Every parent of teens knows there are many ways for adolescents to weaponise the word ‘Mum.’ This simple three-letter word can be used for everything from a whine, to implore or grab your attention. But by far the most deadly use is to mean: ‘You are the most embarrassing person in the world. Just kill me now!’ Indeed, it was all that 16-year-old Apple Martin needed to say on her mother Gwyneth Paltrow’s birthday post. While the Goop beauty guru trilled on about being “In nothing but my birthday suit” for her 48th birthday, it was clear from the teen’s use of the word Mum – or rather MOM in capitals – that she was doing an eye-roll so big her eyes were about to fall out of the back of her head. And of course, you don’t need to be a superstar with seven million Instagram followers to get this sort of reaction from your teenager. I never strip off in my garden (and not just because it’s overlooked by neighbours) – let alone on my Instagram where my daughter Clio, 15, might see it. But I still get censored by my daughter for offences I consider relatively minor. In the last week alone, these have included writing and posting an article containing the word ‘sex’ that some of her friends might see and bending over in my jeans to take the rubbish out and revealing a hint of a builder’s bum, even though there was no-one else but her to see it. So to be honest, when I saw Gwyneth went the whole way and posted it too, I wasn’t so much impressed by the fact she was stripping naked, but wowed by phenomenal bravery as she is still the mum of two teens (she has 14-year-old Moses too) who were always bound to have a strong opinion. And, like many parents, I will admit that in the face of this overactive criticism I have sometimes been tempted to respond: “Mind your own business. Why do you have to take what I do so personally?” But as with all things to do with teens, it helps to see this all as a necessary phase. In fact, as author of What’s My Teenager Thinking? Practical Child Psychology for Modern Parents, I have to say it helps to remember that it would actually be more worrying if your teen didn’t sometimes want the ground to swallow them up from time to time. That’s because there are sound developmental reasons for those dreaded words: ‘You’re so embarrassing!’ Hurtful though it can feel from a child who once worshipped you, teens find you cringeworthy because it’s part of the process of detaching from you. Teens are so acutely self-conscious because because they have an ‘imaginary audience’ in their minds watching every move, even when there’s no-one there. Unconsciously, they imagine they are being watched and judged by others even when they aren’t. Because they have not yet completely broken away yet from the tribe of their family to form their own identities, they feel that whatever their parents do rubs off on them too – and they will also be judged harshly on it. But there’s good news on the horizon and that is that those intense feelings of humiliation-by-parent peak at about the ages of 14 and 15. Gradually, as they start to form their own lives and form their own tribe, they no longer feel you are letting down the family brand – and them by association. But of course all this is much harder for celebrity children. I wonder what Amanda Holden’s 14-year-old daughter Lexie had to say after her mum’s wardrobe malfunction that appeared to reveal her nipples on this week’s Britain’s Got Talent? Or what Lourdes Leon or David Banda think when confronted with the latest pictures of their 62-year-old mother Madonna dressing like she’s on the way to a Halloween-themed Saga sex party? It’s not an easy trade-off because all these women are aware that they have to maintain a high profile to stay in the public eye, so sometimes their children’s sensitivities get forgotten. So while being the child of a celebrity mum has its compensations, having the ultimate embarrassing parent whose antics are seen by millions is definitely the downside. Tanith Carey is author of What’s My Teenager Thinking? Practical Child Psychology for Modern Parents (Dorling Kindersley, £16.99) available now from the Telegraph Bookshop
A big fat belly laugh. That’s what I needed on a Monday morning. It’s what we all need right now. But when what started out as a low, throaty rumble at the breakfast table yesterday morning built up to a wild cackle of incredulity, I was afraid I’d never be able to stop. Meghan Markle and Prince Harry “have agreed to star in a fly-on-the-wall Netflix reality series, with cameras following them for three months”. Like you, I had to read the headline twice. Because, yes, this is the same couple who moved 5,462 miles away to escape the “public interest” and “media intrusion” that violated their “right to privacy”. Yes, these are the same two who decided to “step back” from the limelight and create “space” for themselves by carving out an “independent” and “progressive new role” in Hollywood – that go-to city for discreet people who live in fear of being “commoditised”, and an industry that more than any other epitomises Garbo’s heartfelt plea: “I want to be alone.” Their spokesman has now denied plans for such a documentary, but can they be surprised that such stories are circulating? The Sussexes’ decision to embark on four separate lawsuits against the British tabloids was nothing less than a battle cry for freedom, and Meghan and Harry were still mid-diatribe and busy stressing the universal significance of their fight against a media intent on invading their privacy when a courier pulled up outside their £26 million Santa Barbara mansion with a £112 million cheque. Picture it as one of those giant lottery winner cheques, only instead of the ‘fingers crossed’ logo, there in the top left is a big red ‘N’ for Netflix.
“I’m a bit sick of Zoom,” groans Anna Maxwell Martin cheerfully, scurrying around her trailer as our video call begins, and moving nearer the loos for better reception. She’s delighted to be back on set, although filming in a socially distanced world is strange. She parades the visor she’s obliged to wear in between shoots. “We’re supposed to be in bubbles. I keep getting in trouble for chatting outside my bubble.” Maxwell Martin is light-hearted, joyous – about as far from her most famous role, fraught slummy mummy Julia in the BBC comedy Motherland, as you can get, even if she does do a good line in self-deprecation. “Over lockdown we did a lot of awful Zooming. The quizzes! God. I don’t have a very good attention span. If I’m bored I’m like, this category is boring, move on!” What’s her favourite quiz category? “Smut. My category is SMUT,” she cackles. Maxwell Martin, 43, who grew up in Beverley, Yorkshire, doesn’t really have an accent – “Never did much, maybe because Dad was from Northern Ireland, and Mum’s Scottish” – but she feels very much a northener. After reading history at Liverpool University, she came to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. She got her big break playing Lyra in the stage adaptation of His Dark Materials at the National Theatre aged 26, and then came several period dramas including the 2005 BBC adaptation of Bleak House, for which she won a BAFTA. She has another for Poppy Shakespeare, a 2008 drama in which she plays a mental health patient. True grit She’s increasingly chosen gritty and unlikeable contemporary characters, including the frosty DCS Patricia Carmichael in the most recent season of Line of Duty, but is now best known for Motherland, the wildly popular BAFTA-winning sitcom written by Sharon Horgan of Catastrophe fame. Her latest film is Say Your Prayers, a Hot Fuzz-style dark comedy, in which she plays a bigoted, potty-mouthed policewoman investigating a murder at a literary festival.
