About Jo Fairley

JO FAIRLEY is co-author (with Sarah Stacey) of the world’s bestselling series of beauty books, The Beauty Bible (most recent title: The Anti-Ageing Beauty Bible. She edits (with Sarah Stacey) the accompanying website, www.beautybible.com. A former magazine editor (Look Now, Honey), she has freelanced for everyone from The Times to YOU Magazine where for nine years she was Beauty Editor. (And has written about everything from Romanian orphans to sumo wrestling, via interviews with Yul Brynner and Bette Davis.) In 1991, Jo also co-founded Green & Black’s with her husband Craig Sams, and – in a continuing spirit of enterprise – opened an 11-room boutique wellbeing centre, The Wellington Centre, in their home town of Hastings. For fun (and reflecting her enduring love of fragrance), Jo – several times winner in The Jasmine Awards (the fragrance industry’s ‘Oscars’) - writes a scent blog, www.thescentcritic.com.

Posts by Jo Fairley

The Importance Of Self Reflection

I can

One of the more extraordinary and wonderful things that happened to me in the last decade was – as some of you already know – appearing as Lauren Laverne’s castaway on Desert Island Discs last summer. But one of its lasting legacies (other than the e-mails which are still coming in) from people who enjoyed it is that it reminded me of the importance of self  reflection.

Mostly, we bumble through life getting stuff done. It’s only when something big happens – the loss of someone close to us, a scary health diagnosis, getting fired – that we tend to re-assess life. And important as I know in my heart of hearts that it is to take time for self reflection, it wasn’t till I had to sit down and think about my life in order to share with Lauren Laverne and three million plus other people that I really and truly thought about some of the things (good and bad) that have happened to me.

I felt bad and a bit guilty about that, actually – until I heard a recent episode of the same programme with film director Asif Kapadia, who said exactly the same thing: that it wasn’t till he had to prepare for the programme that he really thought about some of the family issues he’d experienced, and talked through them with his sisters. (It’s a great listen, BTW – and you can find it on the Desert Island Discs app, first broadcast 1st December.)

And it strikes me, as we kick off a new decade, that it’s the perfect time for some true ’2020 vision’ – in other words, taking the time to look back at our lives and really process some stuff, with the aim of making some changes and perhaps changing tack and doing more of the stuff that makes our spirits soar, and less of the stuff that drags us down.

Now, you can’t really do this while you’re driving along, or doing the washing up, or watching The Crown. In order to practice self reflection effectively, you need to disconnect from the world a bit and really do some thinking. Disconnecting from the world is vital, to allow time and space for self reflection. You need somewhere you can focus. (A shed, a corner of a café where you don’t know anyone, a park bench. Though maybe not the park bench in January.) It might look like you’re day-dreaming, to others – but actually, you’re deliberately taking time out to reflect on events, thoughts, feelings and actions. Things we did and didn’t do. What worked, what didn’t, what we regret. (Personally I try not to regret anything, looking upon everything that didn’t work out as a lesson in how to do things better next time.) We spend so much of our lives trying to get to know other people better – friends, family, colleagues – but frankly, turning that lens on ourselves is something most of us rarely take time to do.

And writing stuff down really helps. Preferably on nice stationery or in a beautiful notebook, which I know sounds really shallow but there’s a point to it: it says something about your intention that you’re honouring it with a new notebook and your favourite pen. A long-term stationery nut generally, I’m a massive fan of the ‘tools’ for self-reflection and goal-setting offered by kikki.K, a chain founded by Kristina Karlsson, who’s also written a great book that’s perfect for anyone who wants to change their path, called Your Dream Life Starts Here. They also make journals and planners to help you map everything out and ‘grow’ – after, that is, you’ve spent a bit of time on self-reflection. (Apparently this is something Richard Branson and Oprah Winfrey take time to do regularly, and frankly, if it’s good enough for them…).

What I promise you’ll find is that self reflection is great for getting a different and calmer perspective on things that seemed upsetting at the time. It can help us look at where they sit in ‘the grand scheme of things’, and my experience is that even things that feel very overwhelming while you’re in the centre of a storm can look quite different from a place of calm.

Most importantly, it lets us see whether what we’re doing now, the path we’re taking, is in sync with our long-term goals. And if we don’t have long-term goals…? Trust me: if you don’t have a life plan, you’re really not alone here. For years I had a straw-in-the-wind approach to life, trusting to the universe to point me in the right direction and taking advantage of opportunities that were offered to me. As it happens I did pretty darned well, with that approach – but actually, Desert Island Discs really made me think about what I want to be doing in future, the difference I want to make, and about changes I could make to my life to make it fit my purpose. This awareness of priorities makes it so much easier to chase our goals or change path so the direction we’re headed in fits more with who we are today.

