Celebrity publicists Jayjay Epega has worked with all manner of A list celebrities, from George Michael to Taron Egerton and Tom Hardy. It’s hard to imagine she is actually a shy person! In this episode of the Shy and Mighty Podcast, Jayjay shares her experience of shyness and bags of advice on how we too can be more mighty.
‘It’s been quite a journey!
I went to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and my last semester I did an internship with a PR company called Levine Communications working for a gentleman called Michael Levine. I had planned to become a diplomat, but when Michael offered me a job in his London office I took it!
I worked as an assistant to a gentleman called Alan Edwards, who at the time managed a lot of talent like, David Bowie, Janet Jackson, some legal stuff for George Michael. This experience threw me into the deep ender accounts, working with big names. But he also gave me that discipline and appreciation for the business.
I was really fortunate cause I’ve got to know a lot of the media and how it worked at the top end. Because it’s kind of honed in a skill in me where I had to learn to deal with all kinds of people… and lots of demanding people and also what wonderful, wonderful talents, which has helped me with my career to this day.
From there I went on to work with major companies, I worked at MTV Europe, I worked at all the major record labels and I spent a long time working at Turner broadcasting and CNN. I’ve worked with the Academy Awards… you know, the Oscars organization as well as the BFI London Film Festival.
My shyness goes back to my childhood. When I was a young child, my mother used to encourage me to go to drama classes. I’d be the quiet one in the room, just looking around, not saying too much.
Going to drama school in the summer holidays and just getting some extra classes kind of built up my confidence. It really helped.
I realise now that working in PR works for me as a shy person, because in the end, I’m not promoting myself.
I’ve known publicists who want to be more famous than their clients. “Look at me, I’m the greatest PR in the world” kind of attitude. I’ve never had that. I’ve always wanted to promote somebody else because it hides me from the glare of observation and publicity.
I might be with one of the biggest names in town or whatever, or doing a movie or with a wonderful brand, at the end of the day, the focus is not on me. That’s what helps me with my shyness. I like promoting others, brands, bands, whatever, writing about other people. And that’s where I hide myself.
I worked for a great lady called Connie Filippello. She represented George Michael for 35 years. She represented Gianni Versace. She puts Elizabeth Hurley in that dress, in the Safety pin Dress. She also introduced Brad Pitt to Sinitta in the 80s and put them on that date. Nobody goes around saying that. She’s so powerful, she can pick up the phone. I’ve seen her pick up the phone to Jay Z and Beyonce and say “Are you guys coming to my party?” That’s how powerful she is. And she’s shy. She’s very shy but she doesn’t have a social media following. Her website is just her address or her office.
I like a quieter approach. Quiet people like that are often the really powerful ones. They don’t need to shout and say look at what I’ve done, look at me.
I remember at the start of my career, when I was 21, my boss came and said, “You need to call David Bowie”. And then I was like “Oh my goodness I have to call David Bowie!” I was scared, but I did it. And now, I know that I can do it, I can speak to anyone.
When I’m making phone calls, I have a kind of persona. I think “okay, what am I today?” I put it on. So, one day I might be Margarita calling! Try it. Just throw away your inhibitions and think, well, you know, who am I today? You know, go play ra ole. Okay we’ve got to call these journalists, they’ve got to pitch this story, we’ve got to pitch this campaign or whatever I need to call this important person. Let’s step away from us and for those 10 minutes or five, 10 minutes. I still find it useful, even now.
It’s so important to have a voice.
Get involved with special events, panels, be a mentor to others coming up. Share what you do. Share your experiences.
It may not be about making money, but you might be helping your community. You might go out and give a talk at a school and telling them about your journey and your aspirations,
I love reading your newsletters, Nadia. You might be surprised. Yeah, I really do. And the other day, I showed it to my daughter and I like the aspect of sharing your news, your ideas. Again, not everybody will love what you do and I think the idea is to keep it positive. I think it’s just about staying connected.
You’d be surprised to know that many celebrities are shy.
I remember when I was looking after the late George Michael, this was before I worked in his PR office later in the 2000. And he was very shy. He wasn’t like overly fond of doing the PR game and going up and “Hey, I’ve got an album out”. He hated it all.
When I first met him, I was taken aback, because meeting someone at the highest level of fame, you wouldn’t expect them to be shy or awkward.
I’ve found thought that often people who are really at the really highest pinnacle of fame are the shy people. So, it’s sometimes the case, the higher up the person, the shyer they are.
I think nowadays almost everyone can be a celebrity in the sense of social media aspect of things. The level of self promotion can be more aggressive. People are like, look at me. I’m with, you know, all I’m doing this, I’m at this beautiful Island, look at the house I’m in and look at the car I’m driving.
I think the way to shine, if you’re shy, it’s just being good at what you do. You know? If you’re a good writer and people will see it.
You don’t need to scream; people can see it. You don’t have to say, look at me. I’ll look at what I’ve achieved. I’ve got 5,000 likes and people can see it. So, you don’t have to scream and shout. The quality will be seen without you having to have this attitude of I want to scream.
I just think you just make that journey the most inspiring and hopeful for us and indeed the next generation that comes after.”