From this month onwards, kontraPLAN will regularly bring you new, interesting monthly columns by Emmanuel Ray, the winner of this year’s prestigious Fashion Icon of the Year award at Fashions Finest Awards in the United Kingdom.
A troubled childhood living in extreme poverty, civil war in Sri Lanka (where he was born), drugs, alcohol and prostitution in his later years – all had an effect on this intriguing fashionisto’s life. Nevertheless he turned his life around three years ago, and went on to become a successful fashion commentator and presenter and was named Britain’s First ‘It Boy’, by the BBC.
Today, Emmanuel Ray regularly contributes online and on-air and hosts a variety of exclusive soirées including fashion shows, art exhibitions, showbiz parties and media events, additionally raising funds for various charities and lending his voice to human rights issues, drawing attention towards those in need.
Emmanuel never hesitated to speak out publicly and boldly about his sexuality and is known to be a fighter against homophobia, racism, prejudice and discrimination of any kind. He also stands for diversity, equality and ethics and is a face of multi cultural Britain, in addition to being a breath of fresh air in the fashion industry, where he is fast becoming known for his outspokenness, directness, honesty and sincerity.
We felt Emmanuel’s popular column Diary of an It Boy should appear in kontraPLAN and entertain you readers. Break London Radio praised the column as London’s answer to Sex & The City from a man’s perspective. The column will appear on kontraPLAN by the end of November 2011. As an introduction we give you an interview with Emmanuel Ray together with the photos from his last fashion shoot. (Credits at the end of the interview).
kontraPLAN: Not so many people can boast of having such an interesting life as you. In a relatively short period of time, you lived through so many terrible incidences and situations, but then you turned your life around and seem to have finally achieved happiness. Can you tell us about the most important events that have shaped you into who you are today and things which left a deep impact on you
Emmanuel: There are several but if I were to be specific, my parents’ enocuragement was a definite plus point. Each time I performed in public, won a prize and achieved something, they’d act as if it was the greatest thing that had ever happened.Then there were the scholarships I got to go to a good school and also study media and journalism. Being socuted on the beach and becoming a model. My relationship with my ex lover Marcel was a very important event that shaped me into what I am today. I successfully battled drugs and alcohol with his help. Was able to get out of the sex trade and focus on this career. I didn’t even know what I wanted to do. It was he who gave me direction. The relationship also left a deep impact on me. I learned how not to treat those that love you and also realised that I can become a better person.
Meeting my first agent Simon Wilson was also a turning point. Within no time people were taking an interest in me. He taught me a lot but also threw me into the deep end so I learned everything through trial and error.
Winning the Fashion Icon of the Year Award with maximum votes from (mainly the British) public was a memorable experience that I will treasure forever. And every time someone comes up to me and tells me they love my work, that leaves an impact too. It is nice to be admired, appreciated and feel wanted. In a way these are simple things that most human beings crave.
kontraPLAN: I think I read somewhere that you were attacked by a tiger, and that you still bear a scar from this incident?
Emmanuel: In fact, it was a leopard. It was at the Yala animal sanctuary in Sri Lanka and as I thought the leopard was still under sedation, I started playing with her cubs. As I was asked to get back to the jeep, I turned away and within a few seconds, I felt this massive weight on my back and the leopard was clawing wildly. I pushed my fist onto its neck and when the staff came yelling and running towards us, the loapard left me and went back to her cubs, and stodd next to them with a fierce look in her eyes until we left. It wasn’t until the others told me that I realised I was bleeding. Most of the scars have disappeared or faded, thanks to the ayurvedic creams I used. But I still have two claw-marks on my back. I hope they disappear too!
Philippe – Jacket : Desigual / Shorts : Orschel Read / Shoes : Barratts
kontraPLAN: You grew up in extreme poverty. But now your career and life revolve around fashion, luxury and beautiful things, things that, as a child you probably didn’t even know existed? What was the crucial thing that took your life in this direction?
Emmanuel: In fact, I did know these things existed, when I was a child as I was always in awe of colour, glamour and art. When we went to festivals, I would look around the Night Bazaars and admire the beauty in jewellery, clothes and shoes. I would spend hours looking through magazines at the houses of friends and relatives who were better off than us. I think we were the poorest family among our relatives and friends. So people did naturally feel sorry for me and would give me nice little things to make me happy. My cousin Sulochana, a well known journalist in Sri Lanka, traveled the world on assignments and would sometimes bring me gifts. She also took me to movies, parties and introduced me to her friends. I started networking at an early age, which certainly helped when I started my own networking events in London.
My mother involved me in the election campaign for the Ceylon Workers Congress. This gave me the opportunity to stand up for poor labourers in the platation sector and several other poor people in the city that were living in poverty and were dispossessed. My father also encouraged me dress well with whatever I had, and showed me how to polish shoes, wear hats and style my hair. Daddy always took pictures of me, so from an early age, I enjoyed being the centre of attention.