The bottom line is that we live in a world in which we’re obsessed with getting stuff done. The treadmill of list-ticking, getting from A to B, filling the fridge, refilling the fridge, fulfilling our commitments to bosses/partners/friends/colleagues, of powering through chapters so that we’re caught up with our reading group – and so on and on and on and on – means that we have to make time for self-reflection. So that’s certainly something that’s top of my own ‘To Do’ list for 2020, bumping lots of other less important actions off the bottom.

Of course, I still pinch myself that I got asked to do that radio show, as a life-long fan. (Literally. I listened to it with my Mum every Sunday while she was cooking Sunday lunch.) But the best thing that came out of it really was being forced to do some self-reflection, and to hold a mirror up to my life without waiting for a massive life-changing event to happen. So my challenge to you for 2020 is: imagine you’ve been asked to share your life with millions of other people. What have you achieved? What’s gone right? What’s gone wrong? What are you proud of, what makes you happy? Where do you want to be in ten years’ time, at the start of the next decade – and what do you need to do, to get yourself there?

Or will you just going to bumble through life, ticking things off that To Do list, without looking where you’re going…?

It’s up to nobody but you.

The Argument For Having A Low Key Christmas

Silver christmas horn ornament on black suface with gold glitter

Normally, my Christmas is the sort of military operation. I’ve been known to buy the first of the following year’s Christmas presents in February, I tend to get panicked if I don’t have the crackers before Bonfire Night, and if you stand still long enough in my house during advent, you’re likely to find a bauble glue-gunned to a limb. Or be swagged with pine. Or just possibly sprayed with glitter. And if anything doesn’t seem to be going ‘to plan’, I am, as a rule, not a happy camper.

But this year, Christmas is going to be a little more unpredictable in our house, and its taught me an excellent life lesson. On Christmas Day, we might be six – or we might be fourteen. (Which is quite a difference.) And I might not know till the day before. This is because there’s someone in the family who’s not too good health-wise, and they may or may not be up to making the journey. If not, then more than half the party – her children and grandchildren – will head to London for a scratch Christmas to make sure she’s not alone.

For a few years, I was smug about having organised our Christmas arrangements pretty ‘flawlessly’. It had dawned on me that we were hosting a dozen people every year, but they weren’t necessarily the same dozen. So in no uncertain terms, I informed everyone they needed to co-ordinate their Christmases, because we were only going to do one big Christmas every other year. (In between, we’d either go away, or quietly celebrate with two of us, or maybe accept an invitation to someone else’s Christmas lunch.)

And it worked. At least it worked until the younger family members started partnering up and having babies, which meant doing their duty to go to their partners’ families for the holidays. And since some of those families are fractured, we’re now in a three or four-year rotation, because there are two sets of parents to accommodate, as well as us. Duh. Didn’t think of that, did I? Chances of us all getting together again? Around zero, give or take.

So I have decided instead to quieten my inner Martha Stewart (who has rarely been far beneath the surface in previous years), and take a ‘whatever’ approach to what can be an unbelievably stressful time of year. Basically, it will be what it will be. I’ve got enough food to feed fourteen, and if instead we’re six, or maybe eight, I might invite some waifs and strays. I always admired my mother’s approach, inviting people who didn’t have anywhere else to go for Christmas. (Mostly she did this because a stranger at the dinner table meant that the children behaved far better than they would otherwise have done, but she also did it because she had a big heart.) Maybe we’ll do round up some ‘randoms’ – or maybe not, and instead spend a lot of time Googling ‘turkey leftover recipes’ in the aftermath. (And Tofurkey leftover recipes, if there are such things.)

All in all, even I – former Queen of Christmas, sequined trumpet-blower for all things festive and sparkly – am coming to the conclusion that Christmas has turned into a bit of a monster. The RSI from signing Christmas cards. The lists, the endless lists. The wrapping – and heck, I’ve always loved wrapping, but this year (partly for eco reasons) I’ve ordered personalised sacks into which to slip people’s presents, pull a drawstring – and then they can give me the sack back for next year.

