Tag Archives: passion

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.

 

 

 

From Moldova with ambition: Stela Brinzeanu

Stela

I meet Stela Brinzeanu at the corner of Highbury Fields and we find a café nearby. This is the first time I meet and interview a person born in Moldova, a tiny Eastern European country with a population of just three and a half million. It is a former Soviet republic, famous for its wine. Now it is a struggling economy, which depends on its agriculture and migrant workers, earning money abroad to support their parents and children at home. “We are the Skype generation”, explains Stela. “Many children see their parents just once or twice a year, and they rely on the internet.”

Born in a small village, called Mereeseni, 40km from the capital Chișinău, Stela too uses Skype to call her parents, but it’s still a relative novelty. “We used to write long letters to each other, and they took a month to arrive. My parents did not have a computer or internet until 2013.”

Stela’s father shoots clouds for living. His job is to spot thundery clouds and break them up before they may damage the crops – fruit, vegetables and grapes – with hail.  Stela’s mother is a nurse. Growing up in a tiny village, Stela nevertheless benefited from the Soviet school system, which allowed her to enrol into a Chișinău university to study English and Italian. Only after the collapse of the Soviet Union, opportunities in Moldova were few and far between. Moldovan citizens, annexed from Romania by the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s USSR, were hoping to be reunited with Romania, but in vain. Stela decided to try her luck in London, taking advantage of her Romanian ancestry (which enabled her to work legally in Britain).

London appeared to be everything Mereeseni was not: liberating and full of opportunities. Stela got a job as a waitress, signed up for a computer course, worked to improve her English. Soon she started to interpret into and from Romanian. (Romanian is Moldova’s official and spoken language). Later Stela studied media and TV production at the University of Westminster, still supporting herself with part-time jobs. She’s worked in TV and publishing, before finding her passion for writing.

“In Britain, if you want something, you can get it, regardless of whether you have connections or not. If you keep your head down and work hard, I believe you can achieve whatever you want.”

Stela misses Moldovan vineyards, home-cooked traditional mămăliga (polenta), sarmale (dolma) and friptura (pork stew), but today she calls London her home.

She works three days a week for a charity and devotes the rest of her time to writing. Stela has already written and self-published a book, Bessarabian Nights, about human trafficking from her native Moldova. Now she is working on her second book.

Sometimes it takes an outsider to remind us how lucky we are…

What is your greatest achievement? I’ve made life for myself in London, against all odds.

What would you advise your 15-year-old self? Hold on to your dreams, no matter what.

What are you good at? Cleaning! I am a bit OCD about that. I also make mean polenta cakes!

What is your weakness? Impulsiveness.

What would you do, if you knew you would not fail? Study quantum physics.

If you’d like to find out more about Stela, please visit her website www.stelabrinzeanu.com.

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.

Studio

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.

Flamingo

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 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.

Kresse Wesling MBE, co-founder of Elvis & Kresse

Elvis & Kresse_024

Kresse Westling was born in Edmonton, Canada. She studied Politics and Chinese in Montreal, before travelling to Hong Kong where she worked in venture capital. Kresse has always been interested in environment, and her first own venture was a start-up, producing biodegradable supplies for the catering industry. Kresse met her now fiancé James Henrit (nicknamed Elvis) and moved to the UK.

In 2005 she attended a course on sustainability where she came across the London Fire Brigade. She learned that after 25 years of service, fire hoses were scrapped, rather than recycled. The couple came up with an idea to ‘upcycle’ discarded fire hoses into high-end lifestyle accessories. Elvis & Kresse was born.

On politics… Elvis & Kresse is based in Kent, and I thought that we lived in a constituency of Nigel Farage! I told Elvis I was going to stand as an independent MP! It turns out Farage’s constituency is further away, and realistically I do not have time to take politics seriously with all the projects we are taking on at the moment. Still, I get very passionate when someone mentions UKIP!

I needed a new challenge… My first business, producing biodegradable supplies for the catering industry, was successful and profitable. The trouble is, it became boring, I needed a new challenge. When I heard a story about fire hoses being simply dumped into a landfill after use from the London Fire Brigade, it bugged me. I got home and told Elvis we had to do something about it! Elvis is a product designer by background. We thought long and hard about possible ways to recycle the hoses: we brought a heap of them home, cleaned them up; we considered using them for roof tiles, but the cleaning process is too laborious to be cost-effective.

Our ultimately successful idea was to create a range of luxury accessories: belts, iPhone, iPad and laptop covers, washbags and wallets. Each product is really well made – I can guarantee a wallet won’t fall apart a year later. The business took off. Cameron Diaz was photographed wearing a white dress and our red belt in Vogue. Consumers are after unique accessories; they want quality and they want a story.

We also give 50% of our profits back to the Fire Fighters Charity which tells you something about operational margins of luxury products!

We are ‘designers backwards’… IKEA has recently approached us about helping them with creating a range of products from their customer returns. I’m immediately thinking: what’s the best possible way to re-use this or that element? Designers are not trained that way – sustainability is an optional module in most design schools. I am not a designer, of course, I read the New Scientist, not fashion mags.

I want to change the whole world into a circular economy… I want to change how people think about their clothes, furniture, houses, food, waste, etc. There is a story to every product: if you no longer need your garden table, what can you do to write the next chapter of its journey? I love rescuing discarded materials. Elvis & Kresse HQ is built using many upcycled products. I want to inspire the whole world to do just that and find the best possible way to recycle things.

On MBE… It came out of the blue really. I got a letter from Her Majesty, which got my future in-laws very excited. I was awarded MBE for the services to corporate social responsibility. I am pleased, of course, because it helps me to get my sustainability message across to schools and universities, business forums and professional networks. There is not enough being done for tackling waste problems in the UK, yet alone, globally. I want to change that.

Elvis & Kresse is a social enterprise, providing employment, looking after the environment and giving back 50% of their profits to charity. If you’d like to support Elvis & Kresse, please have a look at their range of sustainable, beautifully crafted products. I am a fan!

KresseWestling_landscape copy

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.

room3_alexandra_burda

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.

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

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).