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Spotlight On


Mrs Liz Hawker - Assistant SENCo 

“And what are you doing now?” enquired the Dean. We had just stepped out of evensong at King’s College Chapel, on a visit back to Cambridge for my MPhil graduation.

“I’m working in PR now,” I replied brightly.

“Oh dear…” came the response.

He couldn’t have been more wrong.

Working in London PR agencies after studying at Oxford and Cambridge had never been my plan but it turned out to be incredible for developing my skills. My foot in the door had been using my German as a temp in a London agency; I began to understand what PR actually was and see for myself how creative and dynamic it could be as a job. It was worth a shot.

Over seven years, I worked for two top 20 PR agencies in central London. Clients were big names in the consumer and corporate world. They were also Government departments, where the brief was to develop a media strategy for public campaigns: drugs awareness, work-life balance, youth engagement and road safety.

It was a rollercoaster ride: one minute I was briefing senior clients for national media interviews, the next I was persuading TV personalities to attend our client’s award ceremony for free.

I learned on the job. I learned how to develop a strategy and anticipate hostile reactions; how to create a media hook and write copy; I learned how to brainstorm, pitch to journalists, and handle a crisis while still sounding calm. I will never forget the dead mouse in a certain cinema brand’s popcorn…

The biggest highlights were out of the office – along with some very good meals out. Celebrities I worked with included Darcey Bussell and Chris Tarrant, plus a variety of TV and media personalities who were big names at the time.

Some media moments eclipsed others. To mark Remembrance in 2004 in conjunction with Shell, we arranged for three million poppies to be dropped over London by two wartime Dakota DC3 aircraft, as giant poppy projections were cast onto the Houses of Parliament and all the bridges of London were illuminated. Our story was covered by every national newspaper and all the key broadcast channels. It was a busy night.

But there had always been a teacher in me, and it was time to work on something lasting and real, not media ideas that would end up as yesterday’s news.

My love of languages at school and university were the way in, with teaching roles in Austria and Japan before training in primary. I went on to teach French, German and Linguistics at Ashford Senior School before qualifying in SEN and moving to KC. It might not have seemed the obvious next step after media work, but here in teaching was a creative job, like PR, where no two days would be the same and where the challenges would never run out. I could even indulge my lifelong love of singing and work with choirs.

So, if you don’t have a career plan, don’t panic. Life doesn't come with a manual or sat nav. The best careers can be those you find your way to, without always knowing from the start that it was the direction you would take.

Mrs Jo Cox - Gymnastic Teacher

As a young girl sports were always a huge interest of mine. In fact, I dreamt of becoming a stunt woman when I grew up! At primary school my PE teacher took me along to one of her training courses and this was when my gymnastics career began. I was talent spotted by the course organiser and snapped up to start training at Cray Valley Gymnastics Club. At the age of 9, I started competing and quickly became the Grade 7 Women’s Artistic National Champion. I trained long hours putting my heart and soul into everything I did and, by 11, became a member of the South East squad. I was part of the National Squad when I was 12 until 16, training with many of the top elite gymnasts. Unfortunately, gymnastics was not as widely recognised as it is today, and most people’s gymnastics careers ended by the age of 16. However, I knew that I still wanted to keep gymnastics close to my heart and, as it had always been a passion of mine, decided to teach. I love being a gymnastics coach as I am able to give back to the community and share my experiences with others.

Mrs Louise Bright - Textiles Teacher

My textiles career started with four years at the London College of Fashion. During my course there I explored fashion but branched off into costume design in my third year, as I felt that this area had more creative scope, as well as incorporating my interest in the film industry.

After college I secured a job working in the costume department of the stage production of Les Miserable, which was a total eye opener and a great start in the industry. This led to working for the leading London costumier, Angels, for 6 years. I progressed during this time from creating the costumes to assistant pattern cutter. Their studios were based in Camden and we created the costumes for many productions including Shakespeare in Love, for which we achieved an Oscar, Spice Girls the Movie, Bond, The Mummy, Pride and Prejudice, Man in the Iron Mask and Bridget Jones’ Diary. The Spice Girls connection led to my making the Beckham’s bridesmaids dresses as well!

I left Angels to further my career on the sets of films for Ska Productions, run by Guy Ritchie and Matthew Vaughan. I was costume assistant on Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Layer Cake, Fight Club to name a few. I continued to work freelance during this time on several commercials and television productions.

Having moved out of London to have my family, teaching was a natural lifestyle choice but also it gives me great satisfaction educating our students in the diversity of fashion and textiles. It is not just about catwalk and fast fashion – there is great creativity and historic context in our work.

