Back in the Nineties, socialite Ghislaine Maxwell was known in New York as the “female Gatsby” for her lavish entertaining. With a reputation for being charming and funny, hers was a glittering lifestyle straight out of the pages of a society magazine. She would attend cocktail parties with A-listers, drop in at celebrity fundraisers, ski at Aspen and jet around the world, largely at other people’s expense. Today, that life has been consigned to her diary entries. She is behind bars. Arrested in New Hampshire on sex trafficking and perjury charges, she is set to be transferred to the Manhattan Correctional Centre where her friend and former lover Jeffrey Epstein killed himself last August. What led her here? The daughter of the disgraced media tycoon Robert Maxwell, Ghislaine was his ninth and youngest child, widely credited with being his favourite. Unlike her siblings, she wasn’t picked on by her father. She was showered with affection and he even named the luxury 180ft yacht he disappeared overboard from in 1991 the ‘Lady Ghislaine’. After attending Marlborough, she went to Balliol College, Oxford, and gained a reputation for knowing all the right people, including Hugh Grant. She belonged to a group of socialites attracted to rich magnates, rather than aristocrats with titles but no money. Hers was a student life of wealth and privilege. On one occasion, her father sent a Daimler full of Filipino servants to the house she shared in Oxford to tidy up, lay the table and put dinner in the oven for a party she was giving.
My household is waging its own civil war. While I regard today’s July 4th bar-openings as British independence day, my spouse sees it as a Cov-idiot pyrrhic victory for the reckless. But then he’s 67, has high blood pressure and loathes socialising at the best of times. It’s fair to say we have wildly different takes on lockdown. Edwardian husband been living his very best armchair life, listening to the new Bob Dylan album and free from even the faintest semblance of having to mix with other human beings. For me, every day has been a form of hellish incarceration, like joining an extreme Lutheran sect where there’s no pubs, parties or dancing and the prayers don’t work. Like any prisoner in their cell, I’ve been counting down the days to freedom and working out what delights I’ll sample first. As the daughter of a publican, I rate carousing in a venue dedicated to the art of hospitality as the very height of western civilisation. Second only to that pleasure is sitting in a chair at my hairdresser’s salon in Soho, having a good old gossip with my colourist and stylist, both of whom I’ve known for years. My third delight is the means to those ends: catching a train from Cambridge to London. Of all the things I miss, the once humdrum act of travelling between cities feels like the greatest loss. True liberation means freedom of movement. Except for my spouse, who wants to be freed from having to go anywhere ever again. So here’s how I’m celebrating my July 4th. I’m taking a train to central London in an act of essential, inner-life-saving travel. I’ll then take a Boris bike to Old Church Street in South Kensington where my beloved Chelsea Arts Club is flinging open its doors, bar and garden for the first time in over three months. The club closed on St Patrick’s Day – also the date I first felt the aches in my legs that signalled a mild dose of Covid-19. The Secretary of the Club has explained the new rules for distancing, but advised masks aren’t compulsory – “as ever in the club,” members can dress exactly as they please. This will likely mean some artists in artisanal plague masks and others in crazy fancy dress straight out of a Venetian Carnival. It’s not been unknown over the club’s esteemed history for clothes to be dispensed with altogether.
It has been more than five months since I last saw my sister Annabelle and my little niece and nephew, Imogen and Rex. Belle and I have always been incredibly close, and not being able to see each other for such a long time would have been unthinkable a few months ago. Not having each other to lean on over lockdown has been harder than I imagined it would. So the idea that all three of them will finally be in my garden on Saturday for a family barbecue after what has felt like an eternity is filling me with joy. When we all met up for my birthday just before lockdown, we didn’t realise it would be for the last time for months. My sister and I have moved through life as a unit. It’s just the two of us siblings, and we have always been a big support to one another. We talk on the phone or FaceTime most days, and are used to seeing each other regularly. My seven-year-old twin boys, Bertie and Cosmo, are the same age as Annabelle's eldest, and the children are very close too. Raising our little ones at the same time has always felt like one of the biggest privileges. How lucky are we to get to experience motherhood alongside each other? Five months is a long time in the life of a little person, and I feel desperately sad for the kids that they haven’t been able to see each other or go to school. The boys can’t wait to see their cousins on Saturday. I’ve just accepted it’s going to be impossible for them all to distance. You can’t tell seven-year olds to play two metres apart, it’s just not practical. And to be honest, I think we’ve all waited long enough for this. It has been very strange going through something so monumental separately. Belle is usually so stoic about everything, whereas I’m more emotional, but strangely, the tables have been turned in lockdown. She has struggled a bit, whereas I have been quite ‘head down, get through the day’ about it all. These past few days have been particularly tough as my husband, Richard, lost his mum last week. She fell ill during lockdown (not with something Covid related), and sadly left us a few days ago. It's been a desperately sad time; and not being able to see loved ones — especially my sister — has been incredibly difficult, as I’m sure it must have been for so many people.
I had an email from my hairdresser yesterday. They are ‘delighted to get back to work’ and will be ‘calling clients personally to get you booked in as soon as possible.’ Did I sob with relief? Click my heels in the air with joy? Reply with gushing gratitude? I did not. I shrugged, tossed back my shaggy mane and deleted the message. Honestly, I doubt I’ll bother getting my hair cut again til... Oh, I don’t know when. Because I’m amazed to discover that, after all these months, I’m loving my lanky lockdown locks. Most of my friends are peering through tangled tresses and frantically texting their stylists, desperate to be shorn the minute the doors open. And if you’d asked me back in March if I’d still be happily hirsute in July, I’d have shaken my still neatly bobbed head in panic. Indeed, to mis-quote Gloria Gaynor ‘At first I was afraid I was petrified. Kept thinking I could never contemplate a pink hairslide.’ Yes, I’ve had to tame it a bit but I never resorted to an Alice band. Everyone I know bought hairdressers’ scissors online and the results seem to fall into two categories – the Rykers’ Island inmates look (too bold with the clippers?) or the cast of Stranger Things (a fringe should not reveal your eyebrows). On the plus side, when encountering Bad Haircut victims, we automatically cross to the other side of the road to avoid them, thus practising social distancing. I cut my husband’s hair with the dog’s grooming scissors. He said it was the best cut he’d ever had but I wouldn’t let him cut mine. When I started getting itchy eyes, I made the mistake of trimming my own fringe in the mirror, where everything looks backwards. I took too much off, in a zig zag (see Stranger Things above). But that was during the ‘transition’ stage, which lasted through April and May, when my English Setter dog, Jagger and I were often mistaken for close relatives. I was lucky that I always had ‘half-head colour’ so I don’t have a grey streak hairline and as my hair is rinsed by a daily sea swim, I like to think it’s ‘beach hair’ – wild and streaky. Think Pamela Anderson in her prime. It’s all new to me because I’ve never really had long hair. I missed out on the Cathy McGowan 60s swingy style because I was a sensible mother of two and long hair gets grabbed by Marmitey, tiny hands. So for most of my life, I favoured a short, layered look.
