I’m old enough to remember a time you wouldn’t be seen dead in Primark, but things have certainly changed over the last decade. 

About 10 years ago, a few on-trend and statement pieces started to arrive. I specifically remember everyone at my weekend job in Accessorize wanting this particular sequin top, one of the first ‘good’ things in Primark, back when it was still a bit cray cray to shop there and people spoke about it like a dirty but exciting little secret. 

Since then, the ‘I can’t BELIEVE it’s from Primark’ feeling has faded somewhat – shopping there is no longer a revelation. The appealing designs have continued to do well, and this Autumn’s offering looks set to be no exception. Here are my fave pieces…

1. Metallic boots 


How cool are these? A pair of gold boots have been on my wish list for about five years, but I’ve never been prepared to part with £100 for them. I’m guessing these will be cheaper when they hit the shelves.

2. Pretty bra 


This is obviously not going to work if you have any significant amount of tit, but for the rest of us – yay! 

3. Silver skirt 


I already have a gold version of this from Topshop, and it looks really nice teamed with cami tops or slim fit jumpers, if I do say so myself. As a result, this silver number is on my list (not with the metallic boots though – I have some boundaries).

4. Embroidered top 


Probably my favourite item from the whole collection, this mesh top with an intricate floral design remains one of those ‘OMG can’t believe it’s Primark’ items. 

5. Patchwork gloves


I love a leathery glove, even if they are sometimes REALLY hard to get on and off (just me?) Plus leopard print = huge tick, always.

6. Floral shoes 


Slightly ridiculous heel height, but I think these would look super buff with black skinnies or (p)leather. 

7. Statement dress 

Surely the press day’s most Instagrammed item was this embroidered floral dress. Expect to fight for it when the collection hits stores from September…

It’s  a hard blow to live with the fact that, while you look a million times better with a tan,  you have pale, freckly skin that stubbornly refuses to change colour when you go outside in the sun.

Unfortunately, that’s the hand of cards that’s been dealt to me, which is especially weird given that, when I look back at pictures from my summer days in primary school, I’m rocking a goddess-tan that even J.Lo would be envious of.

You just don’t appreciate these things when you’re seven, do you?

(Admittedly I did look weird in other ways)

Anyway, now I’m stuck in the world of a the pale, a place I really don’t want to inhabit, and it means I’ve had no choice but to master the art of fake tan (what else could I have learnt in that time? A language? A craft?).

Here are my lessons…

1.Always, ALWAYS use a mitt

I know there used to be a time (years, in fact) when I just slapped fake tan on with my hands and hoped for the best, but Lord knows it didn’t turn out too well. The discovery of fake tanning mitts probably goes down as one of the most seismic events of my life. Just kidding (kinda…)

2. Tinted mousses are the greatest if you’re not a pro


Which probably means about 99.9% of the fake tanning population, right? I love a mousse, whether it’s a pricey Fake Bake one, or Rimmel’s rather excellent Sun Shimmer Self Tan mousse. The consistency makes it really easy to apply, and actually being able to see where you’re putting it stops you from looking like you’ve been painted with creocote by a 5-year-old.

3. Green tan still works 

If you’re a beauty hoarder like me, there will be some low points at which you’ve had WAY too many bottles of fake tan in the house. Then, after several months of neglect, you’ve squirted one out only to find it’s changed a rather weird shade of green (this is something to do with oxidation apparently).

There was a piece about this very phenomenon on the Mail Online a while ago, where some woman had kicked off because her St Tropez turned her entire face green. This is weird because I’ve found that, while the formula might be green when you apply it (and you will look like Mrs Shrek overnight), once you wash it off in the morning you are still a lovely shade of brown. Anyone agree?

4. Your mitt will also go green


Any experienced fake tanner will be familiar with this sight. I actually replace my fake tan mitts fairly often because I can’t imagine that such a damp, chemical-laden surface stays bacteria-free for very long (obviously if I was a good person I’d wash it, but DUH that would mean getting my newly applied tan wet).

5. Apply with long sweeping motions

I got this tip after watching a beauty vlog, even though I confidently started viewing thinking ‘Pah, what can I possibly have left to learn about fake tanning?’ Well, it turns out I was doing the actual application all wrong – my previous method was to rub the tan in with circular or scrubbing motions (what a FOOL), whereas in fact using long, sweeping strokes from, say, your knee to your ankle works way better. (Knees and ankles illustrated below)


6. Baby wipes are your BFF

I’ve read a million times about how you should apply Vaseline to your elbows and exfoliate thoroughly before fake tanning, but do I ever remember to do that? Of course not. What I find far more effective is simply to take a baby wipe or micellar water on a cotton pad after I’ve applied the tan, and gently swipe it over areas which tend to go darker: ankle bones, the heels of my hands, elbows, knees and, weirdly, the front of my ankles too.