Am I turning into Scrooge, in mid-life? I don’t think so. I’ve just got things a bit more in proportion. There have been some nail-biting health moments for people in our family, and for my friends, this year. One good friend died, actually. And so for me, it’s become more about spreading the kindness, cheer and generosity year-round – which nobody can argue that we definitely need more of, right now. Yes, we’ll have a tree. And lots and lots of pine branches, because I like the smell. But I am not, for once, going head to head with Regent Street on the decorations front.

I’m also reminded of a conversation with a friend, not long ago. She told me that her best Christmas ever was soon after she’d divorced and she asked her kids how they’d like to spend Christmas, and what food they’d like. Upshot is: they stayed in their onesies all day, and had pizza for Christmas lunch while watching videos. I’m going to leave you with that thought, as you frantically hunt for that recipe for Devils on Horseback canapés that you just know you tucked away somewhere.

I’m not sure I’m ready to be quite that laid-back for the holidays, yet. (Though in future years, who knows?) But what I do know is that I’m going to cut myself some slack, this year, in the hope of keeping the needle on the Christmas ‘Stress-o-Meter’ firmly in the green zone. Basically, in 2019, when it comes to Christmas, at our house it’s going to be a case of: ‘whatevs.’

As my darling step-grandchildren – who may or may NOT be here on 25th December – so love to say…


different flavours ice creams on the waffle cone

If I had my life to live over…
I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.
I’d relax. I would limber up.
I would be sillier than I have been this trip.
I would take more chances.
I would climb more mountains
and swim more rivers.
I would eat more ice cream and less beans…
If I had to do it again, I would
travel lighter than I have…
I would start barefoot earlier in the spring
and stay that way later into the fall (autumn).
I would go to more dances.
I would ride more merry-go-rounds.
I would pick more daisies…

Just sometimes, don’t you come across a poem or a poster that stops you in your tracks? That happened to me, lately, in the most unlikely setting (an Anglian Water team event in Ipswich, actually, where I happened to be a guest speaker).

Once I’d got past the cheese-y typography of this A4 sheet in their wellbeing zone, it really got me thinking about my life. (Whew. Deep stuff.) And it touched so many nerves, with me. First off, silliness. I definitely haven’t been silly enough. I’ve worried about what people would think if I skipped down the street (which I do sometimes think of doing), and I really wish I hadn’t bowed to crowd-sourced opinion lately about a grey felt hat with wolf ears, which got shouted down by my friends. (I might check out Etsy to see if it’s still available, actually.) I think the reason most of us like hanging out with kids is that we get to be silly without people staring – but it probably would make the world a happier place if we all relaxed (see Line Three) and let loose.

The barefoot thing definitely resonates. It’s only in the last 18 months that I’ve discovered the joys of going barefoot, with its wonderful earthing and grounding power. I’ll never get back all those years I spent walking beside my barefoot husband (as ever, the pioneer), my feet encased in sandals or trainers when I could’ve enjoyed toe liberation and the pleasure of foot dew-baths. Not long ago, we walked seven miles over Beachy Head barefoot. We were definitely the only tourists walking barefoot around the walls of Dubrovnik, recently, beautifully smooth, warm stone underfoot. Better late than never, but I do definitely regret the ‘shoe years’. (There’s a lot on that list that relates to not worrying about what other people think of us, actually. One of the reasons I love my husband is that he really doesn’t give a damn what other people think – and I need to learn from him, there.)

I only properly climbed a mountain a few years ago – and had never realised how triumphant it feels at the top (well, it was a foothill of the Himalayas, but it was still a mountain-top), having overcome a) my fear of heights and b) the overwhelming urge to turn round and go back down because it was just so, so hard, and scary, and my thighs were screaming so loudly in protest I was pretty sure they could hear them in Pakistan. Interestingly, my reward – apart from the view – was that something happened exponentially to my fitness on that one climb with the result that I find it so much easier to climb hills and even walk up escalators out of choice, now. So: another thing on that list which I totally agree with. More mountains.

Part of that poster’s message is about being more daring. Not just doing the same-old-same-old, but taking some risks. Trying different things. Travelling to places new. I was a bit of a scaredy-cat, as a young woman. Not so much, now – and life’s so much richer, as a result. I’ve a way to go before I voluntarily abseil down a cliff, but I can see that possibly, just possibly, I could rise to that challenge – and I can also envision the elation afterwards.

