Tag Archives: mother

Interview with PR expert Anji Hunter

Last week I recorded an interview with Anji Hunter, an expert in Public Relations both in politics and in business. Anji worked for Prime Minister Tony Blair MP from 1987 to 2002, in opposition and government, becoming Head of Government Relations in Downing Street (1997), where she was the key liaison with the Cabinet, Civil Service, the Labour Party, Opposition Leaders and other governments. Anji was once described as “the most influential non-elected person in Downing Street”.

Later she became Group Director of Communications at BP before moving on to join the world’s largest PR firm, Edelman. as a senior adviser.

We talked about her career, but also addressed some questions close to all of us: “Can women have it all?”, “Do women help each other enough?” and “How to ask for a pay rise?”…

Please leave a reply above or a comment via Facebook below – join the conversation!

Interview with artist Kristjana Williams

KSW Portrait Sep 2013Welcome to Kristjana S Williams studio! True to the spirit of its owner, it is full of vibrant colours, delicate patterns, fabulous maps and magical creatures…

Kristjana Williams was brought up in Iceland. She first studied Electrical Engineering in Iceland but maths wasn’t her calling. Her passion was art, something she had felt was not viable enough to pursue seriously. But when Kristjana had come to London, she enrolled in a design course with City Lit (which offers evening and weekend adult learning courses). And then she got into Central St Martins to study graphic design and illustration at the age of 25. It’s fair to say, Kristjana never looked back.

Today she is a equally successful as a fine artist and a commercial designer collaborating with such brands as Fortnum & Mason, Heal’s, Liberty, Paul Smith and Cole & Son.  Kristjana exhibited her work at London’s V&A, Design Shanghai, created art work for the Connaught Hotel and is currently working on her biggest commission to date: a giant map of London for the Shard.

It’s a five-metre map of London with Kristjana’s signature colourful collages, exotic flowers, historic characters and pieces, juxtaposed against black-and-white Victorian engravings. “The work that goes into scanning, printing and cutting all the patterns is incredible”, explains Kristjana who has three more designers in her studio to help her. I am leafing through the Victorian engravings book of royal menagerie from the 18th century, while marvelling at the contrast between the sleek outside image of Shard and the delicate design, paying homage to London’s history, being created by Kristjana for one of its interior bars.


In addition to the Shard commission, Kristjana is also working on a ceramic range for Fortnum & Mason, which will be out for Christmas 2015.

“I love that I don’t have to pigeon-hole myself, say, as a fine artist. I can also making a living by doing commercial work that is also affordable to the general public: prints, wallpaper, cushions,” says Kristjana. “I also love collaboration. It’s a fantastic experience to work with craftsmen such as upholsterers, furniture makers, embroiderers.”

Kristjana’s love for colour goes back to her childhood in Iceland, where she craved light, colour and magic during long and dark Scandinavian winters. Quite unlike traditionally calm and understated Scandinavian design, her work is always vibrant, vivid but also delicate in its attention to detail.


What is your greatest achievement? Apart from my children, it must be The Connaught commission. It was a true labour of love. The brief was to capture the spirit, richness and magic of the unique Mayfair hotel. It’s a two by three meters collage artwork with traditional Victorian etchings, which took six months to create.

What are you good at? Coming up with ideas. My only problem is that I never seem to have enough time to realise them all…

What is your weakness? I want to do everything… I get a fine art commission which is an enormous project in itself but at the same time I also take on commercial projects I am excited about so it becomes overwhelming. I think this thirst has held me back as much as it has pushed me forward. Now that I am forty, I am finally better at pacing myself but it’s been a journey and a half…

What would you advise your 15-year-old self? Calm down! Be less anxious… I also wish that I saw the opportunities available to me as a creative, because I did not see them as a 15-year-old. My creative drive was strong, but I could not see it as a profession, only as a hobby.