7. Fake tanning your face is hard


All I’ve ever wanted in life is for my face and body to match, but jeez, it’s hard sometimes. When I’m really pale, I’m being sold too orange foundations at a various makeup counters  (no I am NOT NW25, Mac lady!), and when I’m tanned my face is a beacon of ghostliness at the top of my body. The trouble is, I’m so obsessed with cleansing my face that any fake tan product I apply is almost immediately removed, which means adding more on a daily basis (the best product I’ve found for doing this is James Read Sleep Mask Tan, FYI). Another option, and one which I often go for, is simply to bronze your face into a more acceptable shade during makeup application. Then it’s only your partner/housemates/dog who have to know the mismatched truth.

8. Use gradual tan as an inbetweener

The way I like to structure my tanning during the summer is to do one ‘big tan’ a week – i.e. tanning with a full-on dark mousse – and then top up with gradual tan as a post-shower moisturiser in between. If you don’t want to take my word for it, then take Tess Daly’s – I once interviewed her makeup artist, who told me that Tess uses Dove Summer Glow as a top up tan while she’s presenting Strictly. St Tropez Everyday Body Moisturiser is also ace.


9. Fake tanning is a right faff

I have a weird amount of respect for people who can be bothered to keep up their fake tanning regime all year round, because DEAR GOD it’s a hassle. I think the main problem is that as soon as I get out of the shower, my first thought is ‘get dry and get warm’, not ‘I fancy doing a really intricate paint job before standing round naked for 10 minutes in the cold’. However, as we all know, you’ve got to suffer for beauty, and I definitely think the benefits of a golden glow outweigh the annoyance of having to be a slave to my tanning regime during the summer. Except when it gets on the damn bed sheets.

 

 

 

Yesterday, I was mainly bawling. I cried while I brushed my teeth in the morning, did lots of snivelly breaths during spinning, and felt seriously embarrassed when I went for a massage and the therapist asked me to turn over, suddenly panicking because ‘Omg she’s going to see my sad, snotty face’.

The reason? Well, I’d just finished my new all-time saddest book, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, and quite frankly I was ruined.

For those who haven’t read the book, it’s basically 750 pages of heartache; layer upon layer of unimaginable suffering and sadness. By the end of the novel, I was five boxes of tissues down and a COMPLETE MESS.

I explained this to several people yesterday, at the same time thoroughly recommending the book. And their general reaction was: ‘Why the hell would you want to read something that upsets you so much?’ (Apart from my sister who was like ‘Ooo you should recommend that to mum, she LOVES depressing books’). 

To be fair, these people have a good point. Why would you spend your spare time reading something that makes you really sad?

But I have to say, if a novel drives me to tears, I feel like it’s really done its job: I believe in the characters and their plight so fully that I’m actually breaking into the Kleenex for them. It’s at once cathartic and cleansing to have a really good sob, even if your boyf is sitting next to you in bed thinking you’ve finally lost it.

The greatest thing about reading, in my opinion, is that it’s our only opportunity to live someone else’s life, even if only temporarily. Sure we can watch a film, but that’s so passive. As a reader, though, you’re actively involved, using your imagination as much as the author’s words to create a world for yourself – one which, as well as giving you insight into places and situations you’ll never experience first hand, lets you live through the tragedy of other people’s lives. 

Obviously with some books, this can end up with you getting funny looks on the tube as you let out strangled sobs and furiously pretend you have something in your eyes. Me Before You, A God In Ruins, The Book Thief, After You’d Gone and A Thousand Splendid Suns all spring to mind as books that have broken my heart just a little bit.

But what they’ve also given me is greater empathy; delivering an insight into the fear and bravery of some people’s lives in a way that no news report ever could. 

A Little Life left me feeling like I’d been punched in the gut, but its hardcore subject matter (abuse, self-harm, disability and grief – told you it was heavy) also reminded me to be that much kinder to people, as well as grateful for my own good fortune. 

Not that that stopped me from messaging my Whatsapp book club just now demanding a ‘short and funny’ recommendation for my next read – it’s all about balance, right?!

Most vegetarians will know the feeling of walking into a restaurant, cafe or shop and realising that you have, at best, two food options to choose from.

So you can imagine my excitement on hearing that Pret A Manger were planning a veggie pop-up in Soho for June (that excitement turned to delirium when I found out it was the store right next to my office on Broadwick Street).

Obviously, I had to scamper down there on the opening day to take a peek at the new green sign, plus the 45(!) new menu options for vegetarians and vegans. And I was certainly not alone – the place was even more heaving than normal, which is really quite annoying when you’re the trying to take beautiful photos of the sandwich display (yep, I got weird looks).

As well as old reliables such as the Posh Cheddar baguette of dreams and the falafel salad, Veggie Pret has introduced a whole range of new sarnies, salads, toasties and smoothies, plus desserts (I was mega jeal of my friend picking up the cacao and orange pot).

