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Annoushka: Hi, Annoushka here. In this series, I'd really like to take the opportunity to tell
little bit about
The Brilliant Breakfast, an initiative that I set up two years ago to help the Prince's Trust
young women. It really can be as simple as putting the kettle on, inviting a few friends around, or
hosting a breakfast
for the team at work, and asking everyone to give what they can to help change a girl's life. That's
The Brilliant Breakfast starting October the 10th this year. For more details,
You. I'm Annoushka Ducas and welcome back to My Life in Seven Charms. For me, there are so few
things which can evoke a
memory like a tiny detailed charm. In this new series, I'll be meeting seven extraordinary women and
stories, through this very special 18ct gold biography.
Annoushka: Today's guest is an authority in the world of jewelry. She has written a definitive
on key designers,
and rights for the Economist, Vogue and Vanity Fair. One of her earliest memories is twirling
garden, wearing all of her jewelry, and being captivated by the experience. I'm
to welcome Melanie
Grant to My Life in Seven Charms. Okay, so your first charm, great bunches of pink roses, wild
free, you describe
them. Because they're little charms, I haven't made them all carved in opaques and opals. I
made them three
dimensional in yellow gold,
green tsavorite leaves, and then different colored graded
pink sapphires. But
tell me about these roses.
Melanie Grant: My grandma, Eileen, was kind of one of my closest friends. She was
phenomenal women who
everyone felt that they were her favorites. She loved you so profound that you felt that you
the only person in the
world for her. As the oldest grandchild, we just got on, we just became friends. She
a fantastic cook.
She had this big kitchen and we were always cooking together, well I say cooking, I was the soup
the gravy stirrer.
My job was stir gravy. She used to make gravy from bones, from scratch. I used to have to stir
for hours. She just...
I was mesmerized by her as a child, because everyone loved her, but she just gave all the time.
was so selfless, but
she had a streak of steel, which I really admired. She was that rare combination of
steely, but loving.
Annoushka: Sorry, was she your mother's mother?
Melanie Grant: Yeah.
Annoushka: Okay. Am I right in thinking that she collected lots ofjewelry?
Melanie Grant: She had secret compartments.
Annoushka: In what?
Melanie Grant: In her boudoir. She had a very nice chest, and there was a lot of talcum
had lots of small
pots of things, like small pots of creams, and talcum powder, and small pink things.
child, you were
intrigued by these things because actually you were allowed to go into them when she was
Whereas my mom, wasn't
really that kind of person. She didn't really care about things like that. So my granny
"Come into the
bedroom." Then we'd look at all her things. She'd get out beautifully tidied handkerchiefs
jewels and creams, and
we'd sit there and we'd sometimes put a bit of lipstick on, and it was wonderful.
Annoushka: It's a girl's dream.
Melanie Grant: It was a girl's heaven.
Annoushka: I mean, that is girls' heaven, isn't it?
Melanie Grant: I was allowed to wear the jewels and then you-
Annoushka: Oh, hang on. What about these jewels?
Melanie Grant: She had 1920s costume jewelry, which she really liked, and it
Annoushka: Do you think your love of jewelry, did it start from there, do you think?
Melanie Grant: I think she ignited it. Yeah.
Annoushka: Without having any idea.
Melanie Grant: It felt happy. It summed up happiness for me.
Annoushka: You spent a lot of time with her cooking and did she have a lovely garden
with... I'm just trying
to get to why the roses.
Melanie Grant: Yeah, she had a garden. It was that time, in the old days, back
played out as a child.
You were never in. Somebody called your name when it got dark and you went home, but you
out just running
Annoushka: No screens.
Melanie Grant: She was always sort of in the garden. I just had these memories of
She was pottering
about doing things with roses, or she just was always happy. It was a very happy
You're a kid,
because your parents are often telling you off, your grandparents they're just like your
Annoushka: Yes. Yes.
Melanie Grant: You just gave her everything you had, because she was always giving.
wanted you just... If
she wanted to be quiet, you were quiet because you just wanted her to be happy. But those
where we were
together, for me, represent a really idyllic part of my childhood, playing, sunny, jewelry,
parents probably somewhere in the background, but it was just that freedom to roam and be
Annoushka: Your second charm is a lioness intertwined with an M. I love the idea of
so enjoyed working
out how to do that. Basically I've done a three dimensional lioness in yellow gold
textured to have the
feeling of the fur, and I think black diamond eyes. Then a capital M, is quite hard if you
this to visualize
it, but a capital M small pavé rubies, all the way across it. It could be gorgeous actually.
I was excited by
that. Will you tell me why you've chosen a lioness?
Melanie Grant: My mom, Mordy, is quite a character. She's definitely wild.
my best friend.
She's very naughty. So growing up, I was definitely the sensible one and she was the wild
many years, people
have said to us, "You're the Saffy to her Edina," from Absolutely Fabulous. It makes a lot
I was always
saying, "I don't think we're going to do that." She's like, "Well..." I always remember her
to the gates of
school to pick me up and she was always wearing this very long camel coat with this
blonde hair. She
just would glide in, and all the other mothers were wearing... I don't know.
