Sarah Vine is a writer and journalist for the British newspaper The Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday, where she has two columns a week. She is also married to a prominent member of the Conservative party, the Rt Hon Minister of the Cabinet Michael Gove (who was in the race to become Prime Minister before Boris Johnson took the role.)
In an exclusive interview she tells 35Thousand how she’s juggled increased deadlines throughout the Corona crisis whilst home schooling her two children both at critical points in their education with GCSE’s and A-Level. She talks here about the ‘ghastly’ Zoom, her worry for the younger generation at this difficult time, and how bike rides, dog walks, gallons of Earl Grey tea, magnesium baths and taking a break from the news have got her through.
Tell us about your work…
“I am a writer for the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday. I have a regular column on a Wednesday and a Sunday, and in-between I write features and opinion pieces. I mostly work from home, just because I’m one of those people who needs to concentrate quite hard and the office is full of distractions; but I also go in at least a couple of days a week to contribute to editorial meetings, catch up with colleagues and also gather vitally important gossip. I love it because every day is different and the challenges are endless, and I’m surrounded by the best in the business. I also do bits of broadcasting and write books.”
Where do you physically work currently?
“I have a desk at work, but I tend to write at home. Right now I’m sitting on the sofa next to the dogs.”
What is the best thing about your work?
“The constant challenge and the fact that it keeps me on my toes. I feel I’m only ever as good as my last piece.”
What is the worst?
“Being shouted at by people who have never read a word I’ve written, but who judge me on the basis that I write for the Mail and I’m married to a prominent Conservative politician.”
What has been the most pivotal point of your career so far?
“Moving from The Times to the Daily Mail to take up the Wednesday column seven years ago. I was absolutely terrified, both that I wouldn’t be up to the job (I had some seriously big shoes to step into, including Allison Pearson and the legendary Lynda Lee Potter,) but also because I had heard so many horror stories about the then Editor, Paul Dacre. In the event I encountered the most incredibly supportive and professional set of colleagues who made my job so much easier, and Mr Dacre himself was – and is – a complete inspiration, a true professional who really understands his metier and not nearly as much of an ogre as he is painted.”
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever had?
“Don’t read the online comments: that way madness lies.”
What’s your context outside of work?
“Husband, two teenagers, two dogs, one cat. I live in Hammersmith and I like to cycle, walk a lot (dogs) and, whenever possible, spend time in the countryside away from London. I read voraciously, and I like a bit of gardening and gardens in general. I’ve got various books on the boil, writing-wise, but it’s a painfully slow process because my day-to-day journalism takes up most of my time and energy. Maybe one day I’ll finish one of them.”
What was your ‘normal‘ day-to-day life like pre COVID?
“I’m always up around 6.30/ 7 am, then I drop my son at school, walk the dogs, head back home, walk or cycle to the office, and attend various meetings. Sometimes I’d have a work breakfast, but never lunch because I like to get everything done ASAP so I can get home to supervise the teenage terrors and, of course, attend to my main function in life which is to walk the dogs.
If writing on edition, I file my copy anytime between 5pm and 7pm (depending on the timeframe: sometimes I don’t get asked to write until quite late in the day), then make supper for the kids or whoever’s around. Then I read final proofs, have a glass of wine and make something to eat for myself (my husband is invariably in the House of Commons or at some work-related dinner), maybe watch a bit of telly or call a friend. I then walk dogs again, have a bath and go to bed around 9:30pm/10pm, read, think about the following day’s ideas, do some random worrying, Sleep.”
What is your day-to-day life like now after Lockdown?
“The main issue for me with lockdown was suddenly having a house full of people, all of whom seemed to need feeding all of the time. At the same time my writing workload shot up, as did the amount of time I was spending on the ghastly Zoom. So I was working even harder while at the same time having nowhere to myself to concentrate. Plus there was the challenge of home-schooling at GCSE and A-level – I won’t even go there. Suffice to say I am not one of those people who has enjoyed lockdown. “
How has the Corona crisis impacted you personally and professionally?
“Personally I’ve been very lucky: my mother, who lives in Italy, had Corona but seems to have recovered remarkably well; professionally it’s been a huge challenge, not least because I don’t always see eye to eye with government policy, which can occasionally be awkward at home. But my husband is firm believer in freedom of self-expression and, I think, sees any difference of opinion in the spirit of healthy debate. Otherwise it’s just meant a generally heavier workload.”
What are you finding challenging right now?
“Helping the children – both of whom are at vitally important stages of their education – navigate the problems and setbacks caused by Covid. In both cases their learning has been severely restricted, and while Teams and Zoom are all very well, it’s just not the same. Also, both have found the social restrictions hard to deal with. Kids this age really rely a lot on their friends for support, and are not good at being on their own. Inevitably it is having an impact.”
What has got you through? What have been your coping strategies?
“Magnesium baths at night, which I find help me relax and sleep, going on long bike rides, regular Sunday nights at our local pizzeria (when we were allowed) with the family to catch up on the week’s events and prepare for the next. Then there’s been gardening and organising my stuff, and staying on top of admin. Basically, controlling what I can when all else is in chaos.”
Do you feel that Lockdown has changed your outlook and if so how?
“I dislike it on principle as a curtailment of people’s freedoms, and I don’t like the surveillance element of it. To me it should be the absolute last resort, and very definitely not ‘the new normal’. If anything it’s made me more attached to my freedoms – and even more convinced of the importance of privacy and free speech.”
Personally how have you managed your mind and wellbeing throughout Lockdown? And of your family?
“I found taking a break from the relentless torrent of bad news really helped – so if I wasn’t not working I tried to avoid listening to the radio or endlessly refreshing my news feed on Twitter. I encouraged the teenagers to keep a sensible routine and to resist the temptation to just sleep all day. It wasn’t easy, and it was pretty relentless keeping on top of them (I hate having to nag all the time) but it was worth it I think.
A lot of their friends went really stir crazy during lockdown – a number were admitted to hospital for mental health issues, including self-harm and easting disorders. I really think people underestimate how hard it has been on this age group: they are of course very resilient, but they are also highly social creatures and being cooped up with their parents is not easy for either parties.”
What are your thoughts on travel right now?
“I haven’t made many travel plans, but then I tend to be quite a last minute traveller anyway. I’m going to try to get to Italy to see my parents, as I haven’t been since last year. But as for holidays, there aren’t really any on the cards at the moment: too much work to do.”
What are your current handbag essentials?
“Airpods, facemask (obviously), hairbrush, Carmex. Valium (only joking).”
What gets you through working from home?
“Gallons and gallons of Earl Grey tea. I always have an egg on toast for breakfast which keeps me going for ages. I walk the dogs at least three times a day, which helps clear the mind and stops my body from seizing up. “
What is your work wardrobe like now from what it used to be?
“The only real difference is that I’ve completely lost the ability to wear heels. Everything else is the same old stuff. “
What are your current 5 essential items of clothing?
“My Zara pleather culottes, my Clarke’s walking boots, my Arket parka, my oversized grey cashmere jumper from H&M and my Desmond & Dempsey pyjamas.”