Standing at six feet tall with a full head of striking silver hair, Paige Collins certainly makes an impact when you first meet her.
She exudes an air of confidence and charisma, as everyone who has met her as the Managing Partner at local accountancy firm Hartley Fowler LLP, will agree. A well-known business personality in the area, she is highly engaged with the local business community and Brighton Chamber and a regular on the local networking scene.
Earlier this year, Paige announced that she is in the process of changing gender identity and would be presenting as female in future – a move that many call brave, and one she’s happy to share with us...
What made you decide to go public?
You don’t wake up one day and decide “I am going to change gender”, it’s much more nuanced than that. I have been on a journey of self-discovery for the few past years and, to me, this now felt like the right moment for me to finally be “me”.
I took the beginning of the year as the start of my transition and for Paige to make her mark on the world. I was, and still am, under no illusion that this is going to be an easy journey but, life is short and I don’t want to leave with any regrets; but brave is a word which should be reserved for others more deserving.
It’s not that I have not been me, it’s just me has not been “fully” me, sort of kept under wraps, held back in part by social structure, schooling and choice of career, all of which have enabled me to achieve what I have been lucky enough to have achieved so far. But there has always been this questioning uncertainty about is this really me?
It’s not been an easy decision and has been made with the help of experts in this field over a number of years but I feel that I am now ready to embark on this exciting new personal chapter with a spring in my step and a smile on my face. Positive things happen to positive people and I am a positive person.
How has the reaction been?
On the whole, the reaction has been really positive! Clients and colleagues have reacted with a mixture of curiosity and acceptance in varying degrees, but most have been really supportive.
I appreciate that having worked with many of them for a significant number of years, the change in my presentation and pronouns will take a little while to embrace.
I feel lucky that living so close to Bright- on has meant that my journey is by no means unique and that there is a general, basic understanding of what I am going through. Widely known as the LGBTQ capital of the UK, Brighton is arguably one of the most inclusive and open-minded cities in which to live and work.
I am under no illusion that people will have their own thoughts on my journey, and I am always open to sharing my journey as I go through it and learn about it myself.
I have played sport from a young age and will continue, mainly Cricket, Hockey, Squash and Golf; and this has formed the basis of my social network. I am humbled by the acceptance of my changes by my sporting friends; although my golfing friends have all joked that under no circumstances will l be playing off the ladies tee!
What’s been the hardest part?
There have been several “hard parts”. Firstly, actually accepting that you do not fit into the norm and that is OK.
A friend sent me a birthday card last year with the phrase on it: “Why fit in when you were born to stand out”. That’s not how I see myself, but it’s interesting how others perceive you. And my oldest friend commented: “aren’t we too old for all of this!” – You are never too old for change.
But the really hard part is telling close family that have known you as your old self for so long, and it makes their coming to terms with one’s new-self some-what harder; but there is no substitute for the love of your family and I am very lucky to having a loving and caring family.
What’s in store for the future?
My personal journey of becoming Paige will continue this year. I am finally ready to go on an exciting and happy journey to being my new self, a self that will express my gender differences and changes taking place over the coming year which will become more evident as time passes.
When discussing my changes with clients they have all been supportive and reassuring that as far as they are concerned nothing has changed, I will still look after their business needs as I have always have and most were just worried I might retire! I still have a lot to give back to the business community.
I hope to give other individuals, who are perhaps at an earlier stage of their transitioning journey, the courage to pursue who they really are, deep down.
My example will hopefully show that no matter what industry you work in, what your background is and what gender you were born into, it’s your life at the end of the day – and you only have one chance to live it.
Talking of which, one of my other passions is motorsport and, if I could choose a different career, it would have been as a racing driver!
Not wishing to let the moment slip by, I obtained my motorsport race licence, not with a view to changing career, but to fulfil a life-long ambition. I was hoping to compete at the Goodwood Sprint meeting at Easter as my first event, but sadly this was postponed due to the current pandemic; so my race debut will have to wait a little longer.
Professionally, I am looking forward to continuing to support my clients, especially through these challenging times. I will also continue to focus on growing my firm’s presence, particularly in Brighton, by continuing our involvement with Brighton Chamber of Commerce, who have been incredibly supportive of my journey, as well as the wider business community.
I understand that my journey not only impacts me but my family and friends too; unwittingly they are on a journey as well and one which they did not sign up for! But I very much hope they will all come along on the journey with me and enjoy the excitement of the ups and downs, mainly ups hopefully!