The 20th century American writer Christopher Morley never met Princess Eugenie, but she could do worse than heed his warning. “It is as grandmothers,” Morley once wrote, “that our mothers come into the fullness of their grace.” Princess Eugenie may or may not have thought her mother, Sarah, Duchess of York, came into the fullness of her grace several years ago. Somewhere between the international arrest warrant, being hypnotised on Oprah, and reinventing herself as a YouTuber. Alas, news this morning that Eugenie, the 10th in-line to the throne, and her husband, former tequila dealer Jack Brooksbank, are expecting their first child means we – as a nation, as a people, as a human race – are in for a treat: Fergie will be starting another chapter. And ‘eccentric grandmother’ might just be the part she was born for. Here are just a few of the many, many reasons why... She’s been in training for years
On the morning the new hospitality curfew restrictions began, I piously sipped my morning celery juice at a healthy café. “Would you like a little shot of margarita with that?” was not what I was expecting to hear next but, as the manageress explained, they are now making cocktails too. Hey, everything else is weird, why not a little pre-brecko tequila? As the door shuts on day time service of wholesome snacks and green drinks, they carry on their 20-hour day: with delivery drivers tasked with taking litres of fresh juice cocktails direct to people’s doors until 2am, in a bid to boost months of lost business. In the age of corona, the fun can keep coming – it’s just a little different. The curfew will change our ability to socialise, again. “Businesses selling food or drink” from bingo halls and old-fashioned boozers to bowling alleys and Michelin starred restaurants “must be closed between 10pm and 5am”, and in “licensed premises, food and drink must be ordered from, and served at, a table”. We will have to use the track and trace QR codes and face masks are to be worn by pretty much everyone. Going out is looking a tad grim.
Are you watching Us? As in, the David Nicholls adaptation of his novel of the same name on BBC One (second episode tomorrow night) and also observing a marriage that feels uncomfortably similar to our own? Well, the marriage in Us is in terminal crisis (the wife, Connie, has already said she’s leaving) but apart from that, Us could be Us coping with the midlife marriage gear shift (last kid off to uni, empty house, immediate purpose of union unclear, etc). Even if we think we’re fine, even if we’re not married to a Douglas or a Connie, it’s still pretty close to home, which is why it will become compulsory viewing for the older married couples among us. Catastrophe had its, “Oh That’s Me” moments, as did Divorce and even on occasion Cold Feet, but this is postcards from the front line of a 50-something marriage after 20-odd years, and in the uncertain, anti-social, hope-draining time of coronavirus, it feels… relevant.
Amidst all the coronavirus chaos on our own waters, it can be easy to forget that our friends overseas have a very important election looming. On the 3rd November, US citizens will vote for either Donald Trump to continue his reign as president, or fellow septuagenarian Joe Biden to walk into the White House. No one is sure which way the American public will swing. But if US voters are feeling disheartened about the lack of presidential talent, they can fear not. A very famous and in some quarters controversial American actress with a passion for doing-good might be in the running for 2024. And no, it’s not Angelina Jolie. For avid royal watchers, the fact that bookmakers are genuinely pricing up the odds of the Duchess of Sussex running for president in 2024 won't come as a huge surprise. Meghan is known as someone with strong beliefs, and we've had hints in the past from various corners that politics was a possible destination for her. This week, the bookies are once again reappraising their numbers. In a Time 100 video, Meghan appeared alongside Prince Harry urging the American public to use their right to vote in ‘the most important election of our lifetime.’ "When we vote, our values are put into action and our voices are heard. Your voice is a reminder that you matter, because you do and you deserve to be heard,” she said. Despite members of the Royal family being obliged by convention to keep schtum about politics, Prince Harry also dipped his toes into the water, telling voters to “reject hate speech, misinformation and online negativity.” But unlike Prince Harry, after stepping down as her role as a senior member of the Royal family back in January (yes, remember that?), Meghan is technically a free agent. So, what about those odds? They currently stand at 20/1, in case you're wondering. If the course of events in 2020 is anything to go by, Meghan running for president in 2024 is not as implausible as it may sound. Here, then, is a not-entirely-complete charting of the Duchess's supposed political aspirations. Will we be adding more chapters – and shorter odds – in the future? September 2020: The Time 100 video
Cavorting on a boat in a skimpy white bikini, showing off her long legs in a flowing black gown, posing with a glittering tiara on her head… Google Carina Tyrrell’s name and you’ll find thousands of glamorous photographs of the former Miss England. What you won’t find so easily is that, six years after being crowned in her first ever pageant – which paved her way to the Miss World finals, where she came fourth – Dr Carina Tyrrell MA MB BChir MPH is one of the brightest young minds in the country. With a first-class medical degree from Cambridge University, front-line hospital experience as a junior doctor, cutting-edge research with the World Health Organisation and a Master’s degree in public health, she is now at the forefront of the most vital public health crisis of all – the hunt for a vaccine against Covid-19. As part of a team at Oxford University, Tyrrell has been spearheading coronavirus research, co-ordinating work by different organisations to ensure a vaccine will be suitable for everyone, eliminating duplication between trials and channelling funding into potentially life-saving studies. “Vaccines, even at the best of times, are complex,” she explains. “We’ve got multiple targets and we’re trying a number of different approaches – we don’t yet know what is going to work.” At just 30, she is impressive and more than a little intimidating – at least on paper. In person, she’s warm, eloquent and so humble she seems almost embarrassed answering questions on her remarkable achievements. “I suppose I got the bug for wanting to make a difference as a child,” she tells me. “I was really interested in developing countries, in tackling issues like malaria and other horrible diseases – that’s what made me want to go into medicine. I’ve always had this passion to help on a global scale.” It might sound like clichéd beauty queen patter, but Tyrrell, with her soft, clipped vowels and swishy mane of brown hair, is well on her way to achieving her childhood goals. Born in Geneva to British parents – her father, Mark, is a retired physicist who helped build the Large Hadron Collider; her mother, Sue, used to work at the World Health Organisation – she describes her childhood as idyllic. “I love the outdoors; nature walks in the mountains in summer and skiing in the winter. It was a lovely place to grow up.”
