Evening Standard | 15 Dec 1995
FIRST there was Penny Hughes, Coca-Cola’s 35-year-old UK president who, newly pregnant, decided that motherhood was the real thing and abandoned her position and £250,000 salary.View transcript
FIRST there was Penny Hughes, Coca-Cola’s 35-year-old UK president who, newly pregnant, decided that motherhood was the real thing and abandoned her position and £250,000 salary.
Now the glossy magazine editors – the prototype You Can Have It All And More women – are, in the gleeful eyes of Tabloid Man, succumbing to the pressures of running home and magazine, getting their priorities straight and chucking in the latter for the former or, at least, for lower-paid freedom.
On Saturday Amanda Evans, editor of Homes and Gardens, quit for her home and garden. The week before, Linda Kelsey, the original Cosmo woman turned editor of She (the magazine to reclaim motherhood and help women juggle their lives), left, suffering from stress and wanting to spend more time with her son. And remember the recent exodus of five other female editors from National Magazine, publisher of Harpers & Queen to Good Housekeeping? You could imagine the babes at Conde Nast, publisher of Vogue, Tatler and House and Gardens, cocking a snook and nappy at their National Magazine competitors. Instead, shivers have gone down their well-bred spines at the misogynist cries of ‘told you so’ and ‘you can’t run a company/magazine and raise a child’ in the Press.
Don’t you know, ask the Conde Nast girls, that Annie Holcroft, publishing director of Vanity Fair, brings her kids to the office? They watch Wombles videos while she negotiates million-dollar deals and sews name tags in their clothes. And that Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman has an eight-month-old baby, a 12-year-old live-in stepdaughter and husband and the most glamorous job in the universe?
ALEXANDRA, 37, has Mother Earth’s long hair and ample breasts, Mama Nature’s clean face, grey cashmere jumper and high snakeskin shoes. The walls of her voluminous turquoise and peppermint office display not photographs of Linda and Naomi, but of her son, Sam. She is clever, she is successful. And she’s paid, partly, to meet glamorous people, to party, wear heavenly clothes and receive bucketloads of flowers. ‘Some days I think ‘having it all’ means that I am so lucky. Other days I think it means, ‘why have I got all this dumped on me?” laughs Alexandra, who was up at 5am with Sam. Does she think she’s good at her job? She pauses. ‘Sometimes.’ But her job is stressful. ‘I have to be available for people to talk to constantly, which is draining. Responsibility is stressful, as is travelling two and a half months a year, and trying to pack everything in so as to have time with Sam.” Alexandra says her husband Paul (writer Paul Spike) is probably the one who gets it when she gets home.
‘I sympathise with what I’ve read about Linda Kelsey,’ she continues. ‘I’ve been severely anxious twice in my life. Suddenly everything becomes too much and you decide to take time out. I’ve now learnt breathing techniques and how to notice when things are seriously pretty difficult. But I get terrible pressure headaches. Lavender oil and Rescue Remedy are very good.’ She crosses her arms self-protectively.
She believes the idea that women work because they want to have it all is a fallacy. ‘You work because you’re paying bills. That’s what most married women with children here are doing.’ Alexandra employs a daily, gardener, nanny and laundry woman. ‘Practically my whole salary goes on paying for help and my share of the mortgage. The nanny has more money to throw around, by far, than myself.’
That salary, it should be said, is not your average London career girl’s. ‘It’s under six figures!’ she protests. Paul also pays for the upkeep of his two children by a previous marriage. Alexandra took four and a half months’ maternity leave. ‘I looked after Sam non-stop and spent most of the time breast-feeding. The rest of the time I spent solidly trying to find a nanny. I interviewed millions of people.’
What were her feelings about work while she was on leave? ‘Sometimes I thought I wouldn’t be able to deal with coming back. I thought I’d miss Sam and be unable to do the job. On leave you become quite unconfident. But the transition was easier than I thought and ultimately I don’t have any desire to be at home on my own with a baby day after day. I’d become bored, unconfident and depressed.’
She was raised by a working mother, the etiquette writer Drusilla Beyfus. ‘I was brought up by the person I’m now becoming, only she was better organised. So I know exactly what it’s like having a working mother. Until I was about seven my mother didn’t have much to do with me. She had a nanny at weekends and nights and lots of other staff. I suspect that as a baby my relationship with her was not as it should be.’
BEING a working mother is difficult. ‘We’ve got it wrong in many ways. It’s not really feasible for women to work incredibly hard, be good mothers, lovers, wives, housekeepers. The more we try to do, the worse it is for us. The whole question of men and women’s roles in the partnership is something that hasn’t caught up with such developments. There is no other area in your life so unclearly defined.’ Sometimes, ‘like everybody’, she feels desperate to quit work. ‘A lot of the time I’d like a peaceful life. Peace of mind is hard to come by when you’re rushing so much of the time. Probably all of us have looked at more flexible, alternative, freelance or whatever ways of working. But money plays a great role in that. I’ve never been career-orientated. But I’ve always been motivated by the desire to earn money.’