But most importantly, it’s about not having regrets. I often see people quoted, late in life, saying: ‘It’s not the things I did that I regret. It’s the things that I didn’t do.’ On a travel level, if I don’t get to Rajasthan, I’m really going to regret that. (Note to self: start researching that trip, and stop worrying about dying in a collision with a sacred cow on a road between Udaipur and Jodhpur.)

I’ve got a friend who’s basically been on a diet for all the years I’ve known her. For all that time, her weight has see-sawed – and she’s never knowingly enjoyed a guilt-free meal, at least not one I’ve shared with her. And I think she’s really beginning to regret it, since she’s fundamentally the same size as when we first met, but hasn’t ever allowed herself truly to enjoy food.

Food! Sustenance! Potentially the source of so much joy…! And I certainly don’t want to be someone who feels bad about having a generous slice of cake or a celebratory glass of champagne, and allowing myself small pleasures. (On which note: the ‘I would eat more ice cream’ line is pretty redundant, in my case. My ice cream quotient’s right up there, frankly, and I don’t regret a single lick.)

Above all, it’s about not having regrets about spending time with the people who matter to us, too. Small (daisy chain-loving) children, who become teenagers before you know it, and then drift away to university or get married and/or have babies, so that the only time you really can be sure of seeing them is when they come home for Christmas or to retrieve possessions from what was once your garage but is now a free storage unit, because at least it means you’ll see them when they do.

Friends, far and near. One of my big regrets is that recently, a team of my friends got together to cook for another mutual friend who was very sick, spending an hour over lunch with her in turn while feeding her delicious food. I was too busy to join the rota (I really was, but I should have juggled something). Well, the friend died. We’ll never get that time together, and that’s a regret which will always be a nagging, dull ache. (Another note to self: book that trip to Hay-on-Wye to catch-up with a really good, really old mate who I’ve been promising to visit for a decade, now. And haven’t got round to it.)

The bottom line is that in a world of social media and obsession with ‘likes’ and ghastly news on the TV and doom and gloom in newspapers, when everyone’s walking down the road looking at their phones and there are so very many small distractions to gobble up our days, I think we need to remind ourselves constantly what really and truly matters in life. For me, those few lines really made me check in with myself – and I’ve printed it out for my office wall, to act as a daily nudge in the direction of what really matters. Merry-go-rounds, daisies and all.

I reckon we probably all need to think about the things we’d put on a list like that of our own. I wonder: what would yours say…? And more importantly, what are you going to do about it, starting right now…?

Smile, Please!

three diffrent flavoured toothpastes on a green background with mint leaves

I’m always fascinated to talk to fellow entrepreneurs. I first stumbled across Lebon in Paris, in the new Printemps beauty store – and realised it was one of those ‘duh-why-didn’t-someone-think-of-it-before’ products. Ever since then, I’ve been wanting to talk to the creators of the first toothpaste brand that looks as good as it smells, smells as good as it tastes. (And happens to be organic, with it. Which definitely matters to those of us who care about what we put in our mouths.)

So no wonder this up-and-coming brand – created near perfumery’s capital of Grasse, working with one of that town’s leading fragrance houses – is revolutionising the toothpaste market, stocked in 30 countries around the world and in spiffy department stores including Joyce in Hong Kong and Le Printemps in Paris (and of course, right here on VH), just five years after launch.

Lebon turns out to be the ‘baby’ of former art historian and photographer Stephanie Palacci and her cosmetic scientist husband Richard. In fact, they were on a sojourn in Costa Rica, where the couple spent chunks of time with their two children, when the idea came to her. ‘It’s a country where smells are so powerful,’ Stephanie explained to me. ‘It was rainy season, and there were so many scents in the air – the grass, the forest, the jungle, the flowers, all the smells that you have after a tropical downpour. And it clicked for me: I wanted to have that experience when I brushed my teeth. I wanted to bring the beach, the forest, a sunlit afternoon, the joy of travel right into the bathroom for people.’

Both from entrepreneurial families, the couple had previously thought about creating a skincare brand together. ‘But everything has already been done, and we couldn’t imagine bringing something that was better to the market than was already in existence.’ Oral care, however, offered a gap in the market much, much wider than the one in Lara Stone’s smile. Sure, there was a new generation of luxury whitening toothpastes on the market. Yes, natural food stores now offered effective alternatives to the ultra-foaming mainstream brands who’ve dominated the toothpaste industry for forever. But a toothpaste that also whisked you to a desert island, a Côte d’Azur swimming pool or a beach in Rio, just as perfume can…? That had never been done. ‘When I told him my concept, Richard said: “I could do that.”’

