REBECCA ADLINGTON OBE | IMAGES BY TOM PITFIELD | INTERVIEW BY LOLO STUBBS | BROOD MAGAZINE ©

“WHY SHOULDN’T I WORK FULL TIME, WHEN I LOVE MY JOB?

Rebecca Adlington OBE is undoubtedly the greatest female swimmer that Great Britain has ever produced, and one of the greatest GB swimmers of all time, not only because she is a multiple Olympic, World, Commonwealth and European medallist but she also broke the World Record in the 800m freestyle in 2008 at the Olympic Games in Beijing ; a record that was 19 years old, the same age Rebecca was in Beijing. 

Becky’s drive and thirst for success did not diminish when she retired from Swimming, and she is still the same overachiever that she was in the water, having juggled a number of amazing career accolades for a number of years, such as her role as a pundit for BBC Sport, running multi businesses, creating swimwear ranges with Slazenger and work in her role as an ambassador for the Encephalitis Society and as a Patron of Women in Sport charities too; all alongside her biggest and favourite ‘job’ as a mum of two to the adorable 7-year-old Summer and 21 month old Albie. 

Rebecca was recognised for her incredible achievements by the late HRH Queen Elizabeth II when she was awarded an OBE in 2009 and the British public have had ample opportunity to get to know Becky as person rather than ‘just’ as a swimmer, after she has taken part in a variety of well loved prime time TV shows such as I’m a Celebrity, The Jump and Celebrity Masterchef!

We had the pleasure of sitting down with this inspirational mama at one of her thriving swim centres, and we chatted about all things career and kids and found out how Becky manages to make it all work for her and her family! 

Rebecca Adlington on business and babies
© BROOD MAGAZINE. REBECCA ADLINGTON OBE
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INTERVIEW WITH REBECCA ADLINGTON OBE

You have used your unbelievable successes as a professional swimmer to build three incredible businesses that are helping thousands of children throughout the UK learn to swim. Tell us a bit more about those businesses and at what point in those businesses did you become a mum? 

“We have three learn to swim businesses under one umbrella; we have swim!, Becky Adlington’s SwimStars, and we also have Total Swimming Academy’s. Swim! is the business that is growing the most. Swim! is our own building, where we control that customer journey and we can make sure that they have a purpose built venue that is just for kids. Swimstars are set within gyms, so we are effectively in somebody else’s house, we have to be respectful to its other members, and total swimming is in schools, so we use school pools, so that’s the difference between all three. And they are all at different stages, total swimming is the oldest that’s 12 years old, Becky Adlington swim stars is 10 years old and swim! is 5. 

My daughter Summer is 7, and my youngest is only one. He was a complete surprise, myself and my partner weren’t married at the time, we hadn’t even really planned on having children, so it was a bit of a shock but a beautiful one. Albie was a lockdown baby as well, I think most people said you either got divorced or pregnant in lockdown – and we got pregnant!” [She laughs] “Summer was still off school, and I was really freaking out about whether or not Andy would be able to come in with me because of all the restrictions at the time. I had heard so many stories about people having to give birth on their own and I just couldn’t even imagine how that would feel and so I didn’t end up going to the hospital until I was 8cm because I was so paranoid about it. I was like, ‘I’m not going to the hospital yet, because I don’t want to be by myself’. When we got there, they asked Andy to wait outside, but it was for only like 5 minutes because the head was coming out and so then they got Andy straight back in. I was so relieved because I can’t imagine going through labour without that support!” 

Because of the industry of your business, the whole Covid period must have been incredibly difficult and full of challenges that no one could foresee, how did you cope with that alongside having a new baby? 

