Duvet or don't they? Why Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen loves working from bed – and Glenda Jackson doesn't

Interviews Sam Wollaston
·9-min read

YES! Sofie Hagen, comedian

‘Just say your webcam is broken and try not to sound like you’re lying down’
I was working in bed way before the pandemic. I’ve trained for it my entire life. It’s easy to do meetings from bed if you just pretend your webcam is broken. The trick is to not sound like you’re lying down. I start out sitting cross-legged with my computer on my pillow and then I slowly lie down, one step at a time, so I’m on my side, typing weirdly. I have a pillow for the head and one under the knees, and two stuffed toys: I use the elephant wrapped around my neck like a travel pillow, and the hippo, which is firmer, to prop myself up on when I’m on a deadline and need to be more active.

Sofie Hagen ... bed-work expert.
Sofie Hagen ... bed-work expert. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

I yell “DOWN” a lot at my dog, Hank, a shar pei and staffie mix. He likes the bed because he can look out of the window. I think that’s his equivalent of working from bed, keeping an eye on the birds. He drools and drags gross things in like bones, so my bed is not clean. That’s one of the only upsides to being extremely single and in lockdown – nobody is going to see my bed.

NO! James May, TV presenter

James May
James May ... ‘It’s disgusting.’ Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

‘The day should start with cleansing. Maybe I should have been a monk?’
Is this a new thing, working from bed? It’s disgusting, I’m very much of a mind that you get up to work: you can’t concentrate on your job if you haven’t even rinsed your balls off yet. It might not matter from the customer interface perspective or whatever it’s called, but I think it matters for your own psychology. I’m probably being terribly old-fashioned – but for me, the day starts with cleansing. Maybe I should’ve been a monk? Bed is “the certain knot of peace”, as the Philip Sidney poem goes, and that should be kept separate from the diurnal drudgery of work and chores and DIY and cooking and all those other things that define our existence.

Glenda Jackson ... ‘It’s not the thing to do.’
Glenda Jackson ... ‘It’s not the thing to do.’ Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

NO! Glenda Jackson, actor

‘I was raised to get up and I’ve stuck with it’

It’s not the thing to do. Because I was raised to get up when my mother told me and do what she told me to do. It was a good lesson and I’ve stuck with it.

YES! Jeremy Paxman, broadcaster

‘I’m perfectly happy to stagnate all day’
I’m all in favour of it. And no, I’m not in bed now, I had to take the dog out. But mostly I do research, writing, a bit of this and that, you have no distractions in bed. I didn’t do it before the pandemic. I thank Boris Johnson for introducing me to bed working. I used to be eager to get up and go to work, now I’m perfectly happy to stagnate all day.

Jeremy Paxman.
Jeremy Paxman ... lucky to have a padded headboard. Photograph: Jenny Lilly/Alamy

I’m lucky to have a bed with a padded headboard, so I lean against that and I read, play on the laptop … not literally play, I don’t do games. But emails and so on, easy. It’s much the best way to work. I wear a T-shirt and a pair of boxers; thank God we don’t have video cameras on all the time. If there’s a Zoom meeting, I get up and get presentable, I don’t Zoom in bed. My dog, Derek, is a mongrel from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home. He sleeps on the bed while I’m working. He’s on the other pillow. I didn’t give it to him, he commandeered it. I know, it’s pathetic, isn’t it?

Michael Rosen at home, and not in bed.
Michael Rosen at home, and not in bed. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

NO! Michael Rosen, writer

‘My dad was puritanical. We had to get up’
My dad had a slogan: when you wake up, get up. He used to storm into our bedroom, me and my brother. I don’t know whether it was his slightly puritanical interpretation of Jewish culture that made him think that’s what you had to do. I carry it on, but I didn’t impose it on anyone else. My children seem to quite like bed, I don’t want to betray confidences, but they seem to be bedophiles. I do have ideas in bed, but that’s in the sort of semi wakeful-sleeping mode. I wrote a children’s book in my head when I was in hospital with Covid. One of the first things I did when I could stand up again was sit down at my desk and write it down.

