Me and my Santé magazine column

It must  be more than 10 years ago that I received a call from an editor at the French magazine Santé. I was on a train at the time, heading from our home in the south of France to London, and I remember the line being rather bad. The editor asked me if I would be interested in writing a beauty column for them entitled ‘Me and my…..’ I had to double check that I hadn’t misheard. “But I can’t write in French,” I protested. The editor suggested I find a translator. They wanted something with “typical British humour”. They had seen my column in the Sunday Times and decided I was the woman for the job. The Santé column is still going, with my lovely friend and translator Jacques Kuhnle translating every one. Over the next few months I am going to publish a selection here, starting with this one about Japanese skin care.

Me and my Japanese skin care regime 

It was at the Viva Mayr Clinic in Austria that I first heard about Japanese skin care. I was there to research a book about ageing the Viva Mayr way. The clinic, situated on the shores of an Austrian lake, is the go-to place for those who can afford the time and the cost of taking the “cure” as they call it, which basically means cleansing from the inside out. I have neither time nor money, but one of the perks f being a writer is that you get invited to all sorts of places you could never afford to go to in order to write about them.

These retreats make for interesting social dynamics. For a start you end up wearing nothing but your dressing gown in front of strangers. And the first topic of conversation is usually (at Viva Mayr anyway) about your digestive system. I met a lovely woman called Kendal on my visit there. Once we had compared our digestive systems we moved on to skincare. Kendal lives in Japan and told me how Japanese women look after their skin. This is something that has always fascinated me, as you don’t really see many Japs who have aged badly. I assumed it was due to all the fish they ate, and in part it may be, but they are also dedicated to caring for their skin extremely well. Kendal gave me some of her Japanese products to try, along with a sheet of instructions for the facial massage that is at the centre of any Japanese cleansing ritual. I have since run out of the lovely products she gave me but this is where my ‘layering’ method of skincare was born.

Scan 4It is more or less the same regime morning and evening, although in the morning I don’t remove my make-up and I use a day cream with SPF instead of a night cream.
It begins with removing my make-up. I use a lotion, usually Clarins Cleansing Milk with Alpine Herbs. If I have been wearing eye make-up I use an eye make-up remover too. Next it’s the deeper cleansing and massage stage. This is what the Japanese refer to as the ‘cleansing the pores’ stage, where you go beyond the superficial and get deep down into your skin. Here I use my favourite cleanser, Eve Lom Cleanser. You need a cleanser that is thick and creamy because this is also where the massaging comes in. The Japanese, as you would imagine, have an extremely precise set of instructions on the massage. I started by following them on the sheet of paper Kendal gave me, but now I just improvise. The idea of the facial massage is of course to deep cleanse, but also to relax the muscles, thus smoothing away wrinkles and eliminating toxins. Focus on your jawline, cheeks, forehead and the area around the eyes. I usually massage for between one and two minutes.

Once I have removed the cleanser, I tone. Following that I layer skincare products on my face and neck. I always start with a serum to nourish my skin; my advice pick one with active ingredients such as hyaluronic acid or vitamin C. Following that is the oil, and finally a night cream at night or a day cream for the day. And don’t forget the eye cream, another good excuse to gently massage your eye area.

Unacustomed as I am to public speaking…

Tomorrow I have a terrifying task to perform. At 2pm I am to stand up in front of the WHOLE of Leo’s year at school and give a speech about what it’s like being a journalist. Nothing, not even my first appearance on Richard & Judy, or walking up the aisle, or watching Chelsea against Bayern in a penalty shoot-out has filled me with such fear.
I am terrified of letting him down. And I get the impression he is terrified too. “Two pm on Wednesday,” he keeps telling me. “Don’t forget.” This morning he even asked me what I’m going to wear. Good question. Do I go glam (trying too hard?), dressed down (slob mother), trendy (mutton mother) or sexy (slut mother)? It’s an utter no-win situation. And what to talk about?
Rupert’s idea was that I talk about the story I covered in 2005 about the world’s first face transplant performed on a woman who had her face mauled off by her pet dog while she was asleep. Methinks it might be just a tad too gory for 100 nine year olds. Can you imagine the questions? What happened to the dog being the first obvious one….
Anyway, here is my draft speech, advise and comments on this and outfit gratefully received:


In 2003, the year a lot of you were born, I was in Beziers, covering the rugby world cup for the Sunday Times. Beziers is the heart of French rugby country, and I spent a lot of time sneaking into bars undercover to watch the games.

This wasn’t exactly what I’d had in mind when I decided aged around 10 that I wanted to be a foreign correspondent. I had envisaged myself in war zones, heroically rushing from battlefield to battlefield in a flak jacket and helmet.

