My working day
For Donna Coulling, juggling the demands of a handful of celebrities including Helena Bonham Carter, Rachel Weisz and Sir Derek Jacobi means there’s no such thing as an average day.
What makes my job interesting for me is that every day and week is different. I’m a freelance PA so my work is very flexible and I can arrange things to suit myself. Basically, I look after six different people, all of them either actors or in the profession in some way. I have three that I work for every week – Helena Bonham Carter, Rachel Weisz and John Reid, my producer – and I have a routine with them where I do things every week on certain days. Then on top of that, I also work for Sir Derek Jacobi, Samuel West and Steve Baron (a director I took on recently) for an afternoon or morning every other week or every three weeks.
I do stuff on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday – I always know what I’m going to be doing for my three regulars on those days and that leaves me Monday and Friday to juggle the others. I also work in the evenings – I’m always on the email anyway – I can flick on my BlackBerry and email away. It makes it much easier than having to be in a certain place, but it does sometimes irritate my husband!
There are a lot of celebrities that have their own PA – some even have two, if they’re a mega high-profile Hollywood film star! Mine don’t need somebody full time, they just need someone at the end of the phone or email. They can always get hold of me, even when they’re out of the country.
I charge them by the hour, though I have a retainer with a few of them as they travel so much. It’s good for them as they know they can call on me at any time. Fortunately, none of them are put out by the work I do for the others.
It’s a very close personal relationship. You’re working in somebody’s home, off the back of the sofa, on the floor, on the kitchen table, wherever there’s a space. The three that I see regularly I see more than my friends, so it has to work. I have worked with people where our personalities didn’t gel, and when that happens you have to move on – that’s the point of working for yourself.
With all my clients, my workload depends on what they’re working on as Derek and Sam in particular are very theatre based. If they’re in a big theatre role I won’t see them very much until they come out the other side.
My responsibilties vary, but my job is to make sure that their private lives run as smoothly as their working lives so they can concentrate on what they do. I look after all their homes – when they go away on location that’s when they want the roof doing, the car servicing, or the kitchen rebuilding! I arrange for the contractors to come in, like a kind of project manager. And I’m doing a house move in three weeks – I seem to have done a house move every year for the last three years.
I also run a sort of concierge service – I make hotel and restaurant bookings, I arrange flights and travel, sort out cars. And then when there’s a premiere, that’s the fun bit. We get lots of frocks in and organise hair and make-up, and the press junket. Sometimes I also get to go on set, so there are nice sides to it because of the nature of the industry.
They all have agents, managers and publicists so I don’t need to run their diaries. I just make sure that they’re protected. There are a lot of requests that come in, from charities and all sorts of other people. I field all of that and decide what to run by them and what to not bother them with. Their agents send emails via me and I get post at home from the agents’ office. My clients’ time is limited – if they’re not working then they’ve got other things they want to do and they all have families. My job is to filter through everything and just give them what they need.
I’m never ‘off duty’. I’ve got my phone on Bluetooth in the car so there are always calls. When I wake up in the morning I check my emails so that I know what I’m supposed to be doing and what I’ve got to sort out. Thank God for the PDA, because I can still organise things, wherever I am.
My work definitely goes in peaks and troughs, though for me it mainly seems to be peaks; once work calms down for one client it starts up for another. There are always balls being juggled but I wouldn’t know what I was doing if I had a free day.
I never thought I’d be in a job for this long, but I’ve been doing it for nine years now. It’s not the role for everyone, but I love it.