Q & A With Helen Mitchell, founder of A Blue Enigma

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Tell us a little bit about you?

I grew up in Hackney, and went to Shacklewell Primary School, and then onto Skinners Company School for Girls. Our headmistress was Teddy Edwards… not sure now as I write that that was truly her name or something someone made up and it stuck. I was a Prefect and Games Captain…

One of my teacher’s Mrs Lisak once said: “…it’s your duty to strive for more.”

I have always strived for more…

I loved school.

 

What were you into as a teenager?

Growing up I had friends from all cultural backgrounds. We were known as the ‘All Nations Posse’. Looking back this makes me smile; even back then I knew everything was only skin deep.

I was a huge Michael Jackson fan, and to be fair everyone loved Michael, and Musical Youth with ‘Pass the Duchie’ and Milli Vanilli were all loved but I hung out at Radio One hoping to meet my favourite DJs and groups. I knew the there was no likelihood of meeting Michael Jackson, and didn’t expect to. My favourite group was Haircut One Hundred, and I loved Spandau Ballet. Another Level and Culture Club were huge then too.

I grew up at a time when we rarely saw black people on TV, and when this happened you could hear the call across the neighbourhood: “Quick, quick there’s a black person on telly”; but during the late 70s through to the 80s there were more and more programmes starring and featuring Black people like: No Problem, Desmonds, on the backend of Love Thy Neighbour, Mixed Blessings, and Mind your Language and the cry was no more. It’s interesting to see Rudolf Walker from Love Thy Neighbour now featured in a popular Soap – EastEnders, as Patrick and how his career has developed. Now, our cry is different and we no longer just want to see people of colour on our screens we are desperate to see us in different types of roles ensuring that we are all represented.

My all-time favourite film is Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life about a Black, and a White, mother and daughter who share a house and their trials and tribulations when the Black daughter chooses to pass as White. Powerful and everyone of all hues should watch and learn about ourselves and the world we live in. Not much has changed! A more contemporary film which I absolutely love is Amma Asante’s Belle. A delicious film about a young Black woman growing up in English aristocracy.

 

Did you have a plan once you left school?

Before I left school, we all had career advice. They were, I suspect, meant to offer us career options and ask us questions about what we enjoy and what we feel we’re good at. Well, the woman asked me what I wanted to do, which was become a Journalist. She completely ignored this and suggested I take up nursing. I don’t remember being disturbed about the total lack of ambition she had for me. To me, it wasn’t my concern. However, it concerns me now as she could have swallowed my potential; and I wonder how many others didn’t follow their dreams based on her deficiency.

 

Tell us a bit about your career journey?

I didn’t go straight to university. I was blessed to get into the London College of Printing, which was a prestigious college for anyone wanting to get into Journalism. I chose to go to university in my late 20s because I fancied a specific course. There was not a need to have been to university to get into most professions, if you had a spark, initiative and worked hard everything was possible.

I did become a journalist, and I worked in TV Production, was a Film Executive and worked in Business Development in the UK, US, Hong Kong and Switzerland.

Often, I was the only Black person in an organisation. It meant I had to work twice as hard and be twice as bright. I didn’t have time to consider my gender. You learn early that most internal promotions are decided at the pub, connections and collaborations happened at the pub or on the golf course. You realise early that networking is key to the business world turning. Importantly, you don’t have to like someone to work with them. Be professional, always.

My career journey has been dynamic – I have been headhunted into many of my roles and although they appear varied they all allow me to realise a vision and bring it to fruition; be it on paper, on the big or little screen, in business or events.

 

What do you do now?

I run an international event specialist company. A Blue Enigma caters to the corporate and luxury market. I have worked with several organisations like Chivas, Omega, Government, Macmillan Cancer Support and Debrett’s to name a few.

 

What challenges did you have to overcome as a teen?

Growing up I don’t remember thinking of anything being a challenge. You either did something or you didn’t. I came from a one parent family and saying it aloud sounds odd as I never thought of myself as this. My dad has always been in our lives. Many of my friends commented how lucky I was because my parents got along and liked each other. I think this can play out in children, and young adults psyche.

In my teens, I always saw myself living in the US and did for a while whilst I studied and worked there. I came back to the UK temporarily but the temporary became permanent. It was a challenge dealing with this, but I realised you must live in the present and be thankful for what you have and where you are and make the most of your unseen benefit.

Michelle Obama has said: “Our challenges is our advantage.” How wonderful to think this way?! I do believe that everything that happens is for a reason. We choose how we react. We choose what is next. It is up to us to ensure there is a next.

 

Who inspired you growing up?

I was constantly inspired growing up by my parents and how they chose to live their lives; with a couple of my teachers who strived for the best in me and encouraged others. By Oprah Winfrey, as a Black woman, who had experienced challenges beyond my vision and who persevered with failings and worked until success was tangible. By my brothers, Simon and Remi who constantly support and love me. By my nieces, Shianne and Marley who I can see will inspire many with each day that passes. I remain continually inspired by Barack and Michelle Obama, who are an exemplary President and First Lady. I am inspired by their children Malia and Sasha who too will inspire others. The world is bright as I consider you too who have the power to lead and inspire your family, friends, and people like me.

 

What are your three top tips for a teen today?

  • Be thankful
  • Be solution oriented
  • Enter a room with confidence and a sense of belonging

 

Quote of the day:

Haben Girma, first deaf-blind student to graduate from Harvard Law School. She is now working as an attorney at Disability Rights Advocates. She is fighting for accessible education for other deaf-blind people, worldwide. Her message for the many with disabilities is:

“You have the power to influence your future. Keep learning, keep developing new ways to engage with the world, and keep believing that you have talents to share with the world.”

I love this not because she has a disability but because she speaks into many people’s lives. No matter what is going on in your life you have the power to be more!

 

Website: www.blueenigma.co.uk

Twitter: @BlueEnigmaevent
Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/helenmitchelleventspecialist?trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile

 

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