Out of the box
The Australian Women's Weekly|June 2021
Sarah Jane Adams is a walking contradiction, inspiring admiration in some; confusion or distaste in others. And that’s just how this newly minted reality-TV star likes it.
TIFFANY DUNK

As we approach the front door of a terrace home in Sydney’s Newtown, a waft of patchouli oil comes along with its owner, antiques dealer and jeweller Sarah Jane Adams. Hugs are given and offers of masala tea are made as, wide-eyed, we take in the eclectic beauty of her home, which has been sanded down to find long-lost wallpaper, and displays a multitude of antiquities and memories of a life well-lived.

It’s “organised chaos”, Sarah Jane laughs, taking us through to her sitting room, where we nestle in for an hours-long chat, ranging through topics as diverse as reality TV and reclaiming menopause.

With her striking looks and uniquely personal style, Sarah Jane – or SJ as she introduces herself – has always been more likely to stand out than blend in. Since her formative years growing up in the UK, she’s grabbed opportunities that come her way with both hands, crisscrossing the globe in the process and living a life that appears to be in constant motion.

Occasionally, she would find herself stopped by a passing photographer, captivated by her riotously coloured and character-filled garb. Sometimes those images would appear in print. But it was a chance sighting of an Instagram snap, reposted by her daughter, that launched SJ into the public consciousness and led to a new chapter in her life, albeit one she’s not always entirely comfortable with.

Clad in a red-and-white Adidas jacket with a matching headscarf, SJ’s nonchalant gaze and strength drew the attention of American filmmaker, photographer and blogger Ari Seth Cohen. He would fly to Sydney to meet her and soon, along with several other women he documents on his Advanced Style empire, she would find global recognition.

“She was (and is) the coolest woman I had ever seen,” Ari wrote in the foreword to SJ’s “unorthodox” 2020 memoir, Life in a Box. Indeed, today SJ is a favourite of fashion lovers worldwide. Her Instagram account, @saramaijewels, has 197,000 followers; her second, the newly launched @mywrinklesaremystripes, has more than 33,000. She’s an ambassador for Priceline and her inbox is constantly flooded with invitations to red-carpet events, offers to “gift” her products and “collaborate” with brands.

Yet use the word “model” or “influencer” to describe SJ and a distinct chill descends on the room; a shiver of disgust passing across her completely make-up-free face.

“I’m not an influencer because I don’t sell s**t,” she says bluntly. “I influence people, I know I do. Even though I’ve never used the hashtag #greyhair or #silverhair or #silversisters or any of that stuff – because that’s putting me in a box – hundreds, thousands of women have said to me, ‘You are the one who has given me permission to transition my hair’.”

Currently, that influence is spreading. Today, SJ is riding high on a wave of reality-TV popularity. A break-out star on Seven juggernaut Big Brother, her daily antics have become water-cooler conversation.

Like many reality-TV contestants before them, several of the younger cast, SJ says, hope to turn their five minutes into monetised fame. Perversely, she hopes it becomes a means to ending her own.

“I’m really happy that I’m losing followers hand over fist at the moment,” she says. “I’m delighted. If I could get down to zero on @saramaijewels, I’d be so happy. I feel as if, in some way, you lose it unless you are prepared to invest so much time playing that game, which I’m absolutely not prepared to do. I’ve got more important things to be dealing with in my life – like hanging out with my family and my long-suffering husband.”

Square peg, round hole

Born on April 16, 1955, in the town of Chichester in England’s south, SJ’s arrival into the world was dramatic, to say the least. Her parents, Dorothy and Richard, were expecting twins. Sadly, her sister was stillborn during the long birth, with SJ finally arriving some two days later. “In England, we don’t talk about that stuff, so I don’t know any more about that,” she says now of the tragedy.

She would live life as an only child, but it’s clear through both the pages of her memoir and certain collections that her twin remains part of her life, albeit in a largely unspoken way.

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