NATASHA DEVON MBE
Natasha Devon MBE is a writer, campaigner & pundit. She tours schools and colleges throughout the UK, delivering talks as well as conducting research on mental health, body image, gender and social equality.
A leader in her field, she regularly gives evidence to the Education and Health Select Committees, representing the interests of teenagers and teachers.
Natasha has co-authored several books, writes regularly for the Guardian, is a former columnist for Cosmopolitan Magazine and currently has a weekly column in The Times Educational Supplement, @tes.
In 2016, the Sunday Times and Debretts named Natasha one of the 500 most influential people in Britain.
Natasha is co-founder of charity Body Gossip, a certified trainer for Mental Health First Aid England and B-eat (formerly the Eating Disorders Association).
Natasha, welcome to the Leadership interview
How do you start your day?
My morning can start anywhere between 3.30am and 8.30am – depending on what the day has in store for me – but those first few hours are nearly always my favourite.
I smear my face with a Lush all in one mask/wash and let it work it’s magic while I drink a cup of tea and go through any emails that have come in overnight. It’s a moment of stillness before the mayhem begins!
What was your first job and what is the worst job you’ve ever done?
I was lucky, in that my very first job at 16 was really lovely. I worked at weekends as a sales assistant in a cuckoo clock shop in Finchingfield, which is often called the ‘prettiest village in the Essex’.
The shop sold all these amazing, hand crafted items from the Black Forest and smelled divinely of trees.
The only downside was that I had to listen to ‘authentic’ yodelling mix CDs all day which played out against a backdrop of constant cuckooing – The clocks weren’t all set to the correct time!
My worst job was about a year later, when I took a Saturday role as a ‘supervisor’ at a children’s soft play barn. I lived in constant fear that something would happen to one of the children on my watch, regularly had to clean up wee and vomit and on more than one occasion had wrung-out parents screeching at me for no logical reason other than their extreme tiredness.
What advice would you give to others about furthering their careers?
Every week I get emails from people saying ‘I admire what you do and would love to help, somehow’.
The sentiment is appreciated, but the onus is then placed on me to find out who they are, what they can offer and think of ways we can work together which I don’t have time for.
Approach people with well thought-out proposals and set them out succinctly (if they want more info they’ll ask). Think about who you might have in your current contacts who might be able to give you some advice or introduce you to the right person.
Always be nice to the person who brings you tea – as my Grandad used to say, ‘You meet the same people going up as you do coming down.’
Who inspires you and why?
I could give a hundred examples, here, of which the following are just a few:
Eddie Izzard – I love how he’s unapologetically himself and has achieved so much through sheer determination.
Maggie MacDonnell – Global Teacher of the Year 2017 and has done incredible things to improve the quality of life and mental health of young people in areas of the world that have been colonised.
Munroe Bergdorf – Diversity campaigner who just keeps calmly saying what she knows to be true in the face of a tidal wave of misunderstanding and bile and is empowering others in the process.
Russell Brand – To me he represents the ability to evolve, grow and, crucially in the age of indelible digital footprints, change your mind under the glare of the media spotlight.
Do you think a talent to lead is nature or nurture?
A combination of both
How can a leader fail? Do you have a personal example?
You can fail as a leader if you care too much or too little about what other people think.
It’s really important for me, as an educator and campaigner, that I’m reflecting the interests of the people I purport to represent, even if they don’t exactly mirror mine, (an example would be changing the sizes of mannequins in shop windows – I backed that movement, not because it affects me personally, or would even have occurred to me to notice, but because I knew a lot of people out there considered it important and I understand their reasons why).
However, it’s also crucial to realise that you can’t please everyone and to do what you think is right.
The mistakes I have made have always been a result of letting someone else talk me into doing something that didn’t permit me to be authentic, or allowing myself to be bullied into submission and silence.
Remember that, ultimately, the only person you can truly rely on is yourself and you’re the one that has to live with your decisions.
What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
My greatest strength is in making things happen. I can take something from idea to reality, fast.
I’m also good at articulating complex ideas in a way big groups of people can relate to.
My weaknesses are my attention span – I have an incredible amount of initial enthusiasm but tend to lose interest quickly.
I also hate being told what to do and can be pointless contrary, which presented quite the problem before I was my own boss!
What do you find most challenging about being a leader?
I find it most challenging that the buck stops with you. I have occasionally been scapegoated by people or organisations I was working with for their genuinely terrible idea or standpoint. I just had to take it on the chin.
What are you most proud of?
I’m proud that what I do makes a tangible difference. I get messages every day from people who tell me what I have said or done has changed their perspective or their life for the better.
My job feels very ‘grass roots’, in that sense.
What’s your biggest self- indulgence?
I live in a smallish flat and my husband often jokes that the entire place is essentially my walk-in wardrobe.
I used to work in the fashion industry and have retained an enduring love for experimenting with style. Accessories are a particular weakness.
These range from kidnap/hostage scenarios, Grand Prix, SAS, Tivoli roller coaster crash, dance and RNLI immersive experiences.
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