NO! Lady Sayeeda Warsi, lawyer and politician

Lady Sayeeda Warsi ... ‘Beds are work in our family.’
Lady Sayeeda Warsi ... work, not pleasure. Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

‘I come from a family of bedmakers so beds have always been work’
For me, bed is where you go to sleep, and then in the morning you get out of it. There has to be a clear demarcation between day and night – I can’t even have a cup of tea or read in bed. There is also a structure around prayers. As Muslims, we have a prayer at sunrise, so will be up. I come from a family of bedmakers; we have manufactured them for 50 years. My dad started a bed business in Yorkshire, so I spent a lot of my younger days being around beds. I suppose I have a completely different relationship with them. Beds have always fascinated me, but never as places to work, maybe because they are work in our family.

I’ve been lucky in that a lot of things I am involved with can carry on from home during the pandemic. The Lords, the university [Warsi is a visiting professor at St Mary’s, Twickenham, and pro-vice-chancellor at the University of Bolton]. I am lucky that I live in a nice part of the country with a garden. I always say coronavirus doesn’t discriminate, but the lockdown does.

Laurence Lewellyn-Bowen
Laurence Lewellyn-Bowen, on the left. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

YES! Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, style consultant, television presenter

‘A set of cushions creates an étagère on which to quill a signature’

The whole thing about working from bed is: own it. The idea of people being embarrassed about it is extraordinary. There is such a long tradition of it: Princess Margaret, Florence Nightingale, Matisse. They all started the working day in bed: why would you not? Since the pandemic began, everyone has been talking about home offices and attic offices and where they can squeeze a desk so they can work from home – but the obvious solution is to use the bed. We really need to bring back the four poster, which was designed to make an enclosed private space as your court wandered by. You can turn it into your office space: put curtains around, move in your computer and you’ve got the perfect solution?

My top tip is to have as many cushions as possible, which creates an étagère on which you can put books as a hard surface to quill your signature on something. You should be able to create an entirely self-sufficient microclimate inside the curtains of your four poster.

My clients seem to be perfectly happy with me Zooming from bed. I think it starts getting a bit dodgy when you start doing your business from the bath. That’s getting into the realms of Cleopatra, but a gentlemanly or gentleladyly tête-à-tête from inside the bedroom is perfectly acceptable in this day and age. We have been given an opportunity with lockdown to re-evaluate what works for us, what we believe is stylish, elegant and decorous.

NO! David Lammy, MP

David Lammy
David Lammy. TV yes, work no. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

‘I want to watch a box set in bed – not work!’
Oh God, no, I don’t work from bed. I want to be going to sleep or watching a box set with my wife in bed, not working. It’s just not the way I organise things – I’ve got an office in my house, so I work there. It’s important to me to be able to separate work and relaxation, create the right boundaries – that’s the way I choose to do it.

YES! Keeley Hawes, actor

‘My bed tray is like having an office in my bed’

I can divulge that for Christmas I got a bed tray. It’s quite 80s – my husband bought it for me, and if you are working from bed, I would highly recommend it because it makes you feel just slightly less slovenly. It’s like having an office in bed: big enough to have a laptop, tea and some toast on. You are slightly trapped once you’re under it, though.

Keeley Hawes
Keeley Hawes ... all because the lady loves bed tray. Photograph: Mike Marsland/WireImage

I learn lines in bed, especially at the weekend. My husband or kids might help me with it. Or I just do it on my own – it’s good because it’s a quiet space and a part of the house where you can talk to yourself out loud.

I would be embarrassed to Zoom from my bed. It’s already distracting looking at everyone’s houses, but headboards are even worse, so I think if I was sitting in bed with my tray it would be a step too far.

NO! Kirstie Alsopp, presenter

‘Get up, get dressed, make your bed’

The thought of working, eating and sleeping in bed makes me feel itchy. But for lots of people at the moment it’s not a choice. Mostly I can’t work from home, but all my voiceover and anything else that requires a quiet room is currently done from our bedroom.

Kirstie Alsopp ... give your bed a daytime identity.
Kirstie Alsopp ... give your bed a daytime identity. Photograph: David Hartley/Rex/Shutterstock

The key is to get up, get dressed, put on some makeup and make your bed. Use a blanket, bedspread, throw or even a tablecloth to try and make your bed into a sofa. Give it a daytime identity. Then open the window to get rid of that stale smell and go for a walk as if you are off to work. This may all sound idiotic, but I swear it works.