Every Thursday for the past five months, you have been treated to a mouthwatering array of food photography from our resident snapper, Gill. Many people think that she is furnished with these great dishes and simply styles the shot and starts shooting. Not so people; she is creator, cook and chief tester of all of our recipes (unless you see the name of another chef or friend of SCBP).
As a fellow foodie, great cook and professional photographer, Gill was the obvious choice to join me on the Small City Recipes path. But of course, it’s not just skill that you need in a venture like this. Passion, drive and a happy willingness to muck in until we find the formula that works is all part and parcel when you’re trying to launch a new idea – and Gill has all of this and more by the bucket load!
Because of all of these reasons, and because she is one of the most genuine people you will ever hope to meet, it felt time to place our girl in the Big Personality hot seat and turn her into the dish of the week. And with 2015 bringing with it her 40th birthday what better way to celebrate her life so far?
Gill hails from Fife originally but as the child of a civil servant she moved around every three or four years and enjoyed most of her primary schooling in Gibraltar. She recalls a fantastic childhood spent with other expat kids at an International School but just before her thirteenth birthday her parents decided it was time to move back to Scotland and settled Gill into a Scottish education. Like most teenagers of the eighties, her career counselling involved writing her favourite subjects in a form and marking little boxes alongside random questions. Reams of hole-punched paper spewed out a few suggestions and as a bright, capable student she was pointed in the direction of uni. Geography was her subject, Town Planning would be her degree.
“I think when you’re young it’s really difficult to look outside the typical courses and subjects that are on offer and find your life’s passion. I was fairly bright and back in the eighties I think there was less opportunity for academic kids to explore creative subjects. I suppose I felt pressured to look at a course that was more ‘serious’. Town planning covered everything from economics to urban design and without consciously realising it at the time, it gave me mix I needed. To be honest, at the time I was just happy to be going to live in Edinburgh!”
The course was based at Edinburgh College of Art which was affiliated with Heriot Watt University and Gill was signed on for the five year MA with honours course. Just as she left home, her parents bought her a 35mm pentax camera which was to become her hobby and an outlet for her creative side. She loved every minute of university life; sharing a flat with three medics and a fashion student it was all carefree parties, rolling out of Uni at 3pm and straight into the Grassmarket.
“Work hard, play hard was our motto! No responsibilities, no need for anything serious. I had a placement at Cala Homes as a land buyer in my fourth year and this gave me a flavour of working life. By this time I had a serious boyfriend and I was thinking of life after graduation. You know how it is when you’re young though? It was quite often snap decisions and rolling along with where ever life took me.
I left Uni at 23 and within a year I was married, living in Dunblane – he was a doctor – and working in Paisley. I’d picked up a job doing landbuying with Keir Homes which was a great opportunity for a graduate. I can honestly say that at the time I’d made a life based on what my heart wanted but then we started to grow up and we realised that these big life changing choices had been made far too young.
After just a couple of years into our marriage neither of us was happy and it all ended just as I turned twenty five. I don’t have any regrets when I look back, I loved him at the time and he’s a great guy. But he wasn’t my guy. We were too young. But we’re human and we all make mistakes. You have to learn from them and move on.”
Gill knew she needed to get back to Edinburgh and she spotted a vacancy with Knight Frank, a big London based firm who were looking for someone to work on the new homes side of the business in Scotland. Gill threw herself into the job, building an enviable contact book and working from her position on the bottom rung, up to Associate in just four short years. She was agency side, acting for landowners and taking on the sale of the new properties for the house-builders.
“It was Edinburgh in the early noughties and property was still booming. I learned a lot but it was high rolling, big business, crazy times. Because our parent company was in London we were doing deals with London based investment firms and these guys would just turn round and buy fifty flats off plan without even blinking. There were so many developments in Edinburgh at the time and they wanted to secure the best property so they’d pay upfront forcing the growth of that insane market we were living in at the time.
It was exactly the right job at that stage in my life; working hard, out wining and dining clients seven nights a week, chasing the next deal. I know people will think of that as either impossibly glam or their worst nightmare. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it but it was a life that could only suit a young, single professional without kids. It was amazingly hard work and even more fun. I loved every minute of it.”
Gill was, as you’d imagine, soon headhunted by Savilles who had offices just two doors down from Knight Frank in Charlotte Square.
“I remember tip-toeing in to meet them, terrified I’d be spotted! Savilles didn’t have a new homes department in the East of Scotland and they invited me to come on board and head it up. Of course I snapped their hand off. Being courted by a big name like that is flattering and I was ready for a new challenge. To have the opportunity to set up this division from scratch and work with a Scottish based firm was exactly what I wanted.”
Gill worked at Savilles for 18 months, continuing the crazy hours and intense work practice. She tells me that she spent her time proving herself over and over again and that the fast paced start of setting up never once slowed down.
