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Val Garland on Glow Up season 3, mannequin make-up, and her love for Bimini

Ahead of tonight’s new season of Glow Up, we catch up with the legendary make-up artist and judge to find out what’s in store

“Professional skills can be learned on the job, but you cannot teach creativity,” Val Garland tells viewers as aspiring make-up artists scurry around her, frantically gluing their brows down, squirting red drops into their eyeballs, and covering themselves in glitter while Maya Jama reminds them time is running out – that’s right, Glow Up: Britain’s Next Make-Up Star is officially back.

Following two successful seasons, the series returns to our screens tonight with a fresh crop of 10 MUAs all hoping to prove they have what it takes to impress the judges and avoid getting told, as one contestant does in the opening episode, that they look like the talking tree in a pantomime. Back in the judges chairs once again are senior MAC make-up artist Dominic Skinner and the legendary Garland, this year joined by Jama who replaces Stacey Dooley as host and sympathetic ear to the contestants all battling it out to win a contract to assist the world’s leading make-up artists.

Over the last decade, the way we think about make-up and its transformational power has shifted as artistry, creativity, and self-expression have taken centre stage. Glow Up reflects these changing tides, featuring guest judges like TikTok star Abby Roberts and head of make-up design for television show Pose, Sherri Laurence, alongside industry figures like Charlotte Tilbury and Rankin. “I’m looking for somebody who is an inventor, who’s got a bigger story,” says Garland. “Copying someone else’s work, replicating a reference doesn’t interest me. I'm looking for somebody who is going to show me something that I haven't seen before, that’s what excites me.” 

We caught up with Garland ahead of tonight’s episode to chat TikTok trends, putting make-up on mannequins, and what season 3 has in store for us.

Congratulations on another season of Glow Up! How are you feeling about the show now that you are three years into it?

Val Garland: It’s fantastic, because even though there’s a formula to the programme, every single season is different because the contestants bring something new every year. You never know what’s going to be in store. It’s a fantastic rollercoaster and it gets very tense! It gets emotional. I wouldn’t say Dom and I argue, but sometimes we have very heated discussions because we’e both passionate about what we believe and who we believe in. I always want to give everybody a chance. So it’s an emotional roller coaster.

How was it navigating shooting in lockdown? 

Val Garland: It was a whole different ball game but I have to say, our production company was so fantastic, they were so on it. I felt like I was back at boarding school! We were isolating from December 28, so from then until February 9, I didn’t see my boyfriend. I was only with the crew, and when I wasn’t with the crew, I was at home in my house. So, it was quite different and the pressure was on to produce a great show, but also to keep everybody safe. And I have to say I think they did an amazing job. By the time the series ended, I’d had 20 COVID tests.

Were the contestants isolating together?

Val Garland: The contestants and their models were all isolating together for two weeks before the programme started. And then we had our inner nucleus, which was me, Maya Jama, Dom, and the two cameramen, we were all in the same bubble. It worked really well, it was amazing. I mean, the whole place smelled like hand sanitiser.

Do you have any favourite moments that you’re allowed to tell us about?

Val Garland: There were lots of great moments. We’ve got some great judges on the show, O-M-G some of the judges are going to knock your socks off. And it was very interesting to see everyone’s take on doing make-up. You have make-up artists that are used to doing make-up on themselves and they can do it very well. But when that type of make-up artist has to do make-up on a model, that’s when it can get really interesting. I remember looking at one make-up artist and thinking, ‘Oh my god, this person doesn’t know how to curl a lash.’ They had curled their own eyelashes before but they had never gone in and curled someone else’s.

It’s also wonderful to see some of the talent that start off nervous – because, you know, there are lots of us that suffer from imposter syndrome – and you can see them thinking, ‘I don’t deserve to be here,’ and you’re thinking, ‘Yes you do! Because you’re so good, you just don't realise it.’ And that’s what makes it an emotional and lovely job to do.

So you really enjoy the mentoring aspect of the job?

Val Garland: Yes! I love to see people grow and, over the course of the series, you do see people grow because you can be the greatest make-up artist in the world and just have a bad day. Everybody has a bad make-up day, doesn’t matter who you are. So you could win the challenge one day and the next day, find yourself in the elimination, so there’s a lot of anxious tension for the artists. 

I remember saying to Dom, or I might have said it to one of the producers, ‘I don't think I could do this, I couldn’t put myself under that amount of pressure.’ You’re in a competition and you’ve got 15 minutes to get this look on. And not only are you concentrating, but you've got a camera here and a camera there and there’s all this pressure. And I said, ‘I don’t think I could do it.’ And one of the producers turned around and said, ‘Well, we wouldn’t have chosen you anyway!’

