Although our interactions have only been online, I can tell that London-based Alice Edwards is the type of woman who would fill up a room with her warmth...
Accomplished, humble and wise, she has also experienced more grief in her lifetime than any person should ever be forced to endure. Having lost her mother, sister and grandmother in the Boxing Day tsunami in Thailand in 2004, she, understandably sought solace in keeping a firm grip of control on her life, but says, “What I’ve learnt is that control sucks the very joy from life. Slowly I’m trying to relinquish my iron grip but it’s a work in progress.” Despite the tragedy Alice has encountered, she shared remains entirely relatable and distinctly down-to-earth. Balancing life as the jewellery editor at the Sunday Times Style and Times Luxx with motherhood, Alice shared her story with us, which included two bouts of postnatal depression after the birth of her children, and the importance of shared parenting. While many of us will (thankfully) never understand the depths of Alice’s grief, she openly delved into what helps her through, and the impact her family have on her to this day. When it comes to perspective, gratitude and inspiration, it doesn’t get much better than Alice Edwards. Follow @alice.j.edwards | Photography: Helene Sandberg
Talk us through some vivid memories of your childhood...
I grew up in South West London with summers spent on the Isle of Wight and the south of France (where my maternal grandparents had a house). As the middle of three children, I always felt in the thick of it – neither the oldest to be the pioneer and nor the youngest occasionally left behind. My father was endlessly enthusiastic and encouraging with varied results (he insisted I stick at sports, which I’m atrocious at, still). My mother was modest in all things except her laugh which was the loudest, most infectious one I’ve ever heard. As for my siblings, my other brother was and is one of those annoying, good looking overachievers who aren’t annoying at all. He was the perfect big brother, always trying to include me despite our three year age difference and looking out for me if anyone was mean or – god forbid – some teenage boy wasn’t interested in me. My little sister Lucy was just about the naughtiest person I knew, quite literally her nickname was Trouble. She was such good fun and both fiercely opinionated and loyal even from a very young age. I suppose I was the quietest in a family of real characters, though to be honest, not that quite at all!
Talk us through your journey to motherhood – what were the highs and lows?
I am a bit of a fatalist (something I’m working on) and was nervous that getting pregnant and staying pregnant was going to be an issue for me. But thank goodness, I need not have worried. Within a month of coming back from our honeymoon, I had to have an operation for endometriosis. Coupled with the fact I have Crohn’s disease, we decided to try for a baby right away. I was pregnant a few weeks later and in June 2015, our daughter Honor arrived. Then two years later, our son Kit. It’s funny as I would honestly say I had two uncomplicated, uneventful pregnancies, but thinking back I did have severe morning sickness both times and a rather rare type of migraine which mimics a stroke (for a terrifying few hours we thought that was what was happening) not to mention the rather unattractive eczema I had on my face both times. My happy recollection versus the occasional reality is largely due to the phenomenal health care system in the UK in whom I had implicit and unshakable faith, together with my very patient husband who weathered the brunt of my pregnancies.
How have your children changed your life?
It would be shorter to list the ways they haven’t! I feel like they’ve opened my eyes to life. I’ve had to face up to my own rather significant demons, which I know will be a work constantly in progress. But it’s like they’ve put everything in colour after many years in the grey. Practically though they’re like setting a Tasmanian devil loose in my very neat house, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Over 14 years ago you lost your mother, sister and grandmother in the Boxing Day tsunami – that kind of tragedy is unfathomable. How did you initially cope?
In all honesty, I sleep-walked for a long time. I think a deeply held inner core of self-preservation held me through the first months. I was in total shock and that went on far longer than I ever expected or gave myself space for. I was 17 at the time, so was in the midst of my final exams at school. That in itself was a blessing – I found huge comfort in the structure and routine.
What role has grief played in your life since then?
It’s largely made me more fearful. I have and do find it difficult to let go and really love wholeheartedly. Instead, for years, I tried to manage and control my environment and to an extent – everything in it. What I’ve learnt is that control sucks the very joy from life. Slowly, I’m trying to relinquish my iron grip but it’s a work in progress.
We all need to be more open about mental health – would you agree and what’s your view on how we can actively do this?
