Telegraph readers were brought to tears this week after Robert Styler, who listens to Allison Pearson's and Liam Halligan's Planet Normal podcast, shared the heartbreaking story of how he has been unable to hold his wife due to Covid-19 restrictions in care homes. In response, Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson penned an open letter to Care Minister, Helen Whately, urging her to reconsider restrictions that are preventing Britons from visiting loved ones. Readers have not only thrown their support behind the open letter, but they have also shared touching stories of how they have been unable to visit family members in care homes. Some readers have even had to live with the knowledge that loved ones have died alone, without the comfort of a familiar voice. 'My father-in-law was forced to die alone' @Clare Roullier: "My father-in-law was forced to die alone in a care home. We were not allowed to visit him or hold his hand for the two and half months before he died. "His wife who was in the same care home was not allowed to see him or to attend his funeral (neither of them had Covid). "My mother-in-law has not been allowed a hug, kiss or any physical comfort since he died and we have only been allowed to visit each other in the garden at a two metre distance.Now we can't visit at all as they have implemented the government guideline of only one nominated visitor so one member of the family is the only person allowed to visit Mum (but still socially distanced). "We can only speak to her on the phone and she keeps getting upset that we are not visiting. I wrote to my MP about this and got a template email response telling me 'the measures were proportionate'." 'My mum didn't even recognise me because of my face mask' @Lilac Dreams: "My mum's care home is a three hour drive away. Due to her dementia she was only barely remembering me when I last made a proper visit in February. "I have seen her since a couple of times for the hour visit, socially distanced in a mask. She didn't recognise me. "On one visit, my mum wandered off as she feels safest in her bedroom but I am not allowed in. It took me longer to have my temp taken, sign in, wash my hands than it did for the visit with her. The second time lasted barely 20 minutes before she went off again. Like many other families this is not the ending I'd envisioned for my Mum. "I am torn because I work in a residential setting for adults with learning disabilities. We have to follow care home guidance - I am not sure if the Government have even thought about people with learning disabilities that live in residential settings. "As I say, I am very torn but firmly agree that we all live with risk every day of our lives, Covid-19 is no different. Yes, the risk is great for the vulnerable but peoples liberty, mental health and right to family life are also paramount."
In March, Madonna called Covid “the great equaliser”, nattering on about unity from a rose petal-strewn bath in one of the seven bathrooms in her £6 million, 18th century Portuguese palace. Seven months later, it’s still only the super-rich that can take such a rosy view of Covid; for them, the pandemic is a manageable personal inconvenience, not a global humanitarian crisis. This week, Kim Kardashian West was widely criticised for posting pictures of her lavish 40th birthday celebrations at Marlon Brando’s island resort, The Brando, on Tetiaroa. Although technically not breaking any laws, the celebrity’s decision to fly out 30 of her family members and closest friends by private jet to celebrate with a sense of “normality” on a private island was unpalatable to even the most dedicated Kim fans. Because this is a time when for many people, the only ‘normality’ they dream of is being able to visit their family, or take their children to nursery, or even go back to work in a currently restricted industry, to earn money.
When I interviewed Fay Weldon last year, she told me frankly that she worried when female fans came up to her at festivals and said: “Thank you for your novel – it gave me the courage to leave my husband.” “And they look so unhappy,” giggled the veteran feminist, who had been married on and off for 60 years. When I visited her at her north Dorset home, Weldon, then 87, was still very much with her third husband Nick Fox, 73, a poet and bookseller who later became her manager. “My only ambition was always to be married,” she confided. The photographer and I looked at each other nervously. Why would the brilliant, polemical author of more than 40 novels, stories and screenplays, including the classic feminist revenge novel The Life And Loves Of A She-Devil, claim that being a wife is life’s highest achievement? Throughout the day she often deferred to Fox’s judgment, absentmindedly buttering a pile of bread while he explained the importance of her career. But Weldon still has the power to shock and wrongfoot us. This week it was revealed that she had walked out on Fox, at the age of 89. In an email sent to close friends and family, the novelist explained: “I have left my husband and am divorcing him, complaining of coercive control and financial mismanagement. Considering everyone’s troubles this year, my own are mere hiccoughs. I am now safely with my family.” It’s clearly a painful story. Weldon is believed to have moved out months ago, while recuperating from a stroke, to live with her eldest son Nic Weldon in Northamptonshire. No one knows what goes on in other people’s marriages. But it is a bold move to end a 30-year partnership in your ninth decade, especially when your health is frail and your finances are closely entangled. When The Telegraph contacted Fox for comment, he replied: “Fay is 89 years of age, has suffered a stroke and is, I believe, unwell. For me this development has been sudden and bewildering. I am presented at a distance with something quite out of character in someone I have known for 40 – and lived with for 30 – years. It is very very sad.” Weldon first met Fox when she visited his Somerset bookshop in the early Eighties and it turned to love when they were both single after a divorce. The age gap – she was 60, he 45 – caused a scandal. Undeterred, Weldon married him in 1994 (they have eight children between them) and they moved to his family house in Dorset.
