Robert Peston, Ben Fogle And David Baddiel Talk Work-Life Balance, Having Babies And Getting Ready In The Morning

We Asked Famous Men All The Questions Famous Women Get Asked

Single dad Robert Peston loves yoga, describes work-life balance as "staying sane", and took advice from his 18-year-old son on whether to leave the BBC for ITV.

"He interrogated me incredibly closely to make sure that I was making the right decision," says Peston, the BBC's Economics Editor who has looked after his son alone since his wife passed away three years ago.

Ben Fogle, the adventurer and broadcaster, will spend eight months away from his family this year and says there is "rarely sympathy" for a working father missing his children. He's also obsessed with hoovering, and wishes he could "give up work entirely to be a full-time dad".

Meanwhile work-life balance means nothing to comedian David Baddiel because he's "virtually always writing". He spends two hours getting ready for work ("pissing about on the internet mainly") and says he's "instinctively" a feminist.

As part of The Huffington Post UK's Building Modern Men month, we spoke to Peston, Fogle and Baddiel to ask them the questions that are often put to famous women, but that men rarely get to answer.

How do they make sure the job doesn't consume their personal life? When's the right time to have a baby? Is it hard travelling away from home for work? And how long do they take to get ready in the morning?


What does the phrase ‘work-life balance’ mean to you?

I suppose it means trying to stay sane, really. A healthy life requires you to have a satisfying, enriching life in general. Maybe you can do it if you’re all about family, I don’t know. But you definitely can’t do it if you’re all about work. It’s just making sure that you’re not dragged too much in the work direction, so there isn’t undue stress on partner or kids, and that you yourself enjoy family life, rather than feeling you’re constantly running to catch-up with the important things.

I became acutely aware of all of this when my wife got ill with lung cancer back in 2007. The normal social bit of my life didn’t feel somehow appropriate any more, because I had this sort of big thing at home that we had to deal with, so life became largely about family and work - making sure that Sian had all the support she needed was then even more important than it had always been.

Sometimes it’s hard in the media because news is 24/7 – but it is just making sure that you’re home enough. It’s just that simple.

Are you good at making sure you leave work when you should?

I’m pretty ruthless. I can work from home quite a lot anyway; the radio stuff I can do from home in the morning, and I write the blog at home. When banks are going bust, or the economy’s in dire straights, or there’s a General Election on or something of that sort, sometimes you do have to quite a few late nights on the trot. Then you do have to make sure you carve out enough time, subsequently, to be with partner or kids.

It’s just me and my boy now. I have two boys, one’s my stepson Simon who I brought up from the age of eight, and then I’ve got Max, who Sian and I had. Max is 18 - he was 15 when Sian died. He's just left school but lives with me, and Simon moved out a few years ago, he’s much older.

How much time do you manage to spend with the boys?

With Max, I see him every day, and we try and do nice things together. We go to football together, to the cinema together, or we watch telly together. We hang out. We like being with each other and I’m lucky that we – touch wood – get on really well. We always try to see Simon as much as we can, he lives quite locally and is busy – he’s a director in film and theatre. His surname is Ryninks, which is his dad’s surname.

Is Max interested in your job?

He takes a great interest: he checks that his dad isn’t being dumb. For example, when I was thinking about going to ITV, he interrogated me incredibly closely to make sure that I was making the right decision. He will hold me to account if he thinks I’m doing something stupid. He has my best interests at heart.

How much time did you take off work when you had Max?

He was born during a campaign for the 1997 general election. I was at the Financial Times at the time as the political editor, so it was very busy. The FT was quite a progressive employer, so you could take a few weeks of paternity leave. But Max was born in March, right when the campaign was getting intense. Sian's view was that actually it’s more helpful for the dad to be at home when the kid is a tiny bit older, so I took my paternity leave – three weeks I think, which was the maximum you were allowed – just after the May election.

Of course, I was at the birth and was the first person to hold Max and everything.