If you can do anything, knowing that you would not fail, what would you do? Go to the Moon! That’s the first thing that popped into my head. I don’t really want to go into space. I’d rather get a diving boat especially designed to travel deep down to the bottom of the ocean and explore the world at the core of our planet.

MaskTo find out more about Kristjana’s work, please visit http://www.kristjanaswilliams.com


Nancy Honey and her 100 Leading Ladies

Nancy HoneyLast year the Somerset House hosted a fabulous exhibition 100 Leading Ladies, a project which took Nancy Honey three years to accomplish. Nancy may have been working towards that project all her life. What she has been able to achieve is awe-inspiring. Over three cups of tea, Nancy told me her story.

Nancy Honey was born in the US and came to Britain in 1970s. She studied Fine Art, Graphic Design and Photography both in the US and in the UK. She has been photographing for more than 30 years and started exhibiting her work in 1984. Alongside art, corporate and advertising projects, Nancy has published four monographs: Woman to Woman, Entering the Masquerade, Poodle Parlour and, most recently, 100 Leading Ladies.

100 Leading Ladies… I have always been fascinated with what successful, high powered women had achieved throughout their careers. How did they manage to juggle professional and family responsibilities? I have deliberately chosen women over the age of 55 because of their accomplishments, but also because senior women are very much under-represented in the media. I wanted to change that by making portraits and hearing the views of older women. I wanted to include the voice of the younger generation as well, so I commissioned former The Times journalist Hattie Garlick to interview my subjects.

When I started my research for the project, I wanted to approach women I personally admired, for example, Barbara Hulanicki OBE, fashion designer and founder of the iconic clothes store Biba. As the project developed, it was incredible to discover so many women I have not even come across before in art and science, business and public service. I asked them where they went for inspiration, to think or just to relax. Such a setting reveals a lot more about a person than a photo studio. Some of my heroines chose the comforts of their own homes, others chose professional settings, providing fascinating backgrounds to my portraits.

Brave new world…  The research and the photography took me about two years. I funded it myself, selling my house and moving into a smaller flat in the process. The next step was to get funding for the exhibition: in addition to the portraits, I also wanted to put together a beautiful book, featuring the photographs and the interviews. I had no fundraising experience, no corporate network to access, so I had no idea where to start. I went to the Westminster Reference Library, where a helpful librarian gave me a UK Guide to Company Giving. Gradually I learned how the company funding worked; I researched then approached many, many companies that I thought were a good fit with the project. I hired an intern and an assistant to help me. I also did a huge amount of networking.  It took us a year to put together the required funding. Women push themselves, if they really want something.

Thirteen of Nancy’s portraits were purchased by the National Portrait Gallery in 2013 and displayed in a small group exhibition of recent acquisitions. The complete work was shown at Somerset House in 2014. Her accomplishment lives in a stunning, timeless book, featuring photos and interviews, which is available for purchase online.

What have you learned from the women you’ve met? They were all incredibly passionate about their work. It is also true that many women had to make sacrifices to achieve what they have.

What would you advise your 15-year-old self? I would advise her to try to look for a role model or a mentor. Although I had loving parents, there was no one in my life to look at who was the kind of woman I wanted to be.

What are you good at? I am good at organisation, managing complicated problems and taking on challenges. I love research.

What is your greatest achievement? My two children.

If you can do anything, knowing that you would not fail, what would you do? At this point, I would build my own house.

Who inspires you? There are too many people to mention. I admire so many artists in so many fields, both young, old, alive or dead. There is so much to find out about and to be in awe of.

To find out more about Nancy’s work, please visit her website www.nancyhoney.com and www.100leadingladies.com

Alla Ouvarova, co-founder of Two Chicks, mother and athlete

I meet Alla Ouvarova for lunch in Soho’s Café Boheme. As you would expect from a healthy diet evangelist, Alla, co-founder of the liquid egg white brand Two Chicks, looks lean and fit. She tells me about her morning run (14 miles) before the conversation turns to business. In the afternoon Alla and her business partner Anna Richey have a board meeting to discuss the launch of a new product, Chirps, egg white crisps. As a seasoned entrepreneur who launched  Two Chicks in 2006, Alla talks new product launch strategy, marketing and PR with such confidence that it would be worth packaging and pitching that to Selfridges as well.