Melanie Grant: Well-
Melanie Grant: Just sort of anoraks. She wasn't an anorak person and she was
[Dave Mednervich] glasses, these red glasses. I just remember being so excited waiting
her to come and pick
me up, because we had such good chats on the way home. I just remember seeing this column
of... This caramel
column with the blonde hair, and I waited for that moment.
Annoushka: Oh my goodness. That's why you've chosen lioness, because she was wild and
Melanie Grant: Yeah.
Annoushka: In my head, because that's so interesting, I thought it was because she was
Melanie Grant: Oh, she's also a Leo.
Annoushka: Oh, she's... Okay. I assumed it was the Leo.
Melanie Grant: Yeah. She's, as I say, a character and I never really at school
with normal mommies.
Annoushka: That's so interesting, because so many children, young children, were
desperate for a normal
mommy. They wouldn't want anybody who would be in any way not normal. I mean, I remember my
coming to school with
pink hair and I just desperate for her to stay at the end of the drive.
Melanie Grant: You couldn't be embarrassed with my mom. I have no ability to be
Annoushka: But not even when you were little?
Melanie Grant: No, I never cared what anyone thought. That was partly because
always said to me, "Do
whatever you want. You can be anything you want, just don't listen to anyone. Do
you want in your
heart." It never occurred to me to care that other people's opinions that would affect what
to do, I always did
whatever I liked.
Annoushka: God, that's an amazing ability to instill that in a child.
Melanie Grant: Yeah. I think that's the biggest gift she gave my brother and I,
followed our dreams really.
Annoushka: How old's your brother?
Melanie Grant: My brother's... Well, I'm not supposed to say. He's a lot
He's eight years
younger than me. He lives in America.
Annoushka: Okay. What does he do?
Melanie Grant: He's a record producer and a fashion designer.
Annoushka: God, wow. What your mom said, "You can do anything."
Melanie Grant: We believed it.
Annoushka: You clearly believed it.
Melanie Grant: Yeah.
Annoushka: Let's just get a scene for what everybody else around you was doing. I mean,
all, where were you at
school? You're being brought up in Chiswick or?
Melanie Grant: No. I grew up in Hornsey and went to a school called Highgate
school called Highgate
School, which was the posh school. We were the other school, which wasn't posh at all. There
expectations when I
was at school, in my school.
Annoushka: In your school?
Melanie Grant: Yeah. There were no expectations you would do anything interesting.
was really that you
would go and be useful, working in a factory or something which was practical and
where you would
probably have a job for life, if you were lucky.
Melanie Grant: Me saying, "I want to be a journalist," was met with fascination
really know what to
do with that.
Annoushka: But did you go and see anybody about careers and things, and did they...
Melanie Grant: Yeah, a careers advisor came to our school. I think when I was about
and said to me,
Melanie Grant: 10. Well, quite young.
Annoushka: Careers at 10?
Melanie Grant: Yeah. Well, you had to choose your GCSEs. They were like, "What do
want to do?" I said, "I
want to be a journalist." She said, "I think you should be a baker's assistant."
Melanie Grant: I said, "But why?" She said, "Because people will always need
Annoushka: Oh my god.
Melanie Grant: I realized at that point I said, "I just don't want to do that."
My school wasn't the
school that you went to university from that school, you went and did a trade. They were
"You'll hurt yourself if
you try and aim too high."
Annoushka: But this must have come, this real ambition from your side, must have come
from your parents, did
Melanie Grant: No. My parents, my mom was a secretary and my dad was a painter
around when I was about seven or eight, and being transfixed by it and thinking, "I just
tell people stories.
That's what I want to do." It started at that point, but then of course leaving school, most
people in my year
didn't go to university. They just got jobs, or got pregnant, or went to prison
Annoushka: I mean, we're going to go on to talk about how you really went on to do what
up doing. Just tell
me a bit about your dad. He was a painter decorator?
Melanie Grant: Yes.
Annoushka: Very present at home always?
Melanie Grant: Yeah. When I grew up, I was one of the first mixed race children,
generation. A lot of
people would say to me, "Where are you from?" I was like this weird, freaky other. You've
of that. There was a
lot of curiosity. My mom would walk down the street with me as a baby and people
just be a bit shocked.
Annoushka: She's totally blonde, your mom?
Melanie Grant: Yeah. She had that as well.
Annoushka: Okay. Yeah.
Melanie Grant: My dad was at home, and I remember one day, one of the boys from
didn't believe that
I had a black dad. He said like, "You just don't have one. You just made that up." I said,
really do have one."
So he came to my house and we looked through the curtains and he was like, "Oh my God, he's
I said, "Yeah."
"He's black." I said, " I know." He was like, "Oh." He was so shocked. That was
interesting, and obviously
that side of my life being a Jamaican side and having my dad there, it really affected the
grew up in because
I was really into reggae music for a very long time as a teenager.
I had a real balance. A lot of my family that I was close to were English and white, and my
culture really... I
felt really at home in that culture, it was very accepting. No one said to me, "Where
you from?" They
just accepted you. If you were part black or black, you were just black. There was no... No
asked you, they just
accepted you. Culturally, a lot of my friends and a lot of the things I did were within that
family wise, it was all roast dinners and-
Annoushka: They were accepting though, were they? They might not have seen...
