I arrived a little early to meet Kristen and we met at a local bar and restaurant so we could chat over a glass of wine. Five minutes later Kristen appeared, apologising that she was late and that she’d got here as soon as she could. She’d had a busy day working with a group of students at the local college preparing and practising for their up and coming musical performance.
She arrived in gym gear and apologised profusely that she was in gym gear and that she hadn’t had chance to go home first for a shower, do her hair or even take a wash. For anyone who knows or has met Kirsten before they know that she could not look anything less than glamorous, even in her sweaty workout gear.
I’d met Kristen a couple months prior to this at a children’s party and met her through a mutual friend. I was immediately drawn to her positive energy and that big smile of hers which she’s wears every time I’ve seen her since. It’s clear to see that Kristen has a real zest for life and you can see why she’s surrounded by so many friends and family.
You can see that Kristen isn’t just like this in the pictures she posts on social media but, she’s like this in real life. She carries herself with such confidence and style and every time I’ve seen her she’s always happy and smiley!
Kristen shares her life story in this article and talks about the up’s and down’s she’s experienced throughout her life so far. Kristen has so many interests and passions and inspires so many young people to go on and follow their dreams too!
But, it wasn’t only this that drew me to want to interview Kristen for our ‘Living Proof’ feature it was the fact that she was a female entrepreneur too and she’s made a career doing the things she loves most. She does live a life she loves which has enabled her to pursue her many passions and that made her worthy of this LP interview.
Living Proof is a feature that we’ve had for a while here at AL but, it’s taken a number of months to get from interview to the published article as we’ve had such a busy first year and it looks like 2017 is going to be exactly the same, which is good news for us. However, Living Proof is a feature that will showcase all types of women and men and showcase how they’re living a life of purpose and passion – their way!
It could be freedom entrepreneurs, business men or women and/or even a stay at home parents, there are no limitations. You see, the way one person chooses to live their life is different to another and that’s the real beauty of it. We’re all made differently and we all have our own purpose and passion that we’d like to follow in this life and that’s just fine.
This feature will highlight those who are ‘Living Proof’ of living a life they love and we’ll follow their journey together through interviews and photographs of their life, their family and passions.
What were you like growing up Kristen?
As a child I always loved performing and from such a young age I identified my passion in life which was Performing Arts. As a schoolgirl I never wanted to go home, I always wanted to stay at school and learn more, practise more and take part in school plays and performance, even back then that was my passion.
But, that was about the only thing I did like about school, school wasn’t a pleasant experience for me and I didn’t really enjoy it. I hated certain subjects like maths and all I could think about was making it ‘big’ and becoming a superstar at the West End. I suppose I was like many other little girls at that time too!
Did you get to follow your dreams? What happened after school?
At 16 I went to Stockton & Billingham College, now Stockton Riverside College where Sara Durkin was my teacher, she was someone I really admired and looked up to and now I have the pleasure of working alongside her now and continue to admire her achievements
Up until the age of 18 I thought I was still in with a chance and I auditioned for Stage School but, then at 18 my dreams were shattered and my confidence hit rock bottom. I knew I wasn’t quite what they were looking for but, still thought I could make it. But, sadly I wasn’t tall enough or slim enough and I didn’t have perfect little features and because of that I wasn’t chosen. At 18 that was a hard knock to take!
But, I’m a resilient person and after a while I picked myself up and applied to St John’s University in York and I was accepted, I wasn’t quite sure if it was what I should be doing but, I just went with the flow and did it anyway! The best thing about being at university was that I was able to sing in local bars and restaurants which helped to pay my fees and I loved it. By doing this I was still able to follow my passion and sing and perform and for now that was enough.
3 years later I graduated with a degree in Dance & Communication Arts and even though I was thrilled I’d graduated I had no idea what I was going to do, so I headed back home and hoped for the best!
It must have been daunting not knowing what you were going to do, was it?
Absolutely and I doubted my decision every step of the way but, then a friend told me about a job that was becoming available at a local college in the Performing Arts department so I thought I’d apply, I had nothing to lose but, I honestly didn’t think I’d get it. But, I applied anyway and to my disbelief I got the role and I was over the moon, it was something for me to focus on and it was just the challenge I needed.
