There’s a reason why most of the most famous and successful actors in the UK are white and educated at public school — and it’s very simple — money talks.
I suppose it has always been the case that art, in most of its forms, is still in 2021 largely the place where wealthier people can build a successful career. This has been brought home recently to my children in various ways.
If you are from an ordinary family, don’t live near a thriving acting or performing arts club with direct routes to market, and are one of the so-called ‘squeezed middle’ then you will find a career as an artist, musician, actor, even a journalist, very difficult to achieve. Like other sectors, including the world of the barrister, there are several reasons for this — a lack of money, a lack of contacts, a lack of education and the fact that to build experience you often have to work for nothing, or via an internship and many talented people cannot afford to do this. Therefore they don’t bother.
Three of my children have experienced this so far and it makes my blood boil that we live in a society where we are excluded because we don’t tick any of the boxes when it comes to working in the arts. It was hard enough for me back in the late 1980s to get a job as a journalist. I had no contacts, no one I knew was a journalist, and it took me two years to even get an interview vaguely relevant to my chosen career. I didn’t get that job but I kept plugging away while training to be a teacher and working in a shop to earn some money. I was often told ‘get work experience’ but I couldn’t afford to work for nothing. My parents were on low income, they were even meant then to supplement my grant but they simply couldn’t afford it.
My ultimate aim was to work in television as a journalist and I achieved this finally aged 29. When I did my first paid day (on a six month contract, no permament role) I was one of only two in the room who had not gone to private school. In this environment, I felt like a fish out of water. I felt they were probably all better than me. It took a few weeks for me to find out that was not the case. I was of value, I could do the job I was finally be paid to do. However as a working class girl, who had left a newspaper job, had a mortgage to pay, I took a huge risk to leave that security to work for less money…