Living the dream
If you live to work, you’re very lucky, as many people confess they only work to live. Finding a career that makes every day a joy isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort to find your dream job
The personal stylist
Abbey Booth, 47, lives in Herts with her husband and two children. She switched to a new career from corporate finance
I’ve always been interested in fashion. As a little girl, I always wanted a shop, and when I heard a programme on Radio 4 talking about following your dream, I decided to open a pop-up shop selling women’s clothing, which I advertised on Facebook. It got so busy and there was so much stock that my husband said I needed a proper shop. My stepdad loaned me money for the rental deposit and I just went for it. My aim was to create a safe, welcoming space, especially for women who didn’t have confidence in how they looked or didn’t have loads of money.
If you don’t have confidence in how you look, that changes everything and I wanted to reveal the real woman, so I retrained in visual merchandise in 2009, then in colour analysis and body shape, and then became a personal stylist. Sometimes it’s a one-off for a mother of the bride, where the aim is to mark a special occasion but not find yourself in one of those traditional dress and jacket, ageing looks. Along with that, Royal Ascot, a black-tie dinner or making a presentation are the types of request I get most often.
Sometimes, I’m asked to do a wardrobe refresh, and I’m likely to be in their bedroom, their most private space. Add to that trying on clothes, so they’re usually in their underwear. I’m very aware it might have taken a long time to build up to it.
The best part of my job is that sense of transforming someone’s approach to their style. Most of my clients are women, but
I occasionally have men looking for advice. I’m also the course leader at the London College of Style, which is important because personal styling isn’t a governed industry, though I feel it should be.
At times, I’m helping women who’ve been through surgery or been ill, so personal styling can be very restorative. I was really happy to be involved in the Breast Cancer Now fashion show – it’s always so rewarding to see the difference that styling can make.
I can’t think of any situation where personal styling hasn’t helped someone and one of my best moments was a client who was really nervous about speaking at events, which she had to do as part of her work. She learnt to use clothes as armour, which helped her love herself and stand a little bit taller. To me, that’s dressing the woman who’s really there.
ABBEY’S ADVICE TO BECOME A PERSONAL STYLIST
“This can be a challenging industry to get into at a young age, as many customers may want someone around their own age to guide them. However, this is where qualifications can help, as well as experience. Aim for a personal stylist qualification that includes colour and body shape analysis – bear in mind that this is an unregulated industry, so make sure you’re booking a credible course and research reviews and recommendations.
“Get fashion experience – there are apprenticeships and internships in clothes shops, as well as fashion and art courses, which include placements.
“Always stay aware of trends, new styles and influences. Finding a mentor can also be really helpful, as on-the-job experience is vital in this area.”
The average starting salary for a personal stylist is £20k.
The dog behaviourist
Jeanette Muldoon, 43, is a dog behaviourist with thefamilydogclub.co.uk who lives in the New Forest with her husband Gav and two children
I’ve always loved dogs, though initially, working with them was just a dream as I worked in finance and accounting. My husband Gav worked in quality control and it was fine, but it just wasn’t fulfilling. Dogs were our passion, so in 2011, we sold our cars, bought a van and a franchise for dog walking and doggy daycare, which Gav managed.
It was quite a move, as our daughter was just a year old. I had stayed on in my accounting job, but soon became really engrossed in what Gav was doing.
He studied with the Institute of Modern Dog Trainers (IMDT), and as we live in a really rural area, ideally suited to this type of business, he soon had three dog walkers working for him.
My fascination lies in dog behaviour and I have an eye for body language, so in 2013, I gave up my job and joined Gav in the business. Everyone thought we were mad, but I did think hard about it. I knew my customer service and financial experience would be really useful. I could see how much Gav was enjoying his work, and since his focus is gundog training and obedience classes, I could add another element by offering behaviour training, which is quite specific. Obedience classes tend to be very straightforward as dogs love to learn, but I found the neurological side of dog training fascinating.
I did the IMDT training and constantly update my skills with their courses on dog behaviour. In lockdown, a lot more people got dogs, but the downside was the change we saw in dogs afterwards. We did all our courses online during lockdown, so you couldn’t have dogs mixing and breeders couldn’t allow people to come and handle puppies. As a result, we now see many dogs who don’t know how to socialise with other dogs and are also more nervous around people.
We have three dogs of our own who I include in the behaviour training and they can be very calming for other dogs. I do one-to-one training initially and cover aggression towards humans or other animals, predatory, obsessive, repetitive behaviours and fear and anxiety. There will always come a point when the dog needs to learn to mix with other dogs, and I’ll then run reactive sessions, which need to be very carefully managed.