By now, you’ve probably heard that life is edging back to normal. Pubs, hairdressers and museums are opening, and that means swathes of the UK gearing up for their first outings since lockdown began. The middle classes, who up to this point have mostly hibernated their way through lockdown, now find themselves booking staycations and organising socially distanced dinner parties with an unprecedented urgency. No matter how much you may try to resist being bracketed into this homogenous mass, clichés exist for a reason; they are incredibly common and tend to be true. From decorating the garden to exiting the city, here's all the ways you might be a Super Saturday clone: 1. You’ve booked a hair appointment You were first in the (virtual) queue, heart racing and headphones plugged in for maximum focus. You may have even signed up for priority access. Twelve weeks of email alerts led to this moment. Yet just as your salon was about to open their booking system, you experienced a Deborah Haynes situation - that is, your child, pet or partner entered the room at an important moment, and demanded your immediate attention. After tending to said domestic dilemma, you managed to wangle an 8pm appointment (the only one left) and are forced to cancel your first pub trip for that evening as a result. You spend the rest of the weekend brushing up on small talk and preparing self-deprecating comments about the state of your lockdown tresses.
When we last saw Clare Bradley, she was ironing immaculate pleats into a child’s kilt. While her fellow Great British Sewing Bee finalists fretted about complicated tartan patterns and leather straps, Bradley calmly completed the task as if she was in her own living room, not under the lights in a television studio. “I quite like the idea of the systematic pleating and the tidiness,” she trilled, barely seeming to break a sweat as she methodically stitched and folded, chatting away. “In my flat, all the books are arranged by genre and alphabetical order.” She would go on to create a glorious carnival outfit, and a cherry red satin evening gown that wouldn’t have looked out of place on Keira Knightley in a period drama. She won, of course, much to the delight of the legion of fans watching the final last week who had fallen in love with her jolly demeanour, eclectic style (she is most comfortable in 1940s tweeds and dresses), and her wonderfully supportive mum, Jane. If you’ve never tuned in, Sewing Bee is Bake Off’s rather more sedate cousin. Presented by comedian Joe Lycett and still firmly on the BBC, you’re more likely to find someone shedding a quiet tear over a broken needle than throwing a baked alaska in the bin. Bradley, 37, was crowned champion at the end of filming in October and, until the series aired, that was the end of her television story. But eight months have passed and, it’s fair to say, an awful lot has happened. As a consultant lung specialist at Portsmouth Queen Alexandra Hospital, Bradley has been working on the frontline of the crisis, between Covid wards and the lung cancer clinic. She has been slightly embarrassed by the tidal wave of support and concern from fans all wanting to know if she is safe, insisting it has been a manageable if strange time. “Lots of people have been sending me very lovely messages, saying ‘Oh, it must have been terrible, it must have been so hard’, and actually it hasn’t been that much different from normal for us,” she says, typically matter of fact. “We’ve been doing longer days, more on-calls. Because I work in respiratory medicine, we tend to have conversations about intensive care with our patients – we’ve just had more of them.” When she isn’t on the wards, Bradley works in the lung cancer clinic, where she is often to be found asking patients about their latest knitting project. “I quite often have conversations with them if they’re knitting by the bedside. ‘Ooh, that’s nice, what are you making, what pattern are you using?’”
