Helen Skelton on her career, motherhood and changing the narrative

Helen Skelton on her career, motherhood and changing the narrative

© BROOD MAGAZINE. HELEN SKELTON AND TWO OF HER CHILDREN

“…things happen in life and then you get put on a different path

Inspirational Mum of three, Helen Skelton, is one of Britain’s best-loved Television presenters. Helen started her presenting career at Newsround before landing a dream role at Blue Peter, where she completed numerous extreme challenges for charity. Incredibly Helen has kayaked over 2,000 miles along the Amazon River, and cycled 500 miles to the South Pole, both for Sport Relief. Her amazing career has included many highlights including meeting the iconic late Queen Elizabeth II. Not one to shy away from a challenge, this year she is taking on what will probably be her hardest yet, as she joins BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing Class of 2022; whilst juggling life as a single mum, looking after her 3 young children, Ernie, Louis and Elsie.

The stunning Countryfile presenter kindly took time out from her summer holiday in the Lake District to chat to us about her career, motherhood, and changing the narrative as she embraces the new journey she has found herself on, since announcing her sadness at her marriage ending, only a few months after her youngest child Elsie was born.

Helen Skelton Interview with Brood Magazine
© BROOD MAGAZINE. HELEN SKELTON AND TWO OF HER THREE CHILDREN

“…I’m on a journey right now!

What was your career like before kids?

I was working as a journalist; I was originally working in PR, but I hated it and knew that I wanted to be a journalist… so I ended up at Newsround which was great – I loved it! Then I got offered Blue Peter, but I actually said no to Blue Peter at first because I was enjoying Newsround so much. But my boss at Newsround said to me ‘you can’t not do Blue Peter’. So, I took it, and it was the best gig of my life! It was so amazing, one week you would be going to Malta to ballroom dance, the week after you would be flying with the red arrows and the week after going to meet the queen! We would go away for 7 weeks for the summer going from one country to the next… it was just incredible! After doing so many amazing things, that I didn’t think I could top, such as going to the south pole, north pole and the amazon doing the expeditions, I decided it was time to leave. So, I then went back into sport and started working at BT Sport.

How do you find managing your career alongside motherhood?

I had Ernie in 2015, and since then, it’s always been about taking on work that fits around the kids. I still worked after I had Ernie, like the sport presenting – which was good because it was an intense week and then you’d be off again. That’s why I do less Countryfile, as much as I love Countryfile and I’m really good friends with everyone at the show, but the reason I don’t do it as often is because you have to be away Wednesday and Thursday nights, it’s the other end of the country and it just doesn’t fit with me having little kids. But the other farming show [Channel 5’s On the Farm] that I do is live, so you’re on at 8 o clock at night and you’re off at 10. So I go, get my tea made for me, have my face painted, do my work and then I’m back home.

I think because I’m freelance and self-employed, I feel lucky in that it can be intense at work so you’re ticking your career box and doing your thing there, but then the week after, you can potentially be off for three weeks so then you’re being a full-time mummy again. So, I feel lucky that I get my foot in both camps. I’d like to think that I’ve got a bit more empathy for my friends who work full time and for those who don’t work.

What is your experience with Mum Guilt?

Every mum I know at some point or another feels ‘Mum guilt.’ They feel guilty if they work too much, or they feel guilty that they don’t work enough, the whole thing is a juggle. My mum was lucky, we grew up on this farm, so she didn’t work and that’s the dream for some, but life’s different now. And I don’t think anyone should look at other people’s situations and make assumptions, because I’ve done it myself where I’ve thought ‘gosh she work’s a lot! She must hardly ever see her kids?’ But then I stop myself because I think, you know what, we’ve all got to buy food! That whole thing of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes is so true. I don’t think you can ever say which is the right way to do it, because everyone’s kids and everyone’s situation is different, you can only do what’s right for you and not compare yourself. But it can be hard not to do that because of social media.

You have to remember social media is a superficial top layer of people’s lives, although it’s hard to remember that at times, is important to remind yourself of that. But no one is made of metal but equally every situation is different.

Mine are terrible sleepers, they both like to sleep in my bed which isn’t good, but then other people will be like ‘well that isn’t good?’ Rather than ‘oh that’s nice because they’ll be 18 soon!’ [she laughs] – but it’s survival! I got my eldest to sleep in his own bed the other night and he was negotiating a deal and said he would for £20! I was like – ‘I can’t give you £20 a night!’ – No wonder I’ve had to go back to work! [she jokes.]

Helen Skelton
Helen Skelton © BROOD MAGAZINE

“…it’s always been about taking on work that fits around the kids.”

What was the biggest adaptations that you have made to your life since your children have come along.

Work and travel, I think. I took Louis with me to the world diving championships in Budapest when he was 6 weeks old, I say to him now, you actully saw Tom Daly win his second world title and it just goes [gestures] straight over his head so I don’t even think the biggest adaptations came in when they were babies. I think the bigger adaptions come in when they start school, as obviously they’ve got be somewhere 9-3 so you’re on their schedule then. I notice a lot of my friends who have toddlers will say ‘shall we meet for brunch on Saturday’ [for example], and I’m like, ‘No, sorry I can’t, I’ve got a 15-minute gap between swimming and play dates and it does not include any kind of brunch situation!’ [laughing] I think when you’ve got little kids they will go where you want, you can pop them in the pushchair and bring them along with you, but bigger kids don’t always want to.

Having more than one kid is big change, because you can only split yourself so many ways. Having Elsie though has actually made the boys nicer! They are so sweet with her. I do say to them, ‘you’re so nice with Elsie can you just be a little bit nicer to each other!’ (Because they do fight as siblings close in age do.) So, I love seeing that kindness in them, it melts my heart.

Your next challenge is Strictly Come Dancing! How are you feeling about tackling that alongside your life as a mum?

Part of me thinks it’s bad timing and the other part of me thinks it is good timing. Elsie is only little so she’s not crawling around yet, so she’s little enough to be quite placid and sleep a lot. I think sometimes it’s easy to overthink these things, but when I was asked, it was like ‘You know what, yes! Let’s do it!’ – I’m excited too because I think it looks fun! I love taking on new challenges and putting myself under pressure and having my mind consumed in that way, so that’s another reason I wanted to do it. It’s weird because I have been asked to do things like this before and I’ve always said no because of the kids, but now I’m doing it when I’ve got a nine-month-old as well, but the kids are in school, so in my head I’m thinking that I’m going to train while they’re in school and Elsie is young enough for it to not be on her radar or affect her. But then again, this could well turn out to be the most stupid decision I’ve made in my entire life – but let’s hope it’s not! [she laughs]

I think sometimes, especially in this career you can overthink things and try and plan but sometimes you’ve just got to go with what comes along. Very few people are in the position that they don’t have to work, and this is a job that will be fun and a distraction and all consuming and something positive for me, the kids, my parents, and my friends. That was another reason that I wanted to do it. To do something positive and change the narrative, I guess.

Also, you spend your life telling your kids, ‘Do what makes you happy’, ‘Go after whatever you want’ ‘Dream Big’ so you have to lead by example.

I think no matter what you do and what you plan, things happen in life and then you get put on a different path, so sometimes there is no point putting down a roadmap.

What tips would you give other working parents?

Oh, I’ve got loads of tips – I’m on a journey at the moment. Firstly, lower the standards! I think unfollow people who don’t have a similar life to you. For example, if you’re a working mum, don’t follow a mum who doesn’t work, follow someone who is doing the juggle. Or if you don’t work, follow someone who doesn’t work, because I think you if you compare apples to pears yours will never be as good. I’ve been given lots of tips myself lately, including find companies that will deliver healthy meals – like meals on wheels but for parents. Then that takes the pressure off grabbing something naff for yourself, you can get them pre ordered just a couple of times a week and the whole family has got a healthy home cooked meal. Just make life easier for yourself. Another one is, have a notepad by the bed because every has them things where they wake up in the night where they are like ‘oh s&*t they need a yellow t-shirt for tomorrow’. I also think delegate stuff in your life that you don’t need to do yourself. Like I hate cleaning, so I got a cleaner. I felt really bad about it at first, I felt really middle-class, and I would tidy up before they came, but then the lady said to me ‘why are you doing that, you are paying me to do this?’ Oh, and don’t buy clothes that you need to iron! Again, why are you doing that to yourself. And finally, I have a present cupboard because there is always a party that you have forgotten, or you haven’t got time to go to B&M before you go. And a distraction box is always good too when you’ve got multiple children.

What do you mean by a distraction box?

Well, I would always keep a little box on the side, I’ve done this from Louis being born. I will put a couple of snacks in that he would like, a couple of books, or some little cheap toys in there. So then if you’re feeding or changing the baby and your older one wants you too and you can say ‘Go and get something from your box!’ I think that’s it!

Simon Wood
Written by
Tom Pitfield and his daughter Iris

PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM PITFIELD

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INSPIRATIONAL MUM ON A MISSION: ANNA KENNEDY OBE

INSPIRATIONAL MUM ON A MISSION: ANNA KENNEDY OBE

© BROOD MAGAZINE. ANNA KENNEDY OBE 

“We re-mortgaged our home and set up a school!

Inspirational Mum of two, Anna Kennedy OBE has been a trailblazer for Autism Awareness since the 1990’s; when her two boys, Patrick and Angelo, and were diagnosed with Autism. When Anna couldn’t find a school that could meet her boy’s needs, Anna and her husband Sean remortgaged their home with the support of local parents and built one! This was just start of an incredible journey that has consequently helped shape and changed the lives of thousands of people diagnosed with Autism, along with the parents and carers of children on the autism spectrum. Through her unwavering determination and an unbelievable amount of passion, Anna has founded a number of innovative facilities, created life changing campaigns and been the force behind a number of petitions for change. Powered by the love of her boys a desire to support and serve the Autism community, Anna is a Mum on a mission, and it is no wonder that her remarkable charity work and achievements led her to be recognized and awarded an OBE by the late Queen Elizabeth II. 

Autism's Got Talent
Anna Kennedy OBE
© BROOD MAGAZINE. ANNA KENNEDY OBE

“…Keep nurturing your children’s interests as you never know where it might lead!

You have achieved so much since you embarked on your journey to raise awareness about Autism, tell us how it all started and some of the things that you have achieved along the way.  

“When my boys were diagnosed with Autism, it was the nineties so there wasn’t a lot of support available out there at the time, so I had to fight for everything. There weren’t any schools out that could meet our boy’s needs so we remortgaged our home to set up a school. Hundreds of children have gone on to benefit from the school, so it was the best thing we ever did! We decided then went on to set up a college too since Autism is a lifelong developmental condition. The Vocational College offers a day service that runs 44 weeks of the year, it was set up this way since during the summer holidays it can be quite stressful for parents whose children are adults since school holiday breaks can be very busy. We also set up a residential home too, for eight adults. The idea was that this would be a stepping stone from living in the residential home into moving into their own home or supported living. Many of the residents have moved on to get a job or move into their own homes. 

 I set up the charity Anna Kennedy Online in 2009 because parents were contacting me about the difficulties, they were encountering with reference to getting a diagnosis, a lot of whom had been waiting for many years. 

The charity now has many volunteers that are as passionate and driven as I am and that want to support as many families of autistic children and adults as possible. The charity also provides a touchstone for Autistic adults, it’s a place that they know they can either email or call the charity office to chat or if they even just want to run some ideas past someone. Since starting the charity, we have developed many events such as the Autism Expo, which gives people the chance to come along and listen to various speakers, along with the chance to see different professionals in the clinics that we hold there. We went on to develop the Charity Autism Hero Awards where hundreds of nominations are sent in by the public from across the UK and Overseas which is a red-carpet event for inspiring individuals and groups who go the extra mile for the autism community. One of my favourite annual events of which I am a founder is the world-renowned Autism’s got Talent!

 

Tell us about Autism’s Got Talent, what made you decide to start that? 

“Autism’s Got Talent came about when I was talking to people who were contacting us about being bullied after I launched our Anti Bullying campaign Give us a Break, they would share with us that they had developed skills and amazing talents. For example, many had taught themselves to play the guitar both acoustic and electric, and other people had taught themselves to do magic, plus many other talents all from watching youtube videos. They would send in many videos to share what they had achieved, and as these videos started coming in, I got really excited. At that time, I was invited to a show by Pineapple Performing Arts School at the Mermaid Theatre and as I was looking around, I thought I want to put on a show here made up purely of talented autistic children and adults. So, I approached Maggie Paterson (the principal and founder of Pineapple Performing Arts School) and we launched ‘Autism’s Got Talent’. It has now been 11 years, and we are sent in auditions from all over the world; Morocco, Italy, Canada, America, plus many more! It’s an amazing show and I always say that you have to be there to truly appreciate what I’m talking about. Every year it gets better, I don’t how but it just does! I think it’s great how it inspires the children and adults in the audience that are Autistic to want to take part or develop a performing arts skill since it inspires them that they too can do this one day.”  

 

What issues do you still see that need addressing in terms of Autism Awareness and Acceptance?

“Since I started the charity things haven’t really changed that much in terms of for example bullying, if anything it’s probably on the increase because of online bullying. This is really sad, so we set up an anti-bullying campaign in 2011, that’s called ‘Give us a break!’ and we originally started that alongside Esther Rantzen and the NSPCC. And we run a new campaign each year.  

