The Gogglebox star Scarlett Moffatt has told how at the peak of her fame she was so anxious she called Samaritans constantly for support. Moffatt, 30, said she went through “a bad time” in the wake of winning I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! in 2016 when, despite everyone around her assuming she was “living her best life”, in fact she was struggling with a crippling spell of bad mental health. Speaking to Bryony Gordon for the latest episode of her podcast, Mad World, which you can listen to using the audio player above, Moffatt said at the time she felt she “didn’t have a right to be sad”. “I’d just been through a wonderful time where I’d won I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! and I was getting really cool roles on the TV. “I didn’t dare tell any of my family and friends because they just thought I was so happy.” Describing the first time she called Samaritans, Moffatt said she rang “20 times”, hanging up every time before she finally got the courage to speak to an adviser. “I spoke to this wonderful woman and it was the first time in about two weeks I had slept properly and I was like, wow, that really helped,” she told the podcast. “It was like a little voice of hope and reassurance that there was light at the end of the tunnel. “I remember ringing them the next morning as soon as I woke up, which gave me the courage to speak to my family and friends and my GP.” Moffatt, who has recently become an ambassador for Samaritans, said she didn’t know “what would have happened” if she hadn’t called them, adding that speaking to an impartial person was easier than speaking to loved ones; that way, she said, “I felt like no one was getting hurt”. “The woman on the other end of the phone made me feel so brave. I remember calling off and just thinking, wow, actually I am quite brave for doing that because it’s hard.” Moffatt told how she struggled to cope with trolls when she first became famous, speaking about a time when things got so bad she felt she wanted to “disappear for a while”. “My little nan called me because there was some awful stuff in the paper and online... she rang me crying. “I just remember pretending like, ‘oh, it's fine, don’t worry about it’. But really, I just wanted to be like, this is awful. I just want to come home.” Now, she told the podcast, she sends the Samaritans number to anyone that sends her an abusive message. “I just think if you’re projecting that much onto the world, you’re not happy yourself.” Samaritans’ helpline is free, and available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year: call 116 123 Listen to Scarlett Moffatt's full interview on Bryony Gordon's Mad World podcast using the player at the top of this article, or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your preferred podcast app.
There are moments in our cultural history that merit the question: “Where were you when?” The assassination of JFK, the outbreak of the Second World War, England winning the World Cup, the Queen’s Coronation. On the morning the Duke of Edinburgh died, four weeks ago, I was, quite by chance, visiting one of his cousins, Princess Olga Romanoff. There to discuss the new documentary she appears in tomorrow night, The Queen and Her Cousins (she is also related to Her Majesty), Olga, as she prefers to be known, had spoken warmly all morning about the Windsor branch of her extended family, particularly the “quite divine” Prince Philip, whom she only met once but always admired. “I would love to have met [him] when he was younger because he is almost a hero of mine,” she said. “I just think he’s wonderful because A, he’s very good-looking. B, he doesn’t take bullsh--. He says it how it is even if he gets into trouble.” Moments after I had driven away from our interview, the news breaks that the Duke had died. I return to Provender House, Olga’s 13th-century mansion in the Kent countryside, to find her in tears. “He was nearly 100 so it wasn’t totally unexpected but he did so much and he was the Queen’s backbone and shoulder and he’ll be just terribly missed,” she says. “Prince Philip was years younger than my Pa [Prince Andrew, Tsar Nicholas II’s eldest nephew, who escaped Russia on a British warship in 1919] but they were quite closely related on two sides, the Danish and the Russian. “I just feel terribly sorry for the Queen and the family, the children. Princess Anne was very close to her father. One could look up to him. Poor all of us. And they can’t even have a decent funeral.” Before then, Olga had been on rip-roaring form. A no-nonsense, sharply witty woman, she was born Princess Olga Andreevna Romanoff, but has not lived the regal life of her Windsor relations. She would have made a “lousy imperial princess”, she says, “because I would rather shovel sh-- than have to be very charming and dressed up on a daily basis.” She now lives alone at Provender, taking groups of tourists around her childhood home as her mother did before her, and renting out what was once the servants’ wing on Airbnb – “a necessity”, so it earns its keep. “I did always say I’d never do anybody else’s dirty washing – it’s bad enough doing my family’s – but needs must and so I do it,” she says. “I sometimes have to take the sheets off, too.” Fantastically forthright, she argues with her branding as the Queen’s “rebellious” cousin. “I’ve never done drugs! I didn’t even smoke pot in the Sixties, which was the time to have done it. Too late now, because it’s so strong. I never took to drink. Didn’t screw around. It’s all very depressing,” she concludes, of opportunities missed. “Underneath, [rebellion] was there. I would like to have given two fingers.” Growing up, Olga, now 71, was named a possible bride for her third cousin, Prince Charles. “He wasn’t really [my] type,” she says. “Harper’s and Queen were doing a piece on foreign suitable princesses. My mother was the one that did the speaking, I didn’t know anything about it. I was only interested in horses – she put me down as a sculler. I couldn’t row. Mother was born in 1908. It was unladylike to only want to be on a horse.” It’s a passion she shares with the Windsors, particularly the Queen and Princess Anne, who once kicked her in the shin during a dance. “We both were chasing the same [man]. Doing an eightsome together at the barracks, I was a little slow on the turn and the royal foot came out and kicked me. I admire her enormously now. She’s sensible. There’s no bullsh-- with her, either.” Charles, she feels, will make a very good king – “Poor man, he’s going to be quite old by the time he [does]" – and she is a fan of the Duchess of Cornwall, too, having first met her in 1969 at a cousin’s coming out dance. “She was pretty, funny, tanned, swore like a trooper then, like me, and we both smoked.” Do they, these people whom she only knew a little as a young woman, feel like cousins, I ask? “No. Well, I don’t know, I have so many cousins in all directions, I don’t know what a cousin feels like. You either like people or you don’t.” She gives me a tour of Provender, which belonged to her grandmother, Constance Borgström, who bought it “on Finnish money” in 1921 from the Brabourns (also related to the Mountbattens). It’s both a British manor house and a living museum to Imperial Russia. There is something of Olga here, too – a swear box sits on a side table, and a plaque above a door reads “It’s not easy being the princess.” “The cleaners put, underneath it, ‘it’s much harder being the cleaner’,” she notes. A statue of her great-great grandfather, Tsar Alexander II, is topped with a feather hat. “Because this room is so bl---- cold I thought it would be a good idea to keep his little head warm.” Paintings of tsarinas line the walls; cabinets are filled with china that “Nicholas [the last tsar, and first cousin of George V] and family ate off”. On a landing sit the trunks from HMS Marlborough, the naval frigate sent to rescue the remaining members of the Imperial family after the tsar, his wife and five children were executed by the Bolsheviks, and which contained “b----- all. Some Fabergé jewels which they sold for food. My grandmother, Xenia, had a moderately good collection which over the years dwindled, and they got away with their lives”. “There’s Nick and George,” she says, pointing to a photograph of the Queen’s grandfather with his Russian cousin. “It was for the Kaiser’s daughter’s wedding – the last time all the European families got together, for a huge wedding. Before the world…” Before it changed forever? “Yes,” she says. Olga has led a curious life. Hers was a traditional, aristocratic upbringing, but her own children went to state school in Scotland where they lived before she moved back to Provender. Having a princess for a mother wasn’t always easy, her daughter, Alex, who has been staying in lockdown, tells me. “There are some very narrowminded people that automatically assume with title there’s money. We did all get bullied for it. They automatically assumed I was a rich b----.” Long-separated from her children’s father, Thomas Mathew, Olga has no plans to meet anyone else. “I’m far too old for dating apps,” she says.” She is “cagey” about discussing her former husband. “I had a fourth child who would now be 32,” she explains, tentatively. “He died of a rare heart defect at 18 months. I stayed in Scotland and Tommy came south. It was fine. I mean, you know, the death of Tom was awful, poor wee boy, but anyway.” It’s one of several moments when Olga betrays a softer side, doting on her two-year-old grandson Andrew and becoming emotional talking about her father and his family. “Papa didn’t really talk enough about Russia,” she says. “I always thought I would have time as I got older, but he died when Alex was born so I never had the chance.” As our interview winds up, Alex serves cake and tea in a mug which reads “Keep Glam and Rock On”. “Well,” she notes with some understatement, “some of the [others] are rude.” The Queen and Her Cousins with Alexander Armstrong is on ITV at 9pm on Monday.
