We Took Back The Beach

So, this has probably been the craziest week of my entire life. Beginning with this photograph:

How to get a beach body-Take your bodyAnd culminating in a big assed party in Hyde Park, with a quick stop at Sky News, the BBC and Troll Bridge along the way.

When Tara and I took this photograph, I wanted to provide an alternative idea of what beach body means. To say “Sure, Renee is gorgeous, but you don’t have to look like her if you don’t want to. You can have a body like mine and be gorgeous. You can have a body like yours and be gorgeous.”

When I uploaded the photo to Twitter, I was conscious that Tara and I only represent two body types, so I thought, why not throw it open? Why not give people the chance to be part of a photograph with all different shapes, sizes, races and genders? So we decided to throw a bit of a party in Hyde Park. And despite my fears that I’d turn up alone in my bikini in front of the world’s media, it was totally awesome.

take back the beach protein world

Photograph by Michael Mendones.

I arrived just before 3, for a quick interview with Stephanie from the New Statesman, and shared with her my nerves that no one else would come. Our very deep discussion about why trolls feel the need to troll was interrupted by me yelling “OMG BANANA” in her face, as I spotted a group of women heading towards us carrying an impressive array of inflatables.We headed over onto the grass, and I suddenly panicked about how I was supposed to entertain everyone and make everyone feel comfortable enough to start stripping off. My worry, as it turned out was completely unnecessary. People didn’t even wait for me to catch up before getting down to their swimming costumes, cracking out picnics and starting games of “toss the inflatable stuff at each other”. Total respect to the guy who just stretched out in front of the cameras and read his book like it wasn’t no thing.

DSCF1205I met a mother who had travelled down with her two daughters for the event, and was quickly introduced to dad, who was preoccupied with blowing up a giant rubber ring, like a hero.

DSCF1200This, to me, was incredible. How inspiring, to have a mother who is that determined to teach her daughters that their bodies are perfect and wonderful and capable of miraculous things, and a dad who understands and supports that. Seriously, you guys are amazing. I was so pleased to have teenage girls at the protest, because I remember being a teenage girl. It sucks. Your body changes in a lot of weird and frequently alarming ways, and all anyone wants to tell you, from the ads on TV to the boys in your school, is how your body is wrong. And yesterday was about stomping on that idea and grinding it into the ground. Your body is perfect. No caveats. No “it would be perfect if you toned it up/got a tan/lost some weight/put on some weight”. It is perfect right now. If you want to do any of the things in that list, that’s great, go ahead and do them. It’s your body. You can do whatever you want to it, if that will make you feel amazing. For some people, that means losing weight. For some people, it means a quick swish of red lipstick. For some people, it means wearing a fabulous dress, For some people, it means covering your body in tattoos and body art. And all these things are great, if they make you feel great. Don’t ever let anyone tell you how to love your own body, because you’re the one who has to live in it.

I worry that nobody is telling young girls this, so I was beyond delighted when an enormous troupe of 13 year old mini-feminists appeared.

take back the beach protein world

DSCF1181This is unspeakably fantastic. To have a group of young women so confident and so intelligent that they can be part of a terrifying, complicated conversation like the one surrounding body image is amazing. I am so, so proud that this is the future of feminism. Seriously, if you guys ever read this, you inspire me. And sadly, I know that they’ve got a hell of a fight ahead of them. They’re going to take a whole lot of nasty coming from a never-ending parade of stupid, just like I have this week, for daring to stand up and say “We deserve better than this”. (Ladies, I’m always here if you need me. My email address is in my Contact Me page, please, please use it.) But to hear a thirteen year old girl stand among a group of adults and wax lyrical about what feminism means to her made me want to happy cry.

I actually did manage to hold it together and not cry. For most of the day. Until I spotted these guys:

take back the beach protein worldBoth of these women are in recovery from eating disorders. And speaking to them, seeing their absolute strength and seeing the love and support they held for each other, even as strangers, I couldn’t help bursting into tears. Just bawling, in my swimming costume, in the middle of Hyde Park. We had one guy come along solely to pick fights with us, and he stood and ranted at this woman about why being fat is unhealthy. Now, I have been extremely proud of how I’ve handled our critics. I believe it’s nice to be nice, even to the person who has just called you a fat, jealous attention seeker. But if I ever see someone make a comment as triggering as that, I will track you down and gouge out your eyes. Comments like this can kill.

A lot of people have contacted me since yesterday and tried to embarrass me or make me say that the event was a failure. To them, I have but one thing to say.

Have you lost your damn minds?