I couldn’t agree more, but the conversation over the past decade has shifted enormously. When I first experienced grief and mental health hurdles, neither I nor my peers nor many adults I knew even had the language – let alone the desire – to talk about their experience and feelings. I remember being at university, several years after I’d lost my mother and sister, desperate to try to make sense of what had happened to me and the way it affected how I saw the world. I did once open up to friends, however, the response was uncomfortable and almost embarrassed. These were peers whom I thought I was close to, we’d talked about everything: sex, work, friends … I even held the hand of one through a terminated pregnancy. However – grief? That was apparently out of bounds. I’m really pleased that that attitude is slowly becoming the exception. It’s okay to say admit we don’t know how to navigate an emotionally complex and sad situation, but that we can simply try and that’s enough.
How has grief changed your perspective on life?
It’s made me more understanding of other people’s emotional traumas and loss. I understand it’s the circle of life, however, that doesn’t make it any easier to live with. I definitely am kinder – or I should say more tolerant – of other people since.
We all have blue days. How do you deal with days where you feel blue – is there something you do such as go for a walk to make yourself feel better?
I read. I’ve always been a total bookworm and the escapism in novels is something I’ve returned to time and time again.
“ My mother is my guardian angel, the person I talk to when I need guidance or in crisis, much as I imagine I would have had she been here, how she would have comforted me or advised me ”
What role have your mother, sister and grandmother played in your life since that tragedy occurred – what kind of things do you imagine they’d be telling you right now or what life lessons did they instil in you which have impacted how you live your life?
It’s like they’re the two sides of my conscience. My mother is my guardian angel, the person I talk to when I need guidance or in crisis, much as I imagine I would have had she been here, how she would have comforted me or advised me. My sister is the little voice giving me what my grandmother would have called gumption. When I need confidence or a bit of ‘screw you’ attitude, Lucy is the voice in my head nudging and sometimes pushing me on.
The phrase ‘having it all’ is fundamentally flawed – what’s your view on women juggling a career with motherhood?
I would absolutely agree – you can’t have everything, you can’t be in two places at once. I know I do and will drop balls but I’m fortunate that I had a working mother. It was always something I was very proud of – just knowing about her life through work and having that independence from our family made me realise she was a person, not just a maternal vehicle to ferry me around at my every whim. When it comes to my own path though, I can now see how emotionally complex the entire proposition is. I would say there are three elements that make the balance we’ve struck as a family, function (for now). The first is my husband, who’s never seen parenting or parental responsibilities as anything but a joint task. He’s easily changed half the nappies, done half the feeds and braved half the night duties and certainly more when I’ve been travelling for work which I frequently do – all that when he only had a fortnight’s paternity leave and a full-time job. The second would be the structure of my work. Though I have to travel a lot, the hours when I’m in London are fairly flexible. It does mean working some weekends but overall it suits us as a family. I also have two editors and both are working mothers. I’ve yet had to ask them to make allowances, however, there’s an emotional and supportive recognition of the madness of having young children. There’s also an implicit confidence in knowing there are working mothers higher up the food chain, that it is possible to do both. The third element is our nanny. It constantly baffles me at the shameful lack of childcare support in the UK, we’re hugely privileged to have a nanny and such a brilliant one. Both my husband and I and the children adore her and that support is invaluable.
What kind of mother do you aspire to be? How would you describe your parenting style?
To be present would be my priority. I’m never going to be a mother who doesn’t work or have my own interests and friends so I will miss some things, I won’t always do the school run or put them to bed, but when I’m there, I try to be really ‘there’. I’m also pretty strict on their manners, particularly sharing and kindness, and I’m militant about bedtimes, but outside that, anything goes. My husband is the silly parent, and I’m the loving one that smothers them in kisses when the bear hunt, monster hunt, dinosaur hunt or wrestling match goes wrong.
“ After both of my pregnancies, I experienced post-natal depression. The first time I didn’t realise, I think my husband and I knew I wasn’t quite alright but the shock of being first time parents together with a baby who had terrible reflux meant there wasn’t time to think ”
The mind is a powerful thing – how do you deal with things such as anxiety/feeling overwhelmed/stressed?
After both of my pregnancies, I experienced post-natal depression. The first time I didn’t realise, I think my husband and I knew I wasn’t quite alright but the shock of being first time parents together with a baby who had terrible reflux meant there wasn’t time to think. We also had nothing to compare it to, but looking back I could see how unwell I was, but how well I hid it from everyone and it took me over a year to recover. The second time around I thought I’d escaped PND. The first six weeks were the blissful cocoon of happiness everyone had told me about and I was in heaven. Then the dark cloud descended, I couldn’t leave my bed let alone the house, and thought my baby had died at regular intervals. I knew I wasn’t well, and immediately my husband and my parents swung into action. My husband encouraged (read: forced!) me to call my brilliant GP, who worked with me to find the right drugs and crucially the right therapist. My family are very vocal and open about mental health, it’s something we have come to talk about with the same force and respect as physical health, with that behind me recovery was much much faster. I’m 18 months on from being diagnosed and although I’m still on the antidepressants, I know I’m nearly ready not to be, though I feel in no rush. When I feel anxious or overwhelmed I’ve learnt just to slow down, strip my diary of anything unnecessary and take time to rest. But being able to talk about how I’m feeling to my family without being dismissed or embarrassed is like turning on the light in a dark room, it banishes my monsters.
