Nurse Gemma to the Grid

Gemma at Knockhill  (photo by Marc Waller)Hopefully you saw our interview with the four BTCC grid girls, giving their side of the story and how they feel about being on the grid.

We wanted to show that the girls aren’t just the stereotype airheads that some people expect and that many of them also have worthwhile careers. It’s hard to get more worthwhile than working in health and that’s lead us to talk to Gemma. She was Aron Smith’s Grid girl in the BTCC last season and during the week she is a trainee nurse as well as fitting in other promotional work. She’s the perfect person to show that the stereotypes are very wrong. We caught up with her to discuss being a grid girl, nursing and how she feels about the negative press grid girls continue to get.

GR: First of all how did you get into the world of grid girling?

Gemma: I entered a competition in 2007 For Bennetts babes squad, Bennetts where the main sponsor of the British Superbikes back then, I saw it online and thought I’d give it a shot. To my surprise I somehow got my place on the squad, it was a great experience and lots of fun and actually where I met and became good friends with Emily Williams [Now an Airwaves racing grid girl]. It only took that one season and we caught the motorsport buzz… I haven’t looked back since.

GR So what made you decide to become a nurse?

Gemma Nurse  (photo by Marc Waller)Gemma: Nursing is a rewarding profession with excellent career and development prospects. I’ve had office jobs in the past and realised it wasn’t for me, I like to work more hands on and mixing with the public. It’s not something I thought I’d ever want to do when growing up it just came to me over time, I hate having needles but I always the weird kid that liked the gory stuff growing up. I like to learn new things and see things that shock me lol.. It sounds extremely soppy but I wanted a job where I feel like I’m making a difference and what’s better than the privilege of looking after people and helping them at times when they feel most vulnerable.

GR: How have you found the nursing has fitted in with being a grid girl, it must be hard to fit it all in.

Gemma: Studying for a Nursing degree is pretty full on, it’s different from many other Uni courses, we get a limited time off during summer and for the remainder we spend it on clinical placement. I’ve been really lucky so far, the past couple of years I have been able to work my shifts around race weekends so I don’t get to miss my grid girl duties which is great. Sometimes I miss out on some of the Promotional jobs and shows in the week but generally it’s worked out quite well so that makes me happy that I’ve been able to carry on with promo/grid girl work alongside my training.

GR: What’s a typical day as a trainee nurse like?

Gemma: Ahh it really depends… we spend 50% of our training in lectures and seminars at Uni and 50% out in practice. We are allocated different placements throughout the three years so we gain experience within different hospital wards and out in the community.. when you’re on placement you have a mixture of early, late and night shifts. It can be very tiring on placement and there are days where you can feel quite overwhelmed or something will happen and it will pull at your heart strings, it’s a real eye opener but a real rewarding profession.
Each day as a student nurse is never the same as the last, you spend a lot of time working with qualified Nurses and different members of the multi-disciplinary team looking at all aspects of patient care.

GR: So how does your other job compare?

Gemma: Nursing and Grid girling/promo work are worlds apart. Promo jobs can also mean a long day, it can involve a lot of travelling and you’re there to face every kind of weather that gets thrown at you with Gemma portrait  (photo by Marc Waller)a smile on your face; wind rain, snow and sun, we are there to represent the brand or team. Being a grid girl means you get to see motorsport behind the scenes, race days are my favourite, everyone is excited and ready for the day ahead, it’s great to meet the racing fans and catch up with team mates and fellow grid girls. We spend the day doing varies duties such as pit lane walk about, driver signings, general product and team promotion and of course what I like to call ‘lollipop lady’ duty for each race.

GR: Have you found yourself wanting to give your team mates and fellow grid girls health advice and have people started asking you for help on health matters?

Gemma: Ha ha, sometimes people will ask me things, it’s amazing what some people tell you as a student Nurse, obviously whatever people tell me I keep confidential as part of my professional duties. I like it when people ask me questions, if I don’t know the answer I’ll look it up so next time someone asks I’ll be in the know. It’s nice that people recognise that I’m nursing, although sometimes I think people assume I’m a Doctor with things they ask me ha ha. Also I sometimes gross people out, I forget that people don’t like to talk about certain things while they’re eating, it’s just the norm when chatting to my nursey friends.

GR: In the last few months, there have been various articles in the press suggesting grid girls should be stopped, what would you say to people who think this if you could speak to them?

Gemma: It’s one of those arguments that will never be settled, everyone has their own opinion and feelings of what they view as right and wrong. Personally I have had nothing but positive experiences from my past eight years in the industry. You may get the odd negative comment now and again but the paddock is generally a friendly place. Some people just assume that grid girls are only there to be ogled at by pervy old men but if these people could spend a day with the girls you’ll see that there is a lot of interaction with all kinds of people, times are different now, there are plenty of female fans that get involved and families with young children, it’s really nice to see it’s a family friendly day out and I think some people don’t understand that.
I’m all for women’s rights and empowerment to the female race, it’s not a nice feeling to think grid girls are a cause of negative feelings or a cause of insecurity to their fellow females. Grid girls are just normal girls doing a job, they are booked yes because they have to look a certain way in their lycra outfits but mainly because they have a personality, there is much more to the job than just smiling, in this industry you need to be friendly, approachable and have exceptional communication skills, you’re dealing with the public, sponsors and representing your team. It’s sad that people would want to stop the sport employing grid girls, at the end of the day you have to understand you can’t please everybody. We don’t do this job to demoralise women, we do it because it’s a job we enjoy and I say what the hell is wrong with that?