It’s the end of the lockdown as we know it, and we feel fine. OK, maybe fine is too strong: how about nervously excited and residually anxious? But nothing to stop us from hunkering down in our local pub this weekend, ordering 12 pints and socialising with 29 other people. Not because we necessarily want to, but because we can. And who hasn’t missed drinking 12 pints with 29 other people? It’s what we as a nation do best. However, the easing of restrictions on July 4 isn’t quite the return to normality of which, back in March, we might naively have dreamed. This is a rebooted version, complete with extra paranoia. It will therefore require a new form of social etiquette, as Debrett’s has already made clear. New guidelines from the etiquette authority on how to handle the post-Covid era include several useful suggestions: “Greeting your guests with ‘I wish I could give you a hug’ lets them know to keep their distance”, it advises. And, “While saying ‘feel free to use the bathroom’ might have seemed ludicrous this time last year [it] has become an imperative.” Other guidelines cover how to remain friendly and approachable while wearing a mask (smile with your eyes, apparently) and how to navigate thronged pavements. But the challenges of the new normal will be both myriad and complex. So we’ve drawn up some further guidelines of our own. Following them is optional, but should you wish to join us for a socially distanced, totally legal indoor or outdoor gathering, with or without your support bubble, our arbitrary new rules will be mandatory:
At last, the day of independence is almost upon us. The moment where we all emerge out of our 100-day hibernation, blinking into the sunlight like the animals dismounting Noah's Ark. And the sight that greets us will be similar – yet oh so different – to the world we left behind. You may have no time for such hyperbole, but with all the guidelines in place there are certain aspects of 'Super Saturday' that will be as confusing as Rishi Sunak looking for a pub in a home appliances shop. For while pubs, museums and hairdressers (to name a few) are set to open, these are under strict conditions that will make the experience of them very different. For instance, roller coasters are allowed, but screaming is banned. Pubs are open for business, but queues at the bar are not. The list, as you can read here, goes on. Indeed in a nation already divided between 'corona-phobics' and courageous ‘new-normal-ers’, uncertainties can be expected. Some, like Nigella, may be keen to adhere to the 5:2 ‘social diet’ of limiting interaction with friends, while others are racing to become the first on the school mum Whatsapp group to invite everyone over for ‘socially-distanced pre-pub drinks.’ But what Super Saturday has shown is that there will be a little benefit for everyone – no matter what your preference. Here’s all the things that we’re secretly looking forward to when the day arrives... 1. Not having to to tip our hairdressers Let’s be honest, it was always a little bit awkward. The procedure generally involved fumbling around for cash (which none of us ever carried anyway), while our hairdresser pretended to look elsewhere. And then there was the etiquette: what constituted too little ('stingy, or displeased with the service') or too much ('too generous, could have bought a coffee with that later')? Well Hallelujah, that looks set to change. While hairdressers are allowed to officially reopen on the 4th July, that’s provided Covid-secure measures are in place – including the use of cashless payment systems. According to a recent survey commissioned by Asktraders.com, two in three consumers would avoid tipping if they couldn’t use cash. We're all in this together, right? 2. Not talking about our hair Linked to the above. While discussing our matted hair served as valuable small talk material through lockdown, let's be honest: it all got a bit repetitive. We know everything about next-door Sally’s flyaway greys and are more familiar with Sarah’s pesky roots than we are with our own. The social opportunities offered on Super Saturday will provide us with an ample opportunity to generate new forms of small talk, and we’re absolutely fine with that. 3. No queue at the bar By now, we’re no stranger to a spot of queuing. In fact, the pandemic has made us so accustomed to waiting in a spaced out single-file line that we will do virtually anything not to stand in one again – which might be an incentive in itself to visit a pub this Saturday. Under the new guidelines, leaning against the bar and awaiting your order is out, and table service is in. This means the end of all that tricky pub etiquette we’ve spent years grappling with. To push or not to push? To risk losing your place by giving way to someone carrying a tray of teetering tequilas; or to let them struggle and slide into place once they've departed? Now, the only thing you have to worry about is appearing sober after your third mojito. Easy, really.
I was recruited into a cult during my second year at university, although I didn’t realise it at first. What started with a chat with two charismatic young recruiters outside the Salford University library last March lead to my attendance at Bible study meetings and services. I was in deep grief for my dad who died suddenly in 2016, and I was vulnerable. Members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus drew me in by asking some very big questions, such as: “If you could have coffee with God, what would you ask?” They asked me a lot of questions about myself, and seemed so interested in me. My recruiters came across as serious theologians with a big commitment to promoting world peace, and they were offering friendship, too. They seemed to have the answers to some big issues, and they did it all with subtlety and skill. Very quickly, I was attending Shincheonji meetings, sermons and study groups for several hours each day. I was feeling a part of something, and it felt good. I learned that it was a Christian group founded in 1984 in South Korea by a messianic figure, Lee Man-hee, who believes that only he and his followers will survive the end of the world – they are obsessed with ‘End Time’. The Shincheonji position themselves as a Christian group who carry out social work and cultural events, and they are known for holding big athletics festivals in South Korea. There are more than 250,000 followers worldwide, and they are on a mission right now to recruit more and more from UK universities. There were about 40 of us in my group and we were broken down into ‘cells’ of five with a leader and assistant leader for each. I became our cell’s assistant leader after few months, and I ran my own bible studies group after I had been trained. Gradually, I was distanced from my friends and my mum, a nurse who lives in Surrey, and before too long the Shincheonji had taken over my life. I was spending 90 per cent of my time either in cult meetings, going out evangelising or attending the twice-weekly sermons, which were held in a local business park. My university work began to suffer. I was sleeping just four hours a night. I was exhausted. This is one of the reasons recruits stay loyal. They find they don’t have the time and energy needed to think properly and rationally assess what they have become part of. All of my previous ideas about my faith and God had become replaced with the group’s beliefs, which were that we were helping to bring about world peace and that only we would survive the end of the world. Walking away would have been very difficult because I would have to ‘unlearn’ what I had been indoctrinated into. But everything changed in February when news broke about coronavirus. I was already feeling very uncomfortable with some of the things I was having to do, such as policing the new recruits I had brought in and reporting them to our cell leader if they broke the rules. They might have met with a member of the opposite sex after the 10pm curfew, not turned up to Bible study or meetings, or not sat properly in the praying position, which is that you to have to kneel with the left hand on top of the right. Or they might have not said ‘Amen’ after a leader had spoken, or not done their homework. The rules are all set out in a PowerPoint early on in the recruitment process, and then repeated verbally until they have sunk in. They are very rigid about every single rule as it is a way of controlling people, even down to what you wear to the sermons – everyone has to look the same in white shirts and back trousers. I really hated policing new recruits and I was having doubts, but you are conditioned to ignore your instincts and not to ask questions. Then, one evening in February, I saw on the BBC News that the Shincheonji in South Korea were being held responsible for an outbreak of Covid-19 there, by holding tightly packed meetings and refusing to stop. I remember being very shocked. How could committed Christians do something that was putting lives