In those days there were televised press conferences every single day from the main parties during an election campaign, and Sian insisted that I always ask a question so that baby Max could see his dad on the telly. It was an early form of bonding.

How much do you travel for work?

When Sian was ill, and for about a year and a half after Sian died, I kept travel to an absolute minimum, because it was obvious that I needed to be around. Over the past couple of years I’ve travelled more because it makes the job much more interesting. I’m Max’s only parent so I’m accutely conscious of the need not to be away for extended periods.

Are you a feminist?

As someone who spent my formative years in 1970s North London, it wasn’t a choice. Being a feminist is a bit like being Jewish or supporting Arsenal, it comes as part of the package.

How long does it take you to get ready for work?

Oh. [Laughs]. I think for most men it’s relatively easy in the sense that it’s a suit that’s got to look semi-respectable and it’s a shirt that’s got to look semi-respectable.

It is true that if you’re on telly people seem to take an extraordinary interest in the way you look, and you may have noticed that people take an extraordinary interest in my hair – and I can’t claim I probably devote as much time to hair and suit as I ought to. Including a bath or a shower, I reckon the whole thing takes a massive ten minutes. Actually, let’s include shaving: a quarter of an hour.

How often do you get ‘me time’ and what do you do with it?

Reading books, going to the cinema, going to the football – I’m a passionate Arsenal supporter and I’ve got season tickets with my son. Yoga is an incredibly important thing. I love yoga, I find it incredibly relaxing. I like writing books – I don’t write for money, it’s a personal thing.

I’m not a great lover of slabs of meat but apart from that I just like cooking anything. My mum is a great cook – everything from spaghetti Bolognese through to lots of Jewish dishes such as latkes, and roast beef. My mum encouraged all of us in my family, boys and girls, so I was cooking for my brother and sister when I was like 13 or 14.

What do you do in terms of housework?

I’m a bit obsessive about the house. I cook, and obviously I do the washing. I’m lucky enough to have some help around the house, and Max is helpful: in the last year he’s started doing his own washing which is incredible impressive.

When do you think is the right time to have a child?

I had Max relatively late I guess, he was born when I was 36. That felt like a nice time to have a kid. I definitely didn’t want a kid when I was in my early 20s; I was too focused on career and making my way in the world and having a good time. I didn’t really grow up till I got to my early 30s, but it varies for everybody.

What advice would you give for other fathers working in media?

I think you’ve got to be ruthless, because journalism can take over people’s lives, and you’ve got to let that not happen to you or you’ll never settle down and have a family. You’ve got to be vigilant not to become too addicted to the career.


What does a healthy “work-life balance” mean to you?

It means juggling children, wife, friends, health, happiness and work. When work means anything from living in the Papua New Guinean jungle for several weeks to living in an igloo in the Arctic, it can be difficult.

How do you balance your career and your personal life?

Not very well. If it wasn't for my wife I probably wouldn't have a personal life.

How much time do you manage to spend with your kids? Is it as much as you’d like?

Any moment I'm not working, I'm with my kids. I love being with them and hate leaving them. It's like a part of me is missing when I go away. I never give in to jet lag, illness or fatigue. I will be up for those guys at 6.30am and ready to take them to school whenever I can. It's never enough.

Who looks after them while you are working?

My wife Marina and our brilliant nanny Georgina look after them. They are in good hands.

Do you miss your kids at work?

I miss them so much. They really are the world to me. So many people assume it's a mothers world. It isn't. It's both. I wish I could give up work entirely to be a full time dad.

How do you explain your job to them?

I am away often. I tell them well in advance where I'm off to next. They love hearing the tales. Ludo has a crocodile named after him and Iona has a vulture somewhere over Africa. I tell them all my stories and we have a giant map of the world with a little 'me' that they can place on the map.

How much time did you take off work when you had children?

