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Once
upon
Atim

Photographs by Jenny Brough
Styled by Jessica Skeete-Cross
Set Design by Andrew Lim Clarkson
at Bryant Artists

Model, singer, actor, playwright (and MBE): Sheila Atim is a multi-talented star on the rise. She talks to Tom Ellen about fashion, representation and being directed by Oscar-winner Halle Berry

In early summer 2019, those heady days before Covid-19 stripped words such as ‘summer’ of all meaning, Sheila Atim was woken at 8am by a phone call from her mother.
‘She was just talking gibberish,’ the actor says with a grin. ‘I was like: “What are you on about? It’s very early to be calling and making no sense.” Then finally she said: “You’ve got an MBE!” And I was like... “What?!”’

Yes, apparently the notification process for the Queen’s birthday honours list is not dissimilar to the one Hogwarts School uses to initiate new pupils. ‘You literally just get a letter, out of the blue, no warning,’ Atim laughs, talking to me from her east London flat. ‘It went to my mum’s address in Essex and she opened it by accident, which is hilarious because when you see the envelope it’s got “Her Majesty’s Office” written on it in massive letters.’

Atim was 28 at the time, a Ugandan-born, Rainham-raised model-turned-singer-turned-actor-turned-playwright, with a degree in biomedical sciences to boot. But it was her services to drama for which she was being honoured. She had spent the past few years stealing the show in various critically lauded Shakespeare productions, a rapid rise that culminated in 2018 with a starring role opposite Mark Rylance in Othello and an Olivier Award for her tear-jerking turn in the Bob Dylan-inspired musical Girl From The North Country.

BOTTEGA VENETA bubble boucle jacket, £2,275; bubble sandals, £2,370

“for anyone from a nation that was once colonised by the British Empire, an MBE is a complex thing”

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BOTTEGA VENETA knit leather dress, £17,500; earrings, £295

“As a black woman, [halle berry] trod the path before everyone else. She’s one of the idols”

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BOTTEGA VENETA patent stretch leather dress, £4,410; bubble sandals, £845

“I think because I learned on the job — I didn’t go to drama school — I’ve always had that [imposter syndrome] thing. Maybe that never leaves you”

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BOTTEGA VENETA wooden bead dress, £11,850; earrings, £265; bracelet, £1,425

“When everything is suddenly snatched away from you, you think: “Hold on: what do I actually want to do?””

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MIU MIU jacket; roll neck; skirt; belt; all POA

“It’s not just
about having
lots of actors
from different backgrounds: it’s about having producers, the people doing the work before you see the final product”

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READ THE FULL ARTICLE
GIVENCHY bustier dress, £3,435; wedge sandals, £301; belt, £732

Hair by Subrina Kidd at Maxim Fashion Agents using Oribe Royal Blowout Spray and Charlotte Mensah Manketti Oil. Make-up by Kim Kiefer at Frank Agency using Chanel Rouge Coco Bloom and Chanel Le Lift Lotion.
Photographer’s assistant: Ho Hai Tran. Set designer’s assistant: Solène Riff. Stylist’s assistant: Raphael Del Bono