“Do you know the Prime Minister of Pakistan’s daughter is in your college?” one of my parents’ friends asked me shortly before I went up to Oxford to read Modern History in 1974. “Oh really?” I responded, trying to put some expression into my blank face to be spared the embarrassment of admitting I had no idea who the Prime Minister of Pakistan was, nor his daughter. But it didn’t take long to find out. Soon after arriving in Oxford, I went to join the Union, with its busts of past prime ministers and debating tradition modelled on the House of Commons. In the crowd I saw a tall woman with long dark hair, wearing a sweatshirt and jeans. “Hello”, the person beside her was saying to me, “I think you said you were at Lady Margaret Hall? You must meet Benazir Bhutto; you know, she’s at LMH, too.” Little could I have realised that I had just met the person whose fortunes for the next three decades, as a political activist, prisoner and twice prime minister of Pakistan, I would follow both as a close friend and as a journalist and historian. Nor could I envisage how challenging this seemingly carefree woman’s life would become. In the sociable environment of Oxford, she cut a swathe among the other students; her charisma, kindness and sense of fun making her instantly likeable. Benazir and I may have been in the same college but it was in the Union that our friendship was forged. In the late Seventies, women were still a rarity. That Benazir became the third female president, and I succeeded her as the fourth, created a special bond between us. As our friendship grew, I began to understand more about Pakistan and readily accepted an invitation to visit her at her home, in Karachi, after we’d graduated in the summer of 1977. But within days of her return to her home country, her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, prime minister since 1973, was overthrown in a military coup following allegations of rigged elections. And so I postponed my trip. Instead of rescheduling the election, Pakistan’s new ruler, General Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq, instigated a process of accountability. To my amazement, Benazir’s father was put on trial for conspiracy to murder a political opponent. Overnight, with all her father’s colleagues arrested, Benazir became the party’s spokeswoman, memorably stating years later: “I didn’t choose this life, it chose me.” After her father was sentenced to death in March 1978, I received the letter which changed my life. “I don’t even know what your parents would think of your visiting a country ruled by bayonets in the heat of the summer. However if, in these circumstances, you are able to come, please do.” She ended with a PS: “Flogging and hanging are the rule of the day. Jails are jam-packed with political prisoners. People have been terrorised into silence. It does not seem like a state in the 20th century. Islam, a merciful religion, is wrongly invoked for acts of brutality.” I managed to get myself accredited as a journalist with the Spectator, so that I could attend her father’s appeal, in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. There were no mobile phones, no email, not even fax machines. My accoutrements were a notebook and an instamatic camera.
It’s not often that a celebrity tells the truth. They attract with the promise of some personal revelation but then, more often than not, it’s just spin and PR with a crumb of honesty to pull us in. That is why Chrissy Teigen’s latest post is so impressive. Not that I think that’s what she was going for. Like Chrissy, I have two children, but I should have three. In February 2015 I lost a baby at 16 weeks. The bleeding started almost as soon as I found out I was pregnant. This hadn’t happened with my other pregnancies and I started to sense in my gut that this little one wouldn’t stick. While my husband comforted himself with statistics and the kind words of midwives, I dreaded every time I went to the loo. The bleeding was always, always there. Sometimes less, sometimes more. And then one day I stood up and it was all over the floor. It was the most frightening moment of my life. After being blue lit to hospital, the obstetrician said he’d better scan me just to “make sure”. Extraordinarily my little one was still there. The midwife at the 12-week scan just a few days later told me all was well; he was growing perfectly, we don’t know why bleeds happen, and try not to worry. Just 2 per cent of babies are lost after 12 weeks. At 14 weeks my waters went, and after two weeks in the hospital I delivered, in the quiet of the night, our tiny boy. The hospital I was in had nanas who knitted covers for Carte D’Or ice-cream tubs, and that’s what they placed him in, on an impossibly tiny pillow. He was deemed a “late miscarriage” which simply means after 12 weeks. It is not until 24 weeks that a baby is afforded the gravitas of having been a stillbirth. I remember, like Teigen, those days immediately after. Seeing my gorgeous two other children and feeling dizzyingly, sickeningly lucky to have them, and to be alive as well. “I find myself randomly crying, thinking about how happy I am to have two insanely wonderful little toddlers who fill this house with love. I smother them with love,” Teigen wrote in her essay. I also remember realising that, as I was simultaneously feeling better and better in myself, I was moving further and further away from my son. I remember too how kindness cut to the quick. Opening my front door in my dressing gown to be greeted by a mum from school with a bouquet of flowers and a box of chocolates, and in that moment thinking there could have been nothing more perfect. And really not knowing how to say thank you to make them realise how very much it meant. For Teigen, one of the greatest kindnesses came from the people who asked nothing of her. “Some of the best letters started with ‘You don’t have to respond to this, but…’,” she explains. I couldn’t stop reading other people’s stories, and so many people shared them with me. Every single one helped me make sense of what had happened, and so I needed to tell mine in return. Those of us who are serial oversharers know that you can’t just share the good; it goes both ways. I couldn’t bear the thought of people not knowing. Trying to put on a brave face was impossible. For once I couldn’t participate in the lie that everything was OK.
