Holly Matthews is a former TV actress, Ted X speaker, Life Coach, NLP practitioner and founder of The Happy Me Project.
*Photography by Kayleigh Pope
Holly has established a strong social media following of engaged fans, has over 40,000 followers across her social platforms and over 3 million views on her award-winning YouTube Channel. In 2017, Holly’s husband Ross died of brain cancer and she vlogged about her experience. The lead up to his death, his death and aftermath were featured extensively in the UK media both in print, radio and television, opening a brand new audience to Holly.
Holly launched her flagship brand The Happy Me Project in 2017 just months after the death of her husband and has watched hundreds go through its virtual doors and many more to the in-person workshops of the same name. Holly boasts eight sell-out tour dates across the UK with more planned for 2020. Holly is a Mum to two daughters, Brooke (eight) and Texas (six), who worked with her on The Happy Me Project KIDS online visualisations course and in-person workshop.
Can you tell us a bit about you and your career:
As a TV actress, I started acting at 11 years old, in an award-winning BBC kids TV show called Byker Grove, where I played the regular role of Emma Miller for 7 years.
I then went on to play roles in tons of popular TV shows here in the UK, including Waterloo Road, BBC Casualty, BBC Doctors, Criminal Justice and The Bill.
I have also attended the critically acclaimed British Drama School, East 15, have appeared on stage in theatre productions, films and radio drama for the BBC.
After leaving Byker Grove I signed to Sony as a solo artist and released a single called Little Miss Perfect under the name Summer Matthews. The single didn’t set the charts alight BUT I did get to travel the UK and appear on Disney, Nickelodeon, MTV, Top Of The Pops, Lorraine Kelly, CBBC and TRL.
I toured UK radio shows and was in countless magazines and newspapers, including Elle Girl, OK, The Daily Mail, The Daily Star, Smash Hits and Shout Magazine.
As a professional vlogger, I make videos that spread a message, whether that’s helping other Mums, talking positive mindset or discussing my own family challenges.
I was nominated and became a finalist for the Mumsnet Vlogger awards last year alongside some HUGE blogging sensations won BEST VLOGGER at the prestigious Northern Blogger awards 2017
I work with Channel Mum, who work alongside ITV and create some MUM based video content each month, for this incredible team.
My Youtube channel currently has over 2.5 MILLION views on it, which is staggering and I am extremely grateful to everyone who tunes in.
Over the last 10 years, I have worked with hundreds of brands, radio shows and charities, using my own experiences to help charities where possible and promoting things I love.
I was also a blogger for Famously Fit, Ok magazine, radio presenter for CBEEBIES radio and I am regularly the go-to person for BBC radio.
In 2017 I was personally asked by Arianna Huffington to blog for her Thrive global initiative and The Huffington Post.
I have worked with many charities over the years including Bliss (the premature baby charity), Meningitis UK, The British Heart Foundation and I am a high profile supporter of The Brain Tumour Charity, Myton Hospice and Grief Encounter.
In July 2017 my world was changed forever when my husband Ross, my best friend and constant sidekick (so much that friends called us Rolly) passed away.
Ross had Brain cancer for 3.5 years and we were lucky enough to have Ross very well up until May 2017, when he rapidly deteriorated. I spent a month living with him in Myton Hospice, Warwick, where I was by his side every moment and finally watched him take his last breath surrounded by love.
During my time in the hospice I set up a Just giving page to give back to the hospice for all their incredible work and that is currently well over £11,000 with money still coming in all the time.
My husband was a force and his presence is felt every day, even now. I don’t believe in a God, but I believe we live on in our legacy and my husband has that in abundance.
His death was covered extensively in national and international news.
The Daily Mail
The Daily Mirror
After Ross’ death, I had such a huge platform of people watching me and wondering how I was coping with it all.
So I did what I always do and I created something to help. The Happy Me Project, initially solely a 21-day online self-development program, which then progressed into workshops and more courses under the same umbrella.
The Happy Me has been my most organic piece of work and without expectation, as seen hundreds and hundreds of men and women across the globe go through its virtual or real-life doors.
In the last year I have also done my first TedX talk, been nominated and recorded awards, appeared on and been given the support of Lorraine Kelly and her team and created a collaboration with the fabulous jewellery brand Mantra Jewellery.
I speak at events regularly and am now seen as the go-to NO BULLSH*T self-development coach.
No day is typical. Some days I’m recording video content, writing, attending events, being interviewed radio, TV or podcasts and some days I’m Mum, in my comfy clothes doing a ‘fairy day’ or making a den.
I love the diversity of my life and I’ve never had stability so this doesn’t scare me one bit.
What made you choose this career/industry?
Acting was always my world and I never imagined it being any different. In the background, I always did self-development and I joke I was a closet meditator at 14 years old.
When my husband was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2014, I found people naturally gravitated towards me and wanted to learn what I was doing that was seeing me through this time in my life. Coaching and stepping into this role was a natural next step. I adore what I do and to me acting was similar. As an actor I would walk around in a character’s shoes, learning about their likes, dislikes and as a coach I do the same with clients and when creating courses to help others.
How did you get to where you are now and did you face any challenges along the way?
I have lived my life with a mix of intuition, heart and bravery. There has been very little strategy but a shit load of giving life a go. My why is that I want freedom, always. I don’t want to be confined or told who or what I should be.
I have been willing to move and pivot and change and learn.
