There are many strings to Sara Davies' bow. Not only is she a successful entrepreneur and business owner, the star has carved out a successful career on television, becoming a recognisable face on BBC's Dragons' Den, and not forgetting a stint on Strictly Come Dancing which cemented a life-long love of ballroom dancing.
Professional accolades aside, the 37-year-old manages to juggle multiple spinning plates while being a mum to two young boys, Oliver, eight, and Charlie, five. But it seems Sara's business acumen doesn't get left behind at the front door after a long day's work.
Even in mum-mode, the star takes the opportunity to pass on lessons learned throughout her career to her family – and that's where her campaign with My First MONOPOLY comes in. Once a game perhaps considered for grown-ups, Sara's eager to show that teaching children lessons about finance, property and fairness needn't be boring.
In our exclusive interview for HELLO!'s Digital Cover, we chat with Sara about her impressive career and how she balances her work with her family. The star also opens up about being Strictly star Aljaz Skorjanec's final partner on the show, and what it was really like meeting Prince William.
© Nicky Johnston
Sara, you have such a busy life balancing a successful career with running your own business, plus your family. What are your biggest tips for juggling it all and coping with any stress?
"I've got one golden rule that I always live by and quite often I even catch myself and have to remind myself of it, and that is just be present in whatever you're doing. I know that I don't spend as much time with the kids as I would like to. I'm a working mum and I travel away from home a lot and I would love to be home more than I am. But instead of chastising myself about that and focusing on the negatives, I just make sure that when I am home, I'm spending quality time with the kids.
"I don't like to be one of those mums who is at the park with them but checking my emails every five minutes, or we're spending the day off together but I've scheduled three Zoom calls that I can nip off and do. If I'm with the kids, I'm with the kids.
"If I've got to travel to America for work, my head is fully in that and I don't let myself get fixated on mum guilt and the fact that I'm away because mum guilt doesn't help anybody. It makes my life harder, it doesn't make the kids' life any easier or better. They're fine without me, I know that. They've been really well looked after by grandparents or they've got Simon at home or whatever it is."
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© Nicky Johnston
Speaking of your career success, you were made an MBE in 2016 by Prince William. How was that experience? Were you nervous?
"I had a 50-pound bump at the time! When the palace contacted me, I was pregnant and so they said they could give me optional dates for when I could go and there was only one date available before I had the baby. So my assistant said to me, 'Do you want to wait?' and I said, 'Absolutely not. I do not want to be at the palace with a big saggy tummy, and nobody knows I've just had a baby, it just looks like I'm massively overweight. Leaky boobs, bags under my eyes because I won't have slept in days!' Whereas instead I could go down there with my big 50 pound bump blooming with wonderful hair and glowing skin and no sleep deprivation because I'm gearing up for the sleep deprivation!
"And of course, everyone made a massive fuss, because it was so big and they were terrified that the baby was going to come any minute and it actually came two days later. So everyone was running around after me and I was always priority so it was wonderful! I always remember waddling, and I had my four inch stilettos on and you can't walk backwards in front of the royals so I was waddling backwards!
"Someone had obviously whispered in Prince William's ear what to say in particular, and I waddled up and had no idea what he was going to say. And after he said: 'Wow, that looks like it's coming soon!' He then said, 'So, that enveloper, that's a really good product isn't it?' and I was so taken aback. I wasn't thinking straight that somebody's obviously just whispered in his ear but, in my head, he knew all about my enveloper! And I was so transfixed, and I always think if I have time to go back to that moment, I would totally say to him, 'Is your Grandma into making cards, like?' I'd love to have that moment back to get that witty one-liner in. So, I said thank you and then waddled backwards!"
Sara Davies stars in our Digital Cover
You were appointed an ambassador for Smart Works last year, the same charity of which the Duchess of Sussex is a patron, what made you want to get involved?
"I didn't know she was going to be involved until after I'd agreed to be involved! So the girl who runs our local branch up in Newcastle, I'd won a big business award and she was the one who gave me the award. I remember her getting in touch with me and she gave me the pitch on that one and it just connected with me straight away.
"So I agreed to do it, and when I had the call with the lady who runs the whole charity, she obviously told me about Meghan Markle and it sounds like Meghan had the same feeling that I did about what a great cause it was: how it was about female empowerment and how it's not just about dressing well but how you can make somebody feel, and how you can influence someone who's interviewing you to feel as well. I was really proud and quite humbled when I heard she was involved too."
You took part in Strictly in 2021 and made no secret of your long-time love of ballroom. Are you still dancing?
"I haven't actually done any dancing since I finished the tour because I did such an intensive couple of months. I can tell you Simon will not even come and dance with me at a friend's wedding, you will never get that guy on the dancefloor. He danced once and that was at our wedding and that was just standing in the middle shuffling around!
"But my Dad used to do ballroom when he was younger and the Quickstep was always his favourite. He's 72 and he's got COPD, and I said that minute and 42 seconds almost killed me so there's absolutely no chance you're doing a quick step, so maybe we'll learn the slow fox instead.
"But just those memories of dancing with my dad at Christmas, I could see how much it meant to him and it meant the absolute world to me. I put a video on my Instagram and quite a few of the Strictly professionals got in touch and said it was so fascinating to see me teaching my Dad, because it gave an insight into how Aljaz [Skorjanec] taught me and then they were so proud of Aljaz which made me feel really proud!"