Years after her long-term boyfriend suddenly vanished without a trace in 2000, Alison* had one dominant theory for what had happened to him. Not that he was a drug dealer. Nor that he had a secret family – which, incidentally, he did. Alison was convinced that the man she knew as Mark Cassidy was a spy. And he was, in fact, a kind of spy. His real name was Mark Jenner and he was an undercover officer in the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), a secretive branch of the Metropolitan Police, which is implicated in one of the biggest scandals in recent British history. Jenner was among at least 21 undercover officers who had intimate relationships with more than 36 women. Alison is one of seven women who feature in a new Telegraph podcast series, Bed of Lies - you can listen to the trailer now on the audio player above. It tells the story of how officers tasked by the Met Police with infiltrating left-wing political groups had relationships with people they were spying on over the course of 40 years. These weren’t just fleeting encounters, but long-term romances in which marriage was discussed and, in some cases, into which children were born. Next week, the Undercover Policing Inquiry begins evidence hearings in its investigation into the actions of 139 officers, including Jenner, from the SDS and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU) who were in the field.
It’s no secret that women are bearing the brunt of the pandemic. From increased childcare responsibilities, to a higher chance of furlough and job loss, it’s thought that the fallout from lockdown restrictions will have a long-lasting impact on the lives of women around the UK. Now, women’s healthcare is the latest 'collateral damage' to emerge as a result of the pandemic. A new survey undertaken by the charity Breast Cancer Now revealed that 47 per cent of women do not check their breasts regularly for signs of breast cancer, and one in 10 never do. When asked why they didn’t check for changes, 46 per cent of those who had not been diagnosed with breast cancer said they “forget” to do so. Others cited embarrassment or a desire not to bother their GP. This adds to fears thousands of cancer cases are going undiagnosed as a result of the pandemic. Just last month, Breast Cancer Now warned that more than half a million women have missed vital breast screenings due to the halt in services during the first wave of the pandemic. The charity now calculates that around 8,600 women will now have undetected breast cancer. It's not just cancer; access to contraceptive services, smear tests and maternity appointments have all been severely disrupted as a result of Covid-19. “The impact of this is really worrying,” says Dr Balvinda Sagoo, an obstetrician gynecologist. “In my practice, we haven’t done emergency hysterectomies for a long time but we’ve done 3 or 4 these last couple of months.” But why are so many women neglecting their health? According to Sagoo, it's partly because GP services aren't currently able to provide women with the services they need in a timely fashion. "Women may be putting off their appointments, and when they do go they have to wait for a referral appointment. Then the hospital has to triage them appropriately, which can be difficult when there’s a backlog of cases.” 38-year-old Meinir Thomas, a translator from Carmarthen, was booked in for a smear test in mid February. In the past, Thomas' smear tests had found abnormal cells, so she was sure to never miss an appointment. However, when the smear test hurt and the nurse couldn’t get the results she wanted, Thomas was advised to come back in two weeks time. At that appointment, Thomas was told she had to wait a further twelve weeks, due to rules about the speculum being used twice in close proximity. When she rang the surgery in May, she was told that the Welsh government had stopped appointments. She would have to wait until further notice.
It’s almost the end of October and, for many who signed up for Stoptober, it’s been almost a month with no booze. Congratulations to all who stuck with it. Neither I nor my two close friends and fellow mothers-of-three got anywhere near the finishing line. It wasn’t that we tried our utmost yet eventually succumbed to the temptation of a glass of malbec at the end of the day. The most committed of the three of us made it to October 3. Then we all made a conscious decision to quit quitting alcohol, for now. The reason wasn’t a total lack of willpower. I like to think that if I’d decided it really was the best course of action in the current moment, I would have been capable of sticking with it. But to ditch the booze in this most hellish of years, while parenting three children under seven? Just no. For millions of parents – myself and my friends included – the coronavirus pandemic has multiplied the usual stresses and strains in a way we have struggled to cope with. When choosing to have children, none of us ever imagined taking on the burden of home-schooling, while trying to juggle it with work and keeping everyone healthy and sane while trapped in the house for long stints. If it sounds like a bad time to challenge ourselves to be better at something – in my case, sobriety – that’s because it is. “It goes without saying that excessive alcohol consumption is damaging to mental and physical health long term”, says Dr Gigi Taguri, a north London GP. But, she goes on: “Parents have faced one of the most stressful years of their lives and, while it’s imperative we all take the utmost care of ourselves, it can also be detrimental to set unrealistic goals. Mothers can be particularly tough on themselves and this can lead to feelings of failure and a decrease in self-worth. “This is especially true when it comes to fitness goals, diets and cutting things out completely – like that occasional glass of wine.” My own relationship with vin rouge could be described as a healthy one, I think – full of love, appreciation, and respect. Savoured with steak or cheese or even just on its own when I’m curled up on the sofa, relieved that yet another day of pandemic-parenting is over. I certainly don’t drink every day and it’s never more than a glass or two during the week, but I do find myself looking forward to it when 5pm hits and it’s feeding time at the zoo. Looking back, as conversations around Stoptober and Macmillan’s Cancer Support’s Go Sober for October campaign gained momentum, I initially felt persuaded I should take this opportunity to reset my relationship with alcohol, not least because I’d like to lose weight. Instead, I’ve upped my exercise quotient with regular running, and my friends and I have come up with the idea of a “booze box”. This means that for every alcoholic drink we consume, we pop £1 in the pot for Macmillan. An unexpected side-effect of this is all three of us have found we’re now more mindful with our wine-pouring. It’s naturally become more savoured and less voluminous.