Melanie Grant: Yeah. I mean, my granddad had traveled a lot and lived in India and
during the war.
Because my dad was a big cricket fan and my granddad was obsessed with cricket, and we'd
and watch him play
cricket all the time, they bonded over cricket. There could have been some shade. I mean, no
ever said that to me,
but I think compared to how I'm sure a lot of people... what they had to face, they seemed
Annoushka: Yeah. Is he still alive?
Melanie Grant: Yeah. He's... Well, again, he won't thank me for saying this, but
nearly 80 and he lives
in North London.
Annoushka: God, how lovely that they're both very much around.
Melanie Grant: Yeah. They're both... The funniest people I actually know are my
complete and utter
character. I don't know actually how two such entertaining people managed to find each
Annoushka: They found each other, but am I right to think they divorced at some point?
Melanie Grant: When I was about 20, 21. Yeah. They broke up.
Annoushka: Right. Right. But then they're good mates?
Melanie Grant: They're still... I've never seen them argue and they're still
the two of them.
Sometimes before COVID, they used to come to my house. I used to say, "Come round and potter
It was just... It's
weird, because as you get older, they just seem to get smaller. They shrink your parents,
they? They seem to be
these God life size, huge-
Annoushka: Yeah, larger than life.
Melanie Grant: ... characters and then you get older, and they're shuffling about
like, "How did you
get so small and shuffley?" They're sort of shifting amongst themselves. They're just...
Annoushka: They must be incredibly proud of you and your brother.
Melanie Grant: Yeah. They don't really know how it happened. I have a lot of
they say, "But how did
this happen?" I'm like, "I don't know." "How did we have you? How?" I'm like, "I don't know,
just..." We were always
a bit different.
Annoushka: Your third charm's awesome. I love this. This is an exploding heart with
you said. You said to me, you really love the work of Roy Lichtenstein, pop artist. I mean,
it as red, really?
It's yellow gold heart with the word pow-
Melanie Grant: Great.
Annoushka: ... pow engraved on it, surrounded by orange and yellow sapphires, which are
Then I love
the way you said, "Well, perhaps the word... Maybe the words could move, or the explosion
quite good at
making things spin, but I don't think I can make them actually explode as such. I'm not
good at explaining
this, because I think you might be able-
Annoushka: ... to explain it better, being the writer. How could you explain that?
Melanie Grant: Well, a lot of what I write about is about power.
Melanie Grant: I think an explosion kind of sums it up really.
Annoushka: It totally does.
Melanie Grant: I feel that words exploded into my life. I was the first person
for me was like a grenade going off in my life. I went from growing up in North London with
people I knew, and I
went to university in London, but it was like a different dimension, an alternative
no concept that
learning could transform you in that way. It was like... I remember going home the
day thinking, "I
just can't believe how good this is."
Annoushka: Can I come back to that? Because just step back one bit, because we've
at school and the
fact that they told you need to go and be a baker's assistant or whatever.
Melanie Grant: Yes.
Annoushka: At what point did you suddenly think, "Okay, I want to go to university."
all kick in, given
that none of your family had been?
Melanie Grant: I had a conversation with my grandma. She said, "I had to leave
I was very young. I
had no choice. If you have a chance to be educated, you've got to take it." I just didn't
to do. I was quite
scared, and there was this pressure, everyone around me just wanted to leave school and earn
money and move out,
and like go clubbing on the weekends. I just thought, I could sense there was something
there, but I couldn't see it because no one I knew had done it. I just thought, "I've got to
because she knows a lot
more about the world." So I went for it
Annoushka: Any doubts?
Melanie Grant: It was terrifying.
Annoushka: Terrifying. In what respect was it terrifying?
Melanie Grant: Everyone on my course had a lot of money. I didn't have any money,
night job and a
Annoushka: What were you doing?
Melanie Grant: I was working in [Do-It-All], on the saw mill.
Annoushka: What? Sorry?
Melanie Grant: Making doors.
Annoushka: You were making doors?
Melanie Grant: Yeah. Builders would come in and say, "I want a door like this."
this massive saw
mill. Because I was really tall, they put me on it and I just loved it. It was quite
really, and get into it.
They were like, "But where's your boss?" I'm like, "I'm making the door, my friend. Do you
or not?" They're
like, "Well, why is this girl making my door? Isn't there a man somewhere?" I'm like, "No,
Annoushka: That's extraordinary. Okay. That's one job.
Melanie Grant: I loved that. Then I was packing yogurts at night in
sobering doing that
because it was freezing cold. I mean, I knew I couldn't do that as a job. I knew that
what I was staring
at if I messed up the degree. That was quite a good moment. Yeah.
Annoushka: You really, worked for that degree.
Melanie Grant: Yeah, that was real hard.
Annoushka: You really ground it out.
Melanie Grant: Yeah.
Annoushka: Did you come across any bias at university?