at risk? We knew that lockdown was coming soon to the UK and I had started to feel extremely anxious. Were we going to be expected to carry on attending sermons after lockdown, and put our health at risk? At the same time, my tutor expressed concern that I was missing tutorials and getting behind with my work. She suggested we meet. My friends were asking lots of questions about where I was and I just told them I was busy. We believed that only those who were part of the Shincheonji were going to be saved when the pandemic hit. After the news from South Korea broke and deaths from Covid-19 were being reported every day, we believed that God was close to picking just the 144,000 of his devotees who would survive and live forever, in line with old testament teachings from Revelations. What would happen if I wasn’t one of the chosen ones? Would I die? I almost didn’t leave through fear. I was absolutely terrified. I couldn’t decide what to do. Later in February, we were all sent a message on the Telegram app – it’s more secure than WhatsApp – that all meetings, services, recruitment, Bible studies were cancelled because of Covid-19. Everything went online, but the virtual sermons had none of the power of an actual live service, which involved about 40 of us singing, swaying, praying and clapping, with some members so moved by the singing they openly wept. The emotion and the sense of importance and ceremony that the live sermons evoked was missing. We watched pre-recorded sermons by Lee Man-hee, but the more they were repeated, the less impact they had – he wasn’t making any new recordings. By this stage, my doubts were overwhelming me, but I carried on taking part in everything online. I still felt under scrutiny from my leaders when I saw them on screen instead of live, but I found I could fake a decent “Amen” online far more easily than face to face. Not being able to go out evangelising meant that we all had a lot more time at our disposal. I began reading a lot about the Shincheonji, that they are widely believed to be a cult. I couldn’t believe what I had become a part of, and I knew I had to get out. I just wasn’t sure if I had the strength. I wasn’t at all sure I could manage it. I had no one on the outside to rely on or who could help me, because no one knew about my other life. The Shincheonji are highly secretive and some believe that the devil will find his way in if you tell non-members – so I didn’t. Just before the UK went into lockdown, I met with my tutor and told her that I had been a member of the Shincheonji for over a year. She was the first person I had told, and I broke down in tears. She immediately got me connected to the university’s wellbeing team who put me in contact with the Family Survival Trust (FST), which helps cult victims. Thanks to their guidance, I cut all my ties with the cult, changed my phone number and took myself off all social media. Then I got on a coach and went home to Surrey. I later learned that two leaders had turned up at my university demanding to see me. They then went to my accommodation but my old flatmates turned them away. I had forgotten to block the cult leaders from my uni email and they emailed me quite a lot, and it frightened me because they can be so persuasive. The whole time on the coach home I was quite paranoid about being followed, and when I got home to Surrey I was constantly looking over my shoulder, but my mum calmed me down. They had had such a grip on me, I was frightened they wouldn’t let me go. I was in a terrible state at first because I didn’t know what I believed any more. I had believed everything they had taught me, but I now knew it was all untrue. My trust had been absolutely broken. Life has been difficult in lockdown, but I feel free. I can sleep and spend time at home. The real me is returning and life is going back to normal. It’s terrible that so many lives have been lost to the coronavirus, but what happened during the pandemic gave me the freedom I needed to help me realise what had been done to me. The cult make you feel that they are your family. I lost a part of myself. My identity was all bound up with the cult, and I had no thoughts or beliefs of my own. Now I am back with my real family, and I am free once more to make my own decisions. I know of one other woman who left when I did, but I don’t suppose we were the only ones. I bet more have left since. When I found out who I was involved with, I was shattered and broken. I am still in a state of shock, but it is receding. I couldn’t have done this interview a month ago. I didn’t know where I belonged at first, but the Trust has introduced me to other cult victims so I don’t feel so alone. I will find it hard to trust people again, to get close to anyone. The hardest part of the whole experience was when I felt I was losing my relationship with my mum. But I'm also sorry to have missed out on the social side of university, while I lived a secret life inside the Shincheonji. You can be the smartest person on campus, but the recruiters can still get to you by making you feel special. The Shincheonji have been recruiting at universities in Birmingham, London and Manchester for over a year, telling young people they are on a mission to save the world. If coronavirus hadn’t happened when it did, I think I would still believe that. *Names have been changed As told to Lynne Wallis
People who think planning a wedding is stressful should try planning one during a pandemic. The constantly changing restrictions over the past three months mean our mid-July wedding has been postponed, then cancelled, then reorganised as a small, rule-following affair on the same date. I’m now keeping my fingers and toes crossed that it goes ahead. Our original plan was for me and my fiancé Nik, 27, to get legally married in a registry office, then to have a symbolic ceremony and reception a month later for 150 guests in my parents’ Kent garden. By February, we had everything sorted: the flowers were booked, the dress ordered and the food picked. But in March, we started to get an inkling that not everything would go to plan. Islington Town Hall, where we were going to do the legal service, called to say we had to postpone. Then, in May, they cancelled our service altogether. We were told we could rebook for a later date, but because of the backlog it would be on a weekday. We decided to hold off until restrictions were lifted. It became clear our big wedding party wouldn’t be feasible, either. Even if restrictions were lifted, we wouldn’t be able to hug anyone, and friends and family from overseas would struggle to be there. Realising that we couldn’t have the celebration we wanted was gutting. Again, we bit the bullet and postponed – this time until next year. Fortunately, all our suppliers agreed to carry our bookings over so we didn’t lose money. Even though the party was off, we kept an eye on the changing guidelines around legal ceremonies. Next year, Nik and I will be living apart: he’s going to be working in Hull as an NHS doctor, I’ll be in London where I work as a lawyer. We’re desperate to be married before this next stage in our lives. A few weeks ago we started hearing rumours that small weddings might be allowed again. The town hall wasn’t going to work, so we decided to have a small church wedding instead. Not ideal, as Nik’s family is Hindu, but it would allow us to get legally married this year, even if the party had to wait.
To wed or not to wed? Once, the question was simply about whether you were ready for the commitment. Now, thanks to Covid, it’s about whether you’re willing to downsize your big day to a small celebration, perhaps with a bigger party in the future. Even then, you could face a very long wait indeed: venues are fast getting booked up throughout 2021. New government guidelines coming into force this Saturday make an exception to the current rules around gatherings: a maximum of 30 people will be able to attend weddings or civil partnerships, albeit with all the safety precautions we’ve become used to, such as face masks and social distancing. Couples will also be encouraged to wash their hands before and after exchanging rings, and speak their vows without raising their voices. But that’s just the ceremony. For the reception, the rules are no different to any other gathering: “six people outdoors, support bubbles, or two households indoors and outdoors.” It doesn’t exactly fill you with cheer. Clearly, the ‘mega-wedding’ that has become so popular in recent years is to be, for now, a thing of the past. A survey in 2018 of 4,000 brides found that the average spend on wedding days in the UK was £30,355 - the highest on record, and an increase of 10pc on the previous year. A significant sum, explained in part by the fact that on average, we invite 82 guests to the wedding ceremony and 103 guests to the knees up afterwards. Or we used to, anyway. Does it matter that we won’t be able to throw such big bashes? In my experience, not a jot.
