SIMON WOOD’S FAMILY BBQ: VIMTO SWEET & SOUR HANGER STEAK KEBABS

SIMON WOOD’S FAMILY BBQ: VIMTO SWEET & SOUR HANGER STEAK KEBABS

VIMTO SWEET & SOUR HANGER STEAK KEBABS
BY SIMON WOOD OF WOOD MANCHESTER AND WoodKraft Cheltenham. IMAGES © BROOD MAGAZINE

It is important, so very important that we eat, cook and relax as a family. Despite life trying its best to get in the way. Once a week we should all make the time.

 

This is my first column for Brood so I thought I’d lay out my food and family ethos as well as showing you some amazing hands on child friendly Summer BBQ recipes and a little something for the grown-ups to enjoy.

Food and families are two topics in which everyone claims some expertise, and rightly so. Families are made up of people who eat food. Both families and food contribute to a person’s physical and social well-being throughout life and are the foundation of many memories, both good and maybe not.

Dictionary definitions of food include terms such as wholesome, supporting growth, or providing energy. People recognize that food is necessary for the physical survival of their families. Although sometimes the purpose of food intake is only to satisfy hunger, the role of food in families goes much further than meeting physical needs.

We can all recall many memories, special occasions, sad times and celebrations and in every one of them, Food, will at some point be what joins us together. The flavours, smells and sounds of a meal all evoke a sixth sense in us that immediately transport us to that event or period in time.

It is important, so very important that we eat, cook and relax as a family. Despite life trying its best to get in the way. Once a week we should all make the time.

VIMTO SWEET & SOUR HANGER STEAK KEBABS

Today I’m going to focus on the Summer, the smell of a barbeque and dinner in the garden. And a recipe you can get the kids involved making.

 

When I’m cooking in the restaurant or developing a new dish I have one brief. “Classic flavours served with playful authenticity” and this recipe does just that. It reminds me of my first Chinese, even though I’m using local Manchester products, Hangar Steak from my Butcher, Gav at Albion Farm. Vimto, there aren’t many Children (or Adults) that don’t enjoy the soft drink first sold in Lancashire. It was first manufactured as a health tonic in cordial form, then decades later as a carbonated drink. It contains the juice of grapes, raspberries and blackcurrants and that itself generates many childhood recollections.

 

I use it as the sweetness in my Beef and Green Pepper Glaze, reminiscent of sweet and sour or beef in black bean sauce from family take-away treat nights.

 

Using measures of two parts Vimto, one water and half red wine vinegar it’s a great yet simple marinade. In a saucepan add a little oil gently soften some sliced shallots before adding in your liquid marinade and reducing until sticky

 

  • 2 Shallots (Sliced)
  • 20ml Sunflower Oil
  • 300ml Vimto
  • 150ml Water
  • 75ml Red Wine Vinegar

 

  • Place a pan on a medium heat and add the oil, followed by the shallots. Soften the shallot gently and then add in the marinade. Reduce by just over half. Later in the recipe you’ll use a bunch of rosemary to glaze the almost cooked kebabs to give them a sticky sweet and sour glaze.

 

In this recipe I’m using Hangar steak for my kebabs, you can use any steak for this recipe, it will work with Chicken or even Tofu. However I think beef is best and for that you need to get on good terms with your local butcher. I use Butcher Gav (@butcher_gav) from Albion Farm Shop Butchers in Saddleworth. He is an avid Grill master as well as being one of the best butchers in the business, the produce is amazing and it fits this recipe a treat, plus I’m supporting a local business which in the current climate is absolutely vital.

 

Simon Wood
BBQ IMAGES © FOR BROOD MAGAZINE

For this recipe I’m going to cook for the family, that’s me and the kids (and Grandchild) so in total around 8 People. Here is what you’ll need.

 

  • 5 kilos of Beef
  • 8 Large Green Peppers
  • 8 Large Spring Onions (The giant ones)
  • 6 big sprigs of rosemary (to brush)
  • Maldon Sea Salt
  • 8 Metal 14” Kebab Skewers
  • 200ml Sunflower oil
  • 5 Sprigs of rosemary tied with string

 

Method

 

  • First Dice your beef into equal sized pieces, around 1.5 inches square is best
  • De-seed and chop your peppers into the same size
  • Then, Half your onions
  • Next starting with the onion, then pepper, followed the beef layer up your kebab skewers with a piece of pepper between every chunk of steak.
  • Drizzle in oil and then Season with a good amount of Maldon Salt before grilling at 200ºc turning until thoroughly cooked, around 15 minutes
  • For the last 5 minutes use the sticky glaze and rosemary brush to coat the meat in the delicious marinade. Don’t do this to soon or the sugar will burn before the meat is cooked.

 

Once cooked, charred and sticky make sure you leave the kebabs to rest thoroughly at least 10-12 minutes, this is so important and, gives everyone time to take in the smell and anticipation of dinner to be served. I would serve this with a simple green salad and a warm and toasty barbequed flatbread.

 

Now, while you’re waiting for the meat to rest the grown-ups can enjoy this particularly Summery drink using one of my favourite flavours, Lemon.

 

A Limoncello Spritz

 

25ml Luxardo Limoncello

25ml Forty-Five Dry Vermouth

Fill with ice and then Top with Sparkling Wine of Choice.

 

My choice is Exton Park RB45 this is the drink of choice for my restaurants Chefs Table arrival and shows an abundance of tropical and citrus fruit, with subtle notes of vanilla and orange blossom, it works amazingly well with this cocktail

 Once Poured simply Garnish with a Lemon twist or some Verbena before relaxing and enjoying making invaluable food related memories with the people that matter the most.

 

I do hope you have enjoyed my first Column for Brood, Thanks for reading and if you have any recipe suggestions or questions please do send them to me at @SimonJWoodUK or simon@woodmanchester.com

 

Thanks, Simon

 

 

Simon is Chef Patron or WOOD Manchester on First Street Manchester and WOODKRAFT ‘The Artisan Eatery’ on Regent Street in Cheltenham.

WoodKraft Cheltenham
Simon Wood
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4 kids under 2, a career pivot and a dream | Adrian Adair meets DevOps engineer Tawfe’eq BaboU

4 kids under 2, a career pivot and a dream | Adrian Adair meets DevOps engineer Tawfe’eq BaboU

ADRIAN ADAIR OF MORSON GROUP INTERVIEWING Tawfe’eq Babou & HIS FAMILY

“It’s really important for kids to see where their parents work and what they do.”

In this article, our resident ‘Work’ writer and Morson Group COO, Adrian Adair, interviews DevOps Engineer Tawfe’eq Babou. They discuss leaping from marketing to a career in tech, finding balance with an ever-growing family, and his dreams of using digital skills to transform agriculture in Africa and turn the dial on food poverty.

—– I’ve seen first-hand how a career path isn’t linear, for many, it’s more like crazy paving. You’re not who you were 10 years ago; your personal life, socio-economic landscape, political climate, thoughts and opinions may not be the same, so why should your career be set in stone?

