Gus Cavanagh, 33, was suffering from severe anxiety when he started work for events florist Rebel Rebel. Ten years later, he’d built up enough confidence alongside a reputation for loose, seasonal flower arrangements to start his own company, the wonderfully named Augustus Bloom. His wife Laura has just joined the business and they have a seven-year-old daughter Frida. Business is blooming for Augustus Bloom with a client list including Estée Lauder, Jamie Oliver, ASOS and Soho House.
How did you become a florist?
“I fell into it. I suffered from anxiety and panic attacks as a teenager and young man. I had massive expectations of myself. I really wanted to go to drama school and that ended miserably because I didn’t have the guts to do auditions, so I thought I’d do film instead. But after a year at the University of Kent in Canterbury I realised I was not happy and had no idea why I was there.
“I shut down completely. For a long time, I didn’t see my friends, I didn’t do anything, I wasn’t working, I was hiding away. The fear of the unknown and not knowing what path to take was just terrifying me.
“I’d always worked on and off for my best friend’s mum at Rebel Rebel, simple jobs like painting and untangling fairy lights. When they got a flower shop on Broadway Market in London, I went there to just help answer the phones and be an assistant but when you’re working in a busy shop, you have to deal with customers and make arrangements, so I literally fell into it.”
But you must have realised you had a gift and a passion for flowers?
“It took me a long time to realise that this was something that felt right and I didn’t need to question it. I didn’t wonder about what I was doing with my life - I was just doing it.
“I built my confidence up by being thrown in the deep end. I didn’t have time to worry, being in an environment where every day was quite scary - meeting new people and working on events with tight deadlines. I discovered a good work ethic and learnt to be creative, be bold, be fearless.”
So now your way to be fearless is just go for it?
“Absolutely. Face your fears and embrace fearlessness. Getting over fear is just a frame of mind. It’s the only way you’re going to succeed.
“To this day I try and keep busy. I’m not very good on holidays and weekends. If I don’t have something to do, I get very antsy very quickly. Being a florist really suits me because I have to work really long hours, get up at 3am to go to New Covent Garden and choose the best flowers.”
What’s been your biggest challenge at work?
“I took on an overnight installation and everything that could go wrong, did, and I worked through the night, batting fires. We couldn’t gain access on time and a cherry picker crashed into a really expensive cabinet. Immediately afterwards I was just exhausted. But the next day I was totally elated; I felt incredible because that’s as bad as it gets and ultimately we didn’t mess it up. It was a huge job, a huge budget and a huge client and we kept the client and I’ve done many more jobs since. That taught me to be professional and driven and just keep going until the job’s finished.”
So if you could turn the clock back to when you were miserable, paralysed by fear about what you should be doing, what would you tell yourself?
“Just try things. You can worry about stuff endlessly at home and it does no good at all. The more time you spend thinking about things and making plans, the more time wasted really.”
Your decision to set up your own business, Augustus Bloom, coincided with the birth of your daughter Frida, seven years ago. That’s a lot of pressure. Did you feel fearless?
“I had this safety net of having a job to go to every day and the security of a regular income. Then when we were about to have a baby I felt I needed to push myself to the next level.
“It was terrifying and a lot of pressure, but it was all coming from my own head. Actually the reality was I’d been a florist for over 10 years, I had loads of contacts. Every wedding I did, I’d get recommended to their friends because I was of that age. So objectively, it was a really good idea to do it when I did, and it just snowballed from there, year upon year.”
What do you want to achieve long term?
“My main goal was just to be happy and content and get over that hurdle of worry and misery. Now that’s happened I’m still working out what success will mean. I get a huge sense of pride just from fulfilling briefs and making clients happy with a focused, quality service. The jobs we do are naturally just much bigger than they were last year, two years ago. Now I’m so much more confident.”
Do you take risks?
“Creative risks. I’m always striving to be original and make amazing installations. I’ve just installed 30 snow covered Christmas trees in an advertising agency’s glass atrium, which looks amazing, and this week I’m making a Sleeping Beauty art installation at Windsor Castle, with lots of thorns and roses around a bed.
“Last year I did the window display for Top Man in Oxford Circus’s Valentine’s week, creating dramatic faces of flowers on the mannequins. They filmed me at home, at the studio and at the flower market and turned it into a mini biopic of being a florist, so that was very exciting.
“I did the flowers for the mental health charity MIND’s gala, which meant a lot to me because I’d been a patient as a teenager, so it was a big circle for me.”
Do you see yourself as fearless now?
“Much more than I used to. I definitely get a kick out of fear. It’s very easy to do jobs that you’re more than capable of doing and feel a bit flat afterwards. Actually the jobs that scare you are the ones you really benefit from. More of those please.”
Gus Cavanagh is part of THE AMEX FEAR-LESS SERIES which celebrates the achievements of the nation’s rising stars through their own unique and inspirational stories. Gus joins five other British influencers who talk candidly about their personal path to achieving their potential and the bumps in the road they encountered along the way. You can read more of their stories here.
Promoter: American Express Services Europe Limited has its registered office at Belgrave House, 76 Buckingham Palace Road, London, SW1W 9AX, United Kingdom. It is registered in England and Wales with Company Number 1833139 and authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.