At that time, when not ensconced in the jungles of Costa Rica, the couple were based in the South of France, where Richard worked teaching cosmetic science. Tentatively, they approached one of  most prestigious and historic perfume houses, founded in the 18th Century in nearby Grasse, which works with haute couture fragrance names and other leading international perfume brands. (Their identity remains a guarded secret, Stephanie explains – and I’ll let her off for being coy; when big brands get a whiff of start-ups’ success, there’s often an attempt to copy what they’re doing, which can crush a small brand with limited resources.)

Not surprisingly, the fragrance house became as excited by the project as the couple themselves. More surprisingly, Stephanie didn’t use her library of travel photographs as part of the briefing process. Instead, she explains, ‘we talked a lot about my memories of travel and the scent that places conjure up for me.’ It was a given that every fragrance for the range should have mint somewhere in its flavour/fragrance formula. ‘Above everything else, what you want a toothpaste to deliver is a sensation of freshness in the mouth – and nothing does that like mint,’ Stephanie acknowledges. But the complex aromas were built from there.

Tropical Crush, for instance, gives us mint in the background, playing up notes of luscious pineapple– conjuring up memories for Stephanie of drinking cocktails on Brazilian beaches – alongside anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial rooibos red tea. My own favourite, Sweet Extravagance – described by Lebon as ‘haute couture and sexy’ – offers very detectable notes of orange blossom and rose, with just a whisper of cool mintiness; a very different sensory experience, for sure, to the usual tooth-brushing drudgery. And you can turn the page for the globe-trotting stories behind the rest of the collection.

The other ‘given’, for the couple, was that their toothpaste should be organic. ‘I don’t want to have to compromise between my health – or that of my family – and a good, pleasurable moment, brushing my teeth,’ says this mother of two teenagers. The 97% natural formulas avoid sulfates, PEGs, artificial sweeteners, colourings and flavourings (the flavours, which all come from Grasse, are 100% natural, using the best press of essential oils). More recently, Lebon added whitening options to their range, innovatively using papain extract (from papaya) for its natural brightening enzyme effect. ‘They won’t make your teeth unnaturally super-white,’ she says, ‘but they will stop staining from tea or wine.’ The chosen sweetener, meanwhile, is the natural, calorie-free plant Stevia rebaudiana.

For logistical reasons, meanwhile, although the toothpastes – and now mouthwash – are all manufactured in France, the Palaccis relocated to the countryside outside Brussels. ‘From the office I can see cows and lambs,’ smiles Stephanie. ‘But I’m 20 minutes from the Eurostar or from flights to many different destinations. Brussels is a hub, whereas Provence just isn’t. And besides,’ she adds, ‘with a growing business and a family that was growing up, I needed the support system of being near my family.’

For world-class shoppers and brand aficionados, meanwhile, there are two last factors which make us happy to trade up from our usual toothpaste choices to Lebon – despite the fairly hefty price tag. (Though in my experience, a tube of Lebon lasts three to four months. As a fragrance-lover, I definitely spend way longer brushing my teeth now my toothpaste makes me close my eyes and think of St. Tropez or Costa Rica than I did before. And what price a great smile, eh?)

Lebon toothpastes also look completely fantastic – almost certainly, the first toothpastes on the planet which will have you re-arranging your bathroom shelf, to show off your toothpaste. They couldn’t do a better job of catching the customer’s eye from across a store. But in common with many start-ups, Lebon didn’t realise quite how clever they were being there, either. ‘It’s the icing on the cake,’ Stephanie maintains.‘It just reflected our aesthetic and our taste. People often talk about how cool the packaging is, now – but we haven’t been to business school and we certainly never used a focus group. We simply did what felt and looked right, to us.’

But what customers will also notice about Lebon is that they’ve taken inspiration from the fragrance industry when naming each toothpaste. ‘You don’t buy a perfume that is just called “Rose”, do you?,’ notes Stephanie. So Lebon offer us Cap Ferrat Mood, Back to Pamplelonne, Fearless Freedom… I wanted to recreate the experience I had when I put on my Hermès Un Jardin en Mediterrannée,’ explains Stephanie. ‘The name already gets my brain working in a particular way, I know what to expect… It takes me somewhere, even before I’ve sprayed my fragrance, and I wanted Lebon to offer an experience like that.’