In search of a better life… In 1991, when I was 10, my family moved to London from St. Petersburg in Russia. My father was a former professional player who started teaching tennis in Regent’s Park. He worked every day of the week, never taking time off, to support us and build a better life for us in Britain.

I really liked maths… It is fair to say that Russian, Eastern European and Asian students always choose to study Economics, Business, Engineering, rather than arts. I studied Economics at University College London and thought about a career in banking, when my friend Anna came up with an idea and offered me to start a business together.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel… Anna spent three months in LA and got hooked on egg-white omelettes. Egg white is fat free, cholesterol free, low in carbs and is an excellent source of protein. Many baking treats, such as meringues and macaroons, require separation of egg whites from egg yolks, yet back in 2006 you could not buy a carton of egg whites at a supermarket. Anna’s idea was simple: package free-range egg white into an easy-pour carton and market it to health-conscious consumers and bakers. Two Chicks was born.

Two Chicks

Anna Richey (left) and Alla Ouvarova (right)

On friendship and entrepreneurship… It is absolutely brilliant to work with your best friend! At the outset we recognised that we have different strengths, so we divided work accordingly.  When we started, I was responsible for finance and logistics, and Anna took on sales and marketing. As our business grows, we are both responsible for the overall strategy, so it helps to bounce ideas off each other and discuss matters with a person you trust.

Passion or spotting the gap in the market? The whole premise of Two Chicks was about the gap we have spotted in the market, but both Anna and I have always been interested in health and nutrition, which makes it a natural business area to be working in. I love sport, I play tennis, I run and I love racing. I need to make sure I eat enough protein, so both the liquid egg white I use for protein shakes and the egg white snacks (Chirps) are very much part of my lifestyle.

2014 Natwest everywoman National Awards.      Alla Tough Mudder

On balance and being a mother…  Keeping things in balance is difficult, as I am always running from one thing to another. I try to exercise 4-5 times a week and also find as much time as possible for my son Zac, who is six. Running my own business means I can pick Zac from school myself on occasion, then do some more work when he is asleep. I teach him tennis and golf, we go skiing together – I am lucky that he is passionate about sport as much as I am!

On Ladies Who Impress and role models… I really enjoyed listening to Susan Ma’s story at the November 2014 event. Perhaps it’s because I can relate to her story well, having immigrated to Britain myself and being an entrepreneur. To be honest, all the stories shared on the Ladies Who Impress website are fascinating: what an inspiration to read about women taking on challenges and achieving something great.

Other than that, Margaret Thatcher was a particularly strong role model for me and many other women, who grew up in Russia.

 Favourite quote… “Well behaved women seldom make history.” Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Interview with Jo Moseley who rowed 1,000,000 metres for charity

Jo Moseley is 49 years old. She lives in Skipton in West Yorkshire. Earlier this year she decided to embark on a bit of a challenge: to row 1,000,000 metres, a half marathon and then a marathon on a rowing machine to say Thank You and raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support who have been looking after both of her parents. Listen to a 10-minute podcast with fabulous Jo!

If you’d like to support Jo Moseley and her tremendous challenge, you can donate via www.justgiving.com/onehappyrower

Jo is rowing a marathon in Ilkley Tennis Club on 21 December 2014. If you live nearby, do pop by and give her a cheer! You can also give her a shout on Twitter via @OneHappyRower

Jo Moseley

Julia Dobson, co-founder of Village England

Julia Dobson is one of those women you’d be happy to cross the mountains or start the business with – she has bountiful energy, a true sense of vision and an ability to think on her feet. She is also a multi-tasker, something that comes, perhaps, with becoming a mother, and Julia is a mother of two. As I caught up with her at Best of Britannia fair in London’s Clerkenwell, Julia was fixing up an overhead lantern to create a spotlight effect over her collection of stunning leather bags, Village England.