When strangers at parties find out I’m a journalist they immediately ask me to name my favourite interviewee. The conversation invariably goes something like this. “The one magnificent, inspirational person who stands out to me for both personal and much, much wider reasons is Melinda –”. “OMG Melinda Messenger? Seriously?” “No,” I explain, “Although I did once interview her about National Fish and Chips week. I’m talking about Melinda Gates.” I wait a few beats and watch the puzzlement before clarifying: “Melinda Gates. Wife of Bill? Bill Gates.” Disappointment doesn’t begin to cover the range of expressions on their faces. They obviously expect someone ritzier and glitzier; a Hollywood A-lister or pop royalty. At the very least a household name. But as the dust settles on this week’s shock announcement that her 27-year marriage to Bill is over, everyone knows who Melinda Gates is. Reports that in order to avoid the media she rented a private island in Grenada for £132,000 a night and took the children and their partners, while Bill stayed in the US, have fuelled speculation the split was not amicable. Whatever the truth – which will surely emerge in the coming days and weeks – the ultimate philanthropic power couple have dramatically parted ways.
Davina McCall is crying. She’s finding it hard to compose herself as she tells me about “the most upsetting job” of her TV career. Given Davina, 53, has been on our screens for more than 30 years and presents the sob-fest that is Long Lost Family, this is quite a claim. “I had no idea how shocking a scandal this was,” she explains, apologising for the unexpected tears. “Some of the women I interviewed were planning to take their own lives. How desperate must you be to think death is the only way out? This is not OK. This documentary has been both harrowing and heartbreaking to make.” It’s unnerving seeing the perky doyenne of positive telly so subdued on my Zoom screen, her cat on her lap as she sips tea in her front room. Davina rarely presents anything less than an upbeat persona but her new documentary, Davina McCall: Sex, Myths and the Menopause, has touched a nerve. The Channel 4 show explores the agony of women battling to be taken seriously by UK doctors who are inexplicably resistant to treating midlife hormone deficiencies. It features women with perimenopause and menopause symptoms so severe they have been suffering in silence for years, particularly those enduring the hideously named vaginal atrophy, a condition caused by lack of oestrogen, which can affect up to 80 per cent of women in midlife. One woman Davina talks to in the programme was in such distress she could not sit down and numbed the daily pain with ice blocks. The investigation lifts the lid on years of illogical chaos surrounding the prescription of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – and has unleashed Davina’s midlife warrior. “I did wonder,” she says, “if telling the world about my vagina and taking HRT was a career-ending move, but I was so angry I thought, what the hell, why not.” Davina explains how she experienced dryness “down there” during her mid-40s, but was one of the lucky ones whose symptoms were cured by HRT. “What I didn’t know then, but I do now, is that I was experiencing symptoms of perimenopause, which can start in your early 40s,” she tells me. “I had also begun to have night sweats – they were so bad it reminded me of when I was coming off heroin. (The ex-Big Brother presenter was addicted to drugs in her 20s.) “And I was losing my mind – I forgot how to read an autocue at work; I thought I was getting dementia. My dad suffers from it and I was convinced I had it early. “I was tearful all the time and I remember sitting in the car yelling at the children on the school run, which was so unlike me, feeling utterly miserable. I thought ‘I cannot continue being this person’ and I sought medical help. It took a year to get the levels right but I went on HRT and my life changed. I was me again.” And indeed the presenter appears to be on excellent form. She’s a woman of huge influence right now, with 1.3 million followers on Instagram, 2.7 million on Twitter and more than 700,000 on Facebook. And she is catnip for viewers – The Masked Singer finale saw more than 10 million tune in and the last series of Long Lost Family reached a live audience of more than 5.2 million. She’s in a happy place at home, too, after her divorce in 2017 from Matthew Robertson, the father of her three children: Holly, 19, Tilly 16, and Chester, 14. For two years she has been dating Michael Douglas, 47 – a “fancy pants” hairdresser, as he calls himself, and dad of two teen boys, whom she has known for 27 years. She won’t talk about their relationship in order to protect her children’s privacy, but it’s easy to hear the affection they have for each other on the podcast they co-present, Making The Cut. In the last episode he playfully refers to germophobe Davina as “Britain’s cleanest woman”, they discuss how he weighs 3kg less than his fitness guru girlfriend and it ends when he promises to cook her steak that night. “You’re so lovely,” she says.
When the pandemic began, I had been sober for several years. After decades of intermittent alcohol dependence, cirrhosis and rehab admissions, I was enjoying the daily pleasures of sober life – simple things that had been impossible when I was drinking like travelling, watercolour painting, photography and relaxing in my garden. I relapsed almost immediately when the first lockdown started. I’m 68, widowed and I don’t have any children, so the isolation was awful. I remember the moment when I gave in: an advert for a wine company fell out of a photography magazine I was reading and it was a trigger I wasn’t expecting to see. Soon after that I was drinking every day, from the moment I woke up until I went to sleep. At my worst, I was getting through two bottles of wine a day, just to take the pain away. In some ways it was a comfort blanket, but I suppose I wanted to block out the frightening reality of the pandemic and the dreadful loneliness I was experiencing. It got to the point where the only time I wasn’t drinking was when I was asleep. I didn’t even think much about it, it was just something I had to do because my body was so dependent. I tried to wean myself off it, probably too quickly, and as a result I was vomiting and unable to keep food or tablets down. I ended up being briefly hospitalised four times because of these withdrawal symptoms. Eventually, in the summer, I checked myself into a rehab centre. Although my drinking stopped for a while, the November lockdown brought it on again. I knew what the alcohol was doing to my body, but my life was so miserable that I didn’t care whether I lived or died. It turns out that I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t surprised to read that alcohol dependence among my generation of “Baby Boomers” soared during lockdown: according to a recent study by King’s College London, many of those aged 55-74 started drinking in the morning and these findings chime with my own experience. Figures released by the Office for National Statistics also showed that the number of alcohol-related deaths in 2020 was the highest in 20 years. Loneliness and stress can be key factors, and I imagine that many others my age were in a similar position to me, in that I had money to spend that I’d saved by not going on holiday or out with friends. My alcohol dependence is usually a reaction to anxiety. I drank heavily during other stressful times in my life, like when my husband was found dead in our sitting room and when my mother died from cancer soon afterwards. I first started drinking alone when I retired from my job as a teacher 20 years ago, going from a busy routine to nothing. I’ve experienced frequent relapses since then, but I’ve also been able to get help, thanks to NHS centres, Turning Point, the British Liver Trust and my incredible friends. I wouldn’t be alive without my friends – they know about my drinking problem and how hard I try to give up, and they’ve been there for me throughout the pandemic. Even when I was at my lowest during lockdown, they would call me every day. This helped to ease my isolation but it wasn’t the same as being able to give them a hug. Thankfully, a week and a half ago, I stopped drinking again – hopefully this time for good. It means I can do the things I love once more and appreciate the world around me in a way that I couldn’t when I was drinking. But there is still a taboo and lack of understanding around alcohol dependence and it’s important that people recognise it’s an illness. I really hope that other Baby Boomers who turned to serious alcohol dependence in lockdown will seek help from alcohol support services, as I did. As told to Claudia Rowan Helpline calls surge Pamela Healy, Chief Executive of the British Liver Trust, said: “Drinking alcohol to excess is the leading cause of liver disease in the UK, and more than one in five people currently drink alcohol in a way that could harm their liver. Since the pandemic began, our helpline has had a surge in calls from people with pre-existing alcohol-related liver conditions and from people concerned about their liver health due to increasing their alcohol consumption. We understand that these are extraordinarily difficult times but urge people not to turn to alcohol as a coping strategy. If you are concerned about your drinking, try to start cutting down by having at least three alcohol-free days per week." If you need help for alcohol dependence, you can speak to your GP or read the advice on alcoholchange.org.uk and turning-point.co.uk. You can also receive free support from charities including the below: Alcoholics Anonymous, visit alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk or call 0800 917 7650 We Are With You, visit wearewithyou.org.uk or call 0808 801 0750 Drink Aware, visit drinkaware.co.uk or call 0300 123 1110
