Christopher Nairne (Class of 2002) Theatre Lighting Designer & Network Rail Signaller

After leaving CLS in 2002, Christopher became first a teacher and then a successful lighting designer before starting a new role as a Signaller for Network Rail. 

How did CLS get you ready for the world of work?

The qualities that make CLS a great school (academic rigour; breadth of learning; extra-curricular opportunities; diversity of background and opinions; etc) all feed into pupils’ readiness for life’s later challenges; but what really makes the school unique - amongst so many other high-quality independent schools - is its location. Having to commute in by public transport from as young as 10, surrounded by the assorted workers of the City, I think imbues pupils with independence, maturity and self-confidence.

What was your first job?

Straight out of university, I became a full-time Maths teacher at Highgate School. It was immensely hard work (80-90 hours a week during term time), but rewarding too, and it helped me to hone my planning & communication skills.

Your biggest professional achievement?

It’s not an identifiable single moment, but I would say my greatest professional achievement was building a successful freelance career in theatre. I started out with only some amateur university drama under my belt, and worked my way up to international touring (starting with Complicite’s Lionboy in 2014), gaining an agent (2015), winning’s “Best Lighting Designer” award (2016), and eventually opening my first West End show (Groan Ups in 2019).

Your most challenging professional moment?

I’ve experienced so many impossibly challenging moments in theatre technical rehearsals - it frequently feels like there simply isn’t the time, the budget, the crew, or the support to achieve the intended production values. The answer is usually found in collaboration: by problem-solving as a team you manage to find the best compromises, and by opening night you look back wondering how you did it!

Then again, there are few situations more challenging than having your entire industry cease to exist overnight. Since last spring, I have been very fortunate to carve out a new path for myself as a signaller with Network Rail - a secure job which I enjoy in its own right, but which will also ensure my bills remain paid while we await news on the future health of the entertainment business.

What inspires and motivates you at work?

Without a doubt: job satisfaction and professional pride, above all else.

One piece of advice for pupils and other Old Citizens about getting into your profession

Re teaching: If you are even slightly tempted, then do it. We seem to have a permanent shortage in this country of talented and engaging teachers, especially in STEM subjects. If you aren’t sure it’s for you... then do it for a year or two to check!

Re theatre: See as many productions as you can (even at the moment, there’s a lot available online), and write to anybody whose work you admire. Explore if there are venues or groups you can get involved with locally, to build experience.

Re the railways: The Network Rail careers website is the best starting point (, and there are also various online forums offering more detailed application advice.

In general: Consider what jobs or opportunities you would find stimulating and fulfilling, and research them. Don’t assume that the purpose of life is to accumulate wealth. Crucially, re-evaluate your situation every few years, to make sure that what you spend most of your time doing isn’t at odds with what makes you happy.


For more information on Christopher's work as a freelance lighting designer visit