Great Britain

Vick Hope on why she never felt beautiful growing up and how Black Lives Matter gave her a voice

THE phrase “crowning glory” could have been invented to describe Vick Hope’s hair.

Her beautiful curls form a key part of her identity, but she admits that it’s
only in the last few years that she’s found the confidence to truly embrace them.

“I never saw hair like mine in magazines or on TV,” she says. “I thought it was horrible and frizzy and it didn’t look like any of the girls at school.”

Growing up in Newcastle, Vick rarely saw Afro hair outside of her immediate family and it reinforced the feelings of being different and “not quite good enough” that she’s wrestled with all her life.

She remembers as a young girl, wearing a T-shirt around her head and running around in the wind, imagining her hair was the “soft, straight and flowy” texture she longed for.

Whenever Vick and her Nigerian-born mum Adeline needed a haircut, they had to travel 100 miles south to Leeds, because back in the ’90s, there were no local salons catering for Afro hair.

“That again played into the feeling that I wasn’t quite as valid because my hair wasn’t important enough for there to be a salon to get it done at.” Vick pauses.

“I just felt really ugly growing up,” she says, with heartbreaking honesty. “I did not feel beautiful. I didn’t know anyone who looked like me, I felt my hair was messy and I remember asking my mum to wash the brown off me in the bath.

“Of course, who you are and what’s inside your head is more important than how you look, but that isn’t going to be nurtured properly if you don’t feel comfortable in your own skin.”

As she started experimenting with make-up, Vick, now 30, quickly learned that cosmetics for black and brown skin were scarce. Most brands would offer a whole spectrum of shades for white skin and then a single darker one, almost as a conciliatory after-thought.

I did not feel beautiful. I didn’t know anyone who looked like me, I felt my hair was messy and I remember asking my mum to wash the brown off me in the bath.

Vick Hope

“It was a ‘one-size-fits-all’ shade,” she says during our Zoom interview following her beauty issue cover shoot. “That’s changing now if you look at brands like Fenty Beauty by Rihanna, but there is still some way to go in terms of the range of tones on offer and the affordability. Fenty is not cheap.

“If there are no beauty products that cater for you, it almost feels like you’re not beautiful. And black women are beautiful. We’re all beautiful in so many different ways, but if you don’t see yourself represented then you start to feel like maybe you shouldn’t be there.”

Vick says there is greater black, Asian and minority ethnic representation in
beauty campaigns compared to a few years ago, but adds that it often feels
“tokenistic” and she recalls with disgust at once being told on a modelling shoot, that she was a “palatable” shade of brown.

“It can still feel like box-ticking – it would be very unusual, for example, to see two black women on the same shoot,” she says.

“And then there’s the way we’re represented. I see a lot of stereotyping in the styling or aesthetic of the shoot, where the black woman looks strong or
powerful and the white woman is softer and prettier. It doesn’t celebrate us for being nuanced and multi-faceted. There’s a long way to go before it feels truly representative and inclusive.”

One pivotal moment in Vick’s own life came three years ago when she was
introduced to award-winning hair stylist Michelle Sultan on a shoot. Vick
describes her as “the master” of Afro hair and it was Michelle who convinced her to ditch the straighteners and go natural.

“She taught me how to care for my curls and it’s been a project for three years now and I love it. I feel so free! I know it’s just hair but it feels so much a part of my identity now. I actually feel like it unleashed a side of my personality I’d not been able to explore.

“While it’s not a tight Afro like my mum’s because I’m mixed race [Vick’s dad Nigel is white British], I feel like this is me wearing my culture and my heritage with pride. This is who I am.”

I know it’s just hair but it feels so much a part of my identity now. I actually feel like it unleashed a side of my personality I’d not been able to explore.

Vick Hope

Vick now works with Shea Moisture UK who champion natural hair and she
finds it heartening whenever she receives messages from young followers asking how to nurture their curls rather than trying to “straighten them away”.

But the past few weeks have been physically, mentally and emotionally
exhausting. Since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked the Black Lives Matter protests across the world, Vick has marched, campaigned, shared an abundance of information and resources on social media, spoken powerfully and publicly about her own experiences of racism and had draining conversations in real life and online.

“Speaking out wasn’t a conscious choice as much as I felt like I couldn’t not. It doesn’t feel like it’s just performative, it feels like this is happening and we’re going to make meaningful change and I want to do all I can to help that.

“It’s tangible. I’ve heard so many people talking about ally-ship and that it’s not enough not to be racist, you need to be actively anti-racist. People want to understand the history and the roots and it doesn’t feel like they’re just jumping on a bandwagon, it feels like they’re starting to listen and learn.

“That this movement managed to cut through a pandemic shows the importance of it. The moment had to be seized because racism is a pandemic in itself.”

Opening up about both the overt and more insidious racism that has shaped her life has taken Vick to some painful places and unlocked many upsetting
memories, but it’s also lifted a weight and strengthened bonds with her three younger brothers Louis, Theo and Gabriel.

“I’ve not really spoken about race before. I’ve never felt I was in a position to. I grew up in Newcastle which is predominantly white, went to Cambridge [University, where she studied modern languages] which is predominantly white, and the industry I work in is predominantly white.

"When you’re young, you just want to fit in. I didn’t want to put my head above the parapet. But when there’s a boiling point like with George Floyd, which became a catalyst for a movement… it’s made me do a lot of looking inwards and I’ve thought about my racial identity for the first time.

" I’d explored the culture in terms of my Nigerian background but the racism I’ve encountered, I’d compartmentalised and never addressed. I’ve done that now through conversations with family – my brothers in
particular – my friends and people I don’t even know on the internet!”

She’s thought back to the numerous times she was stopped and searched by the police – always when she was with one of her brothers and normally when they were in one of the more upmarket neighbourhoods of Newcastle.

