'I was finding it more difficult to get out of the house in the morning' - Mum who had four kids under four finds new career
Accountants always get a bad rap - if by comedians like the legendary Jackie Mason, who said, "Did you ever hear of a child playing accountant?" Or the public in general, who, when they want to describe a boring person, say they look like an accountant. People use derogatory terms like bean counter and number cruncher and tell jokes like: "What's grey and not there? An accountant on holiday."
But of course the reality is usually completely different - as in the case of Kerry Hiddleston, a delightful, funny and talented Scotswoman, now based in Dublin. But here's the good bit - she's an accountant and proud of it, yes, but she combines her skill with figures with her visual and organisational talents, resulting in an interesting portfolio career, blending accountancy projects with a new role as personal shopper and stylist. And all the while raising a family of four kids under six in a gorgeous house for which Kerry came up with many of the design ideas.
If one were to believe Kerry, her life is a series of accidents, including both the accountancy career and ending up in Ireland, though she knew this country well, as her mother, a teacher, is from Newtownards, Co Down. Her father, a maths lecturer, is from Dumfries in Scotland. Kerry and her brother grew up in Troon on the west coast of Scotland, "a town like Greystones".
The engaging brunette originally planned to become an interpreter and studied languages at University of St Andrews, the legendary alma mater of William and Kate. "I left the year before Prince William started - they were doing all the security checks on my last year there. It's quite handy because now everyone recognises where I went to university," she laughs.
After finishing her degree in French, German, literature, and translation, Kerry planned to work as an interpreter in France, but en route decided to visit her uncle and aunt in Dublin. "My uncle was working in Irish Life at the time and said, 'You could get interview practice in Irish Permanent, they're looking for people.' So I did an interview basically for the practice," she recalls.
As it turned out, the finance house were looking for people for a graduate training programme, and were taking people from all educational backgrounds. "There was a maths aptitude test. Obviously I did quite well, because they said they were looking for actuarial students and described it as if this was an amazing opportunity for me and I said, 'Yeah, yeah, cool,' and went away and Googled what an actuary was," she recalls with a laugh.
Kerry says: "I found out to do it you had to get, like, 600 points in the Leaving. But I thought, 'You know, it's nothing I ever imagined doing, but it seems like a great opportunity, so I took it."
She studied it for three years and found it "a brilliant, brilliant experience," but decided it wasn't for her and jumped ship to become an accountant. "Because I'd been doing the actuarial exams and they were so difficult, the accountancy exams were really easy for me and I qualified in about a year," she says.
She worked as an accountant for over 10 years in different companies in the IFSC and worked her way up to financial controller. At one of the companies, she met her husband Patrick O'Grady, also an accountant by profession, but now mainly a businessman.
They got married in 2011 and had their first child, Will, six, followed swiftly by Vivienne, five. "I was only just back to work and I realised I was pregnant again," she says. "After my maternity leave with Vivienne, I went back to work thinking, 'Done and dusted, a boy and a girl,' and I found myself pregnant again. I was in the scan and thinking, 'Oh my God, I'm going to have a third baby in however many years, and the radiographer said, 'Oh, are there twins in your family?'
"I sat up, and said: 'No, no, no, no, no, no.' I remember coming out and wailing, 'They're not even going to fit in one car'. The twins, Harley and James, are three now and they are the most fun, but I barely remember when they were born. The four of them were under the age of four. I skipped back to work for the break afterwards," she laughs.
Her mother has been a tremendous support. "She and my dad divorced and she lives in Hillsborough, Co Down, only an hour and half up the road and she helps all the time with the kids."
However, although Kerry loved work, when she got the opportunity to take voluntary redundancy two years ago, she decided to go for it. "I was finding it more and more difficult to get out of the house in the morning. I just had two hours of mentalness before I got out the door. I was feeling a bit guilty as well. I love work, but there was a part of me thinking, 'Oh God, I'm leaving them every day.' So, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to take a year out and see if I could find something that isn't quite as full-on," she says.