We also tried out the truly droolsome Egg Florentine toastie (above), and the Avocado and Chipotle Bean wrap, both excellent new additions to the menu. Other intriguing items include the open sandwiches (Avocado and Egg on Rye Bread, you will be mine), the fancy little salad pots, including courgetti, and the Asian Tofu Salad, which could be a lunchtime game changer.

Above all, I think the new Veggie Pret is proof of just how inventive you can be with meat-free food. While most brands just chuck us veggies an egg sandwich, there is actually huge scope to make creative, exciting vegetarian food – hopefully other brands will follow suit!

Visiting the RHS Chelsea Flower Show isn’t all about wafting around sniffing hyacinths and Instagramming roses you know – taking care of the practicalities such as what to wear, how to get there from the tube and, always important in my book, when and where you’re going to eat will all make a visit much more enjoyable.


I was lucky enough to pop down to the show yesterday, and, as well as enjoying some truly magnificent displays of flowers (including a whole wedding chapel made out of them!) I also managed to scout out some practical tips on visiting the show.

1. What to wear to the Chelsea Flower Show

Although there is no dress code, most people I saw were rocking a smart/casual combination. Some people like to treat the event as an occasion to dress up; I saw men sporting jaunty striped blazers and chinos, while many women went for outfits involving one or more floral element (coats, dresses, little jackets – you name it!)

My main advice for choosing your outfit though would be firstly, make sure you wear comfy shoes, because there is a whole lot of walking (some of it on grass) and although you might look lovely, you will regret heels when you’re sinking into the mud.


Secondly, dress for the temperature outside. I visited on a chilly day and it gets seriously cold being outside for hours if you’re not wrapped up warmly. Even the ‘inside’ areas are basically tents open at both ends, which makes them equally nippy. I recommend some kind of vibrant-printed coat if you want to be warm but still feel ‘dressed up’!
2. How to get to there

I certainly wouldn’t bother driving unless you need to. The event is no more than 10 minutes from Sloane Square tube station (which is only one stop from Victoria main line station) and as soon as you exit the Underground there are loads of signs showing you exactly what route to take.

On your way to the event, you’ll be able to admire beautiful floral displays outside some of the shops en route, and, in my case, this car with a crown. Anyone else want one?!


Oh, and of course, make sure you say ‘good morning’ to any Chelsea pensioners having an early stroll around their gaffe.

3. What time to arrive

Sorry late starters – I would 100% recommend getting there as early as possible to avoid the crowds, as it does get seriously busy. The show actually opens at 8am, and I’ve already decided that, if I’m lucky enough to return next year, I’m going to get in there with the early crowd.


Certain gardens get particularly rammed (for example, you had to queue a while to look at the see of poppies gracing this year’s show). So, do a bit of research online before you arrive and then you can march straight to these main attractions at the beginning, leaving you free to take a more leisurely pace for the rest of the day.



4. What to eat and drink

Okay so obviously I didn’t get the opportunity to sample all the tasty delights of the Chelsea Flower Show food stalls. What I will say is, if you can possibly manage it, try not to sit down for a coffee or eat lunch at the ‘standard’ times, because the queues are LONG (we went for an 11am coffee and cake and the poor girl I was with was queuing for ages!)

If you can stagger it a bit, that might help. Alternatively, you can book into one of the show’s fancy restaurants for a meal (you might have to remortgage your house) or take a more budget-friendly approach and bring your own food, making the most of the on-site picnic areas.



5. What to take in your handbag

Well, firstly, do not take a huge bag that you’re going to regret carting around all day. However, there are a few bits I’d recommend taking, including an umbrella or sunglasses/SPF (depending on the weather!), some sort of camera, a notebook if you’re a really keen gardener and most importantly, cash!

I made the mistake of taking a bag that was so small I couldn’t even fit my purse in it (#ladyproblems), meaning I couldn’t indulge in all the gorgeous shopping stalls that border the show. I did, however, get to visit the Heyland & Whittle stall to meet owners Paddy and Ursula. I already knew the brand for its lovely hand-cut soaps, which I sold many moons ago when I was a journo intern and working in Fortnum & Mason every weekend and evening to pay rent on my Brixton hovel! However they now have a huge range including dreamy diffusers, an outside candle that repels bugs (genius) and a range of ‘Clementine and Prosecco’ scented products that have done phenomenally well, which is no surprise really given that every girl my age is obsessed with the bubbly stuff.


There were loads of other stalls too, selling everything from flower-themed cards to practical gardening tools and outdoor furniture. And what will the gardeners themselves be buying? According to one exhibitor I chatted to, some Gold Leaf winter gloves – he told me he had pruned 2,000 roses and they didn’t have a scratch on them, which I think it a pretty good selling point!



6. What to do

Well, obviously look at EVERYTHING, go shopping and if possible, quaff some Champagne.

But my main tip is this: speak to people. There are so many exhibitors there with such an extraordinary level of knowledge that even someone who has very little knowledge of gardening (cough cough, me) can get a real insight just by chatting to people about what they do. Green fingers, here I come…