Police in Warrington, revelling in their new powers to summons people for offences relating to the new coronavirus legislation, have posted proudly on Twitter about their latest accomplishments. Summoning up all the Gestapo-like spirit they could muster, they announced that they had fingered “multiple people from the same household going to the shops for non-essential items”. This comment has solicited a storm of questions from the poor residents of Warrington, all of whom are wondering what exactly is an essential item? Must the nation wait with bated breath for the Prime Minister to issue another hoarse but stoic video from his Downing Street bunker? Are we now to be subjected to taste-policing by some ghastly government quango? We need clarity – and what better person to offer guidance on this than myself? As a man of the people, the Telegraph restaurant critic and a judge on MasterChef, I reckon my list of essential items will offer both clarity to the nation and focus for the coppers of Warrington. Water More than ever we must be quenched and hydrated at all times. How different it was when I was at school and, a wrong-headed and foolish boy, I only drank water when I was thirsty. Since tap water tastes horrible, I need regular deliveries of Acqua Panna. Bottled from springs in the Apennine mountains of Tuscany, it has a smoothness to sate me until just after Boris’s daily conference, at which point I’m impelled to start drinking. Wine Like most resilient Brits, I hold back from the first sip of the evening until the Downing Street press conference is over, at which point I reach for a glass of white Burgundy. While a soft and floral Puligny-Montrachet from Waitrose is preferable, I can slum it with a bottle of Macon Uchizy from Justerini and Brooks, and, with its screw cap, can be delivered from fridge to face in about five seconds. Read more: the best local wine merchants that will deliver to your door Mustard I couldn’t face any crisis without a large jar of Maille Dijon to hand. A large dollop brings a reassuringly French quality to everything, from sausages and chicken, to roast lamb and an omelette. Snacks As I don’t possess any worry beads, as I sip my white Burgundy I need to keep my fingers occupied with a large bowl of pistachio nuts. The extracting of the nuts from the shells is good exercise for the fingers, and really the pistachios should be those grown on the Sicilian volcanic soil of Bronte, for added plumpness and purple skin. Flowers How could one’s home not have a few pots of hyacinths as, rousing themselves from months of dormant rest, they pop through the surface of the soil and freshen the eye with their pink, white and blue flowers and sweet smell of spring? Honestly, officer, have a sniff and take off those cuffs. Coffee I refuse to regress to the dark ages when I might simply offer someone, or indeed myself, a cup of coffee. It would be like suggesting a gin and tonic without specifying whether it was a Sipsmith, a Hepple or a Warner’s with a Fever Tree, Double Dutch or London Essence. So is it a Ristretto Italiano, a Firenze Arpeggio or, indeed, a Vivalto Lungo Decaffeinato? My Nespresso capsules, the comforting habit of popping them into the machine and its blissful whirring noise, is as essential as my Davines Ol hair conditioner, VO5 hair styling wax, Dior Eau Sauvage after shave, not to mention Philip Diamond clean electric toothbrush and a tube of Mentadent P toothpaste.
The spread of coronavirus presented Helen Earl with a difficult decision. She could continue her business, which does household tasks for the elderly, running the risk of infecting them with Covid-19 when she enters their homes. Or, she could pause work to reduce the danger, which would cut off vulnerable people from her help, and slash her own income. Earl’s first instinct was to continue working, so she applied for one of the school places set aside for key workers for her nine-year-old daughter, Eliza. She thought this could allow her to keep running her Ascot-based business, Helen’s Helping Hands – a cleaning, shopping and gardening service for the elderly and people with long-term health conditions. Not only would this help her clients run their homes, it would also provide them with valuable company during these weeks of solitude. But even before the UK lockdown began last week, Earl, 48, was losing business. Several clients with severe health conditions cancelled their usual services as soon as the Prime Minister announced that they should be “shielded” from almost all human contact. “They say they would eventually love to re-engage us, when things are settled, but we can’t expect them to pay retainer fees as they are elderly and we don’t know how long this will last,” Earl says. It quickly became clear that even for her lower-risk clients, keeping her daughter in school while Earl went to their homes might not be possible. “As I thought about it more and more, I realised I couldn’t risk sending her there,” Earl says. “If the other children weren’t following the guidelines, then she could pick up the virus and I could pass it on to my clients. I realised it would be better for everyone for me to homeschool.” Before she stopped working, Earl made sure all the essential services would still be provided while she was looking after her daughter. She passed some clients onto other self-employed assistants who could more easily keep themselves away from sources of infection. “I haven’t left anyone unsupported,” she says. “The ones with carers will be OK, but the ones we do cleaning for? Well, they just won’t have cleaning for a little bit.”
