I met Kate Thornton recently to ask her if her eight year old son Ben, ever pushes her buttons in the same way that my little Button-Pusher does to me. Ben sounds like he’s a very chilled, very cool kid indeed, who makes his mum beam with pride when she talks about him. As I met Kate in the offices of her company, TBSeen, we also talked a lot about work: what she did when Ben was first born, and how she changed it, and makes it work for her, and him, now.
Mrs Baffled: Kate can you tell me little about your family life?
Kate Thornton: I have one son and he’s awesome, he’s my everything.
MB: How old is he now and can you tell me a little more about him?
KT: He’s eight. He’s called Ben and he’s the ultimate light of my life. And like so many women, when he came along, and I became a mum, everything changed. For the first four years I think I busked it, and I think I was in total denial. You know, it’s fine, have baby, will travel. I took him everywhere: I toured with him while I was pregnant, that was hard. Doing arenas eight days a week on Strictly, that was tough. I used to fall asleep on the stage! I’d sit down and then when the applause came, I’d wake up and be like, oh ok back on! I had such a tough pregnancy. And then he came on the road for the next three years with me. I literally just packed up my car with sterilisers, travel cots, formula, everything – a thousand muslins – and off I went. I look back now and I think, how the hell?! I was feeding through the night, I have no idea how I did it. And then he came to the Arctic with me for five weeks (I shot a show there). My mum and dad came to help. I was working sixteen hour days, with an eighteen month old baby, in minus 40 conditions. Sometimes we would have to drive for two hours to get nappies!
MB: You’re braver than I am!
KT: It got to the point when he got to school age, when I thought, I can’t travel with him any more. The choice was made for me: I have to change the way I work. Which is why TBSeen started.
I could’ve worked it another way which is hiring some help – which many women have to do – it just wasn’t what I wanted to do. The likelihood now is I’m 43 and Ben could be my only child. And I don’t want to miss a moment. I’ve kind of filled my boots in terms of all the things I wanted to do: I didn’t really have anything professionally left on my to-do list. I didn’t have any sort of, unrequited ambitions. In fact the main ambition was to find some sort of work that allowed me to do the school run everyday – visit parents’ evening or sports day – and be there for him more than I’m not. So I had this ridiculously naive view: I know I’ll start my own business, that’ll be the answer!
What this business enables me to do is be there for him. So I pick him up every afternoon and I go home, and we do his homework, give him his tea, he has his friends over, and when he goes off to bed, I go back to work. So it means you don’t have a lot of time for you at all. But this is just a moment in a very long life I hope. And for this moment, it’s giving him and me everything we need. I feel like some sort of dried up old dish cloth in the corner of the sink – that’s how I feel at the moment! But it’s been worth it. That’s his desk there [Kate gestures to a desk set up in the corner of the office], he comes in with me after school if I have to come back, does his homework here. He’s part of the family. He comes on the staff nights out, you know if we go for a curry, he comes along. So yeh, in so many ways it’s worked. But I’m not gonna pretend it’s easy and I don’t know one single working mum who would say, oh yeh I’ve got that balance down; I’ve got it working; nailed it. Because their needs change constantly: their diaries are a beast to manage . I still find myself at twelve at night on Amazon, desperately buying as many birthday presents because he’s got, six parties at the weekend. And football club, followed by karate club: you end up being pulled in so many different directions. But that’s what you do right? I wouldn’t change it for the world.
MB: So TBSeen allows you to tick that box of working and achieving for you, while allowing you the time to be a mum and achieve there too?
KT: I think my head needed to work and I think it’s really important for him to see that, to be that kind of role model for him. Nothing comes from nothing in this life, you have to get out and roll your sleeves up and try your best, and sometimes you have to be brave and bold. Doing this was terrifying, far more terrifying than standing in front of millions of people on live TV, because I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d never run a business, never written a business plan, I’d never gone out and sought investment, set up a website, any of these things. The only thing I had any sort of experience of was creating content, as a journalist. I will always be a journalist: I think like a journalist; I am a journalist. I’m a professional storyteller, that’s how I see myself. However I apply that, that’s the just the medium really, so if it’s TV, radio or print, I’m still a story-teller. Even hosting the X factor, you’re telling the audience a story. I’m always seeking out a story. So I said to myself, it’s fine, I’m just applying myself to a new platform: the online world. The online world moves faster than anything – I thought live television was fast paced, but the internet? You can see behind you on those screens [Kate gestures to a bank of screens on the wall, all featuring various streams of data and information about TBSeen], I can see at any given time whats happening on the site, how we’re growing, how we’re doing. Having worked in a news room, where there were seven deadlines a day, (in the early stages of my career, on a daily newspaper), this is faster in a way, because you live in the moment. What we create is micro-moments, that we hope will resonate with people, because it matches their moments. So we try to be helpful, informative, engaging and entertaining, trying to inspire people to view [the site] and then do something: which is shop.
