More than anything else Amanda Jackson-Sytner is proof of the wonderful and unusual businesses that lurk in the depths of the countryside in spots so remote you wouldn’t know they were there.
A make up artist for more than 30 years, originally to stars such as Helen Mirren, Joan Collins, Deborah Kerr, Jane Seymour and supermodels Jerry Hall and Marie Helvin, for the past couple of decades Amanda has been advising normal women how to improve their appearance with make up.
Two hours spent in her company talking skin, make up and a whole lot of other things flies by and is, quite frankly, one of the most uplifting Friday mornings I can remember spending.
Amanda’s studio space, in a converted outbuilding in the grounds of her Dorset farnhouse, is suitably serene with white squashy sofas, burning scented candles and mint tea to sip upon.
Amanda is the kind of person who makes you feel instantly relaxed, within minutes discussing my skincare routine and make up preferences feels the same as casually chatting with a friend.
After all the years of consulting she says she has developed a kind of sixth sense for what people want, even when they’re not voicing it and I can really believe this. Her clients normally book in, she says, when there is a 0 in their birthday (30 to 60 mostly) or a change in circumstance, often divorce or an illness. Then there is the bridal make up, which Amanda loves, and the teenage boys of her clients who need advice on their pubertal skin. You can tell she would handle such sensitivities brilliantly.
Skincare is her absolute passion - she has never gone to bed without removing her make up, not once. It shows - despite having two grown up children, there is not a wrinkle to be seen.
Twenty two years ago, Amanda had made the move from London to Dorset and was looking after her two daughters full-time. ‘I could have become a pony club mother,’ she jokes,’but make up is my passion and I couldn’t give it up.’
Good news that she didn't. She cuts through all the beauty hype, what works and what doesn’t, flinging out tips and advice with virtually every sentence. For example, so called miracle face creams sold in jars should be avoided because the minute they are opened they become contaminated with bacteria (expensive creams should always be sold in an airless tube).
In a two hour consultation Amanda will spend the first half listening and advising on a skincare routine. Then it’s time for the step by step make up session in front of ‘a mirror set up in very cruel light.’ There’s no hiding away, here. I asked for advice on eye make up, something I’ve never really worn, not counting the irridescent blues of my early teens. 'People have a picture in their head of how they want to look,' says Amanda, 'and I have to guess that.' With me, she correctly analyzes, a preference for 'no make up make up'. Amanda shows me how to make up one eye, covering the lid and all the way up to the brow in a deep brown powder (brown, she explains, to set off the navy pigment in my eyes).
‘The art of make up is blending,’ Amanda says, blurring expertly with a cotton bud. I learn how to paint a little wet eyeshadow under my eye and line a third of the lid with a brown eyeliner. Then it’s curling the eyelashes (never tried before) and applying mascara, dragging the lashes outwards rather than upwards for a ‘doe-like effect’.
What can I say? Driving home through the wilds of Dorset I couldn't stop staring at this new me in the mirror. No one said a thing when I arrived to collect my children from school, except: 'God, you're looking well.'
She's so clearly onto something. For the first time in my life I feel inspired by the possibilities of the cosmetics counter. Forget botox, facial peels, restylane jabs because actually there's a conjurer's box of make up tricks out there - you just need to learn how to use it. A two hour consultation with Amanda costs £90. I can't think of a nicer present and it's a whole lot cheaper than plastic surgery.
You can follow Amanda’s weekly make up tips on Facebook here