GRACE DADS: Is Simon Hooper Britain's Best Insta-dad?

GRACE DADS: Is Simon Hooper Britain’s Best Insta-dad?

It could be a scene from many a kitchen before school. A bowl of cereal has been splashed across the floor, rice crispies are everywhere and curly-haired little girls with dummies clamped into their mouths scowl into the camera. But for Simon Hooper, Britain’s best-known dad on social media, spilt cereal is Instagold...

Since his first post two years ago, Hooper, aka Father of Daughters, has been spinning said gold from the ups and downs of life with his four young daughters into an 838k-strong Instagram following. He saw the community of mothers that grew around his wife Clemmie’s account (Mother-of-Daughter’s has 482k followers but is on a well-deserved Insta-break – we hope she comes back soon) and decided to present a father’s perspective on life with Anya, 10, Marnie, seven, and two-year-old identical twins Ottilie and Delilah. It is no mean feat. Accessible and hilarious, his posts reach a larger collective following than the average reality show, regularly gaining 80k likes at a time. The one-man Insta-sensation has now written a book about life in a house brimming with females, Forever Outnumbered: Tales Of Our Family Life. The Grace Tales caught up with him to find out about becoming a dad at 24, what happened when he let a stranger in to visit his breastfeeding wife – and whether he will ever try for a boy (as well as how many times he has been asked that question). Words: Claire Brayford

What is it like to live your life forever outnumbered?

I guess I don’t know any different now. I’ve just become accustomed to the constant noise, mountains of clothing, dolls, hairbands and the ever-increasing amount of nail varnish that comes with living in a house in which I’m the only male representative.

How did you find writing this book?

I actually found the experience quite therapeutic. I’ve never had a chance to just unload about what my life was like apart from to my wife and she’ll just tell me to get on with it. Most guys I know don’t talk about the issues they face with family life that openly. We prefer to bury our heads in the sand or spend time in the shed, pretending to finish off projects that will never see the light of day, but I actually found this to be a great way to air the daily grind that is bringing up small people. Instagram gave me a creative outlet for my writing and at the time, I was one the few people using the captions to really add context to the pictures, while also injecting some humour. It allowed me to find my voice and gave me a passion for writing that I’d lost when I left school. The next natural step was to write a book and although originally I was going to write an honest parenting guidebook for dads, to help them understand that we all face challenges and that it’s ok to fail sometimes, it became more than that as I wrote it. It became my life as a parent on paper.

Why did you decide to write it?

I’d seen a multitude of parenting books written by women, but very little from the perspective of dads. Traditionally, we’re the quieter ones who just get on with things, but I felt people would want to hear about what it all looks like from the other side right from conception through to where we are today.

How long did it take you?

Nine months – I refer to this period as my own personal pregnancy as the end has resulted in my own baby of sorts. I’ve always been quite structured when it comes to approaching things (you have to be when you have four kids who are the equivalent of black holes running around your ankles draining your attention), so the writing itself came quite easily. I had a plan and I stuck to it. It was finding the time to write that was the real challenge. In the end, I was balancing my day job, parenting the four girls and maintaining my Instagram so the only time I really had without interruptions was after everyone went to bed. For nine months straight I wrote between the hours of 10 pm and 2 am and existed on between four and six hours of broken sleep a night. When I finally submitted it, I slept for almost two days straight!

I loved the story about the random woman who popped round with smoothies for Clemmie when she had first given birth – did you ever work out who she was?

Haha! Yes, it was a lady who had started a smoothie business for breastfeeding mothers and had somehow got our address. That was an odd one and made me realise that my door policy may need tightening up and that may need to be overly polite to people can get me in hot water.

And do you have a favourite anecdote from the book?

There’s a lot to chose from, but I think my favourite is when I did an indoor science experiment with the girls while Clemmie was out (she isn’t a fan of messy play so we only do it when she’s at least 10 miles away). I’d decided to make a small rocket fuelled by bicarbonate of soda and vinegar. The first attempt went ok, but the rocket only lifted off the table a couple of inches and I could tell the girls weren’t impressed. So I did what any man would do in this situation – I quadrupled the quantities of the ingredients and shook the whole thing until the bottle was solid under the pressure. When it finally took off, it launched with such force that it dented the ceiling and sprayed the ingredients all over the kitchen and dining room. The entire place was covered in brown liquid that smelt like a fish and chip shop. Panic set in, so I hurriedly push the girls into the garden while making them promise on pain of death they wouldn’t tell their mother and I cleaned up but the stains wouldn’t come off. In the end, I repainted the whole room in just under an hour in white emulsion. When Clemmie came back, she didn’t mention anything for about 10 minutes while I sweated away for fear of being caught out. I thought I’d got away with it until she said that she could smell fresh paint and that I had better come clean about what had happened. Damn you Dulux, I thought the can said it was odour-free!

