Gemma Cairney, 26 // Radio and TV presenter
From fashion styling to radio and TV presenting, Gemma Cairney has the sort of super cool smorgasbord CV that makes our own LinkedIn profiles look totally lame.
Here, Gemma talks LB through her career to date, and why we’ll find her trekking up Mount Kenya in September…
When people ask you what you do for a living, what do you say?
My face creases and if I’m feeling serious I’ll say broadcaster, but most of the time I say I’m a presenter.
You went to the BRIT School – did you always want to be famous?
Perhaps yes, but not for the type of fame that is so widely desired today.
I studied Theatre and learnt about Ibsen and Peter Brook – sounds a bit pretentious, but I was; I was sixteen and enjoyed having my mind boggled.
I wanted to be famous for doing something extraordinarily creative, rather than to be famous for just being ‘me’ and getting rich with a well airbrushed face.
Do your BRIT school studies mean can you sing and dance with jazz hands, Fame stylee?
Ha ha, I wish! I’m totally, totally shit at singing and love to dance mainly to garage music or nineties RnB on a sticky floor.
You famously styled the likes of Florence (of ‘and the machine’ fame), Kate Nash, Adele and Daisy Lowe – how did all that come about?
Styling is a tricky business; it involves social plate spinning in some ways – especially if you are trying to establish yourself, as I was at the time.
I’d given up on acting, I’d come to the conclusion that I just couldn’t be anyone but myself (no matter what book I read or what voice class I’d take)
‘Fashion’ was literally on my doorstop. I was living in Shoreditch at the time and going out and about to gigs and parties of friends – and friends of friends – in the evening and assisting big name stylists in the day. I would meet budding photographers / make-up artists all the time and we’d basically ask EVERYONE if we could do a free shoot with them.
A few of these people ended up being really well known, but not at the time that we were messing about with a dressing up box and jumping on things.
What prompted the move from fashion to presenting? How did you make it happen?
Just like my love affair with acting came to an end, so did my obsession for breaking it into the fashion industry. I was twenty two and wasn’t feeling happy at all; I was hardly earning any money – could hardly eat most days – and had come across some people I found repulsive.
I knew that there must be something else I could try that was more suited to who I am and what I’d learnt along the way. I decided ‘presenting’ would be perfect and thought about it a lot.
I learnt that I respected radio more than any other media; it was so theatrical and magical so I researched, got a bursary and did a twelve week radio course to learn how the hell to try and actually do it.
You’ve presented both TV and radio shows – which format do you prefer?
I’ve become a weird obsessed radio geek and adore it but the rush of doing live TV is hilariously cool.
Career highlight so far?
The last four years, that I’ve been presenting have gone so quickly and there have been so many moments that I’ll cherish.
I had always dreamt of meeting my queen, Erykah Badu, when I was younger – a few days before my birthday this year I was interviewing her in a back room of a members club, picking her brains for answers that I’d wondered for years since first discovering her music. It was a moment where I felt very proud and lucky.
How do you spend your time when you’re not working?
I have a group of friends that crack me up that I couldn’t live without. Most I have known since BRIT School and they’ve supported me at my darkest and brightest. We are like a big weird grown up family that rolls around North East London drinking red wine and always talking.
I also try and hang out with my boyfriend because our work schedules collide quite a lot, so we attempt to be normal and go for dinner.
And how does mountain trekking fit into all this?
I don’t really know – I’m bewildered! I’m quite a ‘yes’ person and at the beginning of the year when Trekstock – a charity that supports young people with cancer – asked me if I’d like to trek Mount Kenya, I instantly agreed. There’s no turning back after that is there?
Why Trekstock? You must get approached by zillions of charidees?
Initially I responded to Sophie Epstone’s (who is the founder of Trekstock) upfront approach. I like the way Trekstock thinks about merging the idea of charity and youth culture.
On a more specific note, I fortunately haven’t suffered from a loss or serious illness of anyone young in my lifetime, but know people that have. I have unfortunately experienced pain and sadness and want to help a charity that works tirelessly to prevent this.
What the bobbins does one wear up a mountain? Is it possible to look stylish?
Good fudging question, me and my friend Amy are both trekking and keep having this conversation on our training walks.
I’m going to take my big ugly walking boots on a trip to Terry de Havilland‘s studio as Terry and his wife have agreed to ‘see what they can do’. Which is a miracle seeing as Terry cannot stand to see a women in bad shoes. I’ve got some other plans up my sleeve too, watch this space…
Tell us what the ‘F’ in Project F stands for (we can think of a few things…)?
Ha, coming up for a name for a party is effing difficult ain’t it? At first it stood for ‘Fundraising is hard, fun is easier’. But as the party has developed so has the meaning. For example, the date is four days before I fly to Nairobi but is on the first day of Fashion week.
Song that best describes your life?
Oh gyad, gonna reference Erykah Badu again and her song, Apple Tree.
What would you like to do before you die?
Waaaaaaay too much. Luckily a fortune teller on Venice beach when I was on holiday in LA earlier this year told me I’d live till 104…
Project F: Fudraising is hard. Fun is easier...
Join Gemma Cairney and friends for an evening of music, dancing, drinking and raffling with all proceeds to Trekstock, supporting young people with cancer. £15/ticket (includes drinks to glug on arrival), available here.