Over one hundred men and women gathered together yesterday to feel amazing about their bodies, display their confidence and demand better from our adverts. I’ve spoken before about how daring to have a body as a woman is a political act in itself, one which seems to invite comment and criticism. A woman feeling great in her own skin is not a small thing. It’s huge. It’s life changing. There were picnics, there were bubbles, there were inflatable dolphins, there was body paint, there were hugs and laughter and tears galore, and you’re asking me if I’m embarrassed by the turnout? To put it politely: have a word with yourself. I’ve never been prouder in my life. I am heart burstingly, mind blowingly proud of us, and I will not try to hide that because yesterday didn’t meet somebody else’s completely arbitrary expectations.

I met so many incredible, inspiring people yesterday, and I will never be able to express the love and gratitude I feel for all of you who came to support me. Did we take back the beach? You bet your ass we did.

This is what class looks like.

This is what class looks like.

Oh, just a typical feminazi chubster.

Oh, just a typical feminazi chubster.

These guys got totally hounded by the photographers. That's what you get for making good signs.

These guys got totally hounded by the photographers. That’s what you get for making good signs.

It was a varied and excellent bunch.

It was a varied and excellent bunch.

Beach body ready: different strokes for different folks.

Beach body ready: different strokes for different folks.

Yes. Yes that is the Gogglebox chicks.

Yes. Yes that is the Gogglebox chicks.

Take Back The Beach

So, on my lunch hour this Wednesday, fellow blogger Tara and I did this:

How to get a beach body-Take your body

If you would like to read about us doing that, head on over to my last post here!

Basically, the response that we’ve had has completely knocked me off my feet. Seriously, you guys should give yourselves a pat on the back. I have been so, so bowled over by the love and support and strength that we’ve been shown.

Well, for the most part.

Protein World’s response has left…well, a little something to be desired. After we tweeted our photo, I saw some pretty heinous responses to docu-comedian Juliette Burton’s tweets (you can find Juliette on Twitter here, and you should definitely follow her. She’s ace).

protein world twitter

 

I was pretty shocked. As someone who spent a year working in social media, I nearly fell off my chair that this was the brand’s official response. The tweets got increasingly horrendous, telling women to “grow up” and branding them “crazy”, and then last night, I stumbled on a response to some women saying:

Surely as feminists, you understand no one takes you seriously?

And it hit me. They’re trolls. They’re literally just trolls. And I don’t know about you guys, but this totally takes their power away for me. I’m now imagining Protein World as being a group of guys polishing their muscles and reassuring themselves that feminism is the reason they’re not getting laid. Maybe with a smattering of girls insisting that they don’t see why the ad is offensive, probably because they’re not hysterical like all those other girls, babe. I’m kind of embarrassed for them.

After this paradigm shifting revelation, I realised that this isn’t a protest anymore. This is a party. This is a celebration of the million and one different ways that a woman (and a man, you gorgeous men, you) can be beautiful.

So let’s celebrate. Tara, Juliette and I are organising a massive version of the photo above at 3pm on Saturday 2nd May. Do you look like the model on the poster? Awesome, step this way, gorgeous! Are you a size 24? Come on down, beautiful! Are you a guy? Get those swimming shorts looked out! Don’t want to bare all in a bikini? Come in whatever you feel great in! Beach ready means different things for everyone, and we want to see all of them.

This was never about suggesting that people shouldn’t try to get fit if they want to. If having rippling abs is your thing, more power to you. I bet you rock them. But I’m so tired of it being an expectation. The idea that your body should be covered up and hidden away if it doesn’t meet these bizarrely specific requirements…I’m over it, you guys. And judging by the response we’ve gotten on Twitter, it looks like you are too.

Bring your friends. Bring your beachballs and buckets and spades. Bring those awesome beach bodies.

We’ll be meeting on the grass by Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park (by the Marble Arch entrance), and I’ll be there from a bit before 3. If you’re coming in your bikini, we’d maybe suggest wearing a dress over it that’s easy to whip on and off, to fend off hypothermia.

The more people we have, the more amazing this picture is going to be, so rope in as many people as you can. Saturday the 2nd. 3pm. It’s happening. And it’s going to be sexy.

If you’re coming, feel free to give us a wave down in the comments or on Twitter! You can definitely just show up on the day, but it would be cool to have some idea of how many people we have. We also have a sexy Facebook event here if you’re on Facebook!

Addendum

So, as expected, all of us have been on the receiving end of some genuinely sickening comments after speaking out like this. Of the two of us in the photo though, it’s depressingly unsurprising that Tara and her beautiful, perfect body have been the target of the most vitriol. I’d just like to thank Tara for having the bravery to hold my hand through this, even though she probably knew in advance that she would bear the brunt of the abuse. And to every single person who has posted nasty comments, I’m sorry that your life is so unfulfilling that you feel like you have to tear down a strong, gorgeous woman who is celebrating her body.

