'You look a million dollars'

Zaynab Mirza, 33, is a celebrity make-up artist who has just launched her own range of cosmetics, Provoke. She works regularly on Bollywood films and styles the Asian Women of Achievement Awards.

How did you become a make-up artist?

I always wanted to work in fashion and beauty. I qualified as a beautician and trained on beauty therapy courses to make sure my portfolio was as wide as possible. I joined a beauty agency and went on to become a full-time consultant on the Clarins counter in Harvey Nichols. At 22, I decided I wanted to set up my own salon. I got a call from a local Asian radio station to go on as a beauty expert. Then an Asian newspaper and TV station got in touch. I started doing photoshoots, working on Bollywood films and celebrities, and getting requested for work abroad.

What's a typical day like?

There are two aspects - the business side and the hands-on, creative side. I meet my team for creative briefing meetings, where we bounce ideas on promoting a look and create weekly mood boards for fashion shows. If I'm working on a film shoot or music video, I may end up working from 4am to 11pm. I have to prepare several make-up stations on location and go through briefing notes with my team. I do touch-ups throughout the day to make sure the make-up is perfect. There's a lot of ego-pampering - when actors are sitting in front of the mirror, all their insecurities can come out.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to be a make-up artist?

The more training you have, the better. A firm grounding in skincare is really important. You're an artist; you need to understand your canvas. It's not about slapping on some make-up.

What skills should a great make-up artist have?

Natural creativity. You go to beauty school and learn where to put eyeliner, but make-up is not a textbook skill. You need to be good with your hands. It's about knowing intuitively what's going to work - and having the confidence to know that you can make someone look a million dollars.

What do you love about your job?

Nothing beats the satisfaction when a client looks in the mirror and says: "Wow!" I do a lot of work for bridal clients, and as Asian weddings often start early, I'll get up at 4am to go to the bride's house and create her make-up. You're sharing the last few hours of her single life, experiencing all her nerves and excitement. Knowing that you've made a total stranger feel really special, seeing her smile - that's the cherry on top.

Are there any downsides?

A lot of people think it's a really glamorous job, because you get to meet celebrities and fly around the world. But the hours can be gruelling and antisocial, such as on a film shoot. And if I'm working on a weekend, I can't stay out late the night before, because I need to be able to give 100 per cent the next morning.

How is the salary and career progression?

Don't get into make-up if money is your primary goal. Progress can be slow, and the perks are not financial - although if you're in a top make-up team, you may get to travel a lot. You might start on a beauty counter earning £12,000 or so, plus bonuses and commission. Fashion and media work can pay daily rates of anything from £500 to £5,000.

Provoke Cosmetics are available online at www.provokecosmetics.co.uk