What did your own mother teach you about self-love and confidence?
Her unshakable support of me and anything I set my mind to is what produced the iron core I mentioned earlier. She taught me that confidence and determination don’t have to be loud or aggressive and crucially you can be kind and likeable at the same time.
Talk us through your career as a journalist – was it always on the cards and how have you worked your way up through a hugely competitive industry?
I think it probably was always on the cards, I knew I wanted to work in something creative, I love words and writing and am never short of an opinion. But jewellery I sort of fell into when a much senior colleague was unwell and I had to fill in, I saw how jewellery worked and what was involved and never really looked back.
When is your favourite time to write?
First thing, I can never write late at night, really anything after five pm (especially in the winter months) and my brain is mush, plus I’m often then in the zoo of tea time.
People often refer to others as being “lucky” when they land a great job. We all know it’s rarely luck, more years of hard work. Would you agree and where did you get your work ethic from?
I would agree most is determination and hard work but there’s a fair amount of luck in being ready for the dream job when it comes up. Magazines are a funny world where jobs are rarely created but instead, you have to sit tight and wait for someone to vacate a space, then there’s a game of musical chairs. As for work ethic, that would be my grandfather, he worked six days a week tirelessly until he was in his late 80s.
Talk us through what your role entails as a jewellery editor at the Sunday Times?
Working on a weekly magazine is full-on but about as good as it gets as far as I’m concerned. I love being part of the newspaper and the team at Style are just about the best there is. I’m responsible for putting together jewellery and watch trend pages, shoots and news stories for Style. I also contribute to Times Luxx which comes out with the Saturday paper five times a year and is more akin to a monthly title. There’s so much I love about the industry, it’s much smaller than fashion and sometimes quite old fashioned but so creative, and the things these designers make are such treasures, they’re works of art, just sparkly ones we get to wear.
3 of your favourite jewellery designers right now?
Jessica McCormack, always, there’s nothing in her collection I wouldn’t love; Sophie Bille Brahe, this danish dreamboat makes the most beautiful things; and Noor Fares, I’m a total hippie at heart and her latest collection is divine.
A style tip on how to wear jewellery right now?
Brooches – this season’s most versatile piece. Wear on a lapel, as a button or in your hair.
3 time management tips you swear by?
Hyper-organisation, I’m expert level at making lists; Get the thing you’re dreading done first; And let it go. Some things just won’t get done and that’s ok.
Are you a night owl or early riser?
Totally an early riser, I’m married to a man who’s terrible in the morning, which means we suit each other’s circadian rhythms rather well as we can tag team with the children!
What’s a typical look for you – what brands do you love?
One of my new year’s resolutions was to stop buying on the high street so gratuitously. I felt that not only was I losing the value in what I was buying in abundance but also that I couldn’t ignore the environmental impact any longer. Instead, I’ve had the best time buying vintage on sites like Vestiaire Collective, Kidswear Collective and Littlest Luxuries. That said, the one thing I can’t resist is Uniqlo knitwear, that’s my one high street exception. A typical look for me is a polo neck paired either with a dress underneath or Mother/J Brand jeans, and flats. But always, always with a bow. I love having long hair but rarely have it down, instead, I’m obsessed and always have been with bows. Some I have are pre-tied (J. Crew, Alessandra Rich and Free People do some great ones) but I’m also a total boss at tying my own.
One piece of advice you’d give to your children?
Don’t rush. They and I are always in such a hurry, we could all learn to slow down even just a little and enjoy it all.
3 favourites place to go in London with kids?
The Tate Modern, plenty of running space, patient staff and the best bookshop. Richmond Park, somewhere I’ve gone all my life, perfect in any weather, where Honor has riding lessons now, and home to the best bacon sandwich (from the cafe by Roehampton Gate). The Natural History Museum, both my children are obsessed with dinosaurs and could spend hours here. But make sure you join as a member or you’ll have to brave hours of queues.