Karren Brady: "I don't consider myself a TV personality"
I think I had something about me when I was 16. I was always thinking of ideas and schemes, always pushing the boundaries, always asking why I wasn’t allowed to do things. I thought a lot about getting out of my convent boarding school in the middle of nowhere and getting a life. At boarding school, nothing is your own. Your bed’s not your own, your hangers aren’t your own, you have to book a time slot to have a bath. I was desperate for independence – and I worked out quite quickly that that would mean I needed my own finances.
My friends would probably have described me then as ambitious. I was always looking for a new idea, another challenge. I was quite a confident teenager. I’ve never been a slim person, but I don’t remember there being such an emphasis on how much you weighed in the ’80s. What I remember is big perms, big shoulders… I had a big perm myself – I think my hair’s still recovering at 43. I had the full gear: the white cowboy boots, rah-rah skirts, pixie boots – the whole thing.
I see my teenage self every time I look at my 15-year-old daughter. And my advice to her all the time is, you’re 15 – you think this is your life, but it’s not. Life really starts when you leave school and you get a career. That’s when you get choices – and the better educated you are, the more choices you get.
My young self wouldn’t believe how big football would become in her life – she’s the least sporty person you’ve ever met. Football was a business decision for me. When I was 18 I got on to the Saatchi & Saatchi graduate scheme. Then I got interested in the subject of brand-building around football, about making the crest stand for something. In 1993 that wasn’t something that was thought about much. So it was an interesting industry from that point of view. Now I’m interested in all aspects of what goes on in the industry; it’s an industry I love. It’s what we all do on a Saturday.
I’m not sure how the younger me would feel about becoming a high-profile person. A bit unsure, probably, which is still how I feel whenever I see myself on the television. Trust me, there’s nothing more scary than hitting your forties and seeing your own face on a 50-inch high-definition TV. But I don’t consider myself a TV personality. I’m on TV because of work I do related to my business, but I don’t do anything else I’m offered – dancing, skating, jungling. I think once you go on TV you have to keep asking yourself, what do you stand for? You have to be clear about it, or at least I do.
When I found out I had a brain aneurysm, I tried to break it down into stages. [Karren was diagnosed with a potentially fatal brain aneurysm in 2006. Emergency surgery saved her life] One was discovering I had it. Two was accepting I had to do something about it. Three was choosing what I was going to do. Four was having the operation. Five was closing the door and not thinking about it ever again. Otherwise you spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder. My surgeon said: “Now get on with the rest of your life.” And that’s the advice I took.
If I could go back I’d like to talk to both my grandmothers. They were both a big influence in my life, particularly my mother’s mother. She was probably one of the feistiest people I knew, always pushing me to the front of the queue, always saying, go on, you can do it, you show them. She died about four years ago and I don’t think she ever realised the enormity of the impact she had on my life.