The word on mums . . .
PUBLISHED: 11:43 10 March 2015 | UPDATED: 11:43 10 March 2015
March 15 is Mother's Day. Lucy Etherington (a mum herself) discovers how five famous Suffolk families show they care
There seem to be three main approaches to Mother’s Day among Suffolk celebs. One, the traditional phone call and flowers. Two, Mother’s Day is too commercial. We tell our mum how special she is every day. Three, Mother’s Day is wider than the immediate family. It’s about nurturing and looking after our communities.
What struck me most when talking to our five famous families, was how much they valued each other, above and beyond their individual successes. Many of them work together, or support and inspire each other. If they don’t live in Suffolk any more, they still come home regularly to hang out with the family.
All the mothers here are strong, inspiring women, who have put their families first while at the same time stressing the importance of community.
Whether they celebrate Mother’s Day on the day or not, they all deserve a toast!
Laura and Caroline Wright
Despite her huge success, ‘Scrummy Soprano’ Laura Wright is proudly a Suffolk girl at heart. She and her three elder brothers grew up and went to school in Framlingham, where they all developed a love of rugby and singing – indeed it was a music teacher there who encouraged Laura to go for Radio 2’s Chorister of the Year, which she won aged 15.
Laura now lives in Barnes, but still comes to visit her parents, Caroline and Paul (and their ebullient puppy Boris), whenever she can.
“Dad was the one who got us all into rugby,” says Laura. We meet her at her parents’ Suffolk home, a beautifully renovated Suffolk barn just up the track from the rambling farmhouse where Laura and the boys grew up. “My creative side comes from Mum.”
Caroline is an artist and art lecturer – her elegant etchings adorn the beamed walls of the living area – and Paul a financial advisor, who is also a rugby coach.
“Dad is great if you need a straight answer. Interestingly, if I was singing, Dad gets more emotional than Mum. He doesn’t look it at all but he’s a softy.”
“Whereas I’m thinking about what you’re going through with the performance,” says Caroline.
“Whenever I’m on stage I always catching Mum’s eye in the audience,” says Laura. “I can tell she knows exactly what I’m thinking.”
Indeed, Caroline’s performance pieces often contain music. What a joy then to be able to involve her gifted daughter in her recent work with Helen Paris, Out of Water, performed on remote beaches in Norfolk, Edinburgh and San Francisco, with music by Jocelyn Pook.
“Working with Laura felt so natural,” Caroline agrees. “We communicate without speaking. She just gets it.”
“It was really interesting seeing what Mum does close up,” says Laura. “I didn’t realise how hard it is – standing on freezing cold beaches in raging storms at dawn. I also found it very emotional. We did one on Holkham beach in Norfolk, where I have so many childhood memories.”
Family gatherings are often rowdy celebrations with all the siblings and mum singing in perfect harmony, often with Boris joining in. All the Wrights (except Boris) recently competed in a triathalon, with Caroline amazing everyone by coming third in her age group.
“The whole family were cheering me on,” says Caroline. “Of course they’d all finished ages ago.”
Laura nudges her. “Mum you were amazing,” she grins. “I couldn’t believe she did it. I was super proud. I’ve already signed her up for a swimming and cycling event in the summer, around my birthday, for Sports Aid.” Are they a competitive family?
“Oh no, we’re all about taking part,” Laura jokes, laughing. “No, we are very competitive – but I think that’s a good thing.”
“I’m not sporty at all,” says Caroline. “But the children have really inspired me with their spirit of: let’s get out there and do it. I’ve learned so much from them. I feel they can do anything and they’ve widened my horizons too.”
The night before this Mother’s Day, Laura will be in London singing the national anthem for Saturday’s England rugby game. As always the family will be joining her.
“That’s the great thing about my job,” she says. “I get to sing, which I love, then go and join Mum and Dad in the stands to watch the rugby.” Does Caroline not get nervous watching her daughter perform?