We’re all used to our fragrance transporting us to far-flung places, as we dab and spritz. How exciting for perfume-lovers that the formerly mundane task of brushing our teeth can has been pimped into a magic carpet ride, too. Just don’t blame Stephanie Palacci if there’s a queue for your bathroom, from here on in.

I asked Stephanie to share her other travel inspirations for the Lebon range…

Cap Ferrat Mood ‘This is the freshest one. Saint-Jean Cap Ferrat is a peninsula in the South of France; there are a lot of pine forests where people walk and jog. The mixture of different mints conjures up the freshness of that, but with a touch of vanilla for sweetness. A great kick-start to the day.’

Villa Noacarlina ‘A combination of my children’s names, Charline (now 16) and Noe (13). We were staying in Costa Rica and we had cinnamon candles burning in the villa, so we recreated that in this toothpaste.’

Une Piscine à Antibes ‘Conjuring up the famous pool at the Hotel du Cap Eden Roc hotel in Antibes, looking out over the blue Mediterranean, where we love to swim.’

Sweet Extravagance ‘A reminder of a visit to Hollywood; there’s so much glitter there, and this combination of rose and orange blossom seems very extravagant, yet also has a delicate side.’

Le White ‘With antioxidant sweet mint, from Morocco, to evoke Moroccan tea.’

Fearless Freedom ‘This is more a mood than a place, from one of Richard’s ideas – designed to make you feel strong and courageous, with its powerful blackcurrant note.’

Back to Pamplelonne ‘Pure sunshine. When we visit Le Pamplelonne beach, we always have mango salad: little slivers of mango, layered with mint leaves. For me, this instantly brings back walking along sandy Mediterranean beaches.’

Shop the full range of Lebon toothpastes, here.

Jo Fairley’s Desert Island Beauty Picks

top down view of a vynyl record player with recond ontop and orange label in centre

So this is what happens when you shout at your radio. Half-joking. (Well, completely joking.) As a Desert Island Discs listener from the age of knee-high (my mother never missed an episode), I was standing in my kitchen listening to it on catch-up. (Thank heavens for podcasts.) Now, that week’s castaway happened to be someone I knew – but in truth, they weren’t being that interesting. So I said out loud (and quite loud) to my radio: ‘When are you going to ask me???!’

Which meant that naturally, when just four days later an e-mail landed in my inbox titled: ‘Desert Island Discs’, inviting me to be on the programme, I did wonder whether my Pure Evoke radio had (like Apple’s Alexa) somehow been listening to my every word and communicating directly with Radio Four.

I promptly hyperventilated, repeated ‘OMG’ about 73 times (I was away from home at the time), then rang my husband in tears. Because it is, quite simply, one of the most exciting things ever to have happened to me. An amazing honour. Something that has literally made the huge amount of hard work I’ve put into my various businesses (Green & Black’s, the Beauty Bible website, my bakery and wellbeing centre and The Perfume Society) all worth it. And completely surreal, actually – not least when I discovered after the show aired that it is the most listened-to radio programme in the world.

I had no idea quite how time-consuming the experience would be, however. Ever since then, the emails, Insta-messages and Facebook Messenger missives have been pinging constantly. I’ve reconnected with two (nice) old boyfriends, a couple of other long-lost friends and had no less than five missives from fellow pupils of the school I went to (and dissed in my broadcast), telling me they also had equally scathing put-downs from the same Scripture teacher who told me I’d never amount to anything. (And I quote: ‘Jo Fairley, if you ever make so much as a Girl Friday, I’ll eat my hat.’).

Now in my case, that ignited rocket fuel under my chair to prove her wrong – but some of the others weren’t so resilient and took years to get over the blows to their self-esteem. There was even one e-mail from a (slightly older) pupil who’d been told she would ‘burn in hell’ because a) her parents were divorced and b) she’d been spotted dancing on Ready, Steady, Go!

The recording experience itself – fuelled by squares of Green & Black’s and tea served in a Desert Island Discs mug – was beyond fun. Lauren Laverne is loveliness itself and if you listen, I think you can hear what a hoot the whole recording was. Although afterwards, the fear set in. Because it would, I think, be impossible to ‘fake it’ during the interview – it’s like sitting on a psychiatrist’s couch, with the music triggering heart-felt emotion as only music can. Only unlike that private experience, you suddenly realise your soul-baring is about to be shared with millions of others. I hadn’t realised until after the show aired that I’d basically been holding my breath for several weeks.

