Q & A with Senior Tutor, Sophie Powell, London

Every fortnight we invite you to take a peek behind the scenes at McQueens Flowers and meet the people who form the fabric of who we are, and what we create. Today we have the pleasure of introducing you to our London-based McQueens Flower School Senior Tutor, Sophie Powell.

As keen followers and many students will know, Sophie has been the McQueens Flower School Principal for the last 5 years. Following a career in floristry, Sophie stepped into the role in 2017, bringing her unique flair and talent to the position, and paving the way for thousands of McQueens Flower School Students on their way to becoming professional florists. Earlier this year Sophie decided to pivot to a part time role and continues to bring her revolutionary style and unique approach to floral design as a part-time Senior Tutor.

How did you get into floristry?

I always knew I wanted a job that involved making things! Before floristry, I had quite a varied career, including prop maker, TV runner and managing shoe shops. It was always an ambition to work with flowers - they were very much part of my life growing up, my Grandmother was a competition florist. As I had already finished my studies and was living and working in London - I needed to find a way into the industry that was compatible with working full-time. I owe that first step to my brother who bought me a day class at McQueens Flower School. I had dreamed of going there and was so overwhelmed by the generous gift - I went to the class and I knew it was for me.

I continued to work in my day job as an area manager for a shoe shop but knew I had to be a florist. I must have written to every flower shop in London for work experience - and one wrote back! On my two days off from work I would go to this florist for work experience - and learned as much as I possibly could from hand-ties to vase arrangements - and eventually I was hired there full time. I was ready to make the next step and spread my wings - for me, McQueens Flowers was the pinnacle, the dream and fortunately for me, through a friend of a friend I found out there was a job opening at McQueens. At the time I didn’t even have a computer, so I ran down Oxford Street after work to my brother’s office to type up my CV. The next day I had an interview and the rest is history...

What does a typical day in the school look like?

Your feet don’t touch the ground - which I love! You arrive to find your flower delivery early in the morning - the team and I start preparing the stems and build a beautiful flower stand to greet the students with. We then make sure all equipment required for the day is set out, by 10am it’s time to welcome the students in. We start each lesson with a presentation and demonstration of what they’ll be learning to create that day - there’s always such a buzz of excitement from the class to find out what’s on the agenda. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that everyone shares the same enthusiasm and excitement for flowers that we do. Then the fun really starts - creating beautiful floral designs. Before you know it, it’s 4pm and hometime - we often stay after class, taking pictures with the students or answering questions they may have from the day. Especially on the Career Course, we become a family, with students making friends and heading out for dinner after class. It’s very special to be a part of, and of course, we stay in touch afterwards.
What do you love most about your role?

I love finding out how floristry has changed our students' lives - success stories for me are when they keep creating at home and do it for the love of flowers. Many have gone on to open their own shops and join incredible events businesses around the world. I’m still in touch with a lot of students - it’s incredibly rewarding to see how the school has been instrumental in their flower journeys.

Tell us about some stand-out designs you’ve created at the school?

I love the first day of the Career Course - which is a hand-tie class. Everyone is so excited to be here and some people are understandably nervous. The journey some students have been on to get here whether that be traveling from across the world or down the street is often due to making a life-changing decision - or perhaps they have been gifted this special opportunity - so on that first day, there really is a palpable combination of excitement and a little trepidation. But after making that first hand-tie, they’re relaxed, they’ve enjoyed it and they’ve taken that first step on their new journey which is a privilege to witness.

If I were to think about a big design moment - there are so many that make me very proud as a teacher. The Orange Grove at Hackney Coffee Company was very memorable. On the final week of the Vocational Course (now Career Course), the students create installations following a brief, very much replicating a real-life client scenario. We have since worked with Hackney Coffee Co many times, but the Orange Grove was the first installation - technically quite arduous but the students did an incredible job. Later on, we returned to the restaurant and the students witnessed customers taking lots of pictures which was wonderful for them to experience the impact of their beautiful work
What's been your most memorable experience in your teaching career?

Definitely Mexico last year! I have always wanted to visit Mexico during Día de los Muertos (day of the dead) and combining the workshop with this festival was a real bucket list moment! I have always wanted to use the iconic Marigold and I had the opportunity to use thousand of them to create a real 'wow' installation! The largest workshop with the biggest installations the school has ever made was a massive life acceviemnet, one that I will never forget. I cried once everything was up, it was incredible! We combined white hydrangeas (an iconic McQueens signature flower) with the marigolds in an ombre design representing the two companies and countries and how we have grown together. I look back at that workshop in wonder, it is most definitely my proudest moment as a florist and as a teacher.
Learn more about the McQueens Flower School here and head to the Journal to meet more of our incredible school tutors, with our Meet the Team Q&As featuring Christophe, Theo and Ana.