‘Exercise saved me’: Lorraine Pascale on how she overcame her difficult childhood and how you can live your best life
Abusive childhood, alcoholic mother, fame at 15… TV chef Lorraine Pascale has survived them all – and is still smiling. She tells Judith Woods how she does it
Lorraine wears top and trousers, Stella McCartney, from Selfridges. Earrings, Lele Sadoughi, Fenwick
My childhood was s***,’ says Lorraine Pascale. This is not the opening gambit I expected from the former model, TV chef and million-selling cookery book writer. She’s sitting opposite me in a chichi vegan restaurant near her West London home, sipping a turmeric latte, looking a good decade younger than her 46 years, laughing easily and often. She appears textbook ‘happy, sorted, successful’ – frankly, you’d never guess the pain she’s endured.
And given her brutal summing up of her childhood, the last thing you’d expect is for her to dwell on her tough years. Yet, in her latest reinvention as a life guru, that is exactly what Lorraine is doing. Her message, quite simply, is that we should not allow our past, however difficult, to define us. And she is very much speaking from experience.
Born at a home for unmarried mothers in Hackney, East London, in 1972, Lorraine was taken into care at birth. At first she was fostered and then adopted at 18 months. Her adoptive white parents, Roger and Audrey Woodward, who already had a son, brought her up in the Cotswolds but separated then divorced when she was three.
Audrey began drinking heavily and Lorraine became the focus of her rages. She was physically attacked – social worker reports reveal that Audrey fantasised about throwing Lorraine under a lorry. Her mother admitted that the only way she could keep herself from hitting her child was to lock her in her bedroom.
Top and skirt, Issey Miyake, Selfridges. Earrings, Ooak
Aged eight, Lorraine was sent to a series of foster parents before it was deemed safe for her to be reunited with her adoptive mother – a move which, as Lorraine says, certainly toughened her up. ‘Yes, it probably gave me resilience but not in a good way,’ she recalls. ‘Growing up with an alcoholic parent makes you hyper-vigilant. You learn to watch adults, to read the room – to defuse tension before it’s barely been manifested. It’s exhausting and erodes your self-esteem. It was only later that I learned to be happy, and that was by taking responsibility for my own mental health. Yes, bad things happen but at some point you have to stop blaming and feeling aggrieved and defining yourself as a victim and move on.’
And move on she did. Scouted by a model agency at the age of 16 she left school and modelled for the next decade, with career highlights including the iconic swimwear issue of Sports Illustrated and being the first black model to feature on the cover of US Elle.
When her modelling career came to an end, Lorraine retrained as a chef and a baker. She launched a cupcake business, Ella’s Bakehouse (named for her daughter Ella), and became a household name in 2011 when she presented the BBC series Baking Made Easy, with the inevitable cookbooks following quickly. Now Lorraine is adding ‘motivational speaker’ to her CV, using the horrors of her own early years to inform inspirational talks at schools and prisons.
She is also currently writing a memoir that she hopes will be an inspiration to readers. This latest side hustle makes sense – if anyone has the life experience to act as a positivity guru to others it’s Lorraine. ‘Don’t call me that!’ she shouts, visibly cringeing. ‘Positivity is so not me. I’m the one who gets shouted at to “cheer up, love” in the street because I’ve got a resting bitch face – or, rather, a resting generalised anxiety disorder face.’
I beg to differ – for a start, her Instagram feed is peppered with inspirational quotes such as ‘know your value instead of always trying to prove your worth’.
‘No. No. No!’ she screams. ‘I am not that person who hides behind fake slogans and trite fridge magnets saying “Live. Laugh. Love”. Those people deserve to have cupcakes thrown at their heads. There is a world of difference between personal reflection and one-size-fits-all artificial positivity. Helping people find the things that bring them joy and contentment is not the same as instructing them to paint a smile on their faces.’
Lorraine hugging it out with Kate Moss
The last time I interviewed Lorraine she was charming but somewhat aloof. Today, she is less guarded, far more relaxed and open. She beams when talking about her 22-year-old actress daughter Ella Balinska, from her six-year marriage to Polish jazz musician Count Kaz Balinski-Jundzill, which ended in 2000.
‘I am so proud – soon you’ll be interviewing her not me,’ says Lorraine, referring to her daughter’s role alongside Kristen Stewart in the forthcoming reboot of the Charlie’s Angels movie. ‘I always knew she would do something creative and it’s wonderful to see her following her passion. As her mother, I will always worry about whether she is earning enough to pay her bills, but it brings me joy to see her so happy and doing so well.’
I suspect it’s not solely Ella’s success that is behind this more affable Lorraine. She is currently dating businessman Dennis O’Brien, with whom she was photographed last year, but she won’t be drawn further than to say, with a grin and a glint in her eye, ‘He’s great.’