On this note, if actually coming to our event would make you feel unsafe, please feel free to support us with tweets, messages and happy thoughts. Let’s keep each other safe. Let’s keep each other strong.

All of the Flowers, All of the Time

I love flowers. I really do. Having fresh flowers in the house makes me about 72% happier. I keep a jar of flowers by my bed, so I can see them in the morning, before I have the chance to get grumpy. So I was pretty excited to be moving so close to Columbia Road’s famous flower market.

Of course, this excitement translated into me completely failing to go for my first six months in London. But this weekend, we finally made it!

columbia road flower market

Gee, thanks cloudy sky for making all my photos totally blown out.

Picking Mother’s Day for our first visit probably wasn’t the best idea we’ve ever had. It was so completely packed that at points we literally just had to stand still and wait for the crowd in front of us to move. So that wasn’t ideal.

But the flowers. My lord, the flowers. They erupted in every colour from every direction, and the air was filled with the most incredible scents. I could get drunk on the smell of jasmine, it’s so damn beautiful.

columbia road flower market columbia road flower market columbia road flower marketI think my favourite thing about the market was that, despite the fact that they were selling flowers, the sellers were such market sellers. They flirted, yelled and cajoled their way into any sale they could. They berated passers by who had empty hands or frowns on their faces. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen an enormous man holding up an orchid and bellowing “Cor, look at the size of this one! Three stems!” in a thick North London accent.

White roses were definitely flavour of the month, blooming from almost every stall, but no matter what your taste, I’d bet you’d find something you like. In fact, I was absolutely thrilled to find big bunches of white iris, my favourite flowers, which I can almost never find in florist shops. I took a bunch of white and a bunch of blue for my bedroom.

columbia road flower market columbia road flower marketThis day definitely didn’t showcase the market at its best. We probably picked the peak time of day, on the peak day of the year to go, so it was hard to get a proper look at the flower stalls. We got kind of swept along in the middle of a big crowd, having to crane our necks to get a look at the wares on show. And once we got to the end, it started to rain. Not ideal. But even at its worst, the flower market was pretty incredible. I’m a sucker for beautiful flowers, and it was pretty special to be completely surrounded by them. Not to mention the chintzy cafes and vintage stores that run up and down Columbia Road itself. I’m definitely going back, as soon as the weather picks up…and I might even make a habit of it. It might even be worth getting up early for.

columbia road flower market

Shine Bright Like A Diamond: How To Be Your Own PR, with Antonia Mariconda

I stepped down the stairs at the Soho Hotel to the now familiar sound of heels clacking, cameras clicking and new connections being made. This was the third of Antonia Mariconda’s workshops that I’ve been to, and as usual, she didn’t disappoint.

Antonia is an award winning media professional and safety in beauty campaigner, who began her interest in beauty after significant reconstructive surgery following a car accident. She took this tragedy and turned it into a wildly successful career.

Basically, this is a woman who knows how to grab life by the balls.

And this workshop was all about how we can learn to do that too. How to find our inner sparkle and make it shine bright enough that everyone else can see.

antonia mariconda cosmedic coach workshopWe settled in with the usual gorgeous breakfast spread and exciting goody bags…just what I need at ten on a Saturday morning!

antonia mariconda cosmedic coach workshop

Armed with my notepad, a cup of tea and a whole lot of ambition, I couldn’t wait for Antonia to get started. On seeing Antonia for the first time, I couldn’t help expecting a certain personality to follow. I expected her to be fluffy. To be ditzy. To be shallow. I literally could not have been more wrong if I tried. You don’t get where this woman is without having some serious steel in there. She is determined, she’s smart and she point blank refuses to take any nonsense from anyone. Her criticisms and anecdotes are blunt and sometimes brutal, but cushioned in the genuine warmth of someone who truly wants to see you succeed. She’s a woman who lifts others up, who wants to share her knowledge and help others achieve what she has. She’s also brilliantly relatable, quipping throughout the presentation about the beads dropping off her skirt, and handling an impromptu Rihanna outburst with typical grace and aplomb.

antonia mariconda cosmedic coach workshop

Seriously, why this room is called the Indigo Room, I will never understand.

