HELLO! DIGITAL COVER STORY

Giovanna Fletcher on mum guilt, meeting Kate Middleton and juggling work with raising her three sons

The author has guest-edited our Back to School digital issue

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When we were deciding who would guest-edit our debut Back to School digital issue, we found the perfect fit in Giovanna Fletcher. Podcaster, author, winner of the 2020 pandemic version of I'm a Celebrity and of course a mother-of-three alongside her husband Tom, we were confident that Giovanna would create a truly successful special issue.

While editing our contributions from the likes of Alex Jones, Mo Farah and Princess Beatrice, we spoke in-depth to Giovanna about overcoming bullying at school, bonding with the Duchess of Cambridge over mum guilt, and embracing the hecticness of life as a working parent (spoiler alert: she'd like to be a mix of Mary Poppins, Maria from The Sound of Music and the Mum from the Oxo adverts, but admits she's a long way off).

EXCLUSIVE: Princess Beatrice on homeschooling her stepson, her unborn baby and why having dyslexia is a 'gift'

Starring on our Digital Cover as we were invited to shoot at Holmes Hotel London's new immersive events space, The Residence, Giovanna looks very much at home in her guest editor role.

Giovanna Fletcher stars on our Back to School digital cover

Giovanna, how have you found the whole guest-editing experience?

"It's been great fun. I felt when we were having our first meeting on Zoom back in July, I almost thought I was on some sort of drama or sitcom, where I was pretending to be an editor for the day on Ugly Betty or something. But it's been great fun coming up with ideas. And I'm working with a team who I've worked with over the years so it's interesting to see this side of it and all the work that goes into it. And the Back to School issue is obviously very me! Whether as a mum or even as a woman, I feel like that time of year there's a shift in all of us and that's just something that sticks from childhood."

READ: Heavily pregnant Alex Jones reveals how labour won't stop her taking her son on first day of school

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WATCH: Giovanna Fletcher on her guest-editing HELLO! experience

You went to the Sylvia Young Theatre School when you were 13. Did you always know that you wanted to go to a performing arts school?

"No, not at all. When I was younger, I didn't have a really good time at school. I was bullied and then we moved. And it was only through that move that I discovered that I really loved singing and acting. So I joined a local amateur dramatics group and I loved doing that. I saw Sylvia on Live and Kicking one day and there was a little strapline across the bottom saying how to order a prospectus. And so I phoned up and asked for a prospectus; it told you about the scholarships so I applied for one.

"The audition date came through and my parents had never done anything like that before but they took me up there. I didn't get the scholarship, first of all. But then a couple of weeks later, Sylvia got in touch and said, 'You didn't get a scholarship. But how about this deal?' It was kind of half and half. And so I jumped at the chance, and it was the best thing ever. It was a very different school experience when you're going somewhere where everyone's got the same passion and it's not done in a competitive way. It's just done in a celebration of all things – theatre, really."

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Giovanna, wearing a dress by ME+EM, has guest-edited our Back to School digital issue

Were there a lot of big characters at school, vying for attention?

"Sylvia was someone who, there was no kissing in the hallway, there was no lovey-dovey stuff. It was that you're there, you focus and you do your work. You weren't allowed to talk about the auditions that you'd got, jobs that you'd got, it was a case of being very mindful about other people around you. And if there was anyone who was overtly over the top, then that was always dealt with in a really appropriate way that brought that person back to the room."

READ: Day in the Life of a very busy dad... how Ore Oduba handles it all

You and your husband Tom met at Sylvia's. What were you both like as pupils?

"I mean, I was the ultimate swot. Tom was super intelligent and loved his science but he was also amazing at art, which is interesting when you've got that creativity, but you also love the sciences. I loved seeing his artwork. We had to do a piece together for GCSE and I remember that being a lot of fun; we've got it somewhere upstairs at home. It was a bit dark, though. The theme was 'Inside', and we decided to go inside someone's mind and we covered some pretty big topics within that piece."

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The author, wearing a Boden denim dress, is a proud mum-of-three

You mentioned you were bullied before Sylvia's. Is that something you worry about for your own sons Buzz (seven), Buddy (five) and Max (two)?

"The conversation around bullying has moved on a lot since I was a kid. I think back then it was a case of, 'Oh, it's not happening. It's just kids being kids.' And actually, we all know that kids can be quite mean to each other. And we know that because we see how kids are affected and what that can lead to. So we know it's a very serious thing.

"When I talk to my kids about their day, one of the things that I ask is, 'Who did you play with? Did you have fun? What games did you play?' And I can remember one time Buzz saying to me, 'I didn't play with anyone.' And I was thinking, 'Why? Why didn't you play with anyone?' So I ended up ringing the school and they said he was absolutely fine. He'd been playing with everyone. He clearly just couldn't be bothered to talk to me!

WATCH: Jaime Amor's exclusive Cosmic Kids Yoga video will calm any pre-school nerves

"I do think it's about keeping that dialogue open with them. For me, it's talking to the school, it's talking to the parents, keeping that conversation open. I think that's really important. But you'd want to deal with it in a way that doesn't shock them. I can remember my Mum marching down to the school a few times and I'm so glad that she did. Because it's so important that someone is listening to you, validating how you feel and letting you know that it's not appropriate, it's not on. So maybe I'll be that marching mum."

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Giovanna says she thought she'd be Maria from The Sound of Music as a mother. Wearing earrings by Loel & Co, necklace and bracelets by Ivy Rose

Before you had kids, did you have any ideas of what kind of mum you'd be and did you fulfil those expectations?

"I thought I would be Maria from The Sound of Music mixed with Mary Poppins mixed with the Oxo mum from the adverts because she made the family. I just thought she was great! But I don't think I am. When I grew up, my Mum was at home most of the time, and that was what I always thought I would do. And then I became a mum just as my writing career was taking off so that didn't happen. And I don't regret that at all. So for me, I feel like I juggle more than I thought I would, in terms of family life and work life. But in many ways, it's so much better than I thought it would be. I mean, when it's stressful, it's super stressful and it's loud and it's chaotic, but I think it's a case of embracing all of that craziness."

SEE: Nadiya Hussain shares her weekly packed lunch menu

What is the best thing about being a mum?

"The best thing is when you can block everything else out and just be fully with your kids. Everyone knows kids are most engaged when you can give them your whole self. Seeing them laugh with each other, with you, the cuddles, the love. Sometimes it's a simple thing, like someone putting their hands in yours. It's just that love, there's nothing quite like it."

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Giovanna sporting a red dress by ME+EM

What's the best and worst advice you've received as a mum?

"I think you get so much advice, that it's really important to take it all on. The reason people are so passionate about the advice they give is because they have lived the experience and they have tried everything. And they found something that worked for them, so everyone's point is valid. However, everyone is different. I say take the advice on board, but then chuck it away! You've got to leave enough space for your own instincts to kick in.

"My worst advice… I did have someone say about sleep training that they just put the baby in the room and locked the door and then within a couple of nights, the baby stopped crying. I thought, 'I'm not going down that route!' It was quite an old school person who said that anyway."

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Interviewing the Duchess of Cambridge about motherhood is a career highlight for Giovanna

Speaking of advice, did you learn anything new about motherhood or parenting after your podcast interview with the Duchess of Cambridge?

"Her passion for the Early Years is incredible, absolutely incredible. Before we recorded the podcast, there was always going to be another section within it that was with experts on the Early Years. And as soon as we finished, I said straight away, 'We don't need it, we absolutely don't need it,' because it undermines the Duchess' involvement and her personal investment in it.

"There's definitely that thing that as a parent where you're constantly trying to soak up new knowledge that's going to help you in some way. And I felt that was really apparent with her. And not only for her and her family, but that desire to share that with other people to try and lighten the load, to have that community feel where people don't feel like they're on their own. I think that was fascinating to hear.

"And obviously for everyone, it's that whole mum guilt thing where your kids say, 'Do you have to go to work today? Can't you be here with me?' So knowing that she has that too made me feel less alone about leaving my two-year-old who always wants me at home."

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Giovanna wearing a trouser and blazer combo by ME+EM

Did it feel like you were chatting to another regular mum?

"Absolutely. And like with most people, as soon as they start talking about their kids, there's a softness, it's something that's such a part of you. She's definitely very, very hands-on and fills her kids' time with adventure."

How nervous were you before interviewing her?

"I think I say how nervous I am within the first couple of minutes of the actual podcast. I was very, very nervous because at that point, she'd not really spoken in that way before. And my role in these podcasts is always to make the other person feel as relaxed as possible so they share, so they know that it's a safe space to do so. But I don't think I really realised how big a deal it was until it was played to a few of the royal reporters a couple of weeks later. I think that's when I realised, 'Oh, wow.' It was really fascinating seeing their reaction to it.

"It's very different reading something in print and actually hearing someone say it, because I guess you really feel the sentiment behind it. I don't think I'd ever heard her speak so much before on anything else so it was definitely a proper insight into her and who she is. And I feel that weird sense of pride every time I see her do stuff now. I just think she's absolutely amazing. I can't wait to see what she does for Early Years and the work that she continues to do because there's so much passion there. She's so aware of things that are going on and only good things can come from that."

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The podcaster says her children get on "really, really well"

Like many families, your sons will have spent pretty much all of lockdown together. Have they grown closer over the past year and a half?

"Absolutely. Like any siblings and like myself and my brother and sister growing up, they argue. But there is this definite protectiveness between them. They make each other laugh. Everything goes back to poo and trumps, because that's boys – well actually any child because when my niece comes over, she's in on it as well. They argue at home but when they're out and about, they are just so together and they look after each other, and when they're at school, they do the same. In the past year, I've definitely felt they've been so lucky to have each other."

READ: Andrea McLean's top tips for stressed-out parents and why 'me time' isn't selfish

Are Buzz and Buddy closer because of the smaller age gap?

"No, it kind of changes. I think all their relationships are very, very different. But they all get on really, really well. They hang out as a three all the time. They make each other laugh. I always find that they get on best when they're up to no good, when they're really planning something or playing spies."

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Giovanna and Tom with their three sons

What are your lasting memories of Buzz and Buddy's first days of school?

"I remember being really nervous and really quite emotional because it feels like the end of something and the beginning of something else brand new. You are no longer part of their every single second. Someone else is now taking care of that role. You don't know what they're up to all the time, and just realising that that will be to age 18 and beyond. I remember it being quite a shift.

"But then also being blown away, because both times Buzz and Buddy just wandered in happily, eager to see their mates, meet their teacher. I think it'll really hit us when Max starts school. Max has started nursery and even that feels weird, but when he is in actual full-time school, I think that'll be really weird. Because by that point, we'll have had nine years of them being at home so it will feel very strange knowing that they all have a place to be."

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"If anyone lies in, they get toast thrown at them as they leave," says Giovanna

Describe a typical school run in the Fletcher household.

"So I'm quite organised when it comes to getting the kids sorted in the morning. The night before, I will get everyone's uniform out and lay them in piles, along with their shoes and their socks, and have their bags packed because if they've got PE that day, they have a whole other kit. Their bags will be ready by the door so that when they come down about 7 o'clock ish, they have a quick breakfast and then they'll grab their things. At the moment, we have to leave at 8 o'clock so it's quite a quick turnaround. If anyone lies in, they get toast thrown at them as they leave.

"It can be quite chaotic especially now the three of them have got to leave around the same time for a couple of days a week. The best thing for us is organisation and I used to do that as a kid. I remember I had to leave at 6 o'clock every morning to get to Sylvia's and so I used to shower the night before and then leave my clothes in a pile and slip them on and just go.

READ: Sarah Ferguson shares emotional memory from Princess Eugenie's first day of nursery

"But I quite like the organisational parts of being a mum. There's something quite nice about knowing that everything is in place, everything's running smoothly. But there's always the odd day where a water bottle or a snack gets forgotten. We're only human."

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Giovanna's top organisational tip for going back to school is to label everything

Is Tom just as organised?

"Oh yeah, he's really good. And he has to be because if there are times when I'm not there, he's on it. It's definitely a joint team effort to get them all dressed in the morning. In fact, I'd say Tom probably does the school run more often than I do. But it is shared."

Speaking of Tom, he's signed up for Strictly Come Dancing! How hard was it to keep a secret?

We've known for a long time that Tom would be doing Strictly this year and it's been a really hard secret to keep. The whole family are really excited to see him shaking his hips on the dance floor and can't wait to see him having loads of fun. He's literally in it for the experience and we'll be proud of him no matter what.

What are your top back-to-school organisational tips for parents?

"Label everything! There's a few different ways you could do it. Either use stick-on labels or Stamptastic stamps, which are particularly great for any white-coloured items. It's literally an ink pad with a stamp. It's amazing. I feel like you're calmer knowing that those things are done. It's just one less stress.

"Just before Buddy started school, we drove to the school a couple of times or if we were local, we would have walked it. We just walked around so they could see it because otherwise you're just taking them somewhere they've not been for weeks. And try to get some play dates in with other friends that are in their class, just so that it feels like a gradual return to school.

"It's an exciting time. As parents, we always want to check how they're feeling and ask if they're worried. But I feel like you've got to let those conversations happen organically instead of projecting your fears onto them."

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"Parents have got to be kind to themselves," says Giovanna

As you've expanded your family, have you got into a better groove of learning to balance everything? Or has it got more hectic?

"I think anything we learnt about balancing has been completely thrown on its head since lockdown, because we've all had to negotiate with ourselves that we're not being as productive as we usually are, because we're in a pandemic, and we've got the kids at home and they need us. So I've had to push a lot of things back and pushed work into the evenings a lot more.

"Usually, the balance would be me working during term time so that when it's the holidays, I can be a bit freer. But that has just not happened this year and I think parents have got to be kind to themselves and see that this is a result of the pandemic. At some point, the balance will come back.

"But also, I think I've learned that we don't have to say yes to everyone. It's okay to rejig things in the diary and make sure that there is that balance, because we're the only ones who are in charge of it. There are only so many hours in the day. And as much as we've all got to work, it's making sure that you've got that time to not only sleep, but live your life with your family. Otherwise, you're just working without really enjoying life."

All photography shot by James Robinson at Holmes Hotel London.

Stylist: Leah Binnall. Hair and makeup: Enya Sullivan.

Shop Giovanna Fletcher's shoot:

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Serena Leopard Dress longer length, £144, WYSE

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Satin Twill Boyfriend Blazer and Satin Twill Tapered Trouser and Belt, £192 and £122, ME+EM

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Forever Silk Shirt Dress, £395, ME+EM

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Fluid Sporty Satin Maxi Dress, £157, ME+EM

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