We have all learnt new things about our loved ones while cooped up in lockdown. For Cherie Blair, the revelation that her husband can, if he sets his mind to it, actually rustle up a cheese and ham omelette has been an important one. “Yes, he can! I was quite surprised, it came out very well,” she says, through laughter. “I wouldn’t say cordon bleu, but it wasn’t actually solid.” Tongue firmly in cheek, she adds: “I’m very proud of him.” Tony Blair's kitchen credentials wouldn’t normally be on the agenda for an interview with his wife of 40 years, who runs a global foundation and her own law firm. But in an interview with the Sunday Times Magazine at the weekend, the former PM revealed with some degree of sheepishness that he hadn’t been contributing a great deal to domestic chores during lockdown. He hadn’t, in fact, done a load of laundry since May 1997, the month he took office. Breezing past while the interview was taking place at their Buckinghamshire home, his wife quipped: “If he tells you he does housework, he’s definitely lying.” Today, as we meet over Zoom to discuss the negative impact of this pandemic on women, Blair is quick to tease her husband’s shortcomings on the domestic front, or "what he would probably regard as the more mundane things". “When we were in Downing Street Tony was a very hands on father. And in the 80s, when he was a backbench MP and I was a young barrister, he did play a big role in helping to look after the kids,” she says. “But then he became Prime Minister and our little boy [Leo, now 20] was born, and in those days the switchboard would ring up and say ‘The Prime Minister is coming back at 7pm, can you make sure the baby is ready so he can put the baby to bed, and his dinner’s ready.’ You know…” she rolls her eyes. “And then there’d be times when 7pm would come, no Tony. 8pm would come, no Tony. Baby put to bed. Dinner ruined. And then he’d turn up and say ‘Oh, I’m sorry but I had to take a call from the President of the United States’.” A fair excuse? “Well it is fair enough, isn’t it? Once upon time the dinner would have been in the bin, but I could see that that was actually more important.” Surely he has got to grips with the domestic side of life by now? “The problem has been since we left Downing Street,” she says. “He’s got into the habit of thinking that whatever he does is more important. Reeducation is a process that, I’m afraid, is still going on.”
Wimbledon fortnight has long been one of excitement in my family. It marks the glorious moment when the London suburb where I was born and bred is transformed into tennis town. Hanging baskets, overflowing with white and purple blooms, dangle from every lamppost. Local shops fill their windows with elaborate displays involving giant tennis balls, desperate to outdo each other. But not this year. Instead of listening to the satisfying thwack of new balls, the first pints of Pimms poured and the fortnight’s two million overpriced strawberries dripping their juice onto SW19’s hallowed ground, I find myself in Covid-SW19. The mood is decidedly more ‘game, set and mask’. Driving through Wimbledon, on the way to a socially distanced meet-up with my parents just hours before the first serve should have been hit, is oddly quiet. No hordes of visitors, excitedly buzzing around the village in their tennis whites. Where were the official tournament cars, with tinted windows, at which I have spent a lifetime squinting to try and see which famous player is sitting in the back?
Eve Rodsky nearly ended her marriage over fruit. Already late to pick up her eldest son – her car littered with ephemera familiar to any working mother on the school run: a client contract on her lap, a breast pump for her new baby on the passenger seat, a package awaiting postage in the back, an endless To Do list running through her head – she was floored by a text from her husband, which read: “I’m surprised you didn’t get blueberries.” Overwhelmed by always being the “shefault” parent, responsible for every aspect of the busy household she shared with her equity investor husband, Seth, and the couple’s two children (they have since had a third), Rodsky, then a 35-year-old Harvard-educated lawyer, pulled over on the side of the road and sobbed. Instead of opting for divorce, however, she set out on a “quest” to revolutionise the domestic imbalance that, according to her research, plagues almost every marriage, regardless of wealth, class or nationality – and somehow always disproportionately affects women. Rodsky, who worked at J.P. Morgan before setting up her own philanthropic advisory consultancy, dealing with highly complex families (think cut-throat TV series, Succession, she says), was spurred on by the thought that if even she, with her legal background and years of organisational management experience, was unable to communicate her domestic burden to her husband, other women had to be feeling equally tongue-tied. “I’m literally trained to use my voice,” Rodsky, 43, told me when we first met last year in Los Angeles. “And if this is happening to me, then it must be happening to everybody.” Her starting point was an enormous spreadsheet she sent out to every woman she knew, including family friend Reese Witherspoon, to fill out, which was titled “Shit I Do”. The result is a book called Fair Play, which intersperses Rodsky’s personal experiences with seven years of research – drawing on everyone from neuroscientists and marriage counsellors to hundreds of fellow parents – to create a system of family management, set out like a card game. Rodsky suggests using physical cards (a set of 100 is available to download and print from her website, FairPlayLife.com), each of which is marked with a household responsibility, ranging from taking out the bins to packing school lunches to buying Christmas presents. Couples deal them out via nightly, weekly or monthly “check-ins”, which can be as short as 15 minutes and are best accompanied by a drink, she suggests.
