What I Wish I’d Known

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In October’s British Vogue, the industrious Victoria Beckham pens a letter to her 18-year-old self with advice on how to survive a life in the spotlight – from body image to marriage to outlandish outfits.

The feature shows VB, styled by Kate Phelan and photographed by Lachlan Bailey, in a range of beautiful clothes but it was the words that moved me. The letter is poignant and insightful but at times painful. I’ve always believed a hint of sadness and a great sense of humour lies beneath that cool exterior, but here it is on paper.

I don’t live life in the limelight nor was I part of the most famous girl group on the planet. Yet Victoria’s letter made me think about 18-year-old me; with fondness, sadness and a bit of longing for that breezy young woman on the cusp of what seemed like EVERYTHING.

Inspired, I penned my own letter to me with some sage advice of my own. (Sadly without a photoshoot in the Carlyle Hotel).

Dear Nicola

Nothing happens, and nothing happens and then everything happens.

You’ve finished college and have three A’Levels tucked under your Topshop belt (although maybe you should have paid more attention in French class and not spent that study day in France gulping wine with the girls, scoffing frites and chasing a flasher.) Your place at Chichester Uni to read English Literature and Women’s Studies was in the bag and things seemed on track. Then you were offered that job, starting on Monday, and had a few prompt choices to make.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why you’ve chosen to hurtle down the career route and defer the uni place, honestly I do. The work experience, the financial independence (you can buy a new top EVERY WEEK) and a real chance of buying a flat in a few years’ time is tantalising. When you eventually do this, it will be incredible and many happy, sozzled memories will be made.

All I’m asking is please consider your choice; don’t bottle it, don’t think you’re not good enough. Once deferred, you won’t go. Foolishly perhaps, you’ll waste an inordinate amount of time in your mid-late twenties worrying and regretting and feeling inadequate that you didn’t. In fact, it’ll torment you. You’ll feel like you’re constantly swathed in clever, worldly grads. You’ll dream about studying English Lit and gobbling up books and wishing that gap on your CV was filled in. The thing is, I admire you. It hasn’t taken much thought really; you’ve based your decision on how you feel right now and that is utterly content. The older you is far more rational and makes careful decisions but, always thinks the grass is greener. You just went with your gut so that’s cool. Things worked out just fine by the way and you got yourself a post-grad degree later on, but go on, give it a little more thought. You never know where it may lead.

On your image. I know you fret about it and what you look like and what other people think of you. It doesn’t matter how many times people say nice things, you don’t believe them. I won’t fib, it hasn’t got much better. But please, enjoy the freedom of being able to fling on what you like, when you like and revel in simply being a hot young thing. Stride onto that beach, wear something short without pulling it down, give it some welly! In a few years’ time there’ll be this thing called ‘social media’ which has turned us all horribly narcissistic and judgy and dictates we must have kale smoothies for dinner and conform to an unobtainable ideal. When you reach thirty-eight and you’ve had a little ‘un and feel most days like an old frump you’ll think back to eighteen year old you and wish you could wear that crop top from Miss Selfridge, just for a day.

Your obsession with fashion is a pulsating, omnipresent thing even twenty years later but wiser, slightly snootier us would like to think our sartorial choices now are a bit more, sniff, refined. Having said that, f*ck it. Experiment. Do the Brit Pop thing and wear out your Gazelles and that funny blue cardigan. Fall in love with Grunge and clomp about in boots. Wear what the hell you like (apart from tight triple denim – you look like Shakin’ Stevens) and continue to let your fashion choices be dictated by the season or trends, and never by what those silly boys want.

Ah, Men. You seem to spend a lot of time being naffed off with some of them, and quite frankly I don’t blame you. Things have got a little better in some ways (we currently have a female Prime Minister and, although completely unrelated to how she runs the country, she wears excellent shoes) but we’ve got a long way to go I’m afraid; unequal pay, everyday sexism, and the words ‘locker room talk’ have taken on a sad new meaning which you’ll learn of one day I’m sure. Keep sticking up for yourself. Work harder. Don’t be discouraged by dickish behaviour when at work, when out with mates at night, when simply walking along the road. I’m afraid there’ll be plenty of that.

