Interview by Jo Macdonald
It's not often that you meet someone who encapsulates the meaning of the word 'Charm' but Emma Dupont is most definitely that lady. Combining grace and elegance with a natural sense of humour, Emma immediately puts you at ease with her friendly conversation skills and genuine warmth. After just one minute with her I'm already more than convinced that etiquette is worth studying - after all don't we all secretly want that deep inner confidence that comes from the ability to easily interact with anyone, no matter what the situation, without the fear of saying or doing the wrong thing?
Emma didn't start out working as an Etiquette coach though. Having left school at 17 after dropping out of her A'levels (always good to know I'm not the only one who did that!), Emma went on to work for an Insurance company, and stayed in the Finance sector for the next 20 years.
'I was never really that academically minded [but] after my first 3 or 4 years working I decided that if I wanted to earn enough money to live in the manner I wanted to become accustomed to, then I'd better knuckle down.'
After obtaining her professional qualifications, she moved to London to work in the city as a Financial Advisor.
'I was working in the City up until I was 37, and during those last few years I became more and more interested in not only what made people successful in business, but also liked, trusted, respected, charismatic - all those characteristics that go into making someone's personal brand. That's really what led me into this industry, the Business Etiquette side of things. When the company I was working for went into liquidation in 2009, I had had enough of the work hard/play hard mentality and knew what I wanted to do. I was drawn to etiquette like a moth to a flame.'
There can definitely be a funny attitude about etiquette here in the UK though, and it's often seen as rather old-fashioned, something only for the Royal Family or slightly musty old men wearing corduroy trousers and living in castles they've inherited from Great-Uncle Hubert.
'I was quite insecure and embarrassed about it...telling people I was going to retrain as an etiquette professional raised a lot of eyebrows because of it being seen as something old-fashioned here in the UK. I felt that there was a gap in the market though because I've always felt that knowing etiquette is just understanding a set of rules. Whether we like it or not etiquette actually governs every part of our lives, even going to the coffee shop, or getting the bus, or on the tube. I just felt there was a gap in making the subject relevant for modern people, specifically women...what works now and what doesn't.'
Emma started out writing online about etiquette and manners for the modern woman and then trained to become a Certified Etiquette Coach. Since then she's launched her own company, Emma Dupont Etiquette, where she specialises in teaching classes for international individuals, families and businesses visiting or relocating to London.
'Outside of the UK, Britain is still seen as the epitome of good manners and etiquette. International people love the idea of etiquette [but] some of them are suffering from social anxiety because they've been to an event and said or done something wrong and it's knocked their confidence. The most important nuances of etiquette are what to say and how to deal with awkward situations when they occur. Most people want to learn converstation skills and dining etiquette, so we go into what happens when things go wrong at the table, what happens when you need to sneeze, or you drop food, or knock a glass of wine over. Etiquette is as much about what to do when things don't go right as doing them properly in the first place. A lot of what I teach you won't find in a book.'
These are of course the very things that give people that inner confidence that others respond to, that ability to not get flustered or fall to pieces when everything else seems to be. That sense of ease in themselves and whatever situation they're in.
'Yes, we're not robots, just because you have good etiquette doesn't mean you won't knock a glass of wine over, I should know. Knowing the etiquette rules means knowing what to do when that happens...it's being able to move on with our grace and poise intact.'
What about people who think that etiquette is a bit, well, snobby?
'Etiquette is the set of rules: you do this, you do that. Manners is how we treat people. It's etiquette without manners that's snobbery. One of the most important things I teach is that etiquette is about confidence, it should never, ever be used to look down on people. Sometimes it's about making a choice, if we know the rules we can think 'okay, I'm going to abide by the rules and lead by example' and sometimes, if by abiding by the rules it's going to highlight somebody else's error, then you tailor them back. Our number one priority should be to consider the needs of others. What I love is that when we know the rules we can relax, and then we can focus on other people around us and make sure that they're okay. When you're really nervous you're so consumed with your own thoughts and worries that you can't reach out to other people.'
Now one of the leading etiquette coaches in the UK, Emma had some great advice for any other women out there who are considering switching careers after 40:
'Follow your passion, because if you're going to make the change it's not an easy thing to do, so you'll definitely need to be 100% passionate about it. And trust your instincts, if something doesn't feel right then it probably isn't. And then have faith. If you do the right thing every day, and are consistent, it will happen... Take it step by step. You get back what you put out.'
And what is it she is Loving most about Life After Forty?
'I know who I am and my place in the world far more than I ever did. I finally know who I am. I think our 40's are a fantastic decade and I fully intend my 50s and 60s to be that way too.'
Emma's passion for her subject is infectious, and there's no denying that the world we live in could most definitely benefit from a few more good manners. After chatting to Emma I completely agree with her that etiquette is something none of us should dismiss as old-fashioned and unnecessary, and that there is definitely a place for it in every modern woman's life. In fact anyone who wants to develop more ease and confidence, whether in business or general life, should seriously consider taking a look at learning more about etiquette.