We asked eight super-successful women to share the best life advice they ever heard. Here, editor Charlotte Moore explains why…
'Don’t google yourself'; 'Never, EVER cry at work'; 'If you’re not feeling it, don’t do it.' So say Clara Amfo, Carole White and Alexandra Roach, just three of the brilliant women we’ve interviewed for this year’s Best Advice We’ve Ever Heard section in our November issue.
It got me wondering about the best advice anyone’s ever given me. Although my dad wasn’t a big one for doling out words of wisdom, “Be breezy” was definitely something I learnt from him. No matter how much I have wanted to scream, shout, cry, yell, text FFS when things go wrong or don’t quite go my way, I do my absolute utmost not to succumb to the rage – at least not outside my own green front door. If I do, then they win.
Holding it together and breezing my way through the most impossible, embarrassing, painful moments (well, maybe not childbirth) is always my aim, if not the reality. When my dad died last summer it was probably the most tragic and horrific experience of my whole life. We were in Tuscany and had just shared some Prosecco in a tiny bar at the bottom of not a very steep hill. He was an economics academic and despite semi-retirement was still teaching post-graduates at his college in Cambridge, often in London hanging out at the Groucho chatting to whoever was at the bar – he was very much part of the here and now.
At the moment when it happened I was suggesting that he should read Lena Dunham’s book that I’d just finished on the sunlounger. Within seconds, after a fatal heart attack, he was gone. The only way of coping for my three young daughters, my mum and my sisters in those hours, days and weeks just after it happened was to keep it together.
It was horrendous, we were utterly bereft, devastated and in shock. But he wouldn’t have lost it, so I wasn’t going to either. Breeziness kept me going when I had to travel to the shows just two weeks afterwards for business as usual – I did my best and kept on smiling. I know lots of my friends were worried that not taking the time to cry and grieve would come back to get me. But it didn’t, at least not so far.
Advice is thrown at you every second of the day – from quotes on Instagram, to endless self-help books, to mates waxing on about what you should do about that guy who randomly messages you. But it’s only when you act on it and it really, really works that it stays with you forever. What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard? I’d love to know.
Emily Berrington, actress
Don’t smile away your power
‘I was at drama school when the renowned Shakespeare teacher Patsy Rodenburg said to me once, “Don’t smile away your power”. There’s something very powerful in somebody with a straight face demanding to be taken seriously. I think it’s probably quite common for young women to smile and be amenable and say yes to everything, but it’s okay to stick your neck out. Another piece of advice I remember was from Dominic West. He told us to “hold on tightly, let go lightly”, meaning go into the rehearsal room and stick up for what you think your character should be doing, but if it’s not going to work, let it go. I apply it to my life, too – a job you don’t get or a relationship, or an argument. It’s so satisfying when good advice rhymes.’
Alexandra Roach, actress
If you’re not feeling it, don’t do it
‘My mother brought me up on the advice, “Don’t do anything you don’t want to”. It’s shaped my whole life. When I played Maggie Thatcher, I understood where she was coming from. We’re both from working-class families and she wanted to get out and better herself. She had such drive and ambition, which I did too. I’d just come out of drama school and everyone was telling me to lose my Welsh accent, but I thought, “No, I’m not turning into one of these actor robots.” That strong-mindedness my mother gave me is what I took into that audition.
In my late twenties, I’ve noticed other pressures like “I have to get a house!” and it’s easy to let your instinct get buried. Don’t succumb. I’m getting married next year and I’m keeping it individual. I’ve stuck to my guns so far – like everything else in my life.’
Mary Charteris, model & DJ
‘I never want to be in the background – I get my kicks by making life exciting. I’m in a band with my husband Robbie and when we met, he told me, “Always peacock yourself”. It’s not showing off, it’s about pushing your own boundaries. When I got married, I thought it would be funny to have a dress that flashed some flesh. Pam Hogg designed it because she gets my wild side. I wanted it to be memorable and she nailed it. I don’t mind being naked either. Women’s bodies are so beautiful – you shouldn’t shy away from it. There are loads of people out there who bash me when I post a picture from a shoot where I’m half naked, but I just put my blinkers on.’
Maxine Peake, actress
What you don’t do counts
‘I didn’t have the best of times training to be an actor. I was at Salford City College, which was all-singing, all-dancing, and I didn’t sing or dance. Within a couple of weeks, they said I was too shy, but I hung in there. When I got to RADA, the actor Michael Culkin came to do a reading of a play. He said, “You’ll probably always play nurses”. I thought, how rude! Years later, I reminded him of what he said. He apologised and said, “Your career is made not of what you do – it’s what you don’t do”. With my Northern working-class background, I realised I’d have to be picky or I’d get typecast. When I was on Dinnerladies, Victoria Wood said to me, “You’re big, you’re blonde, you’re Northern – you’re going to get typecast”. It takes someone like Victoria or Michael to consolidate what you thought. We do a scheme at RADA where we buddy up with students. If they tell me they’ve been offered a role they’re not sure about, I say, “Can you pay your rent? Well, don’t do it. Sit tight”. I’m all for sitting tight.’
Step away from the argument
Nic: ‘The best advice my mum has ever given us is to always step away from an argument, think about it and then speak to each other. Even if my sister and I have a massive row and hate each other in that moment, the next second we’ll be best friends again. You can’t do that with anyone else. Having the odd little tiff is not a bad thing – it shows you are passionate.’
Sam: ‘The best thing about being in business with Nic is that we can have complete conversations with just one look. At work, you can be at loggerheads with a colleague about something, but with my sister, we’re able to lay everything on the table, rather than pussyfooting around. Nothing festers. The best advice we give to each other is trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it, as you will only have yourself to blame.’
Clara Amfo, radio presenter
Never google yourself
‘Searching for yourself online is emotional self-harm. Doing a job like mine makes me an easy target – to a lot of people I’m just a voice on the radio, not a human. I’m always honoured when anyone says they admire what I do, but I never want to be a role model. That can be a dangerous honour. I’m just trying to live my life, not live it for other people.’
Carole White, founder of Premier Model Management
Always plan for what if – and never cry at work
‘Don’t celebrate until the ink has dried on a contract – I learnt that from my father. Always think, “What if?”. I once had a million-pound contract about to be signed with a famous model and boxer. We’d had champagne to celebrate and then the next day the boxer did something really, really bad. And it was all off. You’ve got to be careful not to show weakness in business – so I would never cry at work. I don’t cry much at all. It just makes it harder to be taken seriously. As a boss, you’re leading an army. You can’t go off to charge at the enemy and start crying – your troops will desert you.’
Caroline Flack, TV presenter
Knowledge is power – and be kind to people
‘As each year goes past, I get a bit more “screw everything!”. I used to be such a worrier, then in my thirties, I thought, “What on earth have I spent the last ten years worrying about?” My dad always told me, “knowledge is power”. I applied that at school – I had to work hard because I wasn’t naturally gifted. My sister got higher grades at dance school, and my mum would say, “Don’t be scared if she does better than you” – that was an incentive. My mum was like the Judy Murray of ballet. So it meant when I did Strictly I was practising like a lunatic – started earliest and finished latest. Even my dancing partner said, “I think you know the routine by now”. I was like, No! Let’s do it more. My sister bought me a print that says, “Work hard, play hard, be kind” and I try and live my life like that. I truly believe in being kind – how nice does it feel when someone says something nice to you? There’s nothing better. If people feel bad about themselves, they think it will make them feel better to be mean about someone else. But I tend to kill people with kindness. It works – they tend to say sorry and be nice back. One of my favourite words is “content” – it’s such a lovely idea to be content.’