In the latest in our Mums Keeping It Real series we caught up with television presenter Kate Thornton, 43 who lives in Dulwich, South East London. She has recently launched TBSeen.com, a new online cashback and content site especially for women. We talked about career choices since she had her son Ben, seven, single parenting and some brilliant #RealMumMoments...
Why did you think launching your own business was the answer to juggling work and being a parent?
I’m not going to sit here and pretend I’ve found the answer because I haven’t. I’ve just found a solution for now. Kids change and their needs change so you have to be flexible with that. I was in an industry which required me to be away from home. Until Ben was at school I took him everywhere with me. ‘Have baby will travel’ was my attitude. He came on tour with Strictly Come Dancing and even to film in the Arctic. Then he got to school age and that just became impossible. I just thought I don’t want to miss out on these years; he’s my everything.
As much as I love TV it was not the time to put myself first. In fact the moment he came into my world I put myself right to the bottom of the list. I realised I needed to be more home based, more structured and to do something which felt closer to a normal regular life for him. I’m it; I don’t have a husband that will pick up the slack. So I thought time for some brave, big decisions which is how I became involved with TBSeen.
TBSeen.com, your cashback and content site, is very different from TV presenting - why such a change in direction?
It’s all about future proofing. We all need to put ourselves in the digital space going forward. I didn’t want to be someone who’s sum digital knowledge was ‘save’ and ‘save as’. I needed to expand my repertoire. It’s actually not such a radical shift either. I look back to when I was moving from print to broadcast. When I was 21 and editing Smash Hits magazine, I kept being offered TV work but saying no. Then digital TV happened and I was persuaded to take the leap and never looked back.
Fast forward 17 years and all the opportunity is online. TBSeen is about content creation and I wanted to be a part of that. It’s about telling stories just in a shorter form. When I watch my son consume content the TV is just another screen in the house now. It’s not even his first screen, that would be an Ipad or my mobile. I didn’t want to be a 50 year old who had no idea how to work online. I thought let’s try this, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter. I’m a firm believer in it’s better to have tried. Even if you make a mistake there is a great lesson in it.
The proposition was how to make cashback aspirational. It was something that had been brought to market but the way it had been executed hadn’t truly engaged with women. I started sounding out my girlfriends (including Denise Van Outen, Tamzin Outhwaite, Myleene Klass and the Appleton sisters) as to whether they would be interested in joining in. It spoke to them too and very naturally I’ve ended up with this amazing squad of women by my side.
How important have your friends been in making this a success?
The ability to sit down and have honest conversations with people means you can be brave and bold with what you do. We were uninhibited about putting ideas on the table. We all have the same frustrations; we all need and want to work but how could we do it and still be at the school gates? We didn’t want to feel like we’d dropped the ball with our kids. Even on shoot days I bear in mind that everyone needs to do a school drop off before we start filming. We work around each other and share the belief that ultimately our kids are more important than us and our work. It’s at the heart of what we do - we’ve created a business that enables us to work around our children.
Is it harder doing this as a single parent?
I’m pulling a double shift! But many of us at TBSeen are doing that too; Lisa, Myleene, Tamzin, Nic - they are all single parents. It’s indicative of a lot of modern families where you end up being the main carer. And I don’t know if it’s harder - Ben was 20 months when I split with his father.
It does however, make me very sensitive to the importance of flexible working. There are 14 of us at TBSeen.com - we ask people to be available for meeting between 10am and 4pm but mostly it’s about being a grown up and empowering people to manage their own time.
What does an average day look like for you?
I never do anything before the school run - walking Ben to school is my favourite 15 minutes of the day, My offices are two streets from school so I do a quick run round the park after drop off looking like I’m being chased. Ben often has after school activities so I usually pick him up around 4.30pm. And then it’s homework, dinner, bath time and cuddle time. I start work again around 8.30pm and am normally online until about 11pm. It’s hard work and it means there is very little time for me but if that’s the trade off in order to ensure the business gets what it needs, and more importantly Ben gets what he needs, then that’s the compromise.
What advice would you give to mothers thinking about a change in direction career wise?
Do it. Be brave and be bold. Even if it’s not right for you then you have learned something. What is the worst that can happen with trying something new? I think for me this has been a brilliant solution in as much as I feel like I am the mum that I wanted to be. I get my daily fix of Ben and that is what I need. It’s inherently selfish because I’m sure he would have coped with having a nanny, I just never wanted that. And I certainly don’t sit in judgement to anyone that does. Sometimes it’s not a choice it’s a must. I’m 43 and single and he may be my only child. I want to be there for every moment. If it means my work has to shift to enable that then that’s small change in life. You imagine yourself on your deathbed in years to come and think was that this the right thing to do...I’ll know I’ll think it was. I’ll never regret it.
It’s also really brilliant to learn a new skill. The day that Ben started school as a pure passion project I signed up and went back to college for two years and qualified as a counsellor. I just needed to know my head could do something. I needed to push myself and expand my horizons. I put myself in a classroom of people and was told my work wasn’t good enough and it was actually quite exhilarating and liberating and I learnt a load from it. You’ve got to feel the fear sometimes right.
Finally we’re currently running a #RealMumMoments campaign for Mother's Day, asking people to share a snippet of what it’s really like to be a parent. Do you have any to share?
The classic one from me was when I went to answer the door to the postman when Ben was little. I was in my pyjamas signing for a parcel when Ben just pulled my PJs down and I didn’t have anything on underneath! I still see my postman every morning and we still pretend he has never seen my lady garden. We’ve actually got some films coming out about the embarrassment of being a parent. Tamzin’s daughter has just learnt the word vagina and keeps saying it over and over again, but normally in places like Marks and Spencer. Really really loudly. That’s just what kids do. Thankfully we’ve got years ahead when we will be able to embarrass them - it will be pay back time!
To share your own #RealMumMoments go to Twitter and tweet your moment using the hashtag or on Facebook share your moment as your status using the hashtag #RealMumMoments and nominate two friends to do the very same thing.
Get some inspiration from some of the funniest moments so far here