It got me thinking, though, about how the ‘desert island’ idea could be applied to other areas of life. Food, for example. (Miso, peanut butter, ACTUAL butter, Green & Black’s Sea Salt chocolate, veggie sausages, my home-made fennel pickle, Marmite and Brillat-Savarin cheese – though that’d pretty soon be making a break for it, in the heat! – would all be in my Desert Island pantry.) And naturally, it got me thinking about my beauty must-haves.

Now technically, I’m only allowed a single ‘luxury item’ on the island – and it turns out, I wasn’t the first guest to say I wanted to take my pillow, as my choice. But I happened to be listening to an old episode in which the ‘inventor’ and debut presenter of DID, Roy Plomley, allowed legendary film star Marlene Dietrich to take a whole box with various luxuries in. (And do listen to the show in the podcast archive – she chose an Adam Faith record, among others!). So, working on that basis, here’s what I’d stash in my desert island ‘vanity case’…

This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray. Even though I’ve a hunch my pillow will help me to drift off in my shell-bedecked, palm-frond shelter, I’d feel slightly insecure if I didn’t have this to hand for insomnia emergencies. (I’m thinking: weird rustlings in the undergrowth.) Just the best sleep-beckoning spray ever.

Coola Face SPF30 Mineral Sunscreen. This summer 2019 skincare must-have (for me) will be coming with me. A light-as-air, effective sunscreen without the chemical SPF ingredients which have so troubled my skin in the past. It’s a great base for make-up (um, not that I’ll be bothering with that.)

High Strength Hyaluronic Acid Capsules by VH. I’m not quite sure what would happen to my skin if I stopped taking HA – and I’ve no intention of finding out. Skin-plumping, joint-easing, eye-soothing… If I was really limited to one supplement for the rest of my life (and I really hope that never happens), it’d probably be this all-rounder.

Aromatherapy Associates Deep Relax Bath & Shower Oil. Taking an actual bath might prove problematical but I’m hoping that somewhere on the island there’ll be a waterfall and I can smooth this into my skin and shower before bedtime. I rely very much on its legendary, soothing blend of vetiver, patchouli and sandalwood to calm a whirring mind. (I’d find being alone on the island pretty stressful generally, so I’d better have a vat of this, I think.)

Alida Foot File. Because – as I never tire of telling people – happy feet make a happy woman (in this case, a happy castaway), and nothing buffs them more effectively than this Beauty Bible Award-winner.

Neurophroline Serum by GoW for VH. My new fave skincare treat. With a wonderful slippy texture, definite firming and brightening powers, this will help counter some of the skin stress caused by UV exposure – which is going to be pretty unavoidable.

Thyme Out. To tackle all those mozzie bites, scratches (from foraging for my dinner), nicks and general skin niggles. (And also because I worry that the itchiness Thyme Out has essentially been keeping under control for months might boomerang back if I dared to stop using it.)

Guayusa Leaves. I rely on this for daily get-up-and-go to help me tick things off my ‘To Do’ list and keep me generally going like the Duracell Bunny. And I’m going to need every bit of energy to build the raft which – as someone who is most definitely unsuited to roughing it – I’ll need to get me back to civilisation, a comfy bed, hot and cold running water, fluffy towels. And to my husband – who as several million Desert Island Disc listeners now know, is truly ‘wonderful’…

The Food Of Love

A row of carrots long ways cut in halfand resting on dirt

If ever I write a cookery book – and I guess with 25 books of varying kinds under my belt, it’s not entirely beyond the realms of possibility – then it will be called ‘Dried Onions & Donald Trump’. I realise that this may not be the catchiest title for a cookbook ever, um cooked up, but those are the two key reasons why I have truly embraced the kitchen, relatively late in life. And am experiencing the greatest, most unexpected joy, as a result.

First up, I have an allergy to chopping onions. Not the usual tear or two, but a Niagara of them which completely obscures my vision, sluices my mascara into my socks and puts me at risk of cutting my finger off, at any given moment. And since most savoury dishes have onions somewhere in their foundations, this used to be a real problem when it came to making everything from soups to casseroles via good old gravy. So I just didn’t. I mostly delegated making dinner to my husband, who has the ability to look in the fridge and rustle up a three-course meal when I look in the same fridge and the only thing I can think to make is a restaurant reservation.

But one life-changing (and marriage-changing) day surfing the internet, he found a source for organic dried onions (Just Ingredients, if you’re interested). OK, so they’re not going to cut the Dijon when it comes to recipes that require that lovely caramelly, slithery-finished, sweet type of onions – but a soup, a stock, a risotto, a casserole? Perfectly adequate for adding the right amount of onioniness. (I think I may just have invented a word there.) We buy them a kilo at a time, and I now make dinner more than he does.

