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Suzanne Noble tells Beena Nadeem about her varied working life in tv, adult sex education videos and business and how she now helps older people who want to become entrepreneurs.
At 60, Suzanne Noble has had a lifetime of changing directions and taking the odd risk, many of which have paid off. Stepping out of university in the early eighties, she headed straight for the bright lights of TV production. “I thought that it was going to give me the opportunity to travel. I never really got beyond Wembley Stadium,” she says.
But she did go on to produce programmes for Channel 4, while also setting up a production company. “In those days, if you didn’t work for the BBC you had to endlessly pitch ideas to Channel 4 or LWT. I didn’t get very far,” she says. She ended up going freelance. But those projects she did land were lucrative. “My first commission for Channel 4 was unbelievably £200,000 for a 10-minute programme. Can you believe that? They gave me a quarter of a million for 12 programmes of 12 mins long.”
She left the TV industry when her first son was born in 1992. “At that point, I was ghost-writing for The Mirror and women’s magazines for an astrologist,” she says. As time went on, Suzanne needed more money and took a job as a secretary in an advertising agency.
“My now ex-husband was working in PR for Lynne Franks” (who some say was the inspiration for the BBC comedy, Absolutely Fabulous). “He left there and set up on his own and asked me to come in him,” she says. She worked in PR until 2008 and landed some huge clients.
At the same time, she produced adult sex education videos, after a stint running a sex toy shop. “Selling sex toys doesn’t make as much money as actually producing something for the industry,” she says. “I put £25,000 of my own money in [a colleague put in £45,000] and recruited a woman and some porn actors to do an adult sex education video called Modern Loving. It was an incredible diversion. We got a distribution deal in the States, which is what I needed, with the biggest distributor of sex education videos – that was 2003,” she says.
Two years after that Suzanne had her second son. “I was trying to find a baby sling that I liked. In the States I found an over-the-shoulder sling, made modifications and set up a company over here called The Better Baby Sling Company. I ran that as a mail-order business alongside working with my ex,” she says.
She did this for five years before selling the company to a client and becoming ‘tired of talking about babies’.
Meanwhile, the PR company was “really rocking”. She had clients including Warner Brothers, Sony and Universal. The company expanded to 12 staff and bought a building to house them all.
Suzanne says it wasn’t working for her as she realised, she didn’t like managing people. Instead of making everyone redundant, she gave them her clients. “I took my biggest one with me, which was a children’s TV show called Lazy Town,” she says.
Suzanne became their PR and marketing manager. Through a colleague, Suzanne managed to get involved with Michelle Obama’s campaign to get underprivileged kids moving and fighting obesity. “And Lazy Town was all about getting kids moving,” she says. Through contacts in Washington, Susan was able to put her client in front of Obama.
Since then Suzanne has been honing her entrepreneurial and campaigning skills and encouraging others too. Around 2011 Suzanne set up a website for cheap and easy things to do around London called Frugl and, though popular, she says, “I couldn’t find a way of monetising the site. It won award after award but brought in no money.” The site now curates deals from those like Groupon, Living Social, and others, so is now making money.
Then Suzanne became more involved in activities for older people. In 2016, she was chatting to a friend in a hot tub about the brutality of ageism and about how employment in the media was ageist. They launched Advantages of Age. With some Arts Council funding, she set up a Facebook site as well as events. It was a platform for older people who can’t relate to the mainstream narrative around ageing,” she says, “and I saw problems happening with ageism all around.” Thousands of people have signed up.
Around the same time, the budding entrepreneur set up Nestful, a site that helps older people find accommodation.
Essentially, Suzanne says she realises she’s not typical and that she has been building up her confidence and skills since she was 20.
She has now used her skills at getting things started on small budgets to help older people launch businesses. Her Start Up School for Seniors gives 25 hours of pre-recorded information on starting a business, as well as regular Zoom calls, “where people go through what they’ve learnt. And test out their ideas in front of others in breakout rooms”.
Suzanne says that people who have lost their job, been priced out by middle management or been considered not to be quick enough to adapt to new technology without even being given a chance need help to get back out there and rebuild their confidence. Being treated in an ageist way, she says, is demoralising, but confidence is a barrier to doing new things.
“I recognise my story is like when people read about the woman who ran a marathon at 90. It doesn’t mean you have to be like me. There are baby steps you can take if want to make change,” she says. She suggests working in voluntary work, which boosts morale, confidence and skills, as well as giving new skills to people who might want to take the next step – perhaps into self-employment. “It’s not as big a leap as you might think,” she says.
*Picture credit: Isabella Aceto (@izzyacetophoto)