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Charlene White: ‘I’m unapologetic about being a working mum’ | Life and style


Home was never quiet growing up. It was a house always filled with people and laughter, and there was never a shortage of food or music. My parents had an open-door policy. Whether you showed up unannounced or with an invitation, you’d leave with a smile and a full belly.

It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me in adulthood that as a child I was dramatic. I’ve always been outspoken. I loved to write and perform. I was that kid who makes speeches at the grownups’ birthdays.

I acted through my teenage years. At 16, I did a comedy at Television Centre with Ashley Walters. When we snuck in to the wrap party, there may have been some underage wine drinking. I got home at 11pm. Mum and Dad had spent all night calling the BBC switchboard asking if anyone had seen me.

My attention span is incredibly short. Every school report said the same: “engaged at the start, Charlene’s interest wanes quickly”. I love coming up with ideas, but seeing it through to the end is boring. I can’t change, trust me I’ve tried, so as an adult I find the positives. I’m never satisfied and always want new experiences.

It might sound obvious, but do make sure to pick someone you think you’ll still like in a decade or two if you’re looking for a long-term relationship.

Meeting Maya Angelou was like nothing else. Intelligent and beautiful, she was one of the Black women I grew up reading. When I walked in to interview her for BBC Radio 1, I was literally speechless. Seeing I was nervous, she graciously put me at ease, taking the lead in conversation to calm me down before starting. Afterwards, we recorded her reading her poem, And Still I Rise. I still get goosebumps.

From adolescence to early adulthood I was awful with money. Bills and statements would sit in a drawer unopened; I never budgeted, and was financially illiterate. When my other half realised just how awful I was he made me knuckle down and fix it.

The birth of my first child seemed smooth. It was blissful, holding our newborn. Hours later, my sister spotted something was wrong – I’d been haemorrhaging for hours. Nobody noticed. I lost a lot of blood and was rushed into surgery. It was only when I came round from the anaesthetic that I realised how serious it was. My family thought they’d lost me.

I’ve never forgiven my dad for throwing away my beloved jacket. Beautifully made, it fit me like a glove – a once-in-a-lifetime purchase in my 20s. I left it in his spare bedroom. When he was moving and told me to collect it I never did, so it went in the bin. He says it’s my fault. I see it differently.

Bananas terrify me, a real phobia. Eat one near me and I’ll walk away – the smell makes me gag. Doing the family shop in my teens I’d pick them up with a plastic bag over my fingers. I didn’t want to pass this on to my kids, so sucked it up successfully. Still, overripe bananas in my house are removed immediately.

I take a typical Caribbean approach to parenthood: kids are taught independence early and I don’t pander to them; they know they don’t always need me. And I’m unapologetic about being a working mum. I have both a job and a family that I love and enjoy. It means I’m not there for every event in their life, but someone is. I choose not to feel guilty.

Loose Women is on ITV at 12.30pm weekdays



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