Despite having been branded a transphobic, homophobic racist and stripped of her honorary role as vice president of the Booker Prize, Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne insists that she would now be “delighted” to meet her accuser. The Conservative life peer claims it would be “fun” to meet the transgender model and activist Munroe Bergdorf, who last week reported her to the House of Lords Commissioner for Standards for bullying, after an almighty row erupted between the pair on Twitter that went “viral” – and cost the Baroness her role at the literary prize that she, along with her late husband, helped inaugurate. Issuing an “unreserved apology” to Ms Bergdorf for expressing herself “casually” on the social media site, Lady Nicholson, 78, today admits that she was “clumsy” in misgendering the catwalk star – a L’Oréal model and NSPCC ambassador who was herself forced to resign as Labour’s LBGT adviser in 2018 over homophobic and misogynistic comments. Bergdorf’s supporters understandably took great offence to Lady Nicholson describing her as a “weird creature” in a tweet she later deleted. She still insists she intended to write “wild”, adding: “I certainly wrote much too quickly. I only ever attack causes and, in error, a person.” To say that Margaret Thatcher’s former vice chairman for women stumbled into a minefield when she attempted to give her online backing to JK Rowling, the embattled Harry Potter author, is somewhat of an understatement. As Lady Nicholson put it during a FaceTime interview with The Sunday Telegraph from her London home: “It’s as if I’m a leper holding out a bell saying: ‘Don’t come near me – I’m toxic.’ ” The former Conservative MP for Torridge and West Devon now realises a platform that only allows for discussions in 280 characters or fewer was probably not the best forum for debating gender rights – one of the most contentious issues in a generation. “Twitter is very short, and maybe it’s not suitable for proper thinking,” she concedes. “I didn’t know anything about the lady – I’m not a L’Oréal client or a supporter of the NSPCC, because all of my charity work for children is done overseas. So I was completely unaware [of Bergdorf] and her preferred pronouns. In reply to her, I meant to write ‘M dot’, and unfortunately [autocorrect] turned it into ‘Mr’. I thought: ‘Bother…’ That’s all it was – nothing more than that.” But within hours of the tweet, all hell broke loose. The Booker Prize Foundation, which was established 40 years ago by Lady Nicholson and her late husband, Sir Michael Harris Caine, initially distanced itself from her comments, before announcing it was cutting ties with her and three fellow vice presidents altogether. It followed pressure from writers, including Damian Barr, a bestselling gay novelist, who claimed that Lady Nicholson, who voted against same-sex marriage in the Lords in 2013, would “have the wedding ring off my finger”. Although Lady Nicholson had previously raised concerns in both Houses about same-sex marriage and its effect on “motherhood”, she is baffled by the notion that she and the 148 members of the House of Lords who voted with her are seemingly automatically deemed to be “homophobic” seven years later. Not least when she, among the cross-party signatories to an amendment backed by Stonewall, the LGBT lobby group, allowed same-sex partnerships to be of equal value to same-sex marriage, but not identical. Pointing out that her father, the Tory MP Sir Godfrey Nicholson, “stood out a mile because he lobbied, very heavily indeed, when it was hugely unpopular to decriminalise homosexuality”, she reveals that, as a teenager, she used to stay with Benjamin Britten, the composer, and his partner, Peter Pears, at their home in Suffolk, when she was studying at the Royal College of Music. “I stayed several times,” she says, “with Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten sharing a bedroom, when at the time it was illegal.” In that period she had been studying piano, cello and singing, but “hit a concrete ceiling and four concrete walls” when she discovered that a bout of German measles when her mother was pregnant had destroyed 92 per cent of her hearing and badly affected her eyesight. “I knew I was never going to fill the Albert Hall,” she jokes as she lip-reads our video call. What makes the Baroness’s latest row all the more intriguing is that Lady Nicholson is far from what you’d describe as an old-school Tory blue-rinser, despite having been in politics since 1987, when she was ungallantly dubbed “the thinking man’s crumpet”. Born into the landed gentry as the third daughter of a baronet, she none the less clashed with Thatcher over the poll tax and campaigned for un-Conservative things such as the disestablishment of the Church and the relaxation of abortion law, eventually defecting to the Liberal Democrats in 1995, before returning to the Tory fold in 2016. Lady Nicholson has also long campaigned for the minority Shia Muslims in Iraq, persecuted by Saddam Hussein, and fostered Amar Kanim, an 11-year-old orphan terribly injured by the dictator’s napalm bombing. And, on the recent debate about statues and colonial history, she insists she would rather see them “all taken down and buried”.
I met Tom in London, November 2000. It was quirky and serendipitous, the kind of meet-cute that might happen in a film. After spotting that a house on my Victorian terraced street was home to some good looking blokes, not a dissimilar age to me (then 23), I put a note through the door: “Stop watching TV and come & meet us in the pub next Thursday. Kings Head, 9pm, be there, from the girls up the road.” (Girls plural, so that I didn’t sound like a stalker). The note now sits in a frame on the wall of my family home. Because Tom, my husband of 15 years, was one of the four out of five housemates that rocked up to the Kings Head that Thursday night in Tooting. We clicked immediately, and six months later I was cohabiting with him in the house of boys. Beforehand though, I declared: “If we move in together, we’re getting married and having three kids. That’s the deal.” And, somehow, even though his parents had divorced and he “didn’t believe in marriage,” Tom agreed. We wed in 2005 in two legs: the first at Wandsworth Town Hall and the second at the Anglican church in Ibiza. And we do now have three kids: Rafferty (nine), Fox (seven), and Liberty (three). So far, so good. Tom and I have had our ups and downs, like any relationship, but we’ve got through them. On the whole we’ve been solid. You see, I have always – always – believed in marriage for the long haul. My parents have been married 50 years this year! Raised in a happy, churchy family, I never questioned marriage for life as a concept. And I used to dream of the set up I have now: handsome husband (talented too, a music producer); gorgeous intelligent kids; a family home (no small thing; we rented for years before buying in Somerset four years ago) and a great career, where I work for myself, running Blog and marketplace, Selfish Mother.
