From Celebrity PA to Bestselling Author: The Inspiring Journey of Merryl Futerman

Hello – I’m Merryl and for the last twenty-five years I was a celebrity PA to some of the biggest names in UK television. I was freelance and part-time for all of them, working for a maximum of three clients at any one time. The question I get asked most often is how I go into that role so I’m going to share my story.

My first job was in book publishing – more of that later – in the publicity department, working with authors promoting their books with interviews and bookshop events, making all the arrangements and then often travelling around the country with them, on trains, staying in hotels, so you spend time together. I was enjoying it well enough, but when I was offered a publicity job in the film industry, I thought that sounds super glamourous and leapt at the chance. It was very different, I spent weeks at a time abroad on location, organising press visits and photo shoots, and many hours on set at studios trying to coax actors to come out between takes and talk to the journalist. I wasn’t always the most popular person on set! But the hours were crazy, actors wanted to concentrate on their performances and not on the press who came to visit. Film making is all consuming, and then the project ends and you wave goodbye and may or may not stay in touch/work together or see each other again after all these intense months together.

By now I had realised that I preferred making genuine connections with these creative people, and was also looking to start a family, so came up with a concept and took a leap, offering my organisational abilities to individuals, so I would be ‘their’ person rather than part of a time sensitive project. They could hire me when they were busy, and not have me around when they were quiet, which is very much the narrative of the entertainment industry.  Above all I could be honest about who I was and my priorities time wise – e.g. not being available during the school run or at teatime.

I told my boss at the film PR company what I was planning, and she thought it was a great idea and offered to help. She gave me access to the VIP mailing list we had. Also, bearing mind this was a long time ago, I needed to have a way to approach them, so I hired a graphic designer to help me come up with a leaflet that I could send out. I was very choosy with who I approached, they had to have a reputation for being nice, but also live within a few miles of my house so I could minimise travelling time. I sent out my first dozen leaflets full of confidence and sat back and waited for the phone to ring. Except it didn’t, so I went back the list and chose the next dozen people and with a bit more trepidation sent them out. Again, nothing, and I began to understand that these high-profile people were maybe not going to bring a stranger into their homes and private matters so easily.

I was really low and wondering if the whole idea was nonsense when I had a call from the graphic designer I had used. He said he knew someone who could do with my services and was it OK to pass along a leaflet? Well, seeing as I had printed a thousand and sent out two dozen, I said that would be fine, and a week later I got a call from Julian Clary who at the time was on mainstream TV and performing stand up all over the country. I started the week after on a regular basis which grew over the twenty-five years that I was with him. From then, clients came to me in different ways, people I met at events with Julian, people his agent recommended or people I interacted with through my work. Some jobs were just a lone project like setting up an office or helping plan a wedding, others were more embedded in people’s daily lives.

The job suited me well, I like a challenge and I like my days to be different. I don’t mind not having a routine and I was able to shape my availability around my daughters’ needs as they went from nursery to school to university.

The pandemic was a game changer for so many of us. For me, all the work dried up overnight, and we had no idea when theatres or studios would reopen. It gave me a chance to step back from everything and think about my future. I had always loved books and dreamt of writing one – hence my very first job being in publishing, but the years had rushed by without my noticing and although I had been dabbling and going to some creative writing classes it was more of a hobby. I decided to knuckle down in lockdown and take the writing seriously. I knew what I wanted my topic to be. So many times in my career and hearing others’ stories I used to think ‘you couldn’t make this up’. So, I have made Maddy Sparks, my protagonist is a Celebrity PA. It is one hundred percent fiction – all the characters are completely drawn from my imagination, but I will say that the world she inhabits and some of the situations she finds herself fin are based on my own experiences. They say write what you know… It’s called Don’t Make a Scene and is getting some great reviews. It’s a fun read.

So that is my journey and I guess the message I wanted to pass along is that although back at the start when I wanted to set up as a Celebrity PA, I thought I had easy access to clients, my leaflet got me nowhere, BUT if I hadn’t commissioned the leaflet I would not have got that foot in the door. If you don’t make what you want known, it will definitely not happen, but if you do, it might, perhaps not in the way you expected, but it might.

And yes, somewhere in a box I probably still have the other nine hundred and ninety-odd leaflets.

By Merryl Futerman

Merryl Futerman started her career in publishing. Lured by the bright lights of showbusiness, she moved over to the film industry, but quickly realised her skill set as forming individual relationships. In 1997 she set up as a freelance Celebrity PA, truly believing it was a role she had created. Over the last twenty-five years she has supported some of the biggest names in UK entertainment including Jonathan Ross, Anne Robinson and Julian Clary.

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