They took me on as a young 21 year old and asked if I’d like to work towards my PGCE and I shortly after I began teaching children under the age of 4 years old. It was such an amazing opportunity working at Stockton and Billingham College, now Stockton Riverside College I got to work with an amazing team who taught me so much.
Looking back I was so young but, I was eager to learn and I wanted to prove myself and do well in the role so I worked my socks off. As I was so young it was hard sometimes to be taken seriously and there were times when I wanted to put forward new ideas and new ways of working but, still felt like at times other colleagues thought I was still young and just starting out in my career.
I suppose they were right, I was young but, I had still some great ideas too so I didn’t let that stop me. I loved every minute of this job and I worked there for 10 years and made some amazing friends and had the opportunity to work with so many talented young people. I got to see first-hand the children’s skills and confidence grow and develop over time and that was the most rewarding part of the role, that was able to help make a difference in some way to them developing and growing as a person.
Our team was amazing and together we created so many brilliant performances and as I was doing well in my role in the last few years of working at the College I took on some leadership responsibilities too.
So when did you meet Scott (your husband)?
Scott and I met when I was home visiting my parents one summer and during a night out I met him in The Moby Grape. He asked if I’d care to dance and he had some really interesting moves (laughter). Of course I obliged and the rest is history!
Our song together is Dusty Springfield as there’s a line in that song that says, ‘You stopped and smiled at me and asked me if I’d care to dance. I fell into your open arms and I didn’t stand a chance.’
Last year we celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary in Paris and renewed our vows. This summer we’ve been together for 14 years in total, I married my best friend and my soul mate – I’m a lucky girl!
I know you thoroughly enjoyed your role but, I know you mentioned you wanted family too?
Yes, I’ve always wanted family and whilst I was at the college I fell pregnant with Matilda and we were over the moon. Matilda was just perfect when she was born and having Matilda and becoming a Mum gave me more confidence in both my personal and work life.
Matilda (Tilly) is now 10 years old and she has also followed in my footsteps and shares my love for Performing Arts. She loves singing, dancing and performing and now I get to experience it all over again with her. There’s times too where I work behind the scenes as Choreographer or Production Manager on the show that Tilly’s in and that’s lovely to share that together with her too and it means I get to spend every day with her and that’s the biggest bonus!
How did you fit in work and family?
Well, we managed and just after I returned to work after maternity leave my manager said that they were going to bring another Professional Choreographer into work with my group of students and at first I was really disappointed and wasn’t happy at all with their decision. But, in a strange turn of events it turned out to be one of the best things that could have ever happened.
The College enlisted the support of Mark Stuart-Hedges, he was an experienced professional performer and had worked on several shows in West End. From the minute we met we hit it off and as he had nowhere to stay as he wasn’t from the North East, I rather strangely invited him to come and stay with Scott and I.
Mark was and is a very talented and skillful performer and he has so much professional experience to call upon and when he teaches he was sharing all of this experience with not only the children but, me as well. When he came to the college I got the opportunity to work shadow him and ever since that day that we first met we’ve always kept in touch and he’s become one of my closest and best friends, he truly is like a brother to me.
He’s someone who I can confide in, someone who I trust and most of all someone who shares my passion for Performing Arts too! He’s one of the ones who made it in the West End and went all the way and he’s won awards and accreditation’s for his performances and I’m blessed to call him my friend. He’s had the opportunity to work with some of the most talented actors and actresses including, Samantha Barks and Nick Jonas and he’s been part of the Cameron MacKintosh Productions too.
When there’s an opening night and he needs a plus 1, he’s kindly asked me to go on several occasions and I have to say, I’m like a small child completely star struck when I see all these famous, talented people. I just love it and feel lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to do this and more recently he was Children’s Director for Mary Poppins which was amazing and he’s got so many other opportunities coming up for him right now which is brilliant, he deserves everything that comes his way. So I of course get to go and see these shows with him too. I’ve learnt so much from him he’s my go-to person.
I know you mentioned that shortly after this you and Scott received some bad news?
We did sadly, Scott has been my rock since we met and he truly is one of my best friends. But, a few years ago he started to feel quite poorly, it all started with a sore neck and Scott being a typical man didn’t want to go to the doctors but, then over time as it got worse he had to go.
