THERE was a point during lockdown that told you everything about the kind of person Stacey Solomon is.
It came when she took it upon herself to start sending handwritten letters to followers in need of a lift.
We’re not talking pithy little notes of one or two lines; these were long, thoughtful missives to complete strangers who had DMed her their details and which she then personally addressed, stamped and posted.
She might have nearly developed RSI in the process, but at a time when everything felt so devastating, it was a simple act of kindness that made a huge difference to the people she was writing to.
“I don’t know what it is about being an empath, but it’s probably not healthy,” she says today with a smile.
“I just felt really privileged the whole time – look at me with my garden and nice family. I’m not being abused. I have enough money to feed my children.
“I’d been writing letters to my mum when we couldn’t see her and then I thought: ‘What if you don’t have anyone to write you a letter?’ And that’s how it started.
“It was like therapy for me! I’d sit there at night and write to people and I didn’t have to think about anything I was worrying about, because I was trying to write to people about their worries.”
Stacey’s already hugely popular Instagram has taken on a life of its own over the last year.
Her immensely satisfying before and after Tap to Tidy phenomenon is now an official social media craze with its own Insta Stories sticker, while her endless crafting during lockdown led to a much-deserved book deal (“I can’t believe it, I’m so blimmin’ excited about it!”), which comes out next year.
Her stories are pure escapism, her delight with life is a tonic and her 3.8 million followers adore all her quirks – the addiction to Daim bars, her creepy toes, drinking Diet Coke from a champagne glass, the “fejka” (fake plant) obsession and her love of a thrush-inducing bath bomb.
They see the rough and tumble of family life and her devotion to her “pickles”, Zach, 12, Leighton, eight, and 18-month-old star of the show Rex, who really is the jolliest of toddlers.
And they laugh at the squabbles she has with partner Joe Swash, 38 (or Hoe as he is affectionately known thanks to a typo that stuck), who everyone knows is a big softie at heart despite the Grumpy Old Man act.
“Me and Joe get on each other’s nerves and we had some of our worst arguments during lockdown,” admits Stacey, 31.
“He gets so moody, and the more moody he gets, the funnier I find it.
“But he’s my best friend. I could tell him anything. I just feel like if we’ve got each other, then everything is going to be OK.
HUMOUR AND CHEMISTRY
“I know it sounds silly and a lot of people would say it’s not healthy, but I could sit and do a poo in front of Joe and it wouldn’t bother him.”
She laughs and insists it’s true. “And I can also be sexy for him as well…if I really have to be.”
Joe can do it for her, too. His window cleaning skills often make Stacey’s Stories, set cheekily to the Diet Coke break music while she accuses him of trying to get her pregnant again – anyone who watches them together can see it’s a relationship based on love, humour and chemistry.
“Yeah, I really fancy Joe!” says Stacey. “He wore a suit [on TV] the other day for some competition and I was like: ‘Hello, wear that one home.’
It’s an ongoing challenge for us, but we love our children
“He’s a great dad and role model. And even when he puts the meat in the fish drawer I know he means well. I had to tell myself that a lot during lockdown: he means well.”
Theirs is a big, noisy, (mostly) happy blended family – Zach and Leighton are from previous relationships, while Joe has son Harry, 13, with ex Emma Sophocleous, 35 – but Stacey doesn’t try to pretend that everything is easy all of the time.
“There’s no guidebook on how to make it work. You’ve just got to hang in there if you really love somebody, even if it’s difficult with the children. Keep loving each other and keep loving the kids and that’s all you can do.
“It’s an ongoing challenge for us, but we love our children and even if they tell us that they hate us or don’t want us in their life, as long as we love each other and they grow up knowing that we adore them all – Rex, Zac, Leighton and Harry – then that is all that matters.
“I don’t think of any of them as this one or that one, I just think of us as a family. They are all just as special as each other and everyone gets treated the same.”
Life isn’t a permanent Instagram story, she says. There are plenty of ups and downs.
“Sometimes it’s really great and you think: ‘I’ve got it.’ Then two days later they’re having a meltdown. It’s hard for them to adapt, but they do.