At Morson, we’re seeing that the trend of the ‘mid-life’ career pivot is on the rise, particularly within the tech world. The tech skills crisis coupled with industry-leading flexible working arrangements and digital-first learning opportunities, make tech an ideal space for those looking to get back into work after a career break or seeking to reskill in a completely different sphere.

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Adrian Adair Morson
ADRIAN ADAIR OF MORSON GROUP. IMAGES © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD MAGAZINE
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I’m consistently impressed by individuals who have dared to make a career change and pursue what’s right for them, professionally and personally. Therefore, I was keen to explore this topic with someone who has lived it. My interview with Tawfe’eq was a testament to the power of the career pivot. It’s a conversation brimming with intrigue, honesty and inspiration, read on to discover the full story >

Our interview and photoshoot provided some wonderful Brood-esque moments as Tawfe’eq, his wife and twins collided with me and photographer, Tom Pitfield with his months-old baby Iris in Morson reception. A new baby, 2 excitable toddlers and 4 people desperately trying to adult, just another day in the life of a professional parent!

 

Let’s jump right into it. Tell me a little about your career to date?

I started in hospitality, then moved into retail and finally became a freelance digital marketer. I loved working with a range of clients in Manchester from fitness, fashion and music to corporate SMEs.

 

What was the catalyst for you to consider another career path?

When lockdown happened my digital marketing career went out of the door. As a freelancer, I had no job security and many clients dropped off because nobody knew what was going to happen.

At the same time, my wife told me she was pregnant. I was washing up at the time and I vividly remember just going into complete shock and cleaning the same plate for about 15 minutes. Because I bring in our primary income my immediate thought was ‘how am I going to provide for this child?’ We subsequently found out she was expecting twins which doubled the anxiety!

It was a very stressful and scary, but pivotal moment. I knew I had to change my career to provide. After the initial shock, I sat down and drew out a spider diagram with my name at the centre. I considered what am I good at? What am I interested in? What avenues have I not explored that have potential?

My mum was a real inspiration. Around 5 years ago she was fortunate enough, through her employer, to go to Oxford University and do a masters degree. Not only did she write her dissertation about the digital divide, which piqued my interest in tech, but she also showed me that a career is an ever-evolving thing and that learning and growing are natural, positive and essential. This took away some of the fear.

 

How did you decide that tech was the route you wanted to explore?

I had been doing an email marketing campaign for a friend and he had some issues with his WordPress website. I had never used WordPress at the time, but my friend said, ‘look, you’re more technical than me, just give it a go’, so I learned online, solved the problem and enjoyed it.

I started to explore this world a little bit more. I always thought you had to be a mathematics major or do a computer science degree to be a software engineer as that’s the traditional route a lot of my friends who were in the industry took. I’ve always struggled with maths, I went to high school in Ethiopia from 2006-2012 and their maths is extremely advanced, so I struggled even more. I’ve always had this fear that I wouldn’t be technically able to do something like programming. Thankfully the industry has come a long way, many people are self-taught and there are so many online learning resources.

I moved into DevOps through the apprenticeship firm QA Consulting. When I applied there, I had to take an aptitude test. It felt like less of a barrier to entry, less intimidating. Yes, there is a numeric test but there was also a personality and a logical thinking test to assess my aptitude. I passed and the rest is history. It was a big eye-opener that sometimes you don’t know until you try.

 

Adrian Adair Morson Group
ADRIAN ADAIR OF MORSON GROUP INTERVIEWING Tawfe’eq Babou, HIS WIFE AND THEIR CHILDREN. IMAGES © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD MAGAZINE

To anyone unaware, could you explain what DevOps is?

DevOps is the bridge between software development and business operations. It’s not just understanding how to execute the technical aspects of a project, it’s managing the whole lifecycle i.e. understanding the requirements from the product owner, the programme specification, the customer base, the goals of the company and managing workloads, the project and stakeholders throughout the process. Cross-department communication and understanding is the difference between software development (whose main focus is making sure the code works and has been tested and debugged) and DevOps.

 

How have you seen your career in tech benefitting you and your family?

The immediate benefit for me is being able to work from home. Having twins who are under 2 is hard work. By being more available I’m able to support my wife and I’ve seen a boost in her energy levels. I also get to see my children more which makes us all happier. For some women, it can be difficult to maintain an identity outside of the family unit, so it’s really important to be able to support her so she can explore things she wants to do outside of being a mother. She’s always been such an independent person and I don’t want her to lose that. Through my work, she’s been looking at how she can develop professionally. Being able to find a solution for all of this through tech has been amazing.

Although, we’re pregnant again…

Wait, what, you’re pregnant again?!

Yes, haha. So we have twins, and we’re expecting twins again.

(Audible gasp)

Yes, it’s going to be a challenge for sure. To be honest with you if I wasn’t in my current career, I would hate to think how stressed I would be about it. I wouldn’t be working from home and I wouldn’t have the flexibility I’m currently afforded to support my family. But it’s not just that, working in tech has allowed me to dream about true career development. The idea that I won’t be in the same position in five years is motivating and job security is key. Having four children under the age of two won’t be a small task, but the benefits of working in tech all make it feel achievable and will hopefully make it a happy experience too.

 

Adrian Adair Morson Group
ADRIAN ADAIR OF MORSON GROUP INTERVIEWING Tawfe’eq Babou, HIS WIFE AND familY. IMAGES © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD MAGAZINE

What advice would you give to people considering a career pivot?

One thing I would say is that things are always worse in your head. For example, if you think tech is this super technical thing which is unlearnable, you’re wrong.

So, my first piece of advice is to almost take a helicopter view of yourself. My pivotal moment was doing that spider diagram exercise; putting myself in the middle and matching my aspirations to my interests to my skills and trying to see the trends. Do your research and you will be very surprised at how many things you are interested in and how varied roles and opportunities are.

My second top tip is once you’ve chosen your route, get yourself a mentor. You’ll be so surprised how many people, no matter how busy or senior you perceive them to be, are willing to help, share their insight and connect you with others that will be able to help you in your career. One thing I’d say to people who are looking to get into tech, in particular, is that there are some amazing mentors here in Manchester that are willing and want to help and it’s such an amazing privilege to have access to that.

 

Would you like to give any of them a shoutout?

Yes! My Dad always used to say we are fishermen of people, you cast your net wide, keep the good, and throw the bad back in the water. These are the exceptional ones:

First, Naomi Timperley. I spoke to her initially at the Manchester Tech Festival and we arranged a coffee over Zoom where she set me some assignments; one was to talk at their next event. Having someone willing to give you advice and push you into action can be so impactful because it can be daunting coming into an industry for the first time. To have someone senior or who is an expert in the field have your back isn’t something I have seen outside of tech, to be honest.

Another person is James Akrigg, he’s ex-Head of Technology for Microsoft. I met him at the tech social as well. He’s another person who has given me advice, guidance and, most importantly, feedback.

 

Why is tech a great career option for those looking to re-skill?