The presentation lasted for three hours, so I’m not going to go into too much detail here. If you want to know all the secrets, get yourself booked onto her next workshop. But since I love you all very much, I’ll share just a few of the gems (see what I did there?):

1. You have to know who you are.

Sounds obvious, I know. And yet, when Antonia picked on workshop attendees and asked them to pitch themselves in one sentence, most struggled. And when she asked for the two words that they’d write under our names on TV shows, we struggled even more. When I worked in marketing, I had product pitches that described our service in 250 words, 100 words, 140 characters, one sentence and a tagline. I prepared pitches from lengthy investor presentations to 60 second elevator pitches. I knew it inside out. So why should it be any different when you’re marketing yourself?

2. You have to know who you’re talking to.

Again, seems obvious. But it’s so important to know your audience. It affects everything from the visuals you use, to your tone, to how you choose to communicate.

3. You have to know what you want to say.

Everything that you do in the public domain is PR. Every tweet, every comment, every picture is PR, and it all comes together to create people’s image of you. So make sure that you know what you want that image to be. Make sure you know what message you want to put out there.

4. You have to believe that you are awesome.

Let’s be honest, if you don’t believe you’re awesome, why should anyone else? You have to be your own absolute number one cheerleader, and not be ashamed to shout your achievements from the rooftops. I’m Fiona. I’ve been published in a number of online and print media sources. I single handedly ran a marketing department for a year, at the age of 22. I’m a pretty talented writer. I once starred in a national media campaign with Cancer Research UK. Let’s have a brag off! Leave your best brags in the comments, or tweet me. Be your own champion. Back yourself.

5. You have to put yourself out there.

This is an old cliche, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. But like so many, it’s a cliche for a reason. Pitch a story to the Huffington Post. Ring up ITV and ask if they need an expert to go on This Morning. Don’t keep yourself small because it feels more comfortable. You’d be surprised how much you can blag with a bit of confidence. Believe that you’re important, take the risk of putting yourself out there, and you bet that people will believe right along with you. Fake it til you make it, and you will. Okay, that’s enough cliches for one bullet point.

The advice that Antonia gives is like gold dust, and I always leave her workshops feeling ready to take on the world. But actually, I haven’t touched on the most amazing element of the workshops, for me at least.

antonia mariconda cosmedic coach workshop antonia mariconda cosmedic coach workshop antonia mariconda cosmedic coach workshopSix months ago, none of these women knew each other. And on the surface of it, we don’t really have much in common. In this group, we have mums, bloggers, scientists, business owners, make up artists, aestheticians and more. We are scattered from all over the country. And each of us are at a different stage in our stories and our careers. But Antonia’s workshops seem to attract a certain type of woman. Strong, ambitious, warm, going to Antonia’s workshops and connecting with these women on Twitter and in real life, I have surrounded myself with a network of women who want to see each other succeed. All of us have different areas of expertise, and we use them to build each other up. They inspire me every single day, and I feel very lucky to have a support group like this in my life. Not to mention that they’re mean craic over a bottle of wine.

Despite my insistence on Twitter, Antonia isn’t a fairy godmother. She doesn’t wave her magic wand and make your life better. She does something much more important. She shows you that you are the one holding the power, the magic is inside you, and it’s been there the whole time just waiting to be unleashed. Go forth and sparkle, fellow fairies. Yes, even you guys.

Benefit Cosmetics’ Curls Best Friend Pop Up

Nestled in the heart of Theatreland, Benefit’s Curl’s Best Friend pop up parlour is a warm, welcome respite from the grey wintery weather outside.

benefit curls best friendThis isn’t the first pop up venture that Benefit have launched in London…I was devastated to be moving to London just a couple of weeks after their world cup bar closed its doors. So this time, I booked myself a table as soon as I saw it on Twitter. Gladrags on, I hopped on a tube straight back to the 1950s.

benefit cosmetics curls best friend

I took a bunch of serious versions of this picture, but liked this accidental shot better. Some girls just aren’t meant to pout.

I got that skirt for £2 in an Oxfam shop. Can we just take a second to appreciate that? And our awesome Six Nations setup, of course. Paired with my Kate Bush t-shirt and the patterned tights I bought for the Gossip Girl party.

Benefit have dolled up their pitch on Greek Street in full 1950s glamour, with pink tables and plush sofas straight out of Grease, hairdryer themed lights and a big, bright bar serving all manner of delights.

benefit cosmetics curls best friend benefit cosmetics curls best friend benefit cosmetics curls best friendWith staff as bubbly as the drinks, Francesca and I immediately made ourselves at home and set about sampling everything the menu had to offer.

benefit cosmetics curls best friend benefit cosmetics curls best friendHow gorgeous are those cocktails? Now refusing to drink anything that doesn’t come in a milk bottle with a stripy straw. Also, they serve popcorn as a bar snack along with the drinks. I might ask if I can move in.