Tell us about your day job – what do you love about it?

I’m an operations director for a management consultancy firm in London. I’ve worked there for almost 11 years and I love it because it provides me with several things: the opportunity to use my brain to solve complex problems, the ability to see the world when working with international clients and to spend time on my own without small people hanging off me. Sometimes going into the office ends up feeling like a bit of a holiday!

How do you find the time to balance everything?

I’m lucky enough to be able to work from home most of the time, as essentially all I need is a phone and a good internet connection to do my job, but it still feels like I’m in the middle of a plate-spinning act that I’m constantly on the edge of ruining. The morning between 6.30am and 9 am is all about sorting the kids out. From 9 am to 5.30pm is my work time. 5.30pm to 8 pm is all about picking up kids, making dinners, baths, chasing the older ones to do homework they lied about not having and bedtime stories. Then from 8 pm, we’ll start dinner and I’ll post on Instagram at about 8 pm after writing my caption for about 15 minutes. We’ll finally eat at 9.30pm having put the kids back to bed a second time and Clemmie will disappear about 10 pm leaving me to do work, write and edit videos I’d made at the weekend until about 1 am or 2 am. Four hours later it starts all over again. No wonder people say I look older than I am.

Is there a secret to succeeding on Instagram?

Do something that’s original and do it with passion. Also, make sure you make time to engage with those that are interacting with you. I read all of the comments, DMs and emails that I get and I have built up some wonderful friendships. Also post regularly and make sure it’s honest and true to yourself. People see through things quickly if it’s all too airbrushed and sugar coated and I think we’re all a bit tired of that, aren’t we?

How do you become a social media phenomenon?

I have no idea if there is a secret formula or not. I just like what I do and I put a huge amount of time and effort into it and most importantly it’s fun. You always put more effort into things you enjoy. I guess if I was going to try and give tips it would be… be true to yourself and do what you enjoy, don’t try and portray a life that isn’t yours as it will becoming tiring quickly. If you have an idea just go for it.

Do you get recognised?

Yes, regularly and although initially, it was a bit strange, I’m getting more used to it now. I love talking to people and asking about their lives – they already know about mine to a certain extent so the conversation is usually me asking all the questions.

What are some of the downsides to being famous online?

The obvious one is trolling, but I actually don’t receive very much of that. My wife, on the other hand, has had several bad experiences from some of the things written about her by random people. We’ve both grown thicker skins through this and learnt to roll with the punches and not get absorbed in some of the negativity that’s out there.

Opinion is divided over whether to put pictures of your children online? What do you think?

We have rules in place about what we will and won’t put online. We don’t tag locations and we will always give Anya and Marnie the option not to be in pictures if they don’t want to. We’re at a time now where everyone posts online and as long as you’re comfortable with it (which we are) then we’ll continue to do so as I know that many people take a lot of positives out of us sharing our struggles and helping people feel they are not so alone or like they’re failing. After all, we’re all making this up as we go.   

How does it work with Clemmie also having a big social media following?

Although we both have big social media presences, we don’t post about the same things unless we’re on holiday. We see things from different perspectives so our take on the same situations can be quite different. Clemmie is always on her phone, but between the hours of 9 am and 7 pm I rarely look at mine. In fact, Clemmie has a go at me about it all the time as I never read my Whatsapp messages, which usually results in me getting into trouble. I prefer to be in the moment with the kids and get involved.

How did you and Clemmie meet?

We met in a nightclub in Bristol at the tender ages of 20 and 22. It was the kind of place that had sticky carpets and served vodka Redbull in jugs. I chatted her up by talking about Scholl’s party feet shoe insert (you’ll have to read the book to understand that reference) and within 18 months we’d moved in together and were expecting our daughter, who was somewhat of a surprise shall we say.

How do you make it work?

We balance each other out well. She’s fiery and I’m so laid back I’m basically horizontal. We share all responsibilities (parenting or otherwise) as best as we can and we remember to make time for each other, even when we have four girls charging around the house like large dogs drunk on fermented apples. We also support each other in career choices and encourage one another to follow our passions. Vomit inducing isn’t it? I’ll let you get over the dry heaving before you read on.

What is one of the biggest misconceptions about fatherhood?

That somehow fatherhood is easier than motherhood. In my opinion, it’s not. The challenges are just different.

And what is one of the best bits?

