For six years, Patricia Bright was determined to keep her side-career secret. She spent her weekdays climbing the corporate ladder, moving between London and New York to work at various world-famous financial institutions. By her mid-twenties she was making more than £60,000 each year, and a successful career lay ahead of her.
But at the weekends, she was filming and broadcasting videos on YouTube, reviewing fashion and make-up for tens of thousands of fans. It might not sound particularly scandalous, but Patricia was terrified her bosses might find out. “There was this mindset of we work in banking, we work in the City, we’re not on the internet talking about lipstick,” she recalls.
Eventually, aged 26, she quit her job to become a full-time “YouTuber”. Now 31, Bright has built a loyal community of 2.7 million subscribers.
In the videos, posted several times a week, she sits in her front room, reviewing various lipsticks, outfits, and hair extensions.
Sometimes, she carries a camera around with her all day, giving her fans (who are predominantly aged 18 to 24) a glimpse into the life of one of the most successful beauticians in the country. But it’s not all about her teenage devotees - her new book, Heart and Hustle, offers advice to women who are looking to leave their corporate jobs and make their side-hustle pay.
When we meet at her immaculate home in Beckenham, on the suburban outskirts of London, Patricia tells me that she’s not as fearless as many assume. Before making that all-important leap, she agonised, panicked, and floundered for months.
Patricia’s double life started at Manchester Metropolitan University, where she quit her fashion marketing course after just one term to study accounting.
“I worked out that people don’t really make a great living doing this [fashion], it’s really a hard slog,” she recalls.
Instead, her interest in style found an outlet on the Wild West of YouTube, where she quickly grew her fan base.
“No-one did YouTube when I started, no-one even knew about it,” she says. “It was just a bunch of girls talking to each other about what products they used. To me, that was very interesting.”
Accepted straight after graduation on to a prestigious internship at Merrill Lynch bank, Bright’s prospects looked rosy. She moved from there to Deloitte, and next to the Bank of Tokyo.
But she quickly realised that it was not a career that brought fire to her belly.
“I say that my life was in black and white when I was in that world,” she says. “I learnt so much, but it wasn’t where my heart was. I always had this vibrant, colourful side to me that loved fashion and makeup, but I also had common sense: how do you make a living from that?”.
Patricia remained terrified that somebody at work would discover her secret YouTube career. She inhabited a highly traditional world dominated mostly by older white men, she says, and worried that most of her colleagues just wouldn’t understand. She feared losing her hard-won professional credibility.
“I already stood out. There were only three black people on the internship programme [out of hundreds]. Everyone has gone to Oxford or Cambridge. My biggest fear was that [my bosses’] daughters might see it and recognise me.”
She was horrified when, during a trip to New York with Merrill Lynch, a colleague stumbled across one of her videos and shared it with the other interns. “It was awful, after that I actually shut my page down, because I didn’t want anyone to see that I did it,” she admits. “It was considered really unprofessional.”
A friend, she recalls, pulled her aside to warn her “you shouldn’t do this, it doesn’t look good.”
But a fire had been lit inside her and after reopening her channel - and doing a better job of hiding it - Bright became so popular that she found herself being recognised in the street. She was asked to star in a video for a major retailer, who offered to pay her “four”. What she assumed was £400 turned out to be £4,000. That was when she realised that she could make money from her vlogging venture.
“There was no standard rate. It was ‘see what you can get and roll with it,” she recalls of those first days working with brands.
Her eventual decision to abandon the world of corporate finance and pursue a full-time YouTube career was by no means easy. Bright had a mortgage and plans to start a family, and the move would see her salary sliced in half.
She agonised over a computer spreadsheet, on which she laid out the benefits and drawbacks of each option. Even then, when she eventually made the jump, it was not the clean break she might have hoped for.
After just a month, she “panicked” and took another job in finance. “I kept having recruiters call me and I felt pressured to go for interviews.” She eventually used a job at a social media company as a halfway house, before finally taking the plunge into full-time YouTubing.
Now her salary reaches “easily six figures” each year and comes mostly from partnerships with beauty firms like L’Oreal. She also makes substantial amounts from the advertisements YouTube places at the beginning of her videos. More than anything, she loves the autonomy and visibly lights up as she discusses the new finance-themed channel that she is planning to launch.
Bright’s distinctly modern career comes with its own distinctly modern problems, however. In the ultra-sensitive world of social media, any vaguely controversial comment could land her in trouble - as she discovered to her detriment in 2017.
Flying home from New York, she sent a short tweet from her smartphone about the general election campaign. “I said I’m not that fussed about what happens because I can’t rely on the state to determine my future,” she recalls. She boarded her flight and switched off her phone.
When she landed, she was trending on Twitter, and had received thousands of abusive messages, accusing her of not caring about the results. Other social media influencers she had once counted as friends had rounded on her.
She hasn’t spoken to some of them since. The episode left Patricia acutely aware that in the new age of turbo-changed sensitivity, her career could collapse at any moment. She also works largely at the mercy of YouTube; any tweak to their algorithm could cause her viewing rates to plummet.
Nevertheless, she remains optimistic, and is even trying to persuade her husband Mike, a physiotherapist with whom she has a two-year-old daughter, to create a social media career by dispensing medical advice in YouTube videos.
She urges other women to embrace their own side-hustle: “I say make calculated leaps. Sometimes you’ve got to make a decision and do something. Mine’s paid off so far.”
Do you have a side hustle? Have you got any tips on how to make it successful? Tell us in the comments section below.