Patricia Bright: ‘Beauty saved my life’

Her dad was deported when she was six. She got up at 4am to help her mum clean offices before school. Now one of the UK’s most successful social-media stars, Patricia Bright tells her utterly inspiring story.

Patricia as a 15-year-old at secondary school

I grew up in Battersea, London. In the early 90s, my mother took a leap of faith and moved from Nigeria to London where she met my father, a Nigerian international student working for his printing technology degree in the UK. Not long afterwards, she became pregnant with me; 18 months later with my sister.

After he graduated, Dad worked for a publishing firm and Mum put her hands to everything and anything she could to support raising two children. She had a salon/boutique back in Nigeria and was determined to make something of herself here, too. Then, when I was six years old, Dad was deported.

It came as a total shock. One night there was a frantic knocking at the door and a team of policemen took him away like a thief in the night. I can still see Mum sitting on the stairs, pleading with them while my sister and I sobbed. It would take six years and a court case before my father would come back to us.

Now that I’m older I understand that he was an illegal immigrant who hadn’t applied for permanent residency once his student visa had expired. (Mum was naturalised here at the time of having my sister and me.) With Dad gone, we were on our own.

Mum worked as an office cleaner at this point. She put in the shifts, getting up for 5am starts on some days and trudging home after 10pm on others. And while we were at primary school, my sister and I learned to put in the shifts, too. We had to go everywhere with her because she couldn’t leave us home alone.

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So at 4am, with sleep in our eyes and our school uniforms on, the two of us would go with Mum to clean offices. My sister and I would vacuum, wash the dishes and wipe down surfaces. We weren’t very big, but we were strong. Then Mum would take us to school. We knew this had to be kept secret, and deep down we were scared that they might take Mum away as well as Dad.

Over the following years I watched Mum elevate herself. She had a secondary school education and not much else, but while she worked as a cleaner she began training as a nurse. In between her shifts and training she would rustle up meals for us. We never had much in terms of material things but there was so much love that we always felt comfortable.

Meanwhile, we were being moved from council house to council house. We dealt with racists, being attacked by a neighbour’s dog and the daily struggle of living in dodgy locations. Eventually our luck turned and the council housed us in a lovely two-bedroomed flat with carpets, nice neighbours and a bunk bed that my sister and I could share.

Patricia’s YouTube videos have won her more than 2.5 million subscribers

When Mum qualified as a nurse, doing all the shifts she could, my sister and I were often at home alone, with instructions drilled into us such as not to open the door or the curtains. But Mum turned our lives around because she was managing to save. Eventually she had enough money to buy the flat from the council for £17,000 in 1997. We felt like millionaires owning our own home. Five years later, in 2002, Mum was able to sell it for £250,000, bought our next home and learned how to invest in property. It wasn’t long before she had created a portfolio with ten properties. She had grinded – that’s the only word for it – her way to success.

Despite things being difficult, I can’t regret the lessons of those tough years. Through those childhood experiences I learned something that has shaped the path of my whole life: that it’s within your power to change your situation. Mum showed me, through her example, that what you expect of yourself is usually what you achieve. The circumstances were mere obstacles to work around – it wasn’t that she didn’t see them, she simply didn’t focus on them.

A stranger watching her graft away cleaning, kids in tow, would have struggled to predict where she’d end up. And this motivates me, even today, though there have been many occasions where it looked as though the odds were stacked against me. Those hard times provided me with the head, heart and hustle – the mental attitude and the resilience to get me through.

At university, for instance, I didn’t have any friends and shared a house with someone who was cold and distant. I found solace in the online world and escaped my reality on the computer, spending hours on forums for hair, make-up and beauty – things I’d always loved but never had anyone to talk to about. At that time this was a niche activity, but those people online provided me with a little escape and it has led to my career. I spent so much time looking at photos and videos that I bought a cheap camera – you couldn’t use your phone in those days – and started recording.

My first YouTube video was just a minute and a half long, introducing myself to the world. ‘Hi, I’m Patricia, I’m going to do make-up and fashion.’ That was pretty much it. My second video was a ‘haul’ – like sitting down with your girlfriends and sharing with them the fashion bargains you were able to pick up. My third video was a DIY where I put buttons and trims on to a few Primark tops. Gradually a few people started to check me out.

I started earning money at the age of 13. I knew I had to get my hustle on early because nothing was going to be handed to me on a plate. I’d taught myself how to do braids and cornrows, having watched Mum do my sister’s hair, and had eventually become the family’s resident hairstylist. For aunties and cousins I was the go-to girl and I loved it. I did hair like it was therapy, and practised a lot on myself. At secondary school I was beginning to get a lot of attention as a result and when I told them I did my hair myself, they’d ask me to do theirs. Ker-ching! I saw my opportunity and started a little business. I became the playground stylist, and for £5 for half a head, £10 a full head, I would do whatever they wanted: zigzags, patterns and other designs.

