Kelly is a Mum of two who has been lucky enough to have a career she’s loved. She has worked on some of the most well-known TV shows including Hollyoaks, Byker Grove and many others and was even working as a small part of the crew on the very first Harry Potter filmed at Alnwick Castle.
Kelly worked in the TV industry for many years before setting up her own business Page2Stage and in this interview she shares her inspiring story with us.
As part of our Living Proof feature I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly and even though I haven’t had an in depth conversation with Kelly since we were at school together, we chatted non-stop. We swapped stories and shared our life experiences and shared our outlook and perspective on life. It was clear to see that Kelly hasn’t changed much since school and she’s still that friendly, bubbly character with a heart of gold and a real passion for helping and supporting those that she comes into contact with.
What were you like growing up Kelly?
As a child I was quite studious and quiet in large groups of people and unfamiliar surroundings but, I was confident in my own circle of friends. I had a good circle of friends and as a child, friendship meant a lot to me. It still does – even now I’ve still got a wide circle of friends, and although I have a busy lifestyle, I make sure I find the time to be with them and share experiences and even holidays with them.
I loved my time at school and enjoyed Art and English I was always part of the after school sports clubs and took part in school productions.
As a child I always had my parents’ support and they supported me in everything I did and encouraged me to believe I could do anything I put my mind to. My Dad worked locally as a panel beater and then Bodyshop manager and my Mum stayed at home to look after me until I was older. I had a great relationship with both my parents and I still do to this day.
We shared some wonderful memories together growing up. We loved to travel around in the car going on random road trips and holidays, something my family do now.
As a child did you always know what you wanted to be?
Yes, I think I knew this from an early age. I knew that I always wanted to work in TV and that I wanted to be different and stand out for achieving something great, so I was driven by this desire and passion.
I never doubted myself for one minute and always felt that I could achieve my goals and dreams and my parents were hugely supportive of this. They encouraged and supported me wholeheartedly. At school I took part in the productions and I enjoyed every minute of them. I enjoyed being on stage but, my passion was behind the scenes – I knew wanted to work in TV production.
As a child I’d developed a love for Byker Grove. It was written for my age group and I fast became a fanatic about it and such a huge fan of the show. Looking back I think it was because it was filmed in the region and I could completely relate to the characters, as they were all around the same age as me. As a child I would often write to Byker Grove and ask them how I could get a job working in TV production on their show but, even after many years of writing to them I still didn’t receive a response. But, this didn’t put me off and at the age of 13 I decided to send yet another letter and to my surprise the producer sent me a letter back.
I couldn’t believe it when it came in the post for me. The producer had responded to my letter and provided me with some advice that would stand me in good stead for the future. He outlined exactly which route and qualifications I needed to take and which extra-curricular activities I should get involved with and he explained that by following his advice, this would enable me to pursue a career in TV production.
I felt so lucky and privileged to receive this advice and as soon as I received the letter I set to work. I literally took his advice and followed every instruction he gave and finally I felt excited about the prospect of working in TV.
What happened next?
After following the producer’s advice and I went to college then onto Uni to study Media Industry Management and during my time there I was involved in the college magazine. Whilst at college I applied to Sunderland University but sadly didn’t get the grades they wanted. However, it didn’t put me off as I was determined and shortly afterwards I got accepted to New College Durham, so I decided to go there. I lived at home and travelled daily to the university whilst studying HND Media and then I completed a top-up year in Business. At the time I was so disappointed to have been declined from Sunderland, but it was the best thing that could have happened as the business side of my qualification has probably really helped me.
While I was at uni, my Dad’s friend was the Director on one of the Catherine Cookson dramas and he invited me to take part in a work experience placement and I got the opportunity to work shadow him. This was my first glimpse of what it would be like on set and it was absolutely amazing! The work experience was great and I had the opportunity to shadow my Dad’s friend and see what he would do in his role. I had the chance to hang around every department and meet lots of new people and this was where my love of period drama came from.
The next time the Cookson dramas were filming in the area I was offered a little longer placement, so of course I took the opportunity and loved every minute of it. This time they were working on ‘The girl’ and I remember that local lad Mark Benton was part of the cast too. (For those of you who don’t know who he is, he’s just been in the Paddington advert this Christmas (as Santa). It was brilliant and I got a real taste for working in TV.