The morning the email pinged into my inbox, I was running on empty. Giving up my City job to care for Dad had been the right thing to do, but sometimes I felt overwhelmed. It was 2016 and Dad, 81, had moved into the garage of my London home, which I had converted eight months earlier when his Parkinson’s disease and dementia worsened. Since then, he’d needed almost constant care. I was more than happy to do it – Mum died when I was 16, so for a long time he’d been both mum and dad to me and my sister. My career as head of business development, marketing and recruitment for a City law firm meant I was used to pressure, but caring for Dad brought stress of a kind I’d never endured. Aside from the daily task of getting him up, washed and dressed, there was always the risk he might injure himself accidentally. So when I received an email from a lady I knew called Delores, asking if I could help her find properties for the company she runs, I jumped at the chance. I had just managed to arrange some NHS care for my dad, which meant I would have some free time. Delores’ company, Step Ahead Services, rehomes vulnerable young adults in the care system. I did think it was strange – I had zero experience in that field – but the email was like a light coming on. It was only when Delores rang me a day later to talk it through that we realised she’d emailed the wrong Lorraine by mistake. But we clicked and I made it clear I was willing to learn. The prospect of using my brain and being reminded I was still needed out in the world revved me up. What’s more, having to manage on a carer’s allowance of £62.50 a week had been an eye-opener.
They were chalk and cheese: one a tiny, frail Jewish grandmother from New York who became a feminist heroine in her 80s; the other a 48-year-old devout, pro-life Catholic mother-of-seven who enjoys parties and working out. And now, if President Donald Trump has his way, the first, Ruth Bader Ginsburg – who died last week at the age of 86 – will be replaced on the US Supreme Court by the second, Amy Coney Barret. It’s a move which critics say could set the cause of women’s rights back a generation. It is hard to overstate the impact of Bader Ginsburg – “the Notorious RBG” as she was known to millions of fans – on American cultural life in recent years.
Florence Bashar could have lost her life the night she embarked on the perilous sea journey from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos. Along with 64 other people, the 17-year-old from Afghanistan and her family stepped onto the overcrowded boat, blindly hoping for a better future. “I didn’t expect that I would arrive here, but I had the feeling that if I did, I would be a lucky person – a successful person,” says Florence sitting cross-legged on the floor on a hot summer afternoon. “All of these feelings were coming to my mind and giving me strength and power.” Gradually Turkey’s lights fell further into the distance, replaced by a dark stillness – and finally safety. Or so she thought. Today she lives on Lesbos and is one of 4,000 minors anxiously waiting to be granted asylum. For more than a year she was in the notoriously squalid and overcrowded Moria camp, until a blaze tore through the encampment two weeks ago, displacing more than 12,000 refugees and migrants. “The night the fire broke out we didn’t have any hope that we would come out from there,” she said. “From all four sides it was burning. It was like hell.” But today Florence is unstirred – she has, after all, been living in a dangerous limbo since she was 15, when her father decided he wanted security and financial stability for his family and uprooted them from their homeland. The gruelling voyage lasted two years. The family of seven travelled from Afghanistan to Iran, across the border into Turkey and on to Lesbos, where they expected to stay for a few weeks. But as the summer came to an end and weeks turned into months, they soon realised that their fresh start wasn’t just around the corner. “I was top of my class” Three years have passed since they packed a few items of clothing and left Kabul behind. Florence hasn’t seen the inside of a classroom since. “I was always top of the class, but now I can’t study, soon I will be over-age and no school will accept me,” she explains, her large dark eyes gazing out from beneath a straw hat. Like so many displaced children, the young refugee misses going to school. Although asylum-seeking minors are legally entitled to access the host state’s education system, the International Organization for Migration warns that children of upper secondary ages are typically beyond scope of national legislation and often excluded from school integration programmes. Back home, Florence excelled beyond her peers, even winning first prize in an inventor competition for building a car model. When she speaks, she does so quickly and with authority, careful to answer each question in detail.