I also recently set up a petition that now has over 12,000 signatures because there’s not enough support or a one-stop shop if you like, with information on who will support your sons or daughters when you’re no longer around. There’s always that question in the back of parents’ and carers’ minds ‘Who’s going to look after my children when I’m no longer around’. I would advise people to set up a trust and make sure that you have a will – MENCAP has a fantastic service, and there are some workshops out there. I would say the early set it up the better it is, for your own peace of mind. 

I recently was asked to be involved in a documentary with Katie Price and Harvey. Katie talks about how she didn’t realise how far ahead you have to start the transition process for 18 plus when your child is going from school to college. From doing that documentary with the BBC we received so many messages from people saying they too didn’t realise how far ahead you have to plan, and it highlighted that there needs to be more awareness and information around this process. So, we set up a few workshops to help people navigate those transitions. My husband Sean has had a diagnosis of Asperger’s since 2013, and he is a barrister. Sean conducted a workshop online to help families with all the various legal questions that they had. So, from that one documentary we were able to help so many different parents and I’m also pleased to say that Katie did find the right place for Harvey, that can meet all his complex needs and he’s been there for over a year now and he’s doing really well.”

Anna Kennedy OBE
ANNA KENNEDY OBE © BROOD MAGAZINE

“…Don’t forget who you are.”

Your sons are older now, how do you think your work has positively impacted their lives? 

“Well Patrick is 32 now and I’m pleased to say he’s got a full-time job at Pinewood Studios. His passion for dinosaurs, which began when he was seven years old has led him to give a speech at Pinewood Studios in front of the production team of Jurassic World and all the staff there. He’s known as ‘Paleo Pat’ he’s been working there for 4 years now, and they know all about his passion for dinosaurs. I’m really proud of him. He’s obviously nervous since he’s never spoken in front of a lot of people before, but it just shows you where your passions can lead you, as that passion he had as a little boy has led him to do this. I always say keep nurturing your children’s interests as you never know where it might lead. Patrick has also just moved into his own flat, and he’s slowly getting used to it, he still gets overwhelmed every now and again however he is making great progress and his flat is spotless! Bills are a big thing for him to learn about, at one point he thought he just paid the bill once and that was it, and I said ‘No, it’s every month Patrick – if only!’ [she laughs] Angelo still lives at home; he will always need one-to-one support. Angelo is 29 now and he’s quite profoundly affected by his autism, and he’s got quite a significant sensory processing condition. He goes to the college that we set up which he enjoys so that’s been really good for him.”

You work so incredibly hard and obviously even though your boys are adults now, your role as a mum is still very hands-on, particularly with Angelo, do you get any time for yourself?

“Well, two years ago I actually brought a wellbeing ambassador into the charity, as it was covid and obviously a lot of people were struggling with their wellbeing, so I thought it was something important that we needed to talk about. For me, I use dance to help my well-being. I haven’t been for a couple of years now, but I used to go to Zumba every Thursday, it was 7-8pm and that was my release. So, I do need to start that again, but I still do try and just have a dance or exercise each morning and that sets me up for the day. Sometimes when I’m in the office on my own, I put a bit of music on, and I just start having a little dance! [she laughs] I was invited and chosen for the Peoples Strictly which was for Comic Relief and that was an amazing experience! I was chosen out of 11,000 people so it was just incredible. We got four tens’, so it was just a fantastic experience one I will never forget. I’m still friends with Robin Windsor and he comes and supports Autism’s Got Talent every year.”  

What advice would you give other parents who are juggling their work and life as a parent?

“You definitely do need to have some me time, even though it’s not always easy. I’ve actually started a campaign called ‘Take Five’ and it’s literally about taking five minutes for yourself. Whatever it may be just take five minutes to be you. Not a mum. Not in your work. Just to be you. Don’t forget who you are!”

You can get your tickets to Autism’s Got Talent on the charity website and find out more about the incredible work that Anna does at www.AnnaKennedyOnline.com

Please sign Anna’s petition at http://www.change.org/Annapetition

Simon Wood
Written by
Tom Pitfield and his daughter Iris

PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM PITFIELD

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I never expected to be a dad: The path to adoption with Adrian Adair

I never expected to be a dad: The path to adoption with Adrian Adair

“…Honestly, I never thought I’d be a dad”

For many, the path to parenthood is not made from perfectly shaped, life stepping stones. Keen to explore the diverse routes to, and experiences of, becoming a parent I reached out to one of our Morson executive managers who has recently navigated the adoption process to become a father with his partner.

For safeguarding purposes, we have kept the identity of the family anonymous, so there’s no BROOD photography provided by the talented Tom Pitfield, but I’m confident you’ll be as moved by this honest, inspiring and, at times, emotional story as I was.

During our conversation, we explore the challenges of raising a child with a traumatic past, the complications of using traditional parenting techniques with an adoptive child and why adoption should be considered more widely as a path to parenthood.

Morson Group
Adoption Process
Morson Group - Find your next job

Let’s start with your new reality, parenthood. How long have you been a dad?

We have had our boy for just under a year now, he moved in with us in November of last year. Honestly, I never thought I’d be a dad, but my partner and I have been together for 17 years and we felt it was time to start a family, so we decided to explore adoption.

We’ve had many a conversation over the past 9 months about how your little boy has changed your life and I’m interested to understand more about your experience of adopting and the adoption process itself…

It’s been an interesting time, not least because of the personal circumstances and realities you become aware of. All children who are in the adoption process will have experienced trauma in one way or another. The very reason they’re in the care system is because they have encountered some kind of harm and that could be anything from physical, sexual or emotional abuse and severe neglect. So, a big part of the process is having to prepare yourself to cope with, understand and manage that child’s experiences and life story.

Because we’ve adopted a slightly older child, who wasn’t put into the system until they were five and a half, he’s had years of not having his needs met. As you can imagine, caring for a child who has gone for five and a half years experiencing that when you cry, no one’s cuddled you, or when you’ve been hungry, no one’s fed you, their parent has gone out and left you alone at home on your own… there’s a lot of things to unpick. Often adopting an older child can come with more challenges than if you adopt a newborn baby. For example, in adoption, you can do something called early permanence. In early permanence, the birth mum is still in pregnancy and social services are aware that it’s a challenging environment with the birth family, so as soon as that child is born the baby is taken into care. These babies are safeguarded and cared for by the system from birth.

However, whatever the path to adoption, one thing you can rely on is that each child who enters care has experienced some type of trauma whether that’s in the womb or in the outside world. So you just need to prepare yourself for this.

So, as a couple, how do you prepare yourself for this reality and becoming adoptive parents to a child with a traumatic past, did you take any leave from work?

We did loads of research, training and workshops so we were fully aware of the challenges and prioritised creating an environment where our child would feel safe and supported. To help with this I took three months of adoption leave. The adoption policy for Morson would have allowed me to take 12 months or more if I wanted to, but I was conscious we needed to introduce work/life balance into our environment as part of the process – because that’s the reality of our lives. Three months full pay was amazing because when you bring your child home, that period of attachment with your child is massively important. Being able to take three months off and not having to worry about my salary was huge for me. My partner took off six months and he could have extended it to 12 months as well. That period where we both stayed at home together to nurture, understand and get to know our child and adapt to our new lives was essential.

Of course, the beauty of having a slightly older child is they do go to school which gave us some downtime, so that’s an advantage! Self-care and a strong support network is of paramount importance when you adopt a child, so allowing yourself time to have a relaxing bath, read a magazine or go for a coffee with a friend is a must.

As the parent of a toddler, I’m looking forward to school! Also, please give me hope, do they sleep when they’re older, please tell me they do?!

Do you know what? It’s funny because when he first came to us he would go to bed, then he would get up a short time later and become dysregulated. During this time he’d be throwing cushions and screaming at us, and it would take him probably an hour to settle.

And now?

You can put him to bed at 7:30 pm, say ‘Goodnight, I love you’ and he’ll not get out of bed until the morning (which happened to be 5:55 am today). We spoke to an educational psychologist who explained to us that if you do not feel safe the primary thing that is affected is your sleep. So, the fact that he sleeps through the night is speaking volumes about how he feels at home with us, so that’s a huge win.

That’s amazing and so positive to hear.

When you first came back to work I remember us chatting and you had loads of interesting tips like this for adopters and anyone caring for a child. Would you mind sharing some more?

Do you know what, a lot of the training when you go through the adoption process doesn’t just deal with children who’ve experienced trauma. Much of it can cover how to handle any child who is demonstrating challenging behaviours.

For me, the one key takeaway here was the power of playfulness. No matter how agitated they are, playfulness will nearly always get a child out of the mindset of being angry or upset. If you can get a child to smile or laugh, they cannot feel anger or upset at the same time. So one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that being playful and silly will help your child to become regulated again. Because of this, we find ourselves doing the most ridiculous things! If he suddenly becomes distracted, frustrated or unsettled we’ll do a stupid voice or a silly dance, or we’ll put on a silly song. As soon as he starts laughing you know he’s coming around, so playfulness is massive.

One of the other tips is distraction techniques. If you can distract your child it can help to diffuse potentially challenging behaviours. Tactics like making anonymous phone calls, for example, picking up the phone and making out that you’re speaking to someone immediately gets him to ask questions like, ‘Who’s that on the phone dad’… his curiosity takes over his agitation.

So, yes, playfulness and distraction are the two big things we’ve learned. My partner and I certainly have a playful nature, so I won’t lie, we actually really enjoy it.

Natasha Jonas Training
ADRIAN ADAIR FOR MORSON. IMAGES © BROOD MAGAZINE

So you say those tips are universal but do you think there are differences in parenting an adoptive child vs. a child who has had a more traditional upbringing?

I would say yes. You cannot parent a child who’s experienced trauma the same way you would a child who has not had a traumatic start to life.

Discipline is one key difference. If you’ve got a baby or child who cries a lot, traditional parenting methods may suggest leaving them to self-soothe or tactics such as sending them to their room to calm down. You can’t do that with a child who has experienced trauma because if your child used to cry, and no one ever came, their behaviour regresses. So you have to go and comfort them. Because of their experiences, many of these children have not met their developmental milestones because they haven’t had their needs met. Therefore their chronological age is different to their emotional age. For example, you may have a child who is eight, but emotionally still could be only 18 months old because they never had their emotional needs met.

It’s little things like when they get out of the bath, wrapping them in a towel and rocking them, which they didn’t experience as a baby. Another thing is around meal times, for example, my boy will occasionally ask for help eating because he didn’t have that support in his earlier years so is looking for that need to be met now. As an adoptive parent, you’ve got to consider their emotional age, not their chronological age. Remembering this is key.

I’ll be honest, I’ve found this part really difficult. I’m fighting 38 years of being parented and in a particular way. The fuses in my childhood home were very short and you cannot behave that way with an adoptive child, you must have patience. So it’s been a real eye-opener for me on how to try and control my initial reactions, be more tolerant and think about things more carefully.

So is it fair to say that the adoption experience has taught you a lot about yourself? Has becoming a parent changed you in any way?

Yes, I would say this experience has definitely taught me more about myself. I’ve always been quite an empathetic person and this has helped me transition into the adoptive parent role. This whole process has highlighted how important empathy and understanding people’s situations are. I think I’ve always been that way, to be honest, but even more so now.

Although I was only saying at work yesterday it’s funny how I have so much patience and tolerance with my team, yet you flip it onto parenthood and my tolerances and patience get a bit shorter. But I think this is because, when you become a parent your child becomes the most important thing in your life. Things that I would get upset and frustrated about beforehand in work, I’m just like, it’s not that important anymore. I don’t sweat the small stuff because my child and his well-being are my priority.

I agree. I think patience is the key word. People say to me all the time that I’ve calmed down since I’ve become a dad. I think when you’re at home, in a social environment or the workplace being more patient with people whether that’s colleagues, children, family or friends ensures you get the best out of those around you.

Speaking of friends, when we used to meet up we’d talk about which restaurant we’d been to or what holiday we’d just booked. Now it’s all mealtime strategies, sleep cycles and ‘guess what food has been smeared on my clothes this morning?’ Is it fair to say life has changed?

Yeah! Now it’s all about soft play and where the best children’s theme parks are. Holidays are not the same. Now you book a hotel based on the kids club reviews and availability of free slushies.

It’s not a holiday anymore. It’s a trip!

Yeah, it’s very, very different, but different in a good way.

I never expected to be a dad. Ever. Because I thought parenthood would be something that I would never do, you don’t work towards it. I think in heterosexual couples (or certainly it used to be) you would get together, get married and have a baby; you’d have these relationship milestones set out. But often in a gay relationship, couples get together, get a house and live the rest of your life frivolously. But as soon as my partner and I started the process we knew we were meant to be dads and I would never change it.

I always said when I first met Leanne that I’m not getting married again, I don’t want children and I don’t like pets…

And look at you now.

Yep, 15 years on, we’re married, we’ve got a dog and Alana proceeded pretty swiftly afterwards. You make a good point though. Society used to force everyone into these ‘norms’ but nowadays people are ripping up the rule book. I think we were probably the last generation who felt that pressure.

Though I couldn’t see my life any other way now. To see the world through a child’s eyes is probably the best thing I’ve ever experienced because they just love everything, don’t they? The first time they step on sand or go on a plane, it’s all new and exciting…

Oh absolutely! The number of times we’ve sat there and our little boy has just looked up and gone ‘This is the best day ever!‘.

It’s particularly powerful for him because he was taken into care at five and went through several different foster placements, so he’s never been able to feel safe, settled or have things of his own. He’s never been spoiled, and now he’s having all these experiences, he’s like WOW! Though we’ve had to reign it in a little bit!

