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PeoplePhiliy Page

Philiy Page

‘I was born in Redhill, Surrey, near where we lived in a village called Dormansland. My father left us when I was four, when my brother was still a babe in arms. My Mum was Catholic, and was thrown out of the church because of the divorce. From that age my brother and I didn’t see my father.
My mother’s family history was complex. She was a war baby, born at the end of WW2; her mother enjoyed a party, and her father, we think, was an American air force pilot from Boston. My Grandma then married an Irish Catholic from County Cork called Jack when my mum was about three, my mother never knowing that Jack was not her real father until she was dying. Grandma’s family were proper EastEnders, who worked in a tobacco factory in Clerkenwell, but she didn’t enjoy that life, and fought hard to change it. Her father was forward-thinking, ensuring that all his daughters had a good education, which enabled my Grandma to train to become a sugar sculptor, and end up making cakes for the Royal Family. Because she eventually enjoyed a completely different life from her brothers and sisters, she fought to enable my mum to better hers.
After the divorce Mum’s understanding boss let her continue working in a bookshop taking me with her. She then worked at the GLC under Ken Livingston; I remember licking endless envelopes and stamps in the evenings for her. Eventually Mum ended up selling scripts for the BBC, and language teaching in the holidays. We had several foreign students live with us. Through a charity called Gingerbread, mum met a new man, Ron. He encouraged her to set up her own business as a literary agent.
Ron had three children of his own, and was from the East End too. He had been in the Merchant Navy, drove a Hackney cab, and then bought a double glazing business in the ‘80s, which made him a millionaire. Our fortunes changed dramatically, but on their honeymoon Mum found a breast lump, and within a year and a half she was dead. Before her death, Ron adopted us, to get parental rights, and I remember going to court aged eight, having to explain what I thought was happening. When Mum died he pretty much had a breakdown. Aged ten I was getting us up in the mornings, him to work, us to school, and doing the washing and ironing. I took over Mum’s role until Ron hired an American nanny to look after us.
After the death of my Mum, Ron decided he wanted a new life and sold everything, including my Mum’s house. He moved to Tenerife, and my brother and I were sent to boarding school. He was keen for us to make our own way in the world and never gave us pocket money or handouts.
My boarding school was a stage school. Thandie Newton was my prefect. I’d already done lots of performances as a youngster, but had I known I was going to be sent away, I would have done a rubbish audition! I got in and was there from the age of 11 until 15, at which time my step-dad met another woman, Carole, and remarried. She was from Sheffield, and they decided to relocate there from Tenerife, including me. I didn’t even know where Sheffield was. They pulled me out of school in the middle of my GCSE’s, and off we went to Sheffield.
I attended a girls’ high school where they put me back a year initially. Then Ron and Carole wanted to go back to Tenerife because of the recession. I refused to go, determined to finish my GCSE’s. I stayed with a girl from school from 16 to17, and eventually went to live with my English teacher’s friend, Howard, in a warm and vibrant household. My first boyfriend Liam’s parents pretty much adopted me. They were left-wing, cultured people, a complete contrast to Ron’s conservative East End background. Liam’s father started teaching me photography; I loved it and took night classes completing an A level photography in a year getting a grade A. I took art classes too and met Karen from San Francisco, becoming became great friends with her and other artists. San Francisco became my second home, and I would visit twice a year.
Although I was getting some work published, photography wasn’t making me a living, but my American friends persuaded me it was possible to earn good money as a creative. I got serious and went to Manchester Met University studying photography. It was really good but in common with many creative courses taught very little about the business skills you needed to actually make a living. At my final meeting I was told I was the most likely to succeed, as I understood how business worked. Years of watching my Grandmother, Mum, Ron, and all of my siblings create their own work had obviously rubbed off on me.
Then Howard, from Sheffield, sent me a cutting, which said the BBC were making a programme he thought might interest me. We both applied, and I was sent as their photographer. The programme was called Castaway 2000. At Christmas time 1999, thirty-six of us including eight children, were driven in a coach through blizzards to begin a year of living in an experimental community on the Hebridean island of Taransay. Castaway was a life-changing, career-changing experience, launching mine, and Ben Fogle’s careers. I’m still in touch with the Castaways today.
I moved straight to London from the isolated life on Taransay, which felt a bit like time-travel. That experience had me shooting for publications like Marie-Claire and the Guardian. I was determined to make it as a photographer, but it was tough and competitive. I waited tables at night to make ends meet, then I read about a post-grad course in photojournalism at what was the London College of Printing, and applied at the last minute. At the end of year show all the top newspaper editors turned up, and we all got work. I then worked as a photojournalist for the Sunday Times, the Guardian, and others, but with the pressure of constantly hustling for work, I found myself burned out. I had friends who as war correspondents lived crazy lives in incredibly dangerous situations, one of whom, Tim Hetherington, was sadly killed. I found myself at a crossroads, where I could either go off and do that kind of work, or change direction completely. I decided to retrain at Goldsmiths, as a secondary teacher. I taught in some difficult South-East London schools, where the poor kids faced so many challenges all they really wanted was breakfast and a sleep rather than learning.
When I got together with my future husband Paul, who lived in Dorset at the time, I decided to move to Beaminster from London. It was a shock, and I left to travel around the world alone for seven months. On that trip I decided to go back to media as the school situation was dire. Returning to Bridport, I got a paid internship with a TV company in Bath, and re-trained as a camerawoman and programme developer. Then I was put in touch with Eric Harwood who ran a TV production company in London and lived in Charmouth. I worked with him for three years, filming Julia Bradbury’s walking programmes. I was offered work on Ben Wheatley’s second feature film Kill List, and worked in films for the next seven years, ending up as his production manager. I also worked on Far From the Madding Crowd, filmed here in Dorset.
After that film, I was approached by the British Council and asked if I would train creative start-ups internationally, due to my side work at Universities. Feature films were an 18-hour, six days a week job and I didn’t want to burn out again. I had had a wide range of freelance experiences, and, going right back to childhood, my family were serial entrepreneurs. I used all of that as inspiration to train creatives globally, helping put their ideas into business practice.
Time and time again I would find that the women in the groups lacked the confidence needed to succeed. To fill that gap in 2014 I started Creative Women International, connecting the women I had trained in those international groups through a social network. Two years ago I was invited to become a Fellow of the RSA for the work that I do with Creative Women International, and I also worked as a Fellow of Entrepreneurship for the University of Bristol. I reduced my work when I had my son Huxley, and I’m now delivering training programmes, and host a weekly podcast encouraging women to start their own businesses. Often what holds people back is lack of confidence, which is a large part of the subject of my book The Business of Creativity, published this year.’

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