Meet the Sunderland make-up artist who's nominated for an Emmy after working with Little Mix, Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Visage and moving to LA
A make-up artist from Hetton who’s worked with everyone from Little Mix to Oprah Winfrey has been nominated for a prestigious Emmy award.
Adam Burrell, 33, is part of the talented make-up team from RuPaul’s Drag Race who’ve been nominated in the Outstanding Makeup for a Multi-Camera Series or Special (Non-Prosthetic) category, with the winners announced at a glittering ceremony in LA on September 14.
The former Shiney Row College student has come a long way since painting his cousins’ faces for Halloween, climbing the career ladder to become a much sought-after make-up artist in Hollywood.
He’s created looks on some of the biggest stars in the music and TV industry, travelling the globe many times over for six years with Little Mix, and working on some of the highest-rating shows in the world, with Jennifer Hudson personally requesting him for The Voice USA and working with Mel B on the X Factor.
Adam’s love of make-up and prosthetics began as a child watching films such as The Witches and Mrs Doubtfire, and the former Eppleton Primary School pupil would often get face paints for his birthday so he could paint anyone’s face who’d let him.
An art and design student at college, he’d never considered make-up as a career until he spotted a degree in Makeup and Prosthetics at the London College of Fashion while leafing through various prospectuses. His subsequent application was successful and he moved to London on his 20th birthday.
Speaking about the early days of his career, Adam, who now lives in LA, said: “While I was doing my degree in London I worked part time on a make-up counter in Selfridges and it was there that I really got the best training, just doing beautiful make-up on all ages and races, all day.
“I knew that I needed to get out there and assist some of the make-up artists that I looked up to who were doing what I wanted to be doing one day. It was much harder back then to get in touch with make-up artists, not like now where you can just direct message anyone on Instagram. I went to a Girls Aloud concert and afterwards I went to the stage door to see if I could meet the make-up artist.
“Lo and behold the first to come out of the door did their make-up. I told her that I'd love to assist her, then she gave me her agent’s details. Fast forward a few weeks and I was on the set of a Girls Aloud music video assisting the amazing Liz Martins, who I assisted for three years.”
Ambitious about furthering his career, Adam began setting up photo shoots and working with other artists and soon began working with The Saturdays and working regularly with household name magazines such as Cosmopolitan, meaning he was able to quit his job at Selfridges and go freelance.
Adam said: “It's really just a snowball effect, if you're focused, good at what you do, hard working and nice to be around then doors will open.”
One of the closest relationships he’s built up in his career is with Little Mix, which includes fellow North East artists Jade Thirlwall and Perrie Edwards from South Shields. He began working with the girls fresh from their X Factor success in 2012 and went on to travel the world with them doing countless tours, red carpets, photoshoots, music videos and TV shows and only stopped being their regular make-up artist when he moved to LA in 2017.
The former Hetton School pupil explained: “They're a make-up artist’s dream and definitely my career highlight so far. It was gruelling at times, doing four girls every day, but they are the loveliest, funniest girls and will have a huge place in my heart forever. I still work with them when I'm back in London or when they're in LA, and I hope I always will.”
Adam’s long list of celebrity clients also Nicole Scherzinger, Leona Lewis and supermodel Winnie Harlow for a major MAC campaign and he’s built up a firm following on Instagram himself with 123,000 followers. But it’s his work with singer and host Michelle Visage that led to the Emmy nomination, considered to be the Oscars of the television industry.
“I met Michelle Visage years ago in London, and worked with her there,” explained Adam. “So when I moved to LA I let her know and she asked me to work with her on RuPaul's Drag Race. I've always been a fan of the show so to be a part of it now is crazy. RuPaul has been my idol since I saw To Wong Foo for the first time in 1995.
“Michelle is everything I could ask for in a client, an amazing woman with a great face who loves make-up. It's no surprise that the show was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Makeup, so to be acknowledged as part of the team for that couldn't be more surreal. It makes me realise just how far I've come, which is so easy to lose sight of when I'm working non stop, jumping from one job to the next, too often not acknowledging accomplishments because I'm too busy eyeing up the next.”
Despite working with some of the world’s biggest stars, Adam’s roots are still very firmly in Hetton where his family still live. He visits at Christmas and throughout the year when his busy schedule permits and when his mam visits she always makes sure to bring a bit of the North East with her.
“When my mam's visiting it's probably the first time the smell of mince and dumplings has come out of an apartment in LA,” he joked.
And for those wanting to follow in his footsteps his best advice?
“I feel like the industry has changed so much since when I first started and the competition is stronger than ever so it's really down to the new generation to learn everything there is to know about the industry as it is now and with that it will be easier to navigate your way. But learning your craft, working hard and being nice to people will always take you far.”
*The Creative Emmys take place on Sunday, September 14. You can follow Adam on Instagram @AdamBurrell