Antonia-002370After I finished school I went to Art College in London to do a foundation course. I knew I wanted to study art and fashion but wasn’t exactly sure about what. After a year specialising in fashion I went up to university in Newcastle to do a degree in the history of modern art, film and design; a course I absolutely loved but with hindsight, hasn’t been particularly essential to my job at all. It was only towards the end of my degree that I found myself gravitating towards the presentation side of modules, which got me thinking…

I grew with Sarah Curran who was the founder of [and now the managing director of Very Exclusive]. Before my-wardrobe, her and her ex-husband had a boutique in Crouch End called Powder. Before I went to university, she was like, ‘I really want you to come on and help me do the buys’. I was about 19 at the time but she just thought I’d be really good at it.

While I was in university, she set up Who What Wear used to do videos on their website and Sarah saw accessible fashion videos quite rightly as become prominent on the Internet. So fresh from graduating, I drove all the way down to London from Newcastle and started at my-wardrobe on the Monday, researching and presenting the features; it was a dream job and an amazing platform to learn.

I was the stylist and the presenter of their channel my-tv. I’d press record and then run out in front of the camera. I’d do all of my hair and make-up and dress myself too. I learned so much and in the three and a half years I was there. I would write the scripts and I learned a huge amount about fashion, making it sound stylish without overproducing it. I’d assist on shoots and style so it was just the most unbelievable platform. I pretty much grew up there. My boss Leanne O’Shea was, and still is, one of my closest friends.

Being made redundant was one of the most difficult and stressful events of my life, even though I didn’t realise it at the time. I had been working a dream job for three and half years and was suddenly forced to rethink. It felt like a personal attack on me but of course it wasn’t. For anyone going through redundancy my advice would be to remember that it isn’t you; it isn’t your fault and it’s not about the quality of your work. Redundancy is not about being fired; it is now just a part of working in this very difficult working landscape. Lots of my friends have been in the same situation and it’s miserable but it can also be the start of something new and exciting.

It’s such a boring thing to say but I was just lucky to make that transition into TV presenting after leaving my-wardrobe. It was just a really luck string of events. My first flirt with TV came totally out of the blue. It was 2011 and Grazia magazine asked me to do a video and feature on vlogging, talking through my style and recent purchases. As luck would have it an executive producer at ITV saw the video and called me asking if I would be able to cover the live fashion feature on Lorraine and of course I said ‘yes!’ despite not having any live experience! I barely slept and was so nervous, but the show went well and they asked me to come back the following week, then the week after and it lead to having my own weekly fashion feature ‘Style Dilemma’ – it was mad!

I was surprised at how comfortable and confident I felt. The adrenalin was fierce but I managed to get to the end without any embarrassing problems. It was August and Emma Bunton was covering for Lorraine so of course as a nineties kid I couldn’t believe I was sharing the sofa with a Spice Girl. I was seriously thrown in the deep end but that was the best way and such an amazing first experience of live TV.

I was so scared but when I look back at the video now I’m so proud of it because I don’t actually look too  nervous.  When I got there they said that I’d just be talking about how you wear clothes in August when it’s hot one minute and cold the next. But then they wanted me to actually talk through three models looks and reference a VT too. Baptism of fire, oh my God yes, but you’ve got to just roll with it. I really feel like it was turning point. I got Style Dilemma off the back of it – it was only a three-minute piece each week but it was my own little show and I was so proud of it.

I have always maintained that if someone thinks you can do something, you just must be able to do it. Sarah took me on at My-Wardrobe because she thought I’d be great at it, so I just thought, ‘if you think I’d be great at it than I can.’ And then with ITV, they asked me back so I thought I must be able to do this. That is what I apply to even the scariest jobs. Of course I can do it!

Being made redundant was one of the most difficult and stressful events of my life. It felt like a personal attack on me but of course it wasn’t. For anyone going through redundancy my advice would be to remember that it isn’t you; it isn’t your fault and it’s not about the quality of your work.

