Meet The Super Extremists

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Stylist Team
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The Stylist Census has shown there’s a group of you who do everything to excess

Words: Kate Spicer

Photography: Ellen Von Unwerth

I knew I shouldn’t take on this commission. When Stylist rang I was in the middle of an over-adventurous piece for a newspaper. It would take me all week and involve making phone calls to New York at 2am. Of course, I said yes anyway. I imagined having a quiet week and promptly went to the reopening of the Electric (cinema and diner) in Notting Hill and had an ill-advised Corpse Reviver cocktail on my way out at a sensible 10pm. I somehow managed to pop back in again. I left again at a less clever hour, having agreed to host a few events for someone.

I’ve always been like this. When I first arrived in London as a student, I bought a £10 bike. I pedalled it from my halls on the King’s Road to the Strand every day. It was fun, cheap, kept me fit and helped my thighs look good in cycling shorts, which were smoking hot clubwear in 1988. I would wear them with Fila trainers when I went out. It was the early days of raving and acid house, and I realised that the healthier I was, the longer I could keep going at night and still get to college in, roughly, one piece the next morning.

Yup, I got a lot of bang from that ten buck bike. It taught me something – and not just that riding it home past parked cars drunk at night often left scratch marks on parked vehicles. (Oops.) I discovered how much I liked adrenaline and endorphins, the feelgood chemicals released in the body when I rode fast and reckless. The highs are more sober now, but the adrenaline still drives me on, and on, and on.

In polite circles it’s called a portfolio lifestyle, which sounds sensible and considered. The description ‘extremist’ is more accurate. The extreme life is an entity in itself. Racing from one project to the next is a buzz and an addictive one. It ensures you get through life without missing opportunities. Ish. And it seems a select few of you know precisely what I mean; the Stylist Census uncovered a rare but definite breed of women who do everything to excess: at work and in their social life. It found that 13.3% of women who drink over 15 units a week also take part in five or six sessions of sport a week. Not only that, 6.3% of the women who do drink heavily earn over £80K – as do 6.7% of the sport fanatics – painting a picture of a small group of high achievers, with up-at-dawn work ethics, party-till-dusk social lives and a demanding training schedule in-between. No doubt they also submit work to their Open University professor as they travel between the gym and their highpowered jobs and, later, that new club you haven’t heard of – yet.

I am a mere amateur at this extremist thing. I first met Joanne Cash, 42, on a boat in Ibiza, and while she seemed incredibly clever, I assumed she was another island idiot on the search for a good time. Joanne was not an idiot; she just got about more than the average bluestocking. She has been a successful barrister, working with a think tank on the side, and campaigning for freedom of expression. She stood for parliament and now has a small child and oh yes, three different occupations. She wanted to be at home with her child, so she retrained as an interior designer. She also develops property and does some consultancy that I am not allowed to know about. It all sounds very James Bond.

Living to excess

Britt Lintner is 40 and works in finance, in a job that demands 10-hour days followed by business dinners and events. I have no idea how she managed until recently to run a successful workwear label for city women, crop up on the social pages every now and again, plus have the coolest circle of girlfriends. She always looks impeccable. I swear she can stretch the space-time continuum to suit her schedule.

Can I ask you a few questions about your portfolio life, I ask her, politely. “Yup, make it quick.” Why is she such a dynamo? “I’m curious, get bored quickly and have a thirst for knowledge. It makes for a fun life journey. Next!” Britt doesn’t think she’s big or clever. Like me, she gets slightly exasperated by herself: “I am a blue-arsed fly with no attention span, I have no life balance.”

Professor Marvin Zuckerman came up with the Sensation Seeking Scale (SSS). I’ll spare you the science bits, but he thinks everyone sits on the SSS and you are born that way. If your sensation seeking isn’t directed into the positive – snowboarding, skydiving, or feats of professional impossibility – it will be directed into doing risky things with bad men and partying like it’s 1999 every day.

High sensation seeking behaviour is in your nature, it drives crazy risk-taking bankers and Courtney Love stage-diving in no knickers. It drove the wonderful journalist, Marie Colvin, who died in Syria earlier this year. She was a war correspondent and sailor, she had a chaotic love life and an ability to party like a girl half her age. She was a Super Extremist, and an extraordinary human being.

