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Samantha Cameron gets candid about mum juggle and the realities of raising children in Downing Street

Our one-time first lady knows a thing or two about pressure

Fashion designer, style icon and mother Samantha Cameron has risen to the top of her profession while raising her children with her husband, former Conservative prime minister David Cameron.

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Nearly five months after leaving Downing Street, Britain's one-time first lady Samantha launched a fashion label, Cefinn, a luxury womenswear brand that has been "designed and made to last" and favoured by many stars.

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WATCH: Inside Samantha Cameron's time in Downing Street

Launching her own fashion label is no surprise, given that Samantha previously worked as a former creative director at the leather goods brand Smythson. When living at No10, the 50-year-old won many fans for her smart but modern approach to dressing during David's six years in office. On occasion, Samantha would draw in comparisons with the then US First Lady Michelle Obama - someone who she greatly admires.

Speaking exclusively to HELLO! for our International Women's Day digital issue, the businesswoman opens up about how she handled being a mum in the public eye, trying to balance it all, and how she's raising her children to be feminists.

A big part of our International Women's Day issue is motherhood. The mum juggle is real. How do you balance it all?

There are moments where you don't - I think any working mum will say that. I'm an early riser, I get up when my alarm goes off just before 6am, I love being able to have a bath and a bit of 'me time' before I get the children up at about 6.45am.

We try to have as much structure and routine, certainly during the week - as much as we possibly can. Luckily, I am quite an organised person so that works well. I think you just have to accept that you can't do everything. You can't go out every night and look after the children and be in quite an intense job - something has to give.

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I have breakfast with the children every morning. My husband is an amazing cook, so we eat all our meals together as a family. Mealtime is a really big thing for us, sitting around a table chatting helps keep up a really good communication with your children even though you might be in the office a lot of the time.

Motherhood is hard enough but how challenging was it to be a mum in the public eye during the Downing Street era? And becoming a new mother again when Florence was born?

When they were little, it was easy, in a sense you could protect them from quite a lot. They didn't really understand what was happening. I was glad we left Downing Street before my older children became teenagers because I think that would have been really difficult.

Florence arriving was actually a great thing because you're in the bubble of being a new mum and having a baby again - all the excitement around that. I think that insulates and protects you from the shock of suddenly being in the public eye. It meant that I had a bit of time to adjust before I was expected to do too much. She literally arrived as we moved into Downing Street. It gave me a chance to work out how I wanted to live and work there before I had to go out to do things in public.

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How long did it take to adjust to life in Downing Street - the security, the protocol, the paparazzi?

My children and I didn't have security. I stayed in the same job, they all stayed in the same school. I tried to keep everything as similar as it had been at home. My husband's good at compartmentalising, he would come up into the flat in the evenings and be able to spend time with us as a normal family even though we were effectively living in the office. The flat is amazing and very quiet, you don't hear what's going on in the rest of the building. The children were small and much more unaware of what was happening around them.

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We came in the back door of Downing Street, you're not coming in through the front door where there are often lots of press and cameras outside, if the children had been dealing with that a few times a day, it would have been stressful and weird. Again, because the children were little, the rules were quite strict, we didn’t have press hanging out outside the schools or anything like that.

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You're celebrating 5 years of Cefinn this year - congratulations! How would you describe the journey so far? Are you where you thought you'd be five years on?

There have been lots of highs as well as lows, lots of firsts and a huge amount of learning. Then obviously there was a pandemic. There is no way the company would be what it is today without my amazing team and all their incredible hard work. And of course, our brilliant customers, who have really supported us throughout. We've got some very loyal, enthusiastic clients who give us really valued feedback. You're just nothing without your team, and they've been amazing because working for a start-up is very intense.

What barriers have you faced in your career and how did you overcome them?

I think anyone who starts a new business or a start-up will understand there's always an element of naivety which is good because you probably wouldn't do it otherwise. But there were definitely days when we launched where I would be answering emails at 4am. You'd be juggling: raising money, legal issues, the designers, the website and IT. Things I wouldn't normally deal with, not to mention, actually designing and producing the collection. That was the most intense period. You've got a tiny team, often people that you've not worked with before, but I was very lucky to have some incredible people who helped me start the business.

One of the other barriers is that I'm the only designer in the business. I have an amazing production team, an incredible pattern cutter and graphic designer but in terms of designing the collection, I'm the only one. It is very challenging to carve out time to design the prints and the collection while also overseeing the business and the marketing. I have to be very organised and keep calm to ensure I am getting through it all without becoming overwhelmed.

How was business during the pandemic and what lessons did you learn from the pandemic?

I think we were lucky. I've been in the retail business quite a long time, so I've been through a couple of recessions before. I know this was different, but it's not that different. We reacted very fast, we were very flexible in our approach because you are having to change your mind each day on how you might tackle something, it was all very unknown. What I learned was that you do have to react really fast, you've got to be flexible, hold your nerve and keep talking to your customers.

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You have the celebrity seal of approval too. How does it feel seeing someone like Gillian Anderson, Alex Jones and Holly Willoughby wearing one of your pieces?

Definitely the most motivating element of the business is seeing amazing women wearing Cefinn. That excitement never dulls. I think the whole team feel the same. I'm a huge fan of Gillian Anderson and her natural approach to effortless tailored dressing. It's been such a pleasure seeing her wear quite a few of the Cefinn pieces over the last couple of years when she's been launching her projects. When you walk down the street and you see someone wearing Cefinn, it's very exhilarating.

Our customers (and my girlfriends and four sisters) give us really positive feedback, that is what keeps everybody on the team going. That's why we're here - to make women feel amazing, to make the whole stress of dressing easy, to make women feel really confident, that's the main motivation for the business. When you see that happening it is exciting and motivating.

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What did you dream of doing when you were a little girl? Was it always fashion?

When I was a child, my aunt worked for Jasper Conran and my mum's best friend was Bruce Oldfield, so we got to wear their samples as teenagers. I used to make my own clothes and loved browsing through September Vogue – I just loved all the textures and colours - I have always loved fabric.

What's been your proudest work moment?

I would say seeing my designs on real people and getting great customer feedback is something I am most proud of work wise. I love the feeling of making women feel special and confident in how they look.

What are your plans for Cefinn in the next five years?

The most important plan is to grow the business post-pandemic to be financially secure, with a strong sustainability ethos. Working with new fabrics is always exciting as each has such distinct properties that take a while to develop around. We also want to continue to develop the collection and reach more women.

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A question we're asking everyone for International Women's Day is who is the most inspirational woman you know in the public eye, and why?

Michelle Obama is incredibly impressive. When I saw her in action during the time I spent with her and got to know her I felt that she was the most inspirational, strong, calm and wise woman I had come across.

And how are you raising your children to be feminists?

I have a very entrepreneurial mother and four sisters, so my children are lucky to be surrounded by lots of strong women. One of the positive elements of being a working mother is your children can see you contributing financially to the family and being very independent and in control of your career.

My daughter Nancy, when she was about eleven, cut out these individual felt letters and embroidered them onto the front of an old T-shirt – they spelt 'Feminist'. So, I don't think I have to work very hard with her.

Samantha Cameron reveals her top five Cefinn pieces to help make you feel empowered:

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Rosie green crimson floral dress, Cefinn

PRE-ORDER

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Caro Boxy V Neck Cardigan, £170, Cefinn

SHOP NOW

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Beckett Scarf Detail V Neck Silk Shirt, £290, Cefinn

SHOP NOW

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Josie Collared Button Cuff Merino Rib Dress, £290, Cefinn

SHOP NOW

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Cordelia Round Neck Midi Dress with Tiered Skirt, £270, Cefinn

SHOP NOW

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