I love the feeling of nerves and butterflies ahead of a big meeting or job, mad as that may sound. The best way to manage nerves is to feel confident through being prepared, never underestimate the importance of being professional and organised for a job, which will in turn keep you cool, calm and confident. This is what I always try to do anyway! If you feel excited about a new project and confident in your decision then that is a great start; don’t underestimate where a random meeting, job or bump opportunity may take you. Like with most things I weigh up what is important and what the outcome might be? Are there any negatives? Where might it take me?

There’s a real niche for fashion experts on TV right now. There are people who are established as TV presenters like Tess Daly, Dermot O’Leary but there aren’t many who are authorities in a specific area. I still get impressed myself when I see the ‘expert’ credit under my name! The role of the TV presenter has really changed over the past 7 years since I have been in the industry. The audience has become savvier and want to be part of relevant conversation as opposed to just watching a talking head; TV shows have to try and keep up with the constant feed of hot-off-the-press information from the internet which is not easy.

I think with celebrity there is such fanfare and those stars who want their fifteen minutes of fame but that has never interested me; I would rather work hard and be known for being a great presenter above anything else. I’ve never wanted to be a gal about town. I think you need to be a little bit of that but also be known for what you do. You never want people to turn around and ask, ‘what does she do?’

THE-LIFESTYLE-EDIT-ANTONIA-O'BRIEN-1I feel really lucky to have worked with such cool, sassy and intelligent women; they were all an absolute pleasure to work alongside. Fearne is an inspiration because she has worked in the industry for years and established herself through grafting and I admire that. She told me that she has had some difficult TV situations but you just get up and get on with it. I remember talking to one high profile presenter and couldn’t believe that she also has those moments in between jobs when she thinks ‘s**t what’s next?’ Moral of the story is, everyone has their highs and lows.  What I have learnt is everyone has off days and questions themselves, even those with stellar careers; work hard, enjoy yourself and don’t take it all too personally.

Working as a stylist with Bees & Taylor (the styling consultancy that I set up with stylist friend Emily Giffard-Taylor in 2012,) fashion writer and TV host there is typical week for me! One day may be writing up a trend piece for the Huffington Post and working on a YouTube style video, another may be talking through a pitch with a TV producer and prepping for a client with Bees & Taylor; a week may look very different from the beginning to the end but that is what I love about my job.

I have to start every day with my ‘to-do’ list – a system that I am always trying to keep up to date but as friends will laugh, this isn’t always easy for me. I will get up, make myself breakfast of porridge with banana and honey (too much information?) and then I settle down to my laptop and work through my emails, tick off my to-do list. I like to maintain some sort of routine otherwise it can easily spin out of control; working out and meditating keep me on the straight and narrow when I am spinning lots of different plates.

If you’re considering going freelance and being self-employed, think about where your strengths lie and whether you truly love what you plan on pursuing. Are you able to keep to a schedule and are you good with time management? You will be your own boss so it is good to be strict (well, sometimes) and make sure you stick to your deadlines; it doesn’t sound sexy but it is important.

The fantastic side of freelance work is that you are in complete control; you may have a very busy couple of months but it means you are able to cut yourself some slack and take time off, knowing that you have worked hard and completed your projects. Of course you have to be realistic and manage how much time you take off; we would all love to take a sabbatical! 

It’s so important to make sure you allow time for yourself and loved ones; if I haven’t seen my family or friends for a while I start feeling a bit disjointed, they’re my lifelines. I have always kept my work and personal life separate, it is important not to blur the lines. And as for me time, I am great at me time! I am so happy on the sofa in my dressing gown, at the moment armed with Lena Dunham’s book ‘Not That Kind of Girl.’ 

I wouldn’t be where I am without the choices I have made, both good and bad; but the most important? You know what I really don’t know, but I do know not to regret decisions I have made and keep moving forward.

Images by Dvora for The Lifestyle Edit