I’m no football obsessive, but I’m a fan of the beautiful games played by the players’ other halves. Tactics involve a keen sense of rivalry, designer strips, the odd foul and soulful appeals to the referee – a role mostly taken by the general public. These sparky women are collectively and rather patronisingly known as WAGs, or wives and girlfriends; a term first widely used in 2006 when a particularly glitzy entourage accompanied the England football team to Germany for the 2006 World Cup, where they shopped, partied and were subsequently blamed – unfairly, I thought – for being responsible for England’s dismal performance. If you were to create a 2020 WAG version of a Fantasy Football team, top picks might be Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy. Both have independent celebrity status, a squad of children and now, to top it all, the latter is suing the former for libel. For those who don’t know the eye-popping background details: Rooney felt someone who followed her personal Instagram account (which was limited to friends and family) was using information found there to sell stories to the tabloids. So she set out to catch the culprit – blocking her followers until there was just one left and posting a fake tale about her house’s basement flooding. Bingo! It turned up in The Sun. At which point, Rooney did what any one of us might, if we lived in the glare of a soap opera-style lens, and unmasked the villain in public, via Twitter: “Now I know for certain which account/individual it’s come from" – cue Eastenders' duff-duffs – "It's… Rebekah Vardy’s account.”
We all think our animals and children are attractive; fact. But my dog, a five-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback called Thala, is a particularly fine specimen and commands huge swathes of (often unwanted) attention wherever we go. With her intense, yellow eyes and distinctive strip of hair growing the wrong way down the length of her back, Thala is some kind of celebrity when we’re out. Often without asking me first, folk think nothing of trying to stroke her whether I’m eating, talking or walking with a friend — or even once getting cash out of a bank machine. This great, animal-loving country seem to view dogs as public property, and it is an irritating part dog ownership I have had to accept. Until Covid-19. Due to an auto-immune disease, in March I was one of millions classed as clinically extremely vulnerable. While this was downgraded to “moderate” by mid-April, I must still remain careful as I’m locked down with my parents, both of whom are over 70. During March and April, walking Thala was for the first time a pleasure as people kept their distance, but on 11 May when we were allowed to spend more time outside, things changed. As people relaxed against the invisible enemy, the dog petting resumed. Since then I’ve been labelled “miserable”, “unhappy” and a few less choice words, for asking others to leave Thala alone. She’s a big, powerful hound and needs to run, but now I barely leave the house with her if we might encounter others and if so, she’s on a tight leash.
For something that is so utterly commonplace, it seems extraordinary that retailers still shy away from calling menstruation by what it is – a period. Instead, tampons and pads are better known as 'sanitary items' or 'personal hygiene products', subconsciously forwarding the idea that a women's monthly cycle is something to be ashamed of. But hurrah – there is progress. In what’s being hailed as a commercial first, Countdown, a supermarket chain in New Zealand that operates 180 stores, has become the first retailer to use the word 'period' to describe menstrual products. The new policy will see euphemistic words, such as “sanitary” or “feminine hygiene”, that are currently used to describe pads, tampons and menstrual cups, swapped for more straight-talking language. According to a spokesperson for Countdown, no other international retailer has used the word “period” to describe menstrual products. “Words like ‘personal hygiene’ and ‘sanitary products’ give the impression that periods, which are an entirely natural part of life, are somehow something to hide to yourself, or that they’re unhygienic,” said a representative Kiri Hannifin. “They absolutely aren’t, and we can play an important role in helping change that.” According to Hannifin, the retailer’s online shopping platform will also be updated to reflect the changes. Products previously described as “intimate hygiene” will now be categorised by their actual purpose: “genital washes and wipes.” Many took to social media to express their approval of the move. One Twitter user wrote: “It's incredible in both senses of the word, this. No retailer has ever used the word "period" on their products before. The level of euphemism we lived with and accept as normal is extraordinary when you think about it.”
Precisely 32 pages into The Unwelcome Visitor, Loose Women panellist Denise Welch’s chatty, conversational account of living with clinical depression, my stomach abruptly swooped upwards before plunging into liftshaft freefall. This was not the plan. Having suffered from debilitating depressive episodes on and off since my early teens, I have deliberately body swerved what I term Low Mood Literature on the Tolstoyan grounds that each unhappy person is unhappy in their own way and it’s actually quite tedious (sorry) to plough through other people’s usually quite niche travails. But these days there’s a celebrity out there for every mental health cohort; the drinkers, the thinkers, the wild swimmers, free runners, gardeners and agoraphobics all have their various champions. That’s not a bad thing but it is A Thing. Former Labour spin doctor Alistair Campbell is due to publish his Living Better: How I Learned to Survive Depression and I can safely predict there won’t be much crossover between the readership of his book and Welch’s. But by God, there will be a readership for both in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. “There’s a mental health tsunami on its way,” says Welch, speaking to me on the phone from her home in Cheshire. “As lockdown eases off so many people will need treatment, but the NHS just hasn’t got the resources. So what are they to do?” Self-help memoirs are a start. Welch has written two best-selling autobiographies but The Unwelcome Visitor: Depression and How I Survive It is different. It concentrates on her tormented inner life rather than the relentlessly upbeat pocket-rocket persona she projected in public. Welch thinks as she speaks as she writes; calling her depression “the unwelcome visitor” is her one and only foray into metaphor. “The likes of Stephen Fry and Ruby Wax have written very eloquently about their mental health battles,” she says. “My tribe wouldn’t be drawn towards someone who was Oxbridge-educated. My book is aimed at Becky from Bolton. “She needs help too. So does her husband and her friends. They need to understand that she can’t just pull herself together, that she can’t control the pain. I’m relatable. I don’t have the answers. I am just telling my story, my truth and if I can help people then that will be my proudest legacy.” Welch was 31, a hugely popular soap star and self-confessed party girl when severe post-natal depression hit after the birth of her first baby, Matthew. It never quite left. The next thirty-one years have been spent learning how to manage her “Unwelcome Visitor”, the grim reaper who appears unbidden, draining the colour, leeching the joy from her world. I tell her that despite my best efforts, her plain prose reduced me to rubble. I felt, as a young person might say, “triggered” when I abruptly welled up with tears of recognition at her shameful, secret post-natal trauma. “I wanted my feelings back: just to be able to experience emotions again, especially for my baby; just to be normal,” Welch writes in The Unwelcome Visitor. “Even though I’m not religious in the least, I used to pray, ‘Dear God, please, please, help me to love my baby.'” I had no inkling that I would be spirited back to the aftermath of a wretched labour in 2008 when I too felt desolate, empty, mad – and as terrified as she was of being unmasked as a wicked, unnatural woman devoid of maternal feeling. I literally couldn’t bear to look at my desperately-wanted second daughter, with her unnervingly intense brown gaze. Instead, I would fix my own eyes on the middle distance while baring my teeth in a caricature of a smile so she wouldn’t guess I was broken. For her part, Welch recounts that years later, long after baby Matthew had grown up to become Matt Healy, singer in the achingly cool band the 1975, he wrote a song “She Lays Down”, that painfully captured the slow-motion horror of post-natal depression.
