After Hours: Barbara Daly

Text and interview by Laura McLaws Helms

With these interviews I’m seeking to learn from cultural creatives about how following their passions has molded their lives and careers – what choices they’ve made, where it’s led them and how they created the lives of their dreams. I try to create a space where they feel that they can openly discuss the ups, downs and zigzags of life, as well as the total magic and inspiration that comes from doing what you love to do. When I was in London in May I sat down with Barbara Daly, a legendary makeup artist whose work I have long admired. 

barbara daly in 1981

barbara daly in 1981

Barbara was born in Leeds in 1949. The daughter of a secondhand clothing dealer, she had a dressing-up box filled with vintage magic and a passion for old Hollywood movies. Unlike so many of my interviewees, Barbara’s career goals were set from childhood – by 13 she was sending letters off to Hollywood makeup artists and applying for jobs at the BBC. She was finally accepted to the BBC makeup and hair training course after she had completed art school. On the course she learned how to do every possible type of makeup needed for television, from talk show hosts to horror victims. Though she went on to get a job at the BBC, Barbara still aspired to work in cinema. Finding it difficult to break into movie work while at the BBC, she left her job and started freelancing on films while looking for other work. In the late 1960s makeup on editorial and advertising photo shoots was either done by the models or by someone sent from the makeup company, yet Barbara’s curiosity and constant experimentation led the photographic and magazine world to open their doors to her. Working with photographers like Barry Lategan and Clive Arrowsmith, Barbara became known as one of the first generation of name makeup artists.  

In 1970 her friend, the costume designer Milena Canonero, introduced Barbara to Stanley Kubrick. Though only 21, Barbara was hired to create the makeup for his cinematic adaptation of Anthony Burgess's novel A Clockwork Orange. Energized and inspired by the collaborative process and working with Kubrick, Daly’s work for the film included the Droogs unsettling and now iconic eyelashes. The two collaborated again on his 1975 film, Barry Lyndon. Lit solely by natural and candlelight, the makeup looks she created were based on 18th-century paintings by the likes of Gainsborough. All throughout these periods of shooting, Barbara continued to do makeup for magazines, working for such legendary photographers as Helmut Newton and Norman Parkinson. In 1978 she also opened her own school, the Barbara Daly Makeup and Beauty Therapy School in Chelsea, London. “Fanatical” about skincare, not only did the school teach how to apply makeup but also how to take care of the skin from the inside out, from dietetics to massage.

princess diana on her wedding day, 1981

princess diana on her wedding day, 1981

Introduced by an editor from Vogue, Barbara did Princess Diana’s makeup for her wedding in 1981. Watched by 750 million people worldwide, Diana’s soft and romantic beauty look made Daly a household name. Long having wanted to launch her own makeup line, Barbara got her chance in the mid-1980s when she met Anita Roddick, the founder of The Body Shop. Daly proposed a line that “gave women the chance to experiment, to make the most of themselves in their own style, to fit in with their own lives rather than offering them unattainable dreams based on unreal beauty.” With Roddick backing her, they hired a researcher to study how and when women wear different colorsas well as how it affects their self-confidence.They then used this research as the basis for Colourings, which launched in 1986. She later launched her own line, Barbara Daly Make-up, for the British supermarket chain Tesco and also developed a color line for Liz Earle. 

Now retired from the business, Barbara and her husband split their time between the country and London, where she takes art classes. I highly recommend listening to the interview as her humor, memories and advice are far more than this short bio can share. She was a total joy to chat with – full of passion for makeup and its ability to make people more self-confident and happy. 

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Barbara Daley gives Toyah Willcox a makeover on TV in 1981:

Barbara Daly for The Body Shop ‘Natural Makeup Tutorial’ from the 1980s:

Some Barbara Daly products we love: