Reader Profile 210 - Coco

Published: 28 March, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 210, April, 2012

Coco Fierce was born Haili Hughes in the northern town of Warrington, a place she describes as “a large town with somewhat of a small town mentality”

The eldest of eight children, Coco recalls being a bit of a loner as a child, “I always felt quite different because where they were quite boisterous and running around being typical children; I used to be sitting and reading books, or writing. I just constantly had a pad and used to sit and write stories.” So from an early age her love for the written word was born, and from that moment on Coco felt that it would be her way out of Warrington.

Those who like to consider themselves ‘out of the norm’ in Warrington will travel to either Manchester or Liverpool to find excitement. Despite Warrington having a history of being a town with plenty of character, sadly in modern times it has begun to look like everywhere else. “All of the individual family-run shops, and all the quirky things about it have gone. It’s got its shopping mall now and all the same shops as everywhere else.” Coco attended Catholic school, and remembers from a very young age wanting to be different, but it wasn’t until sixth form college when she could finally be who she wanted to be. She started to get into bands like Nirvana and to hang out with the types of people who listened to that kind of music. Then, at 16, she got her first tattoo – a butterfly which she now describes simply as, “horrible”. Her and a group of friends all went to get one done, despite them all being underage. “I remember coming home to say to my mum that I had a tattoo and my mum thought I was lying. Then she had a look and I was in big trouble!”

For Coco, journalism filled her with excitement; she liked the glamour of it. As her dream was to write about showbiz, she started to look for experience in the field. After doing a lot of unpaid work experience writing for local listings guides amongst other things, she applied for a trainee scholarship at the News of the World. At 21 and almost out of university her opportunity had finally come. Part of the procedure for applying for the role was to write a story. “You had to interview somebody of importance in your local area in less than 50 words. I think they were trying to weed out who could write tabloid-style basically.”

Warrington suffered an IRA bombing in 1993 that resulted in the death of a young boy and a teenager. On interviewing the father of the teenager, she was unsurprised to find that he had an extremely compelling story to tell. Not only had he been working hard to help with the peace process, but he had even shaken the hands of people in the IRA. Despite it being all in all quite a gruelling process, News of the World paid for her to go down for her interview. “I had a first class ticket on the train and I thought I’d made it already – there were even free pretzels!” After a tough round of interviewing with various editors, six of them were narrowed down to three, and Coco went back a week later. What awaited her was a half-hour interview with Andy Coulson, then editor. Despite him putting her on the spot and asking her questions about politics (for which she had no idea at the time), she managed to give him the answer she felt he would most like… “he asked me about the referendum on the European Union and I was asking myself ‘what would the News of the World say?!’ and so I was like, ‘well, I think England should be England and I don’t want anything European and the pound is great, blah blah blah…’. And he loved it!”

A couple of days later Coco was given the position, so after graduating from university in Leeds, moved down to London. The first week she was there, she stayed in a hostel before finding a flat in Golders Green. She discovered a world she’d never seen before; where she had found Warrington to be very insular and lacking in cultural diversity, London was quite the opposite. “I just thought it was amazing, it was so cosmopolitan, so different, so busy. Shops were open for 24 hours. I found it completely crazy – kinda scary, but exciting at the same time.” Over the course of her time in London she moved to various places, before finally ending up settling in Greenwich when she started to be paid more.

Coco stayed with the News of the World for two years, which coincidentally was the length of her graduate traineeship. It never turned out to be what she hoped it would be and felt that they thought that about her too. Ultimately it wasn’t going to work for both parties. “The News of the World was so corporate and you had to be the kind of character that was going to bend over. I was starting to get quite sick of it at that point and some of the things that I had to do there were totally against my morals and my conscience. I remember being told to knock on the doors of people whose kids were missing around the time of the London bombings, and trying to get into the hospital where George Best was dying to try to get pictures or speak to relatives. They’re just two examples of the horrible things I was asked to do. At first I did them because I was terrified by those in charge. They would insinuate that there were thousands of young people snapping at my ankles trying to get my job and that I was lucky.”

Coco hadn’t had a holiday in two years and so she booked one over Christmas to go and see her dad in Glasgow. She turned her phone off simply because she wanted the luxury of not being on-call, and having a break from a job which was becoming harder and harder to enjoy. When she eventually turned it on, she was disturbed to find some of the most disgraceful messages she’d ever heard. She rang them up and the managing editor explained that the features editor had told him that she hadn’t booked the holiday, despite Coco clearly remembering filling in all the relevant paperwork which had at this point ‘miraculously disappeared.’ “What is becoming clear to the public about the News of the World being a really nasty, masochistic, male-dominated place to work, is something I have known for years, and everybody that has ever been there has known for years. I just wanted to get out, and so I did.” Next, Coco spent some time at The Sunday People which she enjoyed a lot more, finding the staff there to be considerably more nurturing. After a year there, she started freelancing, but was already at the point of beginning to think about doing something else.

She moved back to the northwest, started a family, and after a short time at the BBC made the decision to start a PGCE. Coco completed the PGCE with her newborn baby, Hendrix, more often than not screaming in the background. “I remember my first day teaching, I remember the kids staring at me. I was much bigger then, I was already covered in tattoos, and I don’t think the kids could quite believe what they were seeing. They love it now though, they think I’m really funky.” Often, Coco will be out shopping and find herself approached by the parents of her students to tell her how much their kids love having her as a teacher. But despite the parents being supportive, she is under no illusions as to what some people may think. “Wherever you go there are going to be people who are prejudiced against you regardless of what your career is. If I did get any negative feedback, I’d just answer it with ‘well I’m a good teacher, isn’t that what matters?’”

Around 18 months ago, Coco was around 17 stone. “I remember it culminating at a year 11 prom, the August before last. I had this black ball dress which was a size 24. I just could not believe how big I was. When people started to put pictures up on facebook from the prom, there was this one where one of the kids made me do a rock sign and make a really punk-rock face. And I’m not joking, I look absolutely hideous in the photo – 25 chins. I looked like Peter Griffin from Family Guy!” Weight Watchers was joined and the pounds started dropping off in no time at all. She wasn’t even exercising, just dieting. Now she does a seven km run every week, boxing, and zumba, to maintain her healthy weight.

At the Coventry tattoo show, Coco was getting her thigh tattooed when someone suggested to her that she should go into alternative modelling. She had always had a rockabilly look and was already living the lifestyle, so she decided to give it a go. She posted pictures and a profile up on Model Mayhem and within a few weeks had 20 shoots booked. Eventually Spirit Model Management took her on and she has since started modelling for various alternative labels. “I’ve been published in a couple of magazines, but Skin Deep will be my biggest so far, it’s an absolute honour. When I started, my main ambition was to get into a tattoo magazine. I think tattoos are a moment in time, I think they tell a story. So even though the small ones I have are really naff and of a crap quality, and don’t really mean anything, it reminds me of times I’ve had, and maybe the person that I was. But what’s cool is that I’ve got every chance of becoming the UK’s first heavily tattooed head-teacher!”


Text: Tom Abbott