I don’t believe owners have as much impact as is maintained, except those who buy dogs as weapons, when they’re taught dangerous behaviours that can’t be managed. You also have to be realistic – I got asked once to socialise a 12-year- old dog who was going blind, and that is about managing the owner’s perspective, where they realise the dog should just live out their life in peace, without further training. My job is so satisfying and I can really see the difference I make – dogs are wonderful creatures and helping them live happily and safely is something I’ll never tire of.
JEANETTE’S ADVICE TO BECOME A DOG BEHAVIOURIST
“Check with bodies such as the Institute of Modern Dog Trainers to source training. Individual companies offer apprenticeships, so check any near you.
“A dog behaviourist needs more than a love of dogs and confidence dealing with them – you will also need to invest in courses to ensure your skills are fully developed and up to date. Volunteer or work with a dog walker/dog trainer to get a realistic view of everything involved in training. Many trainers start off with a mentor, so it’s good to make connections.
“Consider combining dog behaviourist sessions with a dog-walking service when getting started, as your reputation tends to grow through recommendation. You can also buy into a franchise, which will require some capital, though at its most basic, you can start simply by advertising locally and making sure you keep accounts.”
The average salary is from £10k part-time to up to £70k a year full-time if running classes.
Photographer Chris Watt, 53, lives near Edinburgh with his wife Lisa – who now works with him – and children Abby and Lewis
After watching a film called The Killing Fields when I was 15, the idea of being a photojournalist grabbed me. I bought a camera, converted the shed at the bottom of my parents’ garden into a dark room, and that was the start of a career that still fascinates me. My first job at age 17-18 was in the print room at The Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh, organising copies of pictures from the paper. I’d haunt the photographers, pestering them to follow them on jobs and they were amazingly welcoming. Eventually, the picture editor asked if I wanted a job and that exposed me to a whole breadth of photography. I finally became a staff photographer on the Evening News.
My timing wasn’t great as I’d just got married and had a mortgage, and that move meant a drop in salary, but the experience led to me being headhunted by The Herald in Glasgow and then by the Daily Record, which was my true introduction to photojournalism. I reported on the Omagh bombing, as stark and heartbreaking as you’d expect, and regularly reported on Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles. In Kosovo, we were meant to be joining the Nato convoy, but got separated and plodded on, not realising we were on our own until we got to Pristina. A local took pity on us and put us up for a very scary night listening to the bombing as we tried to sleep on the floor. Nato arrived the next day and we set to work, though the scenes of mass graves and devastation were unimaginable. We were ambushed on the way back and a machine gun was emptied into the car, but we all survived. Lisa was seven months pregnant with Lewis and all
I could think was, “If I die tonight, my wife’s going to kill me.” Afterwards, we
discovered we hadn’t even been properly insured, so our families would have been destitute if we’d died.
I really felt I was doing something of value and I loved it, but it was time to step back
from the danger, though I hated the doorstepping side of reporting. I went freelance in August 2001, confident that all my contacts would ensure a steady stream of work. Except 9/11 happened and all PR/advertising work disappeared, which meant many 3am jitters, especially as our daughter Abby was on the way.
I basically hustled everyone and everywhere and weddings, events, graduations and corporate work started happening, as well as news and magazine commissions UK-wide. It all happened again in 2008 with the financial crash and again with Covid, as the 19 March brought a stream of emails cancelling everything for months ahead.
I now work with Mary’s Meals in Africa, which is supported by Gerard Butler. The first time I met him in Liberia, we were in a hot little room with cheap plastic chairs and I was trying to be casual – “Nice to meet you, Gerry” – as I sat down nonchalantly on one of the chairs, except the heat had melted the legs and it collapsed under me and pitched me on to the floor. I always say that people skills are really important in photography, but that was my finest ice breaker. Everyone takes photos now, but we still need professional photographers to make people relax, get the best out of them and to document all the big events, from world- changing situations to special family moments.
CHRIS’S ADVICE TO BECOME A PHOTOGRAPHER
“You’ve got to be practical and develop your potential,” says Chris. “I would say that the basis of the job is your technical skills, so start by getting some training at local colleges that will give you a good grounding.
“Secondly, look at other people’s work and how they’ve achieved results. You never stop learning and it’s important to remember that – videos and drones are part of every photographer’s skillset now – so always be open to the latest developments.
“Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s all about the equipment – I have friends who are absolute magpies with kit, believing that if they just get this or that, their photography will be perfect. Trust your eye and never underestimate the importance of people skills – never be clinical and always make it about the people. “Be self-critical, be analytical, and if possible, start in a job rather than immediately striking out on your own – you’ll learn so much.”
The average salary is £25k+, with work such as photojournalism offering a much higher rate.