When it comes to boyfriends and lasting love, persevere. I’m so sorry to say, you’ll meet some proper twits in the next few years and men who will try and extinguish your fire. Don’t let them; they’ll disappear from your memory as quickly as they breezed into your life. It will all feel rather amorphous and a waste of your time. Then, when you least expect it, you’ll meet HIM. Timing will be an utter git though; you’ll already have decided relocating to the other side of the world is the way forward. Proceed as planned. The first month will be hard and you will never feel paler, nor more scared or longing for Blightly as you do right then and thank goodness your little sister was there to bolster you. But then you’ll turn a corner and it will all work out brilliantly. I promise. Oh, and he will be waiting. There are so many more adventures ahead together.

On friendship.  As the years roll by, you’ll meet some wonderful new friends (you still do in your thirties by the way) and weave a rich tapestry of totally awesome mates. Some people will let you down and drift away and it’ll hurt badly and you’ll really wish they hadn’t. But your core group are still here all these years later, can you believe it? Sadly, life in your NEARLY 40s is busy and seeing them becomes disparate and a feat of diary coordination. But they’ll always be there and you’ll feel better just knowing they are. You still laugh until it hurts when you see them and morph into those excitable, tipsy big show offs you were in your early twenties when you go out or away for the weekend (but not wearing triple denim thankfully). Their presence will always comfort you.

A quick word about alcohol if I may. Us and booze aren’t ever going to be compadres I’m sad to say. In summary, we’re shit at drinking. Buy hey, don’t let that stop you. Just a few wise words that will save a hell of a lot of money, time and hoo ha. That first night in Malia (shudder) DO NOT lock everything including your passport in your suitcase in the absence of a safe and then go out for ONE DRINK JUST TO EASE YOURSELF IN ON THE FIRST NIGHT. You will dance until 7am, lark about in the sea and lose the key. You’ll then blow your holiday booze budget on a call out to a Cypriot Samsonite expert to break into said case, wearing your friend’s clothes for two days while waiting for Samsonite Man to rescue you. Then, you’ll repeat this party trick in Thailand with your girlfriends and nearly miss an internal flight. Don’t accept that complimentary pink drink in Ayia Napa, no matter how jovial the guy trying to get you into the bar is. You will contract gastroenteritis and be forced to fly home after a measly three nights of partying. (You’ll never forget Danuta sleeping at the end of your hospital bed though,  making you laugh. She’s a keeper that one). Also, Thai Whiskey does not just contain Whiskey. Oh, and avoid cast iron radiators after an afternoon of drinking when you’re clapped out and have over done it. Ouch. 

Lastly, on self confidence. This is a huge, huge barrier. It’ll cost you tennis finals, it will make your first month living in Sydney painful and difficult and you’ll turn down great opportunities due to pesky confidence-deficiency. My advice? If you’re thinking about it but that inner voice is saying ‘I can’t’, don’t listen. Do it, or at least try it. Be brave. It’s tough I know, there’s no magic overnight cure and you will always struggle, but age will make you wiser and you will care less one day. Believe me. You’ll travel the world all on your tod in a few years time without a care in the world. I promise.

I’ll go now and let you find your own way, but some final words if I may. You’ll learn so much over the coming years that it’ll make your head spin. You’ll love fiercely and, sadly, you’ll lose people that are close to you and it will hurt like hell. But, be strong and be positive. Be curious and polymathic. Read a lot. Live life. Mostly, be kind and gracious and love those around you. Believe me, you are a very lucky girl.

The most heavenly things await.

Love Nicola x

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2 Comments

  1. Terry Engel 18th October 2016 / 2:23 pm

    Great advice — I need to write my own letter to 18 year old self. A good start on a memoir too.

  2. Mark 20th October 2016 / 11:27 am

    Hi Nic,

    I lovely little read and one that I think we all feel the same types of advices (in one way or another) that we could pass onto to our younger selves. The problem is, if we could go back with these letters, to push our younger selves into a possible better direction is we wouldn’t be who we are now, the pain and lover we’ve felt through the journey we’ve been down wouldn’t have been there to mold us into the people we are now. We may never have met the person who gave us that one bit of advice that made everything ok. My one word of advice that I wish I’d learnt sooner, “You can never be, who you want to be. If you’re always looking over your shoulder at what could have been”.

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