Standing in the toilet cubicle of the Telegraph offices I was trying desperately hard to catch my breath. I’d had mild panic attacks before, but this one was rather spectacular. Having returned from maternity leave only three weeks previously, I currently found myself working late into the night to turn around one of the biggest scoops in the newspaper’s history – HRH Prince Harry had chosen journalist Bryony Gordon as his mental health confidante, and I was producing the podcast.
Originally hailing from North Devon, I’d tenaciously worked my way up the career ladder via independent production companies, breakfast television and shiny floor shows; spending far too many Saturday nights either ‘On Ice’ or at the kind of ‘Takeaway’ that sadly didn’t involve a chicken biriyani. A somewhat unconventional path – I’d trained as a journalist before detouring into television production; spurred predominantly by the lack of job opportunities in my home town and a pure hatred of vox pops. Fortuitously, I found myself perfectly poised to take advantage of the seismic shift into the online and audio space, as television broadcasts started to move beyond the pure linear experience.
As far as my mental health was concerned, I’d struggled with it off-and-on for most of my life, however growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s it wasn’t as overtly acknowledged or addressed as it is now. My parents had helped steer me through episodes of mild OCD as a child, but it started to rear its ugly head again when I moved to London for my career, as fast living, late nights and far too much alcohol played a part in both my coming of age, and own mental wellbeing.
So, as I sat in Kensington Palace in late March 2017, awaiting the arrival of Prince Harry, the surreal nature of my surroundings started to sink in. Having only just become a mother myself, the sensation magnified itself ten-fold. I’d struggled in the early days with my daughter Florence; I didn’t find that motherhood came naturally to me. But I was determined to be as good a role model for her as possible and that’s when I decided to start writing her a story on my daily commute.
Thus, Townie Spider was born, a lovely rhyming tale for young readers, it’s the story of a spider who curls up in a huge, dark, comfy space to sleep, not realising that it’s the wing-mirror of a car. When he wakes-up, he’s on a farm in the middle of the countryside; alone and unsure what to do but he quickly finds some new friends to look after him in his new home.
Focusing on issues of friendship, kindness and mental health following my own experiences, it’s my hope that parents will be able to use the story as an easy introduction of these themes to their children. Mental health has subsequently gone on to play a huge role in my life. At the Telegraph we’ve interviewed everyone from popstars to presenters, entrepreneurs to mental health campaigners, finding ourselves shortlisted twice in the Mind Media Awards in 2017 and 2018. I was also personally recognised with a Women of the Future Award in November 2018, acknowledging those making a distinctive, unusual, and innovative contribution in their field, as well as being an active role model to others.
But nothing quite compares to the strength, determination, tenacity and absolute joy of being Florence’s mum.