“I’ve never been concerned when Laura is performing,” Caroline says. “I’m excited and incredibly proud. The only thing that was nerve wracking as a mother was her going off to London for the first time!”
Laura will be performing at the Ipswich Corn Exchange Sunday April 19
Amelia and Sarah Reynolds
“My mother, Sarah, has always been rather anti Mother’s Day,” says Suffolk raised Look East presenter Amelia Reynolds. “She thinks it’s too commercial. We get round it by calling it Ganny’s Day – my youngest daughter can’t yet say her ‘r’s – which is even better as it’s an excuse to get the three generations together.”
The girls – Annabel, four, and Cleo, two – have their work cut out making cards for mum and ‘Ganny’ Sarah, with guidance from Amelia’s husband, David Whiteley, also a TV presenter, who she met at the BBC and married in 2008.
“David’s terribly good at remembering birthdays and occasions. Annabel has been at school now for nearly two terms, so she can write her name and Cleo loves making things.”
Amelia’s parents live in Fressingfield, in the same house where Amelia and her brother grew up.
Sarah, a keen gardener, used to work in independent radio and was a journalist, but also worked on the geriatric ward at Hartismere hospital in Eye.
She now visits Amelia and the children all the time in their new home in South Norfolk.
“She’s a fantastic grandmother. I never realised what a joy it would be to see the relationship between my kids and my parents.
“It’s lovely to see – both their lives and personalities are enhanced by it.”
“My relationship with my mother has grown since I became a mother. I realise how much hard work it is.
“We always got on though – she’s so calm and wise and always had an answer for my questions. There weren’t any door slamming moments – at least not that I can remember. She might say differently.
“The perfect mother’s day gift would be a lie-in. A decent night’s sleep wrapped in a big box with a bow on it!
“Then a family walk with Mum and Dad and David and the girls on Southwold beach. That would be perfect!”
Lady Caroline Cranbrook and Jason Gathorne-Hardy
“I’m not even sure when Mother’s Day is,” says Lady Caroline Cranbrook when I meet mother and son, the artist Jason Gathorne-Hardy, at their wonderfully homely, colourful and eccentric family seat, Glemham House.
“It’s not something we’ve ever celebrated. It seems too commercial.” I should have known that Lady Caroline would not fall for mass commercialism. This is the woman who led opposition to a Tesco superstore in the 1990s and thus helped saved the livelihoods of many local food producers and shops.
“We tend to do mother’s day in retrospect,” Jason says. “Usually when we realise we’ve missed it we’ll take her for a meal.” He grins. “But really, we are so close as a family, there seems no need to mark one day as special.”
Jason lives a mile away from his parents at the bucolic White House Farm, where he rears Alde Valley lamb – a must on every local gastro menu – and hosts the Alde Valley Spring Festival, a celebration of local arts, food and landscape.
Although he enjoyed a traditional childhood in Glemham House, “running wild in the woods and building camps”, he was born in Malaysia, where he spent the first 18 months of his life.
“It was quite a dangerous environment for a baby,” recalls Lady Caroline, who later trained herself to become a farmer, gardener and cook, inspiring Jason’s love of food and nature.
“We were right in the middle of the jungle. There were tigers and snakes and all kinds of dangers. I think that’s why I feel especially protective of Jason, as my other children were born here in Suffolk.
“Once I discovered a nest of baby scorpions under his cot. I was very upset, but his father said, ‘Poor thing, she has to have her babies somewhere.’”
Mother and son recently wrote An Artist in the Garden (Full Circle Editions), a seasonal celebration of their walled garden, which is the source of many family recipes including wood pigeon sausage rolls, roast muntjac in a cream sauce, rhubarb and elderflower custard.
However, one family member more famous than either Jason or Lady Caroline is now stealing the limelight in every photo – this is Domino, the fox terrier who made international headlines in 2013 when she was trapped down a rabbit hole in a storm.