What’s it like seeing the difference in him and knowing you’re giving him the best life experiences possible? Are you an adoption advocate?

A massive yes on both parts. I think more people need to see adoption as an option. People don’t look at or talk about fostering and adoption enough. I mean, consider the positive impact you can have; not only are you bringing joy to your life, but you’re also giving a child who would not have the best life a chance to have an amazing life. So people should think more about it because they’re crying out for adopters.

Look, it’s challenging, I won’t sugar coat that, in some early conversations with you I probably burst into tears a couple of times, but the rewards on both sides are huge.

That’s such a powerful message and you’ve completely opened my eyes, like many others I’m guilty of being relatively naive to the adoption conversation. Do you have any tips for people that are thinking about going on that journey?

I think my one tip would be that you cannot be overprepared. Read the books. Do as much training as you possibly can, because there is nothing that can prepare you for some of the challenges that are involved, but it is very, very, very rewarding. Some training courses we went on and some of the stories we heard were so sad and unbelievable so yeah, just be prepared. That’s the most important thing.

We’ve worked together now for 11(!) years and it’s been lovely to see you go on this journey, I know I’ve never seen you happier. You’ve got such a nurturing personality, and a brilliant relationship with your partner, I know you’re creating a great home for your boy.

Yeah, times have certainly changed since we were dancing on tables doing Karaoke and singing Barbie Girl! But I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Through my relationship with this particular colleague and others, I’ve seen first-hand how adoption has enriched the lives of both adults and children. For me, it’s so important that organisations support and enable people to explore all routes to parenthood, and as business leaders, we must help to facilitate and champion this.

At Morson, our adoption policy has been crafted to ensure that adoptive parents are supported equally to those on traditional maternity or paternity leave. Primary parents receive the same entitlement as those on maternity and secondary parents mirror paternity policy. But, it’s not just adoption, we’re looking at various family structures to ensure our colleagues are supported by policies which are fair, inclusive, and reflective of their personal circumstances. For example, we’re currently working directly with one of our colleagues who is going through IVF to help write and shape our IVF policy to ensure it offers the right level of support.

As a business with a large, global reach we’re passionate about influencing positive change across our network based on learned experience. As such our HR teams are working with a number of clients to help them craft inclusive policies for their current and future workforce, through our HR Outsourcing service.

If you are a business wishing to explore how best to champion inclusion and support your employees or an individual looking for an opportunity in an organisation that cares for the personal and professional you, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me directly adrian.adair@morson.com

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Oli’s Dadpreneur Diary

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Oli & Kim Dunn and thier Daughter Romy for BROOD MAGAZINE © TOM Pitfield Photography 

“Becoming a Dad has inspired me.”

Hi I’m Oli, you might know me as Oli The Choc, I’ve been a chocolatier for 20 years, growing up in the family business Simon Dunn Chocolatier I watched my parents start a business from scratch and that inspired me to do the same.
My Mum and Dad own a chocolate shop so they are the “product” whereas I’m the “service”, entertaining people with chocolate and teaching them how to make things, this gives me incredible satisfaction when I see them get into their creative flow and learn something new, kids or adults. I’ve created my own crazy little world on social media and on Chocolate Street in High Lane, Stockport. I’m passionate about working with chocolate and about being me, having fun and sharing what I do with the world.

In the last couple of years I’ve been on a journey into podcasting, presenting and appearing on TV shows such as Blue Peter and Stephs Packed Lunch.
I’m delighted to be part of the Brood family, as a new Dad, self confessed big kid and running my own business I’m here to share some of those experiences, lessons, thoughts and hopefully adding some value and interestingness (is that even a word?) to you👇🏼 and here to remind you that you can still pursue your dreams and achieve your goals whilst being a parent.

On the 13th June 2021 Romy Star was born into the world thanks to a very special beautiful lady, her Mama, my wife Kim. People told us life will never be the same, and you won’t be able to do the things you used to. Well I’m here to tell you that you can, yes it’s different and there’s a lot of juggling, challenges and sometimes frustration but the most significant fact for me is that my “why” is much stronger than ever before.

In becoming a Dad I feel I now have a greater purpose in being the best version of myself, succeeding in business/ career and most importantly being happy.
Therefore this has cemented who I am as a person, embracing my own madness and desire to play and be a big kid. After all who ever said we have to stop having fun when we become adults and more so parents, so I’m doubling down on that!

My advise to any parent would be, make time for yourself when you can, read, write, walk, run or in my case Onewheel (if you follow me on IG you’ll know what that is) to give you that reset, refocus, clear mind, fresh perspective and your own identity outside of being a parent which will strengthen your parenting skills

Oli Dunn Chocolatier
Oli Dunn Choc
Oli The Choc presenting

Becoming a Dad has inspired me.
It’s important for me to show Romy you can do something you love and pursue random fun experiences in life, just because you want to. You can live the life you want and you can show others that they can too.

As a child I wanted to be a TV or radio presenter but I always felt from feedback that this was “unrealistic” so I joined the family business and became a chocolatier. Which I loved then and love even more now.
This actually led me down a path of presenting which I didn’t realise at the time, hosting children’s parties and corporate events. The main skill aside from working with chocolate was presenting and entertaining.
This has opened doors and created opportunities for me outside of chocolate in that I have a Podcast called Goin’ In Deep, and I host live shopping shows on TikTok working with brands such as I Saw It First, Disney, Warner Bros, Zavvi, Lego etc.

I want to be able to say to Romy that she can be and do whatever she feels inspired to and to know that nothing is “unrealistic”, so my drive is to be able to show her that this is true through how I’ve lived my life. Living proof.

You can create the life you want and if you truly want to do something, you can and you will.
You have to be patient and work hard but trust the process. Give yourself a pat on the back now and again and remind yourself how far you have come. Nothing will get in your way, not even becoming a parent. Everything you do leads to something else, opportunities are everywhere, so keep going.

I’m excited to share that message to Romy and to see where she takes this perspective in her life, the sky is the limit.

I am excited to share more of my perspectives and experiences with you through my Brood articles and I hope you will come with me on my journey and I hope as well you will be able to relate and take something away.

Until next time, but for now I’ll leave you with this thought;
Stop what you’re doing and be Grateful AF for what you have and have achieved so far.
Keep being the best ‘you’ you can be and remember to enjoy the journey, every single thing you do leads to something else. Trust the process.

Yours Chocolatey,

Oli
@Oli_The_Choc

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Amateur star to world champion but the best title is ‘Mum’ | Natasha Jonas on returning to the ring with Adrian Adair

Amateur star to world champion but the best title is ‘Mum’ | Natasha Jonas on returning to the ring with Adrian Adair

ADRIAN ADAIR OF MORSON GROUP INTERVIEWING NATASHA JONAS. © BROOD MAGAZINE

“…You feel the social pressure to be there for your child.”

Natasha Jonas is one of British boxing’s trailblazers. Supported by Tyson Fury, Claressa Shields, Ellie Scotney, and Chantelle Cameron, Tash has become a star in the boxing world. With an outstanding amateur career, she was the first-ever female British boxer to qualify for the Olympic Games and has since become known as “Miss GB”. Spurred on by a disappointing Olympic loss to Katie Taylor, in 2017 she turned professional under the tutelage of Joe Gallagher. Tash has held the WBO female junior-middleweight title since February 2020, graduating from Miss GB to Queen GB.

A key corporate sponsor since 2017, Morson has championed Tash in the sporting arena from the time she turned pro. However, for this article, I was keen to explore her life outside of the ring; as a mother negotiating a professional dream and bringing up a young daughter. I met Tash at Joe Gallaghers Gym (professional coach of the Smith brothers: Stephen, Paul, Liam and Callum along with Matthew Macklin, John Murray, Anthony Crolla, Scotty Cardle, Scott Quigg, Hosea Burton, and Callum Johnson) in Bolton for an honest, enlightening and inspiring interview about her experiences of returning to a professional career after having a baby.

Morson Group
Natasha Jonas
NATASHA JONAS IMAGES © BROOD MAGAZINE
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Tell us a little about how you got into boxing and your career to date

“My entry into boxing was a good accident. 18 years ago I was on a scholarship in America playing football and I got injured. Devastatingly it was the end of my football career. When I came home, I put on a lot of weight and felt like I had no direction. I realised that within a year of not doing anything, that sport was my motivation and drive to be positive and do good things. So I looked for another sporting avenue to put my efforts into.”

 

From Toxteth, Jonas first fell into boxing when she became aware of female-only nights at Rotunda Gym, north Liverpool and was brought into the sport by female boxing trainer Sylvia Singleton.

“I was only at the gym as a fitness thing, although I’ve been involved in some contact sport – kick-boxing and karate – since I was young. But when Sylvia asked me, I went along, and it just steamrollered from there. Before I knew it, I was eight bouts, eight knockouts, and I quickly got chosen for the England team.”

 

What do you see as your greatest achievement?

“I think there are two special nights that stand out and one of them being the Olympic qualification. I’ve always loved sport and I remember watching the 1988 Olympic Games on television when I was four and saying to my mum, “I’m going to be there someday”. Of course, I was only four so my mum was like ‘yeah whatever’ and I said, ‘no, I’m going to be there.’

So, fast forward 24 years, I’ve just qualified for the Olympics but I didn’t know this story. I’d done the interviews about what a moment this was for me, feeling emotional but I hadn’t cried. I’d landed back in the UK, headed through the airport and saw my mum at arrivals, she was crying, bawling her eyes out, and I was like, mum what’s up?!’ She said, ‘I remember you as a little girl telling me, “I’m going to be there” and it’s taken you all this time… 105 different sports but you’ve got here in the end and you worked hard, tried your best, didn’t give up and you’ve got your reward.” So that moment for me and my mum was truly special.

The second moment was the fight with Namus on the Amir Khan vs Kell Brook undercard. Boxing in Liverpool was brilliant and boxing at home is where I want to be, but that was a big, big card. It was probably my last chance at a world title shot. So, the pressure was on, the opponent was good and I had to go out and perform before the highly anticipated Amir Khan vs Kell Brook fight. When it worked out for me I was made up for myself, my family, and my little girl. But I was also so happy for Joe [Gallagher] as well because he goes through absolutely everything that I go through.”

 

You’ve said in interviews before that you thought falling pregnant meant the end of your boxing career. Can you tell us about this time in your life?

I was an amateur then. In the 2014 Commonwealth Games, I snapped a ligament in my toe and that injury meant that I’d missed the qualifiers for Rio and I didn’t have any intentions of staying amateur until 2020 for Tokyo. So when I said goodbye to the amateurs, I was effectively saying goodbye to boxing because there wasn’t a pro scene for us here in the UK. I decided within that time to have a baby because, in my opinion, you do have to stop one for the other.

It’s not like the lads where you just have a week off to be with your baby and then you go off back to work or training. As a woman, a mother who’s just given birth, your body changes, you feel the societal pressure to be there for your child and more than that, you do want to be there for your baby every step of the way. I went away and had my little girl but switching that focus from boxing to her prompted a mix of emotions.

I was so glad that I had her. Boxing is such a big void to fill when you’re finished and I think many people struggle with that. The sport takes up so much of your life and when it’s not there it’s so incredibly hard to find something positive to put your energy into. But I was okay because I had my baby to put my all into but it’s a completely different kind of challenge. You’re trying to be that perfect mum for this new human that you’re now responsible for. You’re trying to take on all the advice and do everything that you’re told correctly and be perfect. This consumed all my energy. But gradually she got into her own little routine, became more self-sufficient and was evolving into her own person. So, there was again this void. Then the opportunity came about to go pro with Joe Gallagher.

The first two people I called were my mum and my cousin. This was because they see all the dark sides of boxing that people don’t see; like the time when I cried for two days after the Olympics when I got beaten by Katie Taylor. They go through all the camps with me and they assured me to not ever worry about my baby as she will always be looked after. They said that as long as I can do it, they were always behind me, supporting me. That was all I needed to hear, I contacted Joe and the rest was history.”

 

How difficult was it juggling being a mother and a boxer to begin with?

To be honest, my job might be different, but my experience of being a working mother isn’t. There are stereotypes of what a boxer is, but I’m lucky that all my mates have got kids around the same age. When I would say “I’m struggling a bit” with this or that, I had a support network and my family to be able to go back to. I’d like to think that this was no different really from any other working mum. It was just that the routine of my job was a bit different. I’d get her ready for school, I’d take her to school, I’d come to Bolton or I’d go to Liverpool to train if I needed, I’d do my two sessions and then I’d go home and pick her up from after school.

It was good during the lockdown, especially during the Terri Harper camp because she was able to come with me and get involved. She’s always known that mum’s a boxer and mum goes to the gym but she never actually knew what happened in the gym. And when she came along she was like, ‘Oh this is what happens!” She was counting all the lad’s reps and she was Joe’s number two! She loved giving me water in-between rounds of sparring. It was brilliant that she had that experience and when she is at home now, she knows what mum does at the gym. She’s so lucky in the sense that, it’s not only myself that she has to look up to, but she’s got a Nikita in women’s football.

Natasha Jonas Training
NATASHA JONAS TRAINING. IMAGES © BROOD MAGAZINE

[Nikita is Tash’s younger sister who plays football for Manchester United and the England “Lionesses” National team]

She has no interest in doing anything that I enjoy, but when it’s Nikita, she’s her hero and she’s like ‘I want to be like Auntie Kita!'”

What would you do if your daughter wanted to go into boxing?

“For everything that boxing has done for me. I could never grumble or complain. It’s not just about the skill of being able to box, I am determined, I’m hungry, I’m motivated by myself in the ring or as part of a team in the gym. I’m committed. I’d like to say I’m on time, but Joe might say different!

