Amanda Berry – BAFTA star
She fronts one of Britain’s most famous organisations worldwide. Here, BAFTA CEO Amanda Berry talks sexy awards ceremonies, losing sleep and why she’s not a typical CEO.
I dread to think how thin Amanda Berry will be in six months’ time. The BAFTA CEO is just back from her annual holiday and utterly delighted by her COO’s comments that she’s ‘put some pounds back on’.
Firstly, I can’t quite see it myself. Sitting in her office at the ultra un-starry BAFTA headquarters in London’s Lower Regent Street, Berry’s statement jewellery jangles on her tiny wrists, while her black dress hides a miniscule frame.
Secondly, shouldn’t a comment like that elicit either tears or utter rage, rather than the sigh of relief it clearly does for Berry? “I’m a girl who needs eight hours sleep a night,” she shrugs.“I don’t function brilliantly unless I get it. So, as I get busier and busier, I get skinnier and skinnier. As the year goes on, that’s how it goes. If I can’t sleep I just burn it off!”
The truth is, sleep is a luxury for Berry most of the time. Since joining the British Academy of Film and Television Arts as head of development and events 13 years ago, and moving into the CEO role shortly after, its profile has grown as quickly as its events calendar.
Today, BAFTA puts on 200 public-facing events annually, which include lectures and master classes, alongside five awards ceremonies in London, plus the awards in Wales, Scotland, and even LA next month (November). But, for the majority of people, it’s still only one thing - the celebrity-studded film awards that attracts A-listers to Britain every February, and has the eyes of everyone from Hollywood to Hertfordshire on it.
But the BAFTA Film Awards weren’t always like this. Before Berry joined, they were held in April alongside the television ones, and had a much lower profile. “I looked at the awards calendar and there was the Golden Globes in January, the Oscars in March and then coming up after them were the BAFTAs. I thought that was crazy. There was a window when the world was looking at film and we were slightly outside that window."
"If you look at the budget for the BAFTA Film Awards compared to the Oscars, it's not even ten per cent. It's tiny!"
Moving the film awards date forward would be an era-defining moment for the organisation. Going from a respected but dated nationally televised awards ceremony to a truly international one, the BAFTAs are now beamed into the homes of 250 countries worldwide, and universally considered the barometer for the Oscars.
But this success has thrown up challenges of a different sort. “I’ve spent ten years making BAFTA sexy and glamorous and growing the profile,” admits Berry. “But that’s now why people don’t know about everything else we do.”
In fact, beyond the champagne and red carpet lies a much more in-depth organisation. Created in 1947 to promote and honour excellence in film and TV (and more recently Internet and multimedia technologies also), BAFTA is in fact a charity. “People think ‘How can you be a charity when you’ve got all this money?’ Actually, we don’t have all this money,” insists Berry.
“If you look at the budget for the BAFTA Film Awards compared to the Oscars, it’s not even ten per cent. It’s tiny! What we’re very good at doing is making something look glamorous and achieving very big things on very small budgets.”
They’re also extremely good at making their resources stretch to cover an ever-increasing roll call of activities. Surplus money from sponsorships of their bigger awards and events often go towards developing the smaller ones – like the BAFTA Children’s Awards and Kids Vote, and the Young Game Designer Awards. BAFTA are also running worthwhile initiatives, like showing films in children’s hospices over the Christmas period, which they will in December.
This initiative is particularly close to Berry’s heart as she suffered from debilitating asthma as a child growing up in Richmond. It was staying up late, watching films, that gave her some much-needed escape. So it wasn’t a big surprise when she chose a career in the industry, working as a researcher, in PR, as a theatrical agent and finally as a TV producer before clinching for her current role.
In what is considered an almost otherworldly industry, Berry keeps BAFTA very much grounded. She has long championed ‘common sense’ when it comes to hiring her team. “Anybody who came here looking for a glamorous job probably wouldn’t get it,” she says. “The budgets and size of our teams delivering everything are very small, so it’s incredibly hard work.”
She herself leads by example. Admitting her work / life balance is ‘rubbish’, it’s often a case of heart versus head when it comes to her work. She knows that working 18-hour days, seven days a week, in the months running up to her big awards ceremonies is neither healthy nor sustainable. Yet she can’t help herself.
“Someone once said to me ‘Amanda, ‘Only do what only you can do’ and I think it’s a great saying. If you’re doing things other people can do, you’re either not allowing them to develop or you’re not managing your time effectively. Saying that, I’m not very good at following it. People say that you’ll never on your deathbed think ‘Oh, I wish I’d worked longer’. But I sort of think I probably will!”
"People say that you'll never on your deathbed think 'Oh, I wish I'd worked longer'. But I sort of think I probably will"
Taking a holiday this year, and not responding to emails while on it, was a tentative step forward. “I know that if I’m really wound up and stressed, it’s not good for me and definitely not for the people around me. Also, taking time out, you find solutions to problems and look at things differently.”
Her COO of 12 years, Kevin Price, is the ying to her yang when it comes to running the organisation. “I’m not a typical CEO in any way. I’m involved in the business and with our partners but I’m not from a business background. That’s why Kevin and I complement each other. If I had the perfect title, it would be Creative Director because that’s very much what I am.”
She doesn’t tend to think beyond her career at BAFTA, though knows a time will come when she’s either no longer challenged by the role, or the organisation will need new blood. But with sponsorships constantly changing – bar big hitters like Orange and Lancôme who have been involved with the film awards for over a decade – and the events calendar constantly expanding, that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.
For Berry, it still very much home. In her other roles, she admits: “I’d always felt a little bit fish out of water. When I got here, I thought this is what I want to do and be passionate about. Saying that, I thought I’d be here about four and have done what I needed to. I’m now here 13 and still feel there is so much I want to do.”
By Barbara Walshe