Shame, sharing and creating connection

The Queenager : Eleanor's Letter (June 26th 2023)

I'm in France celebrating my wedding anniversary and trying to write my book.

Dear Queenagers

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Greetings from Provence where I have retreated to write my book – gulp 100,000 words due by September – and celebrate my 21st wedding anniversary. The cicadas are squeaking, the olive trees are silvery in the breeze, the lavender smells divine and the whole Eden-ic garden quivers with life in the 30 degree heat. The world seems very much at a distance… I am so grateful to my wonderful Aunt Eleanor for the blessing of her beautiful house. I am hoping the peace will be conducive to creativity; one of the upsides to the kids being off on their own adventures is the chance for us two to have one of our own. So here we are.

Last week I was lucky enough to be at Wasing, a heavenly estate in Berkshire where we hold our Noon Retreats, for their celebration of the summer solstice. It is rare at 52 to get a genuinely new experience, but I think it was the first time in my life that I have been amongst hundreds of people all being quiet and reverent, sitting communally round a huge fire, listening to beautiful music. We gathered in a glade in the middle of ancient woods, sparks flying up from the fire, faces rapt with gratitude and awe. It was unlike any other festival I’ve been to in that it was entirely alcohol free. As the night wore on rather than the atmosphere becoming lairy and rowdy, loud voices, innuendo, stumbling drunks, revelry (the usual vibe) there was a peace and calmness. As I looked around it was reminiscent of the ‘be-ins’ of the Sixties, those pictures of mystics such as Ram Das surrounded by hippies turning on, tuning in and dropping out. But this time the feeling was of a paganistic celebration of the height of summer, the longest day, the shortest night – celebrating nature, and togetherness and a lost sense of this is what humans did long before there were electronic beats or ecstasy (which was how we used to stay up so late when we were young….)

Maybe it is just a Queenager way to celebrate (alcohol really doesn’t agree with me much anymore) but despite my innate cynicism I found myself transported beyond that into reverence and gratitude for the woods, for the togetherness, for the people, the music, for the hot cacao and my friends.

Ahh, yes, my friends; one is my daughter’s god mother, an old colleague who became a life pal; at one point we had a big hug celebrating all that we have been through together in the last 25 years – trial by fire at work, partying, marriage, babies, teens, reinvention and most of all laughs and chat. Another I was at school with, we were friends when we were 8 and are pals still, bonded through shared journalistic endeavours but also through our love for waves and north Devon. Another is the lovely Lesley some readers of this will know her from our Wasing Retreat, she of the big smile and Kundalini yoga teaching (another old colleague and wonderful friend). It wasn’t planned that we would all go; it was serendipitous that this was the posse. We slept in a line in a bell tent, four Queenager heads, almost touching, bonded on hilarity and shared times. Special mention also to Kate who provided water melon in the morning and enthusiastic participation in our post-dawn swim Ecstatic dance (basically a pre breakfast groovathon in a green glade). I’m definitely going back next year!

It was the first time Wasing had hosted a concert on its new Mound, (check it out Primal Scream and others are playing in the next few weeks). It’s a natural ampitheatre in the woods, divided by daisies. The owner Josh Dugdale made a speech about how, having had the fortune to inherit this beautiful place, he was dedicating it to bringing new people into its grounds, particularly indigenous tribes from places around the world which his family’s colonial map-making had affected. Fully aware of his own privilege and also how his ancestors had enabled the conquest and exploitation of other parts of the world, he is doing his bit to try and make peace and rectify some of the sins of the past. Of course it is only a beginning, but it is a sincere effort to try and make reparation. In the words of my dear friend Thelma, Josh has ‘backed his chat’ – he’s not just talking about it, he’s doing it. And it is working.

I was touched by his honesty in sharing this past, which had obviously deeply troubled him. So much so that he had acted. Coincidentally, the day before I went to Wasing I had given a keynote speech and run a workshop which was all about Presence – asking the question, what story do people tell about you when you are not in the room? It was part of a programme for female leaders and I was talking about how often women don’t speak up, they are scared to take up space in the room, they will instantly move the conversation on to the other person, keep themselves small. I talked about how we can begin to stand up for ourselves, semaphore who we are and what we believe in, what we stand for. How we can create emotional connection with others, particularly how sometimes the story of which we are most ashamed is actually the story which allows other people to truly relate to us and share their own. I talked about a woman I’d met at another seminar, who shared with me for the first time how she had grown up homeless, had lived on the street, had got herself to university and to a high up position in a prestigious company but had never talked about her past. I said how inspirational her story would be to others; to know that it was possible to go from having had 18 homes and sleeping rough to making a success of your life. She agreed and now uses that story powerfully. I also discussed how I launched Noon on the back of my own story of being made redundant, the shame I’d felt – but how that article touched thousands. How being vulnerable and admitting how awful I’d felt, despite being someone who usually seemed confident and successful, had give me a kind of permission to help others start a new chapter, had created a kind of space of trust, of honesty. How by acknowledging our own guilt, or pain, we allow others to come forward with their’s. That in what we perceive of as weakness, is actually huge strength; the basis of real connection. On the morning of the solstice at Wasing the whole crowd sang: ‘We are all related”. It gave me shivers, because it is true. And these stories make it so.

On that note, I have come across few more powerful stories of using something that felt shameful to find redemption and strength than that of Tracey Woodward. My brilliant Editorial Director at Noon Diane Kenwood has done a fantastic interview with Tracey – all about how she grew up shop-lifting with her criminal mother, never went to school, was illiterate, suffered terrible abuse – but through her own hard work (via a Saturday job at Boots and then becoming a Beauty saleswoman) she became one of the most powerful businesswomen in her field. Tracey felt such shame, she admits, when she began to share her story. Now she knows it is her secret weapon. The business that she founded, Kalmar, offers some of the most incredible treatments I have ever had. I went along earlier this year at low ebb; overwhelmed, exhausted, sad. The therapist listened to me, spoke wise words, gave me a wonderful massage, but more than that I left equipped with some tools to truly ask myself how I am and what I need. I now use her delicious jasmine and patchouli bath oil and the candle in the same Love family of products as a kind of personal ritual – to interrogate what is going on inside me before everything gets too much. Traceys story and this brand she has created come from a place of love and truth – I felt really nurtured. Not just like I’d had a massage, but like a friendly white witch had passed on some wisdom.

If you like the sound of that Tracey is giving Queenagers a special offer – Kalmar are offering Noon followers and readers of this email 35% off any purchase from THEIR WEBSITE, and off your first 60 or 90 minute treatment at The House of Kalmar

Use the code NOON35 when you check out, or by adding NOON35 to the ‘how did you hear about us’ section when booking a treatment via this link The discount will be applied on the day of treatment when the final payment is taken.

So do read Diane’s incredible interview with Tracey and maybe take up the offer. As for me, I’m going back to my sunlounger by the pool to read Elif Shafak’s lyrical novel The Island of Missing Trees (all about inter-generational trauma, how the natural world is animate and how we heal). Fitting!

Enjoy your week! Wish me luck with the writing. And we have had two drop-outs from our Wasing retreat on July 8th, so there are two places left if any of you fancy coming and trying out the beautiful place, lesley’s yoga, my circle and swimming in the lake. click this link

Much love


By Eleanor Mills

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