After a few hours putting the world to rights over many glasses of bubbles and even more jars of popcorn, we were whisked away by the gorgeous Rachel, who was playing the role of Benefit’s Honest Leah for the evening.

benefit cosmetics curls best friendTo be honest (Leah), if I looked like that, I’d dress like that all the time. Just doing my shopping in Tesco in a sequinned Jessica Rabbit ballgown.

Anyway.

The pop up is actually in honour of Benefit Cosmetics’ new mascara, Rollerlash. Ohmygod, if you haven’t tried this yet, get on it. It is genuinely life changing. I’ve got a mascara post coming up in the next few days and you can bet your ass it’s playing a starring role. So, in honour of the new mascara, the second floor of the parlour is dedicated to heaven.

Sorry, did I say heaven? Slip of the tongue. I meant Benefit makeup.

benefit cosmetics curls best friendThe beauty parlour offers a range of treatments, including brow shaping, makeovers, faux blowdrys, fabulous discounts on Benefit products (yes, including Rollerlash. Get on it) and a photobooth to enjoy the fruits of the team’s very hard work. This tiny pink room is what dreams are made of. I may have shed a silent tear.

After gawping at the parlour for a good ten minutes, we headed back downstairs for a final glass of champagne to toast Francesca’s birthday. And Rachel confirmed her status as national hero by bringing us some cupcakes for the birthday girl.

benefit cosmetics curls best friendBasically, go here. Get a cupcake. Try both cocktails. Take a selfie with the Rollerlash sign. I command it.

I had an absolutely amazing time at the bar, it was the perfect way to while away a very rainy Saturday afternoon. In fact, I’ve already booked a table to try out the late night third floor Noir Bar…

benefit cosmetics curls best friend noir bar

Bloggers Love London Fashion Week

This week, Bloggers Love hosted a fashion week event based on the cattiest, glitziest TV show that I know…xoxo.

As was fitting of a Gossip Girl themed event, there were people everywhere who looked like they’d stepped off the pages of a catalogue, dressed in the most entirely glorious outfits. And as anyone who has taken a look at Twitter afterwards will know, there was enough scandal, gossip and backbiting to satisfy Georgina Sparks.

Let’s rewind a little. For the night, I decided to step out of my ordinary girl shoes, and try walking a mile in the skyscraper heels of the Upper East Side’s least likeable princess, Blair Waldorf.

Dress, tights and socks, all from Forever 21.

Dress, tights and socks, all from Forever 21.

Details.

Details.

Practising my resting bitchface.

Practising my resting bitchface.

Headband and cynical smirk firmly in place, I headed to Hoxton to check out the wares on offer. Upon stepping into the art gallery, the first problem with the event was hard to ignore…it was so full that it was actually hard to move around. The ladies and I decided to leave the brands until it quietened down a little, and got in the queue for the very much in demand fashion illustrator, Willa Gebbie. In fact, she was so in demand that we spent the vast majority of our evening in that queue. But getting to the front was well worth the wait. Not only did it turn out that she was from Prestwick (crappy West Coast Scottish towns represent!), she was utterly awesome, and produced a likeness of me that is probably the coolest I’ll ever look.

DSCF0781

 

11007982_1419502598349148_1963952462_nPictures lovingly cradled in hand, we just had time for a whistlestop tour of the brands who hadn’t packed up yet.

DSCF0786 DSCF0787There has been a lot of talk about the event, so let’s set a few things straight.

I didn’t pay for a ticket to the dinner, but I can understand why people who did were angry at shelling out £28 for what eventually amounted to pizza. But some of the vitriol being hurled at Bloggers Love on Twitter has been pretty upsetting. Sure, make complaints when they’re justified, but I’ve seen people claiming that they got food poisoning…from pizza.

The venue was way too small. There isn’t any avoiding that. There were over 200 bloggers crammed into a tiny art gallery, all trying to speak to about ten brands. But I still had a lovely night. I got to meet some amazing bloggers, including Abi from Abi Street, who was so completely aces that I’m genuinely sad she lives in Cardiff. I got my portrait drawn by a fashion illustrator, which I can now totally show off to everyone and pretend that I’m awesome. And thanks to the theme of the party, I got to step well outside my comfort zone, beauty wise. See, for a part-time beauty blogger, I tend to rely on the looks that I know work for me. But the Upper East Side doesn’t exactly comply to the just-rolled-out-of-bed beauty look, so I had to try something new. And I liked what I found. I found out that I actually really like bright pink, shiny lips. I found out that maybe my headband shouldn’t be relegated to the bathroom cabinet unless I’m washing my face. And I found out that knee socks are awesome. Wait, actually, I already knew that one.