Extreme lifestyle people are 10s on the SSS. I reckon I’m a seven, and that’s hard enough to navigate. I start each week intending to have a quiet week, I start each new year intending to focus on my career. But I am incapable of saying no. Earlier this year I got roped into a press trip to Oman, and found out it was actually for some kind of reality TV show on Middle Eastern television. I let my instinct drag me here and there. It can take me to good places. When I made the documentary Mission To Lars, about my learning disabled brother, I was driven by everything but reason. I did not think it would come off, or that anyone would ever see it, but I am incapable of ignoring an urge. Unfortunately that also applies to the urge for a Corpse Reviver at 4am on a Monday.

I wanted to reason that the super-extreme lifestyle is a response to the recession but the more I thought about it, the less that seemed true. Extremist behaviour costs me a fortune and means I don’t spend enough time cleaning my flat. A boyfriend dithered about proposing to me because he doubted my ability to be domesticated. Actually, I’m a capable cook, I said. “I was thinking more about making a home, not just eating the odd meal,” he said. Could I really not create a home? Had this extremist urge denied me the chance to be happy and settled and loved? I pondered this thought in the messy devastation of my flat. My answer was right there, in the sitting room with no curtains and hall full of bike, snowboard, a sombrero and Prada shoes kicked off last night.

It makes a sort of chaos in the end that is its own addiction, lurching from one thing to another. I remember training for the Marathon des Sables (150 miles in six days across the Sahara with everything on your back), which I was running for Mencap, while simultaneously organising a party for 300 people. I was very late with some copy for a paper. My editor rang me and balled me out, big time. I got on my bike, crying with frustration at myself and promptly went over the handlebars. It doesn’t always work out doing so many things…

Elizabeth van den Berg, 37, head of a financial services practice

  • “I trained for the New York Marathon during my lunch hours, and I keep applying for others with the hope of running the London Marathon next year.”
  • “I completed my Executive MBA at Cambridge University (a 20-month programme while in full-time employment).”
  • “I’m originally from South Africa and my fiancé is American. We often travel at weekends to attend weddings and take the red-eye flight back on Sunday night and go straight to work.”
  • “We don’t have a television; we go indoor rock climbing, do yoga or see friends instead. I love cooking and entertain as often as I can and my largest dinner party this year was for 18 people.”
  • “I’m addicted to skiing; my fiancé and I skied in six countries this year: Italy, France, Austria, Switzerland, Canada and America.”
  • “I organised our engagement party for 100 people in May, while arranging for our house to be rented out during the London 2012 Olympics.”

Amanda Jones, 28, social entrepreneur

  • “I have a stake in two companies, work on projects and do consultancy work. Juggling these commitments means I work every day, including weekends.”
  • “I work 16-hour days and exist on four to six hours sleep a night, except for one night each weekend when I sleep for a 12-hour stint.”
  • “I’m a qualified dance teacher and I’m applying for an MA in Dance Movement Psychotherapy. This year I founded and run Irreverent Dance, which organises LGBTQ-friendly, body positive dance classes. I instruct five classes two nights a week and on weekends.”
  • “I’m training to run the London Marathon for the FPA (sexual health charity) and train three to four times a week.”
  • “I was a keynote speaker at the United Nations Millennium Development Goals summit this year in the context of my humanitarian experience.”
  • “I do advocacy work for non-traditional relationships and was recently interviewed on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and Channel 4’s”

Sarah Barrows, 25, works in PR

  • “I’m a fitness freak; I get up at 6.30am to run three and a half miles, cycle four miles to the gym and then do a spin or pump class before work.”
  • “My work is really full on – I juggle multiple clients and often squeeze in organising celebrity events around my other work.”
  • “I feel uncomfortable if I’m not super busy and experiencing new things all the time, so I organise nights out at new pop-up bars, the theatre or dinner three to four nights a week.”
  • “My boyfriend is renovating his flat so on a rare night in, we do some decorating.”
  • “I do charity work for RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) so I take part in fundraising activities such as baking cakes to sell at work, organising a beauty sale and collecting money at the Tube.”
  • “I’ve already planned a ski trip next January, a girls’ weekend in February, a holiday to Dublin in March, Ibiza in the summer and I want to squeeze in a trip to China.”