Meadows to roam, den building, day-long escapades outside in the fresh air – does that sound like the dream childhood? It was for Natasha Ascott, managing director of kids’ outdoor clothing brand Muddy Puddles. She tells us all about it (prepare for childhood envy)…
Natasha Ascott, 34, lives with her husband and their three children: Aliza, nine, Albie, seven, and Wilkie, four, in Islington, north London. In the first of two interviews, Natasha tells us about her idyllic-sounding childhood in Somerset, first job at a rough north London secondary school and deciding to take on kids’ clothing brand Muddy Puddles; following in her father’s entrepreneurial footsteps.
“It was quite old-fashioned, really. We were booted outside all day, every day – when we weren’t in school. We were just told to go and entertain ourselves and given a huge amount of freedom to roam. We had lots of space and there was no fear that we’d break our necks falling off the hay bales, though there probably should have been.
I grew up the eldest of four siblings, and one of nine cousins – our dads owned the farm together. So we had separate houses but shared a garden. There were seven girls and two boys, all similar ages – born within nine years. Because there were so many of us, our parents thought: if anyone’s in trouble, someone will come and tell us. We just had to say roughly where we were going and whether we’d be back for lunch.
My kids are definitely more monitored, living in London. I think being left to entertain yourself in the open space is a part of development that’s been lost. We spend a lot of time thinking of ways to entertain our kids, in the city, rather than leaving them to get bored then make up their own fun.
They had a family farm, run by a farm manager. My dad is a businessman, best-known for Tommee Tippee, which he built it up over 20 years. He actually ran a group of businesses but Tommee Tippee is the most well-known. And now he runs three or four charities, a few of which I’ve worked for.
His most prominent one is the Anna Freud Centre, the UK’s leading child mental health charity. It was set up by Anna Freud – Sigmund Freud’s daughter – for traumatised children coming out of the Blitz. And now they work with Yale and UCL on child mental health research.
My relationship with my parents has always been good, I’m very lucky. They both worked full time, while I was growing up, and we had a nanny (for 25 years; she left when I got married). I always thought I’d end up working with my dad, and I did.
My first job…
After university, I taught history in a really rough school in Barnet. It’s in the middle of all the council estates so demographically, it’s shown to be difficult by 45% of the kids getting free school dinners. This means there’s lots of poverty. There are 38 different languages spoken in the school and there’s tension with the immigrant community having come in.
I taught there for a few years, aged 22-25, and I was made deputy head of the naughtiest year in the school. I taught under some amazing teachers, and I loved working with teenagers – they’re so righteous, with a strong sense of justice. It reminds you of how you used to be before compromising as a grown up. They have tonnes of energy and are very funny, as well as being very naughty.
My experience is that you just need to find your rapport, once you’ve worked out what it is for you. For me, it meant being firm but fair. Being pretty strict, but always meeting everyone at the door and greeting them by name; teasing them in a nice way to soften the atmosphere. That can change the whole atmosphere in a classroom. And then of course teaching in a fun, creative way.
I left at 25 when I had my daughter. It was super-absorbing and I’d given it my all but I wasn’t sure I was ready to do that again after having a baby. I didn’t have any friends with kids so motherhood was all a bit new to me.
Taking on Muddy Puddles
My father had sold his business when I had my daughter and was starting again, like me – though he was at the top end, while I was at the bottom end. So I began working with him – he was doing startups and philanthropic things – as his assistant, on anything really. It was me, him and a secretary. That was when I had my kids.
We bought Muddy Puddles together and there was someone else running it initially but two and a half years ago, I took over.
It’s been amazing and super challenging. It sounds incredibly clichéd – but it is. It’s utterly absorbing and I work incredibly hard, and I love having the opportunity to do it. I’ve learned so much and made so many mistakes… It’s taken about two years to just figure it out.
With my dad – he worked very hard my whole childhood so it’s been lovely seeing him in a professional capacity – we have a mutual respect, now that we’re getting to know each other in a work context. It’s been really positive. I love what I do.”
Tomorrow, we talk to Natasha Ascott about the importance of outdoor play, how she’s helping parents and schools to get the kids out in nature, juggling motherhood with running a business and what it’s like to be a woman at the helm of a successful company…
Did you have a city childhood, or a rural childhood – like Natasha? And what are you giving your children? We’d love to hear about it in the comment section below…