She wanted to study photography at college but that course was oversubscribed. So Jacqui Chapman ended up in graphic design.
She took to it like a duck to water and it laid the foundations for her successful Jacqui Chapman events company, the organisation behind many of the region’s high-profile and glittering social and business events.
Chapman now presides over her £500,000-turnover events business from modern new offices in South Shields where her warm and welcoming character and creativity are evident in the floor-length sparkling chandeliers, armchairs and quirky statues with which she has lightened the institutional grey and glaring orange of her surroundings.
She has been kept busy with ensuring the smooth running of one of South Tyneside’s most prestigious events. Not the Great North Run, although that would probably hold no fears for the dynamic Chapman, but the South Tyneside Business Awards, a council-run event in a borough where the local authority works hard to ensure its employers are happy.
Like many self-employed people, her days are very long - “I don’t want to think what my hours are,” - but is fortunate to love her job.
Chapman said: “Every day is different - 27/10 I like to call my working day. For instance, I’m now building for the South Tyneside Business Awards.
“The marquee went up at the end of last week and the set’s going in today so I’ve been down on site first thing to check that everything logistically is going to be OK. I did a walk-though with the event management team and took my joiner down to make sure everything has the correct measurements.
“My guys are downstairs now prepping all of that, making sure everything is ready to rock. They will load the van and go down on site and then start building it and I’ll wander down about lunchtime and make sure everything’s OK and running to plan and schedule.
“Our schedule for today is to make sure the set is built and the stage is in. Tomorrow we’ll go back and start rigging all the audio-visual equipment so I’ll be back on site making sure all the guys know what they’re doing.”
Another day will be spent going through health and safety with council representatives before the day of the event dawns.
Chapman said: “I’ll go in there early in the morning, start rehearsals at 2pm and then finish about 1am. It’s hard work but I’m doing it all for myself and that’s what’s nice now.”
Her business is different in that it is an in-house events production company, rather than events management. She and her five-strong team design and build their sets and do all their own audio-visual work. Chapman segued into this from her early beginnings as a graphic designer and at a printing firm.
She said: “After time working for her father’s newsagency in Sunderland, I studied graphic design at Newcastle College. It was an intense course ... Mac computers. I think that was just when things were starting to change.
“I was in at the beginning. I loved photography and went to do that initially. I couldn’t get on the course so they said, ‘Why not do graphic design as you’ve got photography in there and someone always drops out,’ so I thought I might as well do that and when I got into it I absolutely loved it.
“I was always very good at art and could draw very well, I ended up working in a printer’s where I was lucky enough to get a job doing large-format printing. Within that they had a large exhibition division and I was seconded to that which is where the exhibition side of it started.”
Many will know her from her time as one half of the team behind Spacecraft Events, which she set up with Stef Lumley in 2004.
“That went from strength to strength. We founded a very successful company which I’m very proud of. We decided to expand the company and increased our staff very heavily and rapidly expanded in a short period of time. I think we had about 10 full-time staff but we had a lot of freelances.
“But about three years ago Stef left. I plodded on for a while but then I think I just decided it was time for a change. I wanted a new challenge. I think I had fulfilled everything I wanted at Spacecraft and I’d got to where I wanted to be. I decided I would set off again doing things that I had learned. I think you learn a lot in business, you learn by your mistakes and you learn by the people you work with.”
She launched JC Events in February this year, bringing some of her former team with her. “Not the whole team, I wanted to condense it down, not be the big company I was before.
“I wanted to specialise, because I found that being a bigger company, I wasn’t doing what I enjoyed, I was getting involved in HR and the run of the company, whereas I’m very much the creative side.
“When you become a bigger and bigger company you get embroiled in that side of it and I was distancing myself from what I actually enjoyed. My whole purpose for doing what I did was because I wanted a smaller team so I could have that personal service back with the clients I had.”
Launching her new venture just as the country was beginning to hope it might see light at the end of a very long recessionary tunnel might seem foolhardy to some but Chapman, who is 43, learned from the mistakes of others she saw go under. She worked through the recession by adapting what she offered, and working within budget, and now gets a lot of work through recommendations.
Her client list includes the Alan Shearer Foundation, Newcastle United Foundation (with whom she worked on the Steve Harper testimonial), Northern Power Grid, Josie’s Dragonfly Trust, the Voscar awards for the community in Byker, Newcastle, Port of Tyne and charities and energy companies.
“It’s very varied, that’s what I love about the job, I meet so many lovely people and every day is different and there are new challenges - I think that’s what I find most interesting about my job, you’ve got to problem-solve,”
She pays tribute to her small team, especially her right-hand man Mark Worthington, as well as shopfitter Phil Brown, production manager Paul Coates and AV manager Jai Wall.
“The team are all skilled, I’ve got the right people with the right skills in the right place. The only external work I bring in is if I need more hands on deck. At college the good thing I learned was how to manufacture things, how they come together, and that has been a great benefit to where I am now. I’ve never actually made anything myself but I did work on some of the sets in the early days, putting them up with the team. I don’t think you should ask anyone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself.
“I’m a very hands-on person, even now I’ll be on a job and I’ll be cleaning and putting things up. It’s good for the team to show that you’re willing to do that. To be honest I don’t think I’ll be able to stop myself!”
She met her partner Jay Perera while working on an event for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and they live in Murton. Any spare time she has outside work is spent meeting friends or exercising. And, of course, there are her high-powered supercars.
“I’m quite renowned for my cars,” she said. “I used to have a Lamborghini Gallardo and a Ferrari. I now drive a Mercedes SLK and am in the process of buying an R8. That’s my thing, I must admit. I used to have a TVR Tuscan which is quite a monster of a car, a raw drive, raw brakes, no power steering – that’s my passion if you like.”
A new line of work for her company is funerals. She has also become involved with the all-female Gabriel Investments group after being approached by Caroline Theobald while speaking at a lunch.
“I thought it looked really good and the girls on the board are fabulous. There’s one lady I’m talking to about possible investment.”
Although she’s looking forward to an easier life, which the Gabriel tie-up might bring, it’s hard to image this driven businesswoman ever relinquishing the reins of her small empire, a fact which she herself acknowledges.
“I’ve got some lovely clients. I feel really lucky to have the clients I’ve got and the team that I’ve got and the work that we do. I just love my job.”