Actually a flak jacket and helmet almost came in handy when I inadvertently shrieked GO JONNY as our hero Jonny Wilkinson scored yet another try against the French and the whole bar went silent.

I managed to survive the wrath of the French rugby crowd, filed the story to London and the next day it was on the front page, my first ever front page story and a defining moment for me because I felt I had achieved what I set out to do.

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE A GOOD NEWS REPORTER? So what it does it take to be a good news reporter. It’s been said that the attributes required by a Fleet Street reporter are: a plausible manner, a little literary ambition and rat-like cunning. In old films journalists were always portrayed with trenchcoats and hats, but I always found a pen and notebook a bit more useful.

WHY I WANTED TO BE A JOURNALIST As I said I decided I wanted to be a journalist when I was a little girl. I was inspired by the Tintin books, the brave little blond man and his dog setting the world to rights. Like many journalists I did have a little literary ambition, I always wanted to write, and journalism seemed like a natural path towards that. I kept diaries, wrote short stories and read lots. When I went to university I worked on the student newspaper, eventually becoming editor of it. When I left university I looked around for that glamorous job in journalism.

EARLY CAREER My early career was not illustrious. It is a very competitive industry, and despite interviews for the Sunday Times and BBC graduate trainee schemes I found the only way in was through financial journalism.

I started my career at a dreary magazine called Trade Finance magazine. You may well ask what trade finance is; to this day I have no idea, and certainly no interest in it. But I learnt to report, to write, to meet deadlines and I also picked up that invaluable journalist’s tool of pretending to understand what’s going on when you really haven’t the foggiest.

GOOD ADVICE One of my first news editors said that you should treat every story you cover as if you’re a police investigator. Try to amass as much information as possible from as many sources as you can, and don’t always believe that everyone is telling you the truth.

I gather you have been learning about the five Ws: who, where, what, when, why. And of course my daughter’s favourite: whatever. They are a great tool for writing an intro. Make it powerful; get their attention, especially in the first paragraph. Keep it simple and to the point, tabloid press are often criticized but they are brilliant at conveying the maximum information in the minimum  amount of words in the clearest manner.

MOVE TO FRANCE Happily I moved to France and left the world of financial journalism behind. I’m not sure who was more relieved, they or I. Traditionally this would have been a very poor career move. Historically newspapers were based in Fleet Street on the edge of London’s financial district. The journalists were all based there and the printing presses were underneath and offices. CHANGES But then the newspapers moved out to cheaper locations and because of new technology you no longer had to be physically there with a typewriter and a piece of paper. Now in the world of skype, mobile phones and emails you can be anywhere you want to. Just last week I wrote a piece for the Daily Mail about a political scandal in France, from here.

The world of newspapers has changed in other ways too. As a business they are in decline with people preferring to read their news on-screen. At one time everyone in Britain bought a daily paper, nowadays few people bother. However this doesn’t mean there are no avenues for those of you who want to become reporters. The medium may have changed but the message remains the same. The need and desire to tell or to hear a story will never go away. Our ancestors sat around camp-fires telling tales of their hunting expeditions, today we tend to go on twitter or facebook to see what everyone’s up to. We’re all journalists now.

BEST JOB EVER Being a journalist is, I think, one of the best jobs you can have. You are constantly learning new things; you meet fascinating people, along with extremely famous and less fascinating ones such as Prince Andrew and Dannii Minogue, both of whom I have interviewed.

I think one of the most incredible women I ever met was the daughter of an author called Irene Nemirovsky who shot to fame a few years ago when her book became a global bestseller almost 50 years after her death. Her daughter, the woman I interviewed, had carried the unpublished manuscript with her in a suitcase along with her teddy bear as a child while escaping from the Nazis in occupied France. They had arrested her mother and sent her to Auschwitz, where she died. I was also lucky enough to meet such sporting superstars as Tom Daley, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

Nowadays I do much more writing of books, features and opinion pieces than pure reporting, although I would be happy to go back to it if someone needed me to. Maybe for the next rugby world cup?

Meanwhile, I would love to hear your questions about journalism, news reporting or anything at all…..

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2012

The future of journalism?

I think I might be in the wrong business.

Last week I was approached by a charming young lady from the Guardian, asking me to write an article about the Languedoc (the region where our house is in the south of France). “We can’t pay you,” she explained. “But we can plug your blog or book or whatever.”

This is not some student rag we’re talking about, or a charity magazine or even a little-known website. This is one of the UK’s leading daily newspapers. And a broadsheet at that. What is going on?And where does it end? What happens if you don’t happen to be a desperate novelist with a book to plug? Do you just write the article anyway for the thrill of seeing your name in print? And where does it end? Are we soon going to have to pay newspapers to print our stories? Are we going to have to pay publishers to publish our books? And reluctant readers to buy them?

