Monday 24 July 2017

Life lessons with Kirstie Allsopp: Domestic goddess on her perfect Christmas

Kirstie Allsopp: 'I know I can be outspoke, but when you're in the public eye you have a responsibility to talk about matters that are important to you'.
Kirstie Allsopp: 'I know I can be outspoke, but when you're in the public eye you have a responsibility to talk about matters that are important to you'.
Rise to fame: Kirstie with her Location, Location, Location co-presenter Phil Spencer.

Susan Griffin

There's no better time of year for craft than Christmas, and there's no better ambassador for all things handmade than Kirstie Allsopp (44). Born in London, she is the eldest daughter of Charles Allsopp, a former chairman of Christie's Auctioneers, and Fiona McGowan, an interior designer who passed away last year from breast cancer.

Kirstie first came to fame as the host of house-hunting TV hit Location, Location, Location, alongside Phil Spencer. She has since published four books and presented a dozen television programmes on crafting and home decorating. She lives in London with her sons, Oscar (7) and Bay (9), her step-sons, Hal (13) and Orion (16), and her partner, property developer Ben Anderson.

I think spending family time together is more important than ever. As a result of modern forms of communication, many people never truly leave the office. It's all too easy to be a 24/7 worker. I believe that to develop the habit of actively switching off and spending time with my family is very important.

Parenting to me means learning - all the time. It seems to me that boys require a level of energy, and sometimes it's hectic, but I am learning all the time.

In my home, the golden rule is that nobody's allowed a Wi-Fi-connected device in their bedroom. You'd never take your 10-year-old son to a porn shop and say "Pick what you want," but if you let your children have open access to the internet, that's what you're doing. I don't believe their Facebook and Instagram are private, either. They're not diaries under your pillow. Employers look at your social media history.

The internet's a wonderful new world, which has improved our lives immeasurably, but like every advance, it has dangers. It's our responsibility as parents to be aware of them.

Weekends are supposed to be the opposite of the week, so we tend not to do that much. I love that feeling on a Saturday evening when we're not going anywhere. Just Ben and me lying in bed with the kids watching family TV. I'm very strict about having my weekends.

My career came about by accident. I feel a bit anti-feminist saying this as I'm a passionate feminist but I didn't have ambition when I was younger. My mum was married with four children and had a framing business and I thought it was the way forward. Loads of people today are doing just that - bringing up a family and running a small business on the side and that was absolutely my ambition. Nobody would marry me and I still haven't got married so I thought, "I'm going to have to work then."

I know I can be outspoken but when you're in the public eye, you have a responsibility to talk about matters that are important to you. If you have a platform, you should use it. This has got me in trouble in the past - for instance last year when I said women should start having babies earlier. Now all the fertility experts are saying the same thing, I feel like saying, "I told you so!"

Once you experience blinding grief, it makes you very afraid. In a way, mum was incredibly lucky. She was 42 when she first got cancer, and she was 67 when she died. She survived far longer than most other people.

Grief, for me, wasn't spiritual; instead it has made me very, very scared of losing someone else that I love. Ben and the children are terrible risk-takers. I want them to lead that outdoorsy life, but that doesn't mean I never get scared.

I don't drink a lot of alcohol, I eat healthily and I have regular (breast cancer) scans. My sister, Sofie, had a double mastectomy in 2010, but I don't want to have one. I'm older now than my mother was when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer.

For me, a perfect family day is anything that involves water, so by the sea, around a pool, on the banks of a river. When you are outside, you are away from the house and so the temptation to be busy around the home and get tasks done is removed. You get the chance to focus on each other.

What you get a chance to do at Christmas is decorate your house and eat loads and drink loads and exchange gifts - and it's really brilliant. I am a fan of a really lavish Christmas breakfast, so scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and lots of toast, and then having a supper about 5pm or 6pm and not trying to do a lunch, because that's quite a lot of pressure.

Get people involved. Send a note out early in December and ask if people want to get involved, or if anyone wants to bring a pudding or a starter, or to come around and decorate the tree - whatever it is. My brother is really territorial about the roast potatoes, so why would I try and do those? He does them better.

I'm not rushing around on Christmas Eve looking for presents. Not that I'm ultra-organised. I'm a big TK Maxx fan and if I go there at any time of the year and find a really good deal on scented candles or scarves, or something for the house, then I'll buy it and put it in the present cupboard.

I think people make expensive mistakes at the last minute. You're better off buying good value things throughout the year and storing them in one place. Don't store them throughout the house, because you'll forget about them.

There's one great Christmas cliché which I think is probably the most true. It's all about the children.

Remember you're coming straight from Channel 4 news into my show. Everyone needs a little something to lighten the mood, and that's what we set out to do. It's 100pc escapism. Glitter and warm and cosy and we hope it's inspiring and a really valuable hour of your time before Christmas.

'Kirstie's Handmade Christmas' airs on Channel 4 at 8pm on Tuesday, December 8

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