Interview: Toni-Marie Happe
We caught up with Toni-Marie Happe Model, TV presenter, Dancer and Actress from London who gets to travel the world as part of her career. She loves Jesus and people, and has an incredible story of new beginnings from the council to catwalks.
Tell us and our readers about yourself and your journey to being the person you are today?
My creative journey began with my love for dance and fashion from a young age and it’s through dance that I found God when I was 14 years old. That’s why I am so passionate about communicating through the art forms and sharing God’s love through dance. I am part of the performing arts team at Hillsong church and a dance crew called The Saints. I feel so blessed to be a part of amazingly creative teams who communicate the gospel through the arts.
Modelling was something that came later on; I started modelling for friends who were photographers to help build their portfolios but that lead to other photographers contacting me via Instagram and before I knew it I had been scouted by an Italian designer to model at London Fashion Week. I couldn’t believe it was real at first. They also noticed I was a dancer and asked me to open their section of the show with a solo dance. They gave me a song to choreograph to the day before but the funny thing was, the DJ played the wrong song and it was one I had never heard of haha what a way to push me out of my comfort zone...I had to freestyle.
During London Fashion week I met other designers who I also walked for and I got invited to Amsterdam Fashion week which was another amazing experience! At this point I was working full time for the local government but as more and more opportunities came up, I couldn’t help but think about taking the risk to quit my job to pursue my dreams.
Whilst working 9-5, I attended dance classes in the evenings, around 3-4.5 hours a night and I would spend all day at dance courses on Saturdays and church dance rehearsals on Sundays. It was tiring but I loved it! The dance courses I attended were all amazing but I came across one called The Artist Hub which included empowerment sessions. These sessions helped to give me the confidence I needed to step out into the creative industry.
Just three weeks after leaving my full time job, I landed a role as a TV Presenter for The Buzz TV Show on Sky 193 Voxafrica, presenting entertainment news. I interviewed celebs on the red carpet at film premieres and awards shows. At London Fashion Week I would walk on the runway then come backstage to interview designers...who says you can only do one thing!? This was a dream come true and just when I thought it couldn’t get any better...I interviewed the head of hair and makeup who later recommended me to present for a model and talent competition called MissSuperTalent that tours Europe’s and Asia!
My first time presenting for MissSuperTalent involved touring France and Switzerland and I presented the finals inside the Eiffel Tower! My first time presenting a show on stage was inside the Eiffel Tower! I also got to coach the models who were competing from all different countries. I have since toured South Korea twice and 22 cities throughout France and Italy. Not only do I get to present the show and coach the models, I also get to take part modelling in photoshoots and on the the runway as well as dancing on stage. I have also walked at Seoul Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week! I have been a hair model for L’Oréal, Toni & Guy and Aveda. Imagine if I never stepped out!
In the last few years you have embarked into modelling, acting and presenting, how did you get there and what was your experience moving into this new industry?
Having worked for the local government for ten years, it was really challenging to break out into a completely different industry. The idea of being freelance and not knowing when my next job would be, scared me; I was used to having a consistent income and the stability of a full time job. I battled with the idea for years. I knew my hearts desire was to chase after my dreams but fear was holding me back; fear of not being good enough, fear of being financially unstable, fear of failure.
It’s easy to confuse fear with wisdom. Sometimes we think we are being wise by taking the easy and sensible route when actually it’s an excuse because we’re afraid. We can’t grow by playing it safe and not taking risks. All I kept thinking was if I don’t try then I will regret it for the rest of my life. What if I fail? I would rather try and fail than live with the regret of not trying and not knowing; continuously thinking ‘what if’? Worst case scenario...get another job!
Whilst working full time, I was dancing and modelling in my spare time. Having attended so many amazing dance courses; I came across a course that stood out to me. It was The Artist Hub. This course was different because it included empowerment sessions which involved working on my mindset to build confidence, courage, self esteem and motivation. This is where my journey of rewiring my thinking began and it’s something I’m still working on today. I’ve had to unlearn a lot of belief systems; some go so deep they’re subconscious and you have to dig deep! I began checking my circle, whose voices I was listening to. I attended entrepreneurial conferences and started to dream bigger.
Eventually I made the bold decision to step out of my job and into my dreams. Now I’m not saying it was easy and that it hasn’t come with challenges but it’s something I will never regret. I am so grateful for the people in my life who believe in me and have supported me through the highs and the lows. The lessons I have learnt and the journey I have been on has been so worth it. I could not have dreamt of the things I have got to do. Every time I think I’m dreaming big, God surprises me with something bigger! And even through the lows in my life, God always uses them for good!
Have you encountered any major challenges and what are some of the biggest lessons you have learnt on your journey?
Yes I had to adapt to self employment and not knowing my schedule, everything comes up so last minute! You have to be flexible and ready. The challenge for me was being able to trust that work would come in. You have to get used to rejection haha the amount of castings you can go to and get turned away can be disheartening but you have to keep trying and the right work will come.
Money mindset has been a challenge; I did a lot of work for free at first to build my portfolio and gain experience but I quickly learnt that people can take advantage of that. You have to know your self worth and know that your time and what you have to offer is valuable.
