Interview: Jean Johansson

Jean Johansson is no stranger to the spotlight as she is known to many as one of the faces of A Place in the Sun on Channel 4 as well as BBC’s Animal Park. In addition, Jean’s appearance on Celebrity MasterChef 2018 followed by a stint on This Morning helped make her a household name to millions more but while we know her work and we know her face, we don’t know much about how it all started.

Now, I know Jean as being that girl who was a few years ahead of me in high school that went off to work for the Disney Channel and earlier this week, Jean was kind enough to sit down for a chat and we discussed the early days of her career over a nice cup of tea but once again we’d like to extend our appreciation to Jean for taking the time out of her schedule to chat with us.

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When would you say the idea of entering show business first entered your mind?

I don’t think it was ever show business. I think when I was in school, I had a real love for media and Media Studies is what I wanted to do. I didn’t go to the type of school that had a school newspaper or anything like that so I didn’t really have an outlet for that sort of journalistic inkling that I had.

As soon as I left the Port Glasgow High School, I went to James Watt College to start on Media Studies and I done a year there before going to Paisley University to continue and start my degree. I didn’t end up finishing my degree because I got a job in TV before the end of the degree. But it was always media, writing, journalism and broadcasting as well. I’m lucky I was able to bring that all together in my career but it was definitely back in high school that I started to like the journalistic side of things.

Can you remember if there was anything in particular that prompted you to want to go down that career path?

Yeah, I’m avid reader, I always have been. My Dad is an English teacher so I was engrossed in books from a really young age so I guess it was just a love of language, words and the way they’re put together. Story telling basically, which my job today is really. So, I guess that love of children’s stories as a kid as I got older morphed into wanting to make stories and make TV.

It was during high school that you joined the modelling agency in Glasgow, is that right?

I was around a lot of media and doing shoots with newspapers and photographers and appearing in newspapers. So, that I guess was the real beginning of getting into that world.

So how did that come about? These days, that maybe not be too crazy a thing but back when you start that wasn’t something you heard of happening all too often.

I was quite happy with my job down in McDonald’s Drive-Thru in Greenock and when you look back there was a pull to Glasgow and wanting something a little bit more. I was one of those teenage girls where a lot of people, because I’m tall I guess, and back then I was quite lean and slender, loved my makeup, loved fashion and people would often say to me “You should be a model” and for most I’m sure it would be like water of a duck’s back but for me it was “Oh, OK. I’ll go try be a model then”. So, off I went up to a modelling agency in Glasgow and I’m glad I did because that really introduced me to the world of media.  

How long where you in McDonald’s for? Unfortunately, I think some people seem to look down on that sort of profession but it’s an important stepping stone for a lot of people to get out into the real world.

I don’t look down on it at all. It was the beginning of a new life for me! Money was sparse in my house. It was the first time I’d made my own money. As soon as I got my National Insurance Number, I went up there and I loved my job. I signed with the modelling agency at 17 so it must have been a good year I was in there for. All my friends were in there.

We were all earning what we thought was great money because before that we didn’t have any money except our school dinner money. None of us were running about town with money in our pockets so that job in McDonald’s opened up a new world for me where I did have money to buy clothes and go up to Glasgow at the weekends and start having a life of my own.

I am extremely grateful for that job and in a way, it sort of set me up for what I do now because I would spend my days up at that window of the drive-thru having banter with people, talking to people. You can imagine a young teenage girl, talking away to customers and communicating with people. So, actually it was maybe the start of me getting on with loads of different people and having practice of just conversing with people.

When did you eventually bite the bullet and head up to Glasgow permanently?

Port Glasgow is 20mins from Glasgow but a world away as well. Port Glasgow is a big town but it’s a small town as well in some respects and just knowing that that big city was 20mins away was always a pull to me. Just from going up there with my mum on a Saturday it just felt like opportunities. You watch movies now and you see kids from New Jersey wanting to go to Manhattan or kids from the suburbs travelling to London and that’s what Glasgow was for me. It was a beacon with more diverse people with more diverse ideas. It wasn’t a small town anymore and I just felt like there was opportunity round every corner. It was my New York City.

When you were at James Watt College and later Paisley University, did you have an endgame in mind?  

Yeah, to get my degree and become a journalist. Print journalism was the way I wanted to go. Being a travel writer would have been an option for me and I was also a massive movie buff, and still am, so to interview actors and directors – these were the dreams of an 18 year old kid where you think you get your degree and just go off and get these jobs but of course that’s not how it happens.

So, none of your career thus was really part of the original plan?

No, I didn’t go to stage school or acting classes. It was never a case of wanting to be on TV and maybe more wanting to make TV or wanting to write about TV. That was how it started and then an open audition for a TV presenter comes along and I wasn’t going to say no so I kind of accidentally fell in front of the camera.

Once you’re in Glasgow, are you going to auditions there or are you still needing to travel to places like London?

I went to an open audition at BBC Scotland and I was very lucky because I went through a few days of auditions when they were looking for new talent and ending up getting a job for BBC Scotland which really just started the ball rolling in my career. That job came to me in 1998 and by 2000 of course Glasgow was already too small for me and I moved to London and that’s when the madness really started.

Now, I don’t know about you but I think the education system in Scotland is positioned in such a way that jobs in the creative industries seems like such a far-off dream to people, at least it was when I was in school and college. I certainly wasn’t encouraged in school to seek out the kind of things I do now and my first day of college I was told that I’d never get a job in the industry I’d chosen to study.

Yeah, I agree. It certainly was back in my day and that’s something I’m really passionate about. I just hope that every time I’m on TV and I open my mouth there are kids from Port Glasgow, Greenock and Inverclyde that they could do it too. It’s so important to have role models like Martin Compston who just had 12million viewers the other night and that made me feel so incredibly proud and I hope that guidance counsellors at school do have a different mindset now and are more knowledgably.

If someone came to me now and said they wanted to work on TV or music, I wouldn’t be telling them to go and do a degree or a course in it. I’d be saying, if you can go and make the cups of teas at the recording studio or go and be a runner at a TV show because give it a couple of years, work hard and you’ll get where you want to get but you will get there.

Plus, you’ve got social media now, you want to be a TV star if you have a phone start filming. Start your YouTube Channel, get yourself out there. You can do it so much more easily now, there’s no excuses. If that’s the road you want to go down you have to make it happen for yourself.

That brings me nicely to the last thing I want to touch on and that is Social Media. To me certainly, protecting your brand and putting the right foot is something I think a lot of people are going to need to learn from a very young age these days no matter what your future plans may be. What’s your take on it?

Absolutely and that should start in school. You don’t want to be leaving school and your employer is looking at Tweets from when you were 12 or 13 so that needs to be taught in schools and taught in the home as well. You’re leaving an online digital footprint that could possibly be with you for the rest of your life and if you are going into TV or music or sport or whatever, be in keeping with your brand.

If you’re a sporty person, I should see lots of sporty pictures on your Instagram. I’m a daytime TV presenter so you’ll see my travel, you’ll see my animals. You won’t see me in my underwear or out clubbing. I don’t really share my private life so stay on brand and the sooner that teenagers and school leavers learn that the better because we’re often seeing people regretting parts of their past that they’ve put out there for everyone to see.

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