Melanie Grant: Yeah. I mean there weren't many of us. In my entire year there was
my school was pretty
much a complete mixture, so I'd never really in a system where I wasn't just one of
of other people who
were completely different. That was interesting. I joined the Caribbean society and I met
people, and that was
really nice experience. Connecting with other black people doing a degree. Because in those
didn't even really
know only other black people doing degrees, it just was unusual. Especially from... I lived
counselor state, there
was so few of us. Some people were quite threatened by it and said, "But you're...
you're going to
hurt yourself. They won't let you win." I remember someone said that to me.
Annoushka: Did you think that was right? Did you believe that?
Melanie Grant: I knew what they meant, but I had to find out for myself and I
Annoushka: On leaving uni, did you try then to start to go into writing or into a
Melanie Grant: I thought writing was going to be a step too far because at uni, the
the writing section
were really, really posh. I thought I probably couldn't do that. I just wanted to get any
media really. I
approached the BBC, Mom wrote me a very, very good letter, because as a secretary, she was
at that. They said,
"We don't have an internship program." I just went one day and-
Annoushka: Hang on, went to the BBC?
Melanie Grant: Went to the BBC, because again, that's kind of who I am. Some says,
you can't do that." I
would, "We'll see."
Annoushka: I love that. Yeah.
Melanie Grant: I went to the BBC, kind of how hung out, and they gave me some
Annoushka: You were just in reception? I've just trying to get a picture.
Melanie Grant: No, I kind of snuck in. Because security in those days wasn't what
terrorism. My dad was
sometimes a bouncer and sometimes I'd go to clubs and that bouncers would be, "Oh yeah, no,
works for that
person, that person." So I think there was a bouncer who I recognized from a club and
was, "Oh yeah, you
can come in. But just don't do anything silly."
Annoushka: Don't say I let you in.
Melanie Grant: Then they realized that I wasn't really supposed to be there. They
you?" I said, "I
just really want to just help out. You don't have to pay me. I just want to learn." They
can stay for a
couple of weeks, because we really need the help." Then I did that two summers running, and
they made it into a
job. Then I didn't get the job.
Annoushka: What do you mean, didn't get the job? You were doing the job.
Melanie Grant: I know. They did an internship program.
Annoushka: Thanks to you.
Melanie Grant: Thanks to me. Then they advertised for it, and I went for the
get it. Somebody
internally got it, he was doing another job.
Annoushka: Then what happened?
Melanie Grant: I went to a very small publishing company in Islington above a
this is the stuff
of comedy. I worked for a woman and a man who were partners in this tiny production company.
were both married and
both having an affair, together.
Annoushka: With a each other? Oh, nice.
Melanie Grant: Any one time you go to work and they'd either be making out in the
Annoushka: Oh, cool.
Melanie Grant: ... or they wouldn't be speaking each other and they'd say, "Can you
need this right
now." I'd have to go into her room.
Annoushka: Oh my God.
Melanie Grant: She was like, "Can you tell him that he's a complete asshole and
speak to him today."
You never knew what you were going to go into.
Annoushka: That's hilarious.
Melanie Grant: But they let me do lots of things. Kind of let me do anything I was
Annoushka: So this is a massive opportunity, actually, hasn't?
Melanie Grant: Yeah. It was great because if they weren't speaking to-
Annoushka: If they've been having affair maybe-
Melanie Grant: No, I would probably be much more limited.
Annoushka: Yeah. God, Mel, it's an incredible story. I mean, that just wouldn't happen,
about the BBC.
Melanie Grant: [crosstalk].
Annoushka: I mean, you could never sneak in now.
Melanie Grant: Yeah. There was a freedom at that time that if you had a bit of
could... You just can't do
that now, which I think is a shame for kids.
Annoushka: That sounds like quite an unusual route into your next job, which was the
Melanie Grant: After the Chinese takeaway, I went to work for the FT, and then
lots of different
newspapers. I worked for the Guardian, the Independent, Independent on Sunday, quite a few
Annoushka: But I mean, hold on, going from a little media company above a Chinese,
how's that work?
Melanie Grant: Well, because... I went as a editorial assistant. You had to choose
everyone doing words was kind of like from Eaton. So I thought, "I'm going to choose
pictures," because I
also have always loved photography. I started doing picture editing. I did that in a lot of
different places. I was at
the Times as assignments editor, which is a very tough job. I was-
Annoushka: What does that mean, assignment editor?
Melanie Grant: We had a photo editor, but I was in charge of all the photographers
On a newspaper-
Melanie Grant: ... you have to get into conference and place your photographers
day. You have to
really assess and predict what the news is going to be, so you can put people in the right
Then throughout the
day you have to just roll with the rolling news. You create the news visually, and it's a
pressure, bonkers job. I
was one of only two women on the news desk at that time, the only person of color at that
I was young,
I was late 20s. It was like a baptism by absolute fire. On my first day, the news editor was
old Scottish guy,
he looked at me and just wouldn't speak to me.
Annoushka: Oh, terrific.
Melanie Grant: He was just like-
Annoushka: That was because you were black, and a woman.
Melanie Grant: I just think it was, I was a woman, I was young, I was black, I was
was comfortable with.