The tech industry is booming not only with opportunity but with a fantastic network of diverse people who have different backgrounds and experiences. People are doing some amazing things for diversity in tech and addressing the digital divide. It’s refreshing. As a community, we must champion these facilitators to positively disrupt the industry.

What many people don’t appreciate, is that there are loads of non-technical roles within the tech industry too. I want people to understand they don’t need to be a mathematical genius to come into the digital realm because it is an amazing space. One thing I love about software development and DevOps is that you can take an idea and bring it into the real world and see it positively impact people. That’s so cool and empowering.

There is something for everybody in this space. Through recruitment and outreach programmes we need to help people understand there are so many transferrable skills in tech. People have ability based on aptitude and therefore ample opportunity to find a role in tech that they love and can excel in. As I said earlier, not every tech role is a technical role and we need to promote that. We need to show that tech is an open door and there is something for everybody. With tech being one of the fastest-growing economies there are huge opportunities here.

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What are your aspirations and where do you see yourself in the future?

I have a very personal ambition. I studied in Ethiopia and I have African heritage so the issues that affect the country are very real to me.

Specifically, I aim to use my skills in the digital arena to work on food loss preventative measures within East Africa. Africa loses enough calories to feed 1.7 billion people, three times a day every year. The idea that Africa suffers from famine for a lack of produce is largely incorrect. For example, in the UK we waste food, this waste is everything after it gets to the consumer – throwing food away after it goes off etc. In Africa or other developing countries, food waste happens before it gets to the consumer. Not having the correct packaging for produce, poor communication between farmers, suppliers and the marketplace are examples of this loss. In addition, lack of refrigeration causes toxins to get into the food which leads to illness, susceptibility to things like malaria and cholera and a long list of other issues.

Growing up in Africa seeing so much food but realising how little of it reaches the consumer was shocking to me, because I always assumed that the reason people go hungry is that they haven’t got it. But systems around the supply chain are so broken, that’s the main reason that these situations arise. Within five years I aim to be using tech to help solve these issues, helping farmers and suppliers to communicate across the supply chain accurately, implementing systems so data can be harnessed to help see what needs to be optimised and where processes fail. Better transparency across the supply chain is a big thing, but it’s solvable, and it’s solvable through tech.

 

I also hear you’re an advocate for digital literacy and you’ve also mentioned the digital divide. Could you tell us a little bit more about the issue and your activity in this area?

Of course, the digital divide means the difference between those who have access to the internet, computers and smart devices as opposed to demographics who don’t have access to the same resources. For example, Manchester City Council is still trying to get enough computers for students. We’re considered the second biggest city in the UK but we’re the sixth most deprived area in the UK.

And the reason the digital divide is so important is that pretty much everything has gone or is going digital. Every business is a digital business now, they all have a website or some other digital outreach, email, or social media. This means if you aren’t digitally able or haven’t had the resources to use these online platforms, you’re already going to be outskilled by the rest of the market. For example, a lot of homework is now done online and children that don’t have the access to computers or the internet are already falling behind.

I want to advocate for better digital literacy because technology is moving exponentially and as time goes by, if no action is taken the digital divide will become almost unclosable. I’d like to see a holistic approach to solving this issue; increased awareness of the digital divide coupled with private sector investment and a curriculum that serves the needs of our children’s futures.

 

—– It was a joy to meet Tawfe’eq and his growing family. I’d like to thank him for an inspirational and eye-opening discussion, personally champion his game-changing ambitions and offer support by focusing the conversation on the digital divide. I’d also like to wish them the best of luck as they juggle 4 kids under 2, a feat I can’t even comprehend!

As a lad originally from Blackpool I’ve personally seen the impact of digital poverty. It’s a topic I’m particularly passionate about and one of the main reasons we’re proud to partner with Manchester Tech Fest (MTF) a week-long event in Manchester in October. The festival is not only providing a space for the tech community to connect and inspire the next generation but is committed to finding practical solutions to breaking down the digital divide. I’d highly recommend for anyone looking to get into the tech industry to attend and get involved with the MTF community. Registrations for this year’s festival, together with more information regarding partners, sponsors, speakers, and exhibitors, can be found at www.manchestertechfestival.co.uk

If you, like Tawfe’eq are considering a career change, looking to take your first steps into tech or are interested in recruiting great people for your organisation, the tech team at Morson is on hand to help you every step of the way.

We’re also keen to speak with organisations who are considering offering training to develop and grow their workforce. As Tawfe-eq so clearly articulated there’s great people with aptitude and potential who just need an opportunity – whether that’s returning parents, career breakers, ex-forces personnel or ex-offenders. As a business, offering training enables you to develop and retain a workforce that fulfils your specific needs. We’re actively working with several organisations who are exploring this path to help guide and set a course for success. Get in touch at adrian.adair@morson.com to find out more.

 

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PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM PITFIELD

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Auntie Cath Cooks: Honey Soy Salmon with Thai Salad

Auntie Cath Cooks: Honey Soy Salmon with Thai Salad

Honey Soy Salmon with Thai Salad!

I needed to use up some veg in the fridge. I hate waste!! So if it needs using throw it in!!

Julienne (ish) your veg (posh word for chopping veg into long thin strips) However- to add bulk and noodle type vibes I #spiralized a courgette! If it’s long and thin- I tend to spiralize! Especially when trying to keep carb intake down!! Prep the salad first.

The fish:

1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Olive oil
Butter

Heat the oil in pan – meanwhile whisk together the soy sauce, honey and garlic. Set aside.
Cool the salmon skin side down till almost cooked through.
Add one table spoon of butter and melt. Then add the sauce. Allow to thicken for a minute spoon over the salmon

The veg that needed using this particular day:

Courgette
Spring onions
Radishes (obsessed)
Mange tout
Finely chop a handful of coriander
Finely chop one green chilli
Whack it all in a bowl!

For the dressing:

1/4 cup peanut butter or other nut butter
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 garlic cloves, grated
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey
Pinch salt such as Maldon

Put all dressing ingredients into a blender- whizz up. Job done! Dress the bugger out with coriander!

Catherine Tyldesley (or Auntie Cath as she’s often known!) is one of the UKs favourite actresses. Making in her mark in the likes of BBC Ones ‘Lilies’ , sitcom ‘Scarborough’, ITVs ‘View Point’ and Ofcourse- the nations favourite‘Coronation Street’.
Catherine has recently finished filming another drama for ITV and was crowned Winner of All Star Musicals 2021. Cath’s other huge passion in life is Food! After study nutrition on maternity leave with her first child- Caths enthusiasm for food grew. Especially nutritious, budget friendly, tasty family meals. We’re thrilled to bits to have Cath join us and share her knowledge and passion! You’re in for a treat with Auntie Caths recipes!

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4 kids under 2, a career pivot and a dream | Adrian Adair meets DevOps engineer Tawfe’eq BaboU

In this article, our resident ‘Work’ writer and Morson Group COO, Adrian Adair, interviews DevOps Engineer Tawfe’eq Babou. They discuss leaping from marketing to a career in tech, finding balance with an ever-growing family, and his dreams of using digital skills to transform agriculture in Africa and turn the dial on food poverty.