The Prime Minister has been very clear, there are now only four acceptable reasons for leaving the house: shopping for basic necessities, taking one form of exercise per day, medical needs, or travelling to work if you’re a key worker. “A booty call with that guy you dated for three months last year” is very much not on the list. Nor is “a nightly visit to the nearby flat of the girlfriend you’re not ready to cohabitate with yet”. And don’t even think about going on a date, unless it’s virtual. For some, it’s the element of this lockdown business which is proving the hardest to accept. In fact there are almost as many Google searches at the moment for “can I have sex during coronavirus” as there are for advice on the lockdown. It might seem callous to be concerned for your sex life in the midst of a pandemic. But if isolation has taught us anything so far, it’s that it is entirely possible to be in a constant state of panic for your loved ones’ safety, while simultaneously feeling furious about the loss of more frivolous things like the freedom to go on a date. If you’re not already living with your other half, the chances are you are staring down the barrel of a sexless few months (unless you’re planning on forging a new and exciting relationship with your housemate, in which case good luck to you). As for those already shacked up with someone, well, at least you can have some fun while in lockdown. Or can you? If that Google search traffic is anything to go by, there seems to be some not inconsiderable confusion about whether or not you should be having sex during coronavirus, especially if one of you has symptoms. To date, the government has disseminated no official guidelines about sex - but it has broached the subject of relationships more broadly. Yesterday, Dr Jenny Harries said in a Downing Street press conference that now is a good time for fledgling couples to “test” a relationship by moving in together (a risky game indeed). Government advice also stipulates that any contact with people not living in the same household should be conducted while keeping at least two metres apart, and that includes “non-cohabiting partners”, who could pass on the deadly virus if they continued to visit each other. If you can maintain a sex life at two metres distance, then good luck to you. Maybe we’ll be buying your book when this is over. In the meantime, here’s everything you need to know about how coronavirus is going to affect your sex life. Can you have sex during the coronavirus outbreak? In general, a couple living together can have sex if they both feel healthy, are not in an at-risk group, and have not come into contact with anyone with symptoms. If you are in a group at high risk of becoming seriously unwell, the advice is different. If you live with your partner, have been self-isolating for two weeks or more, and neither of you are exhibiting symptoms or have come into contact with anyone who is, then go for it. But only under these conditions. Professor Claudia Estcourt, an expert from the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, says: “It is safe for people in a household which has been self-isolating for over 14 days to have sex. But remember that every time someone goes out of their household that person has the potential to acquire the virus. You will need to keep resetting the 14 day clock if one of you is in contact with someone with coronavirus or develops symptoms." If you are considering meeting up with someone to have sex, don’t. It’s against the stipulations of the lockdown. As Prof. Estcourt says: “To comply with the government advice to prevent transmission, it’s really important that the only people you have sex with are those who live within your household. You should not be having sex if so doing means you have to breach government guidance not to mix households.”