A few years back, Melinda Gates admitted coming across her future husband Bill, writing a list of the pros and cons of marriage on a whiteboard in his bedroom. Now, 27 years later, with their divorce in the news, that whiteboard moment has got us thinking: what about the other pros and cons list – “Reasons for and against staying married”? We’ve all done one of those, haven’t we, if not with a whiteboard, then in our heads. It goes something like this: Reasons to stay Would not have to divide up all the nice stuff collected over the years by us. The dog. The children. Would not have to date. Urgh. Even if we refuse to date, after a suitable interval, friends will feel obliged to set us up with moth-eaten exhausted men who fall asleep during dinner, and all conversations will eventually turn to someone we have to meet who is great though still rather raw from his divorce. Would once again have to pretend to be all the things you have to pretend to be before you get married, which you can then abandon. For example: fragrant; good- tempered; easy-going; a reasonably early riser; house proud; happy to go sailing/learn windsurfing. Bed ballast. What would go in the empty side of the enormous bed? Want to keep the bed, obviously. Holidays. Back to tagging along with other couples and/or families and paying a single supplement for the room overlooking the air conditioning unit. Getting driven home at night after parties. Silent car journeys. Can’t be done with anyone else; even with close friends and family, suggests there’s an issue. Eating for one. Depressing and liable to make you fat because nine times out of 10, you’ll have a bowl of Alpen and a banana. Redacting the photographs. Like people do. Snipping him out of the family shot, folding his half underneath the other half. Tiring. Having to look very much OK with your decision all the time: sunny, bright eyed, busy, not remotely seething. In-home entertainment. No possibility of Friday night beat the intro, or drink everything and dance, or let’s binge-watch six episodes of Money Heist (could watch Money Heist, but TV watching is 40 per cent less fun on your own). Computer and, occasionally, TV remote assistance. Having someone to reach for high things and deal with trapped birds indoors etc. Having someone to complain to. Having someone who gets that look means we are leaving in 10 but don’t forget the lasagne dish. Having someone who has got your back and will keep one eye on you swimming in the sea, just in case. Starting again. Reasons to go Get to wear dungarees and the banned spectacles. Can paint bedroom blossom pink should we ever want to. Fewer parking tickets. Can have the heating on higher. No cheese in the house or biscuits or salami (therefore slimmer in due course). Absolute control of how much petrol is in the car. Taking back control of our socks and cashmere scarves. No more urgent post left unopened for months. No more hearing rustling and traffic or indistinct humming. No more waiting at the supermarket checkout with a week’s food shop for Him to choose some tins of pale ale. No more nearly missing a flight because He’s in Boots buying shaving gel and (accidentally) diabetic chocolate. No more food containing allspice and paprika and extra salt and then more salt and butter. No more pathologically avoiding the neighbours and hiding around the corner to avoid bumping into them. Might even make friends with the neighbours. No longer need to see the whatsits ever again. No thinking for two: eg you know when you said you turned on the oven? Was that two clicks to the left? That’s four more in the stay column: worked for us.
I can clearly remember the moment I realised it was time to give in and move out of London. I had just arrived for an Easter break with my family in Dorset. We threw open the back door of the cottage we were staying in and our children, then four and seven, ran out into the vast green field behind us, laughing and shouting. My husband stood in the doorway looking happier than I’d seen him all year. ‘This is what it could be like all the time,’ he said, and something within me finally shifted. When Nigel and I met 18 years ago, he was in the process of buying a flat in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, where he comes from. I grew up near Finsbury Park, in north London, and I’d gravitated back there after university, living close to friends, my sister, and a 20-minute bike ride from my office in King’s Cross, where I worked as a journalist. I saw no reason to ever leave. I assumed I’d bring up my children there, too. And since Nigel also worked in London as a web developer, he gave up his beach dreams and we eventually settled in Tottenham. But the question of moving to the coast never went away. Nigel had a boat. He dreamt of weekends sailing, the children swimming in the sea, the freedom, the fresh air and space. All I thought about was the long commute to work, and missing friends, family and the buzz of the city. Yes, we’d stopped making as much use of the culture and nightlife after our children were born, and our weekends were increasingly spent driving out of London, in search of green spaces and fresh air. Yes, we had family and friends by the seaside, too. But what if we got there and I hated it? What if the children didn’t like their new school? What if we all missed London too much? Then Nigel’s dad died suddenly, and his mum was on her own by the coast. We were reminded of how short life is, and how quickly it can pass you by if you don’t take risks and try new things. Our children were still young enough to settle quickly in a new environment. That week on holiday in Dorset, I watched how happily they ran and explored and enjoyed their freedom. And I saw all the stress and anxiety disappear from Nigel’s face. The day we got back to London, we put the house on the market. Six months later, we moved into our new home in Leigh-on-Sea, with a view of the water, just moments from the beach. I had a lot of sleepless nights in the run-up to the move, convinced we were leaving behind everything we loved in London, but my worries turned out to be unfounded. The children settled quickly, the local parents and neighbours were friendly and welcoming, I got used to the commute. In fact, I used the extra time on the train to finish the novel I’d been trying to write for years. My debut thriller The House Guest is set in north London, and tells the story of Kate, a new arrival who gets caught up with a charismatic life coach and her sinister group of followers. Somehow, having distance from the novel’s setting, and being in a new environment, gave me the inspiration I needed to get it written. Now, a typical weekend is spent walking, swimming or paddleboarding. Before the pandemic, we had a constant stream of friends come to visit, and some have even moved here since. But it was during the lockdowns that I truly appreciated the decision we made – being able to walk on the beach every single day, rain or shine, or even snow. Swimming in the sea all summer when the pools were closed. And always having that open horizon to gaze out on. Every day, I look out at the sea and feel grateful that we took the plunge. Otherwise we’d never have known what we were missing. ‘The House Guest’ by Charlotte Northedge is published on Thursday (HarperCollins, £14.99). Follow our Stella Facebook page for the latest from Stella Magazine, and join the Telegraph Women Facebook group, a place to discuss our stories. Have you moved to the coast from London? Share your experience in the comments section below
Not long to go now before further lockdown restrictions are lifted and the summer of freedom begins. So, today we are thrilled to announce that Stella Live Online is back once again! On Friday 18 and Saturday 19 June – the last weekend before England is set to drop all limits on social contact – we’ll be bringing your favourite magazine to life with empowering talks, practical styling tips, insider beauty advice and celebrity interviews, to ensure your post-lockdown summer is as fabulous as possible. After the year we’ve had, good times are more crucial than ever, so grab your diary and scribble down the dates – you won’t want to miss this. Expect to see all your Stella favourites, including a fabulous roster of celebrity guests and inspirational speakers making an appearance over seven sessions. Presenter and mental-health advocate Fearne Cotton will be in conversation with ITV News’s Charlene White, sharing tips on coping with post-lockdown anxiety and finding your inner zen in a chaotic world. Plus, back on our shores after cracking Hollywood, this week’s cover star, the ever glamorous Cat Deeley, will be talking about moving in the midst of a pandemic and her latest leap into fashion. Former Stella cover star and all round goddess Yasmin Le Bon will be chatting to head of fashion Lisa Armstrong, giving us a peek into her ultra-chic life. Beauty fans are in for a treat too, with three huge names on board to share their expertise. Inge Theron, founder of the phenomenally successful FaceGym, will be teaching an exclusive workshop to give you toned and supple skin, the natural way. Returning by popular demand, the inimitable Trinny Woodall will be helping readers with their beauty quandaries in an interactive event, and in a year when we’ve all come to appreciate our hairstylists more than ever, George Northwood will share his know-how with beauty director Sonia Haria. Over two unmissable days, you’ll spot many more familiar faces from Stella’s team, including our editor Caroline Barrett, fashion news and features director Bethan Holt, senior fashion editor Caroline Leaper and shopping editor Krissy Turner. Our fashion team will be running a workshop to solve all your dressing dilemmas – and guarantee a stylish summer ahead. To get the chance to submit questions ahead of time and stay in the know, sign up for our newsletter at telegraph.co.uk/stella-daily. Spaces are strictly limited, so how do you nab a spot? The great news is that the full two-day festival is completely free for Telegraph subscribers and just £10 per session (or £25 for an all-access pass) for non-subscribers, with an option to donate to our charity partner Smart Works. What are you waiting for? Head to stellalive.co.uk to book now.