If you ask that employer what you want your employee to be like, they’d say all these things. They’re life skills that can propel you to be in sport or business. I’ve got a job at Sky now doing commentary and I’m on a Parliamentary group for boxing, the APPG Boxing Group. That would never have been possible, I was just a snotty nose kid from Toxteth. I didn’t think I’d be discussing acts with Parliament and the pathways for young female and male boxers. It’s opened those doors, so why wouldn’t I let my daughter do it? There are lots of skills there that boxing encourages.”

 

Do you think she’d be more likely to follow in Nikita’s footsteps?

“I’ll just be happy if she does a sport that I like to watch! She’s into dancing, gymnastics and karate so far. But, every Jonas I think since the eighties has done karate! I just encourage her to be active. I think it’s important. I think it’s positive for the mind, body and soul. “

 

The family will have been celebrating your sister, Nikita’s Euros win with England, what’s that been like?

Yeah, she’s my little girl’s hero, every time she’s on TV she’s like ‘That’s my auntie!’ It’s great and visibility has always been key to any sport. We always knew how good female boxing was. We just needed a platform to have it on. And we got that. And I think football’s got that at the minute. The whole sport and women’s sport is right on the crest of a wave and while we’ve got them eyes on us positively, we need to keep hold of that and go with it. Whether that’s a bit of tokenism, whether that’s whatever we’ve got it. So use it positively and inspire a generation, which was what the Olympics was about. And I know in boxing we’ve seen like a 50, 60% increase of the girls ready to box and football will be the same. It’s got to be from the grassroots up and young girls are going to be thinking ‘I want to be like ‘Nikita Paris’.

Any final advice for other working mums…

Yes, when you become a mum, do not give up on your dreams. A mum is what you are, not who you are. You’re still entitled to follow your dreams as well as be a mum. You don’t have to stop one for another.

I’m a bit more spiritual than I used to be, and someone said once: name three things that you love. So, I said, the baby, my mum, my dad. They said name three more. So, I said, brother, sister, nan. I kept going with others as they kept asking, the dog, work… I got to about number 20 and she said, “you haven’t said ‘you’ once.”

 

It’s made me realise it’s OK to put you first. If you’re not loving yourself and happy, how are you supposed to be that for another person. It’s important to consider, “who are you?” and not lose your identity and become, ‘just a mother’. I’m determined, I’m loving, I’m family oriented. I’m more than that.

 

 

Natasha Jonas has made a significant impact on women’s boxing in this country and has achieved huge things for her sport, her city, and her country. However, it is the way she was able to return to work and turn pro after having her child, that I found incredibly interesting and particularly relevant to some of the conversations I have every day.

Throughout our discussion, Tash affirmed that there doesn’t have to be a binary between being a parent and having a career. But, curating a family life where parents, particularly mothers, feel able to pursue an ambition outside of parenthood can, for some, feel unachievable. I hear from many colleagues and my wider network that returning to the workplace, whether that’s post-maternity leave or after a longer career break, can feel daunting bringing conflicting feelings of guilt, fear and insecurity.

Tash cited her close support network many times throughout our interview as playing a vital role in her ability to return to the ring after having her daughter, Mela. It’s often said it takes a village to raise a family and I can personally advocate for the power of having a trusted support network. Traditional connections in the form of family, friends and neighbours or more unconventional groups such as colleagues, teachers, gym buddies and community members can all provide a key anchor for working parents. Research indicates that when parents have a sense of connection with people who care about them, it provides a sense of security and confidence. As well as enabling practical benefits such as time and space having these kinds of connections allows them to share the joy and relieve the guilt, and uncertainties that come with the parenting role.

Indeed, as well as her drive and talent, it is the people around her who enable Tash to be high-performing sportsperson and high-performing mum. For many parents, nothing will assuage natural feelings of uncertainty, but with a trusted network and an open, empathetic employer you can create the bandwidth needed to pursue your personal and professional dreams.

Natasha Jonas will return to her home city of Liverpool for a world title unification fight against Patricia Berghult on September 3, live on Sky Sports.

Morson Group
MORSON GROUP INTERVIEW IMAGES © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD MAGAZINE
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Cath Tyldesley & Tom Pitfield share the news of Cath’s incredible career opportunity overseas that will leave Tom  ‘holding the baby’.

Cath Tyldesley & Tom Pitfield share the news of Cath’s incredible career opportunity overseas that will leave Tom ‘holding the baby’.

© BROOD MAGAZINE. OUR CO-FOUNDER TOM PITFIELD, HIS WIFE, ACTRESS CATHERINE TYLDESLEY & THEIR SON ALFIE & DAUGHTER IRIS 

“Mum guilt never gets any easier!

Only last week our co-founder Tom Pitfield, and his wife, a successful and widely respected actress, singer, writer and producer – Cath Tyldesley, had a gold-plated spanner thrown in the works when it came to their family life; when Cath was offered a dream role in an exciting TV drama, which meant that she would be filming on location abroad for three months! Within the space of a week, from the amazing opportunity arising, Cath was on a plane and on her way to pursue an incredible career opportunity, with Tom effectively left ‘holding the baby’.

Anyone who knows Cath knows that she is a doting mum and that she absolutely adores her family, so it goes without saying that leaving her family behind to embark on her latest career adventure was not going to be something that she would find easy, but having worked so hard her entire career and proving people wrong through undeniable determination and unwavering talent, the only option was to embrace the opportunity, and make both herself and her family proud. Cath is flying the flag for all the formidable Mamma’s that stand tall and say it’s more than ok to be a mum and still want a career and achieve their dreams; and equally Tom is flying the flag for all the fantastic hands-on dads out there, as anyone who knows Tom, knows that he is more than capable of manning the fort alone for a few months, (albeit that he may need to have lots of rum on hand!) Tom is an amazing father, and he completely supports his wife’s career goals – just as she does his! Between them they make a marvellous team and are showing their children that teamwork really does makes the dream work. We had the pleasure of chatting to Cath and Tom about this very ‘BROOD-esq’ situation, just before Cath had to leave for the airport, and they bravely shared both their excitement and fears that the situation has brought upon them, and they explain how they see it as just another adventure that they will complete and that will further enhance their family’s life in the long term. 

Tom Pitfield and his daughter Iris
© BROOD MAGAZINE. OUR CO-FOUNDER TOM PITFIELD & HIS DAUGHTER IRIS 

“- yes, I am a mother, but I am also still Cath, and an actress

Cath, you’ve just landed a dream role – congratulations! It’s so well deserved and such amazing news!!! You’ll be working on location for a number of months though, meaning you will be away from your family, which will inevitably be really hard for you all, but in order to succeed in our careers it can often mean making sacrifices – especially when you have little ones, and you are self-employed; how important is it to you to lead by example in showing your children that they should always follow their dreams, and how much did that impact your decision in accepting the role?

Cath – “It’s hard, I almost feel like two different people, because there is career-Cath who is incredibly ambitious, extremely self-motivated and very driven, and so I’m always determined to fulfil my goals. Failure isn’t an option. And I love my job. My job is my happy place. But then on the flip side being a mum is my happy place too and it’s ok to want to have both of those things! There’s never a true balance, so there is no point trying to get that. I think I have to remember that sometimes I’m with them [the children] and sometimes I’m not, that’s just how it is. But I get to see my children more than most ‘9-5’ people, so although I might work away for a couple of months here and there, in between jobs I have a lot of downtime and that is always spent with my kids and my husband, so in a lot of ways we’re very lucky. But, yes, I’m not denying it’s incredibly difficult and I’m actually just about to leave to go to the airport and I can’t stop crying! I’ve got tears of joy because it’s an amazing role, it’s an amazing job, with amazing talent, but the other part of me is crying because even though I’m going to be reunited with my family in 10 days’ time, my little girl is only 16 weeks old, so it’s a long time to be away from her, to be away from them both. But I hope I instil a good work ethic in my children and show them that it’s important to remember who you are, because yes, I am a mother, but I am also still Cath, and an actress.

Also, my parents held down several jobs to give myself and my sister a good life, and for me to be able to go to drama school, so I grew up with working parents. And my kids come everywhere with me, wherever possible, we’re flying them out in just over a weeks’ time, where I go the kids go, we’re a family so I always strive to make it work!”

We live in a society where unfortunately it still seems to be ‘not the done thing’ for a mum to return to work while their babies are young, what would you say to anyone who may cast judgment on you for working away whilst Iris is so young?

Cath – “You can’t cast judgement on any parent! Being a parent is the most wonderful job in the world, but it is also the most challenging mentally – and physically! You need to be in athletic condition to be a parent, especially when you’ve got several children. Looking after your health is everything when you’re a parent for so many reasons. It takes real strength of character to be a good parent and you just need to make things work for you and your family, and every single family is different. I couldn’t do a 9-5 job, knowing that week after week that I would be caught in the rat race and only be getting home just in time to put the kids down for bed. That does not appeal to me. Whereas the way that I live, as mentioned earlier, yes there are intense work periods, but in between that I have weeks and weeks where I’m with the children, where I’m able to do the school runs and we can do lots of nice things together, and I just think that whatever your situation you make it work.”

Tom is obviously an amazing Dad and completely hands-on, so both the children are in very good hands, but the dreaded ‘Mum Guilt’ always seems to creep in – even when there is nothing to feel guilty about! What coping mechanisms do you use to help you deal with ‘Mum Guilt’ when you’re working?

Cath – “Mum guilt never gets any easier! I was awake at half three this morning and I had a little cry, I’ll admit that because I do feel guilty sometimes. But then I used to feel guilty when I had a more regular job, because I was working all day every day and there was no real end in sight. So, I think that no matter what position you are in as parent in terms of work, you’re always going to feel guilty, and the fact of the matter is that I want my children to have the best possible life that I can give them and for me that means being surrounded by love and wonderful, inspirational people, and that’s what my children have tenfold.

Hopefully they’ll be inspired by me and Tom, and I really hope that they both have driven personalities and can follow their dreams. I tell Alfie all the time that if you can see it, you can achieve it. I’m living proof of that. So many people told me I wouldn’t do half the things I’ve done, and I’ve done them! I think goal setting is very important in life and it’s very important to establish that positivity for your children because the world that we live in, more than ever, can be a very dark place, so helping them to have a positive mental attitude is so important.”

 

Tom, how much Rum did you drink when you realised Cath was going to be working on location for so long and that you would be left effectively holding the baby?! (Lol)

Tom – “I’m not going to lie; Rum will play a part in my parenting over the next three months!” He laughs. “To be honest, with this job and how it just all happened so quickly we didn’t really have time to think. As soon as Cath walked out of the door to go the airport, I had that realisation that I’ve got to cook the tea now, whilst holding the baby and looking after a 7-year-old, and that’s not going to change for the next three months. But you know what, we’ve done it before – albeit it was just me and Alfie then, so we’ve got an extra one this time, but we’ll do it! We knew this was going to be our life whether we had one or two kids, or no kids, so we knew the deal when we first got together and we always said we would do everything as a team, so this is just the next adventure, and we’ll complete it and move on. And we’ve got to just stay positive like that, as Cath’s following her dreams and we support her, just like she supports me, so it’s mutual respect.”

 

What are your biggest fears of juggling being the main carer for children and maintaining your own growing career whilst Cath is away?

Tom – “Initially I think my biggest fear is centred around Alfie, because he’s our first and he had 7 years of it being just us three, and when Cath was working away, it was just us two. I’ve explained to him that Mummy’s working away again, but that this time we’ve got Iris so it will be harder, and I might not always be able to give him the attention he deserves.

With regards to the career side of things, it will be a challenge, but it’s always a challenge when you’ve got kids anyway, especially with Catherine’s career being the way it is, so that has always been a juggling act. Having the extra element of having Alfie and Iris on my own will make it a little bit harder, and I’m sure there will be a fine line in making sure I don’t compromise the kids or my career, but I know I can do it and my main goal is just to get the job done and not to drop the ball workwise at all so that from a client point of no one will see the struggles, as that’s really important.”

You are a very hands-on Dad and although a lot more people are these days, for some there still seems to be a ridiculous perception that the majority of parenting responsibility should lie with the mother. Are you proud of the example that you are setting your children, in showing them that parenting isn’t just for Mum and that it’s about teamwork where Dad can play just as much of an important role as Mum?

Tom – “Yeah, absolutely. I think if I look around at a lot of my friends, even though they’ve got full time jobs, they are very hands on like myself, so I think it’s definitely changing. But when you are out in the wider public there certainly is still a perception for what dads ‘should be doing’ and what mums ‘should be doing’ – even in this day and age! So yes, I’m extremely proud. Even if I’m just walking through the supermarket to go and change Iris or something, and it’s just me and her, I’m very proud of wearing the changing bag and just being as hands on as I am. And I absolutely do think that will flow through to the kids and I’d like them to be the same, especially Alfie. I think the way both of us parent, going back to Cath working away, is because we want that work ethic to pass down to the kids. We always show them that Mummy and Daddy train hard, they work hard, and they play hard, and I think there is a lot to be said for that. So, if they can go into adult life with that similar mentality, we know they won’t do so bad. So, it definitely plays a part in the way we construct our lives, because we do want them to learn from it. The roles are very similar these days, it’s not just a dad’s job to go out and earn, Mums are just as big and as important in that respect and vice versa from a parenting point of view. And this is obviously one of the things that BROOD Magazine is about, we want to highlight that it’s ok for it to be 50/50 and get rid of that stigma!” 