They say the course of true love never did run smooth. And for amorous couples during the outbreak of coronavirus, those words have never rung truer. On Tuesday 26 March, Dr Jenny Harries, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said that couples who live in separate homes should “test the strength” of their relationship and either move in together during the lockdown period - or stay living apart. Speaking at a press briefing from 10 Downing Street, Dr Harries joked that she wanted to avoid starting a new career in “relationship counselling” but maintained it was vital that couples take appropriate action depending on their domestic situation. "The principle is that we want people to stay in their household units primarily. If you have an infection, you are very close to your family members so the risk of exposure is very similar,” she said. “If you've two individuals, two halves of a couple, currently in separate households, ideally they should stay in those households.” She said that the alternative to this arrangement should be to “decide if one wants to be a permanent resident of another household.” The new lockdown rules, which were implemented by Boris Johnson on Monday 23 March, prohibit meetings of more than two people who don’t live together. This led many couples to be confused about whether those who were still living apart would be allowed to meet up. These come just days after confusion about social distancing rules saw masses of people take to streets and parks across Britain to celebrate the sunny weather. So, what do these new rules mean for your relationship? We’ve answered your questions below. Can I see my boyfriend/girlfriend during lockdown? Yes you can - but not in a conventional sense. Based on Dr Harries' advice, you have to decide whether it’s worth being separated from your lover for the coming three weeks or bite the bullet and move into the same household. For new couples, or those who have a long distance relationship, this can be a particularly daunting decision to make. And in terms of dating, you can forget that all together. Life under lockdown means only essential trips can be made outside your home, such as for food shopping, exercise and medical care. It’s either virtual wine on a Zoom call, or bickering over laundry rotas and who gets the last biscuit. Your call. Why are these measures in place? These measures are part of the nationwide lockdown, which Boris Johnson implemented on Monday night to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Dr Jenny Harries said the reason they are suggesting these measures for couples is to avoid “people switching in and out of households.” “The issue here is what we do not want is people switching in and out of households. It defeats the purpose in the reduction of social interaction. Otherwise we will not all be working towards achieving the outcome," she said. Only essential travel is recommended during lockdown. This means moving into one household limits the journeys you have to make, keeping you in accordance with government guidelines. Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, was also present at the virtual press conference. He urged couples who are deliberating over this matter to “Make your choice and stick with it."
In the first of a poignant three-part Instagram video detailing Sam Smith’s “quarantine meltdown” last week, the multi-platinum award-winning singer reassured fans that they were self-isolating and suffering from “a bit of a headache and allergies”. For those who missed it, last year Smith announced “I am not male or female. I think I float somewhere in between”, and asked to be referred to with the pronouns “they/them”. not “he/him”. So you might need to bear with me on this next bit… By part three of Smith’s video, they seemed to have deteriorated quite considerably, and was pictured sitting on the doorstep of their £12 million Hampstead home in floral pyjama bottoms, sobbing into their hands. Just a month ago, this would have been a masterful post, perfectly choreographed for Smith’s ‘woke’ followers and entirely in keeping with the victimhood culture he has become a figurehead for. When “body issues” were the celebrity sympathy tool du jour, the 27-year-old Brit “bravely” spoke out about “battling” those, and was later hailed “a hero” for coming out either as non-binary or genderqueer (at the time, they weren’t really clear which). So it stood to reason that Smith would be one of the first to whinge about being incarcerated in a five-bedroom Grade II-listed mansion. However, last week the self-pitying post fell flat, with many not only refusing to indulge Smith in the way they always had, but either criticising them for being “narcissistic” at a time when people were losing loved ones, or ignoring them altogether.
Today, we at the Telegraph are launching a new section for our readers in light of the coronavirus outbreak. You Are Not Alone is a collection of stories to showcase community spirit, bring you the best advice and share tips for coping. It is a metaphorical space for readers to gather and share expertise while coronavirus prevents us from meeting in person. Social connectivity is more important now than ever, and we want you to remember that you're not alone. Britain is effectively on a war footing. The invisible enemy – Covid-19 – is within. But the battle is one we shall win. If ever there were a time to harness national pride, pluck and patriotism this is it. And the United Kingdom can do it. How? By drawing on reserves of courage and fortitude embodied by the spirit of the Blitz and the bullishness of Brexit, safeguarding the health of the nation to the hand-washing strains of God Save the Queen. Physical distancing is the latest strategy; the challenge now is to pull together while staying apart. But isolation can be overcome thanks to The Telegraph’s introduction of social connectivity. Today in our features pages and online, we are launching You Are Not Alone, a unique interactive platform that aims to provide readers with a metaphorical space to gather, a place to debate and a forum for the sort of exciting, innovative ideas that can be weaponised against the threat of the coronavirus.