I get to help make the little people around me into the best versions of themselves they can be. In my case, being outnumbered by girls, I also get to set the benchmark for what men should be. My aim is to set the bar so high, that no future boyfriends will ever live up to their expectations.

What has been the most surprising lesson you have learned?

That I have more patience than I ever thought possible. Although children are wonderful and make me laugh uncontrollably almost every day, they seem to have been specifically designed to push you to the edge of sanity. I’ve learnt that keeping calm is something that I’m incredibly good at.

What was it like first becoming a dad at 24?

Initially, it scared the shit out of me. I definitely wasn’t ready to be a dad, but then again, I’m not sure many men are at any age. My life changed quickly, but if anything it made me take responsibility more seriously. It also taught me there’s definitely more to life than going clubbing and waking up on Sunday with a hangover so bad that it required surgery to remove.

What has being in a house full of women taught you?

That the concepts of privacy and silence will only come with death!

What do you enjoy about having a big family?

I’m not very good at sitting still and doing nothing, just ask Clemmie when we’re on holiday. All she wants to do is lie next to the pool with a cocktail, but I want to go and build sandcastles, see the sights and generally do stuff. It’s the same at home, so I’m grateful that with a big family there is always something going on and someone who needs me. When they all leave home, I’m not sure what I’ll do with myself to be honest – I guess that’s why men have sheds.

Did you always know you would be so hands-on?

I never really had any preconceptions about it – I just knew that I wanted to get involved and put my all into it, so that’s what I’ve done. My own father is a wonderful man and I use him as the benchmark. He is calm, caring and truly a model father. During the week he was at work but he always made time for us. At the weekends he would involve us in the DIY projects he’d undertaken. He and my mum made our childhoods’ fun and those years are ones I look back and smile about.

Tell us about your childhood?

I was brought up, along with my brother Charlie and my sister Izzy, in a small village 15 miles outside of Bristol. Everyone knew everyone and you could play out on your bikes until 8 pm without your parents worrying about where you were. Then at the age of 14, we moved into Bristol, we all went to school there and mum and dad were commuting in as well, so it just made sense. Bristol was a great place to be a teenager as they had really relaxed door policies. Then, as we all got older and went off to university, mum and dad moved back to the same village we grew up in. Now when we go home to see our parents, it’s like going back in time and it leaves me with a warm fuzzy feeling every time I drive down the single road into the village.

Who of your children is most like you?

All of my girls look like me (much to Clemmie’s annoyance) but their characters are very different. Anya and Delilah are very much like Clemmie – strong-willed, determined and worry about everything. Marnie and Ottie are like me – happy-go-lucky and don’t take things too seriously. I guess we all balance each other out in a strange sort of way.

Where do you go to get some peace?

I jump on my bike and go for a long ride. I’ve been into bikes since I can remember and I’m now what I guess you class as a MAMIL -Middle Aged Man In Lycra. There is nothing quite like the feeling of jumping on your bike to clear your head – it’s just me and the tarmac in front of me.

What advice would you give to dads embarking on parenthood?

Don’t put undue pressure on yourself to be the perfect parent as there’s no such thing. Just do your best and learn as you go along – we’re all winging it so don’t compare yourself to others and if you’re struggling, make sure you talk about it openly with your partner. Historically men have been pretty awful at talking about how we feel and we really need to change that.

Do you have any tips for fathers in the delivery room?

Don’t crack too many jokes. I once poured a jug full of water over Clemmie’s back while she was in a birthing pool and made the mistake of telling her it was like “pouring gravy over a big fat turkey”. The reaction I got was a death stare and a soaking that a killer whale at Seaworld would have been proud of. Be there for your partner without being too openly nervous. You need to be her strength through all of this, so even if you’re a ball of stress inside, make sure you make her feel at ease and you remain calm enough for both of you.

What was the last thing that really made you laugh?

Marnie this morning. She told me a joke that involved the word vagina that completely caught me off guard.

What is the nicest thing your children have said to you?

You are the best daddy I could have ever asked for. Please don’t die.

What’s next? Have you ever thought about a career on television?

Who knows. I have lots of avenues to explore and I want to make the most of the opportunities that are open to me to ensure the girls have the best chances in life, so we’ll see.

Do you think you will have any more children? And how many times do you think people have asked you, ‘Do you wish to have a boy?’

We joke about having a fifth but I think we’re done now. I do get asked regularly if we’ll go for the boy but I’m genetically predisposed to making girls and with each passing daughter, the chances of having a boy are reduced so it’s unlikely. Also, can you imagine the life that poor little boy would have? He’d be drowning in clothing and cosmetics!