Between reading Mary McAleese’s riveting new memoir and speaking to the former Irish President, our native Northern Ireland is back in the news again. And, as per, the province is finding itself at the epicentre of deeply dispiriting politicking. The Government’s anodyne-sounding yet explosive UK Internal Market Bill, which last week passed its first parliamentary hurdle, ostensibly seeks to clarify – and in parts override – the Withdrawal Agreement in relation to Northern Ireland. But not only would it break international law, there are fears it will undermine the peace process by breaching the Good Friday Agreement. The EU has predictably reacted with fury. “The lawyer in me says this is just what happens in the closing phase of any negotiations, when both sides muscle up and try to see who blinks first,” says McAleese. “At that stage you just have to put your faith in common sense and hope that a decent settlement will be the outcome. “But if it isn’t just braggadocio and bluster then it begs the question: how can the British government be trusted to keep their word on anything else? “The peace process is a dynamic thing that needs to be nurtured and nourished. The embers of hateful sectarianism that we strove so hard to douse have not disappeared; I worry they will be fanned into flames again and that could lead to an unravelling of what we have created.”
Stephanie Yeboah had just started secondary school when the bullying first began. “I developed really bad and low self esteem and was mocked for being not only plus-sized but also dark-skinned as well,” she says. Born to Ghanaian parents and raised in Battersea, south London, the treatment she received at the hands of her peers sent her on a downward spiral, culminating in her diagnosis with depression at the age of just 14. “I wanted to look different,” she admits, when we speak over the phone. “I became introverted and began extreme dieting, as I thought that would fix me. Essentially all of the things that didn't help my state of mind at the time.” Now a prominent “fat acceptance advocate” and social media influencer, she has not only stopped apologising - to herself and others - for the way she looks: she has also helped chip away at the toxic narrative around women’s appearance. In her debut book, Fattily Ever After, the 31-year-old writes openly about how she has found self-worth in a world where judgement and discrimination are rife. But the journey has been bumpy. In her teens, as the bullying continued, she developed an eating disorder, forcing herself to throw up when she ate more than she was “allowed”. She struggled to make any new friends at college, and only felt safe while eating her lunch alone in the loo. It wasn’t until she forced herself to lose a lot of weight to fit into a bikini, that the practice of starving and harming herself came to an abrupt halt. “I wasn’t doing any of it for myself or because I wanted to lose weight,” she says. “I was doing it because I just wanted the policing to stop and for people to think I was desirable. So I dedicated my early 20s to apologising to my body, instead of apologising for my body.”
I am torn. Half of me wishes I could have produced something larky and entertaining like Sasha Swire’s Diary of an MP’s Wife. There is so much in there that I instantly recognise from my own life. No-one ever sits you down to tell you what is expected of you as a Tory wife. You just pick it up as you go. There’s no written guide, and my husband [former Conservative party leader Lord Michael Howard] simply had to trust my best instincts on what to say and do. And his Private Office as a minister was exactly that – private. I had to ring the diary secretary to ask for a 15-minute window for a quick chat with my husband. It was as though he was branded HM Government property. He always said Yes, Minister was rather understated. Hunting in a pack When Michael was a cabinet minister and then Leader of the Opposition, he always liked to discuss what was going on with me. He did so knowing that I wouldn’t cause him embarrassment by letting anything slip. We hunt as a pack. Yet I remember, too, the constant feeling of panic that you might put a foot wrong when your home became government property. Sasha describes living with her children in Hillsborough Castle when her husband, Hugo, was a Northern Ireland minister. At one stage her young daughter leaves behind a diary in Pizza Express with all the details of a forthcoming royal visit to Belfast. Michael and I lived in a police-protected government house in London when he was Home Secretary. Once, we went off to Michael’s constituency for the weekend, leaving behind our 17- and 18-year-olds. They had obviously been having quite a late party and one of their friends thought she saw a button that would bring down a blind, so she pressed it. Suddenly there were 27 police motorbikes lined outside with their lights flashing. I never told Michael because I thought he’d explode. The children were a bit more careful after that.
It is the Valentine’s card that stands out in June Scobee Rodgers’ memory. It was January 28 1986, and she and her two teenage children had just been hurried away by NASA officials from the launchpad in Cape Canaveral after seeing the Challenger space shuttle explode in mid-air shortly after take-off. Her husband, Dick Scobee, was commander of its seven-strong crew. Some of the families of other crew members – including loved ones of Christa McAuliffe, who had emerged from a national competition to become the first schoolteacher sent into space – were still clinging to the hope that there would be survivors. But June’s worst fears were confirmed when, on a nearby TV, she heard a reporter saying such chances were likely zero. She escaped into Dick’s room in the crew quarters to cry in private. “I hugged the clothes in his closet and opened his briefcase. On top of the manilla military folders was a Valentine’s card for me. He was expecting to be back in seven days in time to give it to me. In the middle of everything before the launch, he had prepared it. That was just another part of his love for me.” Her voice is strong and her gaze firm as she speaks from her book-lined home in Chattanooga, Tennessee. But when she finishes, this 78-year-old grandmother of six reaches her fingers up to dry the corners of her eyes. A new four-part Netflix documentary series, Challenger: The Final Flight, sees June talk on screen about that day – though both there, and in our interview, she requests not to be asked to recall the trauma of how it felt to watch the shuttle with her husband inside it explode in the sky above. What is re-examined in the series is the cause of the disaster – the decision by NASA to go ahead with the launch despite icy conditions that morning, and how they might have exacerbated existing concerns about ‘O’ ring seals in the solid rocket boosters that powered the shuttle into orbit. It was their failure that day that caused the explosion. “Watching the series,” says June, who married a 19-year-old Scobee when she was 17, “I was two persons. The first time I was reliving it, and it was extremely sad and difficult. But then I went back and watched it a second time, and I was watching history.”
The Duke of Sussex celebrated his 36th birthday this week in Santa Barbara and of course there was a party, we think. Back in the bad old days he’d have been pressing the flesh at some snooze of a charity, before thrashing his brother and sister-in-law in a sprint for the cameras and then heading to Bodo’s Schloss. This year, very different. If the rumours are true, David Foster, the 70-year-old, five-times married Canadian songwriter and producer, was designated party organiser. What you might expect from a Foster party we do not know but we’re guessing the presence of people he has worked with – so Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand and his wife Katharine McPhee, the star of Waitress – and Foster himself is always happy to hit the piano at parties, she says. Great! That’s the tunes sorted. Wills would have laid on Stormzy but this is California, not KP. Everything’s different now. The guest list, for example. All change. Out go the van Straubenzees, Beatrice and Eugenie, Tom “Skippy” Inskip and the Etonians. Instead we’re fairly sure this was the approved hard-hitters list: Gloria Steinem – not a big chum of Prince Harry’s, but a scion of the feminist movement, and recently she and the Duchess of Sussex looked nice together in conversation outside the Sussexes’ guest cottage. Or was it their garden room? Either way, Steinem sitting in one of your Adirondack chairs, wearing her signature aviators is now (post-Mrs America, really) like having royalty at your party. Glennon Doyle – the author of Untamed: Stop Pleasing, Start Living – and her wife Abby Wambach. The Sussexes have said they “adore” mental health guru Doyle and she is to 2020 celebs what the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was to The Beatles. That good. Oprah. Needs no introduction. Also local. Elton John. Because he’s a neighbour and is said to have introduced the Sussexes to their house finder Martyn Lawrence Bullard. Also Elton is the go-to celebrity for square-shouldered support when your life hits turbulence (we draw your attention to Barbara Amiel’s memoir, which mentions that in her darkest hour Elton didn’t just reach out, he took her out to lunch and bought her diamonds). Elton is the godfather of mighty fallens everywhere, and we bet he’s Archie’s godfather too. Martyn Lawrence Bullard. He may do the house. Ted Sarandos or someone very high up in Netflix. Someone very high up in Disney. Serena Williams. Meghan’s bezzie. James and Julia Corden. James for authentic British larks (but no fake breasts and dogging jokes this year, no crisps, no nitrous oxide, no shots, no dried ice and no getting naked) and Julia also happens to be Vicky Charles’s business partner. Vicky Charles, the interior designer of Frogmore Cottage and hotly tipped to be doing up the new place if the job doesn’t go to MLB. The Clooneys. They may have come. But they’re probably at Lake Como and George hates the jet lag. Quite a party. Is it just me...
When I was a teenager, one of my biggest concerns was being allowed out. Parties, sleepovers, trips to shopping centres we somehow found fascinating, going to the dance machines at the old arcades in the Trocadero (if you know, you know) – all of it was vital and urgent. Ensuring I never missed out on any of this – alongside acquiring a Nokia 3310 – was an issue of life and death for teenage me. The problem was, I had strict parents, who wanted to know a detailed who, what, where about any elaborate social scheme I concocted with friends on scraps of paper we passed around during science class. How would I get there, was it safe, would there be any alcohol or boys? Like any teenager, my answers involved a complex web of negotiation, imagination and a smattering of relatively innocent white lies. No, no boys; no we definitely won’t stand outside the off licence and ask grown-ups to buy us bottles of Lambrini. That sort of thing. I’ve been reminiscing about this period in my life a lot recently. Because, at 31, I feel as though I am right back in it. Moving back home Two years ago, our hard-fought campaign for a flat deposit led my boyfriend and I to the rent-free idyll of my parent’s North London house. I had heard that moving in with your parents (or pseudo in-laws) can induce a regression. You may suddenly find yourself slipping back into the mindset of a stroppy teenager; slamming doors, leaving the sink full of dishes, becoming idle and dependent and resentful of the parental jailors who are unequivocally ruining your life. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find that none of the above happened. Instead, we acquiesced into a relatively frictionless living arrangement that soon settled into the patter of an inter-generational double date. Then lockdown happened and, for a while, Covid-19 created a fascinating power dynamic shift. It was my parents who became the stroppy teenagers. At 70, and therefore in a high-risk category, they were shielding. We became the ones running any-and-all outdoor errands, the ones keeping them in lockdown. We became the jailors unequivocally ruining their lives. But post-lockdown life – from Eat Out to Help Out to Rule of Six – has flipped the dynamic. As normality begins to gradually shift back into place, I feel as though that scrap of paper is being passed around science class again by my friends, plans are being made to meet up and I am back asking myself that familiar question from teenagedom: how will I get this past my parents? A picnic in a park, drinks in someone’s garden, a – gasp! – actual pub garden. These are all scenarios that I discussed with my parents this summer with the discomfort of a teenager. This is where we are going, this is how much anti-bac we are bringing, how do you feel about this? An invitation to a party during our brief escape from lockdown filled me with equal parts glee and terror. How should I present this situation to my parents, how do I manage their safety while attempting to return to my life? Will I actually be able to go? The keys I momentarily held during lockdown have been passed over and now I was the one asking for a jail break. It has become even more complex in the latest stage of our rapidly shifting social landscape. Now that socialising has been capped at six people, I have a whole new roster of anxieties. Any hope of socialising at home has been severely dampened by the fact we may only now invite two extra people. Gone are the audacious garden soirées – for way fewer than 30 but far more than two extra pals – I was planning to throw in the overpriced gazebo I bought from Amazon. Gone is any hope of my parents actually having their own friends over, thanks to our presence dramatically reducing their own social hopes. Should we schedule social engagements? Run around the park until their four friends leave? Of course, we could just go to the pub, but with that, new questions abound from my parents – about not just where, what and how safe, but a rundown of the exact numbers we are seeing, with the added caveat that we may be not only endangering them, but actually breaking the law. The fear of illicit behaviour With the Rule of Six returns the nervous realisation of illegality – underage drinking, helping friends buying cigarettes – that flooded my teens. My social life has once again been tainted with an uncomfortable underpinning of naughtiness, of illicit behaviour. Except this time, it’s more likely to be a dinner party of eight than a pack of Marlboros stolen from someone’s dad. There is also another facet of my teenage emotional makeup that has returned thanks to these new social restrictions. What if I am the unlucky seventh member? What if I don’t make the cut for someone’s dinner, drinks or picnic? The whispers of FOMO that dominated my teen years are once again rising to a shout.