I never really found out because he never spoke to me, but I had to try and get his list in
deal with the news
and he just wouldn't give it to me. IT and I would have to break into his computer
try and get his list
so I could actually go into conference with an idea of what was happening.
Annoushka: Why it's absolutely bonkers.
Melanie Grant: Also, my second day, someone thought I was the cleaner.
Melanie Grant: It was a different time.
Annoushka: How did you feel about that? I mean, obviously it's a very different time to
you remember feeling
pissed off about that? Or do you remember just thinking that was just-
Melanie Grant: It was shocking actually.
Annoushka: You were shocked?
Melanie Grant: Yeah. I was shocked. I mean, having a moment, definitely having a
moment in the last
couple of years, I remember a time where my boss came in, he said, "Oh, what are you doing?"
"I'm making myself
some lunch." He said, "What's that?" I said, "It's a Jamaican Patty." He said, "You mean a
I said, "No, it's a
patty." He said, "But you mean a pat..." I said, "No, it's a patty." He said, "What's a
Patty?" I said, "Well,
it's a snack." He said, "But why are you eating that?" I said, "Because I'm half Jamaican."
"Are you?" I said,
"Where did you think this comes from? [Ma Bayer]?" " Yeah." He were like,
I think they knew I
was different, but I think they just couldn't really comprehend that you could be something
Annoushka: Didn't want to verbalize it.
Melanie Grant: Not really. I once went to work with cornrows in my hair in the
lot of people being
very uncomfortable. I had some people say to me, "Why have you got that in your hair? What
mean? It's not
professional. You should take it out." I'm like, "I'm just going to do whatever I
thanks." It was
Melanie Grant: I don't think... There was a couple of people who were malicious
people were just
totally ignorant. They just didn't really understand. I just don't think they knew any black
Annoushka: Would you socialize together?
Melanie Grant: Not really. I mean, to be honest, the job was so crazy. That job
me up. I've never
had a job since then were I don't feel I could deal with it. Because if you can go through
hard news on a
very... in that kind of environment, you can do anything. After that I just thought-
Annoushka: Sod it.
Melanie Grant: Yeah. I can really just do anything I want and I can deal with any
Annoushka: But it sounds... I mean that you're incredibly able to deal with, and were
deal with any of
Melanie Grant: But I was having panic attacks, I mean-
Annoushka: Oh, you were?
Melanie Grant: Yeah, yeah. I was very, very stressed.
Annoushka: Because you make it sound like actually it was all-
Melanie Grant: No. I'd go home, my boyfriend was like, "You just have to stick it
learning a lot,
which is the only thing that kept me going, but it was physically demanding, like stress
not in a great
place. Then we had the 7/7 bombs, and I had to live at work pretty much for a week, had to
children had been killed and didn't know where they were. That finished me off. I
the Times after that.
The things you have to look at, the images that you would never see in the newspaper,
distressing. I just
thought, "No, I don't think so. I'm going to have to do something else."
Annoushka: Okay. Well your fourth charm, this must be the beginning of the real jewelry
little tiara. It's a
tiny, perfect tiara with little diamonds on the crown that sits on your head, and
stones, graduated moon
stones biggest in the middle. It's a charm, but it could almost be a ring, couldn't it?
just perfect. Tell me
about this tiara.
Melanie Grant: The Economist I was doing lots of photography and styling, and got
the jewelry brands.
Someone at Cartier phoned me and said, "We're having this big exhibition at the Grand
to come and cover it." I said, "I'm not a writer. The fashion editors probably would be
that." They said,
"No, we want you." I said, "Why?" They said, "Well, because we know you love jewelry and you
it, and we want
somebody who really has an obsession." I went, and again, it changed my life. In that, I got
the auditorium, it was
dark, and the power of that jewelry floored me.
Annoushka: Tell me about how that felt.
Melanie Grant: It was just sheer... It was like a transcendental experience. It was
spiritual element to
it. It was beauty and the history, and the tiara we're talking about here was... I ended up
wondering about in the dark,
and I was standing next to these women and they were crying. I looked over and I said to one
them, "Why are you
crying?" She said to me, "I never thought they would let us in to see something this good."
"We're cleaners." They
were overwhelmed. I just thought-
Melanie Grant: I felt the same as them, that I was being let into this world and
be able to access. I
stumbled out of there and I just felt changed, I felt different. Like something had happened
I thought, "I have
to get closer to this stuff. I have to write about it." I don't know how, because I'm not a
but I'm going to
have to find out. I thought, "Right, that's it. That's what I'm going to do next."
Annoushka: What is it about jewelry that you think affected you so much on that day,
Because you've obviously, obviously always love jewelry.
Melanie Grant: Yeah. It's power and beauty combined. It's powerful economically,
historically. We've waged
war to own great jewelry. It changes people. I say to people who don't care about jewelry,
middle-aged men who say to me, "Oh, jewelry, what? That's nonsense." I say, "If you've seen
fantastic diamond, a famous diamond, you can feel the energy. It's actually an entity. It
can't look away." I
can't explain that to someone unless they experience it like I experience it. I think I
with it, and I felt it
at a very, very deep level, and I kind of fell in love.
