Starting off your career at Vogue sounds like an absolute dream come true. What was your steepest learning curve during that time?
The whole thing was a massive learning curve! I had no idea of what was going on or what I was meant to be doing, and for the first three months I was only employed on a casual basis, so the biggest thing was trying to make myself useful enough that I wouldn’t be asked to leave at the end of the week each week.
What was the highlight?
Just being there, in this extraordinary office right in the centre of London, where these beyond-cool people wore black (it was the mid-Eighties), had six earrings in their ears, or matching orange hair and lipstick, and wore sunglasses in the lift as if it were perfectly normal.
What do you consider the first major milestone in your career?
Getting a proper Fleet Street job on the Telegraph Sunday Magazine 18 months later. I was given three pages at the front of the magazine to fill with things – useful gadgets, designer knick-knacks – each week, which was insanely good fun. I had to find them, get them photographed and write them all up – I was only 23 and couldn’t believe my luck.
Knowing all you do now and having gained such a variety of experience in the industry, what would your most valuable advice be to someone hoping to follow a similar path?
Make a plan! I never had a plan nor much idea of what I wanted to do next, so I’ve always lurched from one thing to another. You could be smarter about it. Work out where you want to go and what you want to do, and then work out what steps you might need, career-wise, to get you there.
Has beauty (and by extension beauty journalism) always been a passion of yours, or did it develop over time?
That came later. I was transfixed by the beauty department at Vogue, where the vast filing cabinet had huge, wide, shallow drawers filled entirely with lipstick, but I didn’t work there (I was a sub-editor, putting commas in the right place in the copy and making up captions and headlines). Newspapers didn’t really have any beauty coverage before the turn of the century – it was something left to magazines – so I had no idea that beauty writing was a job option. When I was freelancing for the Evening Standard in the late Nineties, writing health stories, I got the chance to write about beauty, too, and grabbed it. What they were really interested in was all the new cosmetic anti-ageing stuff that was just getting going in London, and I was the right age to be seriously interested in what these things could do, and what serious skincare was capable of.
What is it about skincare that has held your attention for so many years?
It is such a fascinating area and there is so much to it! On the one hand it’s not rocket-science, because you need to keep your skin clean, well nourished and well protected from the environment, but on the other hand is absolutely IS rocket science because of the constant advances in research about what goes on in the skin, what helps it renew itself and which ingredients are most helpful to it. And because it is such a huge industry, there is a colossal amount of innovation and development going on, and my job means I get to meet the people who are doing this and moving the cosmetics and skincare business forward. I know it all looks like just another magic cream with a new miracle ingredient – but I find it really compelling.
You’re certainly not afraid to test new (sometimes bizarre) beauty and wellness crazes! Is there anything you’ve come across and immediately known you wouldn’t be game to try?
Yes! I don’t mind trying Botox and lasers and fillers and the like, but I drew the line at trying a thread-lift (where barbed sutures, like fishing line, are threaded through the skin, then pulled tight to ‘lift’ the skin) on my elbows and knees. Absolutely no way! But then I am not keen to try a thread lift on my face, either.
What’s one beauty trend from the past you’d be glad never to see again?
The overplucked eyebrows which were all the rage in the Seventies, and again in the Nineties.
We are so intrigued by the fact that you’ve written books with both of your daughters! What was that like?
It was a delight from start to finish – particularly the shoots where all the girls got to try out a bunch of different make-up looks, and put up with being covered in gloopy face masks.
If you could advise them to go natural in one way or another, what would it be?
Cooking from scratch, avoiding processed food and eating lots of vegetables.
When do you feel most like yourself?
Sitting around the kitchen table with my family at mealtimes, enjoying the banter – the girls are away at uni, so it’s a real treat when we manage to be at home at the same time.
Raising three children and maintaining such a demanding, multifaceted career must take a huge amount of energy. What do you do when it’s time to switch off and unwind?
There’s a brilliant yoga studio just five minutes away which does everything from full-on hot power yoga to soothing yin yoga, so I slope off there for a bit of time out.
Come to think of it… what’s your secret to getting so much done!?
Haha, are you sure it doesn’t just seem I’ve got a lot done because I’ve been doing it all for so long? I just get on with it, and working for daily newspapers has taught me to write quickly. I work from home so I don’t have to spend time commuting, and because I’m freelance I get to choose which projects to take on, which is great – though I am always over-optimistic about what I can get done in the time available, so end up working most evenings and weekends in order to keep pace with all the deadlines. But because I so enjoy the work, whether it’s writing, or consulting projects with brands, or giving talks, or putting together beauty box offers, it really doesn’t seem like hard work. Also, I don’t watch much TV.
We loved your recent post on “positive ageing”, and thought you raised a really interesting point about the fact there seems to have been a change in popular attitudes in recent years. With less emphasis on anti-aging and more on embracing your “best self”, what is the most positive change within yourself that you’ve noticed over the last few years?
Belatedly, learning to care less what other people think about me. It really doesn’t matter. And getting into the habit of meditating. It makes the rest of life a lot easier.
Speaking of embracing one’s best self, what are your key self-care and beauty tips?
Get enough sleep, get some exercise, eat loads of vegetables and drink plenty of water, wear sunscreen — all the usual. And see your friends, give something back and learn to be happy – people seem to think that happiness is something that happens to them, depending on external circumstances, but it’s a decision you make within your own mind.
What was at the forefront of your mind when creating your own beauty brand, Good Things?
I was really keen to have a range of basic, simple, good-looking, effective, affordable beauty products that would help young women to keep their skin clear and healthy, and that would encourage them into good skincare habits – because consistent care is what makes the difference to skin in the long term.
If you could create your dream product, what would it be?
Ooh, it would be an all-in-one product to whack on in the morning which hydrates, has proven skin-renewing ingredients and good broad-spectrum sunscreen and some of those tinted blurring pigments and gives a lovely dewy-not-shiny finish. A bit like Le Metier de Beaute’s Peau Vierge Anti-Ageing Complexe
As someone who has probably tested almost every product under the sun at this point, we’re dying to know: what are your thoughts on Dr.Lipp?
The texture takes a bit of getting used to but I love it, particularly for winter, because it stays really well on the lips so gives them a chance to soften up properly.
Have you found any creative ways to use yours yet?
It’s great for dry cuticles (because it stays put and doesn’t run about like an oil does) and I know this is a bit ‘off-label’ but it’s great for dealing with squeaky door hinges!
Finally, it seems as though throughout your career, no matter how fantastic your current position may be you’ve always kept looking forward. Any hints about what to expect next?
You’re very kind. (I’ve been freelance for 20 years, so at any point, my current position always seems precarious.) I’m doing much more online now – blogging, vlogging and instagramming — to tell people about what really works in everything from cosmetics to cosmetic surgery, and I’m also working on a series of beauty boxes, to give people the chance to try brilliant, full-size beauty products at bargain prices.
Interview by Maddi McGowan