"You want to be a role model. You want your sons to see women can do the same stuff as guys and your daughter, in particular, to look up to you and think you can have it all. And you can have it all, but there are certain parts that give at certain times and it's finding that balance of fulfilling yourself and giving time to the kids. Sometimes I miss the mental stimulation and, weirdly, I do miss the stress of having something to be done at work."
Kerry decided to give herself a year devoting herself full-time to the kids, but, last year, when they were all out of the house in the mornings, she decided to take on some projects.
"I loved not doing anything for a while, but I'm not good at sitting around," she says. "I looked at going back full-time into finance, but ultimately realised I fell into it and it worked out really well, but it's not what I always wanted.
"I got some accountancy projects, but as well as that, I'd always been interested in interior design and fashion. The older you get, the more scared you get of failing, but also the older you get, you think, 'I've given birth to four kids, it can't be any worse than that.'
"So I decided that, in tandem with doing bits of finance work, I'll give styling a go." So she just started off, using Instagram, posting outfits and suggestions. "Basically, it's word of mouth. I'm getting more and more people looking for me to do wardrobe clearouts, their personal shopping and styling.
"Clients are mostly busy mums who need looks that work and are effortless. A lot of people I work with have incredible style but no time to shop, and I do that for them. I dedicate myself to researching new trends, and scouring the shops to find things to suit different people, and to fill in gaps in their wardrobes. It's starting to spiral, which is great," Kerry says.
She adds that she did a course in the Dublin Institute of Design which she found great on practicalities, such as learning how to measure people properly.
Kerry is fully aware that the two careers - finance and styling - seem a bit at odds, but it doesn't matter. "I absolutely love it," she says. "I said to my mum recently, 'You must be so proud of me, with all my education and qualifications, and here I am taking selfies of my jumper.'"
Kerry says she likes how what you wear expresses something about yourself. "It's the same with your house," Kerry says, going on to add: "My house style and personal style for dressing would be quite similar, quite neutral but not too matchy, with pops of colour and the odd statement piece. I like investment pieces, but that's a word we use to justify spending quite a lot of money,' she laughs.
Kerry and her family live, as one might expect, in a stylish house in Dublin 4, but it was anything but when they bought it nine years ago.
"We lived in a flat in Sandymount and Pat saw this. It was very higgledy piggeldy, with lots of little extensions and in a terrible state."
They bought the house and continued to live in the apartment until baby number two was on the way and they decided to make the house a home. Pat's brother-in-law is a quantity surveyor and he found a builder, Spring Construction, for them. The house was a 150 years old, but it had no original features - the 1970s hadn't been kind to it.
"There was nothing to keep, so we knocked everything except the front wall and a side wall," Kerry says. "The roof was fine and we added the kitchen extension. We're very lucky, it's more like a new-build."
Kerry says she originally wanted a white box, but then she decided to add some curves for interest, including a curved wall in the living room and a curved stairs, and the builders obliged in every way. She also wanted a wall of glass in the new kitchen and light wherever possible.
The house now has a large open-plan, kitchen/dining/living space and a study on the ground floor, while upstairs there are four bedrooms, one en suite.
Kerry has a great sense of fun and she has brought this into play in the house design. For example, there are four bunks in one of the kids' bedrooms and she got the unit built to include a climbing pole; she also created a tiny secret door in the kids' wardrobe which interconnects two of the bedrooms.
Pat played an important role in the purchase of the house, Kerry says. "When he showed it to me, I said, 'Are you crazy?' but fair play to him, it worked out."
However, the design of the house is nearly all Kerry - fun, fabulous and functional.
Kerry is a personal stylist based in Dublin. For private consultations, email email@example.com. Follow kerryhiddleston on Instagram for fun lifestyle insights
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan
Photography by Tony Gavin
Sunday Indo Life Magazine