Annoushka: How amazing. I've very seldom heard anybody describe their first experience
like that. When you left that exhibition, what happened next?
Melanie Grant: I got home and I thought, "Oh my God, I'm going to have to actually
The Economist is
really hard to write for. I remember sitting there thinking, "Do I really want to do this to
Do I want to start
at 40 in something which is this hard, when I could just have this comfortable life?"
Annoushka: Do you think writing about jewelry is very different to writing about other
Melanie Grant: No. I think, first of all, we have to figure out if you can
Annoushka: You haven't figured that out yet?
Melanie Grant: I didn't know. I said to three or four very, very good women writers
Economist, "Can you read some
of the things I'm going to write and tell me if I've got any skill whatsoever, any talent?"
said to me, "It's
raw, but you've got something. Keep going." But if they'd all said to me, "Hmm." I may have
Melanie Grant: Because I didn't want to be an average writer, I wanted to be very,
Learning at the
Economist was a baptism by fire because everyone is such a good writer, and it forces you to
be good, or go big
or go home really. You have to... I didn't have any understanding of grammar. No one taught
grammar at school. I
remember having a meeting with my then boss, who was saying to me, "Your apostrophes are
said, "I've never been
told how to apply an apostrophe." She said, "But what about your school?" I said, "Didn't
of that in my
school. You marked your own homework."
Melanie Grant: Again, everyone who helped me at the Economist was a woman and
Annoushka: Was that by chance, or did you feel safer going to women to ask them?
Melanie Grant: I asked lots of people and the women said, "Yes."
Annoushka: Oh, yeah. That's the generosity of women. That's so [crosstalk].
Melanie Grant: Without them, I wouldn't be here at all.
Annoushka: That's so interesting. Can you even pinpoint men, or a man, in the same way
Melanie Grant: Yeah. There was a guy called Ken when I went to the FT who gave
black. Again, I'd
never seen anyone black in the media so I was stunned in the interview. I just stared at him
whole time. He gave me
that first chance to get into serious media. Without him, I probably wouldn't have
level of journalism.
It's really... I was very lucky.
Annoushka: Well no, but I mean, you make your own luck, clear grit and determination.
It's rather amazing at
40 to suddenly become a writer. It's like, wow.
Melanie Grant: Yeah. But I felt I'd always wanted to do it, but I'd never had
go for it, because I
just thought they were never going to let me do that. But when I finished uni, I went to
a job, which I
didn't get. I was in the boardroom waiting for them to come in, and there were all these
and I thought, "I'm going to be back here one day, and I'm going to be on that
years later, I went
back to that boardroom and my book was there.
Annoushka: That brings it perfectly on to charm five-
Melanie Grant: Yes.
Annoushka: ... which is a book with the word Coveted written on it. You'd been very
the cover of your book
Coveted is in purple. I've made it in amethyst, perfectly polished inside, and it's a locket
put maybe some little extracts of your book inside. But can you tell me, how did it come
suddenly to be writing a
Melanie Grant: I was doing a talk for Philips on 21st century master jewelers.
someone from the
publishers approached me and said, "Have you ever done a book before?"
Annoushka: Phaidon is the publisher?
Melanie Grant: Oh, Phaidon, yeah. One of the biggest art publishers in the world.
Obviously, because I've
been there for this interview 25 years beforehand, I was quite nervous. A couple of weeks
messaged me saying,
"We're doing it." I thought, "Oh my God, I've got no idea how to write a book. This is going
Annoushka: That is extraordinary. They haven't done a book on jewelry since 1949.
Melanie Grant: No, but they wanted lots of designers in it and they wanted a
just the usual
jewelry book, which is, "Here's a nice piece of jewelry." But they wanted an actual purpose
think being at the Economist was one of the reasons why they said, yes.
Annoushka: You more than most people know most jewelers, and you certainly know, if you
them you know of
them. Can you just tell me how you managed to select just 75?
Melanie Grant: It was horrific.
Annoushka: Just 75.
Melanie Grant: It was really hard. I mean, I started off with probably 200. They
I felt were changing
design. I felt were totally beyond the markets they were operating in, who were
just jewelry, were giving us some other higher level of artistic creativity. It had to be
lot of jewelry as
we know is product. It was tough, and it was tough to weave it all together, to piece
designers in a
narrative that flowed, that was a challenge.
Annoushka: What was your biggest fear in embarking on this project?
Melanie Grant: That the book wouldn't be good enough.
Annoushka: At any point, were there a seed of doubt?
Melanie Grant: Yeah. I mean the first chapter I wrote, they just said, "Do what you
what I wanted, they
were like, "Not that." I was like, "Oh, gosh." I went home and I remember saying to Mom, "I
don't know if I can do
this. It's so hard." She was like, "You love this kind of stuff. Just get on with it.
Stop moaning, go back
Annoushka: Yeah. Get on with it.
Melanie Grant: But it's not giving up, which is the thing.