The couple met at the gym, and she has said in the past that they are both into fitness. Unsurprisingly, Lorraine is lean and lithe. She looks strong, but working out is more than just a route to killer abs for her. Exercise was her saviour when she was knocked sideways by the death of her adoptive mother Audrey a few years ago. She had somehow managed to not only forgive but also to maintain a relationship with both of her adoptive parents following their divorce. Audrey’s death hit Lorraine hard; having made peace with her mother, she was floored by grief. ‘I tumbled into a deep sadness which could well have turned into depression,’ she remembers. ‘But three days after it happened, I got out of bed and managed to get to the gym. It saved me.’
These days Lorraine has a close relationship with her adoptive father Roger and his new wife, with whom he has a daughter, and they see each other often. In adulthood, she did meet up with her birth parents, but she describes the experience as ‘like meeting strangers at a bus stop’ and felt no compulsion to see them again; she already had a family.
She seems to have reconciled herself with her chaotic upbringing, embraced it even – it certainly gave her the drive to succeed at whatever she turned her hand to. She is philosophical when I ask what she thinks of the move to relax adoption guidelines to no longer stipulate that adopters and adoptees be of the same ethnicity (Lorraine was adopted before this policy came into place). ‘What every child needs is unconditional love and security,’ she says. ‘Waiting around for the identical Dulux colour-match is no way to manage vulnerable children’s lives. My upbringing was really tough but that had nothing to do with my parents being white and me being black.’
She’s open on her website and Instagram about overcoming her struggles. One of her breakthroughs, she tells me now, was ‘discovering that “no” is a full sentence’ and that continually bending over backwards to accommodate the other person in a relationship leads you to not just defer and devalue your own needs but to deeply resent the other person. ‘I believe that when you put everyone else first, all you are doing is teaching them to put you second.
Jumper, Paper London. Earrings, Ooak
‘I just want to share my experiences and recount how I overcame obstacles,’ she says. ‘There’s a real phenomenon of women who are strong and assertive professionally but are hopeless in their personal lives. That fascinates me. I have had lots of unsuccessful relationships where I lost myself because I was a people pleaser who invested too much in my partner’s comfort and happiness rather than asking for what I needed. If he wanted to go out, I would go out, even if I was exhausted and craving me-time and an early night.’
Lorraine as a catwalk model, 1992
So what’s her advice for anyone who reads this and thinks it sounds familiar? ‘Just do you. Be yourself,’ she says. Hmm… I’m not sure that’s quite the insight I was looking for, I say – but then she clarifies: ‘It sounds simple but it’s actually quite hard because we’re all influenced by those around us and the most sure-fire route to misery is to strive to do what you think other people want you to do.
‘I’m not telling people to chase perfection but to embrace who they are and be the best version of themselves.’
I wonder aloud whether she has a snappy motto for us all to live by. She barely misses a beat: ‘Keep going – unless you feel like crying, because that’s OK, too.’
It’s positivity, Lorraine Pascale-style: upbeat but with just the right amount of side-eye.
Lorraine’s life lessons
Want to feel happier, calmer and more kick-ass? It’s all about working healthy habits into your daily routine. Here are Ms Pascale’s tips for getting the best out of YOU!
Top, See by Chloé; trousers, Amanda Wakeley, and bracelet, Alexandrine, all from Fenwick
Wake up early…
I’ve always been a morning person. I’ve never needed a lot of sleep, only five or six hours. My doctor said it wasn’t a problem because I don’t feel tired during the day. Getting into an early morning routine can be hard to start with, but now if I stay in bed until 7am it actually makes me feel more sluggish.
…and smell the coffee
I get up at around 5am and meditate for half an hour. It settles my mind and makes me peaceful. Sometimes I get great ideas during meditation, so I’ll have my notepad with me. They say that 20 minutes’ meditation is more restful than an hour’s sleep. Then I have an espresso to wake me up before I go to the gym. It takes 20 minutes to kick in, so by the time I get there I’m fired up. One coffee a day is fine.
Sip a smoothie
I have a nutrient-packed smoothie for breakfast. I use my Haden Health Blender to whiz up broccoli, sprouts, blackcurrants, carrot juice, rocket, protein powder, a walnut, fresh turmeric and root ginger, a square of dark chocolate and black pepper – which boosts the effectiveness of turmeric. The only powder I use is protein. The ginger makes me feel very awake. If I don’t have my smoothie I don’t feel as energised.
Be good to your gut
I add a sachet of a prebiotic called Bimuno to my smoothie, which feeds good gut bacteria. Healthy digestion gives you more energy and supports your immune system. Feeding your good bacteria strengthens your gut-brain connection.
Get the kit
I live in my workout gear: today I’m wearing Lululemon leggings and a Nike sweatshirt. Just wearing my gym clothes makes me feel invigorated.