Also, there have been so many times I’ve been paid late and had to chase it up. This was so different to having a full time job and knowing exactly when I’d be getting paid. I’ve had to learn to to stand up for myself and not be a walkover and learn to say no! You have to say no to things you don’t feel happy or comfortable with otherwise it will cost you your peace.
Your job doesn’t define you! I used to feel so defined by my office job and think it meant I wasn’t good enough to work in the creative industry. Now I’m in the creative industry, I look back and have so much more appreciation for all the benefits that came with my office jobs. I no longer feel defined by what I do because it’s not who I am.
Your industry like many has been heavily impacted by the current pandemic, how has that been for you and what are you doing to keep going?
The struggle has been real but I remind myself that it’s temporary and things will get better. I miss seeing my friends and family; I miss travelling and my work. However, it’s made me appreciate the most important things in life. We have to think outside the box during this time and find ways of being creative even if it looks different.
The past year has been all about self development for me. I have been having counselling to work through past traumas, deep rooted issues and learnt belief systems. I did not have an easy upbringing and I’ve been through a lot of trauma as an adult. Counselling is something I’ve always thought about doing but because I’ve always felt fine I never got around to it. This year has given me the time to do that. It’s transformed my mindset and helped me understand myself so much better.
Empowerment sessions have started back up but in a different and even more powerful way! They are incredible and it’s really helped to be in a community of encouraging and likeminded people. These sessions are for anyone and if you’re interested then do get in touch with me as they’re something I’m really passionate about.
Most things have been adapted to be online or they’re attainable from home such as my church and church groups, dance classes, home workouts etc. It’s important to stay connected! I’ve been going for walks and doing home workouts or dancing. This is so important for our mental and physical health. Make it fun! Get those endorphins going.
Here are some of the things I do daily as I think it’s important to build good habits and have a routine. I personally like to spend time with God every day by praying, reading the Bible and devotionals and listening to worship music. I decree and declare truth and affirmations over my life; there is so much power in literally speaking it out into the atmosphere.
I like to think of a few things that I am grateful for each day; having an attitude of gratitude changes your whole mood and perspective. I write a ‘to do’ list to have a focus and stay productive.
I have been using this time to work on myself and work on creative business ideas and my mindset. I have been looking at what I am consuming...having a balanced diet, who I am allowing to speak into my life and what boundaries I need in place, who I follow on social media, limiting the news, following government guidelines to stay safe and protect my peace.
And what encouragement do you want to share to others during this time?
Keep going! Don’t give up. Look after yourself and your mental health. Stay connected. Move your body and go for walks because it’s so good for your physical and mental health. Take it day by day. Create good habits...decree/declare/affirmations, prayer/meditation, gratitude. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, it’s good to rest! Taking baby steps each day is better than nothing because you’re still moving forward and over time those baby steps will take you a long way. Don’t worry about the speed, just keep moving.
What or who inspires you and why?
Jesus! The best example! The way He loved God, the way He loved people. He never gave up and kept going; even in the worst situations He still had faith and trusted the plan and purpose for His life.
Jesus didn’t start His ministry until he was 30 years old and I just love what an example that is to us because a lot of people think you need to be doing something from a young age or we use the excuse of being ‘too old’. Even though 30 is still young haha but it just shows that God’s timing is perfect and age can’t get in the way of that. Those 30 years were preparing Him for such a time as that.
God and His creation will forever inspire me. ‘Every painted sky. A canvas of your grace’ Hillsong United - So Will I. This song depicts it perfectly. The feeling of awe when looking at a sunset is undeniable and indescribable.
This feeling is one that I experience a lot especially whilst travelling. Flying literally on top of the clouds will never cease to amaze me. ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands’ Psalm 19:1.
Even man made city views and skylines make me think wow God created us with so much imagination that we as humans can create something as stunning as this.
Living in London inspires me! I love London so much! It’s such a beautiful city full of the arts and I’m so grateful to live here. We have theatre, fashion, dance, film, TV, art museums, arenas, amazing city views and architecture; the list is endless.
Life itself inspires me, how intricate and complex the human body is...it must have a creator. In Matthew 6 of the Bible, it speaks about how God clothes the flowers of the field. How beautiful are flowers and the ability they have to put a smile on someone’s face. We see God’s beautiful creation everywhere and that’s what inspires me.
We are creatives, created by the Creator to create. Pastor Erwin McManus, one of my favourite speakers, talks about this a lot and it’s also one of our motos at The Saints.
I have sooo many creative friends who are absolutely smashing it that I could honestly write such a long list haha so I’m just going to say I feel so blessed by the community I am surrounded by. I have so many inspiring people in my life.
Name some of your top highlights of life so far?
Finding Jesus - the best thing that has ever and will ever happen to me.
London Fashion Week - presenting, dancing and modelling
New York Fashion Week
Amsterdam Fashion Week
Seoul Fashion Week
Eiffel Tower - presenting
The Buzz - TV Presenter
Touring Europe and Asia
Finally to you - What is real? What is authentic? and What is winning?
Being your true self because you are unique and what God has planned for you, no one else can take that away. No one else can be you!
Being open, honest and vulnerable. Be yourself and stay in your lane, comparing yourself to no one but yourself is how you win.
Continue to follow Toni-Marie's amazing journey connect with her via
Instagram - @tonimariehappe