Lynda La Plante can spin a tale out of just about anything – from Harry and Meghan’s megabucks Netflix deal (“I’m very envious: I had to pitch to Netflix last summer and can’t tell you how difficult it is. Most of the people there look about 12 years old…”) to the time she auditioned as a young actress and had an unpleasant encounter with a well-known British director. “There was a lot of nudity in the play,” she says, “and I told him I didn’t want to do it because the front row would have been virtually sitting on my crotch. He replied: ‘I think you don’t want to be naked because you don’t like your body’, and I said: ‘That’s not it at all’, and pulled up my T-shirt as if I was going to strip off. I’ve never been moved out of an office so fast,” she laughs. “I got the part, too. I think he was terrified.” La Plante’s storytelling ability has informed a career that includes 38 international bestsellers and sales of well over five million in the UK alone. And with numerous TV dramas under her belt – including the 1980s series Widows, Trial & Retribution and Prime Suspect, starring Helen Mirren as police detective Jane Tennison – she’s one of the country’s most respected writers.
Khakis, a machine gun, and not a tiara in sight: just-released portraits show Princess Elisabeth of Belgium in her first weeks at Brussels Royal Military Academy. In attending the academy, Princess Elisabeth, 18, is following in the footsteps of her father King Philippe, who spent a year there preparing to take the throne. But for a crown princess, not a prince, to do so is relatively new. Indeed, the life of Princess Elisabeth, the Duchess of Brabant, has in some ways been a tale of modern feminism.
First, there came the jogging: I went three times a week, huffing and puffing. Then, against the rumble of frightening headlines and Government press conferences, came quizzes, virtual cocktail nights and a Zoom talent show (my niece’s rendition of Let It Go cutting in and out with the Wi-Fi). Next was the DIY phase: two weeks spent tediously adding coats of paint to my old dining table and chairs, with Netflix auto-playing in the background. Ultimately though, all the busy-work in the world was not enough to distract me from the shock of lockdown, and while key workers and parents certainly had more on their plates than me, I suspect the same bewilderment played out in households everywhere. This Wednesday marks six months since Boris Johnson grimly told the nation to ‘Stay home’ – though it feels almost like a lifetime. Alone in my flat, a freelancer with dwindling work, I wondered what the culmination of all this quiet time would be: perhaps I’d eventually have a breakdown, or produce a creative masterpiece, or simply start drinking in the mornings. None of those things happened. Instead, one day in July, in a move that pre-lockdown-me had never considered, I found myself applying to go back to university. After 14 years of writing only as a journalist, next month I will start an MA in creative writing and throw myself into fiction. It felt like the idea emerged fully formed one day, but looking back, I think my brain had been quietly working on it during all those under-occupied months. And I’m not alone in finding that coronavirus has inspired a major decision. In June, a survey by the Office for National Statistics found that 28 per cent of adults said they were planning big changes after the pandemic, with 42 per cent wanting to make a change to their work, 38 per cent to rethink their relationships and 35 per cent to move house. Pre-lockdown life offered endless ways to avoid thinking about these things: we worked, we socialised and we commuted. This year, however, I twiddled my thumbs. My birthday came and went. Into the void rushed reflection on successes and failures, and questions about what I actually want out of life. I realised that I want my work to be more meaningful, more creative and more personal – and that I miss the stimulation of studying. ‘My theory is that it comes from mortality awareness,’ says Charlotte Fox Weber, psychotherapist and author of upcoming book What We Want. She’s seen many of her clients make big decisions this year. ‘We have never heard death talked about more; it’s a word that is so taboo usually, but it’s everywhere at the moment. In a positive way, some of us have responded to that death anxiety by activating ourselves: OK, this is the moment to get a house, to make that commitment, to try for a baby, to break up with that guy, or to pursue a professional goal that might have seemed out of reach. Because it’s a risky atmosphere anyway, you can throw yourself into the mix – so I think for some people, this period has cultivated courage.’ For me, that’s a new creative path; for others, it means bold changes to their living arrangements. Muireann, 37, has decided that after a decade in London, it’s time to move back to her native Ireland and be close to her parents. ‘I suppose the pandemic underlined the frailty of life,’ she says. Her uncle passed away with Covid early in the crisis. ‘I think everybody started thinking about their family and their elderly parents in a different way.’ She adds that lockdown halted a hectic lifestyle she hadn’t enjoyed for some time; it was when the roller coaster suddenly stopped that she finally had the chance to get off. ‘I think a lot of people will have seen that life as you knew it before – going to the office at 8.30am, leaving at 7pm, commuting – isn’t the only option. I don’t want to go back to my pre-coronavirus way of life.’ Similarly, Emma, 45, has seized the moment to move from the city to the countryside with her husband and 10-year-old twins. It was something they’d often discussed, but the sudden rise in remote working made it possible: ‘My husband was keen to leave before the kids went to senior school, but we’d never quite been able to balance it while he was still expected to be in an office. It’s a big lifestyle shift and I feel really excited about it.’ There’s also a sense that, when events around us are causing despair, humans cope by looking for new purpose. Camilla, 35, had a feeling when lockdown was announced that her days at an advertising agency might be numbered. Planning ahead, she started training for a diploma in hypnobirthing. When she was made redundant in July, she branched out in not one but two directions: as a hypnobirthing teacher and with a letterbox brownie business. ‘The thought of not having any income was scary, but I equally believed that if I could translate passions into work, there could be exciting opportunities.’ With working from home becoming more the norm, she and her husband are joining the city exodus. ‘I could never have predicted how much life would change, but this has been the catalyst for a more fulfilled, happy and healthy future for us.’