One of the guests on the show is TikTok star Abby Roberts. Do you keep up with TikTok trends?  What you make of how it’s dominating beauty at the moment?

Val Garland: I think the TikTok trend is perfect for right now. It was fantastic during lockdown, and it’s the next generation of how we’re moving forward. If we’re not moving forward, then we’re stagnant. We’re standing still. Nobody wants that. So I’m right behind it. And I love to see what people do. Am I on TikTok? No, and I don’t think I should be on TikTok, but I do love what Abby Roberts does. And I do love what she brings to the table and other make-up artists like her, it’s fantastic.

The second episode is centred around creating looks for the television show Pose. Ball culture and drag have really influenced beauty trends over the last few years, do you see it as one of the main influences? 

Val Garland: Oh, absolutely and it’s about time. I think we’re now in a situation where anybody can wear make-up, it doesn’t matter whether you’re he, she, they – it’s just all about celebration of self and bring it on. As the Instagram trend for a lot of make-up took off a few years back, it was quite interesting that that sort of brow and socket line and sculpt and lip and baking – how it was exactly the same or very similar to drag, it’s interesting how they sort of melded together. And I think it’s great. 

I’m going to go off track now and talk about RuPaul’s Drag Race because what I loved about RuPaul’s Drag Race was I felt Bimini was taking drag to a new, more fashion level, rather than Panto Dame, and that’s what I would like to see happen. And maybe we sort of all merge together, or hopefully we don’t, hopefully we all go in different ways and it becomes an even wider open space of make-up and creativity.

In the past, we’ve seen beauty become quite extreme during times of social or political upheaval. Do you think there’ll be a similar reaction to this crisis? 

Val Garland: I think that is happening now. You know, that’s happening now with all the embellishments and the more-than-make-up that people are doing – the whole alien and futurism thing. I mean, putting in contacts now is just like so commonplace, and the way that so many young people want to work with prosthetics to change the shapes of their faces. That’s already happening and has been happening for some time, and may it continue. All that android sort of make-up and AI stuff, bring it on! I think anything that moves us forward to the next generation is a good thing, absolutely.

What do you make of make-up look filters?

Val Garland: I have an open mind. I like the idea of AI moving forward and if it works for you great. But I want to create those images in the real world. I want to be able to make the filter out of make-up. For me, that feels like more of a skill than just touching a button. But then on the other side of things, I love seeing real skin.

For me, the thing with make-up is if it looks good, I don't care how you got there. If it works, if it looks good, if it looks beautiful, bring it on. I’ve just never been very good at being told what to do. So if it works, it works. Doesn't matter how you got there.

Going back to the show – what do you and Dominic look for when you are judging?

Val Garland: We both have an opinion and we don’t always agree. We’re both stubborn. We’ll debate the point of whether something works or it doesn’t. He might say, ‘Oh, it’s not balanced, there’s no symmetry’. And I might turn around and say ‘Well, perfection is boring, I like the oddness’. But then if we were both coming from the same angle, it wouldn’t be interesting.

I think Dominic is looking for the technicality. I’m obviously looking for the technicality as well – you know, can you draw a straight line? Do you know how to blend? For me those are the basics but what I'm looking for is the artistry because, for me, you can teach someone skill, anybody can be taught how to do a perfect winged eyeliner or a perfect red lip, but I’m looking for somebody who’s got something else, who’s got that artistic moment where it just goes ‘Bosh’ and you’re like, ‘Wow, how did that happen’. 

For young make-up artists out there who aspire to be on Glow Up one day, what advice do you have for them to help themselves stand out? 

Val Garland: It sounds really boring but believe in yourself, be determined. Don’t look at what other make-up artists are doing. Do what you do, find what works for you, and just keep doing it. Say yes to everything, push yourself, push yourself on social media. You’ve just got to keep banging on the door until you either bash the door down, or somebody opens it.

And maybe practice on other people, not just your own face?

Val Garland: Absolutely. I mean, practice, practice, practice. When I first started doing make-up – because I didn’t really learn from anybody, I taught myself – I had these mannequin heads. And I would paint the make-up over the cling film, which is quite hard to do, you try drawing a straight line on cling film, and the reason why I did it on the cling film was so I could take it off and do it again, take it off and do it again. So I do honestly believe, practice, practice, practice. You’ve just got to practice until you can do it with your eyes closed.