There are certain characters in life who can passionately describe the world’s problems, yet leave you fired up and optimistic. Jude Kelly is one of them. The founder of the decade-old Women of the World Festival (WOW for short) and former artistic director of the Southbank Centre, possesses an infectious energy, which she is currently channelling into an urgent conundrum: that women are the forgotten victims of lockdown. While coronavirus itself has claimed more male lives than female, a growing body of evidence suggests the global crisis it engendered, and governments’ responses to it, will hit women hardest overall. “The biggest worry now is, when the tide goes out and you see the debris on the beach, that the disproportionate impact on women is going to be much, much greater than we thought,” says Kelly, from the sunny living room of her Kent seaside home, as we talk over Skype. Last week, The Telegraph began to draw attention to this worry, launching its Equality Check series and publishing an open letter expressing concern “that the long-term impact on women is being overlooked in the Government’s response to the coronavirus crisis.” In signing it, Kelly joined more than 50 business leaders and MPs calling on ministers to take concrete action to halt the long-term effect of the pandemic on women. This weekend, the 66-year-old will address WOW Global 24, billed as the first ever worldwide online festival focused on women and girls, and planned in response to “the separation, deprivation and inequalities brought about and exacerbated by Covid-19.” The 24-hour summit features a roster of high profile names, including former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard, former president of Ireland Mary Robinson, Sir Patrick Stewart and the Duchess of Cornwall, who will talk about domestic abuse. There will be readings from actors including Gillian Anderson and Thandie Newton.
Let’s not let some pesky pandemic entirely spoil our summer. This weekend, 200,000 people were due to decamp to Worthy Farm in Somerset for several days of loud music, al fresco revelry and frankly terrifying toilets. Like most of this year’s events, though, Glastonbury 2020 has been cruelly kiboshed by Covid-19. Cheer up, though, festival lovers, because all is not quite lost. The BBC is still providing comprehensive coverage – and this time without the traditional grumbles about a glorified group jolly on licence fee payers’ money. All weekend, classic Glastonbury sets will be available across TV, radio and online, with a special iPlayer channel devoted to streaming highlights and memorable moments from years gone by. Meanwhile, all manner of mud-spattered fun can be found on Glastonbury’s official website. Here, the virtual line-up ranges from poetry to theatrical performances, from Green Fields holistic healing workshops to Kidzfield clowning. This would have been the festival’s 50th year (sob), but it’s never been easier to bring the Pyramid Stage to your sofa. Here’s our hour-by-hour schedule for recreating the full Glasto experience in the comfort of your own home… Friday 5pm Right, let’s immerse ourselves in this and do “Glasthomebury” properly. Before you set off for the festival “site”, hop in the shower for a thorough scrub. Warning: this will be your last wash for the weekend. 5.30pm Time for essential prep. Don wristbands and hang an “Access All Areas” pass around your neck, allowing you into all corners of the house and garden. Erect hand-painted signs pointing towards Food & Drink (kitchen), Camping (bedroom) and Toilets (anywhere you like if you’re a male at a festival, but best stick to the bathroom). 6.10pm Stock up with the traditional pre-festival food ’n’ booze run. Decant spirits and mixers into plastic bottles. Get bunch of bananas and bag of satsumas to be “healthy”. Fill the bath with cold water and sling in your drinks to keep them chilled. Or, within hours, authentically lukewarm. 6.25pm Text radio stations and post social media selfies, informing the world: “On our way to Glasto! So it begins…” 6.55pm Arrive “on site”. For retro realness, sneakily climb over your own fence to gain access. 7.20pm Set up camp. Hardcore Glasto-nauts are pitching tents in their gardens. If that’s too much like hard work, lay a blanket in front of the TV, then sprinkle it with grass, crisps and Wet Wipes. How to host a mini festival at home
It’s been hailed as the end of “national hibernation”; as independence day; super Saturday; the Return of Good Things Day; the End of Bad Things Day. (Ok, I made the last two up.) On July 4, the biggest lifting of lockdown restrictions yet will come into force, and judging by a tweet from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it’s going to be absolutely epic. “I can’t wait to get back to the pub…” wrote Rishi Sunak. “And I don’t even drink.” Well, quite. I can’t wait to ride on a silent rollercoaster, and I hate rollercoasters and so never ride them. I also can’t wait to visit a model village. I’m not sure I know what one is, but I’ve heard we can return to them now, so you can bet your last drop of hand sanitiser I’ll be going. But of course, things won’t be entirely the same as before. As outlined by the Government this week, if we want all these freedoms returned to us, we must agree to a set of not-so-fun terms and conditions before we all jump back in. Social distancing will remain of paramount importance, and aspects of our lifestyles we’d never once questioned will remain off-limits for the foreseeable. Some we will miss: dancing in public; gathering in groups of seven or more outdoors. Others, we really won’t. Here’s what we can gladly get over... 1. Queuing for a drink at the bar It’s annoying, and frankly we're surprised this has only just come up. Your friends are discussing Kate’s affair, and you’re there stuck at the bar, growing ever more impatient as the punter in front of you places a complex order for an entire hockey team. Well, goodbye to all that. Propping up the bar is against the new rules, and pubs will be table service only. How very civilised. Why has it taken a pandemic for us to sort this out?