When their regular jobs fell victim to the virus, these people took a wild change of direction


During the first lockdown in 2020, millions of people, through no fault of their own, lost their regular jobs and needed extra money.

Airline crew and theater actors took temporary positions over the weeks and months to deliver food or aid the country’s efforts in the fight against Covid.

Here we take a look at some of the enterprising Brits who have made a wild career switch due to the pandemic.

From toast master to lawn mower

“By 2020, I had 70 weddings booked, all of them cancelled,” says Simon Shirley, who worked as a master of ceremonies. “I loved making people’s most special days go perfectly.”

The 56-year-old from Buckinghamshire found that human connection as a gardener. ‘In the early days of the lockdown, because many customers are elderly, I also kept them company and brought groceries. For a lot of people I was the only one they saw from week to week.’

From Victorian acrobat to painter/decorator

Being shot from a cannon was an everyday occurrence for acrobat David Downie.

But lately, his particular skills have not been in much demand – so at age 54, after nearly 30 years as a circus performer, he turned his talents to decorating. But he’s desperate to ditch the stepladder and get back on top of a human pyramid. David, from Bristol, says: ‘I’m pretty sure I can make a decent living from it. But now that the lockdown is lifted, offers for acrobatic work are coming in again. It made me realize how much I love and missed it.’

From orchestra conductor to trainee lawyer

“It’s the longest I haven’t conducted since I was a kid. The work evaporated overnight,” says William Lacey, who saw a sojourn at Russia’s famed Bolshoi Theater come to an end and his diary of international concerts “decimated.”

“I thought I should do something useful, otherwise I would become severely depressed.”

So the 49-year-old from north London enrolled at the University of Law and has since been offered a scholarship at Lincoln’s Inn to become a lawyer – his childhood dream before music took over.

From wedding planner to plant grower

Matthew Oliver enjoyed trading jet set wedding parties for developing green fingers.

“We’ve still worked successfully with weddings all over the world, but because we can’t physically go to venues, I could spend my time doing other things — and then I became obsessed with plants!” says the 34-year-old from Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire. “I’ve got 70 now. They’re in every room.”

From belly dancer to teacher and eco-warrior

“I’ve lost my old self, but I’m not sad,” says belly dancer Carmen Jones.

At 52, she was ready for a change – and that Covid had slowed down her dance career gave her just that. ‘Before the pandemic, the shine was gone. I knew it was time to move on, I just didn’t know how’, adds Carmen from Bath. Now she becomes a teacher at a forest school, where children build trust in a natural environment, and has devoted her life to reversing climate change. ‘Dance used to be my everything. Now I’m going to pour my passion into protecting the planet.”

From magician to visual artist

With no parties or social events to wow his audience, magician Phil Ringland, 49, has turned his hand from card tricks to painting. The Gloucestershire native is studying for a BA in fine arts at the University of the West of England, Bristol.

He still keeps his magic tricks sharp by showing his dexterity to his rather hard-to-impress dog.

From singer to tarot card reader

“When I’m not singing, I love to meditate,” says singer-songwriter Lady Nade. “My grandmothers were both spiritual people and I’m following in their footsteps in a way.”

The 32-year-old Bristolian saw the promotion of her new album Willing interrupted by the pandemic, but used the time to connect with a higher power – through tarot cards and crystals. “Spirituality is very important to me and helps bring people together,” she adds. “People have struggled to hold on to the faith during this dark time.”

From opera star to chef

It was going to be the biggest year of Claudia Huckle’s operatic career, but she’s spent most of it in the kitchen.

“I sang in Milan, in La Scala, in Paris, and then a concert tour of Europe,” she says. “Everything has been cancelled. 2021 will expire. When you end a concert and there’s no applause, just empty seats, it’s heartbreaking,” said the 38-year-old from Bath. But she is reflective: “More time with my kids has been a gift. I cook more! And I still sing every day.’