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Tess Daly on friendship, business and making it through lockdown with 'sister' Gayle Lawton

Sophie Hamilton

We all know and love TV presenter Tess Daly from hit show Strictly Come Dancing, which she co-hosts with Claudia Winkleman.

And while the pair are often recognised as telly best friends, there's another woman in Tess' life who has been her absolute rock throughout the years – her good friend and business partner, Gayle Lawton.

The glamorous star, who is married to fellow presenter Vernon Kay, and her friend Gayle have just launched their new swimwear brand, Naia Beach. As this third lockdown slowly comes to an end, many of us will be eagerly awaiting our first holiday in a year and Tess and Gayle's beautiful range of swimwear has us dreaming of white sands.

MORE: Exclusive: Tess Daly details secret wedding vow renewal story for the first time

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Tess Daly launches our new Friendship Special digital cover

This month, Tess launches our new Friendship Special digital cover, where she shines a spotlight on her friendship with Gayle, which spans ten years. Here, the pair open up about their shared experiences, their joint family holidays, how they helped each other through lockdown and why they decided to take their relationship to the next level as business partners!

Tess and Gayle immediately clicked after meeting at a dinner party

Tess: "We've been friends for over a decade now. We first met at a mutual friend's dinner party and were seated next to each other. We were the only northerners at the table and we bonded over that.

"We also bonded quickly over our shared passions: parenting, travel, fashion. We got on like a house on fire. I don't think we left the table actually, did we? You know when you find someone and it's immediately comfortable? That was ten years ago and we haven't stopped talking since.

"It was wonderful meeting Gayle because our families are both up north and we live in the south for work and family reasons. In finding Gayle, it was like finding a sister really. There was an immediate familiarity. We've got to the point now where we're more like family than friends."

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Tess and Gayle first met ten years ago

Gayle is like Tess' sister

Tess: "We have a lot of shared values in common. For us, it's family and friendships first and always. Gayle is like my sister at this point. In fact, I've probably adopted her as my sister because my sister is in New Zealand and I miss her terribly."

Gayle: "I think we appreciate each other because we know our friendship is really special. We're both hardworking mums so there's a mutual respect. I think Tess is incredible and she's also an incredible friend."

Gayle is fiercely protective of her famous friend

Gayle: "The fact that Tess is famous doesn't come into it. I don't look at her like that. There's a natural warmth to her, she's got no ego. She's Tess. And Vernon is Vernon. The girls are the girls. I've never looked at her as anything other than my friend.

"I'm very protective of her because she's my friend and I know that she is in the public spotlight and I am hugely and fiercely protective of her, as I am the rest of her family too. But it doesn't make Tess any different, she's just my friend. She's my best friend."

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Tess and Gayle have launched their own swimwear line

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Their friendship has got them through hard times

Tess: "Being removed from your friendship groups and not being able to physically socialise has been tough. Let's not sugar-coat it, the COVID experience has been a testing time for everybody. But our friendship has carried us through it. It's kept me cheerful, having Gayle on the other end of the phone.

"Her friendship is a gift. She's one of those people where you can say anything you want; you don't think about something before you say it, you can be entirely yourself with. That's a friend. Friends who love and can forgive every side of you, someone who's endlessly supportive, and we have that. I'm grateful that we have that friendship together because it's quite rare I think."

Gayle: "Starting a business with a friend… some people say 'do it', some say 'don't do it' but actually, if I was going to go into business with anybody it would be Tess."

Tess: "Gayle is the hardest working girl I've ever met in my life, I swear. I think we start emailing each other at 6.45am and finish about 11!"

Their perfect night in or out involves a good cocktail

Gayle: "[Pre-covid] I go to Tess' house and I hang around for quite a long time and I normally get a phone call to say, 'Are you coming home?'"

Tess: "Usually there's a kitchen disco involved. Obviously, this is all pre-Covid but roll on June 21st or whenever we're all allowed again."

Gayle: "A night out would be dinner wouldn't it, with our girlfriends and cocktails and hopefully stilettos!"

Tess: "My stilettos are all in semi-retirement all lined up looking at me, teasing me, and I think 'Ouch, they look painful'. It's been a while. I can't wait to get dressed up again. Enough lycra already!"

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The ladies love a girls' night 

Tess and Gayle's children have grown up together

Gayle: "Our children are good friends and we go on holiday together. I've got a son and Tess has girls but they just gel. I think it's because they've known each other for a long time, so they just get on as a family really. Amber and Charlie are a year apart."

Tess: "We met when [the children] were tiny. We're close. We live five minutes from each other. Like everyone else now, it's mostly been Zoom and when we can, talking at a distance, to build the business which we started building last year in lockdown."

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They couldn't have got through lockdown without each other

Gayle: "Covid has been hard on everybody, families and friendship. But I can honestly say – it might sound a little bit gushy – but if I hadn't have had Tess through this Covid period, I think it would have been so much harder. Just having somebody on the other end of the phone, where if you're having a bad day, you can ring them up and it doesn't have to be your husband or your mum.

