Hi Sophie, thanks so much for joining us on campus – how did you begin your journey into Make-up, and how’d you end up at AUB?
I’m from a really small town in Suffolk, and there are three schools, so everyone sort of follows the same path. My sister went to university in London and I always thought I was too nervous for London because it was really big.
I thought I’d apply anyway because it was a good course [in London], but it ended up that they were really concerned with how many followers you had on social media, so I wasn’t interested.
With AUB, my mum’s from Northern Ireland, so I’m really used to the beach, and as soon as me, my mum and sister came down to Bournemouth for an interview, it was raining!! Mum just kept saying “You’ll love it, it’ll be sunny and great…” but I also dropped my portfolio and smashed all my stuff. I thought that my interview went really badly, and I really did think I’d be going to London.
But I moved here – it was the first time I’d moved away from home – it was proper small compared to a city, but still bigger than where I was from in Suffolk.
Did you know you’d be heading towards studying Make-up when you were at school?
No! I saw school as quite academic, because I did History, German and English, and my mum wanted to sort of push me down that path.
My sister was on the Fashion and Arts side, and I felt I couldn’t do that too. In Sixth Form, I was applying on UCAS to go to Edinburgh to study English Literature, and Jonathan Lodge, my Drama teacher at the time, suggested that I perhaps do something more artistic instead. He just didn’t think it was right, and you know when someone has that moment and you think, “Wait, you’ve got a good point!” …
I’d done all the Make-up for the school shows, like Phantom of the Opera and Oliver Twist, and I thought that I’d listen to what he had to say. It was January, it was UCAS time, and I was stressing about what I wanted to do because people had said that Make-up wasn’t a ‘real career choice’.
I looked at the AUB website, and I realised that I needed an arts subject to get into an Arts University, and I hadn’t had that – I’d done languages and history, why would they let me in?
I became a Barista in a Café for half a year, and luckily while there I met someone from school who was on an Art Foundation Course at our local college. I emailed the college on my break, arranged to show them my work, and I was on the course!
And what kind of things inspire your work – on Glow Up and beyond?
I watched so many horror movies as a kid – Halloween and John Carpenter films! I started watching Doctor Who and quickly became obsessed with it, so when I made it to Glow Up and the brief was ‘Out of this world’, it just clicked. The alien I used on the show is really something that I’d drawn up and had in my head for years and years!
The competition was just so open, and I knew from the moment we had to take our make-up off for before and after shots in the first episode, we’d have to give everything to it. I was very intimidated when I got to filming, because I was the least experienced, and I couldn’t really work out what was going on.
My first university project was based on Val Garland’s make-up work, and when she was just right there in front of me, it all just came back around in a weird circle!
But you didn’t stop studying while you worked on Glow Up, did you?
No – when I heard about the show it was October time and I’d just finished a project called 31 Days of Halloween and started another one called 12 Days of Christmas. I was doing all of these projects on social media and I had so much uni work to do that I really didn’t think that I’d get to actually applying.
Eventually, my friend reminded me that there were just two hours left before the BBC’s deadline and that Sara [Taylor, BA (Hons) Make-up for Media and Performance Course Leader] had said that I should apply so I quickly did, and then totally forgot all about it!
Two days later, I had a call from Warner Bros. in America, and I was completely blown away! I had my first interview, and things went from there.
What was happening with uni during the shortlisting process? Was it hard to keep all of this ‘under wraps’?
I’d just started third year and I hadn’t set my final project yet, so I thought that I should do it on Glow Up, with hypothetical looks for what I might've done, if I'd got on the show.
And just when the shortlisted competitors were about to take part in auditions, I caught COVID-19, so I was the only person not to take part in person! I had to isolate for two weeks, and from then, I really thought that it was over.
The team still wanted me to take part, so I managed to do auditions in a studio set up in my living room – I set up this massive background, and then my housemates started asking questions, “what are you doing!?”, so I had to tell them what I was up to and ask them not to come in at certain times!
I had to plan how I was going to do uni and this, because for me, uni was my biggest thing. I sat down with a big bit of paper and a Red Bull and I started planning everything, as if I was going to be there the whole time.
You used the series to share a very personal thing, your autism. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
If I could take a pill and make autism go away, I definitely wouldn’t. Dealing with my autism has been a struggle but it’s also been key to succeeding too.
In some ways it's really positive, and others it can be negative. When I was diagnosed at 17, I didn’t tell anyone. My mum worried that people might think differently of me, and that I might be less likely to be chosen for things.