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STEVE OLIVER, MUSIC MAGPIE CO-FOUNDER & CEO

STEVE OLIVER, MUSIC MAGPIE CO-FOUNDER & CEO

Inspirational Dad of three Steve Oliver co-founded the globally renowned business musicMagpie in 2007, following the collapse of Music Zone (the business he was Managing Director of at the time). musicMagpie is a leader in the re-commerce of consumer technology (including smartphones, tablets, consoles and wearables), disc media (including CDs, DVDs and games) and books, with sustainability running to the very heart of its operations.

After losing Music Zone, and consequently the value of half their family home, Steve took a huge risk and invested the other half of the family home into starting musicMagpie, a new business venture that he started from his garage in Stockport with his co-founder, Walter Gleeson. Despite the risk and the company’s humble beginnings, musicMagpie had sales of over £145m in 2021 and, in the same year, floated on the London Stock Exchange at a value of £208million.

You don’t have to spend long in Steve’s company to realise that, whilst he is an incredibly successful businessperson, he is first and foremost a family man, and his beloved wife Cath and their three daughters are everything to him. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Steve to listen to how he managed to build such a lucrative business and become such a well-respected CEO, all whilst being such a devoted husband and father.

“Life runs in parallel and not in series, and it would be so much easier if you could do these things in series. For example, if there was a stage in your life where you could say ‘Right, I’m going to focus on having children now for 10-15 years, and then you could say, ‘right, now I’m going to grow my career for 10 -15 years’ and you could have had that time to only focus on your business, then things would be much easier but it rarely works out like that and you very often end up doing it all at the same time!”

How did having children impact your career and your career choices, and vice versa – how did building a business affect your family life?

“Well, I’ve got three girls, all of whom mean the absolute world to me and, alongside my wife Cath, are by far and away the most precious things to me. I have always tried everything I can to make a better life for us as a family. The desire to provide all my family with long term welfare and security has always been my greatest motivation, but equally I was always determined not to compromise my relationship with any of them in striving to achieve that – it’s been incredibly difficult at times, but I hope they would agree that I have nearly always got it about right!’” He laughs

“The thing is I’m blessed in every way possible with Cath – I knew within two weeks of meeting her that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her and we’re still blissfully happy now! Cath is everything to me, we’re the best of friends and barely ever have a crossed word. We’ve been lucky that one of the many ways it has worked for us as a family is that Cath was always very happy to take the lead with our girls and she therefore adopted the primary caring role, which in turn allowed me – and she completely supported me – to work really hard. Because I was working so hard on building the business, it did mean that I wasn’t at the tea table every night, but I was always there for all the big things, all the parents’ evenings, school plays, sports days, birthdays and assemblies. I was also always at the breakfast table every morning, although that’s because I’ve never been an early riser!” He laughs. “Alongside taking the lead with our girls, Cath had her own teaching career and then she went onto job share and reduced her hours slightly; that worked really well for us as a family unit, but I owe everything to her for allowing me, and supporting me endlessly, to build the business with the musicMagpie team.”

How did you find balancing your priorities as the girls were growing up? As it can be really hard to juggle the demands of building a business and raising a family.

“My life is really simple – firstly family and friends, secondly the business, and then thirdly sports – mainly football, a bit of cricket, a lot of watching Man City, and playing as much sport as I can still. Those three things – always in that order – are my life – I’m a simple soul really! Family and friends have always come first, despite how important the business has been to me, and I think it’s very important that it’s that way around for anyone who is raising a family whilst growing a business. I do think it sad sometimes when I see people get those two things blurred and the family side of things does inevitably suffer.”

Have you always been able to maintain those priorities? Is that something that you did quite naturally or was it something that you had to work on to achieve the right balance?

“I have always found it came quite naturally to me; I have always known where the line is. Of course, I had the sacrifices of not being at the tea table every evening, but both Cath and I could reconcile that, because if they ever needed me, I would literally drop everything for them. If there was something the girls wanted me to attend, I would be there. I may have been the parent always flying into the school foyer with 30 seconds to go – I was actually infamous for it – but no matter what I would be there one way or the other! I think another thing was that, if Cathy rang me, regardless of where I was or who I was with, I would answer it, and if she or the girls needed me – bang I would be there”

What have been some of the toughest times that you have endured in business and how did that affect your family life?

“When I came out of Music Zone I had essentially lost half the house financially and was both professionally and personally heartbroken at the pain. I couldn’t have got through that and gone onto do what I have done in business without Cath; she has been my practical support and crutch, and my emotional support and crutch. As I joke with her it’s a bit like my forty-odd years of watching City – they came good eventually – just like I did!” We all laugh. “Despite what we had lost, she backed me and supported me into using the money from the other half of our house to put into the start of musicMagpie and start again. That kind of support is invaluable in every way! In fact, my father-in-law was 80 last month, and I don’t know about you, but I hardly ever handwrite to anyone anymore, but I wrote him a card with quite a lengthy message in. Cath gets all her caring and supportive qualities from both her mum and dad; and second to my dad, he’s the person I would always turn to in life to because he’s so wise and kind, and he didn’t ever judge me throughout the ups and downs of my career. He always backed me, and he always believed in me too. It would have been very easy for him as the father of his little girl to say, ‘Steve, go and get a job and show some responsibility.’ He’d have been perfectly entitled to, but not once did he ever do that and so, I wanted to write this note to him to say thank you. In the same way that I’m so grateful to Cath for supporting me, both he and my mother-in-law, like my own parents, were incredibly supportive of me as well. And they all did help us financially at times, but more importantly than that they supported us emotionally with their unconditional love.”

 

You can tell how strong your family values are, not just with yourself, but it seems to run through your whole family, you’ve mentioned how invaluable that support is, do you think that has played an integral role to your success?

“Yes, without a doubt! Cath and I actually celebrated our silver wedding anniversary during the pandemic – when you could only get together outside – and I’ve got a lovely picture where Cath and I are sitting in the garden, where we had both of our parents on either side of us and my dear sister and brother-in-law were there too. We’re all extremely close and my sister’s kids are like our fourth and fifth children. And when Cath and I looked at the picture, we realised that both our parents had each been married for over 55 years, my sister and her husband had been married for 30 years, and we were celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. So yes, I think for us and our children, we’ve been very lucky to grow up in that environment and it has provided a great deal of emotional security. That is no disrespect to anyone else at all because obviously there are so many single parents out there doing a brilliant job. My brother-in-law, who is like a brother to me, grew up with a single parent and he was brought up with a lot of emotional security because his mother did the job of both parents wonderfully and she was an amazing lady. I guess my point is that for me there is a definite correlation between the emotional security from family support and success in business. I remember saying in my wedding speech to our parents, ‘All we can promise is to raise our children with the same love, support, respect, and security that you have given to us.’ It all sounds a bit cheesy and sentimental but it’s true, and we’ve certainly tried to pass that on to them, and hopefully we have. I think it’s particularly hard for children more so than ever with all the pressures on them these days, so you just hope to give them a stable base to grow and flourish from.”