I got my first ever job when I was 14, knocking from door to door delivering kitchenware catalogues and any subsequent orders. I earned a pittance in commission from every order but if I worked all summer I could easily make £200 by the end of it, and as a kid that honestly felt like a lot of good, hard-earned money. I was proud. In fact I put those summers of work experience on my CV, which helped me get my first ‘real’ job in retail. All that knocking on doors had to count for something! It had helped me to develop my ‘customer service’ skills, I wrote. Packing up orders honed my ‘organisational skills’, while taking door to door cash payments was my ‘financial management’ experience. And just like that I had a job at House of Fraser at the age of 16.

My working hours were 6pm to 10pm every Thursday, all day Saturday and occasionally a Sunday. For the next four years, including part of my time at university, that was my routine. In all honesty, sometimes I hated it. Late night Thursdays could drag, while in retail the customers are always right (even when they’re not!). Fitting-room duty wasn’t exactly stimulating and I often found myself clockwatching. But that was my ‘hustle’ at the time. When I went to university in Manchester, I went to work at Selfridges.

My ventures didn’t always work because that’s the reality of life and business. Another side hustle I set up was a beauty community. I wanted to bring girls together who loved make up but couldn’t afford the typical retail prices. I’d found a distributor online that sold Mac and I honestly couldn’t believe the prices. They were a quarter of what they cost in the shops. So I spent a few hundred pounds of hard-earned money on stock, printed out flyers and organised a space at the student union for my event. Then my stock arrived. The spelling on the packaging was wrong: Mac was spelt Nac, the labels on the back didn’t look like the labels on the products you could buy in store, and the colours were wrong. I had been ripped off. I learned that day that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Some people are lucky enough to have parents who will fund them when they get started. I didn’t have that option. I wasn’t resentful but I knew that I was going to regret it if I didn’t make a more financially stable choice for my future. I figured that if I stuck with the fashion course I had begun, it wasn’t going to set me up in the way that I wanted. So I switched to accountancy believing that I’d be able to get a better job and earn more money, and that would provide me with more freedom and opportunities.

I didn’t love my new course, but I also knew that I wasn’t going to be an accountant for the rest of my life. And I learned an important lesson as a result. When you’re starting out, it’s important to find that sweet spot between your passion, your ability and what’s practical. You don’t have to start out in your dream job; most of us have to pay the bills somehow.

You never know how your story is going to turn out. You will go through sticky moments as I did, and still do; you might not enjoy every step along the road, but I promise you the results will be worth it. All the good things that have happened to me didn’t happen overnight or without hard work, but they did happen, and they can for you, too.

After graduating from university with a degree in accounting and finance, Patricia’s networking skills helped her to win an internship at a leading investment bank. In 2010, a year before landing her job in the City, she began video blogging under the alias BritPopPrincess, then decided to use her own name. By 2013, she realised she was making enough money from her YouTube channel to be able to leave her job as a business analyst consultant and concentrate on it full time. She now has more than 2.5 million subscribers and is estimated to be earning over £200,000 a year from the channel.

‘Even now I find it amazing – crazy even! – that I was able to turn my secret hobby into my business,’ she says. She has gone on to become an award-winning content creator, working with brands such as Bobbi Brown, L’Oréal and Diet Coke. Earlier this year, she collaborated with Mac on a special edition Patricia Bright lipstick. Patricia also owns and runs Y-Hair, which sells hair extensions. She is married to Michael, a physiotherapist, and the couple have a two-year-old daughter, Grace.

Patricia’s life lessons

Your past doesn’t have to define your future. As Mum taught me through her hard work and hustle, you can change your situation.

Life is never a straight line. It’s more like a zigzag. Think of every experience – good or bad – as a stepping stone to the next opportunity.

Sometimes you have to do the lower paying job, or the role you’re not so keen on, to get the experience that will put you where you want to be.

Go all in on a project in terms of energy and dedication. If you have one foot in, one foot out, you can’t be successful in anything.

I like to say that you’re only as good as your last piece of work. Keep improving. Keep developing. Keep challenging yourself.

Over time, making a plan and following through on it will get easier. You can build that decision-making ‘muscle’ so you make quicker choices and don’t second guess your every move.

Invest in yourself, as you would in your business. I am my biggest asset, just as you are yours. I’ve spent hundreds of pounds on courses and not regretted a penny. When I’ve been working hard, I’m happy to reward myself with pamper days, too!

This is an edited extract from Patricia’s new book Heart & Hustle: What it Takes to Make it to the Top, to be published by HQ on 7 February 2019, price £18.99 at mailshop.co.uk