On Sunday morning, I woke to a view of lightly-frosted lake and snow-capped mountains, to an Austrian day glittering with promise. It was paradise, the long-postponed spa break I had promised myself after Brexit nearly drove me round the twist. We just got over that madness and now there was corona to worry about. To hell with it, I thought. There could be months of doom ahead of us. I would take a holiday while I still could. Unfortunately, there was no treatment on the spa’s extensive menu that could massage away the gnawing feeling that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. With the virus seeping across the map of Europe like poisonous green ink, I knew that I’d made the wrong call. Time to head home to wield the Dettol spray and guard my loved ones against invading microbes.
We at the Telegraph are launching a new section for our readers in light of the coronavirus outbreak. You Are Not Alone is a collection of stories to showcase community spirit, bring you the best advice and share tips for coping. It is a metaphorical space for readers to gather and share expertise while coronavirus prevents us from meeting in person. Social connectivity is more important now than ever, and we want you to remember that you're not alone. We live in a time of monumental uncertainty. And yet as I sit here, the cherry blossom in my garden is opening on the highest branches. The wisteria buds fatten. The sun breaks through the clouds. I remember staying on a friend’s farm in Yorkshire during the foot and mouth crisis, watching the lambs leap past the kitchen window. As we sipped coffee and looked out at the perfect spring scene, she said, “The worst part is you don’t know when it is coming, or where it is, it is just there, in the air”. And yet – then as now – we all keep buggering on, as Churchill said. The Blitz spirit, was largely possible because people could get together to cheer each other up. In 1942, Jan Struther’s wartime creation, Mrs Miniver, wrote, “Things happen too quickly, crisis follows crisis, the soil of our minds is perpetually disturbed. Each of us, to relieve his feelings, broadcasts his own running commentary on the preposterous and bewildering events of the hour: and this, nowadays, is what passes for conversation.”
It’s a double-edged prefix, “veteran”. It implies wisdom, talent and experience, but there’s always that slight suggestion you might be keeping a seat warm. Veteran broadcaster Liz Kershaw knows a thing or two about inhabiting this particular label, and in the most spectacular way. At 61 (hardly any great age), she is the second longest serving female presenter on BBC radio, behind Annie Nightingale. She has DJ-ed on a whole host of the Beeb’s national stations, was instrumental in founding BBC 6 Music, the digital-only radio station specialising in alternative music, in 2002 - and then in saving it from closure in 2010. She celebrated 30 years as a national broadcaster in 2017, and her Saturday show recently clocked yet another set of record listener figures. Kershaw is also among that small army of BBC talent that speaks truth to power. And, in her own words, after some of the comments she has made about her employer over the years, if they were going to get rid of her, they’d have done it by now. So how has she managed it? Is it as tricky as it seems to be outspoken at the BBC? “Oh yeah. I did speak up for myself with trepidation, always, and was treated like a naughty fifth former. “When I got to my 30-year landmark, I thought you know what if they bump me off now I’ve had a good run, so I’m going to say what I think. I think you should speak the truth. “We’re paid for by a poll tax. Every person who pays the licence fee, we’re servants of theirs. I think it’s a privilege, I’m a conduit for them. So the BBC management should tell the truth and should be accountable. Also when you claim to be one of the world’s most premier, relied-upon news outlets, you should be telling the bloody truth.”
Women are indeed, moving the needle in the entertainment industry. Today, we’ve seen more women raising the bar when it comes to acting (Awkwafina’s breakthrough role in The Farewell) and even directing (Anna Boden for Captain Marvel). So when Netflix presented me with an opportunity to interview three female heavyweights in the entertainment industry, at the same time, I couldn’t say no.