“Being a young female in a male dominated industry is really hard work. You constantly have to do more than the guy next to you in order to be taken seriously. I’m not saying for a minute that’s ok, or acceptable. I’m just saying that’s how it was. And I played the game just like everyone else; I gave into the environment and I worked, worked, worked.
The new division was a big success because of that but eventually I tired of it. I took a long look at myself one day and realised that I was working crazy hard for someone else’s gain.
I was proud of what I’d achieved but it was time to move on and do something for myself. I thought things would be less intense if I was self-employed and I had spotted a gap in Edinburgh for a property market analyst. I researched it and took the plunge, setting up as Kinnaird Property Consultants doing market analysis for developers. Keith supported my decision, encouraging me to go for it and because I wasn’t a direct competitor my old firm were one of the first to use my services.”
Ahhh – Keith! Gill met Keith in a bar, which may not sound too romantic but it is exactly where everyone met in Edinburgh in the noughties. She knew when he proposed after eighteen moths together that this time it was the real deal and that she’d found her guy.
“When I married Keith it was just after my thirtieth birthday. I had loved Edinburgh, loved my fast paced life but we both wanted to start a family as soon as possible - as a woman you get fearful for your fertility. There was time, I know. Some of my friends are having kids in their early forties but I was keen to get started!”
Looking for a change of pace, the newly-weds decided to look for a move to the country and found their ideal house in rural Perthshire. Gill fell pregnant in her first year of marriage and it seemed as though everything was perfect. Except that is, her carefully laid plans for a low key business and easy working life. This just wasn’t working out!
“I was really busy. I had given up Savilles to get a life but it was just hectic in a different way. Over the eighteen months my business had been growing I had found that I was no better off time wise than I had been before. So I decided to use my pregnancy and our move to Perth as a natural career break. It was a tough decision and I think as women we will face criticism whatever we choose when it comes to our careers and children; you just have to be true to yourself and do what’s right for you. I was fortunate enough to be in a position where I had that choice and when Fraser came along I knew that what I wanted was to be a mum and have some time out to spend with our baby.”
Gill’s manner is frank when we’re chatting about this and I understand entirely what she means when she talks about this criticism facing women. When it comes to career V babies you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. She is exact in her statement and, as is right, non-apologetic in her choices.
“It’s about allowing women to choose what’s right for them and their individual family. There is no way I’d have chosen my crazy, highflying life over spending time with my baby. As I said, the job I did was perfect for young, single, no kids me but it wasn’t one I wanted to mix with motherhood. That’s not some judgement on women who choose to juggle both, or some big statement about my life as a mother meaning more than my life as a young carefree, career woman. It’s just me saying what was right for me at various stages in my life, changed as I grew older. And I think all of us, men and women, need to respect each other’s decisions instead of imposing preconceived ideas and stereotypes onto people.”
Gill and I have never really chatted about this before and I am once again convinced that as we grow older, we are drawn to people who have the same ideals and guiding principles as we do. I am looking at my new friend who has thrown herself into my #perthlovefest with gusto, calling me with ideas and sending her beautiful photography weekly into my inbox. She is attractive in an obvious way, bright, intelligent and with opinions such as these that are unwavering. In short, she is nobody’s fool. I like her more by the minute. We’re on our second round of flat whites in Parklands Bar and we’ve not even started on her life as a photographer.
Gill used her career break as a time to refocus and think about what she might want from her next stage in life.
“It was only when I stopped I realised how crazy my life had been and although I knew the career break was right for me that doesn’t mean it was easy. At first I was terrified. I had given up this great career for a baby and every now and then I would think ‘is this what I want?’ But when I thought about the alternative I knew I’d never go back to it.
Apart from the fact I had a child, the recession had kicked into the property market and I was living in rural Perthshire. It was time for a change. I’ve always been the proactive, go for it type – ants in my pants – and so while I had the freedom to think about it I started to imagine what it would be like to turn my hobby into a career. By this time I was snapping pics of Fraser daily and I knew I wanted to take it further.”
While Fraser was young, Gill joined Keith on some of his work trips abroad. As a wine distributor he travelled often and they took advantage of Gill’s career break to travel as a family. New York was up and coming for Keith and they visited regularly, building a group of friends and a mini life across the pond. For Gill, her love of the Big Apple and the fast-paced life that came with it grew each time they visited.
“I love New York. We have this amazing life in rural Perthshire and then a few times a year we’d get to go and play at being New Yorkers. It was the first few trips that really made me start looking at styling and taking my photography more seriously and so when Fraser was a little older I worked assisting a landscape photographer for free and in return he taught me about digital photography, editing and how to take a great picture.”
Gill also picked up short courses and workshops and on a whim she sent one of her wildlife photographs into the Scottish Nature Awards.
“I had put the idea of being a photographer aside for a while – if I’m honest it was probably a confidence thing. I had this dread that I was being looked at as one of these digital dollies.”