 

Tom Pitfield, Catherine Tyldesley and Family
Tom Pitfield, Catherine Tyldesley and Family © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY 
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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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Liz Taylor: business leader, events guru, speaker and author

Liz Taylor: business leader, events guru, speaker and author

Liz Taylor © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

The formidable Liz Taylor is a successful CEO, business leader, events guru, speaker, and author, with an incredible career spanning over 35 years.

“- you can never fail at anything you do; you can only learn from it!”

The formidable Liz Taylor is a successful CEO, business leader, events guru, speaker, and author, with an incredible career spanning over 35 years.  As if Liz’s career resume isn’t impressive enough, once you hear how she built her empire whilst raising two daughters as a single mum, her business journey becomes even more inspiring. Through sheer determination, hard work and making the most of every opportunity, Liz has managed to build a widely respected multi-million-pound company, invest in an impressive property portfolio and educate her two daughters privately and through university. We were lucky enough to sit down with Liz and listen to her share her story with us. It’s hard not to feel inspired and motivated after listening to this powerhouse of a single mother.

At the beginning of the interview we explain to Liz that as working parents we want to know how did she do it?!’ She begins by sharing how that is the very question her own daughters have recently asked her, now that they too are experiencing life as a working mum…

“It’s really interesting because my eldest daughter, who’s almost 38 now, has just started working for me and she did her first event this weekend. It was down in London, and I was staying with her on the Friday night. I babysat and I let her run the event. And when she came home at around midnight, she said to me ‘Mum, I don’t know how you ever did it?!’ And I think that was the realisation, she’s got two children herself now, she’s a working mum and she’s juggling all the balls, just like I did. The difference is that she has a husband, and I didn’t.”

 

So, take us back to the start of your career and life as a young mother. How did you end up stepping into the world of events and running a business, and how did you manage that alongside being a mother?

“Goldie was born in 1984 and Katie followed fourteen months later in 1986. I divorced when they were just 2 and 4 and left with nothing other than a deposit for a home.  

Financial circumstances were challenging and having come from a retail background I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. But I knew that I had to work.

When Katie was born I had just started to tiptoe into the business of events, as a friend of mine was holding a bar mitzvah and she asked me to help her. Whilst I was helping her, she said, ‘Why don’t you do this for a living? You’re so organised’. At that time there were no event organisers in the Northwest and just a couple of competitors in the South. . Marks and Spencer’s had given me the grounding I needed for events, it was a fantastic education from an organisational perspective, and so after organising this bar mitzvah and I saw an opportunity. I followed my gut which has been my mantra since I started.  My first stop was the Midland Hotel, which had been bought out by the Holiday INN . I had come up with a scheme for a friend of mine who had a fashion business and I cold called the hotel to see if they were interested in it. During the course of conversation the sales director said that they wanted to do a Hollywood night to relaunch the hotel. That was it – someone had opened a door and I jumped right in  I put the launch event together, Ainsley Harriet’s dad was a pianist at a place called Bavadage in Manchester – a cross between Louis Armstrong and Sam Cooke and I persuaded him to perform at the event. I filled the pool with balloons, hired Hollywood lookalike and needless to say it was a massive success. As a result, they gave me two more projects and Liz Taylor Associates was formed. Decision made I was of the view that my USP was me. I loved sales, and I understood early on that these hotels would, initially, be my main source of income. Some months later Granada Studios was being developed as an amusement park and venue. With luck on my side I  meet two guys – Paul Danson and Cameron Milne – who were designing it.  They introduced me to the new sales team and as a result I became their  preferred supplier .So, if a company went in to do a motivational event or a gala dinner they were referred to me  for all the services and that was how I knew how to  grow  the business.”

Liz Taylor
Liz Taylor IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

How did you manage the juggle of starting a new career and business with two young children? That must have been really tough at times?

The children were at private school which was funded by an inheritance they had. Circumstances were such that unbeknown to me that fund was no longer available, but I was determined that they would be my priority and fought tooth and nail to keep them in school. So, I employed a young woman from Scotland, who lived with me for ten years as a nanny and for the first five years of paying her wages I was literally still building the business, so it was very ‘hand-to-mouth’. But I just went for it – I worked all hours. At 4 o’clock in the afternoon I used to be distraught because I knew they were coming home from school, and I wasn’t there to meet them. At weekends I used to go out to work too, I worked Saturday nights and Sunday Nights and then my mum would step in, or the nanny would step in, so it was tough. But in retrospect, when I look back, they’ve got an amazing work ethic. They were covering chairs for me as soon as they could hit their teens. !  Then when they were around 14 years old, I sent them to work in a coffee shop in Hale as a Saturday job, because the work ethic to me was massively important. The girls witnessed me working hard, but we were living in a very, very affluent area and the Jewish community is a small community. Ours was always the smallest house, and I was the only working mother, but I always used to say to my girls ‘a big house is not always a happy house’ and that was always reflected in our relationship borne out of love and respect.  Even now I know the relationship that I have with them is much closer and much more special than it would have been had they been brought up in what I would call a ‘normal’ home. I was confident and determined, and every opportunity that had I used. Every spare penny and any time I took dividends I would buy a house. I started with a little terraced house, and I’ve got 14 of them now. I’ve just been very focused. It’s been a rollercoaster on occasion, but I was determined to set an example to both the girls and me.

So, to any working mother I just think ultimately you come out a much better, a stronger person, if you prioritise – and when I say prioritise, I mean you’ve got to prioritise yourself as well. As long as the children are loved and cared for and looked after, you don’t have to be there 24/7. To me 10 minutes reading with a child is worth more than 5 hours at the supermarket or doing other errands with them. It’s the quality time that matters. I was at every parent evening, I was at every school play, and I would tear myself in 10 to be there. I remember I did my first Asian wedding in Newcastle for 1700 people 35 years ago – I didn’t have a clue what I was doing! It was a massive, massive event and I remember driving back at three o’clock in the morning, because I wanted them to wake up with me at home. Those are things that you do as a working mum.”

“…You can put me anywhere, I’ve sat next to Prince Andrew at Buckingham palace; I’ve had dinner with Prince Charles, all of them and I’ve never felt intimidated, and I think that has been my biggest strength.””

Did you have any set rituals and times where you would ‘switch off’ and just spend time as family?

“Yes, as my kids were always my priority. I’m not religious but Friday night the sabbath dinner was always something that was very important to me, so my kids were never allowed out on a Friday night. It’s like Sunday dinner, you sit round the table, you talk about the week and sometimes I used to entertain friends, or we’d get asked out, but I was always very, very hands on, and my girls were always with me on a Friday night. They were the things that provided the stability in our home. So as crazy as my schedule would get, I would always have that Friday night with them and unless it was an extremely big deal, I wouldn’t work on a Friday night. Now both my girls are working parents they do the same, they light the candles on the Friday night, they have the chicken soup and the chicken dinner and that for me is the glue.”

 

Aside from being determined to make it for your girls, what do you think is behind your unbelievable focus and drive?   

“Well, I’ve always had the fire in my belly. I was privately educated. My parents separated when I was 17.. I always wanted to do Law – my father was a judge, but that all changed when he left because I went off the rails. I left school flunking my A levels  and I joined M&S as a management trainee, I had always had a Saturday job and I loved selling. I was a hustler!  I always wanted to work, I always had that work ethic independence was and still is key.  What I especially I loved about the events business was that you could use your imagination and take these events beyond their [the clients] wildest dreams. I love the creativity. The magic and the madness.

 You can put me anywhere, I’ve sat next to Prince Andrew at Buckingham palace; I’ve had dinner with Prince Charles, all of them and I’ve never felt intimidated, and I think that has been my biggest strength.”

 

Looking back is there anything that you would change if you could?

“No, I wouldn’t change anything, because I think that you can never fail at anything you do; you can only learn from it. If  it doesn’t quite work out or it’s not what you want it to be, it’s a learning curve. I think the fact that I was single made me much stronger and more successful, because how could I not be? I think the only thing I would change is that I wouldn’t worry as much, because everything will be ok, it’s never not going to work out right in the end.”

 

What advice would you give to any career parent that struggling to juggle everything?

“I think the advice that I would give to anybody who is juggling all balls, when you can’t see the wood for the trees, is trust your gut instinct – always trust your gut instinct. You might make mistakes, but you won’t fail. Following my gut instinct has always done me well.

And I think the biggest part of the struggle is the guilt – you only struggle if you feel guilty. But you can’t feel guilty, you’ve got to just get on with it.”

 

Do you think the pressures we feel and the judgements we worry about as working parents, come from society or from within ourselves?

“Yes, I think the pressure comes from within, we live in an age where particularly with all the magazines and reality programmes and social media, we are all influenced by what we see, what we read, what we think we should be doing, how we think we should look, do we go for plastic surgery etc, we’re all influenced, but as you get older you realise that the only person that can influence you is yourself and what you choose to do with your life is your prerogative. To me as long as you love your kids, as long as you care, and you give your child that sense of security – that every child needs -then you’ve got to do what you can do in order to give them the best that you can, and you can’t be influenced by anybody else.”

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What do wish you would have known then what you know now?

“I wish I’d have known that I would be successful, independent, and that I’d be ok. I’ve been through two really tough divorces and some really trying times, I had a breakdown after the last marriage and if I knew then that I would be very successful and so very happy it would have helped me through that. And I don’t just mean from a financial perspective, I mean emotionally, my career and being a mother has fulfilled me and ticked all my boxes. I have a great life and I love it!”

    

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Michelle Griffith Robinson – Olympian, Speaker & campaigner

Michelle Griffith Robinson – Olympian, Speaker & campaigner

Michelle Griffith Robinson © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD MAGAZINE

Michelle Griffith Robinson – Olympian, speaker and women’s rights ambassador

Don’t watch the person in the next lane, slay in your own lane – because you’re in control of where you’re going!”

Michelle Griffith-Robinson OLY is one of those people who has an incredible presence, and you can literally feel the good vibes radiating from her. She is a strong, independent, and successful woman with a truly motivating story. Michelle is a Life Coach, Ex-Olympian, Personal Trainer, Women’s Aid Ambassador, Diabetes UK Ambassador and Menopause Campaigner – as if that wasn’t enough to juggle, Michelle is also a Mum of three children, Reese, 18, Eden 16, and Elijah 8. We could have listened to Michelle’s inspiring stories and words of wisdom all day. Her thirst for life and desire to succeed are certainly strengths to be admired, but another quality that we took away from our interview with Michelle was her refreshing approach to dealing with the curve balls that life inevitably throws at you, and how she seemingly takes everything in her stride, with her words “they’ll be alright” echoing throughout the interview.

Although Michelle had a successful athletics career, with 15 years at the top of her game, personally she was involved in a couple of toxic relationships before meeting her husband, Matthew, at the Commonwealth Games in 2002, where they were both competing. Just a few months later when they finally got together, Michelle knew Matthew was the man she wanted to have a family with.

Have you always wanted to be a mum?

“I think I’ve always known I wanted children from about the age of 25 but being an athlete, you often think ‘oh is that just a dream, is it pie in the sky’, you know, because you are so dedicated to your craft and your childbearing years in the main are spent competing. I also went through a few difficult relationships in my teenage years and into my early twenties as well, so having children then was not something I even considered. I had made a conscious decision that when I had kids it had to be with the right person. Then I met Matthew, my husband, it was in a dining hall at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester and there was around filled a thousand people in the room.  He was representing Wales for Rugby 7’s and I was doing the triple jump for England. I was with my best friend when I spotted him, and I said ‘God that guys good looking. I’ve to go and tell him!’ and my friend said, ‘you can’t go and tell him!’ And said ‘no I’ve got to, I’ve got to go and tell him!’, she laughs. “I said, ‘Hi I’m Michelle’ and he said ‘I know who you are I saw you in newspapers yesterday’ – and I had been re-enacting a series of Gwyneth Paltrow shots, they were quite revealing. And he was a really nice guy. I asked for his number, and he said you’re a lovely girl, but you can’t have my number. But can I have yours as I’m in something [relationship] at the moment.’  So, I thought he was a bit of a cheeky git, but I gave him my number anyway. And that was the July and at the end of October he called me. Three months later! Keeping me on my bloody toes he was! I must say I wasn’t there waiting though don’t worry!” She laughs again, “And as they say the rest is history! We’ve been together for 20 years now, and I often say, ‘God is not sleeping, and God doesn’t give you more than you can bear.’ So, you know it was just about timings, and I’m lucky that I managed to meet my knight in shining armour, and he is you know. I had children very quickly after we got together, it was literally months later that I fell pregnant and we had our first daughter Reese, she was born premature, five weeks early, in September 2003. Having your first child is life changing for anybody, and for me I went from being this athlete that’s sponsored, and where the phone never stopped ringing and always having lots of people around me, to then suddenly after making that transition into parenthood, the phone stopped ringing and I was no longer the nucleus.”

Emma Neville
Michelle Griffith-Robinson © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD MAGAZINE
Emma Neville
Michelle Griffith-Robinson
Michelle Griffith Robinson. IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY for BROOD

So how did you deal with that, both emotionally and financially?

