Smart Works Newcastle Ambassador Sara Davies spills the tea on Strictly, Dragons Den and entrepreneurship
Speaking at a limited-ticket event to raise money for Smart Works Newcastle, we heard it all - here's what we can share...
TV personality, businesswoman, investor, mum, charity ambassador – there’s no denying Sara Davies is one busy lady.
This month, as part of her ambassador role with Smart Works Newcastle, she hosted a limited-ticket brunch event at Jesmond Dene House, all aimed at raising money to support women across the North East into employment and towards economic independence.
100 people managed to snap up tickets, hoping for perhaps a bit of backstage Strictly gossip, or an insight into her business journey. Well, we got more than we bargained for.
It was just like sitting down with a good friend for a very juicy gossip, as Sara was incredibly open about her fears, her attitude to life and exactly how she manages to juggle everything each day.
Here’s what we can share…
On her role as Smart Works Newcastle ambassador
It was great to hear that this March, Sara announced that she’ll continue her role as ambassador for another year.
Smart Works Newcastle is a charity that does incredible work in the North East. On each table, there were cards with real-life case studies of women in our region that Smart Works has helped get back into employment. A volunteer-run service that opened in 2018, it’s open to any women with a confirmed job interview. The team provides interview clothing and coaching to help them prepare.
56% of the women the charity supports have been unemployed for more than 12 months, 45% are single parents and 14% have a disability. This year, they announced plans to support 720 women in the region this financial year – an ambitious target but one they’re committed to achieving.
On Dragons’ Den
What happens in the den, stays in the den. “Well, it’s certainly a firey one this season with the addition of new dragon, Steven Bartlett, but I can assure everyone that the fire stays in the den. As soon as we walk off the set we often go for dinner and have a great time talking about the investments we’ve made and the difference we hope to make to those businesses.”
Take action to achieve your dreams. “Getting onto Dragons’ Den was a case of taking action to achieve my dreams and ambitions. I had been talking to a friend about how much I loved the show. Because my business was doing well, I had started to do some investing and just thought it could be a perfect fit. My friend worked in PR and managed to get me a call with the casting team just a couple of days later – it all went from there. It’s important to take practical steps to achieve what you want to do – opportunities don’t just come knocking at your door.”
The importance of mentorship. “Before my first show, I remember walking up to Touker Suleyman (now referred to much more informally as my Uncle T) in the green room. I introduced myself and asked if he remembered me from the screen test I’d done as part of the audition for getting on the show. He did, of course, and I said great – well I’ve decided that you’re going to be my mentor! It was invaluable for me to sit next to Touker – who was an established dragon on the show. Mentorship is so important and it doesn’t always have to be really official. Sometimes it’s just a case of carefully watching the people who have succeeded in the field that you want to progress in.”
On Strictly Come Dancing
Fun, fun and more fun. “I honestly don’t think I can put into words how much fun taking part in Strictly was! I made so many amazing friends and was able to dance with my best friend Aljaž every day. He’s become a friend for life – I was so lucky to be partnered with him. Because we live in Teesside, Aljaž spent a lot of time living in my house and the boys just loved him being there. The week after we left the show they missed him so much that he travelled up during his really busy rehearsal schedule to pick them up from school and spend time with them. He’s amazing.
Body confidence. “I’m used to being on TV, but dressing up in dancing outfits is pretty different to the businesswear I’m used to. I have to give so much credit to the costume designer on the show, Vicky Gill (read our interview with Vicky, here). At first, I was so self-conscious – I was insistent that I wanted Spanx sewn into the dresses – I basically couldn’t move! Within a couple of weeks, Vicky gave me the confidence to wear the dresses as they should be worn and not only did I feel great, but it helped with my dancing too because I could actually move!”
Going from the bottom to the top of the leaderboard. “Those Spanx in week 1 have a lot to answer for! Honestly, I was absolutely gutted. We danced fourth and I thought to myself, someone else will get a worse score in the first week – but they didn’t. I cried, then I pulled myself together and watched the full show the next day. I could see the problem – I couldn’t move properly! The next week I channelled all of my disappointment into determination. We practised so hard and it paid off – we were top of the leaderboard in week 2 and it felt fantastic.”
Sara owns Crafters Companion. A business she started whilst at the University of York when she designed a product called The Enveloper (which could essentially create a bespoke envelope). She launched it on a TV shopping channel and sold 30,000 units within six months. By the time she graduated from University, her business was turning over £500,000. Now, Crafters Companion has more than 200 employees in the UK and US, turns over more than £34m, sells into more than 40 countries worldwide and has its own TV studios, and a number of stores across the UK.
Have big ambitions. “I come from an entrepreneurial family. My parents have their own business and my dad always used to say to me ‘reach for the stars and if you reach the moon, that’s a great result.’ But I wanted the stars and thought – there’s no reason I can’t get there. I was bold and took risks that I didn’t tell my dad about at the time. But they paid off and I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved at Crafter’s Companion.”
Time in the business is so important. “I’m obviously best known for my work on TV but I don’t think many people realise that when I’m on Strictly or Dragons’ Den, I actually take a day of annual leave from my business to do it. I’ve got an absolutely incredible team at Crafters Companion, but its very important to me to spend time with them, championing and motivating them every step of the way. We also do a lot of streaming on TV, particularly in the US, so you can often find me in our TV Studio at 4.00am in full hair and makeup!”
On fitting everything into her day
Fill yourself up with energy, to give it out. “I’ve always had a very positive attitude and this helps a lot with achieving things throughout the day – and inspiring others to achieve things too. There are people in my life who give me a lot of energy – they really fill me up with positivity, creativity and ambition. Then I go throughout my day giving out my energy to other people, helping them to feel more positive and motivated”
Exercise in the morning. “Try it – I promise you’ll feel better for it! I found it really difficult to exercise a few years ago. By the time I’d been at work all day and got the boys sorted after school, my husband Simon was usually plucking me out of their bed at 8.00pm and putting me in ours – I just couldn’t find the time. So I got a personal trainer who would come to the house at 6.00am to run with me – I deliberately didn’t have his number in my phone so I couldn’t cancel last minute! From then I realised how much more orderly my mind was when I’d finished, and how awake and focussed I felt by 7.00am. Now I try to exercise every morning and whilst it can be really hard when that alarm goes off at 5.30am, I never regret it.”
Organise, organise, organise. “My schedule can be all over the place and organisation is key, especially with a young family. It’s important for me to be able to pick the boys up from school and take them to football on a Saturday morning. So we have to be flexible and make it work. It’s not always easy, but it is possible.”
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Photo credit: Corrina Atkinson.