I grew up in London and always liked the idea of being a journalist or documentary maker. As a kid I thought I would write stories for the National Geographic! I then studied Social Anthropology and left university with an aim to work on documentaries. I worked in tv and commercial production for around 10 years and eventually set up my own production company with one of my brothers. We filmed a group of homeless men in Las Vegas for a year and we are still working on a documentary about them. We also spent 4 years travelling around the UK making 400 short films for the NHS website – and we interviewed hundreds of people about their experience of diseases and problems. I spoke to people probably about the worst moments of their lives. They talked about the moment they were diagnosed with cancer or a mental health issue, or when their partner or child died and how they coped. It had quite a major effect on me interviewing all these lovely people and it made me realise that i wanted to work more directly with children in some capacity. So i now work with children with special educational needs in a mainstream school ( and spend some of the time missing my old existence producing and directing – so i guess my creative outlet now is taking a photo now and then!) My goal at the moment would be to train as a child psychotherapist.
When do you feel happiest?
I sometimes get in and lie with my kids when I’m putting them to bed. There’s something so perfect about those moments. It’s this liminal time between day and night, between them being awake and asleep – when nothing is really expected of us. It seems to be when they reveal all their excitement or fears and worries. It’s when they tell me what they really feel. And it’s my time to turn away from all the distractions of my day and listen to them. And there’s something so comforting about lying there in the dark, feeling like there’s nowhere else i would rather be, than squashed between my two, bath-fresh, damp-haired kids, with their limbs curled round mine and their warm breath whispering in my ear.
Most important experience/ lesson learned in your life up until now?
I think the most important lesson i have learned so far has been to take responsibility for who i am. For my actions, for my words and for what i believe or feel. And sometimes I find that is really hard to do – maybe I’m unsure, or I’m embarrassed by my beliefs in a situation where perhaps i am the odd one out in feeling that way – or it’s hard when I think I’m not good enough or doubt myself. But I feel as I get older that being strong in terms of who i am is the only way for me to be. I’ve realised over the years that I’m a real people pleaser and I think the downside of that is that I would sway between other people’s needs rather than my own. And that it turns out is not good for anybody.
Who has been the most kind to you and been a good role model and why?
I think my mum is someone who i feel has been an amazing role model in terms of being a great, stable force in my life. She is someone who has given me a huge amount of confidence and given me a very solid sense of being loved unconditionally. But my step-daughters have in some ways had the most profound and unexpected impact on my life. I don’t think when i first met them that i could have understood how much they would mean to me and how much they have taught me about myself. They’re two very different people but from the very start they have taught me a huge amount about love and family and what that really means.
As a woman, most important lesson learned?
I don’t know if i can answer that – I don’t see my lessons as being gender specific but just my lessons are specific to me?!
I don’t think I have an overall favorite book – i used to say Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children” but i haven’t read it for so long it seems to strange to continue to say that. I waited a long time for another Donna Tartt book and i did love reading “The Goldfinch”.
“Everything will be ok in the end. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end”.
My husband sent me that quote on a card the christmas after our marriage had ended – and i remember feeling so irritated with him because it sounded so smug and annoying. But two years later we are back together and i kind of like that card now.
Something i say to myself every day is that I promise to listen to my heart and trust myself. I haven’t always been very good at trusting myself .
Hard work, luck or faith?
I normally say it’s a combination of hard work and luck – and I go through phases of believing it’s one of the other. But it all depends what is happening. If I am wanting recognition i would say it’s down to hard work and if something didn’t go my way then i probably see it as bad luck!? Typical narcissistic behavior right!? I’m right if I’m right and I’m right if I’m wrong! But I do think of myself as a ‘lucky’ person so I guess I possibly see a lot of life as being pretty random!
What drives you work wise and emotionally?
I initially felt like that would be two completely different things but when i really think about it, it’s probably the same thing: To connect with people, and without sounding too annoyingly altruistic, to help people in some way.
Male dominated world or not? Does it affect you?
