Our Students - Monica Macdonald

I opted out by: Committing
career suicide to to become a student

MONICA MACDONALD, 39, from London, had a life of parties, new clothes and great
holidays, but something was nagging at her that this wasn’t what life was all about.

Until autumn 2007, my life was fun and glamorous. I had been a radio sound engineer for eight years – I worked on live shows, which was always exciting. I had a happy, comfortable life and could have stayed there forever, but I was also aware I had gone as far as I could go and there wasn’t any way for me to progress professionally.

I started feeling envious of the radio presenters I worked with, who just totally loved turning up to work. I liked my job, but I felt there was something else I wanted to do. I had always been interested in training as a make-up artist; I just never seemed to have the money to pay for a course. My wake-up call came when a friend told me about Christine Blundell – a film make-up designer – who was setting up a make-up academy. Hearing about it, I had this overwhelming feeling of, ‘God, I have to do this.’ I thought that, if I didn’t try now, it would be too late and, one day, I’d look back and wish I had taken the risk.

I didn’t just wake up one day and decide to resign and go back to college. Planning ahead was vital – I live alone, so no-one else was going to pay my mortgage. I had to make sure I had enough put aside to pay it, while I wasn’t earning. As well as giving up my salary, the three-month course costs £7,500 so, in the few months leading up to the autumn course, I learnt the art of saving. It was good for me, though – it made me realise I don’t need as many clothes as I thought I did.

The day after my leaving do, I thought, ‘Oh God, what have I done?’ I even had doubts throughout my training. When something was harder than I thought it would be, I couldn’t help thinking that I had left a great job to do this and now I couldn’t actually do it.

At 39, I was the oldest person on the course by a long way. But I think I pushed myself harder because I was that bit older. I’d already been working for years, so I wanted to be a success now. Also, when you’ve given up a lot to do something, you simply can’t afford to fail. We were taught to expect to start at the bottom – that, for the first couple of months, we’d be doing the tea runs. That’s fine if you’re 18 and you’ve just finished school, but I had already worked for years – and in an environment where other people made me the tea…

I have been lucky. I started working freelance in March 2008 and already I’ve done two films, a music video and a commercial. One of the films was The Boat That Rocked, the new Richard Curtis film, with Bill Nighy, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rhys Ifans. As we filmed on a boat in the middle of the sea, I stood there looking around me and had a real, ‘This is why I did it’ moment.

No-one tells you how great it feels to be in control of your life. Everyone talked about the financial instability of being freelance but, even though I’m not on a regular salary, I feel more in control than ever before. I have to be disciplined, making sure I don’t spend every last penny I have. I used to be scatty about receipts, but now I have to have everything filed in the right place. It’s like I’ve taken charge of my life.

‘As I was filming on a boat
with Bill Nighy and Rhys Ifans,

I thought, “This is why I did it”’

Monica on her course at CBMA London

TOP: Monica on her course at
the Christine Blundell make-up
academy