Digital Dolly, I discover, is the grossly insulting name given to new mums who freelance part time as photographers. I:m looking at her thinking 'you're definitely more digital dynamite than digital dolly!'
“I could see that for long-term professionals, the market had suddenly changed and anyone with a digital camera could set up and call themselves a photographer. I really didn’t want to be that person. By the time I heard that my photography entry had been shortlisted from thousands I was spurred on to start looking at my new career seriously again.”
Gill set up a website and started to take on unpaid work in order to build her portfolio and her confidence. Just a short while later she found out she was pregnant again and four-and-half years after Fraser was born along came baby brother Struan and her family was complete.
“I was more of a working mum when Struan was a baby, although I was still very much part time. When Fraser started school my mum helped me look after Struan and soon I was picking up a few jobs a month. I was so determined not to be labelled - I really felt as though I had to put my time so there I was working doubly hard to be taken seriously – again!”
Gill tells me that this time round the ‘working hard’ is different because she loves what she does in a passionate way.
“When you have kids you re-evaluate everything based on yourself as a parent. I was able to think ‘what do I want to do? What do I love?’ instead of ‘what should I do? What is expected of me?’ It’s really empowering to make this bold choice and know that when you look at your kids 15 years down the line you can say to them with real conviction that they can do anything they want to do in life.
And I now understand that this innate wish for your children to be happy never stops; my desire to do this for my family couldn’t have been fulfilled without the support of my parents. They have helped me so much, looking after my boys to let me go out and work. None of what I've achieved to date could have been done without them. Their belief in me underpins my business and its growth.
When I was choosing my career path in the early nineties I didn’t know anyone who had their own photography business. The career counselling machine didn’t spit that out at me as an option. And now, here I am. The past eighteen months have been ground-breaking for me and I feel now that I’m no longer on the bottom rung of my new career ladder. It’s moved on and my reputation has grown to a point where I’m being invited to do work I find exciting and inspiring.”
This year she has done work for Artists and Illustrators magazine in London and they have just commissioned her to do more for them this coming March. With food photography high in her list of loves, she has not only taken our humble recipe section to a level I could only have dreamed for but she has also carried out work for Reids Bistro, The Post Box, and Provender Brown. As well as this she is styling fashion shoots with Powder in Edinburgh inspiring last week’s stunning stag heads in silk scarves.
“Food photography was an obvious path for me because I have always been a foodie. The years of having to wine and dine clients were never a hardship for me! Keith being in the wine business only made me more involved in food, and then when we moved to Perth the greenhouse turned me from diner into a gardener and a cook. I love it – it’s a huge passion for me.”
And this is the only thing I knew about Gill when I asked her to get involved in Small City Recipes! I wanted to work with someone who was a passionate foodie, keen cook and who would let go and get creative with styling and ideas. I love food – I am a local-produce-drum-banger of the highest order and wanted to do something gorgeous with Perthshire produce. We’re back to the part where she was an obvious choice.
“When the chance came along to do small city recipes I was thrilled. It’s given me the freedom to do something my way without the constraints of a client brief. I like planning the recipes and seeing my plants go from greenhouse to pot to studio to website! And of course it’s given me even more reason to pour over my favourite New York foodie blogs.”
We have BIG plans for you this year people but first let’s get Gill’s story finished. We have heard all about her ups and downs – her career filled twenties, her gorgeous boys, happy marriage and following her photography dream to fruition. There’s only one small bichon frise sized part of her life we must now mention.
“I love animals – all my life I have loved animals and wildlife. I’ve always been involved in some way in groups and charities that campaign for the welfare of animals. When we moved to Perth we bought Teddy, my Bichon Frise and eleven years later, he remains a very cuddly part of our family. I fell in love with this adorable little breed and started helping with a Dog Rescue centre fostering numerous dogs that’ve all gone on to new homes. Two years ago we adopted our second Bichon Frise, Harvey, but he was so poorly. He had heart failure and we were all devastated when he died. We’ve not fostered any new dogs since then but for the first time recently, I’m thinking it might be time to start again. Fraser and Struan would love it, I know.”
I wonder what party loving 23 year old Gill would make of all of this? Would she have looked in and thought, ‘That’s the life I want when I’m 40?’
“I don’t know! But that’s the best bit isn’t? We don’t have to choose one path and stay on it. You can take time to reflect, refocus and veer off into different twists and turns. If you’re lucky, then your life’s influences will change and you’ll grow into new ideas and eventually find what makes you truly happy. Once you know that, then all you need is the courage to follow that path and the people around you to make it worthwhile. 40 year old Gill is very happy with her life; and I know that’s what’s important for shaping the next generation”
Find out more about Gill and her work, like her on facebook or follow her on twitter.
If you've not already started following Small City Recipes, then check out the page here. Warning... You may have a strong desire to lick your screen!
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