“As a person who has lived through my parents’ divorce, I don’t feel lesser or that I’ve missed out. I didn’t become an adult and think: ‘My family really messed me up.’
"I had an even better upbringing, and I’m grateful for it. So you just keep going and keep loving them.”
Both Stacey and Joe would love to foster one day and haven’t ruled out having more of their own.
“Oh, I’m broody all the time, especially in lockdown when you’re all bored and you think: ‘Hmm, might as well get pregnant!’ I have to have a word with myself, like: ‘Calm down, Stace, you’ve already had three, and you’ve only just stopped breastfeeding the last one!’
“Rochelle Humes has just had the cutest baby ever. Have you seen him? He looks like Pharrell Williams! Every time I’ve clicked on her Stories I’ve had to quickly come out again, it’s too dangerous.
“I never want a child-free house. I always want to have children running around in the garden and so I don’t know what I am going to do with myself once they’re all grown up.
“They all love each other and I look at them and think that is my life’s work done. If that’s all I ever achieve I’d be so happy.”
Stacey is, without fail, always a joy to talk to. She’s utterly charming, genuinely cares about people and is as honest as she is naturally hilarious.
And contrary to the giggly scatterbrain “Stacey from Dagenham” reputation, which dates back to that first X Factor audition 11 years ago, she’s actually incredibly wise and level-headed, with her priorities in the right order and an outlook on life that means she never takes herself too seriously.
Who’s your craft icon?
My grandma, Gwen. She used to knit us all jumpers from patterns in a magazine and make animal snacks and houses out of biscuits.
What’s your favourite tool?
I can take on the world with a glue gun and a can of spray paint!
Where do you get your inspo?
Google, Instagram, Pinterest, but sometimes I just make it up as I go along.
What three words would you use to describe your crafty self?
Random, rugged and relentless. Bit of alliteration there!
Which creation are you most proud of?
My pink utility room. It only cost me about £100.
Which craft would you most like to try?
I would like to be good at macramé. I look at them in awe.
Biggest crafting disaster?
I glued a load of leaves to a jar and put candles in there. By the time I filmed them, the leaves had fallen off [due to the heat melting the glue]. I had to write in the post: “I wouldn’t put real candles in these, just so you know.”
Best shops for supplies?
Ebay, Amazon or Hobbycraft. Sometimes Poundland if you want to get homeware to upcycle.
- WATCH IT! See Stacey talking about her fave Christmas crafts in our exclusive video at Fabulousmag.co.uk.
Her refusal to hide her stretch marks, cellulite or tummy folds have made her a poster girl for body confidence and she’s a proud ambassador for the #DoveUnfiltered campaign promoting self-esteem on social media.
Stacey might live a lot of her life on Instagram, but she’s more than aware of its perils.
“Social media is somewhere people are free to like how they look, but I also think it’s a place where you can get lost in the trap. If you don’t follow enough of the right people it can make you feel rubbish.”
Even Stacey is not completely immune to the mind games Instagram can play.
“I was saying to my sister the other day: ‘Jemma, why is my face so long on Instagram?’ I went through about 17 people and said: ‘Look how little their faces are’. I was like a sausage dog compared to them. I thought I’d done something to my lens.
“And then Jemma pointed out they were all using this filter on Snapchat, a ‘no filter-filter’ which shortens your head and gives you better cheekbones and lifts your eyebrows. It’s so subtle that you don’t notice it’s a filter and then you think you’re the one who’s weird.
“It’s OK to use filters – I use them sometimes to change colours and I love the floppy nose one, so they can be fun.
"But when you’re changing the whole shape of your face, you have to show us what you really look like as well. There’s got to be some kind of responsibility there.”
She remembers trying one once that turned her into a cutesy, wide-eyed, fluttery-lashed reindeer.
“And I actually preferred myself as a reindeer,” she says, aghast. “Like, what is that about? That’s not good! I was sitting there thinking I’m hideous and why can’t I just be a reindeer? So I turned it off because that is not right for anyone’s brain.”
She fears the non-stop filtering and Photoshopping on Instagram mean people are forgetting what normal faces and bodies look like. Someone recently remarked on her “hairy arms” and it made her question why her perfectly normal arms were deemed worthy of comment.