GR: How would you feel if the people who are anti got there way and you could no longer be a grid girl?

Gemma: Ahh I’d feel really sad and disappointed, myself and the girls look forward to race season. I really don’t think it’ll come to that, there are a lot more problems in the world to worry about than motorsport employing grid girls, people should maybe focus on real world issues.. . Or hey maybe we could have grid boys too? 

GR: If you got the chance once you are a fully qualified nurse, would you like to come back and work on the medical side of things at the track?

Gemma: To be honest I never thought about it, I think I have a delusional view that I’m some kind of peter pan, I’ll never grown old or saggy and teams will be wanting to book me up forever and ever. When the time comes where I’m no longer needed in the lycra I’d love to still be involved in race weekends; working along the medical side would be really interesting I think, something to consider maybe. Either way I have made many friends over the years so whatever happens I still be wondering around the paddocks to catch up with my buddies.

GR: Are people at the track surprised when they find out what you do for a job during the week?

Gemma: Yes definitely, there is a stigma attached to grid girls, that all we do is mince around and eat cake ha ha! [Gemma once said this in a television interview and has been (in)famous for it around the paddock ever since!] Some people just assume that the girls are just eye candy and wear lycra and a heap loads of makeup and fake tan every day of every week.
Gemma at Donington (photo by Marc Waller)I love to shock people when they ask what else I do, it’s wrong really, people seem to show more respect in their response, all the girls deserve respect, they’re all loyal, reliable and hardworking girls. Some of them have other full time jobs, some work full time travelling around the country as a promo girl/model and others are doing varies degrees or training and some are mothers and juggle their home life with work, either way there’s much more to each of these girls than some people assume. #Girlpower!

GR: Do people from your nursing know about you being a grid girl and have any patients or colleagues ever recognised you from the track/tv?

Gemma: My university friends all know about my work and if it’s appropriate to bring up on placement then I tell them about my weekends, it’s nice when they ask about it and show an interest, I think they are also sometimes surprised, when you’re on nursing duties I don’t really look like a grid girl, wearing hair up off the shoulders and minimal make up, it’s kind of like my Clark Kent disguise but without the muscles and glasses!

GR: So what’s your favourite thing about being a grid girl?
Gemma: It’s great when you feel part of the team, I look forward to seeing my grid girl friends, team mates, photographers and the marshals.. The team fans are awesome, especially for BTCC, there is a real loyal following and I try to keep in touch with everyone on Twitter. I love that we get to go to all these events and see parts of motorsport that a lot of people don’t. I love the buzz on race days and the build up to the season, it’s nice when you get to slip into your grid outfit at the weekend and feel a little bit more glam, especially after a week of being up to your eyeballs in various bodily fluids on placement (gross, sorry). All girls like to feel nice, like when you buy a new frock or get your hair done and it’s kinda the same feeling when you get into grid girl mode. Obviously a plus side is that I love the food in hospitality; cakes and cheese boards all the way…. YES!!

GR: What’s your favourite thing about nursing?
Gemma: It may sound like a cliché but I love helping people, if I’m able to comfort and make one patient smile on a shift I’m a happy girl. Being poorly and in hospital can be very scary and intimidating so I like to think that I can help people feel a bit more at ease. I have a lot of compassion and empathy; I’m a people person so this is a really good job for me to be in. Seeing someone you’ve been caring for get better is a great feeling but so is comforting the people who are in the last hours of their lives. I enjoy meeting patient families and learning all my new skills, it’s exciting when you get asked if you want to watch an operation or perform a new skill, I get that satisfying feeling of ‘yay, I’m so lucky I get to do something awesome’.

GR: What’s been the best experience when you’ve been a grid girl?

Gemma: There has been so many, last year I was SUN ‘grid girl of the year’ which is pretty awesome, like it was a shock and was really lovely when Airwaves Racing broke the news. I’m not so good at speaking on camera, I’m a bit awkward sometimes and say weird things, but I don’t think my Sun online interview was my worst ha ha.. .! Other favourite experiences are when your team wins their place on the podium, it’s a great atmosphere in the pits and it’s nice to be a part of it.

GR: Lastly are you back on the grid in 2014 and can you tell us which team or is it still top secret?

Gemma: Of course, I’m back for 2014, you guys can’t get rid of me that easily!
I had two amazing seasons with Motorbase and Airwaves Racing, they’re a great team to be a part of and by working with them I’ve made new friends for life. This year will be a little different, I was asked to follow my Motorbase driver Aron Smith and the real talent (his girlfriend Lauren Taylor!) to their new team at BMR (@TEAMBMRBTCC). I’m sad to say bye to my friends at Airwaves Racing this season but I’m excited to join my new team and see great results for Aron and the guys. This will be a great opportunity and I can’t wait to see what this year brings….. watch this space! @gemnewman

GR: Thanks Gemma!

Hopefully you’ve found Gemma’s interview interesting and we’ve shown that grid girls may not be what you expect!  By Marc Waller


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