Is this the future of journalism? Oh, well, if I can get my blog plugged I might at least stand a chance of making some money…..

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2011

The December Issue

Last night we all watched the documentary film The September Issue which is about American Vogue and its legendary editor Anna Wintour.

The film centers on the biggest issue of the year, the September issue, and follows the fashion shoots, Anna’s meetings with designers as well as her relationship with her long-suffering creative director Grace.

I loved it. It was a great insight into that world, and it inspired me to go for bigger and better things on my magazine, as well as possibly a haircut. But I can’t really see why it would be interesting to anyone who is not mad about journalism or fashion or both.

The most encouraging consequence of us watching it though is that the girls have decided to create their very own December Issue, to come out for my birthday. I have not been allowed to see any of it yet but they tell me it has 42 pages so far and will have articles and fashion and advertisements, just like Vogue.

And it has an Anna and a Grace just like Vogue too, Bea being Anna and Olivia taking on the role of Grace. Their other staff member is Leo, who does drawings and stories. I feel the beginnings of a publishing empire coming on….

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2010

How a very small minority lives

Picture the scene: I am doing yoga looking out over a 90 degree view of Jumeirah Beach in Dubai from the comfort of the 34th floor. Someone is pressing the dress I am going to wear this evening to dinner with my husband in a private dining room. Two cleaners are mopping up the Jacuzzi room. Our butler has just served Rupert’s cup of Japanese green tea.

No I am not dreaming….we are celebrating Rupert’s birthday in the Imperial suite at the Fairmont Hotel in Dubai. It is a suite made for what the French would call a famille nombreuse with three double bedrooms, countless bathrooms, a bar and at least three offices. Oh and did I mention the Jacuzzi?

It is a comforting feeling having countless staff at your beck and call, ensuring you have a lovely life, that you are massaged (we had a double aromatherapy massage this afternoon), fed (they keep bringing fruit and chocolate) and watered (the champagne is on ice). I feel like a princess, which is something you can really only get to experience if you are very rich, or a lucky journalist.

And to think I was considering giving up journalism for a more lucrative career; seems to me the best option would be to stay and enjoy the perks. Now where’s my butler….?

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2010

Baby Beauty…..

My step-daughter Julia was here last week for half term. She is fourteen and I thought that she was old enough to come along with me for a manicure and a pedicure. We eased into our comfy chairs feeling jolly pleased with ourselves. Then I spotted her. A girl who could have been no more than seven years old having her nails painted a glittering silver colour.

“What on earth is that child doing here?” I asked my manicurist.

“Oh her,” she said, glancing over her shoulder, “she comes every week.”

""Apparently lots of them come every week, especially when they have a party to go to at the weekend. They come with or without their mothers and they have their little fingers and their little toes done and then go off for more I assume; facials, hair extensions, belly-button piercing, massages…..

Is this normal behaviour I ask myself? I wasn’t allowed to have my ears pierced until I was sixteen. I didn’t even know about lip liner until last year. Call me old-fashioned, but does a seven-year-old really NEED perfect nails?

I am going to write a feature on the topic so would love your views, experiences, comments etc. Is it just harmless fun or is it deeply disturbing to see little girls dolled up? Is it industry driven or can we blame the likes of Hannah Montana? Should Olivia and Bea have a manicure and join the crowd, or should they remain natural?

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008

What not to wear…..

I am on a train speeding through the Swedish countryside en route to yet another tough assignment. I am going to write an article about Scandinavia’s first nudist B&B for The Times ( I have covered (being the operative word) some weird and wonderful things during my journalistic career but this promises to be one of the more unusual.

The pool will be popular...

Packing was tricky. “Why the bag?” was Rupert’s first question. I cannot begin to imagine what it’s going to be like. Will I be able to have a normal conversation with a total stranger while he is naked? Will I be able to stop myself from looking ‘down there’? Is looking ‘down there’ encouraged or frowned upon? What about my own ‘down there’? How will I cope with people who’s names I don’t even know casually assessing it. Whatever else, it’s not an ideal time to have a bad hair day – anywhere.

The weather in Sweden has been amazing for once. But despite that Leonardo asked me this morning why it is always cold. “Because we’re in Sweden,” I told him. There was a slight pause. “Then why are we here?” he said.

This is a fair question and one that I can only answer with the excuse that having been born here and lived here for several years, there is something that draws me back again and again. Luckily Rupert seems quite taken with it, although he is now also sick of meatballs.

Which brings me neatly back to the theme of the day. “I have one ball with my willie,” Leonardo told me proudly yesterday. “Yes,” I replied. “And one day you will have two balls, like Daddy.” He looked at me rather questioningly and then asked; “Yes, but will they be tennis balls?”