“They’re not even that bloody hairy! I wonder if people are actually seeing arm hair any more. Are people airbrushing that off now as well? I actually don’t see hairy anything on women these days. So when people are seeing a tiny bit of hair they’re like: ‘What the hell? She’s a monster!’
I’m not ashamed of my body hair, people being disgusted by it is ridiculous because it’s obviously meant to be there!
“I’m not ashamed of my body hair, people being disgusted by it is ridiculous because it’s obviously meant to be there! When did people start getting offended by it?
“I remember as a teenager, my friends would be like: ‘Eww, you’ve got pubes, that’s dirty.’ But without it, I thought I looked about six years old.
"What man is going to be attracted to a noonie that looks like a baby’s? In the ’70s it was all about the bush, wasn’t it? What changed? Luckily, Joe loves the bush, so that’s OK!”
The trolling, which sadly comes as part and parcel of public life, is water off a duck’s back to Stacey. Her response to the “Susans” who criticise her parenting, her looks and even her choice of bedding (yes, really), is to either laugh at it or ignore it completely.
She says: “It’s so silly. What kind of insult is calling me goofy? Sometimes, there are moments when I’m hormonal where I find it difficult, but most of the time I feel sorry for people who feel they have to be like that.
"How awful that your only pleasure is trying to drag someone else down. I think they’re crying out for attention, which is really sad. The only way that they can change my mood is if I let them, so I take the power back because they don’t deserve to have it. They can’t upset me if I’m not upset.
"They can’t say: ‘You’re a goofy, ugly, lying cow’ because I know I’m not. I’m getting on with my life, trying to be me. They should have no influence in your life whatsoever.”
She uses crafting to focus her mind on more positive thoughts and compares it to meditation. Stacey has been candid about her struggles with mental health in the past and whipping out the glue gun and getting creative has proved therapeutic.
“Having a task to focus solely on makes me forget about anything I’m worried or anxious about. It centres me, it’s my form of meditation, because I couldn’t sit and hum!
“I feel my most relaxed when I apply myself to a task. I can’t even talk to anybody while I’m doing something. Sometimes, Joe will try and speak to me and I’ll be like: ‘I’m concentrating!’”
In particular, her genius snack preparation for the boys has become part of the daily routine. Where else are you going to find a frog made out of a watermelon?
Or a dinosaur made from an avocado, banana and a slice of peanut butter on toast? Even Joe admitted he liked his Chinese takeaway fashioned into a panda so much that he felt bad for eating it.
'I'M SUCH A WEIRDO'
“I suppose, because I was at home, I had the time to do things that I would only have done on a special occasion,” she says. The boys loved it and I thought I’m just going to put it on Instagram and it might make someone else’s kids smile, too. People really liked it and wanted to see the next one and well, it was something to do! They didn’t all work out. I tried to do Donald Duck and he looked like he had psoriasis.”
Her favourite creation by far is Norm, the gonk made out of old tights stuffed with rice, who now goes everywhere with the family and is regarded by Stacey as her fourth child.
“I’ve always wanted four. And this one is really quiet, he doesn’t poop himself and he never answers back. I don’t want to go out without him and I feel like when I die, my kids will have to look after Norm and he’ll live on through the generations.”
She’s only half joking.
“Sometimes I sit there and think: ‘I’m such a weirdo, what’s wrong with me?’ I ask myself these questions, and then tell it to Instagram and people will say: ‘You’re not weird, I do that too.’ There is a great comfort from that, even from the people who don’t do it but say: ‘Don’t worry we’ve all got
our little things’.”
There’s a mutual support flowing between Stacey and her followers which is heart-warming. She says they’re an extension of her friends and family.
“I don’t have thousands of friends in real life. I don’t have many friends at all. I have three or four I’ve had all my life and a couple more I’ve met along the way and that’s it. The community on Instagram is one of the most uplifting places and being able to escape into another world with these
people is a real lifeline sometimes.
“It’s comfort and support and interaction. Feeling like you are part of something, like a big WhatsApp group. There is something about women coming together and going: ‘I’ve got your back.’ It’s something really special.”
- For more Tap to Tidy and crafting ideas, follow Stacey on Insta @staceysolomon.
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