“She was styling us. She was welcoming us. She was putting us at ease. It was phenomenal," says Smart Works client Kate-Lily de Grast-Johnson

By Simon Perry
September 13, 2019 08:40 PM
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Meghan Markle with Smart Works clients
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A young woman who received an employment boost after being helped by one of Meghan Markle’s key charities is sharing how the duchess surprised her at a special photo shoot.

Kate-Lily de Grast-Johnson, who lives and works in London, landed job after being helped through the interview and job-seeking process by the Smart Works charity.

And then came a “shock”: She was asked to be one of the models for the new clothing collection launched Thursday by royal mom Meghan, 37.

“I was so shocked. But Smart Works likes surprises!” she said Thursday after being asked what it was like to meet Meghan at the photography session.

“She said hi and hugged us and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ ” says Grast-Johnson. “She was styling us. She was welcoming us. She was putting us at ease. It was phenomenal. She was wonderful the whole day.”

Jenny Zarins

On Thursday, after a panel discussion about the project at a sunkissed rooftop garden at John Lewis’s store in Oxford Street, Meghan spoke with several of the women the charity has supported. “She was talking about community,” says Grast-Johnson. “Smart Works is literally a community – it has brought us together. We even have a little Whatsapp group. The ladies are constantly in touch.”

“She talked about us being together and being there for each other. More women need to be like that. The fact that Smart Works actually does that and supports you and empowers you . . . I had an experience that was negative as a woman, and you are kind of on the back foot. And then you come to Smart Works and they are sincere from the very beginning and they are there for you and you have an experience that is catered for you.”

Jenny Zarins

As for her modeling job, “This charity helps with ticking off dreams,” she adds. “This is where dreams come to happen. I loved it. And now I have the clothes to take home with me!”

Meghan Markle
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Fellow successful client Dionne Johnson from Hackney, London, is now a Resident Engagements Officer for a housing association. She first met the Duchess of Sussex on her visit to Smart Works in January when Meghan was made royal patron.

“Meghan is all about empowering women, so for her to be part of Smart Works, it raises the profile,” says Johnson. “Since I met Meghan, friends of mine had never heard of the charity but they’ve heard of it now.”

She adds, “Meghan was saying when she came to Smart Works and there’s loads of different clothes it is hard to style people. So having these classics in your wardrobe is perfect.”

Meghan Markle with Smart Works founder Juliet Hughes-Hallett in January.
Clodagh Kilcoyne - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Smart Works, which helps women find employment with coaching tips and professional attire for interviews, came to Johnson’s aid when she needed it most. “I knew it was something wrong with my interview process, it just wasn’t right,” she says. “When I went to Smart Works, as soon as I walked into that building they made me feel so welcome.

“Then we had the dressing, so they put me in something that I wouldn’t normally have worn. So that made me feel good. Then I spoke with the HR consultant and I was able to ask questions that I couldn’t really ask anybody else. So I went for the job and felt so empowered: shoulders back, head up. And I got the job.”