Old Bedalian 2004

From her earliest years, Hannah Gourlay was constantly inventing and creating. It was soon apparent that her school in Godalming, an all-girls institution with a fairly unbending attitude to discipline, was not going to be the right environment in which to nurture the artistic skills that she so clearly possessed. “My parents went looking for a creatively focused school for me and they didn’t have to go too far to find it,” Hannah reflects. “Bedales was a pretty obvious place to send me.”

Hannah was immediately struck by the school. “So different to what I was used to at my old school,” she recalls. “Everyone looked so cool and uber confident, dyed hair, flowers in their hair, fairy wings. I felt like such a young kid when I arrived, wearing dungarees. Within a week I remember changing the way I wore my dungarees with one buckle rather than two and a bow in my hair. I suppose that I was quite a shy child but Bedales really was responsible for instilling confidence in me and bringing me out of my shell, which, as I look back was much more important than the academic side of things to me.”

Quickly settling into the routine of her new school, Hannah played the cello in the school orchestra, threw herself whole-heartedly into activities such as baking bread, worked on the farm and above all, spent a lot of her time in the art room. “George Hatton was a massive influence on me, of course,” Hannah reports. “I never found him a tough teacher – he was just very encouraging, allowed you to enjoy what were you were doing and never tried to push you down one particular path. The creative side at Bedales, art, textiles and so on, was what I enjoyed the most and the school encouraged thinking outside the box. I left with a desire to set up my own creative business at some point.”

After leaving, Hannah was eager to start designing clothes. “I did a foundation year at Kingston University, which was absolutely brilliant, incredibly inspiring, and by the end I was in two minds about whether to go on and do a fashion degree as I was so keen to start my own business,” Hannah says. “When I did go ahead and do it, I was disappointed – the course wasn’t as creative as I would have liked. I finished my degree and took up an internship at Aquascutum but the lack of creativity and feeling like a cog in a machine was the opposite to the Bedales mentality I loved. So I didn’t last long.”

I suppose that I was quite a shy child but Bedales really was responsible for instilling confidence in me and bringing me out of my shell

 

Hannah decided to follow her own instincts. From her London base, she was soon putting her creative abilities to profitable use in various ways, designing a range of mugs, customising jeans and selling plenty of her own creations, mostly at street markets. “I loved what London had to offer and was meeting so many great people. I then started going to music festivals and it was at a Secret Garden party that things really started to take on a life of their own for me. I made myself a lion’s tail to wear to this festival and got such a great reaction that I quickly realised that it was my duty to furnish these tail-less humans with their long lost limb.”

The lion’s tail ultimately lead to the production of the most extraordinary menagerie of creations from Hannah’s fertile imagination. “I returned the following year, with a whole variety of creatures’ tails and sold them in no time, at festivals, including SGP, Glade, Wilderness, and then went to Camp Bestival, our first kids’ festival, down in Dorset and sold out on the first day. I was six months pregnant at the time but I drove back to London, made a load more tails through the night from my bedroom, returning to the festival the following morning to sell them to tail hungry children!”

TellTails (https://telltails.co.uk) had been born. A TellTail, as Hannah explains, is a one size fits all, wearable animal tail for humans of all ages that attaches to an elastic waistband and is “an exercise in silliness, self-expression and the unadulterated enhancement of fun in the extreme”. “The idea is to make the tails as realistic as possible, both in the way that they look and the way that they move,” Hannah says. “Having my son, Oscar, totally motivated me into setting up the business, which moved from my bedroom to a studio of ‘tailers’ to the manufacture now in Indonesia, which I now manage from my laptop at home. Now he’s at school, I go for meetings with retailers and so on but I’m basically a one-woman band, which suits me. As the business grows and the stakes get higher, I’m looking for the right team to handle the worldwide distribution process.”

Earlier this autumn, TellTails was exposed to the widest possible audience as Hannah appeared on the seminal TV show DragonsDen in an attempt to drum up investment in the business from the panel of formidable entrepreneurs. Having invited the Dragons to try the tails on for themselves, Hannah received two separate offers from a total of three of the panel. Although she has ultimately decided to continue along an independent path for now, the experience and the exposure of her business to such a huge audience has been a huge thrill to Hannah. “I was absolutely terrified and excited before pitching to the Dragons, but it was a fantastic experience,” she observes. “I was so proud to put my business in front of these business moguls and it’s given TellTails massive momentum and kudos it deserves”

Hannah will continue with the idea of selling part of her company to an entity that might be able to globalise the concept. “It’s got a lot of momentum behind it and the mass market is now ready for the tails,” she says. “I’ve always been very keen to keep it specifically as a ‘tail’ business, rather than falling into becoming a general fancy dress company, but I’ve got a few other top secret products in mind that will work well without diluting the brand.”

It is hard to believe at times that this confident entrepreneur is the same person as the shy, retiring child who arrived at Bedales years ago. “The confident me is largely down to Bedales, as I said,” Hannah concludes. “I got in touch with my extrovert side there and whenever I look back on my school days, I think of the happiest of experiences.”

Hannah Gourlay was interviewed by James Fairweather in 2017. Read an article about Hannah's time on Dragons' Den published in the Farnham Herald.