Life & Culture

‘Beauty is recession-proof — people always want to look their best’

From Dame Joan Collins to the Spice Girls, they've all worked with Alex Silver, who built her PR business around ethical beauty brands


There will be many people who are jealous of Alex Silver after reading this. Not because she runs her own successful company, not even because she acts as Dame Joan Collins’s personal PR manager in the UK and has done so for ten years. No, the envy will arise because when it came to organising her daughter Scarlett’s batmitzvah two years ago, she did it in just three hours.

“I’ve been putting on events for so long in my career,” says Silver, 54, “that when it came to organising Scarlett’s batmitzvah at Brondesbury Park synagogue, I knew exactly where to go for everything, decorations, food, music, flowers and, yes, I literally did it in three hours!”

Warm and engaging, with a gentle but firm air of persuasion, Silver is a natural for the world of PR. With Dame Joan she is constantly receiving requests. “Everybody wants Joan and I’ve learned the art of politely saying ‘no’,” she laughs. Since lockdown, there have been even more requests: “I’ve definitely been busy during the pandemic with Joan. She’s done lots of things for charity, which I’ve helped with, a video for the NHS, and OK Magazine asked for people to donate for a charity auction. She gave a pair of Roberto Cavalli shoes.

“Most recently, the Royal British Legion asked if she would start the toast for the celebrations on VE Day, which she did from the balcony of her flat in London. Let’s just say that it was very interesting trying to get the paparazzi to maintain social distancing!”

The photograph of Dame Joan looking glorious was in every newspaper the next day.

Silver met Dame Joan through friendship with her daughter Tara Newley: “Tara asked me to look after Joan and about ten years ago, I said ‘yes’. She is wonderful to work with, totally professional and always open to new ideas.”

Representing one of the country’s icons is without doubt a plum role but surprisingly PR wasn’t her first choice of career.

She is from Newcastle where her parents, now both deceased, were family lawyer Therese and GP Emanuel (Manny). She and her brother Rupert grew up in a traditional Jewish environment. She went to the Jewish Day School and the family were members of the United Hebrew Congregation.

“It was such a lovely, warm community,” she recalls. “There were three shuls and two kosher butchers. Now I believe the last remaining shul is struggling. It’s so sad.”

It was a year-long stay in Israel when she was nine that set her on her initial career of nursing: “We had a fabulous year in Israel; my dad was considering us making aliyah, but we came back to the UK.

“During that time, though, he sometimes used to take me on his ward rounds in the hospital and there was just something about that I really liked.”

She trained at Westminster Hospital in London and on qualifying specialised in A&E. It was during this time that she had her first taste of PR. Ethicon, a medical subsidiary of pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson, asked if she would join a campaign to increase awareness of endoscopic surgery. She took the job and her new career in PR had begun.

“The problem was it was all very corporate, meeting after meeting, and I wanted something more hands on, a more boutique style of working. So I decided to set up on my own. I asked my dad for a loan of £3,000 to start up. He said: ‘You’ve been in PR for five minutes and already you want to run your own business, no!’ Actually, though, it was the best thing he could have done because it really made me focused.”

“I picked up accounts quickly,” she says. “I worked with the British HIV association, another medical company called IVY Medical, promoting diagnostic kits and various gynaecological projects. I then began to get approached by health companies, like menopause supplements, period pain magnets, stress gadgets and so on. It wasn’t long before beauty and cosmetic business came my way, too.”

She was one of the first to recognise the power of the celebrity endorsement: “I saw that, for example, when one of the Spice Girls said they used a product suddenly sales went up.”

Although she then started working with celebrities like Nicole Scherzinger, Leona Lewis and Lisa Snowdon in various campaigns, she wanted mainly to work on products that had some sort of medical origin.

“I was able to use my strong medical contacts to lend credibility to the projects I was working on. I launched Botox in the UK, 18 years ago, with the backing of a French professor.

“Working with Fake Bake, sunless tanning, I engaged the help of skin cancer consultant and plastic surgeon Paul Banwell to communicate the dangers of sunbathing.”

All was going swimmingly. She had West End offices and a staff of 20 when she became pregnant with her daughter. “Either the business or the baby had to go,” she jokes. “So I kept the baby!”

When Scarlett was 20 months old, Alex took time off to travel the world with her: “We went all over and it was priceless in bonding with Scarlett.” While in Barbados, her parents came out to visit: “It was Passover and my mum said, ‘Haven’t you got any matzah?’ So I phoned the Sandy Lane hotel. I thought, ‘Well, you know, Michael Winner goes there.’ Not only did they have matzah but the rabbi invited us to the Seder!”

When she came back to the UK after nine months, she set up her business again, this time working from her kitchen table and doing night and weekend shifts as a nurse to pay the bills. Today Silver has an office in Soho and a team of eight. Her clients, along with Dame Joan, include beauty brand Claudalie, which she helped launch, and nail guru Leighton Denny, who cites Silver as a reason for his success.

Since her daughter’s batmitzvah she’s been asked to organise other parties. “I was just about to start doing that when the coronavirus struck. But it’s definitely something I want to branch into as soon as this is over.”

Does she worry that the beauty business will suffer because of the pandemic? “I’ve gone through two recessions in 25 years. People always want to look their best. Beauty is recession proof!”

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