The unsealing of Ghislaine Maxwell’s 418-page deposition from Virginia Roberts Guiffre’s defamation case in 2016 on Thursday has sent everyone searching for a smoking gun. When it was released on Thursday, the pages were heavily redacted. Ms Maxwell’s lawyers had fought tooth and nail to prevent its publication.So what are they so desperate to hide? Alongside the charges of sexual misconduct, there are charges of perjury against Maxwell. The criminal indictment against her says: “In or around 2016, in the context of a deposition as part of a civil litigation, Ghislaine Maxwell, the defendant, repeatedly provided false and perjurious statements, under oath…” What has been published this week is that deposition. Consequently, Prince Andrew’s most persistent accuser, Ms Roberts Guiffre, will take the witness stand when Maxwell stands trial next July on four counts of facilitating sex with minors and two counts of perjury. She claims that she was trafficked to have sex with Prince Andrew. He has denied all such allegations and his name is blanked out along with some of the other rich and powerful men accused of being too close to Jeffrey Epstein, who died in a New York jail cell last year. However, the testimony unmistakably refers to the prince and the infamous photograph taken of the trio at the mews house. The photograph, Maxwell insisted in 2016 – a claim later echoed by Prince Andrew – might be fake. She said: “I don’t recognise that picture. I’m not sure if that’s a real picture or not.”
Trying to understand new Covid regulations is a little like trying to understand the offside rule in football – many who think they know it don’t, and discussion can leave you yet more disoriented. Unlike football, though, the rules for how we can socialise in our weird new world can also change at the speed of traffic lights, throwing you up or down a tier without warning. All this snakes and ladders plan-making may feel like a headache, but fear not: Siberian socialising will be all the rage this winter. Here’s how to do it – whatever tier you’re in: Heating up
“Rashford!” If you had been walking past my house just after 9.45pm on Tuesday evening, you’d have heard a roar as Manchester United’s forward scored the winning goal against PSG in Paris. Dr Marcus Rashford MBE – still only 22 – is a living god to my 12-year-old son, who has a signed No. 10 shirt hanging on his bedroom wall. The story about how he got that shirt is one I’ve written before. It started on a family holiday in 2019, when I discovered I’d been private messaging the footballer via Instagram, after lending my mobile to my boy (my messages were ardent, if misspelt: “Your actually the best football player ever… Keep on doing what you doooo… Big RESPECT”). A few months and a beseeching email later, the jersey arrived through the post, from Marcus to my son. It moved us both to tears.
There are things that no one wants to be caught doing, and then there are things some people would like to be “caught” doing, because it’s good for business. Or, to put it another way, one person’s private activity is another person’s reputation-enhancing ego trip. Take Amanda Holden outing herself as someone who wanders around the house naked to the embarrassment of her daughters, as she did this week. Here are the top 11 Things You Want to be Caught Doing, in no particular order: Walking around the house naked. Just a shortcut way of letting us know everything is in cracking shape. Otherwise you’d wear a dressing gown. Kissing a young gondolier. We wouldn’t automatically have included this until we saw the pictures of Melanie Sykes kissing a Venetian gondolier who was, we’re informed, young enough to be her son. The gondolier is the 10-pointer of romantic tryst types (we presume that was the idea). It would not have been the same had Mel been caught kissing an Uber driver in Streatham. Kissing a celebrity whose rep has the potential to enhance your rep. A random recent example of this would be Lily James/Dominic West’s rather public kiss al fresco in Rome, or at the airport, or on the plane. We’re not suggesting that this was staged with a view to spicing up the profiles of either party, because it’s hard to imagine either needs a leg-up. Then again, if you don’t want to get caught, there is room service. Celebrating after a divorce or separation. There are tons of examples of this, but none more famous than that picture of the ex-Mrs Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, decree nisi in hand (hope we didn’t imagine that), head thrown back in “I’m free” ecstasy. She may have been wearing heels, too. Out and about having lost several stone. The latest person who secretly doesn’t mind being snapped in her exercise leggings while out hiking (LA-speak for walking) is Rebel Wilson. Practising advanced yoga. No harm in someone leaking a picture of you in Warrior Two – because while privacy is very important, it does seem like a heck of a waste not to show off your pitch-perfect poses, if you are, say, Meghan Markle. Being arrested. Mostly you would want to avoid this at all costs, but occasionally a reason comes along that confers man-or-woman-of-the-people kudos; we’re thinking playing eco-warrior for the afternoon – can’t go wrong really. Reading a brainy or right-on book. MPs liked to do this on holiday, back when they went on holiday. Eating “bad” food. The skinnier the celebrity, the more likely they are to be caught tucking into a naughty hot dog or licking their icing-covered fingers. Hanging out with your ex and current partner. Ever noticed that the only time the paps catch Gwyneth out is when she’s double-dating with Chris Martin and Dakota Johnson? That could be because “amiable open-minded divorcee” is an essential part of the brand. Running in your swimming trunks/something you found in the dog basket. This is something Boris likes to be caught doing, since it demonstrates he has not been metropolitanised or domesticated and is still very much an unponcey bloke’s bloke. Is it just me...
