After a successful career in TV – prompted by a dream to work on children’s show Byker Grove – Kelly Fairhurst is now a course leader at Stockton Riverside College and loves helping young people trying to achieve their dreams in TV and production.
Where do you call home?
Stockton-on-Tees. I’ve lived all over the country, but home is Stockton now. I live in Yarm but I’m originally a Norton girl.
Tell us about your role?
I am course leader for film & TV production and acting for stage and screen at Stockton Riverside College. I also run my own community youth theatre and events company.
How did you get to where you are today?
My journey started at school as an avid fan of a new children’s TV show, Byker Grove. I knew that all I wanted was to work on the show. I loved drama at school and writing stories and I could see that making TV shows for people like myself would be something I would love. I worked hard at school and at 13, I wrote a letter to the producer of Byker Grove, Matthew Robinson, asking for advice on how to get a job on his show. He wrote back to me with lots of detailed guidance and I’m grateful for his time as I followed every step. After completing my degree in media production and doing a lot of work experience everywhere I could, I was finally lucky enough to be given a runner’s position at Byker Grove (the job means you run around doing jobs for everyone on the crew). I couldn’t believe it – my dream had come true! The show was based in Newcastle, and I loved every second of being there. I worked as hard as possible and was moved up to 2nd assistant director in my first year. My jobs at Byker Grove involved working with young performers and I loved this part of my job. After I’d been at Byker Grove for several years, a friend had moved to the teen soap Hollyoaks, so I decided to make the move with her to Liverpool to work on that show. I continued my role of 2nd assistant director but also worked in a few other departments such as the art department and the scheduling/production team.
My role in TV was that of a freelancer, which meant I was self-employed. I was able to work on many different shows in this part of my career, often in the genre of youth programming as this is a fairly specialist field, and I found working with and communicating with young people easy. I was even lucky enough to spend some time on the first Harry Potter movie when they were filming in the North-East!
After a busy and exciting time in TV, I got married and had two children. The hours are long in TV, so I decided it was time for a change and I was lucky enough to be asked to be lecturer in media at Stockton Riverside College. At the college, we have developed a film production course, which allows me to share my experiences and knowledge with young people, who were like me! I’ve never forgotten how important the letter from Matthew Robinson was in my journey, and I always try to give the best guidance I can. We have put together an independent film company as part of the course called U films and I help the students to run that and gather their own industry experience. This is something that I found so hard, therefore it’s something I am incredibly proud of.
At the same time I started working with the college, I decided I wanted to continue working with young performers and started to teach drama at the local arts centre, ARC. After 10 years, I went on to open my own community youth theatre, which would be affordable for all young people. From there we have started an events company, giving employment to all the young graduates of Page2stage, which is a lovely feeling. I’ve developed my skills over the years and now I also lead the “acting for stage and screen” course at the college. It works beautifully with the film course and just opens so many more doors to young actors, knowing the two different disciplines. We have even started our own theatre company, just like U films, this year. My journey now is about helping others and trying to set them on the right path to achieve their dreams, as I did.
What struggles or obstacles did you face along the way?
The biggest struggle was the lack of belief in my dream of working in TV at school, because it was deemed “different” that put it out of my reach. I was told to try something like hairdressing, but all I wanted to be was Steven Spielberg! This made me more determined, but it was up to me to drive it. Film is deemed a man’s world from the outside, but it’s incredibly supportive and nurturing and is an industry that plays to people’s individual strengths. However, there as not as many girls in directing or producing – I was lucky enough to have a female producer, who encouraged other females to work up the ranks, and today she is still one of my biggest supporters.
It was also difficult to get my foot in the door at the start and I did a lot of free work or work placements in almost any media role I could. I wrote hundreds of letters and got hundreds of rejections, but I persevered. The media industry is much more accessible now in the north, but it was a little needle in a haystack back then. It’s a big part of why I try and empower my own students to make their own opportunities where they can.
Describe the moment you first got a feel for success?
The day I walked through the doors at Byker Grove and signed in, I knew it was the start of something brilliant. I’d wanted it so long and I’d worked so hard, I just loved the feeling of achieving my aim. I continually set myself new goals and challenges (much to the stress level of my friends and family) but I really get a buzz from working hard for something that feels out of reach and achieving it. I believe that if you want something, you should work hard to get it and I want my daughters to be like that – and, of course, all the young people I work with. A real moment of success in teaching is hearing from learners who have achieved their dreams. They call to thank me and often say I am the first person they have told – there is no feeling like it!
Do you have any advice for aspiring young females?
I get many young women whose dream is to be a director or cinematographer, but there is a real lack of famous females in industry in these roles, so they see fewer female role models. My advice is that nothing is impossible – work hard and keep pushing, there is no argument with real talent and pure determination. Work hard to be the change, work hard to be those role models you have craved.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Keep going, keep dreaming, keep challenging yourself and don’t be afraid to be proud of what you’ve done. It is only now that I can reflect on how well I’ve done. I wish I could have seen it more as I was going along.
What three words inspire you and encourage a positive path?
Keep on going!
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