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Hannah Saunders

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Rebel Rebel - Turning a Mid-Life Crisis Into a Business Proposition

Posted: 11/07/2013 00:00

Rave

Major life change is a deeply unsettling experience but it can also inspire creativity.

I worked for 20 years as a central government civil servant, devising and delivering policies for a succession of ministers of varying political hues, personalities and foibles. I joined as the most junior manager and climbed the professional ladder purposefully until becoming a senior civil servant in the Home Office. A mandarin. I was in charge of projects spending millions of pounds of tax-payers' money and responsible for hundreds of people's work.

But behind this professional civil-service front beats a heart of rock 'n' roll. I love music. In a proper, mad way. I love some tunes like my teenage self loved boys - with a furious, take-no-prisoners passion. I spent the early '80s pouring over sleeve notes in my bedroom and shuffling about at proto-indie discos to punk, goth and the Smiths, but my real life-changing moment came in 1988 when I fell head over heels for acid house. I couldn't get enough of this joyous, insane music, and a new phase of my music appreciation began. This time involving more coordinated dance moves.

By the early '90s I had my first job at the Department of the Environment, but at weekends I was out partying, clubbing and going to gigs with like-minded and music-obsessed friends. Sometimes, at work, my other self would leak out round the edges - a headphone necklace, my pierced nose, most notably the time I turned up with blue streaks in my hair. Minor rebellions - but they raised eyebrows, particularly when I took to sleeping under my desk during my lunch hour. I even had an alarm clock on the desk to wake me for the afternoon. I lived in Camden in a flat that looked like a squat, and hosted back-to-mine parties for nearly 15 years.

Then, at 41, I had a baby. Followed 17 months later by another... and all the life-skewing, skin-flaying emotions they have brought with them. After nearly three years away, I returned to the Home Office, but the government, the economic climate and I had all fundamentally changed and it was no longer a straight-forward professional fit. It had become depressingly negative, with cuts dominating the agenda and colleagues too terrified of losing their jobs to support each other. My old position had gone, most of my colleagues had left and I just couldn't face hunkering down and working at something I no longer felt had value for another 20-plus years. It wasn't just that I wanted to do something better with my life; I also wanted to make my children proud. So, without even pausing for a leaving party, I ran to the hills in search of something different.

So, what next? My confidence was shattered. My focus was now entirely on my two, admittedly fab, children, but I felt I had lost myself. I employed a career coach (Marie Taylor) who helped me re-build my sense of worth and got me thinking creatively about what I could do next. The result surprised even me - I set up my own business and Big Fish Little Fish Productions - running family club events on weekend afternoons - was born. A micro-festival for the post-rave generation of parents and children. A party I want to take my own children to, with an emphasis on great music and a good time for all. Music, public service, running a complex project - it's the bullseye of the Venn diagram of my life experience, skills and interests.

This last eight months has been seriously up and down. In November I was staring blankly at job ads wondering what I could do and who would want me, and only slowly gained enough confidence in my idea to speak about it publicly. I found people loved it - they asked when they could come to a party and, most important, asked to contribute. It has been lonely, and at times frustrating. Developing a website has been a Kafkaesque nightmare of confusing expert advice encouraging me to pay web developers large amounts of money. But now I can merrily re-code my own website (ooh, get me!). I have also had the challenge of making phone calls while supervising toddlers - logo designers and bank managers have heard me exclaim "no, I won't bite your toes," or "why is your brother covered in glue?", or heard the phone thrown down when the children have done something really life-threatening.

So I'm doing what I never thought possible - being my own boss and creating something worthwhile and fun. I'm loving my newly-adopted kick-ass businesswoman persona (I wanted to call myself Shady Lady Promotions and wear an Arthur Daley sheepskin jacket, but was advised it might not come across as child-friendly; I may still get the coat, though), and the chance to work with fantastically talented people who all love music. It has also been a truly uplifting experience to re-connect with my now-dispersed old clubbing friends and find new people who really want BFLF to happen. It's not just the ego strokes it gives me but the fact that there's so many people out there who want to share again the communal love of music and pass that on to their kids, 25 years after the Second Summer of Love. Generations of love indeed.

The pre-launch (ie practice) BFLF in July has already sold out and I'm planning the first of the autumn parties in Brixton. I'm mostly terrified at the moment, and am worrying about everything from catastrophic power-cuts to "will there be enough buggy space?", but I'm also excited and happy about what I'm doing. It feels right because it feels good and true.

I do hope you come back to find out how it all goes. I've re-found my mojo. Now, let's get this party started ...

Find out more at www.bigfishlittlefishevents.co.uk @BFLFEvents FB/bigfishlittlefishevents

 

Follow Hannah Saunders on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@BFLFEvents

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