behind the look

Patsy O’Neill

Make-up Artist

Patsy O'Neill
Jun 2017

Discusses her work with Holly Willoughby!

There are few faces in Britain more recognisable than Holly Willoughby’s. From Celebrity Juice to This Morning, ad campaigns to red carpets, it’s as though she’s somehow discovered the secret to being everywhere at once – and looking absolutely fabulous whilst doing so.

“I began working with Holly about 7 years ago,” says the woman who is so often behind this fabulous face, makeup artist Patsy O’Neill. “She was looking for a new MUA and I was recommended to her, and we hit it off straight away.”

It’s always interesting to find a pair like Holly and Patsy; in many industries too close a personal bond can complicate matters on a professional level, but when it comes to makeup artistry the opposite is often true. “Working with a client on a regular basis is fabulous when your client is open to changes and new ideas,” Patsy explains. “It’s like art and taste; we all have different ideas, and it’s always a creative process to find out what works best for both parties.”

One instance in which this creative process seems to have slipped effortlessly into place was the preparation for this year’s BAFTAs, where Holly would be characteristically front and centre, presenting an award. “We got ready at Holly’s beautiful home for the BAFTAs, which is always so lovely.” Far from the rush so often associated with getting ready for a major event, in Patsy’s own words, working with Holly always feels like “a real girls’ afternoon.”

The whole team was assembled, but with a clear vision already in mind. “Angie Smith, Holly’s stylist, always lets me see fabric samples and colours prior to a red carpet event,” Patsy offers as an explanation as to their collective calmness, which is also due in part to their familiarity and genuine chemistry as a creative team. “We take over her dining table with make up and hair tools,” she says of the informal setting, “Holly made us all some food, and we allow plenty of time so it’s a relaxing experience.”

On this occasion, Holly’s look “was based all around the dress.” Understandably, as the gorgeous light blue Roland Mouret gown, which on the night drew understandable comparisons to Cinderella, was certainly a focal point in its own right. “I wanted the skin to be clean and fresh and glowing, with a colour wash in a muted bronze/pale brown on the eyes.” In order to compliment the Old Hollywood-esque wave of Holly’s hair, without becoming too stuck in the style, Patsy opted for soft, fluttering lashes, creating an understated romantic feel. “We wanted the dress to do the talking, so no strong lipstick, just lip balm and a nude skin coloured lipstick.”

Patsy O'Neill
Jun 2017

What I love about Dr.Lipp is the fact that it works, and is an amazing lip balm alone or a prep prior to lipstick application, and I know where its ingredients come from.

Jun 2017

The look was a hit. “I think myself and Holly work together so well as we are both perfectionists, and honest down to earth people,” Patsy muses. “I am a huge fan of fine detail, and I like my make up to work with a client’s face and not to be worn as a mask.”

This philosophy is echoed when asked to pick the most daring look she has ever created“Apart from the crazy dress up make up we create on Celebrity Juice with Holly & Fearne, the most daring look that I have created on Holly has been when we stripped back all make up and only used BB cream, mascara and lip balm for a commercial. She totally trusted me, her natural beauty shone through and her freckles came alive.”

It is a testament to the trust between artist and client that Holly, though undeniably stunning in any setting, was comfortable to leave herself so wholly in Patsy’s hands. That being said, with Patsy’s years of experience they are absolutely trustworthy hands to be in.

“I started out in makeup artistry back in 1993, after studying at the London College of Fashion.” She spent three years assisting, gradually building up her network of contacts, and found herself a place within the music industry. The nature of the work kept her traveling all over the world, with little consistency, until Patsy landed herself an editorial shoot with an artist for Columbia Records. “She requested me to do all her future videos and album covers.”

This stands out not only as the first major turning point in her career, but also an indication of things to come, with Patsy going on to build a strong base of regular clients like Holly, Fearne Cotton and Sharon Osbourne. “As you progress and grow you learn to go with the flow,” she explains, and rather eloquently follows by describing a retrospective view of the last 25 years as the ability to “see the family tree of contacts and jobs that lead you on various paths in your career.”

It becomes increasingly clear that this sense of connection and collaborative spirit is at the heart of everything she does. “I love the collaborative process, from the first meetings to the mood boards and then the shoot actually happening, and seeing the idea we came up with coming alive.”

However, that is not to say that her creativity is entirely reliant on others. Far from it, in fact. From exhibitions and galleries, to fashion and interior design, and even working on her own garden, it seems she is able to draw inspiration from almost any setting she may find herself in, and is compelled to turn that inspiration into reality. “I guess I just love making and creating with my hands, whether it’s makeup or drawing or banging nails into furniture.”

Patsy O'Neill
Jun 2017
Jun 2017

“After recently seeing the Sam McKnight hair exhibition at Somerset House, I was so inspired by the amazing dahlias in his garden that I decided to grow boxes of dahlias along my own veranda, with the most elaborate looking varieties. They are magical, bright, sculptural flowers, and very powerful.”

As clichéd as it may sound, Patsy’s palpable sense of inspiration is inspiring in itself, and unsurprisingly it plays heavily into her overarching philosophy when it comes to the connection between herself and her work. “Always trust your instinct,” she begins, “your inner voice is always right. Kindness and respect always shine through, as this industry can be very fickle. It’s important to have a fulfilling life outside of work.”

“I find doing things that make your heart sing keeps you grounded, helps your work grow and helps sustain your creativity.” Absolutely words to live by.

If Patsy’s right (and I suspect she may be), then given the fact she positively radiates her own personal sense of colour, excitement and fulfilment, I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Find more of Patsy’s work here and follow her on instagram.