I take my phone with me to the gym and use the website bodybuilding.com. It has all the exercises you need and videos of how to do them. The trainers are all well known in the industry. I’m on week seven of a 12-week course with Jamie Eason. Today I’m doing back, rear and deltoids; on other days I’ll do abs or biceps.
Heart your routine
At the gym, I’ll do 30 minutes of cardio followed by weights. Cardio is good for your heart, gives you energy and produces feel-good endorphins. You don’t have to go mad; breaking a gentle sweat is fine. I prefer to work out myself rather than with a trainer, but I think it’s good to book one training session before you start doing weights, as technique is so important to guard against injury. You could also find a personal trainer on social media, send them a video of yourself working out and ask for their feedback to check you are doing it right.
The lift you need
I used to do heavier and heavier weights, but as you get older you need to be careful about injury. You can combat this by doing the same exercise with a weight that’s not as heavy, and moving more slowly. It’s called TUT (time under tension). You aren’t going as heavy with the weights, but you are still putting a lot of tension on the muscles.
Be a nature lover
Nature makes me feel revitalised. I love being near water, so I walk my rescue dog Watson around the lake in London’s Battersea Park or Hyde Park twice a day for half an hour. Even if you don’t have a dog, a morning walk is really positive. I walk with my headphones on and listen to an audiobook. People often recognise me. (I’m not being unfriendly – I’m just a real introvert and a bit shy.)
I take vitamin D in a supplement – even though I’m outdoors a lot, dark skin doesn’t absorb much of it. I also take an iron supplement as I don’t get enough from my diet.
My mind is always racing, but I don’t feel the need to switch it off. It may be racing with exciting things, which light me up. If the thoughts are negative, I try to sit with them to see what they are trying to tell me, and I question any negative beliefs. I give myself time to let them process through me.
I send myself positive messages on my phone. I write down things that I’ve learnt or lines from books and set them as an alert in my calendar on repeat. ‘When we judge, we create negative karma’ is the type of line that resonates. It gives me a lift.
Shake it out
Shaking is a very powerful way to get rid of tension – note how animals, especially dogs, do it. Someone told me about a [shaking] technique called TRE (trauma release exercises) and I found some exercises on YouTube. The other day, someone broke into my car. It left me really stressed, which is very tiring. So I shook it off.
Up the protein – and greens
Eating these at lunchtime keeps my energy up until dinner. I eat a lot of tofu and grilled chicken and always a bag of crisps, which probably isn’t so great for energy, but I’ve discovered crisps made of chickpeas. My quick energy-balancing lunch recipe is grilled chicken salad: grill a chicken breast in salt, pepper and a little fresh lemon, serve with rocket, a handful of pine nuts and a balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing.
I’ve been drinking three litres of water a day since the beginning of the year and it’s definitely one of the most energising things I’ve done. It’s beneficial for the mood too (no dip at 4pm) and for feeling more positive. I didn’t realise that I was dehydrated and it was making me lethargic. Everyone bangs on about it, but it does actually work.
Be prepared… for anything
Nerves before a meeting are good – they show that you care. It sounds obvious but my best advice is to be prepared – competence breeds confidence. Do your research, visualise the meeting going well and then take a few deep breaths before going in.
Feel the lows
Sometimes we feel like crap, and that’s just a fact. I’ll try to get myself out of it by watching Netflix, calling a friend, going for a walk or listening to an audiobook. But occasionally nothing works, so you just have to wait for the emotion to pass. At such times I acknowledge my feelings rather than try to run away from them. Emotions are a physical thing too, so I’ll ask myself where in my body I’m holding them – for instance, my throat might be tight. When I connect with my body, my emotions begin to lose their power over me.
Ditch the snacks
I’ve stopped snacking and have noticed a huge difference in my energy levels. It’s actually good to feel a bit hungry. The nutritional medicine experts I work with tell me you should always have gaps of digestive rest – if your body is constantly working, it makes you lethargic. Not snacking is hard and I hate it sometimes, but it does work. It means I can really enjoy my food. I love eating dinner, I love bread and a glass of wine and I don’t want to waste energy feeling guilty, which I will if I’ve been snacking all day.
Make it an early bedtime
I always make sure that I’m in bed by 10pm. I might wake up at 3am and work for an hour – I have some good ideas at night.
And finally… Commit!
If you wait for the motivation to come, it will be fleeting: you must commit yourself to being healthy. At 46 I want to be as healthy as possible in order to feel the best that I can. I like to fit into my clothes and I like eating, so I have to go to the gym. I want to stay this size, stay well and feel strong. Make a commitment to yourself to do something that makes you feel great. Life’s hard, so do what you can to feel good.
- For more details of Lorraine’s range of kitchen gadgets go to hadenappliances.com
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