One of your daughters works for you at musicMagpie, doesn’t she?

“Yes, she does and what I really admire about Ems (Emily) working here is that she has done it despite me being CEO. She’s had to work even harder to establish herself and her own relationships and professional respect from her colleagues. Everybody knows she is the ‘boss’s daughter’ – but nobody cares because she’s never used it, and we’ve never used it to her advantage or anything like that. I always say to my peers on the Board that I want her to be ‘Emily Smith’ to everyone in the business, so she neither gets any over treatment nor under treatment that she would do otherwise. The single biggest thing that I admire in her is the emotional intelligence that she has shown to make that work, because that’s really difficult for a 21-year-old (which is how old she was when she joined). She came out of university with a first in biomedical science, but to have the emotional intelligence to form her own trust and respect with all her peers, and my colleagues on the Board, took a lot of maturity and strength. She’s been promoted three times now by her various line managers, and in a completely unbiased way she’s thoroughly deserved it each time! She won an award recently, and obviously I was really proud of her as both her father and her CEO, but equally I was conscious not to over play how proud I was, as I don’t want it to come across as disrespectful to other employees or to Ems. But it’s really, really nice to have her in the business as it’s given us an even tighter bond.”

Did you ever have, or still have, a particular staple that you will use to help you maintain that work life balance and ensure that at certain times it’s just family time and work is off limits?

“Well, I always believed in working really hard in the week, even in the evenings, but my weekends are sacred. That goes for now and when I was at the peak of building the business and working really hard, sometimes it may just have been the Saturday that I was able to take off at that time, but I have always tried to protect that quality family time at the weekend. And something else that I do, which I learnt from my mum and dad, is that however hard you work, holidays are the most precious times together. I am guilty of never really switching off from my phone with emails and so on, but I will always make sure that I do that as much as possible whilst I’m on holiday to make sure that I give those chunks of time, to make sure I’m present, and that we’re able to create great family memories together as I did growing up.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s easier said than done and you can never completely switch off when you run a business. I spent the majority of the girls’ childhood building a business, and if something is wrong in that business, then you have the ultimate responsibility and sometimes you can’t leave things. When you have 1,000 people on your payroll and things aren’t going so well, you feel a deep sense of responsibility, so even when you’re with your family and you want to just be with them, you can’t switch off 100% because you need to stay in touch with what’s going on. But I’ve always tried to make it a conscious effort at weekends and on holiday to be as switched off from work as possible. I’m getting better at it, even in the last year I’ve realised that I am getting older, I am getting more tired, and I know that I must have some more down time going forward. I’m definitely not 35 anymore!”

How easy do you think you will find having more downtime when you have work at such an intense pace for so many years?

“I was having a really interesting lunch with a longer standing public CEO about this recently, and it was a real eye-opener and a real epiphany moment for me because what they said is as you get older you can’t continue working at 110%, working 12-13 hours a day. It’s not just the quantity of that work that’s so exhausting but the intensity of the constant stress of it. You can’t continue working at that same intense level forever. But it felt until recently that it was either A – you work full 110% pelt or B – you stop; and to stop just feels a bit scary, because your business does become a bit like your fourth child, and I’m not ready to let it go and just stop working yet as I am incredibly excited about musicMagpie’s future. So, this person was telling me that there is an option C – do it but do it more on your terms. I’ve got great people around me in the business, and Gemma Boyle coming in as my EA (Executive Assistant) recently has changed my life as she’s not just one step behind me organising practicalities, she’s one step ahead of me and organising my meetings, chasing actions, and creating structure in my life. Even reading my emails to say right you need to do this, thinking ahead as to whether something needs booking – it’s all those little things that mentally pile up in your brain and I used to end up doing them in bed at twenty to one the morning on my phone. So, thanks to Gemma and all the other amazing people that I’m so blessed to have around me, both professionally and personally, I am already shifting more into option C and can look forward to the next stage of the musicMagpie journey.

My core belief in working with people and building a business is that to make a success of it you have to trust them, you have to value them, and you have to respect them. And even though I like to be involved in the details, especially the numbers side of things, I do take a step back and think to myself they are in a senior role for a reason, they are excellent at what they do, it’s what they get paid to do, and actually they will get fulfilment and feel good about what they’re doing if I allow them to do their job. So, it’s about adjusting your mindset and actually letting go a little.”

Seen as you’re such a family man yourself is that something that you have instilled within how you operate musicMagpie, and how you can implement things to support your team so that they can fit their roles within their family life too?

“Yes, 100%! And I’m not just saying this, this is my other family, the musicMagpie family! It’s lovely actually, I was moving some stuff around my office the other day and I found a card that someone who is a fairly new addition to the musicMagpie family had sent to me and Gemma after our colleague conference last month and it said ‘I’ve never come across anything quite like the musicMagpie family and the way you look after people so well.’ And that’s a lovely thing for someone who’s only come into the business fairly recently to observe and believe. While I do think that it’s entirely possible that the business will have a technically better CEO in the future, somebody who’s more experienced at public life and might sometimes make better decisions than me, the business will never have another CEO that cares for the people as much as I do and tries to keep the family feel and dynamic instilled at the very heart of it.

The most recent person that’s joined the business in the senior leadership team said to me just last week that it’s the thing that struck them more than anything else since joining us, that we’re only 15 years old as a business and just looking out from my office there is at least six people that have been here for 14 years. I think it’s because I recognise the talent, the care and the passion that so many of our Magpies have and so enjoy working with people who have those qualities.”

What do you think you have implemented into the running of musicMagpie that makes it such a special place to work?

“Two of our core values are ’Care’ and ‘Make a difference.’ It’s what I strongly believe in personally, it’s what everyone else at a senior level believes in and it’s, hopefully, what is instilled throughout the company. We’re not just here to make a successful business and make money, we want to make a difference to our customers, our colleagues, our community and to our planet. They are my core values and if I take that back to my own girls, they are qualities that I have tried to instil in them too. Two of my best friends in the world – one’s a hospital consultant and one’s always worked with less privileged people in mainly the charity sector – both make a difference in life, and we’ve got so much respect for each other as pals because of that, and that’s what I want to instil into both of my families. The world is a fairly horrible places at times, especially at the moment it feels, and it is up to all of us to show social obligation and step up to the plate to look after those less fortunate than ourselves. However big we get I never want us to lose that core ethos of caring.”

What’s your message to a budding entrepreneur?

“It’s really simple, do not underestimate how much hard work it is! It seems like such an obvious statement, but I think too many people don’t realise just how true a statement it is. When I co-founded musicMagpie, I was still doing a full-time job as an MD of a retail business as I had to put salary on the table for the family, because musicMagpie couldn’t pay me a salary. At this point I was doing pretty much every role in musicMagpie too – customer service, writing to Royal Mail in the middle of the night, and so on. Emily was only little at the time, and she would leave notes on my desk saying don’t work too hard daddy because you are looking tired. But being entrepreneurial and setting up a business is tiring, and it is hard work and I’m afraid too many people underestimate that when setting off. But you also have to work smart, and be passionate about what you do, and ALWAYS try and get your work life balance right while being aware that there are times where you will just have to grind it out to get to where you want to be – it is never a straight line or an easy path to the top!”   