So maybe the evening wasn’t the event that a lot of us planned for. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t have fun.

XOXO. Fiona.

Brighton Rocks

For Valentines Day, the boy and I ran away to the seaside.

old ship hotel brighton

We spent two lovely days wandering along the beach, eating and drinking our weight in junk and snuggling down in the gloriously beautiful Old Ship hotel.

Our room in the hotel was plush and stunningly decorated. A silver seagulled focus wall and a golden spyglass in the corner gave the room an undoubtedly seaside feel, without becoming chintsy or losing it’s luxury feel.

old ship hotel brighton

Check that out. We settled in, tested the cushions for comfiness and then headed across the road to the beach. It was one of those scaldingly cold and bright days, with the wind biting through our coats and throwing white foam against the shiny pebbles of the beach. Having grown up on the freezing rocks of Troon beach, I seldom feel more at home than staring at a windswept, steely sea, bundled up in my winter layers, eating an inappropriate ice cream.

the ship hotel brighton

We wandered along the beach, past stores selling brightly painted driftwood, buckets of seashells and newspaper cones filled with mussels, across to the infamous pier. We treaded those creaky wooden boards, Mr I’m-Definitely-Not-Scared-Of-Heights occasionally clutching at me when the sea below became visible between them. The pier was gaudy and wonderful, covered with the same coin operated amusements, kooky old fortune tellers and rickety fairground rides that have kept its charm alive for over 100 years. We grabbed some candy floss and threw ourselves wilfully into the resulting sugar coma.

old ship hotel brighton old ship hotel brighton old ship hotel brighton

Thoroughly wind battered, we headed for a safe, warm haven: the pub. With my Valentines evening resting on a tightly fought rugby match, I fell into the welcoming arms of Prosecco before falling, with relief, into the celebratory arms of the boy. Still buzzing with sugar and bubbles, we went back to the hotel, laden with pizza and stuck on Back to the Future, because we’re glamorous like that.

In the morning, we made a beeline for the hotel’s breakfast room. I always judge hotel’s by their breakfasts, so I was particularly excited for this. We were met in the bright and gorgeous restaurant by a seriously friendly lady called Gillian. Gillian, if you’re ever reading this, thanks for giving us such an excellent start to the day. We were given a pretty table overlooking the hotel’s wonderful view of the seaside. The breakfast was great, the usual slap up full english, with decent pastries, fruit salads, cereals and hot drinks. Once we had filled up, we headed back out into the sunshine and nosied around the Brighton lanes. All too soon, it was time for the pub again and more rugby. This game didn’t go quite so well. So we ordered some more drinks.

old ship hotel brighton

We had dinner booked in the hotel’s restaurant on the Sunday evening, and man, does that restaurant scrub up nicely. The bright morning room was made warm and intimate with candelight, and the garish lights of the pier, made beautiful by distance and mist, twinkled in the inky sea.

old ship hotel brighton

Service was quick and friendly, and the food was delicious. After dinner, and a considerable amount of wine, we retired back to the bedroom. And watched the Godfather. Because, again, glamour.

I had an absolutely incredible weekend. Sometimes, all you need is to get away from everything and do nothing with your favourite person for a while. If you’re looking for a gorgeous seaside escape, I’d say they don’t come much more beautiful than this.

Inspiring Women with GAP and Glamour

It was a grey and rainy Tuesday. One of those mornings where I’d picked an extra ten minutes in bed over putting a single scrap of makeup on my face. The dress I was wearing was at least three years old. But folks, when your friend texts you asking if you want to go to a woman empowering event hosted by GAP and Glamour Magazine, there’s nothing to do but say yes.

A sneaky lunchtime trip to Boots and a quick swipe of lipstick in the work bathrooms, and off we set. I shouldn’t really have worried about having no makeup on because the freezing, blustery walk ensured that I arrived with that nice “frozen snotter” look that’s so hot on the catwalks right now.

I feel like real beauty bloggers don’t use phrases like “frozen snotter”.

Fortunately, GAP was filled with waiters carrying around trays of cocktails, mini hotdogs, burgers and cupcakes that had me warmed up in no time. I think I ate about 17 hot dogs. You can take the girl out of Glasgow…

The event saw Glamour editor and general badass Jo Elvin chat to some seriously inspiring women about what keeps them going, what makes them successful and what advice they would give to other women. The panel included journalist and TV presenter Jane Moore, director of GAP’s P.A.C.E. education programme Dotti Hatcher, DJ Annie Mac and founder of the charity Kids Company Camila Batmanghelidjh. That her name contains the word “Batman” goes a little way towards describing how excellent she is.

gap glamour inspiring women

Photos by the wonderful Suzie Jay Photography.

