is your greatest achievement? Getting into Oxford is still pretty high on my list of achievements. I am also proud of setting up a new school in North Oxfordshire. And, of course, I am chuffed to have made the final six on Masterchef!

If you can do anything, knowing that you would not fail, what would you do? I’d launch my own business: something entrepreneurial and to do with food!

Who inspires you? Thomasina Miers. I still can’t believe that I cooked for her – she was the first winner of Masterchef and I love her food at Wahaca.

What’s your favourite recipe? Recipes are tricky. If a recipe tells you how much chilli or ginger you should be adding to your dish, then you aren’t really developing your own palette. When I write recipes for my blog, I try to avoid giving instructions that are too precise. My favourite ‘posh’ recipe is the desert I cooked on Masterchef: rose petal and cherry pirogi, poppy seed and cherry cake, sour cream and lemon thyme sorbet and milk skin crisps, inspired by my Polish roots. Otherwise, I really like rice. I often cook risotto, egg-fried rice or rice pudding.

Sarah McCready has a food blog where she shares her recipes. You can also follow Sarah on Twitter.