Annoushka: That's a perfect moment to talk about your next charm, brilliant and black.
charm being round,
but with a static frame, but the inside double-sided, and it spins super fast. On one
side is written black,
filling up the entire space of the circle. On the other side, is written brilliant, also
Around the frame,
I've put black diamonds around one side. On the other side of the frame, little white
each corner. I mean, I
assume that came from the book, I guess, the idea.
Melanie Grant: Yeah. It was a selling exhibition at Sotheby's New York in September
year, 2021, where I
suggested that I'd love to curate something dedicated to black jewelry designers, in the
George Floyd. I just
wanted to do something and I thought, "What can I do with whatever power I have to change
about access to
opportunity?" Lots of black designers have said to me, "We just can't get to this higher
base. The global collector... the art collector base, we just can't access it. It's so hard
the money to make
anything at a high level and then know we're going to sell it. It's almost impossible." The
to it was
phenomenal. I mean, everyone just connected as a community, and a lot of them knew each
had never really
connected. That was quite a bonus.
But also, there was so much raw pain. All the things that you couldn't say before
Floyd, all the
things that when someone asks you, "Is that a patty or a pastie?" And you can't have a big
because you don't have the power to even say, "That's offensive." All of that came to the
There was a lot of
emotion and a lot of pain. Through the exhibition, we got to talk about it. Not just in the
industry, like Cheryl Jones,
one of the designers was... We did a little film with her and she was saying some of
things people said
to her when she got into the industry like she'd never make it because she was black. She
"I've never said that to
anyone before. I never voiced those things that happened to me," but they kind of sit on
You get on with it,
you carry on with your business and your life. But the fact that you have a safe place to
that was quite... I
think it floored us all. The response to it also shocked us.
Annoushka: To the exhibition?
Melanie Grant: Yeah. We had it in New York. When we went to it, when we were
up, we had some of
the staff at Sotheby's come up to us saying, "We never thought we'd see us in that place."
people in tears from
security saying, "I can't believe this is happening."
Annoushka: God, it is still incredibly shocking to think that was only a year ago.
Melanie Grant: Yeah. I mean, on the day we were a mess. Everyone was crying. We
crying. It just
represented just the top level of, I suppose, the industry. For us to all get there together
just beyond anything
any of us had really hoped for.
Annoushka: But I never... Because it came here, didn't it?
Melanie Grant: No, it hasn't been here.
Annoushka: Is it coming? You heard it here first, or not.
Melanie Grant: Let's see what happens.
Annoushka: Let's see what happens. Mel, going forward now, how do you see that as an
industry, we can really
help to support more and more black designers who still don't have the opportunities
Melanie Grant: I mean, there are lots of initiatives that happened in the last
the funds to get
people money to start off with, there are mentorship programs. I think the big fear is that
we forget it now
there's a war.
Annoushka: That's why I'm asking. Yeah.
Melanie Grant: The moment passes and we go back to how it was. I don't think we
it was, but we still
have to keep coming up with things to champion the work because it is harder to be a black
The thing about the
George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter and everything that happened was that there were the
American history, and everyone took part in. That I thought I'd never see in my lifetime.
Annoushka: Everyone took part, but the whole world listened, didn't they?
Melanie Grant: Yeah. It was painful. Some people didn't want to see the statues
and some people
didn't want to have to deal with the ramifications of the privilege that exists. Obviously,
you're the person who's
benefiting from all the privilege, you want it to carry on. But I just think a fairer
benefits everyone long
term. When I talk to kids now, they see things so differently now. They have a much more
of the world, I
Annoushka: Do you mentor young women and young people?
Melanie Grant: Yeah, I mentor quite a lot of different people. If they're
determination, and I
can see there's something there, and I can figure out a way that I can be useful, I often
Annoushka: I would love... I mean, I'm sure you already do, but I'd love you to come
some of the kids at
Melanie Grant: Sure.
Annoushka: ... in Brilliant Breakfast, where we really try to help them. Because one
the things is... The
biggest thing is confidence, and that's the most... You can give them the confidence that
the rest will come
a bit easier.
Melanie Grant: You've got to get past the fear because it is... You're often told
can't do something.
Sometimes your own parents because they want to keep you safe, or sometimes the people
because they don't
want you to do what they can't do. Sometimes-
Annoushka: Or they don't want you to fail.
Melanie Grant: Sometimes it's the closest people to you who don't want you to have
through it. You've
got to just do it anyway. Once you get past that hurdle, you've got a chance.
Annoushka: Your last charm is a Jamaican Blue Mountains.
Melanie Grant: Oh, yes.
Annoushka: This was a bit of a challenge actually, I'm not sure if I [crosstalk].
Melanie Grant: Oh, you've done very well.
Annoushka: I've done it really as a broken circular medal. It's more 2D than three
dimensional, but the
mountains are raised and almost like embossed out, I guess, would be a way to describe it.
got, as you can see,
graduated blue sapphires going to gray diamonds-
Melanie Grant: Oh, nice.
Annoushka: ... until we get to the bottom mountain where it's brushedyellow gold.
two halves, when
they're separated, will meet perfectly together when they're put back together. I'm not sure
anyone's going to be
able to understand what that looks like.
Melanie Grant: We know.
Annoushka: But tell me about these mountains.
