Kirstie Higgins has an ‘office’ with one of the best views on the south coast.
As she gazes out of the window into the blinding winter sun and across the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour, an Isle of Wight ferry heads through the narrows.
In a previous life she sold the oil which fuels those ships.
And for a woman who would love nothing better than to become a football agent or a Pompey director, it comes as a surprise when she describes herself as ‘a bit of a girlie girl’.
But this elfin-like businesswoman, who virtually grew up in the stands at Fratton Park, knows that her professional and personal backgrounds stood her in good stead.
Kirstie now plays a leading role in Portsmouth’s entertainment industry as the corporate sales manager for Tiger Tiger at Gunwharf Quays.
She’s been doing the job for three-and-a-half years, loves it, and as a Portsmouth girl to her core is one of the most recognisable faces in the city’s leisure sector.
‘I worked in the oil industry for more than six years. I used to sell oil to companies like Wightlink and I was the only woman in the south who was doing it,’ she says.
‘But that was not a disadvantage. I’m sure being a woman helped as well as being a massive football fan.
‘I’d go into an office and the bloke might have a picture of a Saints or Tottenham player on the wall and not only would I recognise them, but I’d also know all about them.’
It was her mum who took her to her first Pompey game.
‘Mum and dad were both in the navy and living in Cornwall before they moved to Portsmouth.
‘Mum was the big football fan and she took me to my first game at Fratton Park and I did everything wrong.
‘We were playing Liverpool. I wore a red and white dress and we sat in the Milton End. I also fell in love with Kenny Dalglish...’
Now the 40-year-old is a season ticket holder in the North Stand, never misses a game and to her huge delight gets to mix with the Pompey players as part of her job in the VIP room at Tiger Tiger.
So, what is Tiger Tiger? Daft question? Apparently not.
When Gunwharf opened 10 years ago next month Tiger Tiger was essentially a night club, one of several of the same name around the country.
But over the past decade it has expanded the restaurant side of the business, opens from 9am for coffee and now boasts five bars. When full it can hold 1,800 people.
‘We have changed,’ adds Kirstie. ‘The emphasis now is on the three Ds – dinner, drinks and dance.’
Her job means she has to attract the lucrative business clients who can hire the entire building, the restaurant or just one of the bars. Everything is covered from celebrations for company sales teams who have hit their target, firms wanting to launch new products and charity nights.
She says: ‘I can do anything from 20 to 500 people. We’re flexible, we’ve got to be. When the recession started to impact in 2009 we realised we had to change.
‘We weren’t always going to get a client who wanted the whole of Tiger Tiger, so we had to tweak what we could offer.
‘The trick was to do it diplomatically so a client who was looking to scale down a bit would not lose face.
‘I’ve been doing this job for three-and-a-half years and the market has definitely changed in that time, but I think we’re starting to see things change for the better. Things are beginning to move again.
‘Christmas was very good for us and 2011 has started well and our figures are up 13 per cent on a year ago.’
Kirstie, who went to Cottage Grove infants and junior schools and St Luke’s Secondary School in the city, is driven to hit her own targets. ‘I’m always trying to dream up new ways of getting business and I like to lead – I’ve always been a leader. I suppose I’m a bossy cow really,’ she laughs.
‘I was a customer here long before I worked here and I always enjoyed the atmosphere, so when I saw an advert in The News for this job I knew I believed in what it offered, felt I could do a good job of bringing it attention and new business and, after a series of three interviews, I was offered the job.
‘So now I’m responsible for promoting all the services that Tiger Tiger Portsmouth has to offer.
‘I contribute new ideas and initiatives as well as looking after our regular clients. It’s one thing to get a new client, but like anything else, getting them to make a second and third booking is the trick.
‘Once an event or function is booked, it’s my job to co-ordinate departments so that all requirements such as staffing, catering, decor and theme are being managed.
‘I’m also often the host of an event and there to make sure everything runs smoothly.’
And her hard work seems to have paid off, for, of the seven regional Tiger Tigers, Portsmouth is doing the best business. Only the venue in Haymarket, London, tops Gunwharf.
So how does she relax?
‘I love having dinner and then going to the theatre or the cinema. I go to the Isle of Wight festival and do the camping thing and I love sailing in the Solent.
‘I took a week’s course learning how to be a competent crew member with Sunsail and absolutely loved it.
‘My family and friends had a sweepstake on how long I would last because it would ruin my nails, but I could have stayed for two weeks it was so great.
‘So perhaps I’m not so much of a girlie girl after all...’
KIRSTIE’S BRIGHT IDEA
It was while she was in a changing room in a clothes shop that Kirstie Higgins realised she had hit on a top idea.
The celebrity nights brainwave came to her three years ago when she managed to get several male members of the TV soap Hollyoaks to spend a night at Tiger Tiger and meet the punters.
They were due to take part in a charity football match the following day at Havant and Kirstie thought she would have a go at capitalising on their popularity.
She says: ‘I’d gone into Topshop in Commercial Road to get something to wear that night and I could hear two girls chatting in the next cubicle.
‘They were very excited and said they had to find the right thing because they were going to meet the Hollyoaks stars at Tiger Tiger that night.
‘That was when I knew I’d hit on a good idea and that it might be popular.
‘But I had no idea it would turn out to be so massive. We had hundreds of people here that night, it was pandemonium.
‘And it wasn’t just young girls either. There were plenty of middle-aged women who wanted to see the guys.’
Another hit was the night she persuaded George Best’s pin-up son Calum to spend the evening at the venue.
‘He was wonderful and spent all night here taking time with everyone who wanted to talk,’ she says.
‘That was interesting because it was not just the women who wanted him, but the men too who wanted to talk about his dad.’
She adds: ‘My manager, Jon Saunders, has been really good about all this. If he likes an idea he’ll let me run with it.’