Everything must go. From the ruby red antique ikat cushions to the Regency japanned cabinet, and even her children’s doll’s house, the contents of Countess Alexandra Tolstoy’s haute bohemian home in Chelsea are to be sold at auction at Christie’s next month. She flashes a smile. ‘I thought I’d be devastated, but I’m not,’ she says. ‘I’m excited to be passing these things on to someone else who will love them.’ Does she ever feel a wobble? ‘Only in the middle of the night. Then I feel very shaky.’ As the partner of the oligarch Sergei Pugachev, she was, for a time, super-rich. ‘I’m glad I experienced that crazy world,’ she says. A BBC documentary, The Countess and the Russian Billionaire, which aired in April, revealed their lavish former lifestyle. They had three yachts, worth a total of $65 million, two private jets and a beachfront house in St Barts, as well as a mansion in Russia, a chateau in France and a beautiful family home in Chelsea. But his status and empire began to crumble after the collapse of his Russian private bank – he was accused of siphoning off money from its bailout, an allegation he has denied. In 2014 his assets were frozen by a London court, part of a dispute with Russia’s state deposit agency. The couple’s relationship imploded on camera for the documentary, which was filmed over five years. A key moment was when Pugachev failed to turn up at Tolstoy’s father’s 80th birthday. He had disappeared and surfaced in his well-defended Côte D’Azur chateau. Tolstoy says he hadn’t even told her he was going.
Like many disaffected, indie music-loving teenagers, I couldn’t wait to leave my home town. Compared with the bright lights of London, where I dreamed of living, it was boring. Quiet. Insular. Yes, it was pretty, but what was pretty by comparison with exciting and vibrant? Now, though, as a working mother I can see exactly why Harrogate, the North Yorkshire town where I grew up, has been ranked the best place in the country to work from home. In fact, I’m doing it right now: WFH, or Working From Harrogate, as it may come to be known among fellow inhabitants for whom the survey confirms what they already know. To say perspectives have changed in 2020 is a profound understatement. Millions who previously spent every working day in the office have found themselves joining conference calls from the spare room, where they usually hang their washing, or tapping out emails at the kitchen table while their children ‘work’ (create havoc) beside them. Home, and its surrounding environment, has never been more important – and, though teen me might have hated to admit it, Harrogate is as attractive an environment as they come. The circumstances that led me back to the place I was born weren’t work-related: I had a baby in April, at the height of the pandemic, and needed the support of my parents. After spending an intense lockdown with my newborn son in my flat in North London, I was more than happy to oblige their wish to return to their far more spacious Harrogate home. The reasons for my relief at arriving there chimed with those cited in yesterday’s report, which questioned more than 2,000 people about 100 places. Chief among them is Harrogate’s access to green spaces, which was deemed a priority by more than half of respondents. With a baby in tow and six months of sleep deprivation under my belt, I’m now immensely grateful for the soothing, stress-relieving effects of being somewhere so clean and incredibly, lushly green. I’m obviously not alone. During the day, workers never used to be much in evidence in Harrogate; many commuted to nearby cities such as Leeds and Bradford. Covid has changed all that. Now, WFH-ers are visible all around the Victorian spa town, enjoying its tranquility as they work.
Working in an office is something I did for decades. It wasn’t until I had children that I realised that the 9-5 was completely incompatible with nursery drop-offs and pick-ups. Leaving work became a thing of dread. Even when I had agreed my flexible hours with my employer, as I reached the end of my contracted day I would start to shift in my chair – and feel the eyes on me in the office as I started to pick up my bag to leave. I had to collect my kids on time but instead of doing so confidently and proudly, I would slope off “to the loo” with my bag and hope no one would notice. It was utterly exhausting. But all that is now changing – for men as well as women. The pandemic has been a time of devastation. But in the workplace it has opened the floodgates to flexible working; testing people's resilience and capabilities – even those people who once rolled their eyes at working mothers leaving the office “early”. It has started to end the outdated notion that, unless you are physically sitting at your desk in an office, you aren’t actually working. A poll of over 10,000 people by Flexible Working People showed that 75 per cent of us would now like to work from home at least half of the time. Just 24 per cent would like to be in the office for at least 80 per cent of the time. This is huge and, it’s not just parents – it’s the UK workforce asking for change. The CEO at an accountancy firm told me that his PA had been asking for flexible working for years, and he just couldn’t get his head around her not being in the office. Then Covid hit, his business went remote... and everything carried on as normal. “I just always felt like I needed her sitting next to me, but the reality is that I don’t,” he says. Others have had a complete 360 degree turn within their family dynamic. Chris, an executive manager at Academy Engagement, is now saving at least 15 hours per week on travel. He explains: “I am able to get much more done. I am able to have breakfast with my two-year-old daughter every day. Drop and collect her from the nursery and be there for every bedtime. At her age, I feel like I have been able to grow much closer to her than I would have done otherwise and she is now commonly known in my house as my ‘shadow’.”