Everyone has heard of the Pilgrim Fathers. Doughty, God-fearing souls who sailed to America on the Mayflower to create a world where they could follow their religious beliefs without fear of persecution. But what makes the voyage remarkable are the mothers: the unsung heroes who sailed alongside their men on the momentous enterprise, which after an inauspicious start left from Plymouth 400 years ago today. There were 18 women and of those, 10 took their children with them. Incredibly, given the tumultuous adventure they were about to undertake, three were pregnant and another breastfeeding her infant. Just as startling, there were more than 30 children and youngsters under 21 on the ship. As for the men – the husbands, single men and servants – they totalled 50 and were actually outnumbered by the women and their offspring. That the role of women in the story is scarcely acknowledged is perhaps unsurprising given that 17th century females invariably owed their status and identity to their menfolk. Unsurprising too, that the accounts of the historic voyage are by men about the men, not least by William Bradford, who became governor of the new settlement in Plymouth, Massachusetts. He did, however, acknowledge that the ‘weak bodies of women’ might not withstand the rigours of the journey – though he could not foresee just how deadly the undertaking would be. The arrangement was for the self-styled pilgrims to sail on the Speedwell from the Netherlands, where they had lived in exile from English persecution for 12 years, and rendezvous with the Mayflower in Southampton. The Mayflower, meanwhile, left Rotherhithe, London in July 1620, carrying 65 fortune seekers who had financed the expedition and hoped to recoup their investment by making their riches from the flourishing New England beaver trade. The two groups were to sail in a convoy across the Atlantic but the Speedwell became as ‘leakie as a sieve’ and was abandoned in Plymouth, Devon, at which point many of the pilgrims joined the crowded Mayflower. The ship, which had been used for the cross-Channel wine trade, now had 102 passengers thrust cheek by jowl in the stink of the hold, forced to endure the lack of hygiene, the smell of unwashed bodies and the grime of filthy clothes. Privacy was impossible. To relieve themselves the voyagers had to balance precariously on the ship’s bowsprit but in storms they stayed below decks and used chamber pots, which were sent flying across the cabins when the waves hit and the winds rose. Food consisted of a niggardly diet of salt meat, peas and hard tack biscuits – which became infested with weevils – and, to drink, beer. No wonder the hold became a breeding ground for lice and scurvy. Not until the Mayflower dropped anchor off Cape Cod on November 11, 1620 – more than 100 days since leaving Southampton – were the women, at last, able to step on to land and wash their clothes ‘as they were in great need.’ Remarkably, only one of their number died on the voyage but two soon followed after making land, and a few weeks later Bradford’s wife Dorothy fell from the ship’s deck into the chill waters of the bay. Her body was never found. Strangely, Bradford records the death only in the appendix to his writings with a terse: ‘Mrs Bradford died soon after their arrival.’ Was he as indifferent as he seems? She was only 16 when they married and he 23, and she had been compelled to leave their three-year-old boy behind. Was she so desolate at being separated from him that she took her own life? In truth, no one knows what happened that bleak winter’s day.
“Looks like good weather this week”, said an unwitting friend to me on Monday. “Yes, highs of 28 degrees celsius on Monday with a very low chance of precipitation”, I replied. She looked at me blankly, not realising that over lockdown I have become a weather-watching obsessive. I promise I wasn’t always like this. Pre-Covid, my meteorological interest extended to checking the forecast on a grey day to see if I needed an umbrella. That was it. But from March it all changed. The start of lockdown was so bleak, so monotonous – a constant wheel of work, exercise, eat, sleep and fret – that I found myself checking my phone's weather app nearly every hour. By knowing whether there was sun or rain, I could mark one day from the next. A small victory in a sea of sameness. Soon, my furtive glances at my phone's weather app had taken on the thrill of gambling: would I be hanging out my washing today, or reaching for my umbrella to take my lockdown-permitted stroll? This is what happens to my brain after three months without social contact. It melts. I don’t think I’m alone in my weather app addiction. People around me report the same experience: like me, they've tried multiple apps and, like me, they've found themselves checking them more often, even looking at the weather in places where they are not. Why? Surely one answer is that we're just more connected to the weather this year, because we're closer to it. For years, a large slice of the country has worked in large offices, where we're often sat so far from a window that we wouldn’t know if there had been a thunderstorm. For the first time in years, I’m now spending my working hours outside – at a desk in my garden. I watch the sun rise, I watch the sun set. All on my weather app, of course. Here's what I've learned as a seasoned weather app watcher... Ditch the free weather apps... The Apple Weather app is only ever ballpark correct. It can tell you if there is a rainy day coming up this week, but it has a lot of trouble working out which day that will be. The inaccuracy of the app actually caused me quite a bit of heartache in lockdown. When we were allowed to meet up one-on-one outside, my boyfriend and I went to a park for a socially-distanced picnic on a day when Apple Weather promised beaming sunshine. About half an hour in, a harsh wind came out of nowhere. One moment, my boyfriend was holding a paper plate with cake and custard. The next, the wind picked it up and slapped it onto his face like a clown getting hit with a cream pie. He peeled the plate off his face and found his fringe glued to his forehead and smelling like vanilla. I refreshed the Apple Weather app, which told me that we were currently experiencing fine weather and temperatures in the mid 20s. That moment was honestly very funny – but the rest of the day was just a bit sad, sitting under a dark sky when we’d been promised sun, not being allowed to kiss. There are two morals to that story. Firstly, don’t eat custard in a storm. And secondly, look beyond the free weather apps that come with your phone. ... And find a better one After my trials with Apple Weather I switched to using the BBC Weather app, which seemed to be far more accurate in my area. It has other delightful bells and whistles, like being able to pick out a pretty detailed location for you via GPS. If you have £3.99 and several hours to waste, download Dark Sky, which can give you a forecast detailed enough to pick out your street. But honestly, be careful with it, as it is easy to lose a lot of time watching how a rain cloud favours one side of town to another. (Side note: Dark Sky was bought in March by Apple, so you can’t download it onto an Android device. Sorry, weather watchers.)