Because the other factor in sending me scurrying into my bunker, sorry, kitchen, was Donald Trump. Basically, I decided that it was the only place I felt safe after he moved into the White House, like a sort of Smeg-equipped air raid shelter for the 21st Century. I have barely emerged since. Or at least, if I’m not in the office, I’m probably in the kitchen. No sooner are my eyes open on a Saturday morning than I’m downstairs making a batch of ‘Crackola’ (as the family have dubbed my can’t-stop-eating-it granola – or rather, Samin Nosrat’s granola recipe, from the excellent Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.) Out comes the state-of-the-art Titanium Kenwood mixer, a generous gift from a beloved friend (and right up there in my Best-Ever Pressies Hall of Fame). Into the oven go two trays of Crackola. 45 minutes later, we’re burning our fingers picking out caramelised pecans from those foil-lined trays, and everyone’s happy.

Each week, actually I have to make more and more, by popular request from family and friends. Ditto: fennel pickles. Ditto the newest addition to my repertoire, home-made ricotta – a culinary conjuring trick worthy of certification by The Magic Circle, yet so, so, soooooo easy. So easy that I’m actually going to share it with you here. Take two litres of whole milk and a bit of salt. Heat to 85 degrees (using a jam thermometer to measure – and don’t let the milk get hotter). Add 50 ml of white wine vinegar, stir for one minute, and hey, presto! ACTUAL CURDS. Three hours later, strain the lot into a colander (I just use a linen drying-up cloth), squeeze out the last of the whey, add more salt to taste as you fluff it up with a fork. That’s it. And I cannot tell you how blown away everyone will be.

The ultimate joy of cooking for me, though, is making food to make other people feel better. Bone broth for the poorly. Tempting, easy to digest dishes for the shell-shocked bereaved that they can pop in the oven and feed everyone with no more effort than turning a knob. Ditto food for people who’ve just moved house and can’t even find the kettle. (It happens.) And in the case of a young woman in my life who’s as close to a daughter as I’m ever going to get, who had a baby late last year and whose husband travels a lot for work, ‘A Year of Pie’. Comfort food is her favourite type of food. And is any hot dish more comforting than a potato- or pastry-topped pie…?

So that was Lily’s Christmas present – I designed an actual scroll on my computer and tied it with a ribbon – and I’m proud to say I’ve barely missed a week. And that way she knows, and I know, that there’ll be at least one good, hot, nutritious, organic, (and gluten and dairy-free) meal, made from scratch with fresh ingredients each week. And I honestly get the kind of pleasure from making that pie for her family each Saturday that once upon a time, long, long ago, I used to get from a Saturday morning of clothes-shopping in the boutiques of Brompton Cross.

I bought a great cookbook recently, with the rather wonderful name Extra Helping. (The title’s a play on words.) Its author, Janet Reich Eslbach – who I instantly deemed a kindred spirit – believes that through food, we can rebuild community. As she observes: ‘Growing and welcoming babies, nursing them through insults, moving house, suffering losses of near and dear ones, and all the other facts of lives… the things we survive have one common thread: if we got through it, we must have eaten something. The only thing that compares to the satisfaction of eating what’s just right for you in a particular moment of need is… the relief of not needing lift a finger to make it appear. How good it feels to be fed!’

Funnily enough, though, I wasn’t so good at feeding myself until very recently, when I stumbled upon another book I’m going to recommend, Signe Johannson’s Solo: The Joy of Cooking for One, which is filled with recipes for one person that are way, way more interesting (but not that much more hassle) than my go-to solo dinner halved-and-herbed tomato, baked potato and lashings of salty butter. It’s definitely pimped meals on nights when I’m home alone, with Signe’s great recipes for (among other dishes) miso ramen, Cuban-inspired rice and beans or courgette and ricotta fritter. (I happen to have a handy source of great ricotta…) Because if you are going to devote any time to cooking (and thereby caring) for others, you’ve really got to fuel yourself, too. ‘To secure another person’s oxygen mask, you must first apply your own,’ observes Janet Reich Elsbach. Well, quite.

The bottom line? If Donald Trump does hang on in the White House in 2020, I’m armed. With my rolling pin, my whisk, my Nutribullet, my Titanium mixer. And an arsenal of dried onions…