Lockdown saw many of us try something new (Zoom quiz, anyone?), but for Laura Rutherford, 37, it marked the end of her all-consuming five-year love affair with Instagram. Suddenly at home with her husband Tye and two sons, Harry, 11, and Stanley, six, Laura felt like someone had hit pause on her busy life, which was usually spent ‘creating content’ out of a diary packed with events, product launches and family days out. As @thatmummysmile, Laura had built up a following of 24,000 people, and posted pictures of everything from cocktails, World Book Day outfits and spa breaks to messages of support to mums struggling with their mental health. But away from the grid and Laura’s distinctive smile, her own mental health was failing – and she didn’t realise it until lockdown brought her some breathing space. ‘Social media became really, really quiet,’ recalls Laura, ‘Nobody was doing any adverts, nobody was getting paid. There was no content to be had because everyone was doing the same thing, stuck in the house with their kids. It gave me time to reflect. I’d thought about quitting a couple of times before, but the work and the opportunities were just too tempting so I kept going. When that dried up, I suddenly thought, “I don’t need this. This is my way out.” It was liberating.’ For those who aren’t aware of the ‘mumfluencer’ world, a quick potted history: socalled mummy blogs started in the early 2000s and quickly became popular with parents looking for reassurance and shared experiences of fussy eaters, loneliness and buggy-friendly days out. Once Instagram launched, many bloggers – Laura included – started using the photo-sharing platform as their online hang-out instead. It was soon awash with people posting the highs and lows of mumlife, with big hitters such as Clemmie Hooper (@motherofdaughters), Anna Whitehouse (@motherpukka) and Zoë de Pass (@dresslikeamum) building up audiences numbering hundreds of thousands, as well as book deals, podcasts and merchandise lines. Influencers seemed to offer the perfect solution to brands – a personal recommendation saw products flying off the shelves. It was a win-win, fuelled by hashtags and Instagram stories. Laura started her blog when her younger son Stanley was a baby. ‘At first, it was just an online diary of our family life,’ she says. ‘I was probably two years into it when it switched from being a hobby to something more serious. I got involved with Mothers Meetings, which were an opportunity to meet other influencers, although nobody was calling themselves that. We were just mums with a blog.’ Going to those events opened Laura’s eyes to what was possible. She met women who were earning money for mentioning brands, while enjoying a giddy whirl of freebies and kid-friendly events. Enticed by the flexibility of the influencer lifestyle and the lucrative contracts on offer, she decided she wanted in. ‘For six months, I googled PR companies, sending emails trying to get my name out there, looking for opportunities. I asked to be put on their mailing lists for product launches and events, so that I would have things to write about and talk about. Really, it’s all about trying to get content.’ And it worked. Laura’s profile gradually grew and soon she found herself at events, mingling with journalists, celebrities and big-name influencers. She secured work with brands such as Dove, Next, Marks & Spencer, Sky mobile and Asda, and within a couple of years, she was out-earning her previous career in fashion buying. ‘I started off being paid around £100 for a post on Instagram and then towards the end, I was signing contracts for £1,500. That would be for two posts on my grid and a couple of stories. I figured that if I could get two jobs a month, that’s a really comfortable salary for me.’ But it came at a cost. While Laura established a circle of genuine influencer friends, she found the competitive side of the industry tough to deal with. ‘There was a hierarchy,’ she explains. ‘You had Clemmie Hooper and Anna Whitehouse at the top; they were the ones you wanted to emulate because they had all the jobs and money.’ In 2018, Laura found herself embroiled in an online spat with writer and blogger Cash Carraway, who questioned Laura’s entitlement to social housing, given her glossy Instagram lifestyle. (Laura grew up in and continues to live in social housing in Notting Hill.) A pile-on ensued. ‘I got trolled for a good six months. It was awful, but also bittersweet because I gained around 6,000 followers in just a couple of days.’
It was the explosive interview in which a doe-eyed Diana, Princess of Wales, appeared at her most dangerous. Determined to capitalise on Prince Charles’s confession of infidelity, the then 34-year-old hoped her hour-long chat with Martin Bashir on Panorama would finally bring the “War of the Waleses” to an end. Yet as a Channel 4 documentary is now set to reveal, that interview set in progress a chain of events that eventually led to Diana’s downfall. Diana: The Truth Behind the Interview, will claim that the mother-of-two consented to her epic sit-down chat while in a fragile state of mind, following an elaborate plot involving forged documents designed to show that her family was being spied on. Bashir is accused of commissioning two phoney bank statements, which he allegedly showed to Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer, to suggest that a former member of staff was acting as a paid informant. The BBC insists the princess never saw the documentation, saying she met Bashir before it existed and that it “played no part in her decision to give what was, and still is, one of the most iconic interviews of the last half of the 20th century.” Bashir was unavailable for comment. What is not in doubt is that the airing of the sensational programme on November 20 1995 had huge repercussions for Diana and her role within the Royal family – and took her down a path she might, had she been able to see the bigger picture, have swerved altogether. Little wonder, then, that she began to question whether she should have taken part in the programme even before it was broadcast on a windy Monday night to an audience of 23 million. According to Patrick Jephson, her former private secretary and contributor to the new Channel 4 documentary, she “deeply regretted” the interview. Diana described Charles’s camp as “the enemy”, said the monarchy was in desperate need of modernisation and discussed her depression and bulimia – as well as claiming that she wanted to be the “queen of people’s hearts”. Jephson