And the times she’s been described as aggressive, feisty or sassy – words used to racially stereotype black women – when she’s not done anything other than voice an opinion.

“I’ve remembered how powerless I’ve felt. It’s always hurt but it’s been liberating to realise why that felt bad and to know that other people felt it, too. I’ve actually had friends getting in touch with me and saying: ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t realise calling you sassy had these connotations’ and it feels quite radical that people are understanding this now.”

I’ve remembered how powerless I’ve felt. It’s always hurt but it’s been liberating to realise why that felt bad and to know that other people felt it, too.

Vicky Hope

As a mixed-race couple in the ’80s, Vick’s parents faced many difficulties, not least within their own families who, in the beginning, struggled with the
relationship. They were warned that “a blackbird doesn’t mate with a dove”.

“My grandma would say things that were unacceptable. She loved us and never meant to hurt, but there was an ingrained generational thing and trying to advise her of a better way of putting things was hard.

“When I was born I was quite pale and she said: ‘Hopefully she’ll stay that
colour’. And I remember her telling me when I had growing pains that it was because my spine ‘didn’t know whether to be white or black’.”

She says it’s the younger generation who can be better. “I will push to get black history into the national curriculum because it’s part of all of our history. Racism is systemic and deep-rooted but it can be dismantled and the kids can do this.

"They need to understand the ugly parts of our past as well as the beautiful bits and know about the really exciting cultures that make up the UK.
Why would they be racist if they knew that? They would understand that this is all of us. I have the utmost faith in the upcoming generation.”

It’s been just over four months since Vick quit her regular job at Capital
Breakfast after three years at the station in search of new opportunities. It was a gamble, but she couldn’t have known back in February that Covid was about to strike, the country would go into lockdown and life as a freelancer would become very precarious.

“It’s a scary time because there isn’t a lot of work,” she says. “But I’ve been here before. I came down to London with no money and I slept on my boyfriend’s aunt’s floor because I didn’t have a flat, like a lot of other interns in TV. And I managed then.

I will push to get black history into the national curriculum because it’s part of all of our history. Racism is systemic and deep-rooted but it can be dismantled and the kids can do this.

Vick Hope

"Sometimes, scary is good because it lights a fire in you. Life is too
short to not take risks. I needed to jump into the abyss and see what happened.”

She wants to explore documentary-making as well as write more (she started out as a journalist in Argentina, where she spent a year abroad), but would like to mix the serious with the light and continue to work in entertainment, too.

Vick got her break in TV in 2014 with 4Music’s Trending Live and has worked as a backstage reporter on The Voice and The X Factor before landing a place on Strictly in 2018.

“I still love that side of the industry and always will, but it’s going to be nice to be able to flex a few more muscles and use some of the skills I’ve picked up along the way.”

She’s certainly not short of things to do. For the last five years she’s volunteered at Akwaaba, a social centre for refugees in Hackney, East London and currently spends every Sunday making up food parcels for the families they support.

During the crisis she has also been assisting with casework, which involves a lot of FaceTiming and phone calls. She’s an ambassador for Amnesty International, too, and has been part of the campaign to push for an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill to ensure migrant survivors of domestic violence are able to seek help without fear of being deported or detained.

On top of this, she’s also written another children’s book with best mate and
former Capital colleague Roman Kemp – the second in their Listen Up series
about two kids who run the school radio station. The release is on hold due to Covid, but Vick is looking forward to doing a school tour and says the themes are particularly topical given what we’re currently living through.

“It’s about representation and speaking up. Kids can have a voice and they can stand up for what’s wrong. I didn’t see myself in books growing up. We need to look at the resources children are being educated with because a lot of kids can feel like they’re locked out of a system when they don’t see themselves represented in it.”

In the makeup chair with Vick

What’s your lockdown beauty routine?

I don’t have one! My eyebrows are a mess and my eyelash extensions have fallen out. I have to use concealer around my beard area!

Which foundation do you use?

The Ordinary – it’s like a serum foundation and I sometimes mix that with Laura Mercier primer. 

Do you have a skincare routine?

I love Ren products. Its balm lifts the dirt off my skin and I also use the gel cleanser and serum. 

What’s your make-up bag essential?

Dr Pawpaw Lip Balm. I use it on my elbows, brows and cheekbones. 

Who’s your beauty icon?

Zendaya. She looks so different every time because she’s having fun with it.

Do you have a make-up hack?

I’m big on mixing. It’s about textures and different parts of my skin work better with different products.

Single since splitting from actor Tom Rosenthal nearly three years ago, Vick
jokes that her love life is unlikely to change any time soon given the global
pandemic.

“Yeah, it’s not a great time to date right now,” she says. “I’m cool with it. I like being single. I can concentrate on all the good stuff going on and work on myself. It’s lovely to have someone but I’m quite happy as I am.”

And living alone has its advantages, she says, like being able to burst into an
Ariana dance routine in the kitchen with no one watching. But, during lockdown the nights are long and, like many, she misses the human contact that Zoom can’t quite replicate.

“You don’t laugh so much on your own,” she says. “Being with other people
makes everything seem lighter.”

We’ve been talking for nearly two hours but the time has flown; Vick makes
conversation easy, even when talking about heavy subject matters. In an age when the pressures on young people often seem greater than ever before, girls need more role models like her.

With that in mind, what would she say to her younger self, the girl who hated her hair and never felt beautiful?

“That she wasn’t alone and that we all have differences, fears and needs, but what matters is that we’re kind to each other and that she’s kind to herself. It’s what’s inside that counts and inside is someone who cares deeply, loves fiercely and stands for what she believes in,” she says.

“Finding power, passion and confidence in who you are is what makes you glow; that is what makes you beautiful.”

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