Kim Elba: I’m not a celebrity make-up artist

Doing the telephone interview with Kim Elba was like having a conversation with an old friend but the most difficult part was getting hold of the elegant star. With a busy lifestyle juggling motherhood, showbiz and running a major store, it was an honour to interview Kim for The AfroNews.

A self-confessed globe-trotter Kim shares with us her journey from modelling to becoming a professional make-up artist, the challenges of having the surname Elba, and a store she jointly runs with a friend in New Jersey.

Kim, it is such an honour to take time out off your busy schedule to talk to me. I realise I have just interrupted your photo shoot.

Thank you, Pauline. It is not a problem. I’m happy to be interviewed by you.

Looking at your pictures, you are extremely beautiful. Your skin is always glowing. What is your background?

It is not all down to good make-up (laughs). My mother is from South Korea and my father is African American. I grew up in three places, South Korea, England and USA.  

When did you come to England?

As a teenager I packed my bags and went to London on adventure on my own. I always liked new places; I was always thirsty for new environments so London gave me an opportunity to model.

Do you still model?

No, my modelling days are long gone.

How long did you model for?

Not long enough but I wanted to change career and find something more solid to do. My parents are big on education so they said I should study make-up and that way I would still stay in the beauty and fashion industry, so I went for an interview and got in. I graduated with 1st honours at International Artist Make Up Academy in London and within the first week I got a job with the BBC. Even though I studied make-up in UK I came back to US to refresh as both countries have different ways of make-up artistry.

What is your speciality in make-up?

Special effects make up was and is my speciality. It is still my favourite even though I have never used the skill.  

What has been the most special moment in your career as a make-up artist?

Most fulfilling time working in my career was working for Columbia Tristar in Hollywood.

How long have you been a make-up artist?

I have been a make-up artist for 20 years and it has been fantastic, I’m still thoroughly enjoying it.

Well, I’m sure you have mastered the art extremely well and it is no wonder you are now teaching it. Do you enjoy teaching?

Yes I do, I get inspired by young make-up artists who are just starting out, so teaching still brings out the best in me.  

Is attending make-up master classes a quick fix for learners or do they have to go to university to get degrees?

As a make-up artist you do not have to go to make-up school or university. You can learn make-up on a one to one basis from someone with experience, depending on how long you want to learn.

What are you doing in preparation for your UK make-up master classes?

There is no specific preparation for the UK make-up master classes. I think the British audience are thirsty for it and those are exactly the kind of students we want. UK looks up to US for make-up and US looks up to UK for fashion. British fashion trends are awesome. I love them.

You are both a hair and make-up professional but why do you only do make-up?

I trained in both hair and make-up but hair has never been my passion. I don’t want to go to work feeling I’m dragged into it. I want to enjoy my work.
I have turned major jobs down that required hair and make-up but sometimes I would say yes if it wasn’t too complicated. Make-up is my first love.

Even if the money was right would you still turn it down?

Well to be honest with you when you do both hair and make-up, they tend to package it so the pay is actually much less than expected.  

You have now ventured into a new market with a store, tell me more about it?
Yes, it is something I’m very excited about. The store is in New Jersey, it is called “All About The Accessories”. My friend came up with the idea of running an accessories shop but he knew nothing about jewellery and fashion accessories. I love fashion so he gave me a good offer that I could not refuse. We are partners in the business.

The name is interesting…

It is and it is rather long but it has a meaning. It is simply all about the accessories that I pick.

Do you personally pick or rather buy everything for the shop?

Yes, I pick everything in the store. I know the quality of each and every piece. I’m very thorough on quality; it has to be the best quality. The store is something that I always wanted. I’m hands on, I like talking to clients, get the feel, cater for them. I get involved in the store from logistics right down to security and accounts.

So you are the boss lady, but it must be a task running it in New Jersey when you are based in Atlanta.

Yes you could say that (laughs), but I am the nice boss. I can’t be there all the time but I can log on remotely to keep updated on what is going on.

