In our regular series, alpha predators remember when they were still bottom feeders
Hi, Melissa! Who are you and what you do?
My name is Melissa Thom. I am the founder and CEO of BRAVA – Bristol Academy of Voice Acting. We specialise in intensive one-to-one coaching for professionals who want to add voice acting to their skillset or for anyone who wants to improve their voice presentation. It’s the best job in the world.
What was your #MyFirstMcJob?
Working on Saturdays in an oldy-worldy café at the top of The Narrows in Totnes, Devon, when I was 11 years old. Sadly I was not elevated to the role of waitress. I was what is probably known as a dog's body.
How did you get the job?
Knowing me, I just went in and asked. I was a pretty confident young person. I still am, I guess.
What did you have to do?
Oh, it was awful. Cleaning lots of things. I remember having to polish all these brass accoutrements with that horrible waxy smell of Brasso. And lots of laundry.
How long did you work there for?
I only lasted a few weeks. I remember thinking: “The world's my oyster.” So doing laundry at the back of a smelly old café just didn't cut the mustard. I was paid £1 a week, so the money hardly made up for it either.
Were there any perks?
I guess the only perk was that I lived in a tiny little hamlet in the middle of nowhere so at least it got me out into the big wild lights of Totnes, which is essentially one main high street.
Did anything funny happen or go wrong?
The old lady who ran the café asked me to cut up a huge bag of lambs’ hearts. They stank and had this sinewy texture I’ll never forget. One Saturday, she pulled out this rickety leather shopping bag on wheels and said: “Can you go down to Gateway and buy some frozen fish for my cats?” I had to walk down the high street past loads of people I knew, probably a few boys that I liked, dying a slow death trying to get this massive shopping trolley up the hill, full of fish for her cats. It was so weird.
What skills did you learn that you still use today?
It taught me that it's okay to say no to things. There's so much pressure to achieve. A lot of people put that stress on themselves. It's fine to try something and then say: it's not for me.
Are you still in contact with anyone you used to work with?
I suspect the old lady has dearly departed from this earth as it was 30 years ago.
Why is alumni important to you?
Everything at BRAVA is about following what our talent go on and do, so we have a really close community of alumni. If they need any advice they can always come back to us. We catch up for drinks regularly so they can tell their stories to the new batch of people coming through. I feel very privileged to support them.
Why is alumni important as a concept?
Alumni are the only people who can tell others what they think about you. Our focus at BRAVA is to always keep an eye on the work and the clients, never mind anything else. Our alumni are the best people to tell our story.
What would happen if you went back and did this shift working at this terrible shop?
I would insist that I was on the shop floor and would charm the customers and make a killing on tips. I later went on to work in a five star hotel. They put me on coffees and I was the one that went home with all the tips. So that's definitely what I’d do.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Be patient. Sometimes the things you long for, take time. They will happen in the end if you are tenacious enough, but perhaps not in the way that you imagined it. So my overall advice would be: take your time.