This week, Nancy Buckland Kirk caught up with Leighton Denny and discovered that sometimes it’s an excellent idea to meet your heroes!
The first time I interviewed Leighton Denny I met the beauty industry’s tour de force. Energetic, and brimming with enthusiasm, we talked about his career and I got to know everything I needed to know about nails. This time was an entirely different occasion. Of course, I got the same Leighton: engaging, warm and personable. However, we had a different agenda. We got to sit down and have a chat about a subject close to Leighton’s heart and something he has in common with Tom Cruise, Bill Gates, Cher and Jennifer Aniston to name but a few: dyslexia.
Leighton has recently taken on the role of an Ambassador to the British Dyslexia Association and it is a task he is relishing. For Leighton personally, it has already been quite the journey. At school, he simply had no idea why he was struggling, but his parents were determined to find out what was happening. Aged 14, Leighton’s father took him out of school and a private tutor was able to determine that Leighton was dyslexic. He then began the slow journey of learning to learn to read and write. He was able to turn his experiences into something vital: his ‘think outside of the bottle’ attitude led to him forging ahead in the beauty industry and the creation of several ranges including the award-winning Leighton Denny Expert Nails, Sun Believable Expert Tanning, Lip Duals and LIGHT & DARK fragrance.
On a cold but beautiful Spring afternoon I got to ask Leighton more about his new role and, of course, there was a sprinkling of beauty chat, too!
You’ve had a hugely successful career so far, but how did you make the leap from having a skill to launching a brand?
“In a fast-paced world, it took 15 years for me to become an overnight success! All of those hours working with clients and getting to know about their likes and needs also garnered me a wonderful clientele. My work started to attract much media attention, especially from the fashion press, and established brands reached out to me to collaborate as my industry awards piled up. My first role was as an ambassador for Cutex and Rimmel, back in 1999, and then I got to work with Marks and Spencer to create their first in-house nail range. I am forever grateful for that opportunity, as I got to work in new product development and saw up close just what a new range needs in order to be formulated, from initial plans to the finished products. I then collaborated with several other prestigious brands and then decided to put my own stamp on the industry: it was time to launch using my own name. I am really into innovation but also taking enough time and resources to get the products right. And I always wanted customers to return to the brand and repurchase. You can’t do that if the product is only about hype. I always knew that this would be where my journey would take me. Despite what happened in school, I knew that my own brand would happen. It’s a message I pass on now in my new role: you have to start with yourself. I am a creative, and not an academic, but I have realised there is space in the world for every type of talent. Find yours, and then use it!”
School was really challenging for you – how important is it in 2020 to have supportive teachers and educators?
“I’m so glad things have changed but there is still so much work to be done. That’s why working with the British Dyslexia Association is so important to me. Approximately 10 percent of the population are believed to be dyslexic and yet even today it is believed that 80 percent are leaving school with no diagnosis. Those working in education want to do so much more and their awareness is keen, but the problem is a huge lack of resources. When I first met the team from the British Dyslexia Association all I was armed with were my own experiences and my earlier life ones were not encouraging: at school I was told I would amount to nothing. I didn’t want to just go out into the world with just my own story to tell. So I have spent considerable time working and researching from the ground up, to get a clear picture of all of the issues involved. I have talked with parents, educators and young people. It is really clear that investment is needed, and I have been to the Houses of Parliament to talk about this. Investment makes economic sense: whilst it is a considerable undertaking to have specially trained educators in every school, college and University, it adds up to fewer working days lost in the long run, which benefits everyone. I have been so lucky in my life, but for some young people, dyslexia can lead to really challenging issues both economically and socially. The message that is coming through is clear: every child and young person has the right to a decent education.”
You are really entering an exciting era in your own life, this new role as Ambassador to the British Dyslexia Association is really important to you, isn’t it?
“I have really entered into this new role with a positive energy. When I meet parents who have a child struggling with dyslexia I like to refer to it as my ‘super power’ as it has enabled me to think creatively. When you listen to such inspirational people with dyslexia talk about it, one thing really shines through: as humans we like to adapt and evolve. Without Bill Gates, there would be no Microsoft. Tom Cruise has gone on to be one of the world’s biggest movie stars, and Jennifer Aniston is the queen of the screen: both have spoken about how they have had to adapt how they read and learn their lines. Dyslexic people in their own way have changed the way we live and communicate. I have had so much support so far in the media, and on my own social media, and parents in particular really react well to hearing inspiring stories. The work that the British Dyslexia Association is so wide-ranging. As well as providing support, advice and information they also work with young people, parents, educators and employers and are advocates when it comes to approaching those in authority. Their free, pop-up Roadshows all over the country are hugely popular and as well as fundraising they are involved with moving education forwards. I am so proud that I can help in any way, as it’s really important to shine a light on the sterling work they do.”
Who have been the shining stars in your own life?
“I can sum that up in two words: my parents! Both of them were self-starters and so I like to think they passed that spirit of enterprise on to me. As a youngster with dyslexia, they left no stone unturned and since then, they have supported me through every venture. My dad in particular instilled in me that working for yourself brings risk but also a huge sense of freedom – and he was right! I know both of them were so proud when I received my MBE for services to the beauty industry.”
What would your advice be to anyone who is struggling to find their own dream right now?
“The only time you fail at anything is when you stop trying – these are words I live by! You might not find your dream first time around – I started off as a forklift truck driver, after all! Don’t get too anxious to avoid mistakes – they really are opportunities to learn. And in this social media driven instant-era, don’t get hung up too much on likes or followers. If you want to get creative, learn a skill from scratch and go out there and practice. I find in all areas of life that quick-fixes simply don’t work. I have never launched a product just for the sake of it. And finally, you can listen to constructive criticism from someone with expert skills or knowledge but ignore put-downs. I think that’s my life lesson right there: resilience really helps you build your inner strength.”
After grilling Leighton about his new role I got to talk about his future plans. He’s just finishing his second book and he’s not resting on his beauty laurels, either. Fifteen years after launching the groundbreaking Leighton Denny Crystal Nail File, one still sells every sixty seconds. I have a feeling that’s where Leighton’s mind is continuing to focus, on more curated nail and beauty collections, with more transparency and less waste.
That life advice about never meeting your heroes proved to be the opposite for me here. Back in the day, I used to ring Leighton when he was live on air at QVC, and I would never have thought then that I would get to meet with the man who simply changed the nail industry for me. I’m not an influencer: I simply love what Leighton does. I left him on a wonderfully windy day, having a cuppa with his beloved mum. He gave me a chance to talk about mine, which is a conversation I always love to have.
As a former teacher myself, who often used to bore pupils into submission with whatever lesson I was trying to deliver, I left Leighton with a sense that he taught me far more than I was expecting, in a wonderfully warm and intelligent manner, without me realising it all. The very best teachers do that. The boy from Bradford can now add Mr. Denny to his long list of achievements.
He can now surely add the title of ‘Sir’ to that MBE.
For more information on the British Dyslexia Association got to www.bdadyslexia.org.uk
To shop Leighton Denny’s ranges go to www.ld-boutique.com
About the author: Nancy Buckland Kirk is a writer with a keen interest in fashion and beauty and a career which has spanned modelling, teaching and spreading the word about leading beauty brands. You may also enjoy: Nancy’s previous His & Hers interview with Leighton Denny & her spring accessories roundup (we want them all!)