Also the flings and affairs I had as a teenager, with men and women far older than me, opened doors to a world that I could not access. With the Modeling and Dance, the scholarship in Media and PR, and hosting and presenting at events, I was able to indulge in a luxurious world. But it was all work related. When the clock struck twelve, it was time to go back to our little house and make several trips to the communal taps or wells, to keep water ready for the morning. It was almost like stepping into a dream world in the evenings, then coming back to the harsh reality when the drama ends.
I wanted to live in that dream world forever and be a part of it. I also wanted to break out of poverty and and do something that made me happy. So, although I did several jobs inbetween that I did not like at all, I finally have a piece of what I have always wanted, but there is much more to gain and achieve.
kontraPLAN: What is the greatest success you have achieved so far in life?
Emmanuel: There are many, but the greatest has to be winning the appreciation of the audience and becoming the first ethnic minority to win a Fashion Icon Award in Britain. I heard that this achievement is applicable to Europe in general but my PR team is checking on this as I want to be absolutely sure. I never thought I would win this awardm, but my audience; viewers, listeners, readers, fans, followers etc – have shown me immense support and this is their way of saying they enjoy my work, believe in the causes I support and want me to keep entertaining them!
kontraPLAN: Today, at just 31 years of age, you already have 2 failed marriages and a broken engagement behind you?
Emmanuel: Yes, it’s unfortunate but I used to get carried away quite easily. I fell in and out of love, was ruled by my heart, libido and passions! An ex girlfriend once said ”you’re problem is that you wear your heart on one sleeve and your penis on the other!” I still laugh when I think of this, but she was right. Robin Williams once said ”God gave men both a penis and a brain, but unfortunately not enough blood supply to run both at the same time.” I think this is very true. But I am trying to have a grown up and more practical attitude towards love and relationships. Sex can be fun and I like the fact that it is freely available. After my last relationship ended, I decided not to date anyone steadily for a while, and went on a sex rampage, seeing various people and eventually ending up seeing men only.
I am not sure if I would date someone and get into a relationship or not. Love is an emotion that cannot be pre-planned and rationalised. Same applies to sex. I like to take things as they come and go with the flow. Pardon the pun (laughs). Despite all the failed relationship, broken marriages and failed engagement, I have never given up on love. I have always had good times with those I have been with and will always treasure those memories.
kontraPLAN: London is your home now. How long have you already been here?
Emmanuel: This is my seventh year. I love London. But just like any city, it has its plus and minus points. I do feel that London is getting very crowded and less friendly. Everyone is in a hurry. Everyone seems to be frustrated and angry and I rarely see a smile. People also drink a lot here and the crime rate seems to be on the rise. The transport system doesn’t seem to be up-to-the mark like in other major European cities, so let’s hope the latest developments give us a better transport system. I rely on the underground rail network a lot as it is much quicker than being on the road. I hate sitting in a car for ages just to get to a place which I can reach by train in 20 minutes. The continuing recession and repeated budget cuts, people being laid off their jobs, the increase in tuition fees, protests, riots etc – the list goes on.
But people still have a good time at community events, city events, festivals and so on. I think Londoners are trained to make the most of what they have. At least half of them do. The other half complain, grumble and are miserable. The rising cost of living has also put a damper on people’s lifestyles. But I try to enjoy this city as much as I can. I always do, wherever I am. I must admit that just like in any big city, I find it difficult to make genuien friends in London. So I stick to the ones I know well. Despite the negative aspects, the fashion, society and events scene in London seems to be booming with something happening almost every day.
kontraPLAN: What is your connection with Sri Lanka today? Do you like to return there often?
Emmanuel: I haven’t been there for 6 years. Time flies! I keep telling my family I will visit but it hasn’t happened yet. But I have decided to do everything possible to visit next year, at least briefly and then onwards, pay regular visits. I am working on establishing a new business and want to explore the possibilities of helping communities in Sri Lanka. In the past, I did not have enough support for what I did there. Nor was I given credit for my achievements. Hopefully this has changed. I can’t think of any other Sri Lankan doing what I do, in Britain so I guess I am unique! I also hope to be a representative of the new Sri Lanka, and represent my country on an international level. Let’s just wait and see. Things have to take their natural course and my team and I are working on a lot.
kontraPLAN: The economy crisis has affected many, including those fashion industry. In your opinion, is it going to be a constructive moment of purification, or will this crisis also kick those who do not deserve to be in this industry, out?
Emmanuel: I guess it is both. Those that did not do a good job and therefore find it difficult to survive in these difficult times, will have to get their act together and start working hard. They must prove themselves. I guess it’s survival of the fittest! Those who do not deserve to be in the industry? Well, maybe the fakes, liars, backstabbers and opportunists. They always get their due as karma can be a complete bitch. She’ll come and get you when you’re least expecting it. I already know of a few people who have given up and are focusing on something else. Some people enjoy growing success but it goes to their head. I have several experiences in this industry and will be writing about all of them in my book, which I hope to finish by December or January the latest.