I grew up with two brothers and a mother and father and I went to an all girls school. I was made to feel by everyone around me as I grew up that i could do anything or be anything i wanted to be. So in many ways i don’t remember ever encountering sexism until i went to university – and i can remember the first time being totally shocked when i sat with a group of guys who genuinely believed i wasn’t as good as them because i was a woman. I actually thought at first they were joking. And of course i have had my fair share of patronising men over the years assuming that because i look a certain way or because i am a woman then i must be incapable of certain things. But I’ve found trying to change the minds of people like that is a waste of time and energy. Better to show a whole load of kids the inequality around them and fire them up to change it. I recently pointed out to kid at the school i work at, that men still earn more than women in this country to do the same job – and he looked rather pleased with himself. And he told me he didn’t care as long as he was getting paid the right amount. But when i pointed out that it meant his single mum probably wasn’t getting paid as much as she really should he felt so differently about it. So if we can educate the next generation of girls AND boys then we could possibly start to see a difference. Because all these boys will hopefully be thinking about their mothers and their sisters – and they will see that inequality will be indirectly or directly effecting them too.
And i still have that same level of disbelief as I did at 18 when I encounter sexism now. And i don’t know if i would say that my day to day world is male dominated since I work in a very female oriented workplace but on a more global scale there is certainly not gender equality and therefore that effects every woman AND man – and although awareness of that is changing and will affect our ability to counter it – it is still there and we are all still living with it’s effects.
Do you listen to you instincts?
Yes, I think ultimately I do listen to my instincts even if I don’t realise it at the time. I see my instinct as my unconscious and i don’t think I realise how much it is influencing me. I sometimes talk to myself if I’m alone and i often take that as an indication of my real feelings. Once I’ve spoken my feelings out loud it’s like i can’t deny them existing any longer. My instinct is the emotion that is pushing me to do something and you can only fight your emotions for so long.
What is success to you?
That I don’t really know. . . .I used to think success was about work and status and making money – and now I think of success in much smaller terms – it’s in the day to day moments. Success for me is now more about being a considerate friend or partner or making a kid I work with feel like they are good at something, or being able to balance my work with being an alright mother. It’s the really small things in life that all add up.
Woman, Mother, lover, does it all come together?
Well, it does all come together in the sense that if you are all those things then you have to bring it together. Although I find that for the first few years after having children all those aspects of me were very compartmentalised. It’s only as my kids have got older and I am back at work that I feel my life is starting to become whole again. Until that point it felt like I lived in a box of mother, lover, woman, friend, daughter, sister and they didn’t flow very well into each other. And more often than not my girlfriends will talk about how we feel that it’s impossible to do all of them well. I feel like something has to give – more often than not I think it’s the lover or partner role that is lost at the bottom of the pile.
When in life have you felt most alone?
I think the times when I have felt most alone is when my external day to day life didn’t match my internal feelings. The times when I felt like I was behaving in a way that was at odds with how I really felt.
How has life been different from what you’ve imagined?
I didn’t think I would enjoy getting older as much as I do. So far I feel like life has got better and better and even when life is tough and not what I expected I still feel like I like it more.
What do you feel about growing older? In what ways did age and life experience change you?
So far I like getting older. I definitely feel more confident as I get older. I often felt when I was younger that I was missing the point because things seemed so simple and I felt they must be more complicated. And now conversely I like the idea that I may not understand everything right now but I have this idea that it will all make sense one day. I feel like I can now see that the answers do finally reveal themselves along the way. I also feel like my own life experience and that of my friends can sometimes be very humbling and allow for some real perspective on my own issues.
What are your dreams and hopes for what the future holds?
I guess my own dreams and hopes are probably the simple ones really – to feel fulfilled by the choices I make in life.
Hopes for your daughter?
For my daughter it would be to be happy with who she is and to enjoy all that life throws at her. The truth is that we all know that life is filled with great joy as well as great pain and loss; but above all I just hope she’s happy. It sounds kind of trite written down – but it’s true. I just want her to enjoy her life.
What advice would you give yourself as a young girl?
I don’t know – I don’t know if I would have listened. Having worked in a primary/elementary school for the last year I would probably tell my younger self to stop being such a fucking smart arse!
Photos by Sarah Wietzel Seresin
Q&A by Tonje Kristiansen