“It was so horrible, we had shut every area of our business down because obviously pools weren’t allowed to be open. When I look back to the first lockdown we had all taken bets as to how long it would last and nobody said anything past 8 weeks, and then it was like 6 months later and we were still in lockdown. So it was really, really difficult for us, we nearly lost the business, because swimming pools were one of the last things that were opened up. I remember when they opened up pubs but still wouldn’t open pools and I couldn’t believe that the government wasn’t seeing that choosing people’s mental and physical health and learning a life skill such as swimming as more important than some other things. I understand of course that the hospitality industry was important too, I just couldn’t understand why they didn’t open swimming pools when it was scientifically proven that chlorine killed covid within 30 seconds, so if you had it or even if it was on your skin as soon as you were in the water, within 30 seconds any of those germs would have been killed? When they came out I think they should have made more noise about that as it’s so important for people to understand that and understand that was actually one of the safest sports to do during covid. Physiologically, it was really hard as you were open, then closed, then open, then closed again. It was just horrible and it felt like an absolute mindfield for us and all of the team who work with us (and for our customers!) One minute their children could come back to swimming then they had to stop them again, it was so stop and start for the kids and a lot of people lost interest or developed fears. We nearly didn’t survive that.” 

Amongst the struggles that your business was going through and preparing for a new baby, you also had Summer at home, how did you deal with the demands of that and homeschooling?  

“I didn’t really homeschool, I’m not going to lie. Summer was only in year one at the time, so we did things that she wouldn’t normally get to do with me instead, like exercising, for example as normally I would go to the gym and do that whilst she’s at school, so it was the first time she had really seen what exercise was. She learnt what a press up was and what a squat was etc not that she was doing them! She also helped me with washing and household chores and things that are actually fundamental to getting through life. Now I can say Summer, ‘can you turn the oven on to 200 degrees’ and she now knows what that means, and she can chop veg like a master!” [We all laugh] “So there are good things like that that came out of it as I didn’t know that at her age. So I was very relaxed about that in lockdown, my main challenge in the first lockdown was to teach her how to ride a bike – that was the main goal for me and she did it! So I was more than happy with that! I think everyone was under enough pressure without worrying about homeschooling as well.” 

How did you manage to bounce back from the brink of losing your business to now seeing such incredible growth?   

“I think one of the main factors was that parents were desperate to get their children to swimming lessons and back in the pool – so we were really lucky that the demand for our service was there. Also in terms of our swim! centres, so many other pools never reopened as they didn’t survive covid and a lot of councils had shut down their pools, I think it’s something like 160 swimming pools shut down in the UK following all the lockdowns so that’s a huge amount of pools up and down the country that people can no longer go to, so for us to be able to open up new pools in areas where there aren’t any, people are keen to come in and use them because parents just want their children to learn to swim, and it’s been a real pleasure to be able to provide these facilities where communities had lost out on access to pools for their children all together. It’s been a huge relief and a really nice feeling to get back to business properly again. It was a huge challenge to get the funding together after going through such a difficult couple of years, and finding the buildings isn’t easy and going through all of the logistics of setting up a swimming pool isn’t an easy process. But they’re not 25m swimming pools, they are teaching tanks for children so it’s easier than if we were building full leisure centres. We’ve also recently partnered with JD Gyms so to have them as our funding partner and such an established and well respected brand like JD involved, has been an absolute pleasure for us as a business to have that support. When we think that we started out as a little learn to swim programme started by three olympians (Becky’s business partners Adrian Turner and Steve Parry) who love the sport and now we are working with such an industry leader such as JD it’s amazing to think how far we have come!”

Becky Adlington OBE

What do you think is harder – being a parent or running a business?

“I think both definitely come with different challenges! For us as well because we have quite a big age gap between the kids, as there are six years between Summer and Albie, so it was kind of like starting again. When I arrived I realised that I had totally forgotten the newborn stage! Which is mad, but I think your brain does something to remove it otherwise you would never do it again!” [We all laugh!] “I had six months maternity with Albie, which felt quite short really for me and it was hard going back to work, and it was really difficult because when I had Summer I had a lot more time with her and when I did go back to work I only went back part time. So it was hard returning to work after I had Albie and working full time, I suppose I felt guilty because of how I did it with Summer first time around. But then I thought to myself that I think most people do things differently second time around anyway and circumstances change and you have to do what is right for you at that time. I obviously co-parent Summer with her Dad and so we had to find a way to co-parent that suits us all. Whereas now with Albie I’m married and we all live in the same house together so it’s different this time around, as the first time I had a baby it was mainly just me and Summer. But now it’s a totally different dynamic anyway. For instance, when it was just myself and Summer I would put her to bed and then I would just be sat on my own, whereas now when the kids are in bed me and my husband can have that time to have an adult conversation and watch some adult television – I don’t mean it like that! [We all erupt into laughter!] I mean something like Game of Thrones! [We continue laughing] “In all seriousness though, having that adult time is so valuable.”