How do people refer to you when they see you out and about?

When they see me out they are like that is Kim Elba not Kim the professional make-up artist.

What does that make you feel?
It is not easy carrying the sir name Elba, obviously people think of Idris first then me. I really want to get my credit as Kim the make-up artist. I don’t think I could shake it off, sometimes I would like to, sometimes I think may be changing my name would be best and just be Kim but then I think why should I? This is me; I’m Kim Elba, the professional make-up artist.

When doing interviews do you get asked a lot about Idris, well like I’m asking you now?

(Laughs) Yes, I do but we try not to touch on him too much because he is who he is and I am who I am. It really doesn’t matter anymore what the correct answer is in an interview. I’m extremely proud of him for paving ways for himself. We are all proud.

What do you think of him as an actor?

Although music is his first love, he has done well in acting. He is a star!

What is one thing you like about him, sorry this interview is turning to be about Idris…..

(We both laugh) It is OK Pauline, I don’t mind because it’s you. Idris is very humble and in fact we are similar when it comes to achievements but both are humble. He has achieved a lot that people don’t know. I don’t think people like listening to others bragging about achievements.

With all that talent he only made his name big in the US, why?

I think the UK take time to embrace talent, which is such a shame. I hope that one day UK will embrace talent and not wait for one to make it in the USA first.

What is your beautiful daughter Isan getting up  to?

Isan is only 10 but already an aspiring actress. Initially Idris and I were not pushing her at all to take up acting but we realised she loved acting especially after visiting her dad on set.

So we let her start at the age of four. But we wanted her to learn acting from the craft bottom instead of going straight to Hollywood and getting roles because she is Isan Elba. So she started to go to acting school which she still goes to and she enjoys it.

Idris wants her to learn the right way as opposed to being handed over opportunities for having a famous dad, that way she will get roles suitable for her talent.

And how is she getting on with it?

It is going great, she has had a few roles. She is also going to star in a movie with Idris where he is going to play Nelson Mandela. Isan is very intelligent and loving. She told me recently: “Mummy you don’t ever have to be away from me. You will always do my make-up”. She is a great child.

It looks like you are going to be a make-up artist for life whether you like it or not…

(Laughing) I have no say in the matter as Isan has booked me for life. We are very proud of her. We have tried to raise her in the most normal way possible, she is very humble.

In the beginning of this interview we almost had a row about me calling you a celebrity make-up artist, why?

Because I am not a celebrity make-up artist as people refer to me, I am a professional make-up artist.

Why is it a big deal to you?

I cringe when people are like ‘who are the most famous clients you have had?’ Even though I have done some of the most famous faces, I never name drop because no one is more important than the next client. Every person has a greatness. I understand people can be curious but I do not really want to call myself celebrity make-up artist. From promotional angle it works otherwise it is really not for me.

But you are a famous make-up artist?

Yes but with fame there is a hefty price to pay which I’m not interested in.

Such as?

The price of being with Idris Elba. In the beginning and even now people would make stuff up, yet they don’t know me personally. I did not understand it at all, before I would take it to heart but now I ignore it as I know it is just jealousy.  

Ahhhh, I can’t resist going back to the topic Idris Elba. The guy is hot, with many female fans. How do you deal with it? Do you get any comments from women about your relationship with Idris?

Yes, for some women it is like he is supposed to be with them. Why me, Kim. What people don’t know is I knew him way before he became famous. We were both teenagers when we met in London. We are teenage sweethearts.

What is next for Kim Elba?

Well I’m planning to introduce my make-up line sometimes in the near future, it is one of my top priorities.

For those who will not be able to attend any of your master classes, how can they benefit?

I will be streaming the classes live where you can interact with me and the entire class. You can join us from anywhere in the world. All you need to do is register online.

To register for Kim Elba’s make-up classes, please log on to

Hairstylist: Latay Mays

By Pauline Long