MORE: What business does Sara Davies own and how did she get rich?
Speaking of Aljaz, did it feel extra special being his final partner on the show?
"I most definitely felt very special for that. And actually, I spent the day with him and Janette [recently] and I'd been to watch their show twice over the weekend and it was just lovely watching him and even though there were thousands of people there in that auditorium, he made sure he picked me out in the opening dance. And every chance he'd blow a little kiss! I felt like he was dancing the whole show just for us, it was magical."
Did he tell you he was planning on leaving or were you just as surprised as the rest of us?
"I knew about it. It's something he's premeditated for a long time and it is part of his life plan."
Are you still in contact with your fellow Strictly 2021 stars?
"There's a handful of them that I became really good friends with and I probably still speak to on a weekly basis. And most of the [others] we still keep in touch with too. It was a wonderful group this year, everybody backstage said that as well. And I'm sure they say that to everybody every year, but we all felt really special."
Tell us about your partnership with Hasbro and My First Monopoly and why you're getting involved.
"Monopoly is a game I've always played and loved in my childhood. My boys are five and eight now, and my little one, especially our Charlie, is really obsessed with numbers, money and counting, so we're always trying to find educational ways of bringing all of that into game play. We got My First MONOPOLY and sent it over to the grandparents. My Dad, who is obsessed with doing educational stuff with the kids and getting them off the tablets, thought it was the best thing ever. And they've even had my little niece, who's just coming up to three, play; she's obviously a little bit young to understand but she felt like she could join in. They've really thought it through for how accessible it is for kids. It's really hard when you've got kids that are five and eight, to find a family game that fits both of them, but this one does."
My First MONOPOLY, £21.99, Smyths Toys
Do you and your boys get competitive when you play?
"Oh yes, they are definitely their mother's sons, there's no doubt about that whatsoever! They're like chalk and cheese, my two boys. One of them is really shy and the other one is really gregarious and outgoing. And it's the little one, our Charlie, that's the really outgoing one. And you'll say to him, 'Charlie, you're so good at maths and all this counting,' and he'll go, 'Yes, I know mummy.'
"Whereas, you talk to our Oliver, and he'll say 'No I can't do it!' But then he's the more competitive one in sport and things like that. It's just really nice that it's something we're able to do as a family. And I know a lot of families make games night on a Friday night and it sounds like a wonderful idea, but then what's the reality of it? For us, we've just been playing a lot of cards and gone back to basics, so to actually have a board game now like My First MONOPOLY that we can all play, has just been fantastic."
MORE: Dragons' Den: meet the children of Sara Davies, Peter Jones and more
© Nicky Johnston
Have you found that it's helped with teaching skills to your children such as money, property or fairness?
"I think as a parent it weighs heavy the responsibility of the fact that you've got to teach your children and bring them up in the right way. But then it's quite often difficult to have the tools to do that. And often I'm just preaching about things and it's not meaningful to them. Whereas they don't want me to preach at them about money and organising money and how the way the world works. I would never think to be talking to them about buying properties and trading and how it works at this age because it just feels too advanced and grown up. But My First MONOPOLY makes it really accessible.
"And it's not just the money, it's the fair play. Because it's one of those games where you can't cheat, and it's been really interesting watching the dynamic between them when they've played. We used to do this when we were kids and we would play against my Mum and Dad, as soon as Dad was looking like he was winning, we'd all gang up on him a little bit! And so it's been really lovely seeing that competitive angst but then the collaboration side of it as well."
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What would you say your fondest memories of playing the game as a child are?
"I used to always want to be the dog. And it didn't matter what [my sister and I] did, my Dad was always the one winning. And he's one of those parents that doesn't believe that you should let the children win because that doesn't teach them, so we never ever got to win. But we'd set out on the game thinking, 'This is going to be the time that one of us is going to beat Dad'.
"I've been writing my autobiography recently and I realised the amount of stuff I've learned from my Dad that he wasn't trying to actively teach me. And I think that's what I'm trying to do now as a parent. I look at my parents and think I had a perfect upbringing and I would be so proud if I was them of how I turned out, and I want to do the same with my kids."
How would you describe your parenting style?
"I really try hard to not be a control freak and try and let them feel like they know best, like they're in control of the decisions they're making, while trying to influence them to a way of thinking and being good people.
"Even though my kids are five and eight and they need parenting in a lot of regards, a lot of the stuff I try and do with them is more coaching as opposed to telling. And I think they respond to that a lot better. It's that positive reinforcement of pointing out to them why what they've done is really good. And the impact, not just saying 'That was really nice', but explaining to them why it was really positive."
Do you have any other family traditions that you've passed down to your children?
"My Mum used to bake with me a lot. I look at my husband and his Dad played football and cricket and rugby, so they were very sports-orientated. I think I'm very conscious that that's very gender stereotypical and I really want to break that. So while I have not developed a massive love for football, I make sure that we do as much baking and crafting as we do with the sport side of it. Especially during lockdown, I would really enjoy baking with our Charlie and we'd bake a fresh batch of scones and then go out on his little bike and cycle around the village and deliver them to the neighbours. It's life skills and the thoughtfulness about other people, and it also reminds me of when I did that with my parents."
Shop My First MONOPOLY, the game Sara Davies plays with her children, at Smyths Toys.