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Ambridge style
2 March 2006

Basia ZamorskaThe glitzy showbiz life of premieres, international broadcasts and photo shoots is a long way from rural Borchester. But at least one link between the two is provided by Basia Zamorska, New York-based fashion stylist - and Archers fan.
Basia Zamorska

Basia's Polish family moved to the UK during and after the second world war; her grandfather trained RAF pilots for the Battle of Britain. Her name, which is pronounced "Basha", is a diminutive, rather as "Babs" is to Barbara, and has become her professional name. It's even on her US immigration green card (work permit).

She grew up in Nottingham, bilingual in Polish and English, and a facility for languages took her to London for a degree in French and German, intending to follow a career as an academic. It was not to be, however, as she arrived just as the punk explosion was changing the face of popular music and youth culture. Basia cheerfully admits to spending all her grant money on records and gigs, and returning home looking like Siouxsie Sioux (of Banshees fame).

A year as an au pair in uber-cool Berlin - ostensibly to improve her German - didn't help matters. She returned to London, not to the academic life, but to manage a clothes shop in Kings Road, going out every night of the week and hanging out with musicians. "My memories of that time are peppered with things like the time I got drunk with Annie Lennox. It wasn't impressive or clever. It was just there."

Basia's first real step on the road to her current career was when she was asked out of the blue to style a video for the provocative and hugely successful Frankie Goes to Hollywood. "I'd been assisting a stylist - but only doing things like her tax returns - and I stole her make-up artist, hairdresser and photographer ... I'm not proud of it, but it was the sort of thing that happened. It still does."

Crackle in the air

After learning the trade "by terrible and painful mistakes", Basia enjoyed several years as a successful London-based stylist. By 1990, though, the recession (and the start of the burgeoning rave scene) was hitting the music industry. Basia was offered a freelance job in New York by German Harper's Bazaar, and found her new spiritual and physical home: "When I got off the plane there was a palpable crackle in the air. It was so exciting". Basia very quickly got an agent and the visas and green card that meant she could work legally. Despite a few longings for the old country - including BBC Radio 4 - she's never regretted the move.

Basia works with international stars from music and film on a daily basis. Names like Julianne Moore drop from her lips with ease but she's quick to point out that much of the job is far from glamorous: "Okay, you've got to have creative flair but half the job is diplomacy and organisation." A typical assignment starts with a briefing from the client's publicist about the photoshoot or event in question. Basia tries to determine the client's own preferences and research their films or music, to take their personality and interpret it sartorially. She visits fashion showrooms, or checks their ranges on-line, sends in her requests and then has perhaps a day of 10 appointments, picking up garments to be packed and taken to the event, with fingers crossed that the client will like something: "You might have four racks of clothes and still worry that they'll send it all back. It's satisfying when you get it right, you feel you've read that person and fitted your piece of the jigsaw into the big one."

Basia Zamorska and Joss Stone
Joss Stone and Basia Zamorska

When asked to name a few favourite jobs, Basia cites talking about football ("and turning into a camp queen") with Elton John; "almost wetting her pants" with excitement when working with flirtatious Alan Bates - a lifelong hero; and styling Joss Stone for her appearance at the 2005 Super Bowl, which was seen by 90 million people worldwide - "the experience of a lifetime".

Music and cats

Basia's interest in music remains undiminished, and she still attends three or four gigs a week (including the much-touted Arctic Monkeys on an early and brief visit to America). She's become such an authority on the New York music scene that she set up an email newsletter - Rockfaction - which she describes as "blogging before blogging was invented".

Her other passion is conservation and animal rescue. She spent two years volunteering at an endangered species tortoise and turtle sanctuary run by an ex-Hollywood script writer, which led to benefit work with the Rain Forest Alliance. Tortoises and turtles were recovered from illegal import for the pet and meat trade, and were eventually found homes in sanctuaries all over America.

But that work has been eclipsed in the last year by Basia's own self-funded cat rescue project, which started when she discovered a colony of strays in Brooklyn, where she lives. She now feeds and cares for them and has trained with the American Society for the Protection of Animals to trap them and - most importantly - take them for neutering. Although she has found homes for some, she insists that the main object is not to domesticate them. "We're just improving the quality of their lives. There's an immense pleasure to be had from improving an innocent creature's lot." She does admit to now having five of them at home herself - at which point her boyfriend put his foot down.
From New York to Ambridge

It was her boyfriend who was responsible for putting Basia back in touch with events in Ambridge. Three years ago he taught her (a late adopter of technology) to use a computer - and to her astonishment told her that she could listen to the BBC using the BBC iPlayer. Having listened to The Archers all the time she'd lived in Britain, it was to that programme that she turned. To her boyfriend's surprise, the very first thing they heard was Brian and Siobhan in a passionate kiss! "It changed my life, being able to listen", she says. "It was a great comfort." She still enjoys the cultural contrast of being in a US hotel room with her laptop, listening to cows being milked in rural England: "I can shut off the madness and go into this little world", she says.

She started participating in The Archers message board when Ed's American girlfriend Beth came into the programme: "She was all too real. I got into all sorts of trouble with my fellow posters for mouthing off about her. People were very sweet and tolerant but I must have been annoying. It's taught me an awful lot about tolerance - how you can disagree in a civilised manner with people. And we discuss some very big issues. There's a huge amount of personal support there for people who are going through difficult times." Indeed, Basia has been open about her own experiences as a recovering alcoholic, in the hope that it could help others who are affected by the problem.

Basia now has many fellow messageboarders whom she counts as friends, and has even met up with some (one helped her shop for Joss Stone!): "It's become a big part of my life. I'd find it very hard to wean myself off it."

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