“Fortunately for me I had already set up a PT company in 1999, whilst I was still doing track and field, as I always tell people that in anything you do, most jobs have a shelf life, and you need to make sure that you have something to fall back on. So luckily, I had built a great reputation within that industry too. And I was at an Aids Charity Event in 2001, and I met Mel B (who is now the patron of Women’s Aid and I’m also an ambassador for the charity) and I remember meeting her and in her very Northern Leeds accent she said, ‘I want abs like f**king yours!’ And a couple of weeks later her agent rang and I started to train her, and I did so for two and half years, until she went to America. So obviously aside from the platform I had as an athlete, to train someone that is as high profile as a Spice Girl completely propelled my business and I ended up with a lot of attention in the press. So, it’s about taking those opportunities when they come and doing a good job when you get them. I always say to people ‘Grab your opportunities because those opportunities will only knock once! So, take them and gamble.’”

So, after Reece was born, did you managed to compete again or did becoming a mother mean that part of your career ended?  

“No, after I had Reece, Matt started to train me, along with my coach Frank, and I just missed the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. Then I carried on training for another two years and I made it to the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006. When I look back at that transition of training and competing after becoming a mum, it was hard because I was having to leave Reese to fulfil my dream. And I had to go to Cuba to train – Cubans are excellent triple jumpers. My grandmother was actually Cuban, so it was extra special to get to go and see where my grandmother grew up, but leaving Reese for two weeks felt like 22 years to me! She was only 8 months old at this point, but my husband who is very pragmatic said, ‘if you want to make the Olympic games, why would you not want to go and train with the best in the world? Because if you’re doing it, then DO IT! You’re either in or you’re out.’ And he was right, so I went to Cuba. I left Reese behind, and she didn’t even bat an eyelid when I came back, she just started saying ‘mama, mama’. We all know the juggle is hard, but you’ve got to do it for yourself. Parenting is a struggle, you’re permanently juggling, but it’s been the biggest joy to my life and feel exceptionally blessed to have my three children.”

So now you have three children and various career roles, how do you juggle everything now and how did you adapt over the years?

“I’m a very proud 50-year-old mother of three children. My eldest daughter is 18, our other daughter is 15 and our son, our youngest is 8. And I often look back at times where it’s been a struggle, and I still say it, ‘They’re going to be alright!’ If they stay in your bed until they’re ten, ‘They’re going to be alright!’ If they are still in a nappy by 5, ‘They’re going to be alright!’ Generally, no matter what, they are going to be alright. I think we just put so much pressure on ourselves to ‘Mrs perfect’ or ‘Mr perfect’, but I’ve let that go.

So, when did your athletics career end and your passion for coaching begin?

After I had Reece and I had completed the Commonwealth games in 2006 I retired. I fell pregnant that night in Melbourne. I went onto have Eden and we were living in the middle east at the time, my personal training company was still going strong, and it was around this time that I started mentoring young people, as I had always had a passion for developing the growth of the future. Helping people with their mindset, it’s all very well having all the GCSE and A Levels in the world, but you need to have the skills to manage yourself. At this point joined a company called the Dame Kelly Homes trust, which Kelly founded on the eve of her retiring, and I’m still a mentor for them now, working with 16–25-year-olds. I’ve worked with some really deprived young people, and all some of them really needed was an arm around them and for somebody to say you’re going to be alright, but question them as to why they keep demonstrating the same destructive behaviour time after time? We often forget if we keep doing the same things time after time, why would you expect a different result? You need to switch it up. Change it up. But fear can prevent us from switching things up, people like to stay in their comfort zones.

And it was about 4/5 years after starting that, that I went into Life Coaching. I recognised that through training with PT my clients, I was also coaching them as well. Because when you’re a PT people open up – you here all their shit and then some! So, I enrolled to do a degree in Counselling, Mentoring and Coaching, but then the trust kindly offered to pay for my diplomas in Life coaching, performance coaching and coaching in education, so that’s what I choose to do.”

“I’m big on affirmations. I’ve got things stuck all over the walls, because sometimes you still need those reminders to say I am enough!”

Having had such a successful athletics career, you must have had to develop a very strong mindset yourself, do you think this gave you the perfect foundation to become a Life Coach?  Equally it must help you in your own approach to life and that as a parent too.

“Yes, I always think about the main things that I have learnt through sport and that is you’ve got to have the mindset of a working at a high-performance level every day. You’ve got to know that sometimes you’re going to hit the floor. You’re going to get injured, but what are you going to do? Put the cover over your head and go on a downward spiral or are you going to choose to take the cover off your head, except that you’re injured and find a way to bounce back. And this applies to the curve balls that life throws at you. So, resilience is key. I’ve past that on to my kids and my mother past that onto me. My mum is the most amazing resilient women I know.

Another one I would say is your authentic self. People find out if you’re a fraud, just be you. You can be at peace with yourself when you are your true self. Stop comparing yourself to everybody else. As parents, we do that too much, comparing whose child has done what first – just get rid of all that and focus on what works for you and your circumstances. No one else is in your position or a part of your household. For example, my eldest daughter took the longest to walk in her Montessori group, she was 16 months old before she started walking, and I was begging her to walk because she was the last one, but now she’s forth in the country for triple jump. So, let’s put it into perspective they are going to be alright.

And lastly, I’ve learnt that you need to manage your own expectations – do what works for you. Because the more you keep comparing yourself to others, the more you are going to be unkind to yourself. You’ll end up not feeling good enough – but you are enough – and you need to be able to say I am enough. I can say I’m enough, you know, these 32F saggy boobs are brilliant! They’ve fed my three children! I don’t give a shit about how they compare to other peoples; I’m not interested. But that comes with age.”

You have such a positive outlook; do you do anything to help you maintain that?

“I’m big on affirmations. I’ve got things stuck all over the walls, because sometimes you still need those reminders to say I am enough. I think the best you can do though when you are having ‘one of those days’ is to look at your progression and the trajectory of where you are and where you have come from. Having children, running a business, etc and then when you break it down, you’ll think, bloody hell – I’m proud of me! Just focus on slaying in your lane. Don’t watch the person in the next lane, slay in your lane – because you’re in control of where you’re going!”

 

Are there any standout moments that were particularly challenging in your life, where you have had to implement some life coaching techniques to help you through?

“When I reached 40, I wanted a third baby. I fell pregnant very quickly and unfortunately, I had a miscarriage at about 8/9 weeks. I think that made me more determined, but my husband thought it might have been a sign and seemed reluctant for us to try again. Upon reflection I didn’t really like the responses I was getting from my husband after I miscarried, and I spoke to him at length about it a little while. I didn’t feel he was being very supportive, but when I spoke to him, he explained that he didn’t know how to be supportive, that it was hard to know what to say and he was just so worried about saying then wrong thing. And I took that on board, but I said I still wanted us to try for a third baby. It turned out he was also concerned about me putting myself through that again, especially because I get very sick with Hyperemesis Gravidarum. So, once we had communicated properly it helped us. 5 months later I went to a fertility clinic, because I hadn’t fallen pregnant. And the doctor asked how old I was, and I said I’m forty, that I’d had a miscarriage and I hadn’t fallen pregnant since, and she just said keep trying.  Just keep trying, one day I will bump into you in the supermarket, and you will be pregnant. And believe or not…five months later I bumped into her at the supermarket, and I was pregnant! And September 2013 my son Elijah was born. And I talk about that part of my journey as I know it’s something that can affect a lot of women and it can make you feel like a failure. It can really hard even when you are successful in every way, the one thing you just expect, or assume, that your body will be able to do it’s not doing.

How did bringing a third baby into the family change the dynamics within the family and do you do anything to help to keep the balance in such a hectic household?

“He’s an exceptional gift. He’s thoroughly loved by everyone, and his two sisters just adore him. He fit’s in perfectly. But one thing I noticed with the third baby I was like you know what this boy has got to get on with it. Life is not always ideal and perfect, and on busy days if he has to have a McDonalds, or a sandwich and a bag of crisps in the car – he’ll be alright. So, you need to recognise that, but you also need those moments of calmness where you can put things in place that look and feel magical. So, Wednesdays and Sundays are our days where have our family time. Where we sit down and talk, without phones, without interruptions, just us having fun together and being present with each other. And that’s something that I would recommend to everyone people, to find somewhere within your routine for that quality time with your immediate family. Because before you look around your kids are off to university etc, so you want to hold on to those magical moments and create lasting memories.”

Does that help getting through those fast-paced days where you are busy juggling everything and you might not feel like the best parent in the world?

“Absolutely! And I actually think that it enhances us as a family. People always say you guys are so good as a family and we are. We’ve been very strict with the kids learning and education, we make sure they do sport and music. We’ve given them the opportunities to flourish, and then what path they choose to go down is down to them. But they can’t look back and say well my parents didn’t give me this. Bearing in mind I came from a broken home, my dad was a plumber at Wembley stadium, my mum was a nurse. And I was a latch key kid, I feel bad as my older brother was kind of lumped with me, so when he wanted to go play football, he couldn’t he had to look after me. Whereas when I wanted to go to the track and train, I was able to do that. But those opportunities to train didn’t come from my parents – this is something that I say, you need to call on those around you. You have call on your friends, your neighbours, your teachers etc and don’t be afraid to do so. You need to learn to ask, ‘Can you please take my son to football, and I’ll return the favour.’ Once you create that community feel – because we’re all in this together, we’re all struggling and juggling – then there’s no shame in it. Once you realise you don’t have to try and do it all on your own and that barrier comes down, then you relax.

I’m away now for 3 days and there’s food in the fridge, there’s food in the freezer and I said to my eldest daughter who is now driving I said, ‘Reese if they need anything would you mind popping out.’ And she said ‘of course, but they’ll be fine.’

Do you think it’s important that we all accept that we can’t do it all ‘perfectly’ all the time?

“Yes, you have to think to yourself who needs to be where, at what time, and if someone has to miss swimming, they have to miss swimming – they’re going to be alright! When we relax and let that go and stop trying to be the perfect person, because there are no perfect people. I’m the imperfect perfect mother, I drop the ball plenty of times, but other times I lift the ball and I carry it brilliantly. You’ve got take the rough with the smooth. Sometimes we are very critical on ourselves as parents, and I think as long as we are role modelling the correct behaviour and attitudes towards our children – we’re doing alright. I think it’s more important than ever to teach it to our children, that perfection doesn’t exist, especially with all the extra pressure they have now from social media etc. ‘I can’t that picture because this doesn’t look right or that doesn’t look right’ they say to me, Mummy you can’t go on Insta looking like that, and I say why? Because we need to normalise being real.”

Do you have any tips for other parents that are struggling with ‘the juggle’?

“Vulnerability, Authenticity, and transparency – VAT I call it. Show them those three things and they’ll be alright. Don’t try and be something you’re not and recognise that we are all just doing our best. We are all WIPS – Work in Progress.”

Written by
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM PITFIELD

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Emma Neville – Philanthropist, counsellor, WIFE and doting Mum of two

Emma Neville – Philanthropist, counsellor, WIFE and doting Mum of two

Emma Neville and her two daughters she shares with football legend Gary Neville © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD MAGAZINE

Philanthropist, qualified counsellor, wife, and doting Mum of two

“the first big thing that I did for them was a fundraiser which was 3 days, 3 countries and 3 mountains, I was quite nervous going as it was with a group of ladies that I didn’t know bar two of them, but collectively, we raised £178,000 ”

Philanthropist, qualified counsellor and doting Mum of two, Emma Neville, has always kept herself out of the public eye despite her husband, Gary Neville’s, extremely high profile and widely documented career; meaning that a lot of Emma’s personal achievements and her incredible dedication to support so many charities have gone under the radar. Emma is exceptionally modest about her charity work and what she has achieved already in her career as a counsellor. It’s a journey that she embarked on around five years ago; after spending many years embracing her role as a full-time mum and taking the lead with the family’s home life to counterbalance Gary’s demanding career schedule. But as the girls got older Emma realised, she wanted to do something for herself, consequently pushing herself out of her comfort zone and pursuing a lifelong ambition of becoming a qualified counsellor. Emma also accelerated her contributions to several charities through volunteer work, rather than ‘just’ making monetary donations. Emma volunteers for many charities including Destination Florida, Bury Cancer Support Centre, Girls Out Loud, Child Bereavement UK and she is very passionate about enhancing the amazing work that these charities already do, as well as helping to raise awareness for them. 

When you meet Emma, you can instantly see why she is so well suited to her chosen career path, as her warm and endearing nature shines through. It was an absolute pleasure to chat to Emma and listen to how she has carved out her new career path, whilst making a difference to so many people’s lives, and to hear how she balances that alongside her role as Mum. We chatted away to Emma before the girls, Molly 13, and Sophie 12, returned home from school and joined us for our photo shoot; that we managed to squeeze in between school finishing, teatime, and netball practise!

So, why don’t you just tell us a little bit about what you have been up to since embarking on your new career.

“I qualified as a person-centred counsellor in 2019 – I never thought I would actually finish it as lockdown came along and it was really difficult as I’m very much a classroom learner and without the classroom, I didn’t think I would have been capable of doing it on my own. But I got there, and I passed, and I was really proud of my little self! I gain my 100-hour client learning at two placements; one was at the Simeon centre, and one was at the Bury Cancer Support Centre. They were two very different organisational structures, I enjoyed both ways of how the client process worked. After my placement finished at Bury Cancer Support Centre, they asked me if I would like to stay on and continue in the role, and I was so happy that they had asked me as it was such a special place that I accepted straight away!

Emma Neville
Emma Neville and her two daughters © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD MAGAZINE
Emma Neville
Emma Neville. IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY for BROOD

I’ve completed numerous other courses since looking into different modalities, such as transactional analysis, working with children and adolescent counselling course and trauma and PTSD. It is really important to me that I make sure I’ve learnt as many skills as I possibly can, so that I can offer people the best support possible.”

