Being a Celebrity PA isn’t all red carpets and freebies. There is some of that! But there is also a lot of waiting in basements for plumbers to fix boilers and ferrying clothes to and from the drycleaners.
It is a very diverse role, so it is hard to generalise. Every Boss will have different demands or expectations and will want their PA involved in specific levels of their personal and work lives.
Often these roles are not that highly paid as the salary is coming out of an individual’s pocket rather than from a company. By the same token, the benefits (healthcare etc) are very limited. We often say that it is a job you do because you love it, not because it will make your fortune.
There are several different types of Celebrity PA role. There is the 24/7, live in PA (think Justin Bieber, Jennifer Lopez). This will involve signing your life over to your work. The benefits include travelling the globe and attending some amazing events, but you will have to eat, sleep and breathe your boss and their world.
Or you could be a full time Office PA. This is often for stars who have their own production company/record company etc (think Peter Jones, Steve Coogan). Working in these companies, normal office hours – whilst being on call at other times and having to travel to some events.
Then there are the freelance PAs (like us). We work remotely for our bosses – almost like Virtual PAs – and can be called on at any time. We usually see our bosses once a week for a catch up, but can then spend the rest of our week running errands or working from home whilst they are busy filming or on tour etc.
Each of these types of role will suit different characters and different stages of people’s life, but there are some personality traits that all of them will require. We think that being a Celebrity PA is a bit like being an Extreme PA. You need all the skills of a corporate PA, but at a heightened level. The best examples of this are with flexibility and discretion.
To be flexible is of utmost importance. Star’s schedules can dramatically change at a moment’s notice – if they suddenly get a job in Brazil or conversely if the money for a film falls through and they are not going away. So you need to be able to roll with the punches quite a lot.
Flexibility also extends to jobs you might need to do. We’ve been asked to play in a paddling pool with a toddler and pluck a stray hair (eyebrow before you panic)!
Discretion is paramount. Anything you might hear or know about could be something that the press would be very interested in. We are very aware of being overheard and once knew a PA that when on the phone would only ever refer to her boss as “the principle”. We have found that people can be very resourceful when they want to track down a celebrity they’re interested in and have had problems with post being sent directly to Bosses’ homes and no way of finding out how it happened. That is before we get to the fun of the pseudonyms that we have to book clients into hotels under. Mrs Bambi anyone?
So, you’re still interested and want to know how to land one of these roles? Let’s start by telling you how we got to where we are:
Josephine: “I started my career in film, fashion and music PR, but after 5 years in that industry decided it wasn’t for me and that I wanted to focus on being a PA. Through my contacts in Fashion, I got my first role with Joseph Fiennes. And I am still with him to this day. Once I had an official client, I started approaching more people to work with them. I had gone to Primary School with Emilia Fox and wrote to her explaining what I was doing. That was 8 years ago and I still work for her today. In 2007 a friend from secondary school who is married to Alexander Armstrong asked if I would work for him, which I did. Then in 2008 he led me to Ben Miller. Most recently, in 2010, a friend from University told me that her friend – Miranda Hart – was in need of a PA and could I help? So, I have my parents to thank for making some excellent educational choices for me, but not quite for the reasons they may have thought!”
Merryl: “I had been working in film PR but wanting to be self-employed: I conceived the idea of working for high profile individuals, but I needed access. Luckily my old PR firm were supportive and offered me access to their VIP mailing lists. I decided to have a leaflet outlining my services designed and printed professionally. Despite carefully targeting my potential clients, none of them responded to the leaflet. I was pondering Plan B when the graphic designer I had used called me saying he knew someone he thought might be interested in using my services, and that was Julian. After a year or so Julian’s agent recommended me to someone else she looked after, who became my second client. He shared an office with Jonathan Ross’ wife, which is how I began working for them, and then a showbiz chum of Julian’s used me as well. One job has led to another, but I never would have gotten started without that leaflet, which in itself brought me no clients at all!”
What we hope the above stories illustrate is that there is no definitive way to break in to the role, apart from the fact that it is the kind of job where word of mouth is highly effective. One of the ways that is most likely to get you that first break is by networking, because it really can be a case of who, and not always what, you know. There are so many successful networks out there now for PAs to share tips, knowledge and, most importantly, contacts. We recommend deciding what area really interests you for example, TV, fashion or sport and then making it your business to make contacts in that arena. A genuine interest will shine through, and can be incorporated in your CV eg season ticket holder or membership of the NFT.
Social media can be a great way of finding out about how industries or businesses work – finding individuals to follow on Twitter or LinkedIn groups to join, and then contributing to discussions where appropriate. It is becoming increasingly common to advertise internships and even jobs through these media, bypassing the traditional agency route altogether.
Getting that first foot in the door is crucial, and the route may not be direct. If your ideal client is a pop star, taking a job on reception in a record company or tour promoter’s office might be the way not only to learn about the industry from the inside but more importantly meeting and getting to know the people involved. Remember, it was Josephine’s work in fashion PR that led directly to her introduction to Joseph Fiennes, even though she had left the job and the fashion industry, she maintained her contacts. Bear in mind, it may be worth accepting a slightly more junior role if it can take you in the direction you ultimately want.
If you still think being a celebrity’s PA is your ideal job, be realistic in understanding it is very unlikely a job will come and find you. Maximise your opportunities by meeting people, getting relevant experience and tailoring your CV to show your interest and commitment.