Lady Jill Freud and Emma Freud
I never remember when Mother’s Day is,” says Lady Jill Freud, actress, local theatre legend and mother of four grown children, one of whom, TV and radio presenter Emma, married to Richard Curtis, is rather famous, “so it’s always an enormous surprise when I do get a lovely bunch of flowers!”
Indeed, on March 13, two days before Mother’s Day, Jill’s daughter Emma Freud is busy running Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day, of which she is trustee and director.
“The fact that Emma is saving so many children’s lives every year makes me proud,” says Jill. “That is what Mother’s Day should be about.
“We see each other all the time – Emma also has a house in Walberswick and we’re here with all the grandchildren for much of the year - so I really don’t expect any of my children to mark Mother’s Day, but I always get a call – from my daughters, anyway. Not so much the boys!”
I think most locals would agree that the Freud family under Jill’s maternal influence are very much the heart of Walberswick community life. They fling open their gates to host the summer fete, regularly enjoy the pubs and beach, and do anything they can to support the local arts.
Until recently, Jill spearheaded the Southwold and Aldeburgh Theatre Company, and now Emma is patron of the Southwold Arts Festival.
“Walberswick is the pivot of everything we do,” says Jill. “We also live in London, but have always spent every school holiday here. There was a point where the children started complaining that we never took them abroad. But what’s wonderful now is that the grandchildren choose to come here.”
Jill and her late husband, broadcaster, writer and politician Sir Clement Freud, bought a house in Walberswick in 1958. The fields and stables meant that they could keep their own ponies. “I was able to give my children the childhood I dreamed of,” she says.
Being an incredibly sociable bunch, the Freuds would invite friends and share riding with local children, as well as providing extra hands needed for disabled riders. These kinds of experiences were clearly a positive influence on the children.
“I like to think being a good mother has a knock-on effect,” says Jill. “I was blessed with a lovely mother and I try to pass on what I learned from her. All my children have picked up this sense of community being important, from their childhood.
“My daughter Nicola now trains horses for Endurance Racing, which is incredibly hard work.
“In fact, this Mother’s Day, I think I’ll treat my daughters to a home cooked meal. They deserve it!”
Jimmy, Michaela and Brenda Doherty
of a juggling act. He not only has his own mum, Brenda, to think about, but he also has to help his young daughters – Molly, 4 and Cora, 2 – make something special for his wife, Michaela.
“They’re very creative, and they love surprises,” he tells me. “There will be lots of glitter and glue flying about when we make the card, and no doubt some of it will get into the breakfast. It’ll be a big bowl of cereal filled to the brim with milk – and glitter!”
Jimmy’s Farm is also doing a special Mother’s Day menu at the restaurant. Although the ingredients will be selected nearer the time, he tells me this includes a glass of free Prosecco on arrival and free entry to the nature trail – a perfect day for young families.
“Michaela won’t get much of a lie in as she likes to be in the kitchen to prepare the menu,” he says. “We will get time to sit down and have a meal, though, and the girls love running around the farm. They have an idyllic childhood really, although to them the peacocks, the baby animals, the people and, of course the film crews – it’s just normal.”
Amid all this activity, Jimmy will make sure he doesn’t forget his own mum, Brenda, aka Granny B, a keep fit teacher and reflexologist who along with Jimmy’s dad still lives in the town where he grew up.
“When I was young Mother’s Day was really important,” he says. “There was a bit of rivalry with my brother, who can get the biggest bunch of flowers. Sometimes he’d deliberately not tell me! I still feel the pressure to outdo him. Even though he now lives in New Zealand, with Skype he probably sees her more than I do! Now I usually get her tickets for a show in London, try and upstage him.
“My mum has been a huge influence on me,” he adds. “It’s through her and Dad I got my work ethic, but also her love of fun and being sociable. That’s probably why Jimmy’s Farm always has so much going on. Even on my days off, I’ll have a huge meal for friends and families. There’s never really a quiet moment!”