CC Origins: Tom Wilkes, on Drama, DJing and Daniel Craig

Each month we take a look at how one of the team ‘fell’ into the industry. This month it’s our founder (and chief cat herder) Tom Wilkes:

What do you do at CC?

I’m the founder of Collaborative Creations, and also the chief cat herder. I ensure that the team is motivated, feeling happy and comfortable in their roles. My second focus is to continually strengthen our network, by meeting new industry contacts and bringing them into our fold, and welcoming both new and established contacts into our Waterloo studio.

Did you always want to work in the events industry?

Like most people, I fell into it. I started playing around with stage lighting whilst at secondary school. My school had a big focus on drama – putting on a musical and an opera each year. They bought a new building and turned our gym into a theatre. I think that my drama teacher roughly knew what a light was, but that was about it! I was always a curious and geeky child so I spent a lot of time taking lights apart, learning how to solder and playing about with three phase power. I learnt how power worked and as this was pre-DMX, I learnt how to programme analogue controlled lighting. I then started working in hospitality when I was 18; working behind bars, running cloakrooms, managing cellars and kitchens and I eventually became a bar manager. I’d always taken pride in whatever I did; when I was running a cloakroom, it was the best run cloakroom you’d even seen! I worked a lot with DJs and dabbled in DJing, and one night a DJ was ill so I had to step in. This sparked an amazing career as a DJ, which included living and working in Zakynthos, Greece for two years and on to some of the biggest West End venues in London. It was, to say the least, an exciting time.

If not, what did you want to do? (was it linked to the industry, why didn't you pursue this career - we will keep this part positive)

During my time at school I was a through and through geek kid. At the age of 13 I was taking apart computers, building custom specced units and proficiently programming in BASIC and HTML! My first ever job was at Evesham Computers and I think I would have continued building and programming computers.

What was your first job (paid or unpaid) in the events industry?

It was whilst I was in Greece that I really got to know about lighting, so when I returned to the UK I took my Martin MAC Training and then applied for a job at White Light to become a hire co-ordinator. I looked after many of the big West End shows, coordinating hires, recommending kit and generally finding out more about how lights worked.

How did you get from there to where you are now?

White Light gave me an incredible opportunity, but at that time I wanted to pursue my own thing. I was still DJing and very much into music so together with Sam Vincent, we set up Vision SL – a lighting hire company specialising in the live music, corporate event and festival arena. I’d met Sam whilst we were both at White Light and we ran that business for nine years, until White Light approached us to buy the company. I then became their business development manager with a focus on the festival and music industry. I then did the ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’ turn and joined Chauvet – a leading lighting manufacture - as business development manager. I enjoyed the variety of what I did, no two days were ever the same. During this time, I was approached by other companies who were interested in employing me on a part time basis to handle their business development and I realised that there were lots of companies who needed senior business development and marketing support, but on a part time basis. Fineline also approached me and asked if I could handle PR and social media for them. I didn’t write, but I knew someone who could and so Collaborative Creations was born.

Did anyone inspire you/ influence you/ mentor you?

Dave Isherwood, White Light’s hire and technical director has always supported me. He’s let me make my own decisions and mistakes and then he’s always been there, helping me to build confidence and grow. Also, Bryan Raven, White Light’s MD has always been a massive supporter and friend. I always keep their philosophy in mind and continue that mentoring and coaching role for the people I work with.

What do you enjoy about the industry?

I adore the people and the genuine love and passion that we all have for our industry. You’ve got to love what you do if you’re going to make it here. ! I believe that if you love what you do, then the money will follow.

What are you currently watching on Netflix?

We have been catching up with Spooks on iPlayer and we’ve just finished the second season. Like many I’ve also been drawn to Line of Duty, what an ending! I’m not sure we’re supposed to believe that’s it really. A little unlikely!

What’s your favourite film?

Layer Cake; Daniel Craig is very entrepreneurial and (not that I’m advocating it) he makes being bad look cool! Or Airplane; it’s a timeless classic and I must have seen it hundreds of times. Surely more, ;-)

Favourite sandwich?

A cheese and ham toasty

One thing that most people don’t know about you?

By the time that you read this, I will be a qualified helicopter pilot.