Here’s hoping they won’t, and more crucially that any balls I happen to catch a glimpse of during this assignment are not enough to put me off my breakfast. Bed, Breakfast and Balls. It could catch on….

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008

Another tough assignment….

Hotel ByblosI would like to give you all an insight into my hard working life. Rupert and I are in St Tropez at the chicest hotel in town, Byblos, which has been the best address in St Tropez since 1967 when Mick Jagger married Bianca on a terrace here. Guests include Brigitte Bardot, George Clooney and, er, my husband and I.

We are on a most gruelling schedule. Here is the itinerary for today:

Breakfast at leisure

Free time to explore St Tropez

1.00pm Lunch by the pool

18.00 Spa treatment

19.30 Cocktails and dinner at B bar.

I think you will agree that this is far too much to expect a person to do in just one day and support me in my letter of complaint to the National Union of Journalists.

As if this isn’t enough, tomorrow they expect us to go for lunch at Club 55. We will no doubt be forced to eat and drink for several hours while watching the waves gently lap the shore and spotting celebrities in exile from the Cannes Film Festival.

Is there no end to our suffering?

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008

How to start a career in journalism….

In order to break into journalism in England I was forced to become a financial journalist on leaving university. This was not, as you can imagine, my natural environment. I worked for the gripping title ‘Trade Finance Magazine’ which shortly after I joined became ‘Project and Trade Finance Magazine’. You can imagine my relief. I am still unsure of the difference between the two.

Anyway, for ten years I struggled on, despite an inauspicious start. I got back from my first ever meeting to find my editor fielding a call from the person I had interviewed who had called to ask her why she had sent “this bimbo who knows less than nothing about trade finance” to interview him.

Finally I gave up journalism altogether, only to reinvent myself as the Sunday Times French Mistress and lifestyle journalist years later.

I have now broken into French journalism which is extremely exciting. Barring the obvious problem that I am unable to write French I think it will go swimmingly. I am a columnist (which is rather like going straight in at number one) for a magazine called Santé.

My first column is Me and my foot cream. I feel I have finally found my level….

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008

It’s all about Han Solo now….

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece for the Guardian’s book blog about how the literary heroes of our youth never change. For example, I was in love with Heathcliff and Darcy when I was 16 and I probably still will be when I’m 60.

Spurred on by Rupert’s dismay that the children watch such rubbish compared with the stuff we grew up on, I ordered the three original Star Wars films. What a treat. We watched all three in rapid succession, it was fabulous, an inter-galactic feast.

I Lukewas mad about the films when they first came out and have not seen them since. It was amazing how much I remembered from almost thirty years ago and how the music still gives me goose-bumps.

But something has changed. Back then I was madly in love with Luke Skywalker. He was the first love of my life. I thought he was totally gorgeous. I doubted any other man could ever compare with him and his light-sabre.

HanNow he reminds me of Leo and I would rather cook him a plate of pasta than go on a date with him. As an Irish friend of mine put it; “It’s all about Han Solo now.”

But the scary thing is that even he looks too young and fresh-faced to really get excited about. So while our literary heroes might remain constant, men in films do not. Do you remember, for example, the first time you saw Gone with the Wind thinking how OLD Rhett Butler looked? Now he looks younger than me. I think I will stick to books.

RhettOn another note, I have made it into Private Eye, the satirical magazine read by the media in England and feared by the politicians. This is an extremely exciting moment (even more exciting than being reunited with CP30). The subject of the article is Zoe Williams’ vitriolic attack on me and her basic errors (see blog below One book better than two?). She is made to look like a fool which she thoroughly deserves, not least for calling me a ‘no-mark’. Something I thoroughly object to being called by someone I have never heard of.

Here is the text of the Private Eye article:

Guardian columnist Zoe Williams found herself very exercised recently by what she called “a small but seemingly quite flourishing eddy of publishing” encouraging British women to emulate their Gallic counterparts.

“Let’s try Two Lipsticks and a Lover. This is by Helena Frith Powell, who is English rather than French, but – praise be to God – met a Frenchwoman once, who told her what one needed to achieve Frenchness…This no-mark Frith Powell, and when I say I am amazed, I am not being hyperbolic, this really does amaze me – managed to string her observations about the French into another book, All You Need to be Impossibly French.

This would be a fair observation, but for three things: firstly, that Frith Powell is half-Italian and half-Swedish; secondly, that she may have met rather more than one Frenchwoman, having lived in the Languedoc region for the past eight years; and thirdly, she has only written one book on the topic, All You Need to be Impossibly French being the name of the US edition of Two Lipsticks and a Lover.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2008