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STYLE WITH KIM MINCHIN

STYLE WITH KIM MINCHIN

Kim Minchin Dunn © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

“…I opened the wardrobe and I was overwhelmed with what I was going to wear!

KIM MINCHIN DUNN INTRODUCES OUR STYLE SECTION…

Hey everyone! My name is Kim and I’m owner of Kim Minchin Lifestyle, bringing you exclusively designed jewellery, unique handpicked Homeware and fashion from across the globe, mama to Romy who’s just turned one and wife to Chocolatier Oli the Choc.

I am delighted to be a part of the brood journey and to bring you a regular style column! 

I will be talking all things home styling, home organisation, easy to wear fashion, styling yourself and your life around being a parent.

For my first column I really wanted to talk about losing your fashion mojo when you become a mama. One thing I noticed when I got home after having Romy was that of course it was life changing and my previous life aka “flying by the seat of my pants” was no longer an option. When I was finally out of maternity bras and oversized pants I opened the wardrobe and I was overwhelmed with what I was going to wear, I wasn’t physically and mentally the same person I was when I went into the hospital to have Romy. Who was I?

Some of you may be thinking why does it matter what you wear, it’s what’s on the inside that matters, right? Yep, absolutely it does! But I know for me clothing is part of my identity and when I feel good in them it makes me feel confident.  I think we can pretty much all agree that feeling good in what you wear certainly puts a spring in your step and gives you that extra boost and as a new mum this is key to bringing YOU back and giving you this new identity –  “mummy” that stills goes on date night and still goes out for lunch with the girls feeling killer.

IMAGE © Kim MINCHIN DUNN FOR BROOD MAGAZINE LTD

I know I’m not alone here, it’s something I spoke about in my interview with Brood and a message I know resonated with lots of new mamas. 

So, what was the answer? Well here’s my guide to feeling your best new mama self, practical clothing but still feeling stylish, on trend and most importantly confident.

  1. Keep it simple. Try not to look too much at trends to begin with, it’s about understanding your new body, the new things you may need to do i.e. breast feeding, picking up and holding baby. Getting the pram out of the car, carrying a thousand bags, changing nappies in the most random of places – the list goes on.
  2. MOM jeans. So, I was very new to a mom jean and prior to being a mum I just didn’t get them, but I thought why not embrace it seeing as though I was a new mum. Well life changing is all I can say. My favourite fit are from Next. I’ve got them in all washes of denim. There’s so many styles out there.
  3. Shirts- everyone needs a white linen shirt in their life mama or not. Comfy loose and perfect if you are breastfeeding. Even better they look perfect with mom jeans and easy to wear for day with trainers or evening by popping on a pair of heels. I find them super comfy and easy to move around in picking up baby.
  4. Stylish trainers. Comfort and style is key here. These will become your essential. They need to go with everything you own and if they do you will wear them all the time and never have to worry what to put on your feet when rushing out of the house. 
  5. Get dressed up. Even if you are popping to the supermarket or to meet a friend for a coffee – first of all make sure it’s a time to suit you around feeds and naps. Whilst baby is having morning nap get showered and get yourself feeling good. It makes all the difference!
  6. And the MOST important one of all. Embrace your new you, your new everyday, your new life and your new body. You and your amazing body did something incredible! Respect it, love it and embrace all those perfections that made you a mama! 

Go get em mama! ✌🏼

P.S I know they’re comfy but get out of those those maternity pants as soon as you can- otherwise you may never go back to normal pants if you don’t (trust me I was close to never buying a normal jean again 🤣)

Kim x

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Mike Toolan

Mike Toolan

MIKE TOOLAN © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

“- there is a guilt anytime you do anything for yourself” Mike Toolan

Award-winning Radio & TV Presenter, doting Dad of two, Mike Toolan, is one of the UK’s most loved presenters; with an impressive career spanning over 20 years. After starting his career as a radio presenter in America, his career in Radio really took off in UK at the exact same time as he became a dad for the first time! In recent years Mike became a single dad, with his two children living with him full time, so he had to learn to manage the juggle of looking after two teenage children and school runs, alongside his work as a radio & TV presenter, Voice-over artist, numerous theatre roles and the latest string to his bow – writing for TV! We sat down with Mike to chat about how he managed to get through the haze of his first big break as a breakfast presenter (with 4am starts), alongside becoming a father; becoming a dad to two under two, and the job opportunities that he turned down when they didn’t fit into his family life.

Known for his incredible sense of humour we enjoyed a hilarious interview with Mike, but underneath the jokes it’s clear to see just how much Mike’s children mean to him and it was inspiring to hear that despite having to turn down some amazing opportunities in order to put his role as a dad first, it hasn’t hindered his career at all, and he has no regrets about prioritising his family life first and foremost.    

Mike Toolan & Sir Alex Ferguson. (Image: Key 103/Hits Radio)
MIKE TOOLAN IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY
MIKE TOOLAN IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

Where was you at in your career when you became a dad and how did you find the transition of managing your career alongside fatherhood?

“I have been a radio presenter all my life really, but I had just started on the breakfast show on KEY103 the same week that Luca was born. So that was a busy week!” He laughs “I think I got less sleep than a political prisoner for the first months, because he had colic as well, so he didn’t sleep at all, and I was getting up at 4.30am every day. It was all just a weird blur for those first six months to be honest. Obviously, it was amazing being on the breakfast show and it was all quite glamourous, and I remember thinking ‘I should really be enjoying this, but I’m just too tired to’. It was a bit like that feeling you get when you’ve been on a long-haul flight, and you get off the plane and the place is stunning and there’s a nice pool and you just think yeah this is great, but I just want to sleep!”

How did you survive? Because obviously it was a great moment in your career to get the breakfast show and obviously becoming a dad for the first time is wonderful, but that was quite a demanding schedule.

“I’d break up my sleep into two halves. I remember people in December would say only 18 sleeps until Christmas and for me there would be 36!” He laughs. “Every day turned into two days, I would go to sleep everyday about midday, wake up at 4pm and it would feel like a new day, although I did spend most of the time feeling very confused – I’m not sure I even knew my own name at that point!”

So as if that wasn’t enough to manage you went on to have another child – your daughter Lottie. 

“Yes, and there wasn’t a massive gap between them either, Luca was around 18 months old when Lottie was born. Lottie was a bit of surprise really – a nice one of course – but having two under two was a lot – the juggle was real managing that!”

Your children are a lot older now, how have you found managing all the different stages that children go through?

