EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Glow Up’s Hannah Cunningham

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You may know Hannah from hit TV series Glow-Up, or perhaps you are one of the 170k plus fans of her fantasy make-up IG page @__empty_alien, either way this girl has creativity in her DNA and we couldn’t wait to learn more.

How old were you when you first started playing around with makeup?

Quite young really! I think I was about 8 when I first discovered foundation and lipstick and it just grew from there! In my early teenage years, I was definitely using makeup to cover up and hide who I was but as I got older and started liking my appearance, I used it to emphasise and decorate who I was/who I am.

Is there anyone in the makeup industry who inspired you growing up?

Honestly, I didn’t know anything about the makeup industry until quite recently! Growing up, I got my inspiration from musicians and music videos. Music channels were always on in my house when I was growing up, so I loved seeing these alternative icons like Amy Lee (Evanescence), Gerard Way (My Chemical Romance) or Ville Valo (HIM), where just messy, black eyeliner was the key feature and gender wasn’t really something that stopped you from experimenting. That’s what I found inspiring and made me want to get creative with makeup.

Glow Up Looks like an amazing show to be a part of, did it live up to your expectations?

It was amazing and I can look back at it now with much more appreciation. At the time, it just felt like the most stressful thing I had ever done in my life but it really did give me opportunities I would never have been able to get off my own back. Plus incredible exposure to global audiences, for which I am obviously so grateful. I think I didn’t realise the toll it would take on my self esteem because when you watch the show, you don’t see much of the contestants getting upset. It really is so bizarre but actually I would do it all again and the bonds I made from the show are just irreplaceable, can’t imagine my life without James, ha ha!!

As a self taught MUA was it daunting to appear on a show like Glow Up?

Oh my goodness, yes absolutely! I felt so out of my depth. I had imposter syndrome from day one and when I ended up in that red chair the first episode I was so embarrassed and then it kept happening. The audacity! It was confirmation of what I feared over-and-over again – that I was the weakest artist there. The only way I can explain it is, like going for job interviews every day and then being told you were the worst candidate in front of all the other applicants and then having your reaction filmed. We were all really apprehensive about how we would each be received by audiences but overall, I feel like people were super supportive and kind to me, for which I will always be incredibly grateful and humble.

What piece of advice would you give aspiring MUA’s that want to appear on the show?

Please think about if you are ready for this kind of intense regime and criticism. I thought my mind was a fortress when I was going for the auditions but when we started filming…WOW I was wrong. You start filming at 5am and some days won’t get back until 1am the next day – it’s intense!

How has your network expanded since the show?

It’s expanded a little, I have been able to work with some amazing photographers, brands and stylists since the show and this would never have been possible before I competed! Of course I’m also able to connect with fellow Glow Up contestants from new seasons and collaborate with them. It’s been really nice to be able to get tips and tricks from others and maybe recommend each other for jobs. We have our own little Glow Up network! And that also ties in with having a BBC network, so people from other competition style shows like Drag Race UK have also been great to connect with.

Your sci-fi inspired looks are out of this world, you tend to steer clear of stereotypical ‘beauty’ looks, is there a reason for this?

I think I do try to stick to alternative glam or SFX looks just because it’s my niche, it’s what makes my work different. I think ‘ugly beauty’ is interesting and I’m not sure I fit in with the stereotypical beauty looks and ideologies. I identify as queer and I have a mixed heritage, with features that I have often felt ‘othered’ by. I want to embrace that ‘otherness’ and stand out for being different, show off my interests and the beauty to be found in being ‘odd’.

Can you explain your journey from an initial idea to the finished look? What is your process?

There’s not much to tell really! If I get an idea, I’ll write it in my notes on my phone and then I might take some time on an evening to brainstorm around it, try and think how to make it engaging as well as something that is authentic to me, plus who can I tag in it organically to get myself seen by people I can work with. Then of course I have to think about if I have the right materials, you don’t want to know how many bald caps I go through in a month! SFX materials are quite expensive and often single use, so it makes more sense to try and make do with things I have, or hand make prosthetics, using polymer plastics for example. Then I set myself a maximum of 3 hours to do a look, that includes shooting time. I don’t have time to take full days doing that and really it’s just for a photo or video, so I’m not too precious! I’ll shoot in my tiny spare room, transfer to my phone, edit lighting a bit and then save to my drafts, so it’s ready to post on Instagram. Then it’s the dreaded cleaning off and tidying up, which I avoid as long as possible.

What’s your favourite look to date?

I transformed myself into Gollum and then also his drag persona, Precious. I am still so proud of it haha, I feel like it really looks like him! I felt pure joy doing it as well because I am a huge Lord of The Rings fan! It took me about 2 hours.

Do you offer training to other SFX enthusiasts?

Not yet but I will be offering tutorial style video streams via Twitch! Watch this space, it’s coming soon.

Lastly, what are your plans for the future?

I’m not too sure! I feel like so much has changed in the last couple of years, and I’m only just figuring out where I could go and who I could work with. I would love to focus more on partnering with brands on social media. I love creating content so much and to be able to do that with the right brands who match with me authentically would be ideal. I love films and gaming, so I want to start a podcast reviewing films and if we’re talking blue sky thoughts, I’d love to get into presenting. I’m quite comfortable in front of a camera now!

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