So, when you left university what did you go on to do?
When I left Uni I naively thought, ‘Yes, this is it!’ But, sadly it wasn’t. For one full year I applied everywhere and got nothing so in the meantime I worked in a local bar and even though I enjoyed it, it wasn’t what I wanted to do.
I spent the coming months applying for jobs and writing hand written letters to companies hoping that one day I’d secure a position in TV. Even after all this time I never lost sight of what it was I wanted and my parents continued to support me in my dream.
After one whole year of hearing nothing back a competition came up at Century Radio to search for a Traffic Bulletin Presenter. I got quite far in the process and spent time learning the process and presenting on air, and even though it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do I loved this experience and worked doing other bits and pieces there. Alongside my work at Century, I worked for local cable show Boro TV (unpaid to again get more experience). I did all sorts including some on screen presenting and even though I wasn’t a huge football fan, I loved the production team, Ali and Bernie the presenters, and got to interview the latest signings and players. Getting as much experience as possible was essential and I was lucky I found some great placements.
What made you keep going?
I was so passionate about working in TV that I knew I had to just keep going and that’s been my motto my whole life. For the last year I’d continued to apply for a position with Byker Grove, as you know I loved the show and could think of nothing better than working there. Again, time after time they kept replying saying they had no positions available but, one day they got back to me and asked me to go for an interview the next day as a runner. I couldn’t believe my luck, I was so excited and so the very next day I drove up to Newcastle and I actually got the job!
For those of you who don’t know what they are, they’re like they are the legs of all the team members – dashing around doing all the little essential jobs those busy on set can’t do, I did everything from make cups of tea to hanging out in costume and make – up being ready to update the director when the cast were ready to a whole host of other things. This was a dream come true and I’d be working with all of the cast, it was brilliant. I got to work alongside the cast and throughout the day I’d often take the young actors to and from school, and I got to know them quite well.
As a fan of the show it wasn’t just a job for me, it was a dream come true and because the Directors and Producers knew this they would sometimes let me read the scripts a little earlier and ask me to feedback to them, I loved this and felt like I was in such a privileged and lucky position. I remember one day at work, the producer said they were going to bring back some of the old cast members for a funeral in the show and she let me have a peek at the script and swore me to secrecy about the storyline.
I found out from that read that Ant and Dec would be coming back, they were my favourites and I was over the moon I’d finally get to meet them. I’ve always had a soft spot for Dec and always wanted to marry him when I was at school (sad I know) but, I’d been convinced back then that when he saw me he’d want to marry me (laughter). I got up extra early that morning and I met them both at the call time of 6am for the show, they were both lovely lads and very down to earth.
Whilst at Byker I got on well with one of the Directors of the show and he let me go with him into schools to help find new ‘grovers; on behalf, We delivered workshops for the grovers and I loved it, that and working day to day with the youngsters who were on the show was so much fun and rewarding, it was probably then I knew I enjoyed working with young people.
Byker Grove filmed from March to August so I always had September to February off and during this time I heard from a fellow runner at Byker Grove that Harry Potter was going to be filming in Alnwick and they were looking for extra runners. At the time no one knew how big Harry Potter would become but, I was so excited nevertheless to be on a big film shoot. At the end of the job I went back to Byker Grove but, a friend of mine (my fellow runner), decided to take a chance and go to London with them and last I heard he worked on all eight Harry Potters.
You mentioned that an exciting opportunity arose for you at Byker Grove, what was that?
During the last few weeks of filming for the next series the 2ndAssistant Director decided to leave and as there was only a few weeks left they’d asked if I would step in for the next 4 weeks, so I thought ‘Why not!’ They thought that I did a good job and then asked if I’d return the following year as 2ndAssistant Director, even though it was a big jump for me I took the opportunity and I’ve never regretted it.
In fact this led me onto my next job, a Make Up artist friend of mine told me about a freelance 2ndAssistant Director’s position going at Hollyoaks, so I applied and got it. I loved working there too, Whilst I was there I had opportunities to spend time in some other departments and it gave me a really good grounding. I worked in design for an episode, spent time in the scheduling department which was really interesting as well as my work in the AD team, It was a fab place to work and I loved Liverpool and of course the majority of the cast members were of a similar age to me so it was really good fun. I worked freelance at Hollyoaks picking up blocks of filming here and there and came back to Newcastle to work on a CBBC show called ‘The Stables’ in between.