It was a simple request. ‘Can my cousin be in the birth-plan meeting next week – as I want her with me during labour?’ I typed into WhatsApp in August 2018. Claire’s* reply was a shock. ‘I’m not comfortable with that.’ Then the accusations began: I’d been unreasonable asking her husband not to be in the birth room; I’d had everything my own way. Then the final blow: Claire told me that she – not me – would be the most vulnerable person in the birthing room. I could feel the panic rising. In just five weeks I was going to have Claire’s baby – something I’d embarked on with the simple motivation to do something worthwhile and good. How had it come to this? My relationship with Claire began in 2015 – before we’d even met. For 18 months, I’d been hearing about her from my cousin Sophie*, who knew her through work. I’d heard how she and her husband Ian* were struggling to have a baby. They had the embryos, but no surrogate to carry them. I’m an empathetic person, someone who likes to try and solve other people’s problems. So, even though we’d never met, one day I heard myself saying to Sophie, ‘Tell them I’ll do it.’ At the time I was 31, single and working as a project manager. I had a daughter of my own, Alex*, then nine, but I knew I didn’t want any more children. I’d been interested in surrogacy for years, and had even offered twice to friends, but in the end they hadn’t needed me. This time it just felt right. Claire sent me a message that evening, asking why I wanted to be a surrogate. I explained that I was just keen to help. From that moment everything happened so fast. Two weeks later, Claire and Ian walked into a café to meet me. Well-dressed and kindlooking they hugged me, then we talked for two hours – mainly about ourselves. When surrogacy eventually came up, we discussed their journey up till now and why I wanted to be a surrogate. But there was so much we didn’t even touch on. Who would be at the birth? How often would we meet? What would happen after the baby was born? It was all either skimmed over or completely ignored. We briefly discussed the financial side, which I found awkward, but neither even mentioned a ballpark figure. You can’t pay a surrogate in the UK, except for reasonable expenses. Ten minutes after I left, my phone pinged. ‘We’d love you to be our surrogate, we can’t wait to begin.’ Looking back, it seems insane. I wouldn’t go on a blind date and agree to get married on the same day. Why on earth would I say, ‘I don’t know you, but I’ll have your child’? In truth, I’d decided before we’d even met. I was naive, with a romantic vision of surrogacy: the three of us as a team, best friends, going through every step together. That notion blinded me to the warning signs that were there from the start. Claire sent me a sample surrogacy agreement she’d found on the internet, listing the kind of things I could be reimbursed for. I made a rough calculation: time off work, maternity clothes. It came to £11,000. But I felt we were friends, that we didn’t need a piece of paper, especially one that was legally unenforceable. I know now how crazy that sounds. When I told Claire the figure she said, ‘OK but I can’t do it if it’s any more.’ I felt a stab of worry – what if something cropped up? But I pushed it away. We’d figure it out. The only counselling we had were the obligatory sessions at the fertility clinic: I had one, they had one and we had one together. Topics came up that we’d never even discussed – what if I miscarried or the baby had a birth defect? Still, none of us gave it proper thought. ‘Good point,’ Ian said. ‘We’ll have to talk about that.’ But we never did. I spoke to Alex about it all. Once she understood that the baby wouldn’t be her brother or sister, she was supportive. She said it was a nice thing for me to be doing. Meanwhile, I knew I would have the same maternity employment rights and protections as anyone else, so I didn’t worry. Over the next 21 months we had four failed embryo transfers. It was emotionally draining, especially when the third transfer worked, but I miscarried at eight weeks. I felt like I’d let them down. Claire and Ian waited in another room while I had the scan, and when the nurse returned from telling them the news I was shocked when she said, ‘They don’t want to see you. Are you all right to go?’ We didn’t speak until Ian called five days later. He explained that they were upset and said they hoped I was OK. I was emotional, and a little disappointed in their response to the scan, but I tried to see it from their perspective. They’d lost the pregnancy they’d been dreaming of for so long. I knew how devastating it must have been. So I just focused on them, wanting so hard for it to work next time. Finally, it did. But once I was actually pregnant, something shifted. There were no more weekly meetups, they just left me to it. They occasionally brought me ginger biscuits and tea to help with my morning sickness, but they never came over to help with anything. Each time my instinct shouted, ‘Something’s wrong,’ I pushed it away. ‘We’re all going to hug, laugh and cry at the end,’ I thought, clinging to my Hollywood vision. It would all be worth it. The pregnancy was straightforward. I told my boss at 14 weeks, explaining that it was a surrogacy, and he was really supportive. In fact, I’d always explain to people that the baby wasn’t mine. Feeling her move felt lovely, but I didn’t experience the bond I’d had with Alex. I knew she wasn’t mine to keep. Being pregnant put my life on hold. I didn’t date (I felt it wasn’t appropriate), or pursue new job opportunities or promotions as I didn’t have the energy. But I was genuinely happy to do it. The 20-week scan was another turning point. When the nurse pulled my underwear down to my hip bones, showing my pubic hair, I felt totally exposed. She was also rude and abrupt – it felt like she was judging us. I realised for the first time how vulnerable I’d be during the birth. I barely knew these people. They were looking at the screen, excited, not even glancing at me. ‘I’m invisible to them,’ I thought. ‘I’m irrelevant.’ We hadn’t talked about baring parts of my body and it was obvious that we all felt awkward about what had just happened. The next day I messaged Claire, explaining that I’d feel uncomfortable with Ian in the birthing room. I didn’t spell out why, I just assumed she would understand. But she didn’t and that’s when things really started to unravel. Messages became shorter and more brusque in tone. At 26 weeks I hurt my hip and asked about a private physiotherapy appointment. ‘That will have to come out of your expenses,’ she replied. We should have had regular face-to-face catch-ups, but apart from medical appointments, we only met up twice. One was at Claire’s baby shower, which I had to pay to attend. Then, five weeks before my due date, I realised we hadn’t properly discussed the birth. That’s when I messaged about having Sophie there, and Claire replied, outlining all the ways I was failing. She said that I was difficult and awkward, making unreasonable demands and wanting the final say. Her message reduced me to tears. I remember thinking, ‘I can’t believe this is happening. Nothing I’m doing here is good enough.’ I even suggested that Sophie leave the room at the actual birth, so it was just us, but that was shot down. If she wasn’t allowed Ian, I wasn’t allowed Sophie. But when Claire messaged Sophie herself, telling her she wasn’t allowed to be there, my upset turned to anger. ‘I’m having this baby,’ I thought. ‘I need someone there for me.’ At 35 weeks, my stress levels were through the roof and I started my maternity leave a little early. Realising things had gone badly wrong they sent me an apology card – accepting Sophie could be there – with a medical test they wanted me to take. ‘Thanks for reaching out,’ I messaged. ‘I’m happy to move forward from this.’ Then I opened the test. Claire had filled in the form with herself as the patient. ‘Wow,’ I thought. ‘This is my body. She doesn’t even see that now.’ Still I tried to move past it. I changed the form so my details were on there and 10 days later, I let Claire know the results had come back positive. She asked me to share them with the midwife, but then did it herself. That upset me so much because it was like she didn’t see me as a real person with feelings, just as a thing in the way. I realised that in order to protect my mental health, I had to do something drastic and requested that all communication went through Ian. I went into survival mode, blocking Claire’s number and Facebook. She didn’t react at all. It was as if it hadn’t happened. It wasn’t something I did lightly, but looking back now I believe it was the right thing to do. The situation became so stressful that I was barely sleeping. Some days it felt like I could hardly breathe. I was so distressed at my 40-week appointment that when they said I might go overdue, I asked for a caesarean. It was all getting too much and I just wanted it over. In the end, I was induced two days after my due date and despite knowing when it was happening, neither Claire nor Ian made it to the hospital in time. My birth plan said if Claire wasn’t there the baby was to be put down rather than given to me. I wanted her to have the very first contact with her, to have that amazing experience. But it happened so fast no one read the birth plan. She was born and put on my chest. I didn’t feel that rush of love I’d felt with Alex. It was more curiosity to finally see her. When Claire and Ian arrived 45 minutes later, they hugged me and it felt like a moment of connection again. As I was wheeled in to register the birth that afternoon – Claire had left the baby with Ian – I was still thinking, ‘She’s got her now, maybe it will be all right. She’ll say, “I’m really sorry, let’s work this out.”’ Then I saw the cold look on her face. It was like she hated me. Once they’d sent the final expenses payment, that was it. They blocked me on social media, so I couldn’t see anything about the baby. The hurt was incredible. They’d got what they wanted and now I was cut off. They didn’t care about me at all. I really thought that we’d continue to have contact. Not as close friends, I didn’t want to live in their pockets, but to see her on Facebook, to chat on WhatsApp. But as with so many things, we hadn’t discussed it. I went back to work six weeks after the birth. It was incredibly difficult. Not only did I have all the hormones rushing around still, but everyone wanted to talk to me about the baby. Most days I had to find a quiet office to hide in, so I could keep it together.