"There have been times when I've rang Tess and said, 'Argh this is driving me crazy' and she's basically talked me through it. It has been a really stressful, difficult time so just having that person you can go to for honest opinions and advice has been crucial really."

Tess: "I think we've all needed to offload during this time and it's great having someone you can turn to who gets it. It's been a levelling experience for everybody because we've had to cope with circumstances that are unprecedented in our lifetime."

The friends came up with their business idea on holiday

Tess: "We were on holiday together weren't we? We tend to go on holiday with our families to the south of France, which is our favourite destination. We'd been shopping in St Tropez and we were struggling to find swimwear that we felt confident in. I find swimwear can either be too skimpy or too covered up and there's nothing in-between.

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Tess and Gayle share a passion for fashion

"We talked about it and said well no one's making what we want to wear, so why don't we do it? We want to feel confident while wearing it so why don't we produce a range that we feel comfortable in that's glamorous at the same time.

"Gayle has a background in fashion – she works with brands who design and fit the clothing and swimwear to her figure to get her feedback on the fit feel and quality."

Gayle: "Sometimes you'll put something on and if you don't feel comfortable in it, you can't justify that and another female won't feel comfortable in that as well. That's really important for a lot of designers I've worked with.

"I think that's where we've come up with a really good product ourselves. We would wear it and we've road-tested it ourselves and feel confident in it. The design process has taken a long time to get to where we are now in terms of making sure the fit and quality of the product is right.

"We don't go on holiday a lot – we certainly don't at the moment – so when you put swimwear on for the first time in a while, you are a little less confident in that item than you probably would have been if you lived by the beach."

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The good friends holiday together

Tess has body hang-ups like us

Tess: "We've all got body hang-ups, haven't we? We all feel vulnerable when we first put our swimwear on. I don't know about you but I do! For example, I might want a 12 top and a 10 bottom – but with our range you can mix and match tops and bottoms to fit your body shape.

"We all know that women appreciate a great fit, especially when it comes to swimwear. You need to feel confident in it otherwise you might end up feeling vulnerable and we want to enjoy ourselves – we're on holiday! We want to put on a swimsuit that makes us feel fabulous.

"We cannot wait to wear the pieces on holiday because until this point I've been wearing them in my garden!"

Tess and Gayle talk us through their favourite items

Tess: "One of my favourite pieces is the Luna maxi dress. It's just absolutely gorgeous. It's glamorous, romantic, it's got an ethereal feel. The fabric is unique to us as we sourced it."

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The Luna dress

Gayle: "We couldn't find a fabric that we loved or that draped well enough, that caught the light. We thought if we can't find it, we'll make it ourselves and that's what we did. The process was quite painstaking in terms of lots of different samples but we eventually got there. As we had it in our hand, we were like, 'That's it!'"

Tess: "It's the most beautiful colour. It was inspired by a holiday when we were thinking how beautiful the light was reflected off the water. I love the fact it can be a cover-up or a standalone dress so it takes you from beach to bar perfectly.

"We really pride ourselves on the subtle design touches that have been woven into the range in order to flatter you, to make your body look its very best. We want to celebrate women, we want women to feel their best and most confident on the beach."

Gayle: "The name for the collection is the goddess collection so all the pieces are named after ancient goddesses and have their own meanings."

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The Gaia bikini

Tess: "The white Gaia bikini can be worn four or five different ways… it straps up if you're walking around and straps down if you want to sunbathe. And no one wants their swimsuit to go transparent when you come out of the sea so we triple lined to stop that happening. We've got you covered, literally."

Building a business was like having another baby

Tess: "We've built this business over lockdown – it's been an immense project, like having another baby. If we're not emailing each other we're Whatsapping each other 100 messages a day. [Our husbands] are very encouraging."

Gayle: "My husband has said a few times, 'I'm really proud of you and Tess for doing this'. During lockdown, as with everyone, you're juggling the house, the pets, the homeschooling – and to a certain extent, you're also expected to put your dreams and ambitions on hold a bit.

"We thought, no, we don't want to do that. We want to realise our dream because it's something positive. We've achieved something we've always wanted to do when we've been juggling so many balls, sleepless nights, and now it's come to fruition."

Tess: "We talked about it for a really long time but we hadn't really had the time. We love travel, we love fashion - they're our shared passions."

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The NYX swimsuit

They haven't fallen out yet

Gayle: "I think we're both adult and sensible enough and have such a good relationship that if one of us is annoying the other one, we're quite quick to say and we're very accommodating with each other's quirks.

"To a certain extent I know what makes Tess tick and she'd say the same about me. We meet each other halfway a lot which is great because then the dynamics are level."

Tess: "It all comes down to that humour. We have a laugh. There's been no falling out yet! And I honestly don't think there will be. We have that relationship where as soon as I hear Gayle's voice I smile. She just makes me laugh."

 

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