Without doubt, the most famous picture of Christine Keeler is the cheeky portrait taken in 1963, at the height of the Profumo affair. It shows her astride a plywood chair at comedian Peter Cook’s Establishment club in Soho, apparently naked and looking boldly at the camera. Another picture of Keeler, framed as a reminder of her young self – and now owned by the younger of her two living sons, Seymour Platt – could not be more different. She’s lying in a field of flowers on a sunny afternoon, windswept and apparently carefree. That black-and-white photograph moved home with her many times, last hanging on the wall of a modest flat in Beckenham, Kent, where Keeler spent her final years. ‘It was part of a limited edition which was signed by her and she had carefully covered her signature with masking tape so you could not see it,’ says Platt. ‘I thought this was really telling about who she was – and who she did not want to be.’ The picture was taken the day Keeler was released from prison in 1964, having served six months of a nine-month sentence for perjury. She was still only 22 but her name was already a byword for scandal. As an aspiring model, Keeler had hit the London party scene at the beginning of the Swinging Sixties, under the wing of Stephen Ward, an osteopath whose clientele included famous names in the aristocracy, politics and show business. Ward’s entrée into high society relied on a coterie of pretty girls who would entertain his important friends. Through Ward, Keeler met John Profumo, the government’s (married) Secretary of State for War, and Eugene Ivanov, a naval attaché at the Soviet embassy in London. The discovery of her – simultaneous – affairs with both men saw her cast as a femme fatale.
When I heard the news that Nick Kamen had died, aged just 59, having suffered from bone marrow cancer for years, I was propelled instantly back to 1985. I had moved from Dundee to London and happened to live near a launderette. Its name – Wishee Washee Splishy Splashy – was pretty wacky, but that’s not why I glanced in, hopefully, every time I walked past. It was because of a certain Levi’s ad. Up until then, the only commercial that had made any impression on me was the Smash Martians – and, safe to say, Nick Kamen sauntering into that launderette, pulling off his shades and proceeding to whip off his white T-shirt and jeans was hotter than a bowlful of reconstituted mashed potato.
Lockdown has not been easy for billionaires, even Bill Gates. News that the fourth richest couple in the world – worth some $125 billion – are heading for a divorce must have been a champagne-popping moment for the US legal community; the more money at stake, the messier the split. The pair have hauled in top brass to manage proceedings: on Melinda’s side are Robert Cohen and Sherri Anderson – who have a host of A-list clients under their respective belts, including Ivana Trump, Uma Thurman and Jeff Bezos. Bill is leaning on Robert Olsen and Ted Billbe – who made MacKenzie Scott the world’s fourth-richest woman after her marriage to Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, ended two years ago. The Gateses calling time on their vows after 27 years has kickstarted what is believed to become the most expensive divorce in history. One friend sought to get her own back on her hedgefunder husband by calling every top divorce lawyer in the UK – spending her hedgefunder husband’s money as she went – so there was no one left to represent him. Another kept “lawyering” until the desperate husband caved into her demands, which included ownership of an Italian beach front property she’d always claimed to hate. A media executive friend who divorced after 30 years of marriage explains: “There are three buckets when it comes to divorce: anger, blame and sadness. Lawyers will do everything they can to keep it in anger and blame.” The super-rich have an army of lawyers and tax accountants at their disposal; the more the couple fight, the richer they get. “It’s not level playing fields in this sector,” says Charlotte Ransom, CEO of Netwealth, who advises predominantly high net worth women. “Wealth can be tied up in trusts and offshore companies. The business can be part of a partnership.” The super-rich didn’t get that way without understanding how money works, even if the bulk of that job was handed over to financial advisers. Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are married to educated, intelligent women. “[But] I have clients who haven’t worked out that if the husband can afford a £10 million home in central London, he probably has a lot more,” Ransom says. Emotions, too, can land you a bad deal: “Women often have a particular attachment to the home because of the stability they believe it affords their children.” Clever husbands pretend to be generous by offering it up, meanwhile nabbing the Gstaad ski chalet and New York penthouse.
Before I became sober, I didn’t look like your typical ‘problem drinker’. From the outside, my life seemed perfect: my partner and I had two gorgeous sons, plenty of friends and our own successful property business. But behind closed doors I was consuming 100 units of alcohol a week (the NHS recommended limit is 14), a habit that wreaked havoc on my mental health. It’s a situation so many others are finding themselves in now, post-lockdown. Academics at King’s College London warned this week that those aged 55-74, in particular, have started drinking to levels indicative of alcohol addiction, with many reaching for their first glass in the morning as a ‘comfort blanket’. My early experiences with alcohol weren’t out of the ordinary; like other teenagers, I would spend evenings drinking in the park with friends and downing pints in nightclubs. I remember feeling captivated by the glamour of drinking. Strangely, this was one of the perceptions about alcohol that stayed with me the longest; I always felt more glamorous with a glass of wine in my hand. It wasn’t until the birth of my sons that my drinking habits started to spiral. As the pressures of family life increased, so did the booze. Slowly it began to creep into all areas of my life. A glass of wine became the answer to everything, from a bad day at work to an argument with my partner. The next morning I would wake up feeling guilty and ashamed, particularly about my sons. I knew the mum I needed to be, but the drink didn’t allow it. This continued for about six years, on and off. On average, I would drink a bottle of wine a night and more on the weekends. Usually, my partner would drink with me. Sometimes we would make rules, and say that we weren’t going to drink over the weekend as there was a place we wanted to go, or people we wanted to catch up with. But when Friday evening arrived, we would crack open the wine again. Slowly, you find that this erodes away at your self esteem. I drank more to try and fix my problems, but it just caused others to appear. I suffered more than my partner, even though we were drinking the same amounts. I became very tired because I was struggling to sleep, and I found myself unable to focus during the day. It wasn’t as if my life was a train crash; I would still get my children to school on time, and get my work done. But inside, I felt self-loathing. It wasn’t until I removed alcohol from my life that I realised it was because I had been downing a depressant every day. Towards the end of those six years, a good friend came back into my life. She was also struggling to manage her relationship with alcohol, and sadly her health was starting to decline. I was drinking more than her at the time, which made me think: “where is the line between her problem and my problem?” Together, we decided to cut down our alcohol intake. But it is only when you try to quit that you realise how ingrained booze is in our society; there are bottles in every shop, and countless adverts on TV. Often it is marketed towards women, who are bombarded with ‘wine o’clock’ or ‘Prosecco with the girls’ slogans. There are birthday cards that celebrate hangovers, and placards to hang in your kitchen encouraging you to drink once the children are in bed.
