During the summer of 2020 we launched a series of conversations with alumni to hear their memories of Trinity and catch up on what they’ve done since leaving. Matt from ARDO spoke with Emily Murray (1996), founder and editor of The Pink House. You can read her story below. You can find more stories here.
Why did you want to study at Trinity?
I initially wanted to go to Oxford, because that’s where my dad went, where my mum grew up, my granny lived there – we’d visited it a number of times and I loved it. And then one day we decided to visit Cambridge, and I fell in love with the city, and the opportunity to make it my own, in a way – Oxford was my mum and dad’s city, and Cambridge could be mine. I thought it was beautiful, and the buildings were fabulous – when it came to choosing the College, I did the hard job of looking around everywhere, and I knew I wanted an old College as that was part of the romance of it, for me. To be honest, I don’t know if I’d have gone if I’d been offered a place at a newer College! I loved Trinity, but almost felt as if it was too grand for me. Then, when I looked at the back of the Cambridge prospectus, there was a helpful table of male:female ratios at the Colleges, and Trinity had one of the highest ratios! So it was a combination of all these factors, plus because it was big and I thought I’d have a better chance of getting in. The reason I chose English was really just because I liked reading books, and I wanted to pick the subject that would give me the best chance of getting into Cambridge.
Where did you live while you were at Trinity?
In my first year, I was in Q Blue Boar. It was really new at the time, and felt very shiny and special to be there. In second year I actually lived in two places – I had a really low ballot number, and at the last minute, the friend I thought I’d share with (with a much higher ballot number) ditched me and went with someone else – I’ve never quite forgiven her! I ended up going to Burrell’s Court – there’s an old house in the middle, like a woodcutter’s cottage – I got one of the last picked rooms, very dingy, dark and a bit depressing. I stayed there for a month or two, and then something came available in one of the Grange Road houses – a bay windowed room on the first floor, looking out over the parkland – and that was much better! In my third year, I was much higher up the ballot, and I got the set in C3 Bishop’s Hostel. I have never loved anywhere I’ve lived more than that set, I adored it – I particularly loved how the doorway was so low that most women would just about fit under it, but a drunk man would almost always hit his head! I always insist that we go and wave at my room when we go back to Trinity, it’s my room.
Where is your favourite part of Trinity?
Bishop’s Hostel, definitely, is really special, but I also just love walking around when it’s empty, particularly in Nevile’s Court and seeing the way the shadows fall. There’s also a special place in my heart for the rafters in the Great Hall, because that’s where the duck lived…I am a member of the secret Mallard Society, the only female member, as far as I’m aware! So there was a decoy duck up in the rafters, and when we arrived at Trinity, everyone said ‘If you want to be part of the secret Mallard Society, you have to break into Hall in the dead of night, climb up to the rafters and grab the duck, bring it back down and get a picture of yourself with the duck, with Henry VIII in the background, and then put it back up either straight away, or take it away for a few days and put it back later’. In my first term, the duck did disappear and reappear a few times, and I was determined that I would do it. I found an accomplice, Andy, that could get climbing ropes and throw a tennis ball over a rafter, and together we got the duck down for a couple of weeks, and then put it back up again! It was fairly common knowledge afterwards because I had one of the photos on my wall, and my Bedder saw it and told the Porters…but they loved it, it’s never been a very well kept secret!
Where are your favourite parts of Cambridge outside of College?
The river, for me, because I rowed extensively – I just loved that feeling of being on the river. I also really liked, again at the dead of night, to break into swimming pools like the outdoor pools at Christ’s and Emmanuel, and also swimming down the river towards Grantchester and climbing over every bridge – I like to climb things…
Were you involved with any clubs or societies?
I was a novice rower when I arrived, but I knew I wanted to row so had trained during the summer to get fit, and I got into the First and Third first women’s boat in my second term. We then won blades three times, and were the most successful women’s boat Trinity had ever had – but to be fair, Trinity had only had women for 20 years or so! I also did gymnastics and athletics (sprints and hurdles) for Cambridge – I did some swimming, football, not very much work really…
I was going to try rugby in my final year, but I actually had a nasty accident and caught my finger between two punts while I was a punt chauffeur over the summer, so rugby wasn’t for me. Actually, if I had done rugby, I don’t think Euan (1995, who coached the team) and I would be married now!
