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Gemma cairney’s fashion tips

By Emma
Gemma cairney’s fashion tips

Stylist, broadcaster, Glastonbury lover…Gemma Cairney of BBC 1Xtra chats about her career highs and lows, and gives an insight into her eclectic 70’s influenced fashion style too

You previously worked as a stylist, how did you get into that?

My mate was a photographer building his portfolio. I was like a stray cat, wandering into & trying out new things when he asked me to model in a test. The stylist was horrendous, the best shots ended up being of me in the clothes that I'd turned up in that day. From then, we started to shoot together, but with me as a stylist instead. I branched out, worked with and assisted different people at different levels in the industry for a couple of years from when I was aged 20 to 22.

How did you go from styling into broadcast and why?

Though I enjoyed the fashion world and experienced moments I will never ever forget, I got kind of exasperated. I was earning nothing, often getting screamed at, and spent endless days jauntily dragging giant suitcases down the stairs at tube stations. The suitcases would be filled with crumpled clothes that were worth money beyond your wildest dreams, yet I couldn't afford food. The irony got the better of me.

I had made some brilliant friends and decided to cut my losses and gave up on any long-term ideas of working as a stylist. I then spent around a year in tears, living alone in a flat at the furthest place south you can go on the Northern line. I started writing about music for an online magazine, as most of my friends were musicians. I'd spent my teens studying Theatre at The Brit School but I didn't want to go back to acting either. I was pretty confused, but determined.

The idea of presenting wasn't a new one, it's just that I'd always wanted to pursue what I thought of as a more 'credible' route (which I now think was a bit pretentious). I decided radio was much more appealing to learn about than TV & begged on a bursary form so that I could get funding to do a short course in radio broadcast.

You are climbing Mount Kenya in September with Trek Stock, how did this come about?

I was approached by Sophie the founder of Trek Stock who told me about the charity and instantly I wanted to be involved. I am now the ambassador of the trek and in September, I and 25 other trekkers will be climbing Mount Kenya to raise vital funds for lifesaving research into cancers that affect young people. I think cancer is often seen as a disease which affects older people, so it’s really important for charities such as Trek Stock to put these issues under the spotlight.


Which A/W 11 fashion trends are you most excited about?

Big chunky, clunky brown suede knee-high platform stompy boots. I am looking forward to maroon & bronze colours too. It is all a bit Geri Halliwell from Spice Girls and lazy days in Brooklyn circa 1975 (well, I wasn't there but my mum was, if that counts?).

What are your three wardrobe key pieces which you couldn’t live without?

My gold Terry de Havilland wedges (again very 70's). A mermaid tail green iridescent handmade sequin floor-length drapey-backed Ashish dress.  Since Glastonbury, it's been my flouro chiffon, bell sleeved see-through dress, which I wore for some of my TV coverage. I see it as my Glasto wedding dress, an ode to my love for it. I designed it with my friend Amy.

You are holding a fashion round table on your radio show soon, can you tell us more about this?

Fashion & radio [together] seems like a challenging idea as fashion is so visual. But I think fashion is more theatrical than anything and it means such different things to each individual. I think certain subjects are always good for an interesting debate. So I've invited some key-players to have it out on the radio. This includes blogger Susie Bubble, Jessica Bumpus from Vogue.com, stylist Grace Woodward and  many other [people with] influence in the fashion world.

What are you biggest career highs?

I laugh, dance and meet the most inspiring people every day. I never know what's going to happen next. It can be exhausting but equally as exhilarating.

What advice do you have for people wanting to follow a similar path?

Be open-minded and listen to critique.



  • Millais School for Girls in Horsham West Sussex
  • BTEC National Diploma in Theatre at The BRIT School for Performing Arts.
  • A Foundation year at East 15 Acting School.
  • Assistant Stylist, worked on shoots such as Burberry campaign with Mario Testino & Kate Moss.
  • Stylist, styled shoots for musicians such as Kate Nash and Florence and the Machine.
  • 2 week course in Radio broadcasting at Point Blank College in Hoxton East London.
  • Festival Fever, a six part podcast for CH4 radio.
  • Frock Me for T4 series 1.
  • BBC Radio 1Xtra Breakfast show co-host to Trevor Nelson.
  • BBC3/2Glastonbury coverage (three years running)
  • Frock Me for T4 series 2
  • Bestival for T4
  • BBC Radio 1Xtra afternoon solo show (since Jan 2011)
  • Camp Bestival for SKY Arts / Sky One

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