Stacey Solomon speaks up for people 'struggling to survive'
Having made the journey from reality TV wannabe to national treasure, Stacey Solomon is in a happy place. As her new book is released, she recalls what it was like trying to make ends meet as a single mum, and issues a challenge to our politicians
Being a celebrity isn’t non-stop glamour. Stacey Solomon is on her way to Asda in Leeds.
“I’m going to meet some of the staff who put out the displays for one of my ranges. I just wanted to go and say thank you.”
The Big Issue joins the pop star-turned-polymath on the journey up the M1. Stacey Solomon has an interesting CV. From X Factor wannabe to cultural commentator, she’s a TV presenter, fashion designer (with collaborations with Primark as well as Asda), DIY guru and bestselling writer.
The longevity of a reality star is hard to predict, but the reasons Solomon has survived were evident the moment she stepped onto The X Factor stage in 2009. The bubbly 19-year-old from Essex was genuine, down-to-earth, delightful and delighted to be in the spotlight, singing What a Wonderful World like an angel. “That completely took me by surprise,” said Simon Cowell. “I don’t know why I had a preconceived idea, but I didn’t expect it to be that good,” cooed Cheryl Cole.
Solomon has been defying expectations ever since simply by being herself. “I can’t really do anything other than be me,” she says, “That’s who I am. I’ll always be Stacey from Dagenham.”
She went into The X Factor with no grand plan or ambition. “It was just the most incredible experience of my life,” Solomon says. “Back in the day, they used to do master classes every week with a different singer. I got to meet my heroes like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, George Michael. I never in a million years, at 19 years old with a one-year-old child, thought I’d be learning how to sing with my idols. That was unbelievable, incomprehensible. And I was like, if this is it, I’m well happy.
“I was a teenage mum, and people used to… well, anyway, it doesn’t matter what people used to say, but it was not written in the stars for me to be successful according to everybody around me.”
The singing career was short-lived, but TV presenting and a massive social media following have opened unexpected doors, which Solomon has likely hinged and hung herself. Through Covid, fans crowned her Queen of DIY and crafting (she’s very excited about her favourite season, Halloween, approaching) as she shared crafting tips and household fixes online.
“I don’t think I’m the queen of anything,” Solomon says. “It’s something I have always loved to do. Even prior to lockdown I loved putting glitter on my pumpkins. But during lockdown people had time in the same four walls. A lot of people got anxious, and DIY and craft is a good way to focus your energy so you’re not thinking of anything else. Once you get the bug, it’s very difficult to not want to carry on doing it.”
The bug was caught from Solomon’s father, who “almost forced” his kids to learn how to use power tools. “But now I’m so grateful that I had that upbringing and that I would give anything a go,” Solomon says. “I don’t know everything and I’m always learning but I don’t feel nervous to learn. If you’ve never done it before, it’s quite daunting.”
Now the follow-up is being released, recounting how she’s redecorated her dream home, Pickle Cottage, which she bought with new husband and fellow I’m A Celeb champ, Joe Swash. Each room’s transformation, including the rooms of her children Zachary, Leighton, Rex and Rose, is covered, and Solomon has penned paeans to the ‘little things I love’ such as saws and heavy-duty mounting adhesive. There’s also a page on how important it is to “Have a good screw”, detailing the benefits of high-quality rawl plugs, nuts and bolts.
Her list of top tips are practical far beyond DIY: Never wait until tomorrow; Be kind to yourself; Don’t put pressure on yourself; Throw yourself into it; Set some goals. Forget using these as a guide to renovation, they’re a good way to approach life.
Solomon adds another tip that’s helped her: “Keep the good people around you no matter what,” she says. “I don’t think I would have been able to maintain any job in this industry if I didn’t have my family and I didn’t feel grounded by them in every way possible. I think it’s a really easy industry to lose yourself in if you listen to what everyone thinks of you. The reality is that the only people that matter are the people you love and that love you.”
Her background, and her route into the spotlight means some people are quick to dismiss Solomon.
“I think my accent mixed with the fact that I’m happy does make people think I’m really dumb,” she says. “You have to prove yourself a bit more, but in some ways it goes in my favour because people really underestimate me, which is nice, because they’re surprised by the very littlest of things.”
When Stacey Solomon talks, people listen. Her name trends on social media every time the purpose of the monarchy is questioned, and a Loose Women clip from 2018 goes viral again. In it she points out the pointlessness of the royals: “I don’t get why we’re so obsessed with these humans that are exactly the same. It’s freezing cold outside, and people are homeless and these people have houses to spare.”
Ahead of the Queen’s funeral, Solomon struck a more solemn note to her 5.3 million Instagram followers: “Thinking of all of those who have ever lost a beloved person in their lives. Saying goodbye forever is always hard.”
Acknowledging her working-class background, she feels a responsibility to use the platform she has to talk about big issues.
“I want to be a part of making it not so shit for other people,” she explains. “People are struggling to survive. I always get emotional when my kids go back to school because you only get a certain amount of summers as a kid, but I was thinking, there’s going to be parents out there that can’t afford uniform, worrying about are they going to feed them lunch at school, how do they pay the heating bill in the winter.
“Sometimes I have imposter syndrome, that I’m even out of the situation that I was in when I was younger, so I shouldn’t have an opinion or say anything. At the same time, if I don’t, it’s like I’ve forgotten that I was in that position myself at a point in my life.
“I remember I used to get these things called SMA vouchers when I had Zach, and they were a lifesaver to me. I was at college at the time, getting working tax credits. I just about had enough budget for nappies, wipes, clothes, food. And then milk was just this whole other massive expense. The powder was so expensive, there was no way I could afford it. I don’t know what the initiatives are out there any more. It seems like so many have gone. When I speak to some of my friends they’re like, you can’t get that any more, you can’t get this. It’s all turned into Universal Credit, which has made things really difficult for people. Some of the benefits that I received from the state when I was younger aren’t available. It’s just really scary.”
Is it important that a wider range of voices, including those who have experienced poverty, are listened to?
“There are really amazing politicians out there who are working for their constituencies. It does just seem at the moment that no one really has a clue and there’s no answers, which is really frustrating. If you haven’t ever experienced the worry of any of these things, I don’t know if you can fully empathise. I do think there’s good people out there that were lucky enough to be born into privilege but still do care. I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see what the new line-up of people do and if anything changes.”
Would Liz Truss be a good guest on Loose Women?
“I think it would be lovely to have all the people in charge of the country on Loose Women. Because I do feel we would ask the questions that people really want to know.
“Politicians get slammed because they never answer a question and they drift off here, there and everywhere. I’ll be completely honest with you, I remember when the Prime Minister was being interviewed about Brexit, and some of the questions I didn’t understand. It’d be nice if we could have politicians interviewed by people who could ask questions that were a little bit more understandable. So people can go, ‘Yeah, that’s exactly what I wanted to ask’.
“You just don’t really see them doing those kinds of interviews, which is quite frustrating, because then they don’t get on ground level with the people they are in charge of, and the people that it’s affecting the most.”