What made you enter the world of counselling, to take the first step and start the course?     

“Well, I had always wanted to do it, I remember contemplating it when was working at wholesale jewellers in my twenties, and I was obviously quite young then though so I’m really glad that I didn’t do it at that point in my life, as I feel like the life experiences I have had since have actually helped me become a better counsellor. So, even though it is something I’ve always wanted to do, I feel like I’ve done it at the right time in my life.

It was actually through working with a charity that I decided to take the plunge and start the course. I was at a ladies lunch at the Hilton in Manchester and Gary Barlow was speaking as an ambassador for Child Bereavement UK and I got chatting to Liz Taylor, who had put on the event, and I asked who the CEO was, and Liz introduced me to Anne Chalmers. I had a really good chat with Ann, and she gave me her card. I left the event with an overpowering urge to be involved with them somehow, I wanted to help them to do more; hearing all the stories and watching the videos had really touched me. But I didn’t want to just make a pledge and give money though, I wanted to do more than that, I wanted become hands on with the charity. So started doing some volunteer work for them on their family support programmes, which run from a centre in Widnes. I would do one weekend on and one weekend off there. We would read bereavement books with the children and do various craft activities with them and talk about the special person that they had lost. These children would have lost their Mum, or their dad, or their brother, or their sister. People used to say to me ‘How can you do that it must be really depressing?’, but for me those Saturdays were my favourite Saturdays out of the month. I would leave there feeling so privileged that these amazing children had let me into their lives. And as the weeks went on, it was just so wonderful to see the children’s personalities grow and develop, and to watch all the friendships form between the children. They were making friends with other children that they could relate to, as they had all shared similar experiences. So, it was through doing that volunteer work that gave me the push to become a qualified counsellor.”

 

Destination Florida Charity

“…I explained some of the children that I’m working with have lost their mummy’s and daddy’s, or brother’s or sister’s, so I was needed there to help those children.”

So how long had you been doing volunteer work before you decided to enrol onto the Counselling course?

“I did it that for a year and I did some training with them whilst I was there, and then I just thought right it’s time for me to take the next step and I enrolled on a part time course, at night school for my Level 2 qualification. I hadn’t studied for a long time, so it was a big thing for me to go back into the classroom. Then I progressed onto my Level 3 and then Level 4 – which is a two-year course with 100 hours placement. So, it took me three and half years in total to become fully qualified.”

 

During those three and half years of studies and placements, how did that impact your mum role and how did you find the juggle?

“I did feel guilty doing the work on the Saturday at times, because obviously the girls are at school all week, but I looked forward to sharing how my Saturday had gone with them once I got home. I’ve always been open with them as well and explained that some of the children that I’m working with have lost their mummy’s and daddy’s, or brother’s or sister’s, so I was needed there to help those children.”

Are the girls proud of you now that they are that bit older, and they can understand more about what you do and what you have achieved?

“I think so!” she laughs, “They’ll often ask me what I’ve done that day – sometimes they’re not listening to me (she laughs) but other times they really do take an interest and they’ll ask about the books that I’m reading etc. When I’m putting on a charity event though I like to try and get them involved, so I will ask them to come up with ideas for fundraising etc. I actually did a placement at a hospice in Radcliffe, and they did a stall and was selling toys to try and raise money for the hospice. I think it’s really important to get them involved and I hope that they themselves will go along the path of getting involved with doing some aspect of charity work too.”

 

Did you feel like you had to wait until the girls were a bit older in order to start your education and career?

“I definitely wanted to be with the girls when they were younger and be that mum that can do every school pick up, but as they started to get a bit older, even from the age of about 7, they would start taken themselves off to do things for themselves and it just felt like it was the right time as a whole for us all. In hindsight I think I would have liked to have started this journey earlier. But I suppose everything happens at the right time in the end, and I still had and do get, those feelings of mum guilt, even though I know that they are fine. I would have struggled to have started my studies now as they have so many activities and commitments after school, but back then they had only just started playing netball, so it wasn’t too intense at that point trying to manage everything. I am also not very good at delegating and that came from my own feelings of wanting to do everything for them, so I’m lucky that the career I have chosen actually fit’s in really well for us a whole, as it’s quite flexible, so I’m lucky that it didn’t add too much pressure. It was very important to me when I started it that I could schedule it into my family life without it affecting it too much.”

 

Has having a career helped you to find your own identity outside of the parent role?

“Yes, definitely. I felt a change around the time I was thirty-five and I really felt that I needed to do some for myself and to see what I could achieve in my own right. I realised that I do want to feel important and valued as a person, and not ‘just’ as a mum. When I only had that mum role, I would drop them off at school, come home do the housework, get the shopping in etc and before I knew it was time to pick them back up again, and I can remember thinking the days just go so fast, ‘how do people do it?’. So, I always really admired working parents. I think because Gary’s work life has always been so full on, I never know his schedule and when I do it changes that much, that was why I never really pushed myself because I felt like I had to fit around that and take the lead with the girls. And I know Gary would have supported me if I would have wanted to do something back then, but I felt like it was the right role for me at that time. When I started my course and I was one of the older ones on the course and I had a lot of self-doubt, where I questioned whether I was capable or not, but I really felt it was really important to keep going and push myself. I needed to prove to myself that I could do it. I knew if I would have just given up that I would have been so angry with myself, that no matter how much I was struggling and doubting my capabilities, I made sure I turned up to every class and got through it.”

 

 

Obviously, Gary has very high profile and has had a very successful career, so you didn’t necessarily need to build a career of your own from a financial point of view, so your driving force has been to help a number of charities elevate their services, raise awareness and funds. Tell us a little bit more about that.  

“When I started volunteering with Child Bereavement UK the first big thing that I did for them was a fundraiser which was 3 days, 3 countries and 3 mountains, I was quite nervous going as it was with a group of ladies that I didn’t know bar two of them, but collectively, we raised £178,000 and it felt incredible to give back and I felt really proud. Then a few months later I connected with Mike Hymanson (Chair of Trustees) from Destination Florida (A Children’s Charity that takes children with life-limiting conditions away for a once in a lifetime magical holiday) I knew Mike through friends, and after we chatted, he asked me to go on the fundraising board for them and I said yes. When I started on the board, initially it was very much about how I could encourage the connections I had to contribute and pledge money and that alone just didn’t feel like enough, I wanted to do more. So, I started to thrive when I was able to tap into my creative side and come up with ideas. So, I’ve worked with them for two years now, helping them organise events and fundraisers. I’m really looking forward to going on a trip with them to Disney in 2023.

Emma conscientiously checks back to her notes at this point to make sure that she includes all the charities that are close to her heart. We’re very impressed with how organised she is, (it’s not often BROOD interviews are organised!) and she jokes that Gary always says, ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail!’ so she has done what he’s always telling her to do!

“So, then I heard about another charity – Girls out loud (a social enterprise designed to empower girls to channel their potential and make better life choices), so I joined their big sister programme and that was life changing for me! It was working with year 9 girls, going into to schools to see them for an hour, outside of the classroom. They would give you a structure, but you could choose how you approached each week yourself, as it always depended on how open the girls would be with you, because some days they wouldn’t want to talk, so you couldn’t just pull this worksheet out and start trying to go through that with them. It was amazing to meet my ‘little sister’. She was such an open and honest girl, and she was trying to build her confidence. We would talk a lot about resilience, and we made mood boards, vision boards and mantra jars, things like that. The hour would fly by, and I always wanted to give more time. I did that for 12 months.  I really enjoyed the programme and I found it really interesting to see just how much social media influences their lives. I absolutely love that charity and I can’t wait to do more with them.”

Do you think having teenage daughters of your own helped prepare you for that role?

“Because I know that I’m a bit of a rescuer I was conscious not to take on that mothering role, and I definitely didn’t want to talk at my ‘little sister’ because I’m the ‘big sister’ and I’m meant to know more. But it wasn’t like that at all, it was a two-way street, I learnt a lot from her about life as a teenager at school and what they do after school. It did make me feel relieved that it wasn’t me at school! It also made me realise that I might need to give the girls some slack sometimes, as it’s a lot to deal with being at school. Working with Girls Out Loud gave me an insight into life at high school and what children go through, so that’s something I will be mindful of when it comes to the girls. We did a study around screen time and there was one girl had been on her phone for 16 hours and that just blew my mind! I couldn’t understand how that was even possible? But she explained that she was up until 2am most nights on her phone. It was eye opening to see just how much social media influenced their lives.

I remember one of them saying when she discussed not taking her phone with her when she went out, she said, ‘I was just able to ugly laugh without my friends taking a picture of me’ This was a 14-year-old girl! It’s just frightening to think they have to think like that because everything is documented and before you know it someone has posted your picture on social media whether you like it or not.”    

 

What advice would you give to the BROOD readers who are parents of teenagers?

“I would say just listen to them and try and just keep conversations going. I know that can sometimes be difficult, but just asking how they are is a good start. I also think a big thing for us, as parents, to make sure we own up to our own mistakes and learn to say sorry, because when we’re in the heat of the moment and we’re stressing at them and complaining, sometimes just saying ‘I’m really sorry about this morning, I wasn’t in a good place, and I was rushing and I shouldn’t have stressed at you’ that can make a big difference. Sometimes we put a lot on them, especially when I think about the morning chaos and when parents get stressed, it makes you wonder does your child leave the house or the car and take that stress and negativity into their school day?  So, I think holding your hands up and owning your mistakes is very important. Children can read you; they know when you’re not yourself, so being open with them can put their mind at ease that it’s not on them. Just letting them know that we’re not perfect either. That it is ok to not be ok.”

 

Have you had any ‘BROOD moments’ since embarking on your career, where something has happened with the kids, and it just turns chaotic, and you end up plagued with the dreaded mum guilt?

“There are loads of things that have happened!” she laughs, “but there was one time that stands out, right at the beginning of my starting this journey and it was when I went on the charity hike for three days. Basically, Sophie had an ingrowing toenail, and it was something I had meant to get looked at, but I didn’t get chance to before I went away and then whilst I was there Gary sent me a picture and half her toe had gone blue! I’d just climbed a mountain; I had another one to climb the next day and the day after that and I remember thinking ‘Oh my god! What am I going to do!’ I felt terrible, and then Gary rang me – not in the best of moods!” she laughs, “and he said, ‘I thought you’d dealt with this!’” We all laugh at this point, understanding this exchange between parents all too well. “We had the normal exchange that we have, and I said to him ‘well you’re a parent too, so you’ll have to deal with it’. But then I got off the phone, I went into this room, and I just cried my eyes out, I felt terrible for not being there and I just felt like I needed to get home. I was imaging the worst and I just felt so bad, but this lady really helped me to calm down and she was from the medical profession, and she was like ‘ring Gary, tell him to draw a line on her toe and as long as the blue doesn’t go below this line it will be fine’. So, I rang Gary to ask him to do that so I could have piece of mind, and he had already spoken to a doctor that had said it was going to be fine, which was huge relief, because when I first spoke to him it felt like it was the end of the world, like she was going to end up having to have her toe amputated and it was all my fault!”

So, what are your plans in terms of your own personal development and within your career?

“Well, the Bury Cancer Support centre has been open for nearly 20 years now, so they are doing a big fundraiser for their anniversary next year, so I will be helping with that, which I’m really looking forward to. I will also continue to volunteer with them because they really are an amazing charity. It is a cause that is close to my heart, and the work they do is just invaluable. I will also continue my work on the fundraising board with Destination Florida, and I’m looking forward to working with Girls Out Loud again.

For me personally, I just want to keep looking out for different charities that I can volunteer for and help with. I want to continue working with teenagers and get more involved in a teenage charity, as it really feels like that is the right fit for me and somewhere I can help to make a real difference. Working with teenagers can be challenging, but it’s a challenge that’s worthwhile.

I will continue to keep doing courses that are going to add to my skill set, so that I can continue to keep improving my skills as a counsellor. I’m currently doing a menopause coaching certificate and I’m hoping this will help many ladies and clients that I have and it’s a subject that I’m really passionate about.

I have achieved certificates in Holistic therapies, such as reflexology, Indian head massage and Hopi ear candles over the years and I’m really interested in these therapies so I will also further my skills in this area, as I feel it goes hand in hand with counselling and client wellbeing. My love of learning has definitely come back, and I just love learning new things.”

 

 

 

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Inspirational mum in business and events guru, Laura Wolfe

Inspirational mum in business and events guru, Laura Wolfe

Laura Wolfe © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD MAGAZINE

Inspirational mum in business, and events guru, Laura Wolfe, is unsurprisingly one of the most well-respected women in her industry. Alongside her flourishing career, Laura, is also a doting mum of two boys, aged 11 and 16 – and one very cute cavapoo, Teddy!

“I always say ‘the juggle-struggle is real’ – and it absolutely is!”

With a long-established career in events – particularly renowned within the footballing industry, Laura is also the driving force behind the NWFA (Northwest Football Awards). She took on the prestigious awards over 10 years ago – back when she was just a fan, but this didn’t deter Laura from her vision and desire to carve out a successful career path in a field that she loved. It’s no surprise that Laura is now working with Women in Football, who champion female talent in a bid to bring about change in attitudes to women working in the industry.

