As Honestly with Clemmie Telford goes into its second season, Stylist sits down with the podcast’s host to talk about everything honesty, authenticity and how talking about death helped her to feel liberated.
Take a casual scroll through the feeds of your favourite Instagram accounts, and you’re likely to notice one thing: authenticity is officially cool.
Besides the perfectly edited, smiling photos of influencers frolicking on a beach or posing in the most beautiful locations, you’ll also see candid captions on mental health issues and shots of a messy kitchen accompanied by the tag #instagramvsreality.
We’re finally waking up to the power of sharing true life: instead of putting our effort into curating idealised profiles filled with highlights of our days, many of us now enjoy being that little bit more truthful online. And if you’re looking at one of the original enthusiasts of the authenticity movement, you needn’t look any further than blogger-turned-podcast host Clemmie Telford.
“Six or seven years ago when I became a parent, there was very much this idea of ‘perfect parenting’ and perfection in everything we do, whether that be a career or marriage,” explains Telford “I found that really difficult because reality isn’t like that – so I started out sharing an honest version of my life.”
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And that she did. In May 2018, the parenting blogger posted a picture of herself at 40 weeks pregnant, sitting on the toilet in her underwear, make-up free and staring straight into the camera. Nine months later, she posted a photo sat in the same position, now with her nine-month-old daughter on her lap. She captioned the image “40 weeks in vs 40 weeks out”.
“The more honest I was, the more people were honest back with me,” she says, recalling those early Instagram days. “It was so reassuring to discover that other people were going through the same thing.”
Having experienced the power of honesty in its rawest form, Telford went on to create her blog Mother of all Lists, which features candid bullet-pointed articles about everything from sobriety to estrangement. Then, she started the Honestly podcast.
“I was having these great connections online but I really wanted to have the opportunity to talk to people – just sit and have a conversation,” she explains, when asked about the origin of Honestly.
“I wanted to have really open conversations about the difficult subjects with people who have got social followings and also some ‘ordinary’ people,” she continues. “I love the fact – something I’ve learnt through social media – that you could be walking through the street or sitting in a café and every single person there will be going through something different, no matter how big or small that something is. We need to remember that, because it’s always good to come from an open, empathetic place – with everyone.”
Season one of Honestly saw Telford tackle a number of “difficult” subjects, including marriage, race and money, but there were two episodes in particular which made her “palms sweat”: death and cancer.
The episode on cancer, which served as the conclusion to the podcast’s first season, saw Telford sit down with Deborah James and Saima Thompson, both of whom live with Stage Four cancer. While Telford admits that living with terminal cancer is obviously “the worst imaginable state for all of us” she thinks there’s a lot we can learn from talking about the difficult subjects.
“You talk to [James and Thompson] and there is still so much humour, I’m laughing with them on the episode,” Telford explains. “They’re just people – suddenly, it just stops the scariest thing seeming scary.
“Once you’ve moved past the awkwardness,” she adds, “you feel really liberated.”
While Telford remains a firm advocate of being honest and confronting the subjects which scare us, she admits there are some guests and topics she isn’t quite ready to tackle yet.
“The one I’m still yet to do is have a conversation about sex. As a kind of ‘modern woman’ I thought ‘oh, you know, I’ll be cool with that,’ but I tapped into it a couple of times in the other episodes and it made me really prudish – I surprised myself!” she admits, laughing.
“[My dream guest would be] Russell Brand,” she continues, “but I absolutely know I would get him in a room and I would have nothing to say, I’d be so daunted by the size of his brain. I’m not ready – let me learn what I’m doing a bit better first.”
Some would say Telford is an expert of the podcast world by now. She’s two episodes into season two, has 14 episodes under her belt in total, and boasts a 4.5-star rating on Apple Podcasts.
Still, she says she has a lot more she wants to learn – and is picking up skills with every episode she records.
“People don’t often say this, but learning to do a podcast is a whole new skill! I’d never done one when I started season one, and you just assume that people know how to do it. Now I’m learning how to do it and getting more relaxed in myself as a presenter – and I hope that that comes across in the series.”
As for what we have to look forward to in season two, Telford says she’s just excited to have “more conversations” and learn from her guests. So far this season, she’s tackled the topics of fear and disability.
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“I think that we really forget the skill of listening and thinking at the same time – it’s rare that you sit and lock in with one person and just have a conversation. It’s a very rare thing now, and it’s a joy actually, it really is,” she says.
On that note, what does she think listeners should take away from season two?
“I hope they’ll have the guts to speak about something that they find awkward,” she explains. “Or to have that awkward conversation with somebody else.
“We are all going through difficult things,” she adds. “Even if you might not be going through the same difficult thing as the next person, being able to talk about these things – and in turn listen to other people – is so reassuring.“
If you’ve got a guest you’d like to see on the podcast, a topic you’d love Clemmie to discuss or an idea you want to share, you can get in contact on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Images: Carsen Windhorst @carsen_windhorst/Mags Creative