Eventually, when he visited they carried out some blood tests and a few weeks later he received a letter to go to the hospital and when we arrived he had more blood tests but, in all honesty we didn’t think anything of it. We thought it was routine and he’d be fixed soon and we could go home and get back to our normal everyday life.
Looking back, I remember the day like it was yesterday, we arrived at the hospital and Scott went into the room and was told that his blood test results were back and they told us he had Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia but, we had no idea what that meant. It was so strange looking back because he told me and then we didn’t discuss it immediately, we just carried on as normal, I think we were both shocked.
I was so upset and really felt for Scott but, for the first four months I didn’t even cry, I suppose I was somehow still in shock and I just couldn’t believe this was happening to us. Soon after we learned that Scott’s condition was a lifelong illness he would have forever and that was the beginning of the journey for us with this.
At the same time at college we were told that some of us were going into redundancy consultations and by this point I hadn’t even told my team about our situation and Scott’s health issues. But, the opportunity came for me to take redundancy and I took it, it just felt the right and it came at the right time for me and my family.
How did Scott manage with the news?
Scott had to take one year off work with fatigue and I remember it feeling like it was the hardest years of our lives. It somehow felt like our life was falling apart and I felt resentment and frustration about why this was happening to us, our family – it didn’t seem fair.
Workwise, I picked up bits of teaching here and there and I worked with a friend, Jay Patel in her Deli for three months in Ilkley and came back home at weekends to see Scott and Tilly and it was really hard being a weekend Mum but, I needed to work and there was nothing else I could do. During this time my friendship grew even closer with Jay, we shared so many memories and continue to do so. I still can’t thank her enough for having us during this difficult time and supporting us through it all. She truly is like a sister to me and our friendship continues to grow closer as we grow too.
After 3 months I returned home to spend more time with my family. As Tilly began to grow she found her love for dancing to and I took her to a local dancing academy ‘Nadine’s Academy’ and I was impressed with their achievements, they’d achieved so much so Tilly started there. Then shortly after I ended up teaching there too and I absolutely loved it. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.
After a year Scott started to feel better and started exercising again and during a trip to Paris he cycled in the Champs Elysees in an organised event and during this trip we watched the Tour De France too, this was a real turning point for us. We all went as a family as Tilly shares his love for cycling too and we had the best time. Paris is one of our favourite places in the world and we visit it as often as we can!
So where does OMG Photography feature in all of this as I know that’s something you and Scott are passionate about?
Well, as Scott got better he became interested in photography and a friend needed some wedding photographs doing so Scott did them and he did a great job. So much so that when her friend saw them, she asked if he’d do hers too and that’s how it all began for us.
We saved for new equipment, bought new lenses and learnt how to work the equipment and the business went from strength to strength. Scott was always very technical and I love the creative aspect of photography so it works well, the two of us working together. So shortly afterwards we launched OMG Photography and the recommendations have come flooding in and we’ve received some amazing, genuine heartfelt thanks from some of our clients.
It seems as though you and Scott have a range of things you’re both passionate about, would you say that’s true?
We do, yes (laughter)! We’re always doing something. I love all aspects of my work from photography to wedding make up, to providing singing lessons, leading and managing productions and I still love singing myself, I’m in a band called ‘Lady & The Tramps’ so now and again I still get to perform.
What’s the biggest life lesson you’ve learnt so far?
It’s that you never know what’s around the corner, so you’ve got to live life fully and do what you love! There are months when I go from one job to another and more recently secured a part time role back at the college. I love that you never know what opportunities are around the corner and I love living my life in that way.
I love the freedom, the excitement and the thrill of it all. We’ve had some of our best nights when we’re skint and just ‘making the best of it!’ Life was tough for us as a family for a while but, we came through it and we were very lucky to be supported and surrounded by some amazing friends and for that I’m eternally grateful!
I’ve always had a real zest for life and lots of positive energy around me and the lifestyle I’ve chosen and the family I have continues to inspire me every single day. I’m ‘Living Proof’ that you can live a life you love; you’ve just got to design it and live it the way you want to!