subsequently revealed that she had only told him about the interview a week before the broadcast and was “not at all confident about what she had done.” Soon after, he quit Kensington Palace, having spent eight years as Diana’s right hand man. The princess’s nearest and dearest still believe Panorama played a part in her heightened sense of paranoia – highlighted during a meeting with her personal lawyer, Lord Mishcon, in which she claimed the Queen would abdicate in April 1996. She also suggested she would be murdered, in a plot masterminded by her estranged husband. According to veteran royal reporter Phil Dampier, who covered the interview for national newspapers at the time, the interview marked “the beginning of the end” for Diana. The Queen was horrified by what her daughter-in-law had done and called it a “frightful thing”. She ordered Charles and Diana and the Duke and Duchess of York – who had also separated in the so-called “annus horribilis” of 1992 – to get a “double” divorce. “Panorama was the watershed moment when the Queen finally decided enough is enough,” says Dampier. “Diana then became increasingly isolated and started to fall out with the people closest to her. “She fell out with her mother, her brother, Fergie and other close friends – seemingly convinced she was being spied on. Her former butler Paul Burrell described how she made him rip up the floorboards at Kensington Palace looking for bugs. “Because she died as this iconic young woman, people tend to put her on a pedestal but actually in the run up to the Paris car crash she was an unguided missile.” An increasingly detached Diana then embarked on a series of relationships with men, including Dodi Fayed. This led to a flaming row with her mother Frances Shand Kydd, who Burrell revealed had accused her daughter of behaving like a “whore”. He told the inquest into the princess’s death that the “dreadful” conversation took place in June 1997 — just two months before Diana’s death. It followed her disastrous decision to get rid of her Scotland Yard bodyguards following her divorce, against the advice of her royal protection officer Ken Wharfe. “If she hadn’t done that, she might still be here today,” added Dampier. “If it wasn’t for the Panorama interview, who knows what might have happened?” Diana: The Truth Behind The Interview will be broadcast on Channel 4 on October 21 at 9pm READ MORE: ‘Diana didn't regret the Bashir interview – but it changed her’
Dear A&E;, Two years ago my husband announced he was gay. He’s 59; we have three grown-up daughters and had what I thought was a good marriage. After the initial shock (I had no clue), I was supportive, as it was hard for him. The divorce was amicable and we’re friends, but recently I’ve felt furious. He’s now happy and settled in his new flat while I’m living in our family home, stuck in our old life. I’m fortunate to have financial freedom but I’m not sure what to do now. I feel completely betrayed, as if my life and marriage were a lie. I’m also embarrassed – when I think about parties and dinners we threw, it’s like it wasn’t real. — Betrayed Dear Betrayed, Of course you are in pain. Of course you feel all of the feelings you have listed in your letter and many more depending on the minute, the hour, the day. Of course you are confused and furious and lonely. And we must congratulate you on connecting with all these feelings and on being so brave. Let’s begin with the anger because, two years on from his announcement, you are in a justified towering fury. Remember that it is completely normal for our feelings about a situation or trauma to bubble up a while after the adrenalin spike and coping phase have passed. You were so supportive to him that you didn’t realise how hard it was for you. It feels like a classically female relocation of distress: sometimes, when everything is going wrong, we feel that we can make it right just by being brilliant. Think of all the beaming wives of badly behaved public figures who stand by their men and later collapse. Your anger is appropriate. Hey, it is healthy. The only thing is to move through it, to see it as a catalyst to propel you on to the next stage of this process. Because it is a process. SPA (straightpartnersanonymous.com) is an online hub that supports people in situations like yours. The website features an adaptation of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s famous stages of grief by Bonnie Kaye, who quotes Dina Hamer about stage two: ‘Anger is a mandatory step towards recovery as it liberates one from the earlier… shock, denial, internalisation and self-blame.’ See? You’re doing everything right. You no longer need to be marvellous. You can tell him that you are furious and feel betrayed; he’s probably waiting for that. You were there for him and now it is his job to be there for you. He may be able to tell you that the marriage wasn’t a lie – it was as real and true as you believed it to be but, in the end, the story unfolded as it did. There is a spectrum of sexuality – very few of us are 100 per cent straight or gay and, anyway, it’s not just about who we fancy. It’s also about identity, about finding our place in a prescriptive world. If he’d left you for another woman then you might be feeling a more anticipated grief and anger. But his sexuality was an ‘enemy’ you couldn’t fight. So he looks all sparkly and ‘speaking his truth’. He appears to be embarking on a new life, but so can you. He has had so much more time to adjust. Presumably he went through much of his agony and uncertainty before he came out. You are still in that limbo and sometimes the person who gets left behind feels that they don’t have a real chance at a new beginning because it wasn’t their choice. But you do. See a therapist. These massive words: ‘betrayal’, ‘lies’, ‘excruciatingly embarrassed’ (all in your full email, which has been condensed here) need unpacking and personalising. The goal is not to sit in the pain for ever. You have taken a huge hit, but you can and will reset. You will look at your ‘old life’ and examine the bits you want to keep and the bits you want to ditch. You will daydream and you will travel. You will meet new people and you will try new things. But you will still be you. Bruised, changed but, in the end, back in glorious technicolour. Time, work, self-care and maybe a bit of shouting. Then, Betrayed, you’ll be on your way… Read more from The Midults: Why do I always date men who need fixing? I have a good marriage, great kids, a stable career. So why am I unhappy?
