Syco Creative Director Harriet Cuddeford on making her childhood dreams come true
Harriet Cuddeford may be known as a force in the global entertainment industry as the Creative Director of SYCO Entertainment, Simon Cowell’s production company, but few know she spent her entire life working towards what she deems her dream job.
Cuddeford was only three years old when she began playing piano and discovered a passion for music. As she was growing up in Edinburgh, Scotland, she became “obsessed” with music television, music videos, and live concerts. She was always a fan of pop music, and it was everything to her during her childhood, an exciting and “shiny fantasy world” a young Cuddeford could escape to.
“We didn’t have cable at home, but I would go to my friends’ houses and sit in front of MTV for hours. MTV seemed like the most glamorous and exciting thing on earth and I was obsessed with music stars, from boybands to Britney to Eminem. I would watch Saturday morning music shows and record my favorite performances on a VHS tape and go home and watch them over and over again. Music and TV were innate passions of mine, so when I reached 21 and realized working in music and television was possible, I knew how I would spend my life,” said Cuddeford.
Cuddeford began her career with Syco 10 years ago as an assistant in TV, and quickly realized the area that she was the most passionate about was designing TV performances for music artists and performers. It didn’t take long for her to impress none other than Simon Cowell himself, who wanted Cuddeford to learn about how they made their shows. Cuddeford began going to the X Factor live shows every week and helping Cowell with the dress rehearsal.
“I learned so much from Simon and about creating performances for TV. I became really passionate about it and started working on all our different TV shows, and eventually with all our music artists. There was a huge amount to learn but fortunately I work for a company that recognised my passion and my hard work and supported me repeatedly in growing my career and giving me new opportunities,” said Cuddeford.
Now, as a Creative Producer on America’s Got Talent, Cuddeford’s role is to work across the live shows that take place in the Dolby theatre, home of the Academy Awards. She works individually with each act on their performances, helping them to level up from the previous rounds so they can impress not only the judges, but also America, who are now voting in this part of the show. As well as helping them to develop their act, she also comes up with the visual creative concept around their performances – everything you see on stage, from what they wear to set pieces, lighting, special effects, video content, choreography etc. Essentially it is working with a performer to create their live stage performance and every aspect that entails.
“Harriet is a real visionary. What I mean by that is, she sometimes has a concept in her head which the rest of us might not initially get. But when it starts to come together, you realise what she’s been aiming for and it’s nearly always fresh and exciting. Being faced with the challenge of doing 150+ creatives in one season is huge. Yet she continues to be inventive and exciting under this extraordinary pressure. And the pressure she puts on herself to do better is a lesson to all those who want to find success in such a competitive world. In a strange compliment to her skills, Harriet’s ideas are often ‘borrowed’ and end up being featured on award shows or major concert tours. As the saying goes: if you’re going to steal, steal from the best,” said Richard Wallace, Executive Producer of America’s Got Talent.
As Creative Director in the record label, Cuddeford works with all of Syco’s signed artists to develop their visual identity. She helps them to create their visual language, covering everything from styling to art direction, artwork, videos, social content, TV and live performances. She has collaborated with mega bands and stars like BTS, One Direction, Fifth Harmony, Grace Vanderwall, Louis Tomlinson, Labrinth and Emeli Sande, James Arthur, Ann Marie, Ozuna, Kelly Clarkson, Clean Bandit, and Tokio Myers, making that little girl in Edinburgh who would sit in front of the television screen enchanted by MTV very proud.
“It’s an amazing privilege to get to dream up things inside your head and then have the resources and team to make those ideas into a physical reality on a TV set. Not only do you get to see your ideas come to life, but you also get the opportunity to create moments that help to break and build artists careers, as well as bringing entertainment and enjoyment to millions of people at home, and all over the world. It’s really exciting to get to work with people like One Direction and James Arthur on TheX Factor, or Kodi Lee and Grace VanderWaal on America’s Got Talent, at the very start of their careers and to create performances for them that help to amplify their insane talent and helps to shape who they are as an artist and how people understand them,” she concluded.