What was your first job after leaving Trinity?
Directly after, I did some silver service waitressing that summer at St Catharine’s, but my first proper job, I was a naming consultant at a branding agency in Richmond. My job was to come up with names for products and services, and it was awful! After that, I went to Australia for a bit, but then came back and got a job in a big ad agency, which was much better.
Tell us about your path from there to your current job?
If you’d asked me my dream job when I left University, I’d have probably said a TV presenter but I had no idea how to go about that – and I still don’t really know. So I decided to be practical and got that first ‘proper’ job at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, a big ad agency in Soho, but soon realised it wasn’t creative enough. I was on the account management side – they’d decided this blonde girl from Cambridge would be best in front of the clients, but I didn’t want to be, I wanted to be coming up with the ads. After that I went to journalism, so I found my way through to being a magazine journalist. Since then we’ve had kids, and moved to Edinburgh – magazine journalism is almost entirely in London, so I left that behind. I’d also always wanted to start my own company, and so set up Pink House Interiors about four and a half years ago. I wanted to take my knowledge of writing, editing, and content creation and apply it to a digital world, and the interiors side came because I needed to choose a subject that I wouldn’t get bored in, and I saw an opportunity in the blogging world which didn’t have a great amount of professionalism, while the fashion, beauty, parenting blog areas were very saturated. It’s been a great success, and I love it – much more about social media now, but I also wrote a book and won some awards! I effectively see it as running some form of digital magazine, so the way I make my money is by making adverts for clients – so pulling together all the things I’ve done, advertising, PR, journalism. That’s the reason I love it so much, because it pulls in all the things I enjoy doing.
Have you had any great career advice, or role models who have inspired you?
I don’t know that I’ve had one particular person, but I have picked up lots of little bits of advice along the way – I find that people are often very happy to share their knowledge and advice if you can sit down and chat with them. The particular thing with my industry – social media, blogging, whatever you want to call it – is that it’s so new, there’s definitely an element of paving the way, which I love, but that means that it doesn’t have people to follow.
So I tend to look for people in other fields, other industries that I admire – one person that does spring to mind is our mutual friend Alex Mahon, CEO of Channel 4. She’s been in the background of my working life, and I think she’s an incredible woman doing all these incredible things, including being a mum, and if I get to a problem I often think ‘What would Mahon do?’. It’s not that I want to be her, or do what she’s doing, but I want to take a bit of that drive and determination and apply it to what I do.
Is there an achievement that you’re most proud of?
I guess you’re supposed to say having your children – or actually, getting up this morning was quite an achievement! I’m really proud of the fact that I’ve created a business, and a working environment for myself, that allows me to feel creatively fulfilled, bring in a decent salary, and see my children and family as much as I want to. I feel like I’ve crafted that, made it a success, and I really enjoy it. Another thing, a bit more left field, is the year that I worked as a stunt woman! I did parkour and jumped off buildings, basically fulfilled my dream of joining the circus, while being filmed and paid to do so. It makes me very happy that that happened in my life.
What advice would you give to a current student at Trinity?
My inner motto at the moment is along the lines of: ‘if something grabs me, I grab it back’. Trust in your instincts – if something fills you with excitement and passion, even if it’s unexpected, even if your Tutor doesn’t think you should be doing it, whatever it is just go towards it, and embrace it. Do it with an open mind and with as much energy as you can muster. The world is changing so much, there’s no point doing the thing you think you should be doing when something else is more exciting, when you can put more into it and get more out of it. I don’t think there’s such a thing as an end goal – while you can definitely have a dream, you should focus on the present, on what you’re doing right now – you don’t have to have this ‘starlight path’ that leads you to the future.
Recorded in August 2020
If you want to get involved and share your story, please get in touch with Matt and Rachel at [email protected]