What do you think you have learnt most from becoming a mother a second time around? 

“I think because I’ve had my second child but also I think because I’m older now I realise that yes, I’m a mother and obviously that’s really important to me but I’m also a wife and I’m also Becky! I have realised that I also have to go with what ‘Becky’ wants to do at times too, because you do have to put yourself first at times as well as your children, your husband, your sisters, your parents and your business partners. I think when you are juggling so many different roles when you are a parent, especially a parent who is working or running a business, that is the hardest thing to manage, all those different aspects and pleasing everyone else but also learning to please yourself too.” 

A lot of working mums suffer from the dreaded ‘Mum Guilt’ and sometimes judgement from others, what has been your experience of this?

 

“Mum guilt is the worst! I always have Mum guilt! It’s weird because my husband doesn’t get it, he’s always saying ‘what are you talking about? You’ve got nothing to feel guilty about!’ Because his point of view he’s with the kids – as my husband doesn’t work he looks after the kids, which has been a hard dynamic anyway as most of the time other men will say to him ‘Oh, you don’t work? You look after the kids?’ I can’t understand why there are still so many men who don’t understand why other dads want to stay at home and lead with the childcare. Like why? It’s like when people say to me, ‘Oh is your husband at home, is he babysitting the children then?’ and it baffles me because I think ‘no, he’s not babysitting them, he’s their Dad!’ They are his children as well? It’s so weird that people still think that way, because why shouldn’t I work full time when I LOVE my job, and when we had Albie and we looked at all the factors for both me and Andy in terms of salary, job satisfaction, happiness etc, Andy said I really want to be at home with the kids, so if my husband is telling me that and I love my job why would we not make that decision? And it works really well for us, and then at weekends Andy takes the time to do his own thing like play football etc and I’ll be with the kids most of the time, and during the week when I come home I cook the tea and sort the kids out. I still organise everything for our family, and every Sunday night I create a planner for our family so we all know what we are doing and I can go to work knowing everything is under control!” [She laughs] “So it’s 100% a team effort! The thing I refuse to negotiate on, the thing that helps me keep that balance of work and parenting, is to make sure I’m always there for bedtime. I want see my kids every day and obviously there are those odd occasions where I’m not if I’m in London or something, but I always make sure I can spend time with them before they go to bed.”

What tips would you give other working parents who are juggling work and bringing up children?

“I think being organised is definitely something that I need to be in order to stay sane – I’m a bit like Monica in friends!” [We laugh] “For instance with the planner that I do on a Sunday, I use different coloured pens, and we stick that on the fridge! We have an online diary too and that is also colour coordinated, and I make sure everything goes in that diary. So I am very organised. I think there is so much going on each week that it’s one of those things that really helps us and the kids to have that reference. I think that really helped me with that transition of being back at work, so it eases my anxiety too and gives me that peace of mind that the kids aren’t going to miss anything. It also saves me time as I’m not checking in with Andy every two minutes like I was when I first came back to work! Which obviously caused a bit of friction too with Andy, because I wasn’t used to letting go so I think having that system in place has worked really well for us.” 

You can learn more about Rebecca and her swim! business visit: https://www.swim.co.uk

Rebecca Adlington SWIM!
REBECCA ADLINGTON OBE
© BROOD MAGAZINE
Simon Wood
Written by Lolo Stubbs
Tom Pitfield and his daughter Iris

PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM PITFIELD

Rob Stubbs

WEBSITE & DESIGN BY ROB STUBBS

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