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Turning Failure into Success

When actor Poppy Gilbert, Class of 2015, star of BBC ONE and Netflix, failed to get into drama school first time round, it could have spelled disaster, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
L-R Mrs Bradshaw, Mrs Murray, Mrs Jansz, Poppy Gilbert, Mrs Garcia and Mr Tompsett
L-R Mrs Bradshaw, Mrs Murray, Mrs Jansz, Poppy Gilbert, Mrs Garcia and Mr Tompsett

Bursting with energy and passion the 25-year-old returned to LEH this week (29 June 2022) to talk to star-struck pupils and former teachers about her career, which this year alone has seen her playing a dance-crazy psychopath in Stay Close, a dead social media influencer in Chloe, and a miners’ strike activist in Sherwood.

Poppy told students: “I’m so grateful that I didn’t get into drama school straight away, my life experiences in that year, all the mistakes I made, have been so useful.  Being uncomfortable sometimes is fine, it helps you to see that it will work out.”

Asked why she thought she hadn’t got a place straight away, Poppy said “My life was quite small.  I went to a private school, I had a comfortable life and there’s nothing wrong with any of that and I’m very grateful to my parents, but I needed to live a bit more and make a few mistakes. Signing up for a gym, falling in love, working in a bar, all those things make your life a bit bigger.  When I came to select my audition pieces second time round, I chose them because I like them, and they spoke to me rather than because I thought they’d be impressive or expected.”

When she finally got there, she really enjoyed the experience: “Nothing on this planet can prepare you for being at drama school – it’s just so bananas.  In addition to acting, you do acrobatics, circus skills, and movement. The freedom you get when you’ve pretended to be a ring-tailed lemur for 12 weeks is phenomenal.  Nothing else feels that scary!”

To help her really get into a part, Poppy keeps a notebook for each character she plays. She fills it with background research, cutting out images from magazines and helping build a rounded life. She creates playlists that the character would listen to and even finds the perfect perfume to spray just before she goes on set to help her find the right character.

What’s the best thing about being an actor, she was asked? Poppy smiled widely and said: “All my friends have grown up jobs, while I get to be other people and I also get to be a little eccentric!  Lean into that. I still feel like that young girl who was outside in the playground here, messing around and having fun. How brilliant is that?”

What’s been her favourite role so far? Poppy hardly hesitates before explaining it was playing Chloe in the BBC ONE thriller, “even though I died in minute two of the six-part series!”. She added: “It was an all-female production company and the film-maker Alice Seabright made it feel so special. It handled some really important topics like grief, suicide and self-harm.  All the acting was brilliant, and I can say that because I was dead for the whole thing!”

What was the best piece of advice she’s been given? “It’s from my Mum and she always says: ‘Let it ruin your day, don’t let it ruin your week’.  If you don’t get a part you really wanted, be upset, that’s natural. But the next day, wake up, take a shower, put it behind you, move on.”

Poppy’s three top tips:-

  • “Always be a pleasure to work with, which is not the same as being nice to work with. Being a pleasure to work with means you don’t have to say ‘yes’ to everything.  As a woman in this industry it used to be that if you just said ‘yes’ to everything, you had a higher currency, you’d get more work.  But thankfully that’s beginning to change, now you can push back, you can speak out if you see something you don’t like, you can be confident of your opinion and have your say and your choice. “
     
  • “Make sure you enrich your lives by getting to know a wide circle of people. Ask yourself, are the people you’ve grown up with very similar in outlook and experience to you?  Make a point of seeking out diversity.  Do a course or get a part-time job which will help you find people who are different and cherish that. Look outwards.”
     
  • “Really be kind if you are interested in being in this industry. Rejection is hard.  You fight tooth and nail to get into drama school, you fight tooth and nail to get an agent, to get the next job.  This is a tough industry so be kind to yourself – if you have a bad day, go out and buy a water colour kit, sleep loads, take time.  If your friends get rejected from a job, be kind.  Understand that they might be short or blunt afterwards, so be kind.  If you’ve built a foundation of being kind to others, you will receive it back tenfold.”

LEH Life Lessons

  • “Being at LEH has given you an amazing education away from the pressure of having teenage boys in the room – carry that with you in life. I often tell myself ‘I wouldn’t have been embarrassed to say that in L4 French, so I won’t be afraid to say it now’. My friends that went to mixed schools don’t necessarily have that same sense, that self-belief that they can do or be anything they want.”
     
  • “Be honest – work hard and get your homework in on time. You’ll never have the full experience if you cut corners.  It’s so much better to do the task properly and if you need more time, explain why and be truthful.”
     
  • “LEH teaches you something super useful – if you work hard, you’ll get results.”

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