As I was being taken into hospital with Covid-19 in March, I put a post on my Instagram telling my friends and family what had happened. I had developed pneumonia and blockages in my right lung – a total shock considering I am 27 with no previous health problems. When the man I was dating ended things shortly afterwards, I made a decision: this would be the year I froze my eggs. I had always thought about doing it if I hadn’t met anyone by the time I was 30 but, with my love life looking forlorn and lockdown making the prospect of meeting someone new nearly impossible, now was the time to act. I’m not alone: inquiries for egg freezing shot up by as much as 50 per cent at some clinics as lockdown put the brakes on dating, and made it harder for women to find someone to start a family with before their fertility dwindles. I can imagine there being even more interest now that anyone living in a Tier 2 or 3 area (as I do in London) is banned from spending any time indoors with anyone outside their household – it’s been described as a “sex ban” on couples who don’t live together, but spare a thought for singles who can’t even meet someone for a drink. Instead, we’re all stuck at home thinking about what it is that we want from life, and it turns out that a lot of us want a family, including Telegraph columnist Sophia Money-Coutts who recently launched a podcast called Freezing Time about her decision to freeze her eggs at the age of 35. My family weren’t completely sure when I told them about my decision. My dad is a feminist, and has always supported my career, so thought it was a great idea to take off some of the pressure of finding the perfect man in the next few years. Mum needed a bit more persuading, as she would prefer me to get married and have babies naturally like she did. In the end she came round after I told her that egg freezing would only increase her chances of having grandchildren.
The recent appointment of Allegra Stratton as No 10’s new press secretary has once again shone the spotlight on the power couples at the heart of Westminster life. The former Guardian journalist is married to James Forsyth, the political editor of The Spectator, whose best man was none other than the chancellor, Rishi Sunak. Little wonder then, that the couple, who have two children together, now feature in a top 10 of the most powerful partnerships in politics. Published by Mace, a new glossy magazine for politicos, the influential index lays bare the relationships that confirm the old adage that behind every successful person is... another successful person. “The Westminster bubble is small and quite hermetic,” explains Marie Le Conte, author of Haven’t You Heard?: Gossip, Politics and Power. “Whether you’re a journalist, adviser or politician, you will be working very long hours in a space that is the size of a small village. The line between professional and personal becomes a blurry one after drinks in Strangers.”
It was the pen pot on the desk that tipped us over the edge. I wanted it there so I could grab a pen during an important work call. My husband thought it was cluttering up a workspace that should ideally be kept as clear as possible, given that it was also our bedroom. Voices were raised, doors were slammed and pens were thrown, at which point we realised that something had to give. Quite simply, six months of trying to conduct two highly-pressurised jobs from the flat we share with our three children, an au pair and the cat, was not working for us any more. So I did what any enraged spouse might do after a particularly explosive row – I checked into a hotel. Luckily, for the sake of our marriage, it was just for the day. But I’m not ashamed to say that I jumped at the chance to spend a rainy Friday working, not from the desk in our bedroom, but from a suite at the Athenaeum Hotel on London’s Piccadilly. In a bid to try and halt the desperate slide towards Covid-induced unviability, the hotel has started to offer its rooms up as private office spaces during the working day, complete with all the amenities a five-star hotel has to offer. It’s the latest example of how the hospitality industry has had to pivot to survive tough times. During lockdown, suddenly empty hotels offered accommodation to key workers such as police officers and hospital staff. Now, as cabin fever sets in for those who have worked from home for half this year and face another six months of pen-based arguments, hotels, cafes and pubs are offering up their tables as desks, with some pubs charging between £10 and £20 a day, in exchange for Wi-Fi, some food and drink, and a change of scenery.
A couple of years ago, I published my first book . An alternative history of modern Britain focused on the women who did sterling work fighting wars, running businesses or inventing things but had been left out of most accounts of the period. Something that surprised me when I chatted to readers at talks and book festivals (remember them?) was their interest in the stories I’d unwittingly included and that involved collaboration between couples: not just married or romantically linked pairings, but also partnerships in business, politics and science.
HuffPost UK reader Gill asked: “I heard research has shown reduced oestrogen makes you more vulnerable to bad Covid. Is this true?”
Aged just 19, India Oxenberg went along to a seminar near her family home in Los Angeles, run by a group purporting to offer an “executive success programme”. The teenager had just left university in Boston and was trying to start a catering brand, when her mother heard about the supposed self-help organisation from a friend. “She said it increased her business exponentially, she made more money, was a better communicator, and improved her critical thinking,” explains Catherine Oxenberg, best known for her role as Amanda Carrington on Dynasty. “I thought: India’s starting a business, she hasn’t finished college, this is an opportunity for her to learn some business skills. It was as simple as that,” she adds. “Little did we know,” Catherine sighs in her cut-glass English accent, “it had nothing to do with business at all.” It would be seven years before India returned home, after being enslaved, sex trafficked and repeatedly raped by Keith Raniere, leader of the cult she had unwittingly been drawn into. The brutal practices and cataclysmic fall of NXIVM (pronounced “Nexium”) are detailed in a new four-part documentary series coming to the UK. Seduced is the story of India’s entrapment and her mother’s desperate attempts to free her. It’s an astonishing tale of mass indoctrination and shines a light on the organisation founded by Raniere in 1998.