A lot of women with it really have a bit of an identity crisis because they’re thinking “What’s going on?” and “Why don’t I understand?”, it can vary a lot and one day be fine and another be really bad. I needed to talk about it on the show as I think the media misinterpret it, especially people like me, who it might not seem to affect as much.
There were a lot of things that affected me while I was on the show, but I wanted to keep positive, so when they asked me about it, I acknowledged it but without autism, I wouldn’t be as creative.
My focus on masks in the first episode is really me dealing with it, because people think that it can be hidden with other things like looks. Perhaps I was just lucky, but more work needs to go into research in this area, because it shouldn’t be down to whether or not you’re good at hiding it.
Do you think that it is something that affects attitudes towards people?
It’s awful that people might consider that you look, behave or act in a certain way, and that in some sense you’re less capable. I’m really capable, but that caused worries for my mum, who thought that maybe people might have a preconception about me because of autism, more than anything else.
I couldn’t separate my normal nerves from nerves due to being oversensitive or about to have a panic attack. Autism is so hot and cold, because the crew would almost expect me to be nervous at times, and then I was fine – I didn’t realise that I was ‘meant to be nervous’.
Because I laugh when I am nervous, I think that can also come off as cockiness, and I do wonder how people interpret it. Even when I was at school, people would say I was rolling my eyes or avoiding eye contact, and it’s just because I struggle with looking at people.
It must have been really tough to have become a very public face for something so important – tell us more!
I was glad to have put my autism out in the world, as I was really struggling in my personal life prior to the show, with other disorders that stem from autism, and of course COVID just made it all worse.
I even started not leaving my house, so I did need to start telling people. Now I have young girls getting in touch to tell me about their struggle, and at least three people I’ve spoken to have now had a diagnosis after speaking out in response to the show. That’s all I care about; I don’t care about what people might think about me.
Once autistic people are put in their element, they do really well. Put me in a maths situation, you can see me struggle, but put me in a Make-up Artist’s Studio and you’d never know. We can do anything that we want to. People kind of wrote me off, and I really wanted to prove them wrong!
What about AUB? Has being here been a big part of your journey?
After school, I never thought I’d fit in anywhere, and then I came to AUB and I knew that I could do what I wanted. Without my parents and people that called themselves friends around, I could be totally independent, and I could completely become myself for the first time. When I came here to AUB, everyone wore what they wanted to wear, and did what they wanted to do.
As soon as I got to the prosthetics week, I realised that a lot of people watching probably don’t know as much about what’s going on, and that’s been really fun! This is when we can show audiences why people come to university to study Make-up. I really like to push this so much, as there’s a level that Make-up Artists can really aspire to.
There is so much to Make-up and there’s a reason behind each process. If no one in a film was wearing make-up, you’d think it was really dull – I’m always pointing out that it's often the President or other male characters who are wearing make-up too!
Being together for the whole series, you must have made some great friends! Tell us about what happens between the episodes!
When I turned up to the house we were living in together, the other competitors thought I was a minder for them. I’d turned up early so that I could do my whole autistic routine of deciding what bed was mine and where my coffee would live, and of course they hadn’t met me because of COVID.
I really didn’t think I was going to win the show; I only took four outfits to wear, as I was sure I wouldn’t get anywhere! It’d be good while it lasted, but soon the competition got less and less, and I was going to bed early and waking up early to try and stay as long as I could!
We’d start filming at 04.00 and finish at around midnight. You’d sleep for three hours and then crack on, with a rest day every three days, which I was using for uni work. We had bunk beds and I just couldn’t deal with so much snoring, so I actually ended up being in the boy’s room, where I became best friends with Craig, who’s definitely a friend for life.
It was all just about me trying my best, rather than trying to be clever or anything. People don’t realise that I spent Christmas on my own before we started filming, because I was just preparing wigs for the show. My mum dropped off my presents, which were mostly books for research, and then on New Year’s Day, I was gone for eight weeks, with 10 days in isolation in a hotel doing my uni work and research for the first two briefs.
And what’s next for the winner of Glow Up Series Three?
I’m hoping to move to London and move in with a friend who’s a comedian from a small town like mine. We decided to move in together and create a bit of an art-house, and I’ll carry on with some trainee make-up roles that I’ve secured.
I’m almost dreading any attention, or even things like getting a manager, because I don’t want to be a social media influencer. I think Dolly and Craig get recognised quite a lot, but luckily, I’ve avoided that so far! It’s not about trying to blend in anymore; it’s about trying to stand out.
I don’t really want to pander to what people want, but I’m so constant with my work, I really don’t feel like the future is going to be a problem. I’ll be producing my work anyway, regardless of Glow Up, but I guess do need to figure out what’s next!