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From hot metal setter to ski rep, art director to ebay seller, Toni Koppel believes that, by saying yes to every opportunity, she’s been able to embrace what she loves. And that’s exactly the spark of interest that brought her to her latest venture – video editing for new media clients.
Toni Koppel, 61, runs her own video production company, sugarsweetproductions.co.uk, in north London. It’s her latest venture after a series of career changes over the course of her working life.
“At the time,” says Toni, I never thought of changes in career as anything major. Once I turned freelance, I just saw myself as a person with lots of skills and I was happy to use them whenever I needed.”
Some things have remained stable, however. For example, from the ages of 13 to 30 (in 1990) – Toni kept the same Saturday job. “I worked at Georgies, a gift shop in NW London, selling chocolates and flowers. That was important as it meant that once I’d moved away from home – to flat share above the shop, my rent was covered.”
Toni originally trained at the Chelsea School of Art in the late seventies. She went onto complete a BA in graphic design at Middlesex Polytechnic in 1983. Armed with skills which included hot metal setting – which, she says is “how newspapers were once put together, letter by letter” – she also developed her own photographs in darkrooms and learned editing. “Back then this was done by cutting the film and taping the cut ends together,” she says. Those skills, she says, helped her step into her first job – as a junior art director for a small advertising agency. “My work involved putting ideas down on paper with magic markers and hand lettering typography.” But as the firm moved from London, Toni looked for other opportunities.
One morning she spotted an ad’ asking for ski reps. Being a keen skier, she went to the interview out of curiosity. “The next day I found myself on a plane to Italy for a weekend of training,” she says. She flew back to tie up a few loose ends and began her work around the French/Italian border almost immediately. “I loved it. I skied every day, organised events for evenings and did airport pick-ups,” she says.
In between each season she returned to London to take up temp or design jobs, learning a new skill each time, including setting up admin systems, credit control and debt recovery.
“I was happy to do any job that interested me, paid well or felt like fun,” says Toni. And because of her sense of curiosity and a love for meeting new people, she found herself putting together a handbook of courses for the further learning institute, the London Open College Federation. “They had the new Apple computers – tiny black and white models, but great for typesetting the handbook. They were the first ‘what you see is what you get’ screens and with the aid of some handbooks and the built-in help, I worked out how to use them,” says Toni.
She went on to figure out the database function and set up a whole system for the college to keep track of all the credits that students gained on their courses. “When one of the computers broke down, the engineer who came to fix it started chatting to me and told his boss about me. Soon after, I was invited to join the Apple dealership,” she says.
There she learned about the hardware and technical specifications of the various models and became one of only two women to run regular training courses for new Apple users out of 30 men.
She stayed there until 1994, until she was eight months pregnant.
By 1998, and at the age of 38, and with her second son happily installed at nursery, Toni was keen to get back to work. She set herself up as a Mac trainer. At this time dial up internet was getting popular at home and the world of eBay was heating up.
Many of her clients wanted help with eBay selling things. So, for the next 10 years Toni turned her hand to being an eBay trading assistant, selling anything from cars to designer kitchens. But the platform became so cluttered, it soon became hard to make money. In fact, she says she stopped completely once her son analysed her time: she was earning less than 60p an hour.
She had started volunteering for a local computer club, now called the Five Bells Computer Club but previous known as Internet & a Cuppa, helping older users with technology. In 2017 Toni took over the running of the group, keeping it going through lockdown using Zoom. To this day, she still does this and the club has just formed a Tea and Tech Club community interest company. At that time, she also attended a video-making course. “I enjoyed it so much, I started my own video production company in 2016,” she says.
She now uses her skills in planning, filming and editing, this time helping people to improve their websites and social media output. “I doubt I’ll get bored of making videos for quite some time!” she states.
Overall, she says she is sometimes left wondering if she has made the most of her life, but she says: “I was never bored and could work without people over my shoulder. I just said ‘yes’ to the opportunities I was offered.”