Join columnist Vicky Ellison every month as she meets with inspiring women from the worlds of wellness, business, fashion and art to bring you a snapshot of their story and advice to take into your day.
This month The Fit met with Helen Brocklebank. Formerly working across commercial and editorial for Hearst titles Harper’s Bazaar and Esquire, Helen is now CEO of British Luxury trade body Walpole. As a mother of two in a highly pressured role, Helen shared with us her take on resilience, self-care, and a few tips to help us head into the Autumn with career confidence.
‘Maybe it’s turned me into a bit of an evangelist, because having come to this…epiphany, that you have to look after yourself more – if you don’t look after yourself then you’re literally no help to anybody- I’m now really keen to tell everyone…and they already know, it’s just me that was the laggard!’
Since I’ve known her, Helen’s modesty and self-deprecation haven’t changed, but her approach to fitness and self-care certainly has. We first met during her acclaimed career at Hearst, when Helen signed up for an Equinox Bootcamp. Pitted against a ‘fit, fabulous’ colleague, the article’s introduction described Helen as ‘fat and frivolous’. Although a tongue-in-cheek exaggeration at the time, it couldn’t be further from the truth now.
Her change in approach came to a head when she became CEO of Walpole and discovered the real meaning of resilience in leadership, ‘I thought ok we’re all resilient, aren’t we?… But it’s only when you start doing it that you realise what that actually means because the buck stops with you…I don’t think I’d ever quite understood that before’.
In her role, Helen represents the British Luxury sector on a global stage. Discussing her admiration for the industry, Helen defines the key characteristic of luxury as ‘a relentless quest for perfection’, admitting it’s never achievable but something to keep moving towards.
Recognising a mirroring of this approach in her own life, Helen discovered that ‘if you’re not making yourself physically strong then you don’t have that resilience. There is something psychologically brilliant about lifting really heavy weights. You talk about doing the heavy lifting, and if you’re literally doing some heavy lifting, you feel strong, it’s mind over matter.’
Continuing on the theme of self-care, I’m speaking to Helen post-digital-detox. ‘It wasn’t something I ever thought I’d do’ she explains, ‘the idea sounded like a magazine article; we’ve read 16 thousand of them haven’t we, why we need to switch off.’
What made her do it? Giving consideration to the demands of her role, she became cognisant that ‘the depth of concentration needed is something your phone teaches you not to do.’ So she turned her phone off for two weeks.
Admitting it was tough, Helen shares the three things she’s learnt – ‘you spend a lot of time fiddling with the internet because it’s there, the devil makes work for idle thumbs, that boredom reflex – maybe turning to your phone isn’t good for your mental agility or ability to relax’.
She also realised how quickly work culture has changed. Purchasing her first smartphone 10 years ago brought with it an expectation that we are always available and a new need to justify taking holiday, something Helen wants to remove amongst her team.
Lastly, she realised the importance of discipline. ‘Digital devices are hard-wired to tempt you back… You’re not going to be disciplined automatically, you have to schedule the time that you’re not going to do things as much as the time that you are going to do things.’
Coming back from her digital detox holiday with a ‘back to school’ feeling, our conversation turns to work. As an introvert by nature Helen shares her secret to feeling confident presenting to global audiences – red lipstick.
‘Ages ago someone said to me if you feel nervous put red lipstick on because then you’ve painted your voice on if you like’.
Helen has an enviable collection of 27 red lipsticks. As an admirer of her impeccable style I had to ask for her recommendations- ‘Tom Ford’s willful is good if you’re fair, and Mac’s Ruby Woo for brunettes’ she shares.
Her closing piece of advice is something she wished she had known when she was younger; ‘your career is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.’
‘Women, in particular, think their biology rules their career path, they think everything has to happen in your 30s – find a partner, house, have a baby and then you’re past your sell-by date – all of that is nonsense. To feel like there’s this finish line and you’ve got to get there, it’s a race – it’s back to that stamina and resilience, pacing yourself is important.’
I don’t know about you, but I feel a red lipstick purchase coming on ready to face September.