MB: [I’m baffled by the data on the screens] It’s a whole new world, a new language?
KT: It’s massive. When I left print to join television, it was a growth industry: digital TV was about to be launched, we were going from five channels to hundreds of channels. It felt like there as this massively fertile landscape, which I could be a part of. And that was probably the last sort of, revolution I had experience of. And then online blew up. The internet has changed the way that everybody lives and everybody functions. You can’t even book a doctor’s appointment now we’re all being forced to do it: my parents are online. And if you’re not, you do get left behind. And for us as a group of women, we wanted to be part of the future, we didn’t want to be left behind. We wanted to future proof ourselves, and apply what we’ve always done, to a new space. And that’s hopefully what we’re doing. I don’t know if we smashed it yet, but we’re trying our best and learning all the time, and that’s exciting.
MB: You mentioned earlier that starting this, and being part of this was scary?
KT: Well who in their right mind applies for a job they can’t do?! And that’s effectively what I did. I don’t get scared doing live TV ’cause I’ve done it for years and I know what I’m doing. Actually I get a thrill out of it: you know, I hear that count in my ear and I’m like, yeh lets do this! But this [Kate gestures around the office] is like getting in a car and not knowing how to drive. That’s what starting this was like: where’s the gear stick? What’s this, was does that do? Oh God I’ve reversed it.
MB: Do you think you would have pushed yourself through something scary like this say, ten or fifteen years ago? Or do you think having Ben pushed you on? You had him to consider too?
KT: I’m a bit like a dog with a bone: once I start something, I have to see it through. Once you start spending other people’s money, I had a massive moral obligation, to give it my all. I never pretended to any of our investors that I’d done this before. You are taking punt with me, but, I’ll give it my best, I’ll apply myself, I’ll do as much learning as I can, but it will be on the job. And actually it took us years to get this site off the ground and I learned everything on the way. For so many years people would say, so what are you doing now?’ and I’d go, just being a mum. Because there was a chance that it would never get off the ground, most businesses don’t get to here, not in this space, because it requires huge investment, and a huge team. And I didn’t know if I had in me to get it all the way to finishing line. I knew I’d give it my very best, but just to launch felt like a success. Now we’ve got to make it work.
MB: An amazing thing for Ben to see his mum saying, I don’t know if I can do this, but I’m going to do it anyway?
KT: I don’t know he understood that necessarily, but you know, he came with me to buy the office furniture, and he was in the office on a Sunday with me, and my mum and dad, screwing all the desks together, and putting chairs together. Building this literally from the ground up, being a part of that process every step of the way. So he’s seen that, he knows what it is.
MB: You’re involved in the Digital Mums’ #WorkThatWorks movement?
KT: I love them! They started tweeting us. In that totally digital way, we connected. They liked some of our content, they pushed it out to their user base, who were really engaged. I did a blog for them and it did really well for them, and for us, so we just said, shall we have a coffee? I think women are great at that: shall we just have a chat? I met the girls where they work in a big iron box in Hackney, and they were me: they were women that needed to change the way they work, and because they needed to work in order to be the kind of parent they wanted to be. And now they’re enabling an army of women who are super smart, and who like you, feel they can’t go back to work cause the hours are crazy. Really smart women who want to be a part of what’s going on digitally. It’s not a huge investment to train with them, they help place you with work, and help you get a job, and I just thought they were awesome! In the same way that you got in touch and said, this is my background, this is what I’m trying to do, I’m like, fine! Anybody that’s trying to do that brave big bold thing, I get that, and I’m really happy to help. I’ll engage with them and do whatever I can. Because if people hadn’t done the same for me, I might never have got this off the ground. And also, I think: karma. And I’m interested. I’m interested in people who are doing really interesting things. That’s the nosey part of me, the journalist in me! I’m just totally nosey really!
For the first part of Kate’s interview click here to read about her life as a mum with a very chilled out eight year old called Ben.
If you’d like to read more and / or get involved in the amazing Digital Mums‘ fabulous #WorkThatWorks movement, which is calling on both businesses and individuals to show their support for flexible working:
1. You can sign up to The #WorkThatWorks Movement here.
3. You can also support #WorkThatWorks by sharing an image/photo/video on social media, which represents the letters W.T.W. Why not check out the hashtag #WorkThatWorks on social media, for lots of great examples and inspiration.
Kate will be compering the Digital Mums’ #WorkThatWorks event in Central London this week, featuring a panel of flexible working champions: Mother Pukka aka Anna Whitehouse; Sophie Walker, head of the Women’s Equality Party; Holly Tucker, founder of NotOnTheHighStreet.com and UK Ambassador for Creative Small Business, Token Man founder Daniele Fiandaca.