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  • Writer's pictureCarmen Sianne

3 - Opportunity

Updated: Dec 9, 2023

It’s been a few days since I saw a friend post a photo of my old boss with the words RIP somewhere in the caption.

My (very quickly deleted out of panic) comment of ‘what??’ Was all I could think to write because it didn’t seem even remotely possible that the person in the picture, one of the most influential people in my working life, had died.

Russell Norman was an inspiration to many. In the last few days my discover page has been peppered with his picture and it’s wonderful to see so many people that loved him share their experiences of his beautiful taste in food, wine and more importantly his vision for a new dining experience in London.

I’m not going to talk about this today though, because the impact he had on me stretched far beyond his immaculate taste in aesthetically pleasing environments and flavours that make you go ‘ommmgggg that’s fucking lush!’.

Russell believed in me.

When I turned 18, I walked across the street to my local pub and asked them for a job. It’s flats now, which is a shame, but I digress…

After a few months of that I moved on, worked in the rock scene for a couple of years, did bits and bobs here and there to help out mates, dablled in retail but mostly just mooching around doing nothing productive with my time.

I wanted a new job, something real, that I didn’t have to be shitfaced to enjoy, so I decided the next step in my career was to start placing plates instead of pouring pints.

I applied for a 'random' waitressing job, can’t even remember how now, probably gumtree but I got an interview!

The day of, I walked around the corner from Carnaby Street and pulled my sleeves down. It was hot. I didn’t want to, but my decision making process in the couple of years prior, made me believe that getting a massive hand tattoo at 18 was a good idea, so I was trying to cover it up, not very well as I’m sure you can imagine.

Introductions were made by the manager on duty and I headed to the back of the restaurant to try and figure out what the fuck I was supposed to do now.

Thankfully, everyone that worked there was very helpful, taught me the ropes quickly and to top it off were all kind of young and seemed cool, so I relaxed in nice and quickly to the trial shift.

I was terrified. Everything was pretty, clean, shiny and smelled like heaven (including the staff and customers, it was a small place, we got up close and personal, which is what gave Polpo such charm).

I was no stranger to nice restaurants, but this was different, I was responsible (even during that two hour trial shift) for making sure that people had a really really nice time….not always the main priority in the bars I had been working at previously, so it was a big deal.

I had to find my proper English again and remember that swearing is frowned upon in front of customers. My brain was working and it was daunting.

At some-point during the shift, I hadn’t dropped anything or pissed too many people off it seemed, so all was going well…and them the owner came over!

We had a nice chat filled with small talk and me pretending I was totes comfy with what was happening until I got the courage to say “oh, I can keep my arms covered at all times when I’m working, I dont’ mind at all”

“NO!” He said "I love tattoos, I have a big one of my own!" he said as he pulled his tshirt over his shoulder and turned to show me the giant octopus on his back.

“I want people to see, tell me what they say!” and off he went again.

So I did, and many conversations with customers about my tattoos commenced.

I don’t remember exactly what happened next, but I ended up working with him for the next two years or so…

The thing is, I had no idea who Russell Norman really was. Outside of tabloids mentioning fancy celebs going there, I didn’t know what The Ivy or The Groucho were and I had no idea that the restaurant I was now working at, was making history.

I figured it out pretty fast though thankfully, and the opportunity I had just been given dawned on me. I had a real chance to make something of myself here, and I was going to make the most of it.

So…into Hospitality I dove…


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