Emily Bendell – the lingerie tycoon who is challenging the Garrick Club over its “gentleman-only” membership policy – isn’t loving my suggestion that she stage a protest of underwear-clad models outside the exclusive West End club. “That,” frowns the 39-year-old over Zoom, “might sadly work against us.” It’s obviously a preposterous idea, although the image of Garrick members abandoning their Welsh rarebits to press their faces, en masse, against its festooned frieze windows is priceless. And the idea will be no less preposterous to some than Bendell’s threat of legal action against the exclusive 189-year-old institution for refusing to open up its membership to women. “I know this issue has been in the news before, but I must have missed it,” says the Nottingham-born businesswoman, who founded the fashion-led lingerie label Bluebella, from her east London office. “So when I was looking around for a good members club in which to meet retailers earlier this year, I was really shocked to find out that men-only clubs were still allowed. And, actually, under the Equality Act, it isn’t allowed to refuse to provide services based on gender, which is why I went down the legal route.” In a letter sent to the Garrick last week, Bendell’s solicitors have claimed that, under section 29 of the 2010 Equality Act, it is prohibited to discriminate against a person requiring or seeking to use its services and that “continuing to operate its discriminatory policy” is breaking the law.
MPS, their wives, husbands, kids even, diplomats, royalty, personal assistants, practically anyone who is anyone is cowering at the forthcoming publication of Sasha Swire’s gloriously indiscreet Diary of an MPs Wife. Her diary of 20 years, allegedly submitted to publishers without even her husband Sir Hugo having a read first, mocks, ridicules and exposes the private shenanigans of everyone she came across as wife to the Old Etonian MP who held his East Devon seat from 2001 until the December election of 2019. ‘We are already losing friends,’ she said in an interview this weekend which retold anecdotes such as how Mrs Gove once arrived at a dinner hosted by the Camerons yet somehow found herself sweating over a fish pie as Mrs Cameron took herself off pattern cutting. One wonders how David Cameron feels having every detail of a private visit to the Swires’ home, Lincombe Farm, described. From his jokes about dogging to Cameron’s pride with his ‘honed physique courtesy of a new personal trainer, but which H maintains is more the result of a prolonged and vigorous period of trying to get Sam pregnant again’. But, I venture, what will sting the former prime minister the most is the recollection of a visit by Cameron to their Devon manor house where upon spotting one of the Swire’s barns the then Prime Minister exclaims: ‘You could put a snooker table in there!’ Writing in her diary Lady Swire records that, out of earshot of Cameron, she mutters to her husband: ‘So home counties.’
Pauline Harmange hates men. So much so, that the 25-year-old French author has written a book detailing and deconstructing everything she hates about 51.9 per cent of the population: I Hate Men. “Hate will set you free,” isn’t a message we’re likely to see on a yoga t-shirt anytime soon, yet the 96-page essay – Moi Les Hommes, Je Les Déteste – that actually contains these words has sold out across France, with the first 450 copies flying off the shelves within days, a reprint of 2,500 copies sold, and “several British publishers now interested in buying the UK rights.” All thanks to Ralph Zurmély, a French government official, who has threatened to ban the book for its “incitement to hatred on the grounds of gender.” Zurmély, who advises the gender equality ministry, even went so far as to call Harmange’s work an “ode to misandry” – amusingly a title she and her tiny publishers, Monstrograph, had considered. “And really,” Harmange laughingly insists from the Lille apartment where she’s being besieged by media interest from all over the world, “that’s a compliment.” A little more troubling, however, is Zurmély’s assertion that if Monstrograph continue to sell Harmange’s book, the publisher would be “directly complicit in the offence and I would then be obliged to send it to the prosecution for legal proceedings.” Before we start our interview, I feel I should declare an interest. Actually, it’s more of a bias. You see I love men. Old, young, tall, small, fat or thin: they’re up there with 75 per cent black chocolate, lie-ins and the smell of freshly mown grass in my book. So I have trouble recognising the people she describes in I Hate Men as “violent, egotistical, lazy and cowardly”, and I’m a little worried by the notion that they should be phased out. “Listen, eradicating men is not my aim,” assures Harmange – a demure, softly-spoken brunette in an off-the-shoulder t-shirt. “Ideally the book would help bring men back down to a normal position alongside the rest of us, and at the same time liberate women from the weight of that all-powerful patriarchy.” A visceral loathing of men is both natural and logical, says Harmange in her introductory argument – in fact “the place they take in conversations, in public space, their words and actions as a group, make misandry easy.” The feminist activist then dedicates the first half of the book not so much to bringing men down with a bump, as pushing the whole species off a cliff. Hating men “is not the end of the road. On the contrary, it is the very beginning, you emancipate yourself first by recognising that you are p----- off (with men), and then by acknowledging that you have good reason to be.”