“I personally don’t think that there is any one stage better than another stage, they’re just different. It’s like my son Luca, he’s growing up now and he and I are just like mates, and it’s wonderful. And Lottie has just finished her GCSE’S and she’s an amazing girl. And it is so different to the beginning, because obviously at the beginning you’re like a full-on carer. When you have a baby, you get up to someone else’s schedule, your playtime is to someone else’s schedule, your sleep is to someone else’s schedule, you eat to their schedule and it’s almost like being in jail but you’re in love with warden.” We all laugh “Because it’s like 4am and you wake a bit disgruntled, then you’re like ‘oh it’s you’ and suddenly you don’t care what time it is. As the move through the different stages there are advantages and disadvantages to each stage.”

How do you think you have changed since becoming a dad?

“I think I was a lot more selfish pre kids, when you have kids, you instantly have to put someone else first don’t you? Your whole priorities change, and you become a much kinder person. I remember that’s when I started doing charity work, it sounds like a real cliché, but once I’d had kids if someone at the children’s hospital or somewhere would ask me to do a charity event I would be like ‘Yes!’, because you have this precious little bundle of life and you want to put more back into the world.”

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Has parent guilt been a factor for you throughout the years and do you manage to factor in some ‘me time’?

“Oh yeah, there is a guilt anytime you do anything for yourself – I was raised a catholic so there’s enough guilt going on there anywhere!” He jokes. “But there were things like I had always had a season ticket at Manchester United, but when Luca was born, I thought no, I can’t just leave him and his mum every other Saturday to go watch the football, so I decided to give that up. And for the last ten years me and Luca have been trying to get a season ticket back!” He laughs “But if you’re a decent parent you’ve got to put all of there interests first. There’s always going to be sacrifices but you get the fun in different ways once you have the kids because you’re having fun with them instead. Massive Saturday nights out with the lads become Saturday swim club with the lads, so you have fun like that. I was lucky because there was a group of us, almost like the show Friends. We were a group of single lads, then there were girls on scene, then everyone started getting engaged and married, and we all had kids at the same time. So now our kids are all the same age and we’re all still friends, so it’s been great to have that network of people all going through the same things.”

Has becoming a parent ever impacted your career decisions?

“Yes, it has actually. I have been offered jobs in London on a couple of occasions, various big radio opportunities in London, but I couldn’t really take them, because at the minute the kids live with me full time and have done for a few years, but there was a time that they were split 50/50 between me and their mum, and I just didn’t want to lose all that. I was actually offered to do This Morning regularly too, it would have been two days a week doing the interactive stuff it was called ‘The Hub’ and it was myself, Rylan and Coleen Nolan, and they said to me did I want to do Tuesdays and Thursdays, but it would have meant I would have had to give up my radio job here and spend time away from the kids so I just couldn’t do it. But I have no regrets about that at all.

I read a book recently called the 5 regrets of the dying. It’s written by a woman in America who works in end-of-life care, and she interviews all these people on their death beds – it’s really interesting. And she asks them ‘What is your biggest regret in life?’ and a lot of them say that their biggest regret is that they didn’t achieve their full potential in whatever area. I think yeah, I could have gone on to be a TV presenter but I couldn’t have sacrificed the relationship with the kids so I would still do the same thing tomorrow if I had to. I think whatever is meant for you will come anyway. Family is everything, and I’m very lucky to be able to do something that I enjoy as a career and it’s obviously important to me but it’s a secondary thing for me.”

Are there particularly moments that stand out to you where the juggle of work and kids has crossed over?      

“I was interviewing Fergie (Alex Ferguson) at Tesco when he had his first book signing, and he invited me down and I was on my way down there and I got a phone call from Lottie’s school and she had a sick bug, so I had to go and pick her up. But I still had to do this interview with Fergie, and I was just like, ‘Oh no! Oh god! What am I going to do?’ there was no one else that could help and no where I could take her, so I literally had to take her along and she had to sit there whilst I did the interview. Thankfully she wasn’t sick again, so it was alright, but he tried talking to her and she just kind of stared at him with this green face, and I was like ‘This is Sir Alex Ferguson Lottie’ and the poor thing was just sat there heaving!” He laughs “And there was another time, where I had to go and pick up a signed copy of Fergie’s book from his house for a charity event and had to call on my way home from the school run, so I had Luca with me – he was about 8 at the time and a massive Man United fan – and I said to him we’ve got to go to the Man United manager’s house. And Luca’s face was picture, because Fergie was his idol he was like a god to Luca, and we actually ended up going in and he gave us a tour of his house and sat down and had some tea with him. It was incredible, Luca was just sat there in his school uniform in a bit of daze, he couldn’t believe it. It’s still actually to this day one of his happiest memories. But they were both one of those times where you’re juggling, and you’ve got no choice but to do both things at once. Overall though I think I’ve been lucky that because of the shifts I’ve done, that other than having to get someone to come round and help in the mornings, I’ve been able to do the rest myself. Because I was on the breakfast show and I would finish at 10am, I could do everything apart from the morning school run. I was always at the school gates for pick up, doing the homework and cooking dinner and I know a lot of people don’t get that, as they might not get home from work until about 7pm so I have always felt lucky that my career has allowed me to be able to be hands on like that.”

Have you got any tips for any other parents juggling work and family life?

“I’m always making notes of everything on my note’s app, and I put everything in the diary, so the iPhone has changed my life in that way as there’s always reminders popping up. So, I would say just to be as organised as possible, as it really helps you from dropping the ball. I have to write everything down otherwise I’ll forget as I have a memory like Nemo!

Then the other thing that I do, that is quite a nice tip, is that whenever we go to bed, I have always got the kids to say their prayers at night – not even from a spiritual point of view, but just for them to think ‘what are you grateful for today?’ And we’d do a little list of gratitude, and then the one thing that does is remind them of the best bits of their day, even if that’s the dessert they’ve eaten or something like that. I think that it’s important that the last thing they do before they go to sleep is remember all the good things that have happened, and then they end their day on a positive. That’s really helped them both actually and I think it’s important to integrate a bit of mindfulness into their daily routine.”

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CHEMMY ALCOTT

CHEMMY ALCOTT

CHEMMY ALCOTT © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

“I vowed never to lose myself when I became a parent.”

Inspirational Mum of two, and BBC Ski Sunday Presenter, Chemmy Alcott, went down in history as being the first British Ski racer to win a world cup run, and she is widely regarded as one of Britain’s greatest ever skiers. Chemmy is no stranger to adversity having broken 49 bones in her life, and still returning to the slopes against all odds, so it’s no wonder that when she was offered her dream job as BBC Ski Sunday feature presenter at the same time that she was due to give birth to her first child that she chose to take on the challenge of both roles; returning to work only two weeks after giving birth!

Alongside her successful career as a BBC sports presenter, Chemmy is an inspirational speaker and also runs her own business – CDC Performance – with her husband, 25 Time British Champion Dougie Crawford, providing world class ski coaching and experiences. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Chemmy at her lovely family home that she shares with Dougie and their two boys, Locki 5 and Cooper 3, to discuss how she does it all, and why maintaining her own identity is so important to her.  