There have been so many challenges:
The two difficult pregnancies (prem baby first and then finding out I have an autoimmune disease called anti phospholipids syndrome that makes my body fight off a baby like a foreign object)
My oldest getting meningitis at three months old (when she weighed just 7llb
My husband’s brain cancer diagnosis (brain surgeries x2, chemo, radiotherapy, him having seizures and tablets and all that comes with cancer)
My husband’s death and the heartache and grief that engulfed me and my daughters.
Business-wise I’ve moved and changed what I do and the model to fit my circumstances and what I need.
I’ve never played safe, never had a proper job and between acting jobs did everything from dressing as a yoghurt pot to selling tequila in strip clubs.
I’ve tried everything and I always knew it would make me and be something fabulous to write in my autobiography ?
If any, can you tell us more about how you overcame those setbacks?
I overcame everything by deciding to do ‘whatever it takes’ to get to the next stage, whilst still being happy and finding the moments of joy. I honoured my feelings, allowed tears to flow and anger to the surface as it needed to and I forgave myself when I wasn’t ‘on it’ or ‘hustling’ in my work life. I tried to focus on the next step and practice self-care by being ruthless about what comes into my life.
What is an important initiative that you feel passionate about in your role?
I have just launched The Happy Me Project 2- Confidence and Self Belief. An online programme that teaches you how to have inner self-belief but also how to look confident and self-assured.
This course covers everything from what’s holding you back, the limiting beliefs, the bullshit stories to how to hold your handbag to look the most confident. Every section has audios, videos and print outs, with sections on how to stand up for yourself, how to deal with criticism and how to use your voice to command a room.
The Happy Me Project 1 is still available and is a 21-day online course, there to teach you the core fundamentals of self-development without the fluff and the woo woo.
My focus is on teaching people how to truly believe in themselves and show up with confidence and gravitas in the world and this year I’ll be doing events, talks and launching courses to help you with this.
What do you think gave you the drive and determination to succeed?
I was lucky to come from humble beginnings, but with parents and that taught me to dream big and not let anything hold me back.
I just didn’t want and still don’t want to do what everyone else does. We are here for such a short time, I want to leave my mark and help others to live a life that feels fantastic to them.
I’m driven by my desire to feel free and creative and was taught a Geordie phrase growing up ‘shy bairns get nowt’ essentially you don’t ask, you don’t get. I was also taught by Grandad (Matt the cat) to ‘grasp the nettle’ which I continue to live by.
What’s great about being a female in your role?
I’ve never considered myself held back by being a female I just never saw barriers. I like both typically male things like football but then enjoy traditionally female things like getting my nails done. I believe sexuality, gender and traditional roles are malleable, changeable and blurred. We don’t have to conform, we can stay firmly away from being boxed into roles and I have no idea if that position is female or male and I don’t suppose it matters.
I have men and women do my courses and I suspect my straight-talking nature appeals to both.
What is your biggest achievement in life?
My daughters. I adore them. They’re clever, beautiful and empathetic darlings. They’re sassy, hard work and teach me every day.
Work-wise, I try not to congratulate myself too much and appreciate each moment fully. Every time I do a new project, I speak on stage or fill my events, I feel proud.
I was highly excited to do my first Ted Talk last year and being asked to blog for Psychologies magazines Life Labs was a lovely moment. As an actress my dorky excited moment was playing a drug addict called Josie on The Bill, it mattered to no one but me (and my sister and equally nerdy fan of The Bill) and I took the role very seriously.
What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt along the way?
Not to stay stuck, to live without fear of judgement and to lack judgement of others. We are all doing the best that we can and that’s all we can do.
Have you ever felt that your gender has brought unnecessary challenges to your career?
Never. I know there are biases and of course, I’ve been aware, but nobody has ever controlled my destiny but me and I refuse to allow it.
I’m a feminist, of course, everyone should be, that goes without saying to me. I want opportunities for all, but equally wherever we sit in terms of our backgrounds, our skillset, how we look we will face challenges and we can either sit in them or smash through them. Let’s just keep showing up and being whatever the f*ck we want and watch the universe move out of our way.
Do you have a mantra you live your life by?
Only a million haha
–Whatever it takes
–Everything is figureoutable as said by Marie Forleo
–If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you always got
I also created two amazing Mantra necklaces with Mantra jewellery
What three tips would you give to young females starting their careers?
Be rigid in your goals but flexible in how you achieve them.
It’s OK to fail, it shows you are learning and willing to be brave
Notice the moments as you go, don’t constantly reach for the next thing, the journey is important too.
Do you think enough is being done by businesses to address gender imbalance?
I think it varies from business to business and certainly sector to sector. Without a doubt, the pay gap is there but I do believe it is now a mix of the old patriarchy and us as women lacking in the confidence to say ‘oi give me some more f*cking money!’ The confidence Code talks about this a lot and it’s something I am striving to rectify with my course in confidence. We have to know our worth and be brave enough to ask for what we deserve.
What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organisations?
Build their confidence. Bring in people like me who understand the inner confidence work that needs to be done and how to carry yourself in a way that makes you LOOK confident. Women won’t ask for this as they imagine it makes them look inferior, so give it to them. When your people believe in themselves they will help you and your business shine.
What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?
Learn your values and create boundaries to protect them. When people overstep those boundaries be ready to take action. Sometimes that means removing yourself from situations altogether. Create boundaries for yourself too, ignore the hustle culture that tells you to sleep when you’re dead or your burn out and create subpar work.
What would you say to your 16-year-old self?
You’re doing great, recognise yourself as a business, not just an actress and you’re not ‘winging it’ babe, you have a plan. Plus you don’t need a boob job and leave your eyebrows alone, you’re going to regret that in a few years and have to get them micro bladed back in!