Posted on May 23 2018
Today, we are delighted to catch up with the incredible Fenn O'Meally - storyteller, filmmaker, journalist, Radio 1Xtra presenter, and model. Fenn wears many hats but she is ultimately a storyteller. Here, she tell us her own story - from her childhood in Worcestershire to working her a$$ off during school breaks, travelling to London for internships, before landing her dream gigs at Radio 1Xtra, Complex, Nike and beyond. Here's her story:
Newnham: Can you tell us about your background? What were your like growing up – how would your friends and family have described you?
O'Meally: Well, haha I was extremely energetic growing up, bouncing around from activity to activity, I would never sit on sofa, rather I’d be the child in the room running around whilst everyone calmly watched the latest episode of Kenan and Kel. Maybe I was a bit of a handful, and friends and family would have probably pinned me down as energetic, sporty and creative. I grew up in the Midlands, born in Birmingham and then went to school in a little town called Alcester.
Newnham: How did you career get started? Was there a pivotal point where it really started to take direction?
O'Meally: I always wanted a career in TV but didn't have the contacts. Before I finished school I managed to get a few weeks worth of work wxperience with the Fashion team at ITV’s This Morning, I’d travel into London at 5am on a bus for three hours - my dad thought I was absolutely mad but the train was too pricey and the bus was only a fiver! Then, throughout Sixth Form, I’d return to ITV during my holidays.
I started to build connections, experience and understand what I actually liked doing in the industry. I then decided to study English at Queen Mary University in London; during my time at uni I was interning at the BBC and Net a Porter whilst writing and making films for online magazines throughout fashion week. Whilst I didn't realise it, I was building a skill set and a phone book that I still use today, from editing, to directing, to producing. All these skills were skills I had to do to get my work and name out there as a journalist and presenter. Now they are skills and contacts I work with on a daily basis.
Newnham: There are so many aspects to your career from journalist to model to presenter and filmmaker. How has it evolved and what drew you to such a varied career?
O'Meally: When I first started out, I just wanted to present but I quickly realised that it wasn't presenting that I loved but rather interviewing people and storytelling - in whatever way, through whatever medium. From TV to radio, to film, to writing... if I can interview someone and make them open up in a way that is distinctively my own style then I feel like I am getting somewhere. The aim is to be able to ask the questions everyone wants to know the answers to, but also the ones no-one really expects and I think that, in turn, takes a certain personable style of interviewing. So whether I am in front of or behind the camera, or not even near a camera, interviewing and storytelling is at the core of my work.
Newnham: You focus a lot on youth culture – what would you say are the biggest issues facing young people today and how do we work together to overcome them?
O'Meally: I think social media has given rise to some of the biggest issues in regards to mental health and wanting to be as successful, happy, beautiful etc. as the person whose Instagram feed you’re scrolling. Then the work that comes with IG... I’m not saying Instagram is a bad thing at all, I’m a massive fan of the platform... but I definitely have felt the weight social media puts on your own expectations of your self.
I think what’s really positive is seeing brands and platforms now approaching talent rather than approaching a person with simply a following, giving audiences something achievable and tangible to aspire to rather than simply numbers and a lifestyle that appears idyllic. I love seeing my friends absolutely kill it on IG because of their talent and desire to contribute something to the world that we can all learn from, it’s so refreshing.
Newnham: What’s been one of your favourite pieces of work and why? And what’s been a challenging time in your career and how did you overcome it?
O'Meally: I think probably my films for House Of Holland. I remember the first time I filmed for Henry, I was shitting myself! I went into the office almost every day the week before we shot “just to check out the space”. I’m surprised they weren't sick of me by the show! I’d never single-handedly filmed and edited a whole campaign before. And I had one just chance as the videos had to be shot and edited in 24 hours before the show and I didn't know what to expect from myself.
Henry loved them, and I just remember thinking, we humans really are capable of anything we put our minds to. If we fuck up, well we fuck up but if we don't and we create something memorable it was worth the risk of fucking up. Long way of saying… it’s OK to fuck up, but you might not!
Newnham: What’s next for you?
O'Meally: Talking of fuck ups! I am currently filming a doc on the mistakes successful people have made. I filmed Reggie Yates last week and then have a few other tricks up my sleeve. I have a campaign coming out in September and then I guess you’ll have to stay tuned to BBC R1Xtra 9am on Saturdays - I have a new segment called Girl On Ground which looks into topical stories each week from an alternative angle. Last week I had the team behind Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” on to talk about the music video, this week I had Melissa Battifarano on, Rih’s Design Director at Fenty to talk about the last Savage X Fenty drop and working with Rih. I met Melissa when I was working out in NYC last year, she is a power house and so humble, definitely someone you should feature at F =. And then this week’s guest… you’ll have to wait and see!
Newnham: Awesome, and if you could go back in time, what advice would you give a younger Fenn?
O'Meally: I’m a massive worrier so I would say, stop worrying about upsetting people. Chances are they probably aren’t even thinking about whatever you’re worried about. I would also say - have a little more faith in yourself because once you do, people will follow.
Pics by Stephanie Sian Smith
Thanks to Ouarda Coussay and SJ Speechly at Models 1 for helping to coordinate.