I attended a meeting at my daughter’s school this week – virtually, of course. We’ve reached the GCSE year. It’s actually quite funny now to think that, as little as two years ago, I was already feeling quite nervous about what stresses and strains this milestone might bring. It’s as if the universe was already quietly chortling to itself and saying, ‘Darling, if you think it looks quite stressful now, you just wait…’ What should have been a meeting about successful revision strategies and balancing a study load with restorative free time basically turned into a lot of unanswerable questions and angst about when – even if – the exams will take place. Let’s face it, our current crop of students and their tireless teachers are gamely wading through the most unstable academic year since wartime.
Yes, as with every bloody other thing, we are forced to view the school year through the Covid lens. I know the parents among you will share my fears for what this tumultuous period means for our children’s education and future. We can’t help but wonder as we watch their masked faces trundle off to their designated ‘bubbles’ and staggered timetables and remote learning and random isolations because someone sneezed: what is this great blind experiment doing? Not only to the quality of their learning but their social, emotional support networks? None of us can say. And the only way past all of this is to go through it, one day at a time, and hope for the best. Keep Calm and Carry On, of course, of course. I’ve got the Carrying On bit down pat. I’m less consistent with the Keeping Calm.
But then, just at the right time, I came across a story that delivered me the good hard shoulder-shake that I needed. Ellie Goldstein, 18, from Essex, was born with Down’s syndrome and almost from her first breath, her doctors wrote her off, flatly telling her mother Yvonne she would never walk, talk or really lead any sort of meaningful life. Today, Ellie – whose doctors suggested her mother just leave her behind at the hospital – is a highly sought after fashion model, working for huge brands such as Nike and Vodafone. She recently became ‘a face’ (as the fashion folk say!) of a Gucci beauty campaign for Italian Vogue. In between modelling gigs, she studies performing arts at a mainstream college.
I’m proud to share her story in YOU today, and for this very special fashion issue she has collaborated with our fashion director Shelly Vella and photographer Mark Cant to showcase some of the new season’s freshest looks. I didn’t want us to just tell you that Ellie was a model, I wanted to show it, too. I cannot even begin to imagine the obstacles and prejudices that Ellie must have overcome along the way. But her strength, self-belief and, yes, courage have not only opened up her world but, in doing so, delivered such an important message to us all. It’s certainly given me a dose of perspective. This year is tough on our kids. But people’s aspirations face – and more often than not conquer – much greater summits.
Which plonk for which food? Wine nerd heaven. Book, £40, 67pallmall.com
Just the right amount of bling. Ring, £120, lilybakerjewels.com
I’m always a sucker for a 70s vibe. Skirt, £39.50, marksandspencer.com