Kate Reardon by Rankin
On Saturday 5 July Tatler‘s editor, Kate Reardon, made a speech at Westonbirt School for Girls, which prompted some debate. Kate has very kindly allowed us to share the speech in full with you for our special week of inspiring the young. With many school leavers embarking on a new direction, and exam results looming, this sound advice is both extremely relevant and valuable.
“Research shows that people are more frightened of public speaking than they are of death. And here I am, in front of nearly 200 teenage girls who just want to go home… No matter who you are, no matter how ‘big’ your job, some things will always be scary.
What I have learned is that you need to say yes to scary. Scary is where you learn. And man, it makes you feel alive.
Right now, you are being asked to make more decisions than you have ever made before, you are being scrutinised and evaluated constantly. You are wondering which university to pick, what to study when you get there, whether you should go to the same place as all your friends, or branch out on your own.
I can’t help you with any of that.
I didn’t go to university. At the age of 19, I went to New York and, through what I am now convinced was a series of stupidly lucky breaks and at least one case of mistaken identity, I got a job as a fashion assistant on American Vogue.
I was entirely unqualified for life at American Vogue. If you’ve ever seen The Devil Wears Prada, you’ll know what my life was like – I was the fat, badly dressed one. They used to take bets in front of me on how long I was going to last.
But they were right.
I was absurdly unqualified. I’d come from a culture which, 30 years ago, placed no value in work for its own sake. When I was at school, it was totally cool not to do any work at all. Everyone pretended to sail through with no effort whatsoever. Those who did work hard were seen as incredibly lame. There’s a particularly British wariness of appearing to try too hard – it’s somehow distasteful, everything should come to us effortlessly and if you have to work at it, you’re somehow a loser.
For example, if you compliment an Englishwoman on her dress, she’s more than likely to say, ‘Oh, this old thing? Had it for ages, cat threw up on it last night, think I’ve managed to scrape the worst of it off.’ Whereas a Frenchwoman may just shrug as if to say, ‘Of course, I’m bloody gorgeous.’ But an American might say, ‘Thank you so much, I worked really hard to be able to afford it.’
So what I learned was the American work ethic…I learned how to work, and hard.
If you develop just one muscle, one skill, make it the ability to focus and just get on with it. It will not only make you desirably employable, but it will make you happy. I promise. I have a career I love more than I can tell you : it makes me happy every single day and I have it because I work incredibly hard pretty much every single day. And you know what? I’m really proud of working hard, not just the level of sucking up and free handbags I now get because of my job, but because it’s an achievement in itself.
After two years at American Vogue, I came back to England and was made Fashion Editor of Tatler at 21. I then became a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and three years ago I was given the job of Editor of Tatler.
When I first got there, I really struggled with Tatler’s position of immense privilege: it has the wealthiest readers of any magazine in England and so deals with the concerns of the very rich. Which could in this, indeed any, day and age be a bit icky. Then again, the business model of this very successful glossy magazine which employs many talented people and has the power to promote so many brilliant businesses is built on exactly that premise, and so it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Your education means you are already incredibly advantaged. Don’t be embarrassed, be grateful, but know that people will judge you, and may even resent you because of where you come from. Face that with humility, face that with kindness and face that with good grace.
I’m going to talk to you now for a few moments about what I see, as the current boss of young women such as yourselves.
You’ll have to forgive me if I sound like a nanny. But if I do, you kind of have no choice about sitting here and listening for a bit.
I’d like to talk about three things:
These are super-powers.
It doesn’t matter how many A-levels you have, what kind of a degree you have : if you have good manners people will like you. And if they like you they will help you.
I’m not talking about manners in some weird way about using the right spoon for soup or eating asparagus with your left hand. I’m talking about being polite and respectful and making the people you interact with feel valued.
Be tidy and organised. Being chaotic isn’t cute. Being shambolic isn’t endearing. Life is tough enough already, the competition for anywhere you lot want to go is unbelievably tough. Why would you make the process any harder than it has to be? Being organised isn’t some Divine gift, it’s just a muscle, and it’s entirely up to you whether you want to develop it. But I would.
Once you have an actual job, being kick-ass efficient and organised will get you a promotion and earn you more money. Believe me, 40 people work at Tatler and I notice this stuff.
Communication. I would argue that confident, verbal self-expression, the ability to express yourself with confidence and self-awareness, is now more important than it has ever been. You have all grown up with so many digital ways of avoiding face to face, eyeball to eyeball interaction. Never hide behind a computer or mobile phone if you want to communicate your truth, they need know who you are and they need to understand you.
And on that note I’d like to say thank you for having me.
Go off and have a wonderful summer. I hope you all have inspiring jobs and the good fortune to have wonderful happy families.”
We would like to say a huge Thank You to Kate for letting us share her speech in full with you on The Gaitpost. We hope you will agree that it really does give us all something to think about, whether a school leaver or not. Good luck with your exam results and we hope this has helped you as you take the next step or giant leap!
Watch some more of Kate’s advice here
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