It was during this time that I met my now husband Richard and everything changed from that point forward.
How did the two of you meet?
It was during a night out when I was home at Christmas time celebrating my friend’s engagement. We were out celebrating and I met him in a local night club, he got chatting to a friend of mine and she introduced us and he took my phone number and arranged to call me and take me on a date. He lived in Pickering and I was living away so I had no idea how it would work but, I liked him and vice versa so we went on a date.
He drove all the way from Pickering the very next day and the rest is history really. We continued to date and then got engaged and it was at this point I decided to not take as much freelance work down at Hollyoaks and find something closer to home as I wanted to get married and start a family. Richard moved up here to the North East and I secured a job in the Box Office at The Arc in Stockton just to keep me amused while I found my next TV job. The Youth theatre that was held at ARCs tutors found out my background and they asked me to help out a couple of Saturdays as they were doing some film, I stayed on a little longer after the project ended and when the tutors decided to move on I took over and found myself working with a group of young actors again.
The box office work wasn’t exactly what I had set out to do but, I really enjoyed that job, it had regular working hours and I had lovely friends and enjoyed my ‘Saturday job’ and it was whilst working there when I got chatting to a guy called, Mike McGrother. He asked me again about my previous roles and experiences in TV and he said the college he worked at had a temporary vacancy for a Media lecturer and asked if I’d like to get involved. He said that the lecturer had left fairly near the end of term and that they needed someone to finish the year off. At first, I was apprehensive as I’d never taught but it was short term and I certainly knew about the industry.
I loved it and the college were pleased with the work I’d completed so they asked me if I’d like to stay on and they put me through my PGCE. I left my job at ARC and became a tutor and taught A Level Media Studies and over time the college developed a BTEC in TV & Film Production which I now teach, I was thrilled that the college set up and got this course approved as it was the perfect place to bring my expertise, knowledge and skills and share them with these student filmmakers. Whilst working in the college environment I realised that I’d found my vocation working with children and it was good to be able to sharing my TV work experiences with them. I feel so lucky to have had those experiences and I’ve kept in touch with so many friends who still work in the world of TV. Even now I’m able to share industry paperwork with my students and this helps them in their work, recently I had a sample of the story board from the Christmas Cadbury’s advert as my friend produced it and it’s good to be able to share this with my students as they get to see what real work looks like.
Alongside working at the college I continued to run the Youth Theatre group on a Saturday which grew to a huge team of 45 students and 4 staff, however after almost 1o years at the Arc I decided to go our separate ways and I decided it was time to set up my own performing arts group and that’s when ‘Page2 Stage’ was born.
How did you feel about setting up your own business?
Owning my own business has been something I’ve always wanted to do so it was like a dream come true but, of course I was nervous yet, excited at the same time. I’ve always stepped outside of my comfort zone and continued to do things that challenge me.
When I first started, we had no premises and no children registered for the course but, within the first week I made contact with a friend who said that Preston Park had been newly refurbished and asked if we’d like to become their resident drama group. When I visited the site I realised how beautiful the space and I was so excited to start holding my youth theatre there. When we opened the doors we weren’t sure how many children would attend our sessions but, once the children I’d worked with previously heard about me leaving the Arc and moving to Preston Park they all wanted to come. On our very first day all 45 kids turned up, this was the entire class I’d worked with previously but, I guess they’d enjoyed our groups so much previously that they wanted to be a part of this venture too, I was so pleased that they all came along as I’d worked with these kids for years and invested so much into them and in the same way they’d given me so much back too.
Page2Stage was born just as I had my second little girl Sophia, who is now 5 years old and my eldest daughter Poppy now 8 loved to be able to come to work with mummy and she’s a real natural performer who is at home on the stage and just loves getting involved. In fact both girls now get heavily involved in the work I do and my husband Richard gets involved too, it’s very much a family affair. The girls come to every drama class I teach and Poppy takes part in even my older Youth Theatre group and she has always happily played a little role in our productions and I’m happy to say she’s practising for her first lead role currently, which were so excited for.
How has the business grown since its launch?