Camila founded Kids Company in 1996, to help provide practical, emotional and educational support to children and young people throughout the UK. Love and compassion shine out of every single pore in her body, and when she speaks, she can’t hide her passion for helping young people to achieve their potential. She didn’t patronise or victimise, she inspired, and I could well believe that she could help these young people, who have often been through multiple horrifying traumas, to see the chink of light in their lives and to stand tall and seize it with both hands.

I’ve lived an incredibly charmed life, with every bump along the way serving only to make me who I am today (yes, yes, I know, but cliches are sometimes cliches for a reason). I can’t imagine what some of these children have gone through, but what wouldn’t I have done for a Camila in my life when I was 14. When asked what advice she would give to her younger self, she responded “To be mad sooner. It’s such fun.”

I genuinely sleep better at night knowing that there is a multicoloured superhero of a woman telling kids that they don’t need to live up or down to anyone’s expectations of them.

Dotti was equally amazing, exuding absolute warmth and gentleness. She is a woman who has dedicated her life to improving the situations of other women who were born with less resources and luck than the rest of us. She opened the presentation with a video showing a young woman’s journey through the PACE programme, from working in one of GAP’s garment factories to dreaming of starting her own headscarf business. I broke out in goosebumps as she uttered those awful words:

“I didn’t realise women had the right to have rights”.

In a world where women are still silenced and stepped on, often violently, we need Dottis to shake us up and say that no, you don’t have to accept your lot. You can be so much more than what you are supposed to be.

Self confidence was a running theme throughout the night, with both Jane and Annie also touching on self belief as one of the most valuable qualities that a woman can have. But this was tempered with a great big dose of perspective. When asked how they manage to do everything that they’ve done, and how they keep going in the face of adversity, the answer was simple:

They just get on with it.

They never underestimate the power that they hold (that sounds a bit more magical than intended), but they are aware that they are not the biggest or most important person in the world. That might sound a bit depressing, but actually, it’s the most freeing thing. If you make a mistake, who cares? It’s really not the end of the world. Realising that you’re small takes away the fear of messing everything up, and ironically, ends up pushing you to do something much bigger than you ever would have if you thought you were the centre of the universe.

Jane was an absolute woman of steel, and I mean that as the utmost compliment, not in a scary Maggie Thatcher kind of way. Everything she said was steeped in the biting humour that has seen her become such a successful journalist. She was the perfect example of how being strong doesn’t necessarily mean being cold, or hard, citing her children as her greatest achievement and saying that all that life really comes down to is the people who love you. So maybe steel wasn’t a good metaphor. Pat on the head for someone who can name me a substance that is strong, but not cold or hard.

Listening to Annie speak was like talking to an old friend, which is of course why she has made such a brilliant DJ. She blew the idea that successful women have to fit a certain mould straight out of the water, confessing to a lot of bumps along the way, including a tragically shortened acting career, a very dramatic haircut and more recently, overwhelmed tears in a meeting. I was lucky enough to get chatting to her after the presentation ended, and I think I might have gushed at her a bit. Must learn how to be cool and aloof.

Me being not at all cool and aloof. Photo by Suzie Jay Photography.

Me being not at all cool and aloof. Photo by Suzie Jay Photography.

So what did I take from the event? Well, really rather a lot. Let’s do a rundown. Love a rundown.

  1. You don’t have to be anything but yourself. Your “imperfections” are your greatest strength, because they set you apart from everyone else. If people can’t see how wonderful you are, that’s on them. Ignore them, and get on with being excellent.
  2. You are not the most important person in the world. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to do great things. It means you have to. When you don’t have laurels to rest on, you need to get off your ass and create something.
  3. Don’t overestimate yourself, but don’t underestimate yourself either. You have the power to really shake things up. Sometimes changing the world isn’t about fanfare and applause and massive progress. Taking a scared little hand in yours. Telling a woman you believe in her. Being an inspiration to others. Don’t tell me that these things don’t change the world.
  4. Don’t let anyone else define what your success is. I learned this one the hard way. I allowed myself to be miserable, because I thought that as long as no one knew that I was hurting, I would still be A Success. Success is happiness. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. No one gets to judge your happiness and you don’t get to judge anyone else’s. Do what makes you happy. Create a great career, if that’s what you want. Work nine to five and build and amazing life outside of that. Do both. Do neither. Happiness is all that matters in the end, everything else is just filler.

I feel so very grateful to have seen these women speak, GAP and Glamour – thank you so much for having me!

