As you may know, March 8th is International Women’s Day. This year, more than ever before, it’s an event that really resonates with me. Throughout this past year, I’ve been sustained by the belief, care and support of a valued group of female friends and associates. In turn, this has prompted me to think of all the women who have inspired and motivated me throughout my life. Ladies: it’s so very important to raise each other up, and celebrate the achievements of women – in good times and bad. So, read on to discover a selection of my role models; what I admire most about them; and how they have encouraged me.
The interior designer: Kit Kemp
As most of you will be aware, interiors is one of my specialties. I admire a huge range of interior designers – but Kit Kemp is one of my absolute favourites. Full disclosure: I’m not really into minimalism. My ongoing home renovation features a variety of different colours, patterns and textures. I prefer some colour in my schemes, then they do not look too bland. It’s no surprise, then, that Kit’s work has always inspired me. She uses colour and pattern so creatively, but so very cleverly. Her interiors are eye-catching and innovative, but never trashy or contrived. And believe me, that’s not easy to achieve!
Design aside, there are many different strings to Kit’s bow, which makes her a perfect choice to celebrate International Women’s Day. She’s an accomplished author, fragrance designer, and respected champion of British art. But perhaps she’s best known for her role as Founder and Creative Director of Firmdale Hotels. The Ham Yard Hotel, in London Soho, is one of my favourite places on earth. The bar and restaurant décor there is such a stylish showcase of how to juxtapose different colours, fabrics and styles. It’s among the first destinations on my (very long!) list of places to revisit when lockdown eases. I can hardly wait!
The fitness guru: Lynne Robinson
I’ve been a big fan of Pilates for years. Switching from machine Reformer to the mat version has allowed me to continue exercising throughout lockdown. But I’m still a mere beginner compared with some of the amazing practitioners that are out there. One of whom is Lynne Robinson, another huge inspiration to me. Lynne has been practising Pilates for over 30 years. She’s the world’s top-selling Pilates author, and she’s trained the likes of Liz Hurley, Pat Cash and Sophie Dahl. What Lynne doesn’t know about Pilates probably isn’t worth knowing! I love that she has introduced so many people – from all walks of life – to Body Control Pilates. And it I find it so encouraging that she continues to learn and develop herself. As you can imagine, I was thrilled to receive this inspirational message from her, in support of my International Women’s Day feature:
“Now a proud grandmother, I’ve been practicing Pilates for over 30 years (and I’m still way off perfect!). Pilates has helped me with back pain, stress headaches and pelvic floor problems. It has changed my shape and my posture, (which was awful). And it has granted me moments of serenity and calm in an otherwise demanding weekly schedule. But I believe Pilates’ greatest gift has been self-understanding. I have learnt to trust my body, and let it be my guide.”
The beauty star: Charlotte Tilbury
Make-up maven Charlotte Tilbury transformed the world of beauty when she introduced her eponymous brand back in 2013. Eschewing traditional routes to launch, she started off with one cosmetics counter at Selfridges, before opening her flagship stand-alone store in London’s Covent Garden. The rest, as they say, is history. In 2020, the brand was acquired by perfume powerhouse Puig (think Paco Rabanne, Nina Ricci and Jean Paul Gaultier). Charlotte retains a significant minority stake, and is set to continue as chairman, president and CEO.
How do I love thee, Charlotte? Let me count the ways. I love Charlotte’s first-class skills and knowledge. Her work as a make-up artist during the 80s and 90s was flat-out amazing. I love the products she’s created (Magic Cream and Pillow Talk Lipstick are life-enhancing, end of). But most of all, I love her attitude and belief. Charlotte has always been honest and unapologetic about the transformative power of make-up. Forget notions of fluff and frivolity. This is a woman who recognised the power of make-up, and the confidence it instils. She then had the courage and drive to turn this knowledge into a business that made her millions (and the rest of us much happier with what we see in the mirror!). Beauty plus brains really is an inspirational combination.
The health expert: Dr Zoe Williams
No article on International Women’s Day inspirational figures would be complete without a medical element. Health and wellness has never been more important, and I’m a huge fan of how well Dr Zoe Williams cuts through the clutter. The world of medicine can be very confusing. I really admire how Dr Zoe debunks dangerous myths and promotes safe, effective lifestyle measures. ‘Trust Me, I’m a Doctor’ is must-see TV in my house!
You would think that qualifying as a practicing GP was challenging enough, yet somehow Dr Zoe has found time to do so many other things too! She is Sky 1’s undefeated Gladiator ‘Amazon’. She is an accomplished Rugby Union player. And in 2017 she founded the non-profit organisation Fit4LifeCiC, to help and support young people with challenging lives. How does she do it?!
The foodie: Nigella Lawson
Regular readers will know that, like interiors, food plays a big role in my life. For me, one of the most inspirational women in this field is Nigella Lawson. This is not just because of the amazing recipes she creates. I admire many things about Nigella, including her exquisite writing ability. She might be my go-to Domestic Goddess, but she’s a gifted wordsmith too. But perhaps what I respect the most is her attitude to food. Quite simply, Nigella enjoys eating. In her latest book ‘Cook, Eat, Repeat’, she writes: “Food, for me, is a constant pleasure: I like to think greedily about it, reflect deeply about it, learn from it.” She openly admits that food provides comfort, inspiration, meaning and beauty in her life, as well as sustenance and structure. What a positive message, in a world where eating disorders, especially among children and teenagers, are on the rise! Nigella doesn’t do extremes. She doesn’t use food (or lack thereof) to punish or persecute herself. And if she fancies a slice of cake, she’ll eat one, enjoy it and move on. I admire this philosophy greatly! We should all aim to be a bit more Nigella.
The fashion legend: Coco Chanel
My last International Women’s Day inspiration is the incomparable Coco Chanel. She’s best known for her timeless designs, the Little Black Dress and THAT famous fragrance. But she was much more than a mere fashion designer. In fact, she totally transformed fashion. Coco was an astute businesswoman too, building an empire that endures today. She was also admirably brave, forging her own path in what was then very much a man’s world, with scant regard for convention and expectation. I love this! Coco wore what she wanted, loved the men she wanted (never marrying!) and blazed a trail for women all over the world, in so many different ways. I believe that visibility is so important in terms of inspiring the next generation. Far too many fields are still difficult for women to break into (as a former journalist, I speak from experience). Rising to the top is harder still. But if you can see it, it’s easier to believe you can be it. That’s why pioneers such as Coco Chanel are still so invaluable today.
I’m very grateful for all the women who have helped me to believe I can achieve whatever I set out to. Together, let’s build each other up and keep this momentum going!