With background in managing luxury brands, such as Celine and Acqua di Parma at Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy and inspired by such mentors as Robert Bensoussan of Jimmy Choo (now CEO of L.K. Bennett), she has been mulling over starting her own business for a while. She shared her thoughts with a Eddie Knevett, then Head of Accessories at the House of Fraser, and they discovered they had shared similar values and thirst for entrepreneurship.

Image credit: Evening Standard

Image credit: Evening Standard

Eddie and Julia wanted to create something different – beautiful, top-end quality yet practical and affordable accessories, inspired by a uniquely English sense of style.

“I really care about the quality and attention to detail you get when you buy a luxury brand, but when I left my job to start my own business, I quickly realised that without a brand funded clothing allowance but with two children and a start-up, my perspective had changed: I still wanted quality and style, but I wasn’t prepared to swallow the prices anymore – I just had other things to spend my money on. Like school fees. When Eddie and I looked at the market, there was nothing that I wanted to buy for the money I was prepared to spend.”

“You’ll find a great selection of Village England bags at £250 with some items priced at a higher end. We’ve managed to achieve reasonable pricing despite designing much needed pockets every woman needs, buying amazing Italian leather and finishing our bags with luxurious lining.”

Julia and Eddie actually started the business just after Julia’s second son was born. She was amazed at her ability to simultaneously type, Skype and breastfeed, but equally, she discovered that “doing your own thing” cuts out a lot of “politics, pointless meetings and chatter”, leaving Julia and Eddie focussing on developing their brand and products.

Village England brown

Village England has been inspired by craftsmanship, farmers’ markets, the importance of community. Our customer is a woman who values quality and style but lives in a real world, which means she should be able to throw her bag on the back seat of a car or take it on the Tube.”

Later I caught up with Julia’s business partner, Eddie, who designed a beautiful wooden display to showcase the bags at the fair. He told me about his design vision for the brand.

“The design of our bags and accessories is infused with an English sense of style: eclectic, understated and colourful, but in a subtle, rather than a loud way.” 

It seems incredible that the brand was launched just a year ago. Village England is available in select House of Fraser and Anthropologie stores, and the bags are also sold online via the company’s website. Julia and Eddie have launched their second collection Autumn-Winter 2014, grew a team and have delighted many happy customers. Clare Balding is a fan.

burton-agnes-square--170x170   Aysgarth    Datchet-Orange-2-170x170

Louise Webster – Beyond the School Run

Louise WebsterThis is Louise Webster, an inspiring woman and mum of two (and not the other way round), who once got a meeting at No. 10, but I am getting ahead of myself…

Louise Webster’s background is in PR. She used to work for Fox Kids (now part of Disney) and has always been specialising in kids and family content. Later she launched her own PR company, Rare Communications, supporting family brands. Rare Communications helped to launch Moshi Monsters and grew into a small but successful specialist PR agency.

“I got married, moved into a house in North West London, my son was born and then the story changed.”

Louise talks about returning to her agency after maternity leave, working for 3 days a week, looking after her son but feeling that she did not have any downtime: no space or time window for anything else. Louise thought her life was carrying her on, but it’s as if she had no say in it.

She made a decision to sell her agency, move out of London and spend more mindful time with her family. When her daughter was born, she felt she wanted to be there with her children rather than strive to be a ‘supermum’. It felt soothing, but Louise could not help but notice that suddenly she was addressed and engaged with only as a mother. It was either you were a ‘career woman’ and a master of juggling all those things at once or you were a mother, content to disengage from anything, other than children and family.

“I wanted to engage my brain again so I started looking for jobs and found a freelance role, which required such little experience, I could do it standing on my head. Following an interview, I was told that I had too much experience, which was just so frustrating and demoralising.”