Me and the fabulous Kelly...you'll be seeing more of her! Photo by Suzie Jay Photography.

Me and the fabulous Kelly…you’ll be seeing more of her!
Photo by Suzie Jay Photography.

Click to donate to Kids Company and P.A.C.E.

Wintery Wanderings

Since I moved to London, Clissold Park has been one of my absolute favourite hangouts. Before I got my job, it was the perfect place to get out of my flat and out of my head for a while. Big enough to spend hours wandering around, and busy enough that you could people watch forever, it’s an amazing free place to hang about in London. I enjoyed sitting on the warm grass in the summertime, collecting the biggest conkers I’ve ever seen in autumn, and now that winter is here, the park’s charms haven’t lessened one little bit.

The butterfly dome is closed for the winter, but you better believe I’ll be first in line when it reopens, elbowing five year olds out of the way wherever necessary. The rest of the animals are still out and about though, with a whole family of fallow deer, if you’re looking to get Christmassy.

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I wish I could claim that I didn’t shout “BAMBIS! BAMBIS!” when I first saw these, but I cannot, in truth. The park boasts a pretty cafe in Clissold House, with a delicious looking selection of cakes, snacks and hot drinks. Wrap up warm, grab a cup of tea and sit outside if you can bear it…these early sunsets may be unwelcome, but those long winter shadows are beautiful.

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The park is also always full of the best dogs ever, so if you’re a dog person, get on down there immediately. Seriously, there was one wearing a Christmas jumper the other day. Top notch. Whether you’re out for romantic walks, with clasped gloved hands and cold nosed kisses, some end of year contemplation or just some excellent dog petting, Clissold Park is an amazing place to be. Besides, to get there, you pretty much have to walk up Stoke Newington’s glorious Church Street, which is constantly buzzing with vintage shops, pretty boutiques, cafes, florists and pop up fairs and markets. Just you try and walk down that street without popping in somewhere. God knows I can’t. And with christmas trees starting to pop up outside every florist, it makes for a very festive walk. I hear there’s a Christmas market on in the park this weekend…it’s beginning to look a lot like…

Wrap Up London

Those of you who know me well will know that I love my bed. Seriously, for me, sleeping could be considered a hobby. I am the least morningy person you’ve ever met, and generally need a good eight hours sleep and two cups of tea before I’m even vaguely conscious in the mornings. So what, in the name of all that is holy could possibly prompt me to get out of bed at 5:30am on a normal working day?

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This week is Wrap Up London, an amazing event run by Hands On London, where coats and jackets will be collected at tube stations all across the city and donated to people in need. After my recent experience with one of London’s homeless people, you better believe this would get me up at 5:30am.

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A Wrap Up London volunteer braves the commuter crowds.

The campaign doesn’t collect money at the tube stations, they just take those old coats that are gathering dust at the back of your wardrobe and give them to someone who might get cold this winter – whether they are homeless, women fleeing abuse, victims of trafficking or suffering from fuel poverty. A simple, but beautiful idea.

I caught up with Volunteer Coordinator, Alice to chat about the campaign.Alice has been part of the Wrap Up London campaign since it began four years ago, joining as a lowly intern and staying part of it ever since! The great thing about Wrap Up London, she says, is that it’s a charity with such an immediate, tangible benefit. Wrap Up London volunteers are collecting coats that the owners no longer need or want and giving them directly to the people who need them. Every single coat donated means that one more person stays warm this winter. She’s right. That’s amazing.

For the record, last year’s campaign collected just under 17,000 coats.

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Team leader Louise bags up one of many generous donations.

I ask her about her most inspiring Wrap Up London moments, and I challenge your heart not to warm at them. She told stories of people collecting coats from their whole streets and driving them to collection points. Others collected in their work and showed up with entire shopping trolleys bursting with coats. But her favourite story was that of a man who walked past the collection point, backpedaled, took off his coat and handed it to the volunteers, saying, “I need to buy a new one anyway”. Upon seeing this, the man behind him remarked that this was a great idea and proceeded to do exactly the same. For a city with a reputation for being cold-hearted, London, I am damn proud of you.

There are collection stations all over London this week, running from 7am until 11am, Wednesday – Friday. If you have an old coat that you’ve been meaning to get rid of, please do consider donating it to this amazing cause. Drop it off on your commute, get your good deed done before 9am, feel awesome all day and help someone get through the winter.

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This photo was taken at 8:30. Look at the bags already full behind them.

For more information on Wrap Up London collections, click here! You can also follow Hands On London on Twitter, and get involved with the campaign using the hashtag #WrapUpLondon.

Give a coat. Warm a heart.