It’s all too easy to pigeonhole influencers as vain and vacuous, but Natasha Sandhu, West Essex Life‘s exciting new columnist, is anything but…
Lead image: Jai Hussain
Astute, eloquent, caring and compassionate, her opinions clearly matter to her 384k followers. But as we discover, life hasn’t always been picture-perfect for this Chigwell resident.
Sitting in her gorgeous flat chatting about her life as West Essex’s biggest influencer, Natasha Sandhu comes across as poised, assured and glamorous, but you don’t have to scratch far beneath the surface to realise there is much more to this 34-year-old than posing for selfies.
Hers is a complex character, for whom life hasn’t always been easy, and it has given her a depth and understanding that is so often lacking in the world of social media. No wonder people follow her in their hundreds of thousands.
Natasha is acutely aware of her good fortune and that life could have turned out very differently if it hadn’t been for a Sliding Doors moment that occurred back in 2005 when her then boyfriend got injured in a game of football.
‘He hurt his knee pretty badly and he wasn’t able to work. He was a plumber and the job involved a lot of bending down,’ recalls Natasha. ‘After a few weeks stuck at home he was getting very bored and restless and that’s when he started playing poker online as something to do, and he discovered he was actually good at it.’
Good being something of an understatement, as the boyfriend in question, Sam Trickett, is now one of the world’s best poker players, having raked in tens of millions in prize money over the years.
‘It was a bit like winning the lottery’
‘He got a sponsor and started entering some really big tournaments, and soon he’d won enough to be able to buy a house, a couple of fast cars and two dogs,’ says Natasha, whose voice is true to her East Midland roots – the ancient market town of Retford to be precise – where her close-knit family still lives.
Unsurprisingly, Natasha’s life changed dramatically, and she went from working at a travel agents to travelling the world to support her partner. ‘It was a bit like winning the lottery,’ admits Natasha, but while it might sound like a dream come true, for her it quickly became a hollow existence.
‘The lifestyle lost its appeal, and I stopped travelling. I preferred to stay at home with the dogs and that’s when we started to grow apart,’ she confides. ‘I didn’t realise I was losing my self-worth. People would say it’s the dream and yes, I could have anything I wanted, but nothing was making me happy anymore.’
‘I was worrying about everything and I just couldn’t see past it,’ says Natasha, whose condition only began to improve with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. But the nine-year relationship had hit the rocks and the pair broke up that same year.
‘He was always going to be okay, but I walked away with absolutely nothing and ended up moving back in with my parents,’ reveals Natasha, who has a loving and supportive family, which consists of her English mum and Indian dad (who met on the beach at Skegness aged 15 and 18, respectively) and an elder brother and younger sister.
She used the time back home to concentrate on her therapy and get back on her feet, but she was knocked back to discover that her ex had quickly moved on, bringing someone else into the house they had recently shared together.
‘You’ve got to remember we’d been together for nine years and our friends were joint friends, but now they were hanging around him and his new girlfriend, which I did find difficult,’ Natasha admits.
‘I just had this gut feeling that it was right and as soon as I arrived in Essex, it felt like a home from home’
Slowly but surely, Natasha began to get her life back on track. She eventually established herself as a make-up artist after the one booked for a modelling job she was on failed to turn up. Courses and kit-building followed until finally she was running a fairly successful business, mostly catering for local brides.
‘But there was only so far I could take it as people aren’t really bothered about make-up from where I’m from, and by February 2015 I’d finished my therapy, so I decided to put out on Facebook that I was looking to move somewhere new,’ she says.
As serendipity would have it, a photographer acquaintance living in Billericay offered Natasha a room in a house share, and after seeing photographs, she snapped it up.
‘I just had this gut feeling that it was right and as soon as I arrived in Essex, it felt like a home from home,’ says Natasha, smiling fondly.
She quickly set about building her portfolio and after a stint at a Brentwood beauty salon she eventually landed a job as make-up artist in residence at Krystalized in Loughton – and so her eventful West Essex journey began.
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Krystalized is just a stone’s throw from Dr Leah Skin Clinic, so when the latter’s owner, The Apprentice winner Dr Leah Totton, nipped over to get her make up done by Natasha, the pair got chatting.
‘I was telling her how I was super-busy Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the salon, but was twiddling my thumbs the rest of the week,’ recalls Natasha. ‘That’s when she offered me the receptionist role at her clinic Monday through to Thursday.’
For a year and a half, Natasha split her time between the two high-profile brands, working relentlessly seven days a week. ‘It was really hard, but I loved it and when I changed roles at Dr Leah’s, becoming the head of social media and marketing, things notched up another gear.’
Natasha already had a very healthy Instagram following of around 60k which she reckons largely came on the back of her ex’s growing fame, but people stuck around and that’s testament to the quality of her posts and her championing of mental health awareness after her own experiences. In her new guise, however, she found that figure started rising as she put herself out there, attending more and more events.
‘Previously I’d never made any money out of it, but after I hit 100k and got signed by an agent, I started to get paid work and now I had an awful lot going on!’
‘Previously I’d never made any money out of it, but after I hit 100k and got signed by an agent, I started to get paid work and now I had an awful lot going on,’ Natasha laughs. ‘My Instagram went through the roof as my agent started getting me into film premieres and on the red carpet, and then I was asked by Pretty Little Things to do a couple of posts a week for them.’
Suffice to say something had to give. ‘I loved working at Dr Leah, but it was all becoming too much,’ admits Natasha. ‘I would get stuff delivered there from clients and then in my 30-minute lunch break I would rush around, putting on make-up and getting dressed up before finding somewhere suitable to take a photo. I wanted to give these clients my time and effort, rather than squeeze them in.’
In 2018 she finally took the plunge and committed to becoming a full-time influencer, and it’s a gamble that’s clearly paid dividends. Today, with her followers near the 400k mark, Natasha has never been busier, and she now even has a fashion line with In The Style, a brand that specialises the celebrity-inspired looks.
So, has Natasha finally found contentment?
‘Yes, I do feel I am in a good place,’ she says almost hesitantly. ‘I’m not sure I could have said that a year or even six months ago, I wasn’t quite there. But just recently I feel I’ve arrived at the place I’ve been working towards. I do still struggle with my mental health, but no way like I did.
‘And after four years of being mostly single, I have a lovely boyfriend who makes me happy. That, and my sweet little Cavalier King Charles, Ralph, and living in Chigwell, which I love.
‘So yes, life is good!’
Read the June issue of West Essex Life magazine here
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