There are some writers and bloggers whose lives we follow. They write about their highs, their lows, their feelings, their fears. Sali Hughes is one of those writers. The Guardian Weekend beauty columnist is as well known for her opinion pieces in Grazia, Red and Glamour as she is for her honest beauty product reviews. Living with her sons, Marvin and Arthur, in Brighton, Sali says that “being a parent gives you a non-negotiable sense of purpose”. Here, she opens up her family album and I chat to her about living by the coast, how she spends her me-time and how she tackles that all encompassing mum-guilt…
Sali, you moved your family from London to Brighton… what do you miss about London family life and what are the benefits of being by the coast?
“Brighton is an amazing place to bring up children.It’s an extremely accepting and tolerant environment and I want that for my two boys. There’s heaps for them to do, it’s very child-focused and everything is near home to the extent where my kids truly feel as though the beach is their garden. I think London is a wonderful place to bring up children too, but I had postnatal depression for a year after my first child was born, so I don’t have great memories of the short time we spent there as a family. Online communities barely existed then and none of my girlfriends had children, so I felt very isolated until we moved here.”
What’s your favourite family activity in Brighton?
“We do quite simple things. My children love Hove Park for running around and playing football, Peter Pan’s Playground on the seafront for meeting up with other kids, and Yellow Wave for the excellent cafe and climbing wall. They also adore the Brighton Eye, and the cinema at the Marina. For eating out treats, they love Pizza Express, Jamie’s Italian and Bill’s. We always, always spend Saturday night in my bed, eating delivery pizza and microwave popcorn in front of a film. I can’t think of what could force me out of the house on a Saturday night. I hate the idea of it.”
What was your childhood like? Did you grow up in the city or countryside?
“I lived somewhere between the two. I come from the Welsh valleys, but spent every weekend in either Cardiff or London from a fairly young age. I ran away to London at just fifteen. I’m very much a city girl and can’t relate to country living at all. My children and I all love British country holidays (I’d sooner not go abroad, in all honesty), but I know I’d go completely mad after any length of time. I start to feel as though I’m missing out and it makes me jittery to not be able to get a curry delivered late at night, or go for a drink without worrying about how I’ll get home. Ironically, all that open space makes me feel claustrophobic.”
You’ve spoken before about missing your pre-kids life. When you visit London child-free, what are the places you love to visit?
“It gets much easier when your kids start school. I don’t really miss London as I’m there a couple of times a week for radio, TV or meetings (I’m launching my own community website, salihughesbeauty.com in February). I still get to see my London friends, go to Liberty and Selfridges, attend beauty, fashion and book launches and have the occasional drink at my club, Century. I feel glad that I’ve still got a reason to put on make-up and heels twice a week and get on a train. It makes me appreciate my hometime in Uggs and jeans all the more. I always love getting into Brighton station at the end of the day. The sea air hits me and I feel immediately happier. Six years on and I still feel we’re enormously lucky to live here.”
Where do you go in Brighton for some ‘me-time’?
“I love going for coffee – Brighton is full of great independent cafes. I like Ground and Spinelli’s in Kemptown and Cafe Coho in the Lanes. I take my laptop, order some cake and catch up with friends on Twitter and my Facebook group, Sali Hughes: Get The Look. I also like walking. I did the Moonwalk a few years ago and really enjoyed my training along the Brighton seafront. It’s the most civilised form of exercise – no headaches, no sweating, no panting. But mainly, I like to stay indoors whenever I can get away with it. I love my bed and bath for relaxation. I’m very much a homebody.”
You recently wrote about divorce, didn’t you?
“You never stop missing your old life and you never lose the happy memories. The end of my marriage will never not be sad. But you have to get up in the morning, you have to look after your children and you have to keep a roof over their heads. That’s a very helpful thing, albeit an extremely stressful one, because it forces you to keep going. Being a parent gives you a non-negotiable sense of purpose. You have to show children that life goes on and that you’re trying to make everything OK.”
What are your tips to mums seeking that all-important life/work balance?
“Lord knows! I really wish I could offer advice here, as I feel as though I get it continually wrong myself. I feel guilty constantly – guilty that I’m not with my children or guilty that I’m not working. As a writer, I feel very lucky to work from home for most of the week, but even then, it’s really hard to strike the right balance. I’m full of admiration for mums who maintain a great relationship with their children while holding down a full time job elsewhere. They must need to be unbelievably organised, which I’m not. I suppose all I do know – as someone who’s been both a full-time stay at home mum and a working mum – is that the best mother is a happy mother. If you’re unhappy then it’s impossible to fake it to your kids. No one wins.”
It’s Christmas soon – what’s your favourite family Christmas tradition?
“Every year, we see whatever the Long Nose Puppet theatre company is staging at Brighton’s Komedia. They put on the most wonderful shows for children, complete with adult-friendly soundtrack, and the atmosphere is so Christmassy. We haven’t missed one since we moved here. Our new tradition is to ride on the Brighton Eye after the show. It has beautiful views of the town and the Downs and looks so festive when lit up in winter. My children loved it last year.”
Photo credits: Sali Hughes, Anna Gordon