It was autumn last year, as the post-Brexit brouhaha continued to bubble, that Samantha Cameron stepped out of her husband’s shadow and onto the fashion stage with her start-up womenswear label Cefinn, famously declaring in a national newspaper ‘It’s his turn to support me’.
Speaking exclusively to Grazia last week about that crazy period, the former PM’s wife said, ‘It definitely helped having Dave around to do the school run, be there in the evenings when I had to stay in the office or work. It made a huge difference.’
Samantha Cameron has just finished chairing a discussion for fledgling fashion designers in London’s Groucho Club. Organised by the women’s business network AllBright, she has quizzed a panel of entrepreneurs and candidly shared the highs and lows - ‘lots of sleepless nights’ - of her own start-up journey.
Rightly, there’s not a mention of her husband during the session and it’s only afterwards that Samantha admits her new venture might not have been possible while still resident in Downing Street.
‘I do think, “Gosh, I’m not quite sure how I would have coped in that period”. But as other entrepreneurs have said, had you known what you would go through during those first few months, you might not have done it. Sometimes naiveté can be good - you’ve just got to go for it!’
Samantha explains that in the beginning, it was all the little things - like ordering a photocopier and making sure it had ink - that could be overwhelming. Indeed, she sold the first Cefinn collection - ‘urban uniform for busy women who love fashion’ - to Net-a-Porter.com and Selfridges in November, and then had to deliver the stock just two months later. It was an incredibly tight turnaround. But with help from her investors - and arguably no shortage of friends in high places - Samantha is now happily through the fog of those early months.
To promote the brand, she’s even taken the Instagram plunge but admits being @sammacameron isn’t her ‘natural forum’. (Those of you who cringed last month at the toe-curling sight of SamCam and David’s naked feet selfie might agree…) ‘Time is an issue and it doesn’t come naturally,’ she says, ‘But I hope I’ll get better at it. I’m 46 and for years we lived in Downing Street, where we were incredibly protected. To change that approach to your life - and when you didn’t grow up with social media - isn’t easy.’
Surely it’s a relief to be away from the scrutiny of number 10?
‘Obviously the pressure of his [David’s] job was immense. There are elements of that you don’t miss. But it was an amazing opportunity. Fashion is a huge contributor to our economy. It was a real honour to be able to support fantastic British designers. I got to know them really well - Erdem, Peter Pilotto, Roksanda, Chris Kane… It felt like a really great opportunity to help those brands and promote the UK - I’m sure Theresa May feels the same.’
Samantha’s passion for fashion is contagious - especially among her own children. Nancy, 13, we’re told, has two sewing machines - ‘she makes her own clothes and buys things from markets and customises them,’ while the other two, Florence, 6, and Elwen, 11, are very particular about what they wear - ‘It can make getting out of the house very challenging!’
As for what she makes of current goings on in Whitehall, Samantha says she’s less in the loop these days.
‘I still listen to the Today programme every morning. We used to start the day with a lot of newspapers but my husband now mainly reads them online so I’m not quite as up-to-date as I used to be - too many other things going on.’