Mary Linehan talks to Jemma Kidd…
A quick flick through You! Magazine every Sunday, and you’ll come across Jemma Kidd – celebrated make-up artist, cosmetics queen and former fashion model – dispensing Masterclass beauty tips to the masses. A quick flick through the pages of Who’s Who, and you’ll find her alter-ego: Jemma Madeleine Wellesley, Countess of Mornington. Née Kidd.
The column neatly ties together several strands of her exotic curriculum vitae. She is internationally sought-after for her skills with make-up for magazine shoots, working with top models and photographers; her own cosmetics grace countless beauty pages accompanied by her tips and directions, and that’s not including her appearances on society and diary pages. As the great-granddaughter of Lord Beaverbrook, founder of The Daily Express, newspapers are in her blood, but her A-list connections don’t stop there. Daughter of erstwhile show-jumping golden boy Johnny Kidd, she’s the sister of supermodel and gal-about-town Jodie Kidd – and there’s even a baronetcy on her mother’s side thrown in for good measure. What really cemented her aristocratic connections, though, was her marriage in 2009 to Arthur Wellesley, Earl of Mornington, a direct descendant and namesake of Napoleon’s nemesis, the Duke of Wellington.
What will not surprise, therefore, is that Jemma Wellesley is remarkably reticent about divulging any intimate details of her personal life, guarding her privacy fiercely. That’s not to say that she’s anything but a darling of the media, but her infrequent soul-baring interviews are reserved for her many causes and charities and for raising awareness of issues about which she cares deeply.
Her recent, most surprising admission that she has suffered for much of her adult life from panic attacks, may also have a bearing on her reserve, her discretion. She stresses to me that her condition was unrelated to her childhood, large swathes of which were spent in Barbados with brother Jack and sister Jodie on her family estate: “exceptionally happy and loving”. Rather, she attributes it to a lack of confidence when trying to find her own way as a teenager. Fortunately, after years of masking her anxiety, she has now been able to have treatment, and she speaks warmly of Charles Linden, whose innovative Linden Method has helped her learn to manage the condition. She no longer has panic attacks… just the normal day-to-day anxieties of a busy working mum; she does have quite a bit more to juggle than most.
With more than her fair share of beauty genes, Jemma, like her sister Jodie, started out in fashion modelling. Horses, naturally, had been an early passion and a possible career path – she even made the junior national dressage team – but then she discovered boys, and dressing-up, and having fun, and the riding became a hobby rather than a job. The catwalk, she decided eventually, was not for her – but she was completely at home backstage at fashion shows. “The vibe, the buzz, the people… I just loved it!”
“It’s the dynamics of it!” she continues. And, it seems it’s also the chance to learn, to rise to new challenge and, as a self confessed creative, to really express herself through makeup artistry. “I absolutely love working with talented people, whether it’s teaching at my school, doing photo shoots or working backstage at fashion shows – it’s a constant learning curve.” Jemma cites photographers David Bailey and Ian Rankin as her particular inspirations. And, of her make-up artist peers, the women those she most admires are Pat McGrath – seen on several Max Factor tv ad campaigns – plus Val Garland and Charlotte Tilbury, each of them supremely successful high achievers who have left their mark on the fashion world.
Today, at 36, Jemma Kidd is a successful international businesswoman in her own right. She has worked extensively at New York and London Fashion Weeks, and with leading fashion designers, photographers and famous faces such as Matthew Williamson, Naomi Campbell, Peter Lindberg, Rankin, Jerry Hall, Jade Jagger, Sienna Miller and The Duchess of York. In 2002, she went one step further, and opened the Jemma Kidd Make-Up School.
Now located in Notting Hill, its mission is to create a gold-standard platform for budding make-up artists, where they can learn creatively and technically about their craft – and raise the bar for professionalism across the industry. In 2005 came the Jemma Kidd Make-Up School cosmetics line, now available nationwide in selected Space NK stores, as well as in countries as far flung as the US, Canada, Hong Kong and Australia and on online cosmetics boutiques. Then there’s the journalism and more recently the book: Jemma Kidd Make-Up Masterclass.
With two young children, boy and girl twins who have just turned one, what is a normal day for Jemma Kidd, Countess of Mornington? “It’s usually manic!” she laughs. “It can involve anything from appointments at the school, to meeting my team to discuss new ideas, to press events and writing my weekly beauty column. I also like to get up early to ride my horses and try – the operative word – to do yoga a couple of times a week.”
I’m exhausted just listening to it, before she adds, “My spare time is spent at home with my family!” Spare time?! Where does she find that?
“I am very fortunate. I have a great team at work and amazing support at home, which enables me to get the most out of my time.” And none of this even includes the charitable duties that come with the title, including raising awareness for a variety of issues close to her heart; she clearly loves this side of her life, rising above the ‘noblesse oblige’ that comes with the territory, explaining “Having a successful career also enables you to get involved in various exciting projects to raise money for charities.”
So far, so beautiful – but fashion and beauty are well-documented as being tough industries, as Jemma herself knows first-hand. What does she think are the downsides? She pauses. “Certainly, the beauty industry is extremely competitive and demanding. You have to be very motivated and ready to work long hours to become successful, but once you do – it’s incredibly rewarding.”
Self-belief, self-confidence – these are the crucial ingredients in Jemma’s book. “I feel that people entering this industry need to have confidence and a thick skin. There are knocks and criticisms, as with any working environment, so it is really important to have self-belief.”
With so much achieved already, what is it that motivates her to continue? She can indulge her creativity on magazine shoots and fashion shows, but she also confesses to some higher – and very human – aspirations: “Making a woman smile after you have done their make-up; you give them a confidence they never thought they had.”
I venture to ask why she thinks she’s in such demand. “Individuality,” she says. “I believe in stealth make-up; flawless skin and a subtle radiance. Make-up should be as individual as the person you are making up, not just following a trend.”
Like the lady herself…