We’ve grown so much since we started and we’re now in our 5th yearand the business has developed 3 areas that we work in mostly. We continue to teach performance and we have 2 different classes, we have Youth Theatre Classes for 9-18 year olds and our Little Stars performing arts classes for 4-9 years old.
We’ve expanded the business and love the experiences being the resident performance group at Preston Park brings us, we create performances which are held in Preston Hall and the grounds that enhance their in house events such as the Wizard and Witches event, Teddy Bears Picnics and so much more.
A number of years ago we had some older performers who wanted Saturday and weekend jobs so after we held a character themed birthday party for my eldest daughter Poppy where these elder students dressed up as Alice in Wonderland characters and played party games in character we started to get asked by other parents if we’d provide the same service for their child at their party. At that time this was a niche in the market so we asked if our older performers would like to get involved and they did and Page2stage parties was born! Now many years on we have 64 characters you can have an a team of 25 freelance performers working for Page2 Stage. We still continually recruit the older performers as staff and they have helped to shape and mould our business going forward.
What are your plans for Page to Stage for the future?
I’m just enjoying the journey and we seem to have opportunities that just crop up for us from time and time and as I’m always up for a challenge I always take them on. This year we wanted to do an elf experience and we were given the opportunity to have our Elf Headquarters in Newcastle so children could come and meet the elves and Father Christmas and receive a gift from us.
It was a huge success as 700+ people came, but it was a lot of hard work but, it was great to be in the city centre and it was so good to be able to provide this type of thing to young families and children in the Newcastle area.
I’m so busy at the moment with what we’ve got on right now but, I would like to continue to grow in different areas, something I’ve considered before is having a Tiny Tots Drama so perhaps that’s something we’ll explore in the future.
Are there any things you’ve got planned personally and what would you still like to achieve?
Well, I’ve always wanted to work in TV, have my own business and write a fictional book those were the three things in my lifetime I’d always said I’d like to achieve and I’ve done two of them so all that’s left to do is write a book! I’m so busy at the moment that it’s hard to find the time but, I have written plays previously and loved it so I’m hoping in the future that’s something I’ll achieve.
As an individual I don’t really have huge desires or hugely materialistic things I’d like to have. I have already achieved the dreams that I set out to achieve and more and I’m the kind of person who likes to get the most out of life on a daily basis. I love experiences and I’d describe myself as a bit of a maverick, I love life and I try to make as many memories with family as I can, we’ll often pack up the car and just drive, not knowing where we going but, we’ll head off on an adventure. The most crazy time we did this we got up one morning packed some bags, made a skeleton plan and drove from the North East of England to Paris and headed to Disney! The kids were amazed we had gone on such a wildly crazy spontaneous adventure and in fact so were we. We have always loved and visited Disney since the girls were born but to do it in such an adventurous way was brilliant!
I am a bit of a dreamer but I feel that anything can be achieved if you put your mind to it and I want my kids to feel like anything is possible, goals and dreams can be hard to achieve but definitely not impossible!
As a family we work hard but, play hard too, I have a job that pays my mortgage and bills but, provides me with so much enjoyment and we’re always having fun and creating memories with our own family and the kids I work with and that’s my passion. As my own children grow I’m realising how quickly the time is going and I want to make sure that I cherish every moment with them and provide as many experiences as I can as a family too.
My husband is a teacher too so we both get the school holidays off and for that I feel grateful as we get to go on many adventures and indulge in as many experiences as we can. Many of them are days out or trips out in the car, they can be inexpensive too, as long as we’re together having fun that’s all that matters.
What’s the biggest life lesson you’ve learnt so far?
To treat everyone the way that you would like to be treated and I encourage my students to do the same. Respect is important and connections are important too in this world, it’s important to recognise the importance of these characteristics and traits as they will serve you in the future, so work hard, turn up on time, be kind to others, and work as a team and so on. In the world of both TV and theatre you never quite know who will be in a position of authority and perhaps they could be your employer in the future so make sure you stand out for all the right reasons.
My ethos is to never give up, just keep going, live for the moment and for a lot of the time it pays off. I teach our girls that they can be and do anything they want to in life. It’s good for them to see us working hard together as a couple and to see us having a go at things, I think kids can learn a lot from this.
I want them to always understand that life is about working hard but, playing hard too!