In the week that Stella magazine’s joint deputy editors were announced as winners of the prestigious Timewise Power 50 awards, which celebrate senior-level flexible workers, they describe how their working marriage came to be, and the tips and strategies they learned along the way. Kate: It was when I was sitting in my editor-in-chief Marianne’s kitchen, halfway through my adoption leave, that the idea of me doing a job-share first came up. But it wasn’t me that suggested it, it was Marianne. I’d taken my son to meet her, and as we watched our boys playing football together in her garden, I’d been explaining about the challenges of this type of parenting. While I’d met many adopters who had felt forced to go part-time, or just give up working, I was determined to try, at least, to keep my career at the level I was proud to have reached. But I also knew that this particular job on a weekly magazine is not one that can be done in less than five days a week (and often spills over into more than that), so I’d need to do it full-time, or not at all. ‘What can I do to help?’ asked Marianne. ‘What about doing it as a job-share? Would you want to do that?’ To say I was astonished is an understatement. At the time, there were no other job-shares at the Telegraph, so we’d be breaking new ground. But Marianne was as determined to keep me as I was to stay – she later told me, ‘We need to be promoting flexible solutions like this to keep women in the pipeline. I believe if you call yourself a feminist, you need to act as one – that’s why I’m proud this has worked’. And it has worked: for me, for Naomi, for the team, for our families and, crucially, for our stress levels. Because doing a job-share, rather than trying to turn a full-time job into a part-time one and watching it bleed into all those hours you’re no longer paid for, has meant that when we hand back the reins to each other, we can truly switch off. I’d only met Naomi briefly up to this point. She had taken over my parental leave part-way through, so I came into the office to meet for a proper chat. It was one of the strangest semi-blind dates I’ve been on – ‘Hi, I barely know you, do you want to be my work wife?’ – but it was apparent we were going to be a great fit from the moment she took out a spreadsheet detailing all the tasks that needed to be done. She was clearly as much of an organisation-obsessed nerd as me.
