How I got here: Vicki Maguire

The Grey London deputy executive creative director talks Sir Paul Smith, Tracey Emin and Vinnie Jones with James Swift.

  • Vicki Maguire

    Vicki Maguire

  • Maguire’s acclaimed campaigns for the British Heart Foundation include ‘Vinnie’

    Maguire’s acclaimed campaigns for the British Heart Foundation include ‘Vinnie’

  • 'Vinnie'


  • HSBC


  • Cathedral City

    Cathedral City

  • ‘The Angina Monologues’

    ‘The Angina Monologues’


Vicki Maguire’s stock among the ad industry soared after she created a 2012 ad fea­turing Vinnie Jones for the British Heart Foundation. Deservedly so too: the campaign won multiple awards and helped to save lives. But Maguire’s talent was there to see before that – in her work for Cathedral City and Nike, as well as the earlier "Angina Monologues" campaign for the BHF.

In July 2013, Grey London promoted Maguire to deputy executive creative director. It was a smart move for an agency that is hell-bent on consigning its history of creative mediocrity to the bin. And it could be just what the sometimes nomadic Maguire needs to secure her position among the elite of the industry.

I didn’t have a creative upbringing. My parents were on the stalls at Leicester market and sold second-hand crap. I learned from a young age that, with a good story and spin, you could push up the price of anything.

From the age of 13, I had my own stall selling second-hand clothes. You would call it vintage clothing now.

I developed a love of fashion and did a fashion degree at Newcastle University. When I arrived, I discovered that I couldn’t draw. One of my mentors there was Paul Smith and he said that I should just write down my ideas. I had never shown any aptitude in English before but I found it easy to articulate my ideas.

Paul Smith was a big name at the time, but he’s one of those people who doesn’t forget that youth is the lifeblood of his industry. He was invaluable to me.

I went into fashion but got sacked. A lot. I was sacked from Vivienne Westwood after I got lipstick on a wedding dress and tried to steam it off, turning the whole thing pink. Then I got sacked from French Connection, just for not being very good. I got sacked from Next too.

I worked at Ted Baker, which shared a floor with HHCL. I would get into the lift with people such as David Buonaguidi. I got to know those guys and couldn’t believe they got paid for putting their feet up on the table and coming up with ideas. I thought: I want a piece of that.

Graham Fink introduced me to my first creative partner, Yuval. That was after people told me I would need a book and a partner. Yuval was a graffiti artist who wrote on the walls of the Wag club.

The people who mean something to me are the ones who are generous with their time and energy. I’ve no idea how I would have got where I am now without other people’s generosity.

When I was at Mustoe Merriman Herring Levy, Chris Herring would hold a copywriting class with me. I would buy him a pint of Adnams and a whiskey chaser, and he would set me a brief and then mark it in two days’ time when I bought him another pint and whiskey chaser.

I don’t think I would have benefited from more formal advertising training. For the first five years of my career, I think naïvety and energy propelled me along. I would have got the fear if I knew how difficult it would be.

I was sacked from Vivienne Westwood after I got lipstick on a wedding dress and tried to steam it off, turning the whole thing pink

After spending eight years at Ogilvy & Mather, I went to Sydney. I’ve no idea why. I just had a head fit when someone phoned me with the offer and thought it was a good idea. I hated it. I don’t look good in a wetsuit and didn’t buy into the lifestyle. It was too outdoorsy and people would get up at 5am and do yoga before work. I don’t think I laughed in 18 months.

I’ve worked at around 14 agencies. I have a good idea about what works for me and what doesn’t. I’ve never stayed at an office where juniors have to queue outside the creative director’s door.

I joined StrawberryFrog Amsterdam after I got back from Sydney – it was doing interesting things and I just fancied giving it a go. I’m one of those people who act first and think later.

Any agency that breaks down a hierarchy and doesn’t give a shit about business cards is a good fit for me.

I’m from a working-class family in Leicester and there were five of us in a two-down. I was put in front of a TV at an early age. Back then, you were either a BBC family or an ITV family, Blue Peter or Magpie. I was Magpie and I remember ads for Um Bongo, Kia-Ora and Smash. For me, they were as entertaining as the shows themselves. So, now I always approach my work from an entertainment point of view.

If I had to pick one career highlight, it would be ‘Vinnie’. Forget about the awards, I have met 15 people who wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for that ad. That’s the most humbling thing.

The British Heart Foundation had some balls. It let us run an ad with someone who previously had been in the papers for allegedly chinning a bloke.

I have never really wanted to be an executive creative director. I’ve always wanted to stay close to the work. I would never want to be the kind of ECD where I have 12 junior teams queuing at my door while I’m at The Ivy having lunch and talking about the good old days.

At Grey, I can stay close to the work, junior teams and clients, and that for me works really well. I’m not on a plane or lunching disgruntled clients. My job is still the same, so I’m well happy.

My career highlight would be 'Vinnie'. Forget about the awards, I have met 15 people who wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for that ad

I came to London in 1990 and moved straight to the East End. At that time, no-one wanted to live in Hoxton. Which is quite ironic now. There’s an energy about that place.

Once, Tracey Emin lost her cat and put up posters across the East End. I’m ashamed to say that I followed her around, stealing them.

Six years ago, one of the shops that opens during Columbia Road market became available and I took it before I knew what it was I was going to sell. I wanted something with a high margin and that I could add my own flare to. Then I remembered my grandmother owned a sweet shop – they’re recession-proof.

Women are being put into interesting roles in advertising now. I think we will see an explosion of great stuff coming from women in two or three years.

One of my biggest mistakes was taking a Halifax brief from DLKW Lowe. They wanted me to turn Jolene into a song about savings. I did it, but [Dolly Parton] wouldn’t let them use the song in the end, so it didn’t really matter.

I treat my house like a shop – everything is for sale. My partner comes in and asks where the chair has gone and I have to say: "Someone said they liked it so I sold it to them."