Jessica Huie didn’t have the most promising start. She was expelled from school at 15 and pregnant two years later. Her father, a cab driver who had worked round the clock to give her opportunities, was devastated, as was her mum, a former model. But somehow she turned her life around to become a PR to A-listers – including an actor with whom she turned out to have a lot in common, Meghan Markle.
And now, aged 37, Huie has written a book that overturns the PR notion that it’s what we project on the outside that matters. Instead, she argues, what we need to concentrate on is the interior search for fulfilment – finding our true purpose.
A pivotal moment in Huie’s own search occurred when she was working in a hairdresser’s, after leaving school. “I was washing this woman’s hair and she said: ‘You’re too intelligent for this. Come and work for me.’ She said she worked in an office in Holland Park. It turned out she was a big-name PR with lots of famous clients.”
That employer, says Huie, was the first person to suggest that, despite her bumpy adolescence, everything didn’t have to be over. “By now I had a baby, Monet [now 18], and my boss encouraged me to go back to college. This time around, studying was entirely different. I carried my books proudly and I was determined to make it work, for my parents as well as for me. Living on benefits was so shaming. People see a teenager in a tracksuit with a baby and they shake their heads sadly. It makes you feel terrible.”
Huie’s parents’ work ethic kicked in. As well as looking after Monet and studying, she did weekend shifts in a shoe shop. After A-levels she studied journalism and worked for Pride magazine, before embarking on six years at the coalface of PR, working for the then prominent, eventually disgraced, publicist Max Clifford.
Huie began to see the shortcomings of her industry in the era of Jade Goody, the reality TV star who contracted and quickly died of cervical cancer. “When Jade became ill our role, which was to publicise our clients, continued – and as her condition worsened, her value as a story increased. And that didn’t sit easily with me. I wasn’t comfortable with it at all.”
The crux of her book is this: in today’s celebrity-fixated, social media-obsessed world, we are constantly looking for external validation and direction while neglecting the essential part of ourselves that enables self-empowerment and our own happiness, which is our intuition and our inner judgement.
“I began to realise that we’re living the wrong way round,” she explains. “We should be living inside out, and instead we’re living outside in. Intuition is the underused sixth sense which holds so much value for us. We should be letting it lead our lives – when we do, our lives start to flow.”
By her late 20s, Huie had discovered that it’s possible to create something meaningful by following your instincts. Out one lunchtime looking for a card for Monet’s birthday, she suddenly realised that every single one on offer showed “blonde, blue-eyed princesses” who didn’t reflect the looks of her black, brown-eyed daughter. Back at the office, she decided to set up a company called Color Blind to produce ethnically diverse cards. “I couldn’t have cared less about selling greetings cards, and the margins turned out to be pitiful,” she says. “But the mission to ensure all children had access to images on cards that reflected their own faces was one I felt I couldn’t walk away from. I wanted them to be able to validate their identities, with the subtle message that it’s wonderful and perfect to be exactly who you are.”
In 2008 she left Clifford and founded her own PR company with the aim of working not with celebrities but female entrepreneurs and attempting realistic, rather than aspirational, strategies to boost their businesses. Which was how, in 2015, she found herself working for Markle, who came to her for help to raise her UK profile.
The first time they talked was on Skype. They bonded easily, remembers Huie. They are just a year apart in age and both daughters of mixed-race parents. “I liked her. We connected and we got talking about race. I found her impressive: she was quick-witted and honest.” Huie had the idea of sending Markle off to Malta where she researched the life of her great-great-grandmother who was raised there, and wrote a magazine piece about it. “That was courageous,” says Huie. “It tackled issues around ethnicity and heritage and belonging, and they’re topics not everyone would be brave enough to go into.”
Running her own company gave Huie freedom, but there still lurked in her mind some bigger questions about the nature of PR, especially in the digital age. Gradually she began to put her philosophy into action in her own life. Looking back, she could see that conceiving Monet at 17 had been part of her own quest for purpose, and it had worked. Having raised Monet alone in the early years, supported by her parents, she embarked on a new relationship and six years ago had another child. Deep down, though, she knew the relationship wasn’t right and, although the last thing she wanted to be was a single mother a second time around, she ended the relationship when her baby was just a few months old.
“It was terrifying to find myself alone, again, with a tiny baby and an older child. I was hoping for domestic bliss and normality. But breaking up was absolutely the right decision, because it allowed me to find myself.”
To do that is not easy. “I feel as though I’m in a forest, and I’m hacking through my stuff. A lot of it is cleared now, but it’s never entirely gone. You have to be prepared to keep on hacking. Our most pressing duty is to reconnect with ourselves, because then we can connect with others. We need time, without distractions, to mine deep within ourselves. Once we do get to know ourselves, change can happen.”
She’s now been in a new relationship for the last five years, and married for the last two. The final layer of understanding what her own purpose was, and the spur to write her book, came in 2016 when she was caring for her father, who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
“I’d spent my life trying to control what happened to me. But this was something I couldn’t control. I had to surrender. That taught me an important lesson, which is that it’s not by seeking to control the world that we get the best out of it. So, in the final moments of my dad’s life, I realised the true purpose of my own.”