Laura’s story is a compelling one filled with incredible highs and devastating lows. Personally, she has gone through the heartbreak of a divorce and the loss of her dad, and it was only just over 5 years ago when Laura lost everything as her business went into insolvency. Consequently hitting rock bottom. Plagued with overwhelming mum guilt and consumed by the excruciating feelings of failure, Laura initially wanted to hide away, bury her ambitions, and get a job working in a supermarket. But then, with the support of her incredible family; her mother, her brother, her sister, and her partner – who have supported her no matter what; Laura courageously coached herself back into a stronger mindset, and she inspirationally jumped back into the world of business! And thank goodness she did, as it was only two years later that she embarked on an 18-month journey, that would become the highlight of her entire career. That career highlight being that Laura was appointed to manage Manchester City’s captain Vincent Kompany’s testimonial season; seeing her work alongside Vincent Kompany himself, and Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, to raise over £850,000 for a homeless charity. The fact that Laura is a lifelong City fan meant that this amazing opportunity had added meaning to her.

As a loving mum and daughter (as Laura also helps to look after her mother) and several formidable business ventures, it’s no surprise that Laura’s schedule is jam-packed. So, we asked the question so many people want to ask – how does she do it?

“I literally get to a Friday night, and I don’t understand where the week has gone!” she laughs.

We all know how hard it can be to achieve that ‘work life balance’ when you are running a business and juggling life as a parent, do you allow yourself any ‘me time’ and how do you fit that into your hectic schedule?

“I love going to the gym. The gym for me is my time – my hour. And to fit that in I have to do the 6am/7am class. It’s not always possible, like recently I’ve been too tired to get up and do it. But I do try to incorporate it into my routine as much as possible. Last week for example, I was in London on the Tuesday, my partner Daniel was away on the Wednesday in Newcastle, the kids were at their dad’s and the dog has gone to his doggy hotel – which sounds ridiculous, but because we’re all away and out, we just know he’ll have a lovely time there with all the other dogs and that’s obviously an extra weight off your mind. So, it was just me and I could have slept until 8am, but instead I got up to do my gym class. I could have used that time to catch up on my sleep, but I just know on the days that I do go to the gym; I feel much better than the days I don’t. Without a doubt. And I love it! It’s changed my life – so for me it’s a massive thing. And most of the time it’s doable until it’s half term or other school holidays, or my mum needs something, or my kids need something – then something’s got to give and usually it’s your ‘me time’!

“I always say ’the juggle struggle is real’ – and it absolutely is!”

Laura WOLFE IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD

With such a hectic schedule how do you manage to fit in your ‘mum jobs’ alongside the demands of your business? 

“My children are split between me and their father. They are with me for 8 nights and then with him for 6 nights. It’s not my choice, but it’s what you have to do, because their dad loves them too, there’s no doubt about it. But I’m still their mum whether they are with me or not, and the organisational side of things still falls to me. I’m naturally a control freak and it took me a long time to let that go, but I still need to make sure everything is done and that everything is in place so that they can do what they need to. So, whether they are with me or not they will still ring me, and you still have those ‘mum jobs’ to do. I’m so lucky my partner Daniel is brilliant. He will take my youngest to football on a Saturday and Sunday. He loves that, he played a lot himself when he was younger. So, he’s brilliant, but of course it’s still challengingly. I can be in London at an event, like I was on Tuesday. My eldest calls me and he’s stressing about something – which is fine because I’m his Mum and he needs me – so obviously I have to take that time out to sort things out things like that. The kids always come first. No matter how busy I am, there are moments I don’t want to miss because they are important moments, and they need their mum there.”

Laura Wolfe and MCFC player Vincent Kompany
Laura WOLFE with x-MCFC PLAYER vincent kompany, TAKEN FROM LAURA’S INSTAGRAM account

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You have an extra role to juggle in looking after your mum, how do you manage to fit that into your busy schedule.

“Mum is 84, she’s fantastic, she’s been there supporting me all my life. So now it’s my turn. My father passed away in 2015. My brother lives in America and my sister lives in Israel. We’re a really close family, but geographically we are massively dispersed, so the day-to-day falls to me. So, during Covid again, it was down to me to look after my mum – we live 5 doors down from her – which has brilliant benefits; she’s got an incredible relationship with my children, well all of her grandchildren really, but obviously with us being so close by, she does a lot with my kids and sometimes I couldn’t manage without her support too. But mum can get herself in a bit of mess with things like her phone etc and she needs me to go and help her, which I had to do yesterday and before you know it, it’s two hours out of your working day.

I grew up in a Jewish household with a mum who gave everything to her family – and I mean everything! Before my mum had me, my parents lived in Maidstone, and she was about to be made Mayor of Maidstone. She was a woman in her twenties, with all these men in a room smoking and she was sat there looking glamourous – and this was in the days where women didn’t do that! But then Dad’s job brought them up here and since then she gave her life to family and the community. She’s got an MBE for her services to the community. So, she’s a force. At 84, she’s still a total inspiration and as involved as ever, which is just amazing!”

And you’re also a mum to a gorgeous little cavapoo, Teddy, which is obviously another responsibility that you have to manage. Tell us a bit more about Teddy and how you make that work. 

“Our puppy Teddy is a lockdown down puppy. We love him, he’s like another baby to me. I would have wanted another baby – as I’m one of three and we’re so close – but it just wasn’t to be for me, as my life went in another direction. So, we love our pup, but because he was a lockdown puppy, he’s not good on his own. So, obviously we have to factor him into our schedule too. We’ve organised it really well now, he goes to doggy day care, and he absolutely loves it! It’s like playgroup he’s got a ball pit, slide paddling pool – I mean it sounds ridiculous, but he loves it so we know he’s happy when he’s there.”

Obviously, the events industry was hit incredibly hard through covid, that must have been tough, and you would have obviously had the boys the home-school too. So how did lockdown impact you professionally and as a parent?   

“Lockdown was an absolute nightmare! I mean for all parents it was just so hard. My eldest was 14 at the time and he slept all day and gamed all night. He only really came out of his room to eat and grunt something, but I just went with it because I had to. He couldn’t swim or do any of the things he would normally be doing, so it was awful and it was hard emotionally. My youngest needed home schooling and at the start school didn’t actually give them that much to do and he is so ridiculously conscientious that he would get it all done straight away. And as you said my businesses then was events and football – there were no events and no football. I remember the day they said it was all happening and we had to shut the office, we thought we would all be back in three weeks. We were really busy at the time, we were gearing up to do the PFA Awards etc and obviously none of those events went ahead and lockdown went on much longer than we all anticipated. I was running – a lot – but also eating – a lot! I was baking bread – in fact my youngest will say mum you never bake bread anymore! And I’m like ‘When am I meant to fit baking bread in now?’ (she laughs)

But as time went on and I realised that this wasn’t going away quickly, I set up my concierge business – looking after footballers primarily. Like helping them find a place to live if they’re moving from overseas, or to help them find a school etc. So that was great because that kept me busy setting that up. Then I’m really friendly with Brian Horton, ex-football manager and brilliant guy and he had written a book and I said to him ‘Who is doing the media for you book? I don’t do PR, but do you want me to help you?’ He said yes, will you speak to the publisher. Which I did, and I did the media for the book for him – just because I wanted to – and it went brilliantly, and the publisher asked me how much I charged! I didn’t know what to say as I’d never really done it before. But that was October 2020 and now we’re in May 2022 and I have provided the media relations for all of those books. (Points to an array of books displayed with pride in her office) I generally do the personality led books and so it’s great to work with so many inspiring sports personalities.

Then in February 2021 Women In Football got in touch and asked if I would meet with them as their head of events was really unwell with covid. It went really well and I’m still working for them now and we’re doing some really great and exciting things.

As much as covid was incredibly hard, it gave me was a chance to rethink things and look at things differently, and without that happening I would never have done the media side, or the Women in Football and I love it, and I’m good at it!

And of course, fast forward to now and the events industry is booming again. A lot of people have left the industry too and so there aren’t as many companies or freelancers around, so its crazy busy at the minute. But I’m not complaining as I’ve been on the other side where I lost everything! I’ve made some bad choices, put the wrong people around me, thought I knew how to do it and listened to people I shouldn’t have, and I lost everything!”

That must have been extremely hard. Do you think that’s almost part of the process though, to be successful? To make the mistakes, to endure the struggles and then grow through them.

“Well, I feel I have a lot of catching up to do because my divorce took its toll on me, I lost my dad, and having kids is really difficult. And when things are going well it’s great, but without going into it too much, like all kids, my kids have had their issues, and as a parent you find yourself dealing with those too, both emotionally. And sometimes that has been really hard and heart-breaking. Kids can say things they don’t mean because they’re hurting and you just want to make it all better for them, and sometimes you can’t.

At the end of 2017 when everything went, I was made bankrupt and my business went into insolvency and there were lots of different reasons for that and I remember sitting at Oddfellows in the park in Cheadle, with my brother who over from the US and Daniel, my partner. And I said to them I’m going to go and work in Marks & Spencer, and I was serious and do you know my reason for that was that they give you 20% discount on the food! And Daniel was so angry, to hear me be so defeatist like that, but my brother said just let her go through it. I just thought I can never show my face in Manchester again! No-one will ever want to work with me again! It was just horrible. I was let down by some people, but ultimately, I take responsibility for what happened. And then I ended up starting up another business, but it was completely different to the business I had before in that it was me front and centre, it reflected me and that’s what people wanted and always had, but I had tried to make the other business into something it was never going to be.”

It’s very inspiring that you went back into the world of business despite going through that and it obviously takes a lot of strength, how difficult was it to get back out there and start over again?

“I had a really lucky break in 2019, it was Vincent Kompany’s testimonial season at Manchester City and he came to the NWFA to present an award to Brian Kidd with Gary Neville and I met his business partner and the guy that manages him and I got on really well with them an then after we had had a coffee they gave me the gig to run his testimonial season so I worked with him for 18 months. And as a city fan that is like your ultimate dream, like I can’t even tell you what that meant, it was incredible. And when it was over, I was kind of like what do I do now? And he said good things will come to you, just trust the process.

Then when I started working with him the trolls came out and I remember sitting at my desk and Amy, a colleague and friend who had been with me throughout it all said ‘Laura don’t look at Twitter, don’t look at it!’ and obviously I did and it was just disgusting, the things they were saying about me, about my mum, there was antisemitic stuff, there was stuff about what happened with my old business and there was stuff about my partner and this was all because I was working with Vincent Kompany and Andy Burnham – because we were raising money for the homeless. And it was just horrific and because I wasn’t expecting it, it really knocked me. Honestly?  It made me not want to be here anymore.  It’s tough to admit that, but it’s true.  And I remember Andy Burnham rang me and said I signed up for this, this is part of my job, but you didn’t, the only reason they are doing this is because you are actually doing something positive. I know its horrible but just keep doing what you’re doing. And Vinny’s team were like, we’ve got you, if it carries on, we’ll sort it but for now let’s just ignore it. And when I started working with them, I had told them everything, so they knew everything, you know ‘This has happened to me, I’ve done this, I’ve done that, this is what happened, and it was a part of my life.’ They didn’t care, in fact they already knew about everything anyway, but the fact that I told them without them asking me, I think that showed them that I’m ok, you know. So that was extremely tough, and I blocked my account for ages and was then like sod it! And I got to the point where I though ‘I actually don’t care’ It’s actually something that we’re trying to stop through Women in Football, because unfortunately it’s something that is prevalent for women in football. I just don’t understand why, but it happens.”

Obviously 10 years ago in Football you didn’t see many women involved in football, have you had to fight even harder to carve out your career because of that?

Oh yes! Most men have probably never been asked to explain the offside rule, but I have many, many, times! We were talking about this at an event the other night and we all agreed that you don’t have to know everything, because men don’t know everything either. And I don’t know everything, and I didn’t know everything ten years ago, but I never pretended to know everything. But when you’re going into a room full of men and who already have preconceptions about you, it can be intimidating. Even going back to when I moved to Manchester, and I went to work at the Institute of Directors, I was the youngest and only female regional director they had, and that there had ever been before! I remember thinking to myself we’ve got to change this. I’ve seen some awful stuff over the years and heard some awful stories, I’m fortunate to not have experienced it too myself but it definitely something that happens. We have come a long way, although there is still a lot further to go. I’m a firm believer in women supporting other women to pave the way forward.”

What advice would you give other mums who are also striving to achieve success in their careers?

“I think you always strive for more. You always think that you’re not doing well. You always think that you could have done something better. I have the worst imposter syndrome. But I think firstly, you can’t regret anything – and that’s something I’ve had to really work on – learning not to regret things, because it nearly finished me! Secondly, know that you’re not on your own. The more you can open up and talk about things the better. I used to have this outward facing thing, particularly on social media, that everything is brilliant, everything is fantastic. Always saying, I’m fine to anyone who asked. So, no one ever knew that underneath my world was crumbling and falling apart. That I was losing everything. That I felt like the worst mum in the world, because I just couldn’t be there for my kids in the way that I wanted to be because I wasn’t emotionally strong enough, and I didn’t ask for help. But everybody struggles. Everybody fails. I failed very dramatically and very publicly.  Get yourself a girl gang of cheerleaders too.  Everybody needs their girl gang.  Mine is ace!

And thirdly be kind to yourself, I am not kind to myself – I need to listen to my own advice on this one. I’m always telling myself I should be doing better; I should be doing more. And it’s constant and I’m always on the go until I remind myself that’s not sustainable and I’m a human being, and that something has got to give. Oh, and learn to say no as well – it’s ok to say no. You can’t be the best friend in the world, the best mum in the world, the best partner in the world, the best person in the gym, the best businessperson etc… I can’t do it! Nobody can and you just need to remember that.”

 

Laura Wolfe

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