I took three weeks off for Ludo and the same for Iona. Fathers don't really get enough paternity leave and as a freelancer it's extinct. I wish I had more. It was such a happy, precious time. I'll never be able to repeat it.

What are the challenges of being a working father?

The expectations is that a father is meant to work. There is rarely sympathy for a working father's lack of time with children. But we feel it.

Do you travel for work, and if so, is it hard or liberating being away from home?

This year alone I have travelled to more than 40 countries. I will have been away for nearly eight months.

Are you a feminist?

I believe men and women are equal.

How long did it take you to get ready for work today?

About 30 seconds. I rolled out of bed at 6.30am to let the dog out and feed her. Them dressed the children. Packed their snacks and school bags and got them to school for 8am. No shower or shave. I'll try and do that at the gym over lunch between filming.

How often do you get “me time” and what do you like to do with it?

Rarely. 'Me time' is a run or a gym session snuck I'm between family and work. There is no me in family.

When’s the right time to have a child?

There is never a right time.

How much housework and chores do you do at home?

I'm obsessed with hoovering. I can't stand dog hair and two Labradors create a tsunami of the stuff. My wife thinks I'm a little obsessive.

How much cooking do you do? Are you a good cook?

I hate cooking and can't cook. Luckily my wife has a fine pair of cooking hands.

What would your advice be to other fathers looking for a career in your industry?

Don't let expectations hold you back, but juggling a work, family and a social life is nearly impossible.


What does a healthy “work-life balance” mean to you? Have you always had one?

Nothing. I’m virtually always working, insofar as I’m virtually always writing. Recently I started taking my laptop to Chelsea, so that I could write at half-time. I don’t really recognise that much distinction between work and life as a writer and a comic, as my life continually feeds my work. For example: my new stand-up show is about my mother, who died last December, and my father, who has dementia. Dealing with those two things IS my life, or at least a large part of it. But my way of dealing it – or at least processing it or whatever – is to write a show about it.

How do you balance your career and your personal life?

Not that well. I think I’m continually getting into trouble with people because my work is more and more personal. I put a high premium on truth, on detailed truth, so some people – and sometimes some people close to me – think my work, especially the stand-up, is too revealing.

However, when the kids were born I basically gave up performing for a while, and focused on writing, as stand-up requires so much psychological energy and I didn’t want to not give all that to them. Also you’re just away a lot, touring. I didn’t want to be doing Scarborough on a Wednesday night when I had a baby at home. Now that they’re older – Ezra is 10 and Dolly 14 – I have gone back to doing stand-up, but I still don’t tour like I used to.

How much time do you manage to spend with your kids?

I spend a lot of time with them, because I’m at home writing most of the time. So I can walk into the next room – Dolly’s room – and see her whenever I want. Ezra’s room is on the next floor, so obviously that’s a bit harder at my age.

Who looks after them while you are working?

Well, their schools mainly. I structure my working day mainly around their school day, so I start writing when they leave and knock off soon after they come back. Obviously if I’m performing or filming that can change.

Do you miss your kids at work?

I do if I’m away for long periods at time, very much.

How do you explain your job to them?

They know what it is. They’ve seen some of it – obviously not all of it, as some of my work isn’t entirely appropriate for kids – but since I’ve been writing children’s books, they’ve participated, coming to the shows I’ve done at literary festivals etc. Ezra in particular is interested in comedy…

What’s your ‘golden rule’ for good parenting?

I don’t have one. My main thing is to relate to my children as honestly as possible. So that means not really thinking of them as kids a lot of the time. I never talk down to them. Not least because to do so would lead to a very dull conversation.

How much time did you take off work when you had children?

Since I don’t have a proper job, I never really thought about time taken off work. I mean, I did, but I was working when I was with my children – thinking of ideas, jotting down experiences, et cetera. The experience fed into my work.

What are the challenges of being a working father?

Well, in our house it’s a constant balancing act, as my partner is a working (writing) mother. So we try all the time to make sure that both of us have time to be a parent but also be a writer. