With her bubbly personality, boundless enthusiasm and wise-cracking ways, you might think Claudia Winkleman would take to homeschooling like a duck to water. You’d be wrong.
“I probably shouldn’t say this, but I was a terrible homeschooler. Terrible!” the mum-of-three tells me, wide-eyed, on a video call. “Terrible to my nine-year-old. The other two worked it out, they could do it by themselves.”
The TV and radio presenter, who spent lockdown at home in London with husband Kris Thykier and children Jake (18), Matilda (15) and Arthur (9), came up with a cunning plan to get Thykier to handle teaching while she got to work on a secret project of her own.
Claudia Winkleman and Kris Thykier
“I thought, ‘I’m going to have to somehow get my husband to do this’. So I told him, ‘You be in charge of double science. I’m going to go upstairs and try and write a chapter of a book’. And I didn’t think anyone would take it [the book], but the lovely people at Harper Collins did.”
The result was bestseller Quite, in which Winkleman – who started her career as a travel journalist before moving into broadcasting – wrote about: “Everything. I wrote about fringes, black boots, kids leaving home, hair, fringe maintenance, eyeliner… That kind of stuff.”
Speaking of that famous fringe, did the Strictly presenter – who also hosts a BBC Radio 2 show on Saturdays – have to trim it herself while salons were closed?
“I did. Very badly – unbelievably badly. Because I am two things – I’m impatient and very short-sighted. But I did an online tutorial with [hairdresser] George Northwood, who’s amazing, and he talked me through it.”
It’s hard to imagine the 49-year-old without her trademark tresses, and even she struggles to recall life without those face-framing locks.
“I think I came out of the womb with a fringe,” she says, excitedly explaining why that jet black curtain of hair is so useful: “If you’re on the school run, if you look disgusting, if you are knackered, if you have lost your house keys, if you are in mismatching shoes and the world’s falling apart… if you’ve got a fringe – a heavy fringe – something’s still going on.”
Claudia Winkleman arriving at the Charles Finch and Chanel pre-Bafta party
She does recall one incident pre-fringe that left 13-year-old Winkleman, who was born in London, with a rather dodgy ‘do.
“I wanted beachy hair. I’d never been to a beach – I’d been to Llandudno – but I thought beachy hair looked cool. And so I bought a bottle of Sun In. The spray was a bit slow, so me and my girlfriend, we untwisted the nozzle and just poured it all over, and I had bright orange hair. I like orange skin, but I was not sure about orange hair.”
Now, the fringe fanatic is sticking with her signature style and recommends anyone thinking about going in for the chop should proceed to the hairdressers without delay.
“Absolutely do it. But here’s the thing. If you’re doing it, don’t be apologetic. A little fringe? No. That’s only fine if you’re three years old. The rest of us? Heavy. And, of course, I advise you use Head & Shoulders.”
Why? Because Winkleman is an ambassador for the haircare brand and is extremely enthusiastic about that, too.
“Head & Shoulders is my life,” she says. “It’s genuinely my life. The extraordinary thing about Head & Shoulders is your hair is bonkers clean. You rinse and it’s like ‘Eee! Eee! Eee!’ – the Psycho music – it’s that squeaky clean. You could eat off it.”
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Food it turns out, has not been Winkleman’s forte during lockdown: “I made inedible food. There was a point where we couldn’t get bread, we didn’t have flour, I don’t think we had milk… I had one butternut squash, I think I put a can of sardines in, I was like ‘Lunch is ready!’ and the kids were like, ‘Oh my god!’
Not that she’s complaining about the challenges of the pandemic. “We’ve been incredibly lucky, because we were safe. I kept on saying to the kids when they wanted to see friends or wanted to go to school, ‘You have to know how lucky you are. Unbelievably lucky’.”
And as a mum, Winkleman feels lucky to have had more quality time with her teenagers over the last year.
“I have an 18-year-old and a 15-year-old, both of whom think I’m a bit of a loser and would prefer to be out with their friends or at the movies, and they were stuck to me for a whole year. How lucky am I? You have to view that as an enormous gift.
“We did a lot of puzzles and I tried to instil something called ‘craft corner’ – which my kids will laugh about forever – where I thought we could mend stuff that was in the house. They were supremely disinterested.”
The kids may have been raring to resume their usual social activities when lockdown restrictions lifted, but mum wasn’t.
“I’m a homebody anyway, but for those of my friends who are single and want to go out and sit at a bar and eat a pistachio, I am so happy [for them],” Winkleman says. “I’m happy for everybody who wants to, I don’t know, go to a nightclub. I’m 49. I’ll still stay in.”