Award-winning shoe designer Emily Jupp has come a long way since being abandoned on a bus in Jamaica at the age of 18 months. Here, the ‘shoemaker to the stars’ explains why she is involved with Sheringham Little Theatre’s Rewriting Rural Racism project
Over the years, Emily Jupp has been lauded for her fun footwear which have graced the feet of Kylie Minogue and Sinitta. Not only that, she she is also a trained opera singer and actress, motivational speaker and champion of women of colour in business. Yet her life began as an 18-month-old toddler abandoned on a bus in Jamaica.
Emily, who runs Milly J Shoes in Norwich, is among the lives of migrants featured in a new series of films called We Are One, which are part of Sheringham Little Theatre’s Rewriting Rural Racism project.
She hopes that appearing, and singing, in the film will help show how people from all kinds of backgrounds and races make up the fascinating fabric of modern-day Norfolk.
‘I consider myself a Norfolk girl – because my adoptive family had homes and holiday homes here which I have visited since a child,’ says Emily, 39.
‘But Norfolk can be insular because we are on the edge of the country, and not as diverse as other communities. I have experienced surprised looks when walking down a local street as a child holding my white mum’s hand. And I have had people say: ‘you are very posh for a black lady!’
‘But we have a fabulous mix of all kinds of people and skills in the county these days – including superb artists, scientists and writers from all kinds of backgrounds – helped by the UEA, hospital and science parks.’
Abandoned tot Emily was found by a policeman and taken to an orphanage where she was adopted by a white English couple. Her childhood was split between Jamaica, Bangladesh as well as a boarding school and family holidays in England.
She won two degrees in musical theatre and acting in London, before embarking on a performing career ranging from singing opera to community theatre.
‘My favourite role was one written for me for a play in Suffolk called The Ebony Box, about slavery, in which I played seven different roles,’ she adds.
But family tragedy in 2011, when her adoptive brother Dan took his own life aged 31, prompted a career change to shoe design.
‘I was tired of auditions, and often my roles were stereotyped because of my race and how judgemental theatre can be – so when Dan died I decided it was time to make a change and my hobby turned into a business.
‘I’d always loved shoes, from rummaging about in my granny’s closets for them as small child, and began designing them – not to wear but as sculpted art pieces. I put them online and people loved them, including celebrities such as Jodie Marsh who asked me to make a pair for her to wear on ITV’s This Morning – and it went from there.’
Her business grew from online-only to a shop, initially in St Benedict’s and now Tombland in Norwich. And she has gone on to win prestigious awards including Footwear Designer of the Year in 2015 – and become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
Emily appeared on TV talent show The Voice in 2012 and was asked to make some shoes for judge Kylie Minogue. ‘She has a song called Chocolate, so I made some chocolate-looking stiletto boots with the show logo, sweets and a microphone on them.’ And she also made some rabbit shoes, with ears and tails, for singer Sinitta.
Emily hopes the We Are One films will show how people can ‘succeed against the odds’ – such as her adoption.
‘I am very lucky my background has been so diverse and my parents encouraged me not to focus too much on my race,’ she adds.
The We Are One films will be available to watch from April 10-30, via an online ticket (https://sheringhamlittletheatre.ticketco.events/uk/en/e/we_are_one__a_series_of_short_films_on_norfolk_migration) buyable through the Little Theatre’s website under the Rewriting Rural Racism section.