Ms Helen Bruce - Head of Music

I remember my first audition very well; I was 9 years old and really wanted to sing a solo in the school carol service. The problem was I was absolutely terrified.  We stood around in a circle, taking turns to sing and I was getting more and more worked up as it came to my turn; I was sweating, shaking and very nervous.  “OK Helen,” said Mr Roberts in a thick Geordie accent, “your turn”.  And I sang.  Very, very quietly.  So quietly, I could barely hear myself.  “Thank you very much” he said. 
I didn’t get the solo.
But after I’d auditioned, I felt proud of myself – I’d faced a fear, and I had survived, and it hadn’t actually been that bad!  I can do this again, I thought, but I’ll be better next time.  Gradually, the more I put myself out there, the more confident I got, I said yes to every opportunity, I learnt from my mistakes, worked hard for each performance, listened to criticism.  Flash forward 25 years and I’m singing in Moses und Aron at Covent Garden with Sir Thomas Allen!  But how did I get there?  Was it easy?  In a word, no.
I absolutely love Music in all its forms; I love singing, I love performing – and looking back at my 9 year old self, there was never really any other choice for me; it was always going to be Music.  The church choir led to the Durham Youth Choir, which opened doors to the National Youth Choir.  As well as having a good voice, they liked you to sight-read and I could do this because I played piano and violin, and spent much time practising.  This meant I could go on a world tour in ’99;  another door opened leading to an unforgettable experience, just because I had taught myself to sight-read.  Then, during my time at Edinburgh University I performed in over 20 productions, playing lots of different characters and it is here I learned how to act.  I performed comedy, tragedy, opera, music theatre, cabaret, rock, farce, art songs, karaoke – absolutely everything I was asked to do I did, and I gave it 100%.  I spent hours doing character research, memorising, watching other performers, recording and analysing my own performances – I wanted to be the very best at what I did and worked tirelessly to improve.
I was awarded a prize by the University in recognition of my contribution to the musical life of Edinburgh and given a scholarship to continue my training at Guildhall School of Music and Drama.  I was absolutely delighted to be awarded a place, but I did find the year I spent there very difficult.  Coming to London was a shock in itself and then being one of the youngest on the course and having to compete with older and much better singers was a little demoralising.  It gave me a taste of just how difficult the profession was going to be and I knew I had to make choices about what I wanted out of life.  The soloist life is a particularly difficult one, which takes tremendous sacrifices.  There was a singing teacher at Guildhall who had had the most incredible career – she had sung with all the greats, and her walls were covered in photos, reviews, accolades.  But she had chosen that life over having a family, and that never rested easily with me.  I realised that, when it really came down to it, my priorities were different.
So I decided to go into teaching.  My first lesson was an absolute disaster, but I gradually grew to love it – especially when it came to coaching singers for productions and conducting, which I soon found created the same sort of buzz you get on stage and presented new, different challenges.  I had not conducted before and was absolutely terrified (again!) when conducting my first show at KC, but I knew how important it was for the girls to see a female take the lead in a male-dominated role, and forced myself to learn and improve.
However, a few years into teaching, I started to feel a little disappointed with myself.  I had spent so much time and money on my singing, but I had never quite achieved what I had dreamed of.   I started looking into opera courses – as this is where my real performing passion lies – and I successfully auditioned for the Opera course at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.  With support from Kent College (I was still able to teach here one day a week) I made sure to get the best teacher and to work harder than ever before on my technique and stagecraft.  There were many, many auditions, some of them utterly disastrous (like the one where the audition panel forgot I was coming and then talked loudly throughout my aria) but I was not to be deterred because every now and then, an audition went well.  During my time there, I was a soloist in the BBC Proms, I performed for Garsington Opera, I sang for Prince Charles – the opportunities were exciting and endless.  The occasional successful audition more than made up for the dozens of unsuccessful ones.  And I continued to work harder than ever, practising for hours every day, researching and listening when my voice was tired.
In one of the productions I was in, I played the Witch in Hansel and Gretel – a role I absolutely love.  I felt like everything I had experienced and worked on from that first audition when I was 9 years old had led to this performance: and it was one of those rare moments on stage when you feel as if you’re flying – the voice is working, the acting is natural, the audience is responding and I was having so much fun.  It just so happened that during that particular performance, the Chorus Master from Welsh National Opera was watching, and he enjoyed my performance very much.  I auditioned for him and was asked to sing in the chorus for Shoenberg’s Moses und Aron, which was also to be performed at Covent Garden.
I said yes.
One of the most exciting moments of my life was stepping out of the dressing room at the Royal Opera House, onto the stage for the dress rehearsal.  The safety curtain lifted as we were rehearsing, revealing the huge and stunning auditorium, and I must admit, I shed a few tears – I finally felt like I had done it; I was singing in a professional opera on the best stage in the world.  And I was proud of myself.
Since then I have also sung for English National Opera and was nominated for an award at the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival and I was just about to perform in the Marriage of Figaro at the Coliseum before lockdown.  I will always sing and will always perform, and Music will always be my passion.  At Kent College it is such a privilege to be surrounded by enthusiastic, talented girls who are just starting on their own performing journey and I find coaching and guiding them equal to the thrill of being on stage.  I am very lucky to have had the opportunities and support necessary to be where I am today, and if you take anything from my story, just remember that in order to succeed, you need to be open to failure.  It is a very hard thing to deal with, but ultimately you will learn, grow and achieve.  That, and practise, practise, practise!!

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