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Alexandra Shulman: ‘I value contentment rather than focusing on being happy’

‘Interesting’ is how I’d describe my childhood. My parents were journalists [art critic Milton Shulman and author and broadcaster Drusilla Beyfus], so the house was always filled with books, talk, TV and newspapers. I realised early on that everything was a story.

I’m proof that parents can criticise a lot and not really harm you. Dad once told me I wouldn’t get a husband if I carried on arguing the way I did. But I knew I was loved and that makes the difference.

Hairdressing was my first career choice, but I lost interest in my teens and decided to go into the music business. I was fired from my first and only job in the industry. I tell people that being fired is one of the best things that can happen to you. The next thing is so much better.

Fashion was on my radar as a child in the 60s. We lived near the King’s Road. My first fashion purchase, aged 12, was an item of complete hideousness – a yellow maxi PVC mac – which I wore with pride.

The criticism when I became editor-in-chief of Vogue amused me. People said I was a words rather than a pictures person and that I had never worked in fashion before. My job was just to prove I could do it – which I did for 25 years. Michelle Obama was the one cover star I’d loved to have got. I tried… and failed.

My default position is fear. People are always surprised that I’m a lot more nervous than they think I am. Flying terrifies me; I’ve missed out on visiting so many countries. I’ve done every course possible and been hypnotised several times – which worked once. Now passion flower capsules help calm my anxiety.

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Getting older doesn’t bother me. I’ve learned to value contentment rather than to focus on being happy, although it took me until I was well into my 50s.

My biggest regret is not being fluent in any other language. It puts me to shame when I go into a nail bar and the technicians can speak five languages.

I lose my temper when I get frustrated, but usually only with the people I love. I did lose my temper twice at Vogue – both times with men. Are Anna Wintour and I on each other’s Christmas card list? I don’t think either of us sends Christmas cards. So no.

My relationship with my son Sam [24, from her marriage to writer Paul Spike] is my greatest life achievement. He’s an art historian and we’re really close. I became a single mum during my time at Vogue and considered giving the job up so I could be around more when he was small. But when I weighed everything up it didn’t really make sense.

Boots No 7 x Alexandra Shulman Christmas collection is out now


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