Fearne Cotton interviews her longtime friend, broadcaster and journalist Emma Freud, on family, friendships and everything in-between.
Emma Freud (OBE) is a broadcaster, cultural commentator, producer and script editor. While starting her career in television and radio, she has spent more recent years working as a script editor and associate producer – and has worked on a number of projects with her boyfriend of 27 years, Richard Curtis (think Love Actually and Four Weddings & A Funeral, to name just two).
Here, Freud speaks to her life-long friend (and our guest editor), Fearne Cotton, about finding happiness, the pressures of ‘mum guilt’ and why she will never marry Curtis.
I have known you for many years and I have I think I have an accurate sense of how you like to run your family. Happiness seems to be of paramount importance. Am I correct?
Most of the time I’m just trying to make sure everyone is fed, nobody dies, the rabbit stops peeing on the sofa and the school bus guy doesn’t send us ANOTHER note saying that our child is consistently late.
You are juggling five very different characters constantly in your family set up, four kids varying in age and your long loving boyfriend. How do you make it work?
It’s complicated – like a sort of human Rubix cube – but now that we are through the early years and nobody needs their bottoms wiped, it’s intellectually challenging, pretty exciting and enjoyably unpredictable. The one predictable bit is that despite it being 2018, if something unexpected happens and things needs to change, it’s me that does the changing.
How do you keep the harmony when everyone has a different agenda?
You have also continued to work throughout your pregnancies and post-natal periods as a broadcaster and journalist, how was that for you?
There hasn’t been a week of my life since we had children that I haven’t had to re-juggle the balance between home and work. I feel very lucky to be a freelance so I can swap around my commitments when I need to – but it’s never settled, and I’ve made peace now with the fact that I have to re-balance it regularly.
Do you ever suffer with ‘mum guilt’? I do constantly and it’s something I must find more balance with. I think many women feel the same.
“Yes, I do, but I don’t know many mums that don’t in one form or another. I think it’s very important for my children to see me working, especially when it’s charity-based. I’m proud to say all four of my kids have an amazing work ethic, and I’d like to think that some of that is down to us as parents.”
I love that you call Richard your boyfriend, it makes my heart burst when I hear those words. You’ve been with Mr Curtis for many year’s but ‘boyfriend’ always has a feeling of newness about it, does that keep everything fresh in your mind in regards to your dynamic and relationship? Why did you never feel the need to marry?
When we were working on Four Weddings And A Funeral, we added up the number of weddings we had both been to and it was over 100. Those weddings were the basis of the movie, and also the reason that neither of us could imagine going down an aisle. And I always thought that if we didn’t get married, we could never get divorced.
He did present me with a ring 27 years ago and ask me if I’d spend the rest of my life not being married to him. He’s an excellent boyfriend, and is everything I admire in life.
Your daughter, Scarlett, is very open about her life experiences online and has a big following who look up to her and admire her honestly and vulnerability, how have you coped as a mother with Scarlett’s struggles?
Scarlett was really ill for five long years and it was horrific for her. She had to leave school at 14 and never really went back. I coped because I had to, but they were dark times, though it’s made us incredibly close. It wasn’t easy for our three boys either, but they learnt an important lesson: life is complicated. Just because we live in a nice house, it doesn’t mean s**t doesn’t happen.
Do you and Richard ever disagree with the upbringing of your children and general family ethos?
We share the big picture – both wanting our family to be gentle, functional, unentitled, kind, caring and generous. And neither of us want our children to be particularly exposed to the trappings of the movie business that we work in.
But we definitely have different opinions on the smaller things. I think you grow to balance each other out as you live together: it’s the yin yang thing. Richard’s very keen on things being safe and secure – which makes me ever more reckless. I always loved the sight of the kids running around on the lawn naked in the summer when they were little – while Richard was always running after them trying to get them to put on some clothes. I don’t really believe in children doing homework, whereas he doesn’t have a problem with it. That kinda thing.
What do you think the key to a happy family is?
A dishwasher to minimise arguments over washing up. Lots of phone chargers so that nobody wants to murder the person who stole the only one in the house. And very occasionally, I’ll just not send them into school and we’ll have an adventure instead. If anyone from my sons’ schools are reading this – I promise the adventures are educational. (They aren’t.)
How important is communication to you?
It’s everything. We have a WhatsApp group which is great for comedy and ridiculous photos. There’s a lot of texting and emailing, and a huge wallpaper roll of paper on the kitchen wall with diaries, notes, lists and messages. When it’s full it gets torn off, binned and a clean sheet is pulled down.
‘Me’ time is so important when you have a busy family life. What or where is your happy place to switch off and just be you?
My home is in Suffolk where I grew up and my children have spent almost every holiday. It’s the place in the world which makes the most sense to me. It’s entirely accepting, and feels like pressing re-boot every time I’m there.
For one day only on Tuesday 27 March, Fearne Cotton has taken over stylist.co.uk and transformed it into her very own Happy Place – a digital sanctuary, focusing entirely on wellness, happiness and good mental health.
For similarly inspiring and uplifting content, check out Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place, available on Apple Podcasts now.
Images: Instagram / Getty