Melanie Grant: When I was 18, my mom took me to Jamaica, and my dad's never been
had a love affair with
Jamaica her entire life, and lived there at one point.
Annoushka: Is that where they met?
Melanie Grant: No, they met here.
Melanie Grant: She took me there for my 18th birthday and we went with my aunt,
their friend, Barbara,
and my friend, [Nickay]. It was just a phenomenal experience. I didn't really know what
expect, and I felt
totally at home. It felt like a spiritual kind of home really.
Annoushka: Did you go and stay with friends or family?
Melanie Grant: We stayed in a hotel. But again, we met so many characters. It's a
seeing life. Here, so
much of it's about like what you're wearing, and it just isn't like that there. It's
There's a freedom to it, I think.
Annoushka: Sort of take me as you find me.
Melanie Grant: A lot of my life has been about freedom. Yeah. Really liked it. We
were obviously, there were mountain people and you'd be walking through the mist and there'd
kind of Rasta guy
just walk past you and say, "Hey." A dog would trail behind him, and then he'd be gone into
mist. It was so peaceful
and tranquil up there, and still, and timeless, I just felt really content. It was
really up there. Yeah. I just really felt at home.
Annoushka: Were you surprised by that? Was it something about this dual heritage
Melanie Grant: Yeah. It felt like a connection. It felt like the two halves of
As I say, as a
mixed face person back in the day, people were always asking you who you were, were you
you white? You
had to choose. I never felt I had to choose. I always felt I was everything, I was
Annoushka: Why would you have to choose?
Melanie Grant: A lot of people want you to say you're one or the other. It's easier
just put you in a box
and say, "Right, you're that," than to have to deal with a combination that is trickier.
different because there are lots of mixed race people, but then there weren't many of us.
sides, you get some
people not really accepting you. It's definitely... I mean, I know lots of mixed race
people who've never
really connected to one of their sides and they just grow up in a place, and don't go to the
country. For me, I
really liked going there early, and I really felt at home there. I was just part of a bigger
which really was
quite comforting actually. Ever since going back, I've always liked and talked about
visited the Blue
Annoushka: It's weird that your father's never wanted to go back.
Melanie Grant: It's complicated, I think. There's always a pressure to go back
successful person, and then
suddenly all your family is somewhere else, and he's never really managed it. Now he's not
well, so he probably
won't be doing any long haul trips.
Annoushka: Yeah. Yeah.
Melanie Grant: I would've loved to have taken him back, but...
Annoushka: You'll continue to go back?
Melanie Grant: Yeah. I'd love to go back. I miss it actually.
Annoushka: Well, I've really, really enjoyed hearing about your journey. Thank you so
Melanie Grant: I've loved it.
Annoushka: Now when somebody comes in a 100 years or so, and finds this, your life in
these seven charms,
what do you want them to remember you for? What do you want your legacy to be?
Melanie Grant: Freedom.
Annoushka: That's very simple.
Melanie Grant: I think everything for me has been about that.
Annoushka: It so has, hasn't it?
Melanie Grant: Yeah.
Annoushka: Yeah, what's next?
Melanie Grant: I don't know. I mean, this is open doors for me, which I didn't ever
be this good. I'm
just going to ride it and see what happens.
Annoushka: Have you enjoyed the last 8, 10 years more than the ones before?
Melanie Grant: Well, it's funny, I went to see some kind of clairvoyant person many
Annoushka: Oh, God.
Melanie Grant: She said to me, "You get to 40 and your whole life is going to
fulfill your destiny.
Don't try too hard now, this isn't what it's going to be." I was like, "All right then. What
at 40?" I feel like
I've become something more. The writing for me has unleashed a creativity that has been
breathtaking. I mean, it sets me
on fire, in a different way to the other things I do, the curation. I love it all,
the writing is...
Yeah. It's something about that. It's opened a part of my brain I didn't really know was
hope whatever's next,
writing is part of it, because it's kind of something I feel I have to carry on with in some
Annoushka: Well, you've found a complete passion, didn't you?
Melanie Grant: Yeah. It's just like, it just comes out of me.
Annoushka: My final question is, so I'm going to make you one of these charms as a
you. I'd like to
know which one it is.
Melanie Grant: Oh. I'm torn between the spinning brilliant and black, the book
to wear your own
book, a bit self-serving. Mordy no doubt will steal her charm with the lioness. So I'm going
for pow, because it's
like, the explosion really sums up all of it.
Annoushka: I think that's really exciting. I'm really looking forward to making that,
it's going to be really
cool. You'll love it. We'll make it-
Melanie Grant: Can't wait.
Annoushka: Yeah. Yeah. It's going to be fantastic. Thank you so much. I really loved
and looking forward
to the next chapter.
Melanie Grant: Me too.
Annoushka: Oh, I like that part. Thank you so much for listening to My Life in Seven Charms
Annoushka Ducas. If
you would like to see all of the charms and illustrations that I've made for my guests,
website, annoushka.com. If you have enjoyed this podcast, I would be so grateful if you
and review and
subscribe, and also share with your friends. It would be such a help. Thank you so much to
producer, Robin at Fairly
Media. See you soon.