At the end of the day, all that matters is your ability, sincerity and willingness to give your 100% towards your career and work towards what you want to achieve. You should also be true to yourself, think outside the box and be creative. Those that have these charcateristics and traits will; doubtless survive the economy crisis. Saying that, we should also be practical and look into other options if things are not working out the way we want them to. Not everyone is able to keep trying hard and overcoming repeated failures. Some give up and do something else, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Philippe – Jacket : Billy Boyce / Trousers : Orschel Read / Shoes : Barratts
kontraPLAN: What are your current projects? What are your plans for the next year?
Emmanuel: My current project is completing the special edition of my column Diary of an It Boy, as early as possible. That is the main thing as my audience have been waiting for this for 4 ½ months! I must thank them for their patience and also my editors for their understanding. I also have several press interviews coming up once the column is published.
I also have to finish Diary of an It Boy book. I have decided to sacrifice my Christmas partying for this, avoid holidaying and concentrate on the book.
My team is working on a new business I will be launching in the near year. Ever since winning the Fashion Icon of the Year Award, I have been approached by several brands from all over the world so we have some great potential clients. We will also restart my events Socialite Evenings by Emmanuel Ray next year. There is a lot of work to be done, so I am replying completely on my PR person, the I.T guy and the business team. I still haven’t finalised most of my winter wardrobe – I just realised that! Must act quick and talk to the designers.
I will also set up a business networking society next year and have already decided the what, the how and the when. Then there’s my official website which is a work in progress. I also have a few important business meetings coming up and must plan my diary accordingly. Sometimes, I wish I could take a long break and lengthen my short visit to the spa. But I enjoy my work so much, it is almost like an addiction.
kontraPLAN: And finally, tell us what can kontraPLAN readers expect from your column? We heard an uncut version will be out on your new website when it launches.
Emmanuel: You can expect a direct and honest account of my life and career as it happens. There is a lot of humour as I get through all my troubles with that. I see the funny side of things. And of course, there’s a lot of sex. Raunchy, hot, passionate, kinky – you name it! Also a few affairs and flings I’ve had! I have had to change the names of the people in order to protect their privacy.
I talk about issues everyone else pushes under the carpet. I say things that others would love to be able to say but are either shy, embarrassed or afraid to. I give people a voice, I stand for several things.
I talk about everything openly, be it people I encounter in the fashion industry, the bitching, the back stabbing, the arrogance, rudeness and jealousy or the unprofessional ways of certain people, their egos and the refusal of people to say the word ”sorry.“ I also talk about prejudice, which a lot of people are afraid to talk about. I spot things that others overlook. I am very observant. I am not afriad to ask questions and I will also push for diversity.
If someone is good, I will gladly praise them. If someone is horrible, then I will name and shame them. I worked way too hard to get where I am now and I will never let anyone get away with wasting my time, being unprofessional towards me, or lacking in basic courtesy. No matter how big a person or company they are considered to be, I will openly speak about it. I have never taken out personal rivalry in my column.
This space is given to me to entertain, inform and educate audience and readers. To be this space, these column inches are sacred! As a presenter, journalist and writer, I have always stuck to ethics and a strict work ethic. And I admire the fact that people tell me they like my honesty and sincerity.
I can’t think of any other column that is like mine. A fashion and lifestyle column from a man’s perspective. Brutally honest, raw, direct and genuine. It is based on fact. There is nothing fictitious about my column. Everyone mentioned is REAL. All incidences are REAL. I often have many women say to me that it is finally great to have a column of this sort from a man’s perspective. The updates and interviews I do online and on air also go hand in hand with my work.
In a way, my work and career overlap on many occasionas. I also feel very comfortable and relieved that my past is out there and a lot of things about my personal life are also in the media, the internet and in the public domain. This way, I have nothing to hide and nobody is going to dig up anything from my past. People relate to me in various ways, mainly because I am not afraid to acceot that I’ve screwed up and failed several times, made mistakes that many of us make.
Despite what people think, I too have insecurities. I have never played up to the fashionisto-stereotype and have refused to do so when at auditions and castings. I want to be true to myself and my audience. I am naturally entertaining and funny. So I don’t need to ”perform.” What the audience and hear is the REAL Emmanuel Ray and I do my best to give it my best shot.
After all, if not for the audience, I would not have this career. So I thank all of them and my readers for making me who I am now, for giving me maximum votes at the awards and making me their Fashion Icon of the Year 2011!
Photographer: Mudita Aeron
Stylist: Crystal Deroche
Make up & Hair: Diana Asherson
Assistant MUA: Alex P
Assistant photographer 1: Clara Quijano
Assistant photographer 2: Nathanaël Corre
Models: Emmanuel Ray and Philippe Ashfield
Special thanks to Chariots Shorditch