Like many women, I’ve long had a difficult relationship with sex. I lost my virginity when I was young and went on to have some unhealthy relationships. But the final nail in the coffin was when my partner had sex with me while I was asleep. He’s now my ex, but I'm still processing what happened and sex hasn’t been the same for me since. So I was heartbroken to read new statistics that over half of women have had the same experience. According to a survey of 22,000 women by the group Victim Focus, 51 per cent of respondents said they had "woken up to their male partner having sex with them or performing sex acts on them while they are asleep." Alarmingly, 27 per cent said it had happened to them multiple times. Legally, this amounts to rape. Yet so many women – myself included – simply don’t realise this at the time. I met my former partner when I was 20, and he was 24. I was a single mum still recovering from breaking up with my daughter’s father. I had always worked hard to provide for my family, but I wasn’t financially stable at that time – so he felt like a knight in shining armour. He was lovely to my daughter, and was able to provide for me, so eventually I became dependent on him. The relationship was a bit of a whirlwind and we moved in together after four months of dating. Then his behaviour changed. He became controlling. If I did something he wasn’t happy with, or challenged him, he would be angry with me for weeks. He had a horrible temper and treated me as if he hated me, but when I mentioned separating he would change and beg me to stay. In the end it wore me down and I stopped doing things I enjoyed, as it wasn’t worth the consequences. We got married and had a daughter together, but soon after he started being unfaithful. I didn’t find out until much later in our relationship when I came across emails and texts. I also discovered that he had signed up to a dating website just a month after our baby had been born. We split up briefly, but he promised he would change. It was a lie, but I took him back. Soon after we got back together, I realised that I had lost all desire to have sex with him because his behaviour had destroyed my trust. That's when he took matters into his own hands; on several occasions, he had sex with me while I was asleep. It always followed the same pattern: when I slept on my side, I would wake up to him holding me from behind in a bear hug. He would be penetrating me, and when I tried to wriggle away he held me really tight until he finished. Then, he would roll over and fall asleep. At first I felt confused, but that quickly turned into shame and embarrassment. I was disturbed by what was happening, but at the time I didn’t realise that it was sexual assault. I thought rape was something that strangers did to you in an alleyway, not something that happened in your own bed, with your husband. Now I’m in a new loving relationship I know the difference between sleepy, intimate cuddles and non-consensual sex – but I still struggle to call what happened to me rape. Like other women who have experienced sexual assault in their sleep, it formed part of a wider pattern of abuse. When I found out that he had been cheating on me, I also discovered I was pregnant. I made the difficult decision to have a termination, because I couldn’t bear to bring another child into our relationship. When I went off sex he used it against me, saying it was because I felt guilty for having the abortion and that I hated my body. As a mother who was grieving her baby, that was heartbreaking to hear. At times, the relationship was physically abusive, and he strangled both me and my children. On one occasion, I confronted him about cheating on me when we were in a bar. He pushed me against a wall with his hands gripped around my throat, and shouted in my face not to humiliate him. When he came home drunk, with my daughter on his shoulders, I knew our safety was at risk and decided to leave him. I still live with the trauma of what he did to me on a daily basis. Initially, I was able to be intimate with my new partner, but recently I’ve started to struggle. I have no desire for sex, and would be quite happy leading an entirely celibate life. Although my ex is out of my life for good, I will carry the emotional scars with me forever. As told to Alice Hall
Just look at Billie Eilish on the front cover of Vogue. That’s one hell of an image overhaul. For the shoot, her trademark baggy hoodie and skater shorts have been replaced with a pink satin corset, which gives her an hourglass silhouette, with a classic, old-timey pin-up Hollywood glamour look. She’s even dyed her trademark, grunge green and black hair a bright Marilyn platinum. According to Vogue it was entirely her own idea. The 19-year-old pop star, who first came to our attention with her viral hit Ocean Eyes, recorded when she was just 13, may well singlehandedly revive the corset, making it cool for Gen Z, though it was already having a bit of a moment. Thanks to Bridgerton, the bodice-ripping Regency romp that had us all swooning over the Duke of Hastings played by Regé-Jean Page, online searches for corsets rocketed, up 123 per cent last December, according to online search engine Lyst. And even before that, ahead of the curve influencers like Hailey Bieber and Dua Lipa were on board with last year’s ‘summer corset’.
How times have changed. Until 1946 women were banned from being British diplomats – but from this week, with the posting of Menna Rawlings to Paris, all key British ambassadorships will be held by women, for the first time in history. For much of its 239-year history, the Foreign Office has found a number of creative ways to make things very hard for women. Even after the lifting of the outright ban in 1946, women had to resign if they got married, and their postings were cancelled if (God forbid) they had a baby. It wasn’t until 1987 – when Margaret Thatcher had been Prime Minister for eight years – that the first married female ambassador was posted overseas. Some of their rules made a twisted sort of sense. For example, female diplomats were not allowed to train in the “hard languages” of Japanese and Chinese that took over a year of study, according to the blog Understanding the Civil Service. The reason? It wasn’t worth investing in the education for women, who would be forced to leave as soon as they got married. And then there were lots of reports of downright cattiness towards female diplomats. The blog also reports that women were not permitted as members of the diplomat-favourite Travellers’ Club on Pall Mall (a rule that incredibly remains to this day) and when they dined with male colleagues they were expected to retire with the other wives afterwards, while the men networked over cigars and brandy. After the Second World War, when women were finally allowed to be diplomats, there was one further hindrance. There was an upside-down version of today’s quota policies: a maximum of 10 per cent of diplomats were allowed to be female, lest women flood in “in embarrassing numbers”, according to a senior civil servant at the time. (In reality, the rules against female diplomats were already so stringent that no such cap was ever necessary.) But there is some progress being made. From this week, posts in all other G7 countries – France, Germany, Italy, the US, Canada and Japan – are filled by women, and there are also female ambassadors in Australia, China, Russia and the UN. So who are the women leading the way? Menna Rawlings – France Rawlings, 53, has had an impressive diplomatic career prior to her appointment as the ambassador to France this week. She joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 1989, and has been posted in various locations including Nairobi, Washington DC, Accra, Tel Aviv and Brussels. Most recently, she served as the British High Commissioner in Australia from 2015 to 2019. She was awarded the CMG (British order of chivalry) in 2014, and is married with three children. She is the UK’s first female ambassador to France. Rawlings has spoken about the issue of gender equality in the past, including in a 2018 blog post that she wrote about Jodie Whittaker becoming the first female Dr Who. “In my house, the news that a woman will finally get to play this iconic role is celebrated and, if anything, seen as overdue,” she wrote. “At a time when we are still struggling to get girls to stay in STEM subjects, it is fantastic that they will finally see a female Doctor, just like them (well, except for her two hearts obviously), travelling through time, using sonic screwdrivers and saving the universe.” Jill Gallard – Germany Gallard, 52, took up the post late last year, becoming the first British ambassador to Germany. She has had a long career in European diplomacy, with postings in five countries, including as the ambassador to Portugal from 2011 to 2014. She’s married with two children, speaks five languages (English, German, French, Spanish and Portuguese) and holds the CMG. Naturally. Caroline Wilson – China Wilson, 50, took up her role last year, after previous FCO jobs in Brussels and Moscow. Becoming the ambassador is a return to China, where she had her first overseas job at the British Embassy in the late 1990s. She has been involved in very high-profile diplomacy in Asia, including the post-1997 handover of Hong Kong. She also has lots of experience working in Europe, including in the EU, when she drew on her Master’s degree in European Community law. She is fluent in Mandarin and also speaks Russian. Fun fact: she is also a qualified barrister. Wilson is not the first woman to hold the position: she took over from Dame Barbara Woodward (see below). Dame Karen Pierce – US Pierce, 61, took up the American post following the high-profile departure of Kim Darroch in 2019, after diplomatic cables he had sent describing the Trump government as “inept and insecure” were leaked. Pierce is the first woman to take up the role. She joined the FCO in 1981, and has had postings in Japan, Ukraine, Belarus, the UN and Switzerland, among other countries. She was given a Damehood in the 2018 Birthday Honours. She has two sons with her husband Charles Roxburgh – who also works for the civil service, within the Treasury. Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque – Canada Le Jeune d’Allegeershecque, 58, (pictured top) has been the British High Commissioner in Canada since 2017, after four years as the ambassador to Austria. The Austrian job came with additional duties – including being the UK’s representative to the UN in Vienna. She has also worked all over the world, including in Singapore, Venezuela, Colombia, the US, and in head office in London. She is set to leave office in August 2021. If she is succeeded by a man, the brief spell of the all-female lead ambassadors will end. She was appointed a CMG in 2010, and is married to a teacher, with whom she shares two children. Dame Barbara Woodward – the UN in New York Woodward, 59, is one of the UK’s highest-ranking diplomats given her role as ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations. She was not the first female ambassador to the UN – she took over from Dame Karen Pierce, who is now ambassador to the US. However, she was the first female British ambassador to China, before being succeeded by Caroline Wilson. She joined the FCO in 1994, and has worked across the world, including in the EU and Russia. Before joining the FCO, she was an English teacher in China.
The various homes of Charlie Webster’s childhood are imprinted in the television presenter’s mind. Not in sight, so much, as in sound: the tell-tale creaks of floorboards she learnt to avoid in order not to alert anybody of her presence, and the dull thud of her violent stepfather walking up the stairs. The now 38-year-old remembers while still at primary school mapping out every corner of her home so she could creep around undetected. “It was all about making my presence as quiet as possible,” she says. “To shrink myself like I didn’t exist.” This was the climate of fear in which Webster, now a sports television and radio broadcaster, grew up. Where some perceived misdemeanour would incur the wrath of her stepfather who, alongside the constant mental abuse and coercive control, would physically attack Webster and her mother. The most chilling moments, she says, were often simply when “he would just give me a look,” she recalls. “That to me was far worse sometimes than when he physically hurt me because at least then you knew what he was going to do.” Last week, the Domestic Abuse Bill, on which Webster has campaigned for years for children to be included as victims, was passed into law. It comes shortly before a new documentary by ex-footballer Ian Wright is broadcast on the BBC in which he reveals the shocking abuse he too suffered as a child. In the documentary Wright discloses how his violent stepfather would make him stand facing the wall whenever Match of the Day was on television (his favourite programme). At night he would lie with his brother covering his ears to muffle the sound of their stepfather attacking their mother. Webster is a key figure in the documentary. She and the 57-year-old former Arsenal footballer have had numerous heart-to-heart conversations about the abuse they suffered and the struggle to come to terms with it in adulthood. “He carries this anger and so have I,” she says. “You learn to survive, you don’t learn to love or love yourself and that is fundamentally the problem.”
No matter how much I try to move on after my break-up, almost a year later I still feel sad that my engagement ended. I left my fiancé during the first lockdown, in what seemed to both of us to be a sudden end, as flaming rows became claustrophobic then ultimately unsolvable. Having spent the following months smashing up, then reassembling my life – selling my London flat and panic-moving to Land’s End – there was one loose end I had yet to tie up: what to do with my engagement ring. Since I left my fiancé, my engagement ring has been festering in a friend’s safe. I don’t want to wear it – it holds too many memories and isn’t a great look on Tinder dates. I offered to send it back to my ex, in lieu of throwing it at him. He told me he didn’t want it either. Gold was never his colour. So, for a while I toyed with selling it. I had a vague plan to put it on eBay and buy myself a labradoodle – though with a value by my guesstimation of anything between £500 and £1,000, it might not have even covered the cost of a sought-after lockdown puppy. But when it came to actually parting with it, taking money for something that had once held so much love and hope just felt too depressing – like too sad an ending to what was already a failed love story. I thought about how my fiancé and I had bought the ring together; shopping for it arm-in-arm in Hatton Garden, kissing as we stopped at jewellers’ windows as he asked me which bands I liked the most. He’d already proposed a few weeks earlier with a ‘placeholder’ but wanted us to choose the final ring I wore together.
In a world where no one really goes out any more, wallpaper is the new fashion statement. If a picture says a thousand words, then the way you decorate your home writes an entire thesis, or is it a coffee table book. Furniture isn’t for putting your bottom on while you watch the telly, it’s for saying 'look at me and who I am!' Carrie Symonds knew what she wanted to say with her Downing Street do-over – and it was that she and Boris are a cut above the Mays and their “John Lewis furniture-nightmare”. The irony is that no real Carrie Antoinette figure would be pursuing a mere £3,000 rattan ripple console table or a four poster-bed boxed inside funky fabrics – all hallmarks of her chosen designer, Lulu Lytle’s Soane Britain. The properly posh would have inherited all their furniture from Granny. And the truly rich would be going for Francis Sultana’s furry patinated bronze and kidassia-upholstered Bodil chairs at £10,000, which look like muppets with very expensive blow dries. So, what type of style snob are you? Read on... Soane Rangers
When the Domestic Abuse Bill gained Royal Assent this week, I felt proud of the part I'd played in its creation. There are women whose names I may never know who will live to be protected because of a law I participated in. At 17, I met my first husband, John, who was 14 years older than me. I was working in a stableyard and he wanted to buy a pony for his daughter, so he asked for my advice. Within three months, I had moved in with him. After six months, he threatened to send an intimate picture of me to my mother if I defied him. I was meant to be meeting my mum, but he didn’t want me to. He threatened me: “If you go, I’ll send this picture to your parents, and show them what a slut you are.” It was like someone had thrown a bucket of cold ice over me. I was mortified. There were other occasions, too, when he said he would send compromising pictures of me to everyone in my phone book. If anyone replied, he jeered, it would be clear I was having an affair with them. After our relationship ended, he threatened to share the images online: “So everyone would know who I really was”. John is now in prison – he was convicted for rape and sexual assault and sentenced to 12 years – but I know he has pictures of me in the cloud. He has sent intimate photos of me to court. Will he share more when he’s released? At least I can be confident of one thing: with the Domestic Abuse Bill there is now remit in the law to protect myself from him. I worked tirelessly with Refuge and other campaigners for nine months to secure the naked threat amendment to the bill, which criminalises threats to share intimate images. The existing revenge porn law fell short of protecting those who were threatened with their intimate images being exposed. With an abusive partner, this is a crippling method of control. It becomes leverage for them to coerce you into doing what they want. I'm thrilled that we now have protection from it.
