Laura Brand and her husband Russell only just made it back to their Oxfordshire home in time for lockdown. Since Christmas, they and their two daughters – Mabel, three, and Peggy, one – had been first in the US for comedian-turned-self- help-guru Russell’s Recovery Tour. But when they moved on to Australia, he was forced to cancel several gigs as the number of coronavirus cases grew. The family was then holidaying in a remote seaside town when they learned that both Australia and the UK were about to close their borders.
‘There was a moment when we thought, “We’re not going to be able to come back, we’re in Australia indefinitely.” The fear of being trapped so far from home was enormous,’ says Laura, 32. Fortunately, they managed to make it on to one of the last flights out. ‘I broke a few sweats on that journey. We were all masked and gloved. If we could have worn hazmat suits, we would have. Getting back to our two dogs, two cats and chickens was such a relief.’
Since then, like us, Laura’s experienced a range of emotions from being quarantined. ‘Week one I was almost excitable, week two was the peak of emotion and I cried all the time, now it feels like, “OK, we’re going to be doing this for a while so we have to take everything at the slowest pace.”’
Yet isolation has also – to her surprise – coincided with the publication of her first book, The Joy Journal For Magical Everyday Play, a compilation of 50 family activities from crafting ‘nature wands’ from sticks and wool to making homemade glue from cornflour. It’s perfect for parents wondering how to pass yet another day with bored kids.
‘First I thought, “It’d be crazy to release the book now,” but doing crafts with basic ingredients is so relevant now. I hope it will make life easier for parents who are finding it all a bit overwhelming,’ says Laura, who also illustrated the book.
For someone like me, who’d rather clean the washing machine with my tongue than be creative with small children, crafty mums like Laura – whose Instagram is packed with shots of the girls in homemade Easter bunny ears – can be a tad intimidating. Doesn’t she ever just want to plonk the girls in front of the iPad and pour a large glass of wine?
‘Oh yeah!’ she says. ‘I can lose my cool. I feel what every parent feels. I overreact to tantrums. It’s Russell who’s very good at pulling me out of it when the girls have both been crying all morning. He’ll be like, “Take a deep breath, remember she’s only three.”’
From the way Laura talks, it’s obvious Russell, 44, is an extremely involved dad, despite last year’s outcry when he told an interviewer Laura did all the ‘practical parenting’ and he had never spent 24 hours alone with his daughters, because ‘Laura... respects and cares for their safety too much.’
‘Russell’s always been completely hands on,’ she sighs. ‘What he meant, I think, is that he calls me 100% the boss, because it took me a long time to relax into motherhood and I found it hard to let others in. The first time I ever spent a night apart from the girls was in December. So when Russell said he’d never looked after both children for 24 hours, it was simply because I was never out of the house for that long. But I’m learning to be less controlling.’
A friend dragged me out on a walk to the canal in east London, and as we came on to the footpath Russell was standing there, like he’d organised it.
The daughter of golfer Bernard Gallacher and sister of TV presenter Kirsty Gallacher, Laura first met and briefly dated Russell, then a notorious womaniser and hellraiser, when she was an 18-year-old art student. After they split, she worked in London managing nightclubs and restaurants. He moved to Hollywood to star in a string of films and married Katy Perry.
But after they divorced in 2012, Russell returned to the UK, where he dated heiress Jemima Goldsmith. They’d just split, as had Laura from her long-term boyfriend, when in 2015 he and Laura accidentally bumped into each other.
‘My ex had literally moved out of our flat that day and I was heartbroken, with mascara running down my face. A friend dragged me out on a walk to the canal in east London, where I’d never been in my life, and as we came on to the footpath Russell was standing there, like he’d organised it.’ They married three years ago.
Having long conquered his various addictions, Russell is now attending regular online support groups. Meanwhile, he and Laura seem to be living like Blue Peter presenters, larking about in a recent YouTube video making squishy soap and a miniature garden in a baking tray.
‘We really do have fun together,’ Laura says. ‘Sometimes it can look like I’m dealing with an adult toddler, but Russell’s really into doing the stuff I’m into.’
The couple would ‘love’ more children. ‘But I suffered terrible, Kate Middleton-bad morning sickness for all nine months of both pregnancies – both times I ended up on a hospital drip – so we’ll have to see if my body’s up to handling that again.’
Laura has to go – it’s time to prepare family tea. ‘Only pesto pasta,’ she laughs. ‘Last night we had frozen pie and frozen chips. Heaven!’ I’d imagined the Brands’ home life as way zanier, but actually I much prefer this wholesome version.
The Joy Journal For Magical Everyday Play is out now (£12.99, Bluebird)
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