CHEMMY ALCOTT IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY
CHEMMY ALCOTT IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY
CHEMMY ALCOTT IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY
CHEMMY ALCOTT IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

You returned to work very quickly after having both your boys, did you always plan to return to work so quickly and was it important to you that you kept your own identity outside of being a mum?

“I think I was quite lucky as a lot of my friends had kids before me, so I saw them really change through parenthood and lose themselves, and so I vowed to never let that happen to me when I became a parent. But I then went completely the other way, as both my babies were born in the January, and I went back to work skiing only two weeks after, with both babies. In fact, our first labour was really complicated, and they were said ‘Look this isn’t going great…’ with my reply being, ‘Don’t even think about a c-section, because I’ve got to ski in two weeks – I’ve got to work!’ Maybe I felt more pressure being female, but I was about to start my dream job at the BBC doing Ski Sunday, and I remember thinking, ‘I can’t give up this role. I don’t want them to give this job to anyone else, this Is my job! I’m going to make it happen!’ So, when they initially offered me the job my naive plan was, I’m going have the baby, I’m going to go straight back to work, Dougie’s amazing at supporting me so we can do this! Although it was crazy, it was just epic, because people just lose themselves so much and it can be so hard to find yourself again, but I never got chance to stop being me. Actually, in skiing they say that if you’ve skied your whole life and then you become a parent, but then you don’t ski for 5 years then you’ll never ski again! It’s because the fear of being responsible for someone else and the danger of the sport just crushes you so much that you never allow yourself to have that play time again. I hoped that wouldn’t happen to me though, although looking back I think it’s pretty mad that I was skiing only a few weeks after having a baby, but I was really fortunate in how my body held up.

It was also quite empowering returning to work so quickly. I remember when Cooper was born and two weeks later, we were at the World Championships, and I was working, interviewing the guy who had just won the World Champs downhill. It was a great interview, and when we finished the interview, the producer said ‘Woah, that was epic! You’re on a buzz!’ And I replied ‘Yeah, I am, and do you know what?’ and he was like ‘What?’, and I put my hand in my bra and I had one of those silent Elvie pumps on and I had made almost half a litre of milk whilst I was doing this interview! Throughout the whole interview I knew I was doing that, I knew I was smashing new motherhood and it just made me feel amazing, I was firing on all cylinders, and no one knew! You’re throwing yourself in at the deep end, and it’s hard but you just feel this overwhelming sense of achievement. But I remember going back to work that first time and I was so sleep deprived, and as an athlete I had this massive superstition that I needed 9 hours sleep a night but then suddenly you become a parent and that is just completely unrealistic! Then obviously two weeks after having Locki I was given this script, I’d barely slept, and I remember questioning myself ‘I can’t even remember my own name! How am I going to remember this script!’  But somehow, I did it, and I think you’ve got to keep challenging yourself and that’s what helps you to keep being your very best self. I think that’s how we’ve been able to maintain this mental crazy lifestyle because we never stepped away from it.”

You spoke briefly about feeling the pressure about being a female and not wanting to lose your dream job role, but was that the only reason that you felt so determined to maintain, being you? 

“I mean there was definitely the element of proving people wrong, because a lot of people said I couldn’t do it. And all my career when I had multiple injuries – when I broke my leg and neck – people said she won’t be able to come back, and it was always a motivating factor to me. It shouldn’t be but you’ve got to look at it one way or another and it either pushes you down and the pressure is too much, or you go ‘Hey, I’ll show you!’ and it was kind of the same with parenthood.

I just feel like if you can do those first few years of being a parent and not lose your own identity, then you will come out of parenthood incredibly strong and incredibly grateful for your kids. At times you can miss the old life that you used to have prior to having kids, you might have single friends and you see them going out and at times you can resent that, but if you stick to still being you and defining who you are away from being a parent, then in the long run it’s just magnificent!”

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“This is my dream job and I’m going to make it happen!”

Did you experience any parent guilt with returning to work so soon and maintaining your own identity?

“Oh yes, the other side of it is certainly that, I suffer horrendously from parent guilt, I’ve suffered from that since becoming a mum, and I used to not want to admit to having a nanny because even though I was back at work after two weeks I didn’t want to admit to having help. But my mum is no longer around, and my dad is unable to help, and Dougie’s parents live in Scotland, so there was no other option really, but for some reason I wanted people to think that we were doing it alone. I think it had always been drilled into you that you were ridiculously well off if you had a nanny, and you were judged for it. It took me a couple of years of people saying, ‘God it’s amazing what you’re doing’, before I could say, ‘well yes, it is amazing, but I have got help too and that’s why I can do it!’ And I realised I needed to be open about it.”

You’ve obviously been a topflight athlete and you’ve been a mum for over 5 years now, which role would you say is harder? 

“Definitely parenthood! Being a parent can be unbelievably hard! Being an athlete is very easy, it’s very simple, your goal is yourself – it’s me, me, me, me. Whereas being a parent is ever evolving, it’s ever challenging, your child is constantly changing and trying to define who they are, and you have to change with them. I fight the urge to read a lot of books about parenting and how to talk to your kids, because I think ultimately you learn through your mistakes. I feel like I’ve already made mistakes that I felt were a good idea at the time and then as they get older you realise that it maybe wasn’t the best approach. For 8 years during my career as a ski racer, when I had the opportunity to win and I was healthy, I chose to underperform, because I had this horrendous fear of failure and I couldn’t manage everyone else’s expectations of me being this very talented athlete, so I chose to perform at 80% and I kept 20% in my back pocket to self-validate why I wasn’t winning. So, I never took risks, and I was never the best that I could be, and it was good on the world stage, but it was never my best and it was a very unsatisfactory way to live; so, when I became a parent, I was like, ‘Right, I’m going to let them charge! And be 100% and make mistakes.’ So now I’ve created two absolute nutters who don’t have any fear of failure and who don’t have a fear of making mistakes.”

When your second came along, yourself and Dougie were obviously running your business and you were presenting how did you find the shift from one to two children?

“Well, you think one’s hard but then you have two and it’s just another level of hard! I always wanted three but no, we are done at two!” She laughs “Because we’re just about managing! We’re like the swans on the lake they look like they’ve got everything together, but their feet are going like crazy to get upstream! I do think I’m a much better parent second time around though.”

You spoke about having to deal with horrendous Mum guilt, what tips would you give for working through that?

“Yes, mum guilt is really hard, when you’re at work you feel like you should be with your kids, and when you’re with you’re kids you feel like you should be a work! So, what I did, as I’m really good a goal setting, so for the 5 hours I was at work I would set my goals as to what I want to achieve whilst I’m at work and I’m at work properly the, focused and head down. Then when I’m at home that phone goes to the side, and I am present. I find that is the best way, because I see a lot of people trying to do it all at the same time, but if you’re only giving 50% of yourself then everything is going to start suffering. So, you know, you into your work guns blazing – be there, be present make an impact. Then go home and enjoy quality time with your family. Because the kids notice it when you are distracted, because when I fall foul of my own rules, they’ll say ‘Mummy, you’re not here!’”

 

CHEMMY ALCOTT IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY
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PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM PITFIELD

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