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful girl who captured the heart of a handsome prince. They married in Westminster Abbey on a glorious spring day and the world looked on and cried: “Good Lord, get a load of her sister’s backside!” For this was not just any bottom, but the platonic form of rears: sassy, pert, and saucily attention-seeking, it boasted a knowingness that seemed to say: “I see you looking, I see you and I salute you. Well may you gaze.” It’s owner, Pippa Middleton, the 27-year-old maid of honour, was callipygian (“having well-shaped buttocks,” after Aphrodite Kallipygos, who raises her robe to admire her own haunches) not with the ludicrous hyperbole of a Kardashian sister, but the athletic girl-next-doorsiness of the Middleton sorority. And Pippa was all the racier for it, as the bride’s hot-as-Hades foil in what resembled a shapely wedding dress. Bright white and artfully fitted, this second Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen creation came backed with a spine of covered buttons that only accentuated the younger sister’s behind as she bent to adjust the bride’s train. Twitter exploded with the hashtag “pippasbum,” along with exhortations that our heroine #marryHarry. While even those individuals who had never previously given rumps much thought paused in what they were doing and intoned: “This was an a***.” Pippa’s posterior appeared to comprise not so much rear of the year, as the cheeks of the still young century, worthy of their own commemorative mug. In Britain, they lent a certain Carry On movie / seaside postcard element to all the pomp. Abroad, they spread the message that we Brits still had it – sex appeal in addition to ceremony. Rumours that their pertness had been the product of strategic padding were viewed as an assault on national pride.
While Harry and Meghan’s antics might continue to raise eyebrows, it’s heartening to think that Kate and William have achieved ten years of married bliss. Granted, the traditional gift for marking the milestone – tin – may not seem terribly glamorous, but it is said to reflect the nature of a decade of marriage. So, sort of bland preservation in an airless and claustrophobic setting, then? No wonder romantically inclined modernists have made diamonds the contemporary alternative - which after all, are expensive and hard. Make no mistake though – it is something of an achievement, especially when you throw three children into the mix - a circumstance we share with the Cambridges. Having three kids within the first five years of marriage made my dream of climbing K2 for my 40th birthday seem, not only unfeasible, but also positively tame by comparison. By that tinny, tenth anniversary I – possibly like Kate, although I am sure she’s far more gifted with forbearance than I - had discovered that you can be starved of oxygen at sea level, yet still find it in your legs to take another step.
Since 2018, Meg Mathews has been one of the UK’s foremost menopause campaigners, determined to use her profile to end the stigma surrounding it. In a new column for Stella magazine, she reveals what she’s learnt. This week: everything you need to know about HRT. I’ve been taking HRT (hormone replacement therapy) for five years and it has helped me greatly on my menopause journey. I started taking it when I was 49 – I wish I’d started taking it at 45 because of all of the benefits it has brought me. HRT can ease menopause symptoms, from hot flushes to low mood and vaginal dryness – as I’ve written about in my previous columns, it has helped me overcome brain fog, low libido and weight gain. It can be taken as a tablet but in the past I've used a gel, which you rub on your thigh. I did try the patches but found they didn’t stick well to me and would get attached to my dog’s tail when he brushed past me! I now use a spray because it absorbs quickly, meaning no sticky feeling. In the UK, most women go through the menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, with the average age being 51 years. Around half of all women will experience some physical or emotional symptoms – so understanding treatment is essential. Today, I’m answering common questions about HRT, with guidance from my trusted specialist Dr Ornella Cappellari. I hope it will help you on your menopause journey. What is HRT? HRT is a way of replacing the hormone levels that fall with menopause. It helps balance out the roller coaster of hormones during the perimenopause and increase hormone levels when they are low post-menopause. Typically, your doctor will prescribe a version of oestrogen, in tandem with synthetic progesterone (progestogen) if you have a womb. What are the benefits of HRT? Short-term benefits are symptom relief, which can improve your quality of day-to-day life. HRT can reduce hot flushes, improve joint and muscle symptoms, lift mood, reduce anxiety and improve sexual desire. Some women say HRT makes them ‘feel themselves again’. Long-term benefits include maintaining bone density, preventing osteoporosis and reducing the risk of fractures. There is increased evidence that HRT can help to protect the bowels, lowering the risk of colon cancer, and the heart, lowering the risk of disease. There is also some evidence that it may protect against dementia. What are the risks of HRT? HRT tablets have been found to increase the risk of stroke and heart disease, but there is no increased risk with transdermal HRT. There is evidence that taking some types of HRT slightly increases the risk of breast cancer. As for women of all ages, it’s important to be breast aware – examine your breasts and always attend mammogram appointments when offered them! Can HRT really cause cancer? When I first heard about HRT, I just kept visualising the word cancer in a big bubble. I felt confused and a bit worried. I started investigating and it felt like everyone had an opinion. There is strong evidence that taking HRT increases the risk of breast, womb and ovarian cancers. However, this increase is only slight – in the UK, around 1,400 cases of cancer per year are thought to be preventable by minimising HRT use. A woman’s exact risk is dependent on the type of HRT being taken, how long it is taken for and how strong the dose is. As always, it’s best that you discuss this with your doctor and you can decide for yourself whether the benefits outweigh the risks. What are the side effects of HRT? These can vary between individuals and the medications used, but progestogen can give you premenstrual symptoms such as breast tenderness, mood swings and irregular bleeding. Oestrogen can make you feel nauseous. Testosterone side effects are rare but can be linked to excess facial hair and lowering your voice. Does HRT affect libido? Testosterone is known to increase libido but if you don’t feel any difference after six weeks it most likely won’t make any difference. Can HRT cause weight gain? No it won't. It balances hormones so if anything it helps you to control your weight. What are the natural alternatives to HRT? Nutrition and lifestyle choices such as restorative yoga, skin brushing and hot and cold showers can benefit adrenal health. Magnesium is important for stress response; it’s best absorbed through the skin using a magnesium chloride spray oil. I haven't drunk alcohol for years now but avoiding excessive drinking is a good idea. Milk thistle is a great supplement that can support liver function, while dandelion is another great tonic for both kidneys and liver, which will ultimately support your adrenal glands. I still get periods – should I wait until they have stopped before starting HRT? If you are still experiencing your periods you can take HRT. In fact, the perimenopause is the time before your periods stop completely and your hormones are still swinging from high to low. Often, women experience their worst symptoms during this time and really benefit from HRT. I find it really hard to remember to take all my medications – do you have any tips? I forget vitamins but I never forget HRT – you feel rubbish if you don’t take it. I’ve heard the Medisafe app is good if you forget – you input all your doses and times and it reminds you. In conclusion... HRT comes with some risks (as does any drug – even over-the-counter painkillers) but each case has to be treated individually, because every woman is different. A study published in the Lancet in 2019 found that overall the benefits of HRT outweigh the risks for most women. So before starting HRT everything needs to be taken into consideration, including quality of life. I hope that helps you to decide if HRT is for you. Do your research, speak to your doctor and see what option is best for you. Ask a question
On the morning of 9 March, 2019, the day that Hilary Mantel would finish writing The Mirror & the Light, the third volume of the trilogy she had spent 15 years on, she woke up very early and went into her sitting room in Budleigh Salterton, Devon, to find that during the night the picture of Henry VIII had fallen off the wall. It wasn’t broken, but the hook had snapped. Thomas Cromwell, meanwhile, despite having been executed on Henry’s orders, was still sitting smugly on the wall. ‘I thought, how beautifully appropriate. Thomas Cromwell is the winner. And Henry is just about to commence his own destruction. Because after Cromwell it was to hell in a handcart. ‘And in great good humour, I left him on the skirting board and went up the road to my office and wrote the end of the book.’ When finishing a book, there’s always the consideration, says Mantel, of how you want the reader to be affected at the end of it. ‘And I wanted to leave the reader feeling that it was a tragedy, but not a disaster. Cromwell changed England, and he probably did everything that he set out to do. So although he must have gone to his execution in great distress, I don’t think it would be with regret.’ Meticulously planned, she had left herself with about two hours work to do. The earlier volumes, Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, had chalked up (amongst other literary awards) two Booker prizes, an RSC play (which won two Olivier Awards and a Tony), a TV adaptation (which won three Baftas and a Golden Globe). And now the third volume was finished, all 912 pages. ‘When my husband came to collect me I said, ‘It’s done,’ and we looked at each other and laughed out loud - it seemed impossible that it could be finished.’ And how did she celebrate? ‘I just wanted to sleep. I don’t have any rituals around writing. Strong tea is my greatest vice. So I think it was just a matter of, ‘Put the kettle on, Gerald.’