A few months ago, I was chatting with friends at the bar of my favourite club in Soho, when an old friend, came up to me wagging his finger. “Look,” he said, smirking, “it’s Nazi Kate.” I managed to lob back a few cutting comments and waited for my two acquaintances (a writer and an artist) to join me in a robust defence. Instead, they shuffled uneasily from foot to foot, looked down at the floor and sloped off. They later came up to me and individually apologised, both indicating that they didn’t agree with what was said, and felt awkward about it, but then admitting sheepishly they hadn’t the nerve to speak out, either. This depressing scenario has become all too familiar in my life nowadays. I am that unusual creature: a Right-wing, Brexit-voting professional who mixes with an arty and liberal crowd. As such, I have become a target of bullying by the so called open-minded progressive brigade, who also happen to be many of my friends. So it was with sad recognition that I read a report in Arts Professionals magazine that said 80 per cent of people working in the arts are too scared to voice “controversial” opinions for fear of being professionally ostracised. According to the Freedom of Expression survey, verboten topics of conversation in liberal company now include Brexit, transgender and viewpoints considered Right-wing. It is shocking, but it is something I know to be true from bitter experience. Ever since Brexit opened up a cleavage in society – which has resulted in the metro liberal elite taking the moral high ground – I’ve been called out as a racist, bigot, and even been asked by one date if “I walk on my hands”. It is difficult to explain how painful it is when the people you call your friends shun you when you walk in the room. When one arts producer acquaintance called me a Right-wing sympathiser and racist simply because I put a cross beside leave the EU and champion Boris, I challenged him to having a grown-up conversation about it. You know, an old-fashioned debate. Yet he refused to enter into any open discussion whatsoever. Of course, if this had happened, we might have ended up in stalemate, but at least there would have been some kind of respectful awareness on either side to understand why different positions are taken. Society is based on structures that are agreed upon by the majority of people, such as marriage, the sense of nationhood, biological gender differences. I really believe that these structures are now being torn down in the alleged name of freedom. “Gender is a construct”, “nationhood is inherently racist”… these new ideas are not based on a rational discourse, but a trend of feeling and groupthink among a minority with a huge influence.
At 59 years old, Kristin Scott Thomas says she has ‘got to the other side of the invisible phase’. I find it hard to imagine she ever endured such a phase, but Scott Thomas is right in that she is suddenly gloriously visible, in Military Wives with Sharon Horgan, directed by Peter Cattaneo (of The Full Monty fame); and, in a clever piece of casting, as Mrs Danvers in an adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, opposite Lily James and Armie Hammer. She’ll also be back on the London stage in December, playing Phaedra at the National Theatre. This renaissance was not heralded by the damehood Scott Thomas received in 2015, or by her return to London after three decades living in Paris, but by her turn last year as Belinda, the high-flying, Martini-downing, no-bulls—t lesbian whose ‘women are born with pain built in’ state-of-the-gender monologue was one of the most electrifying moments of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s award-winning series Fleabag. ‘I had an unbelievable response, even men were coming up to me,’ says Scott Thomas, dipping a sugar cube into her espresso and popping it into her mouth. We are in a noisy café off the Euston Road, Scott Thomas ravishing with post-shoot hair and make-up, Dior camo messenger bag at her feet. She is famously chic, an Englishwoman so stylish that she can pass as Parisian. Today she is layered up so much that it almost feels defensive – long houndstooth coat and cashmere scarf over blazer over plaid shirt and jeans. But it turns out that her coat and shirt are not by some cult French designer, they are booty from Military Wives; clothes worn by her character, Kate, married to a senior Army officer, who maintains morale among the women on the base, though their husbands are at war and they can do nothing but wait for the worst news. The wives start a choir, an initially unpromising enterprise that, this being a feel-good film (as well as loosely based on a true story), ultimately triumphs. ‘What appealed to me was telling a story about the people who we never see, we never think about, the people who wait,’ she says. ‘I was very aware of the waiting; I can’t stand that, that has always been something for me.’ Scott Thomas was raised in Cornwall and Dorset, and spent much of her childhood on military bases. ‘So I know what it was like to live on “the patch”.’ Her grandfather, William, was a commanding officer in the Royal Navy who helped rescue Allied troops from Dunkirk and took part in the Arctic convoys (she explored his story in the Channel 4 series My Grandparents’ War). Her father, Simon, was a naval pilot who died in a flying accident when she was four. Scott Thomas’s mother, Deborah, was 27 at the time, four months pregnant, with three daughters, of whom Scott Thomas was the eldest. She does not remember much about that period. ‘I was so little. I have no idea how my mother coped, I can’t fathom it.’
When I hear about high-profile instances of stalking I feel I got off lightly. I was 33 and single, having just been through a bad break-up, when I received a Facebook message from a man telling me he thought I had ‘amazing beauty’.