Louise spoke to other mothers and realised there there is such an amazing pool of talent among stay-at-home mums. They just don’t want to choose ‘all or nothing’ but work during the hours they have available. They need opportunities and options to choose from, inspiration, ideas and a supportive community. This is how Beyond the School Run was born.

Beyond the School Run offers inspiration, ideas, jobs and volunteering opportunities for talented and a little bit restless mums who want to reclaim their identity. Louise also wants to help mums start their own businesses, providing educational resources and links to start-up supporting schemes. 

In 2012 she wrote to David Cameron telling him about her project, and, to her surprise, she was invited to come to No. 10 Downing Street to meet PM’s special advisor for women and family issues, Laura Trott. The meeting gave her much needed validation and motivation to persevere with her idea and grow it into a sustainable, inspiring and, most importantly, helpful platform.

You may also wish to find Louise on Twitter to follow her story and news from Beyond the School Run. 

Ladies Who Impress on the journey of motherhood

I have recently interviewed these three amazing women, sharing their thoughts on the journey of motherhood. Please do share your own thoughts in the comments section below.

Ange and EthanAnge Randrianasolo, who looks after regulatory compliance  at BNP Paribas and runs GOSH Food is a mum of two: Salomé, twelve, and Ethan, five. She is now also a member of the Ladies Who Impress Club, I am happy to say!

Ange is fond of running and exercising with kettle bells, but a year ago she decided to take some ballet classes, something she used to love as a child in her native Nice. One day Ethan watched her dance and asked if boys too can do ballet. That night the family watched ballet videos on YouTube, and Ethan asked if he could join a ballet school.

EthanEthan is the only boy in his class and was at first shy about all the attention, but he was the star of the show at the end of the school year and is now very happy and proud of his performance.

Ange says that she never thought that being a mother is about sacrifice: on the contrary, for her, motherhood is a journey of giving, discovery, patience and love. Ange and her partner are very keen for their kids to discover what they like: Salomé does ballet, modern dance, plays violin and netball; Ethan enjoys capoeira and swimming but ballet is, perhaps, his true passion. It’s wonderful, isn’t it? Move over, Billy Elliott!


A story of Alanna and her daughter Roza

By her own admission, Alanna’s raison d’être was work. Throughout her 20s and 30s she enjoyed a highly successful career as a finance lawyer, effortlessly climbing the corporate ladder at Allen & Overy and moving from her native Vancouver to financial hubs of Tokyo and London. She was a workaholic and often stayed in the office late into the night, which somehow became a habit for a successful but single lawyer living away from home.

Yet ever since she was 20, Alanna has been thinking of adopting a child. By the time she turned 40, she suddenly realised that her good intentions had remained just that… She was financially well off, she had wonderful friends and a good life but something was missing.

Alanna contacted an adoption agency in 2009. She went through a gruelling, emotionally testing 12-month process, applying to adopt as a single parent. Finally, in late 2010 she received a call from the agency about a potential match.

Two weeks later Alanna flew to St. Petersburg in Russia. At that time Russia allowed single parent adoption, and the country’s orphanages were full of abandoned Asian kids.

Baby Roza’s natural mother was from Kyrgyzstan. Presumably, a migrant worker, she could not support a child and left it at the hospital soon after birth.

Alanna took Roza to Britain in April 2011, soon after her 1st birthday. Roza Lee lives in London. Yesterday she had her first trapeze lesson. She is a delight not only to her mother but to everyone who meets her, as she seems to be the happiest and most cheerful girl ever.

Alanna and Roza, December 2010

Alanna and Roza, December 2010

Alanna and Roza, September 2013

Alanna and Roza, September 2013


Like mother like daughter

“It is a cliché”, says Alanna, “but having a child changes your life”. “Within a couple of months of having Roza, my friends said to me that I looked happy. I could not believe it. Have I been a grumpy cow before I had Roza? But I think they are right. I became … softer, my values have changed. Roza did change my life.”