Britain is returning to the office, but commuting isn’t what it used to be, pre-2020. The rules have changed, some formally and some not. What is fine for one strap-hanger is completely unacceptable for the next. So how should you navigate this new world? 1. Windows of opportunity As most of us have heard, on repeat, for the past year, Covid spreads via respiratory droplets – so it makes sense that, on public transport, ventilation is paramount. But it also means bus and train windows are a new battleground. No matter that there’s a gale-force wind blowing outside. Open up! It’s OK! You’re saving lives! Just maybe ask before you reach over your fellow passenger to pull the window down... 2. Personal space is sacred In truth, no one ever actively welcomed a mouth-breathing stranger beside them on a cramped bus. Today, they’re about as welcome as a salivating Rottweiler. Hence why many operators have taped off seats. Passengers have also taken matters into their own hands, and many now find it perfectly acceptable to – horrors! – place a bag on the empty seat adjacent (“Sorry, just following social distancing guidelines!”) But when things get particularly busy, aren’t you forcing other people to stand and bunch up along the aisles? Didn’t think of that, did you? 3. Masking up Just as every bus, tram and train carriage always had someone playing music from their phone, now there is always someone not troubling themselves with a face mask. Or, perhaps even worse, someone who’s wearing it wrong, their nose hanging out. There are actual rules about this. At least if you’re not wearing a mask at all, we might accept you have a health-related exemption. Though the people giving you dirty looks right now probably won’t. 4. Eating and drinking We never exactly celebrated when someone boarded with a Big Mac and fries. A takeaway coffee was fine – but not any more. Because it cannot be consumed through a mask. Expect 100-yard stares as you pull yours aside to gulp down your morning flat white. One person’s caffeine fix could be another person’s 10-day quarantine. 5. Getting touchy You read that recent article about surfaces not actually being a major source of virus transmission after all, but that person swinging around to avoid touching the handrail didn’t. Until we all get second jabs, the bumping-into-someone-to-avoid-touching-anything dance is the next big commuter rage flashpoint. You have been warned. Read more on commuting: The Future of Work: Why commuting is the next culture war Part-time rail commuting regime revealed Rail industry voices anger over flexible season ticket prices How has the pandemic changed your commute? Tell us in the comments section below
Dear A&E, My husband, a consultant in a tech company, is really bad at his job. I had no idea until lockdown, but now, when I overhear him on Zoom calls, I cringe. He’s slow at picking things up and I can tell his co-workers don’t warm to him. I’m embarrassed by this. I know it has no bearing on our relationship but I’ve found myself being argumentative, possibly as a result. I’m the slightly higher earner but our careers always seemed equally weighted, until now. I wish I didn’t know any of this but how can I make it not affect our relationship – and do I say anything? — Perturbed Dear Perturbed, Living at work has been bliss for some, tough for others and a mixture for most. We tend to transition into our work selves somewhere on the commute. Then, as we come home, we shrug off the power suit (metaphorical or otherwise), and put down the documents along with the adrenaline and the attitude. Many of us, at work, are unrecognisable to those we love and, although there has been a collective effort in recent years to integrate our different selves, there can still be a surprising disconnect. Which is what you’re witnessing. It’s also worth remembering that Zoom has a very different atmosphere to face-to-face communication, which alters the nuances. It can feel very pressurised as we strain for connection because online meetings merely present the illusion of connection. It can make people irritable and one-dimensional. Your husband might be brilliant in person. He might need the cues that physical presence delivers. He may be feeling threatened and exhausted. Most of our professional roles have become a little flattened over the past year as we have all been boiled down to a face on a screen. You might be witnessing the ‘working from home him’, not the ‘real working him’. The thing is, Perturbed, you married the man not the consultant. Many people have been astounded by the persona their partner presents at work. Different arenas bring out different parts of our personality. We have heard of a few people clenching with embarrassment at the sound of their partners barking ‘imagineering’ or ‘circling back’ at a screen. All this familiarity has bred a colourful spectrum of contempt. It can feel very dispiriting. The troubling thing about your full email (which has been condensed here for space), Perturbed, is that you have shifted into ‘job-review’ mode. It sounds chilly and analytical; we worry that you are feeling all kinds of claustrophobia and resentment. We should avoid – when we are in a healthy state of mind – taking other people’s inventories: listing their shortcomings. Not much good comes of it. Stay in your own lane. We wonder if you might also be a little triggered by sitting next to yet another middle-management male, creating a load of volume, but not achieving much. You, as a working woman, can less afford to be mediocre. But, equally, goodness knows what intimate observers might make of your – or our – working personas. WFH has not been very sexy. You are not alone, Perturbed. Your doubt and irritation will be mirrored the world over. We would advise you ask him – quietly – if he is happy in his work. You may have been witnessing misery rather than incompetence. But, if you enter into an open conversation, then also be prepared for the possibility that he may announce that he has secretly been longing to train as a therapist, or a furniture restorer… Hold your nerve. Now is not an optimum time to make big decisions or judgments about the people we love. We have, many of us, experienced a heightened and/or dulled down sense of self over this sad and strange year. Put on headphones, work in another room if you can, and try to do some nice things together – away from your desks. We are not designed to be all things to all people. Soon his working life will once more be none of your concern. So maybe just reconnect with the husband and allow the consultant to roam free. Do you have a dilemma that you’re grappling with? Email Annabel and Emilie on email@example.com. All questions are kept anonymous. They are unable to reply to emails personally More from The Midults My husband's overweight. How can I get him to diet? We're stuck in a sex rut. How can we spice things up? Reader's advice: What Telegraph readers advised in response to last week's problem The problem: My daughter is rude to my new partner. Should I confront her? Kay Dadson: "The new partner is perfectly entitled to feel upset if the daughter – who is very nearly an adult – is being very rude to him! Why is everyone making excuses for her because she's a teenager? She needs to learn to stop being so rude! The daughter will be gone soon enough and the mum deserves her own life." Jane Benjamin: "I’d talk and listen carefully to the daughter and try to work constructively together to sort out a new way to live harmoniously. Be patient and understanding, this may take time, and lockdown will not have helped as it has forced all three of you to be together all the time. My guess is that she is missing the one-on-one daughter time that she has enjoyed these last years." Fiona McCormick: "Your child should come first. Introduce your new boyfriend slowly and explain to her that you will always love her but that you have a right to happiness too. One day she will grow up and leave home and you would be alone, so you want to really give your relationship a go with her blessing. Emphasise that you will still be able to do some things together and you will always love her and nothing will ever change that."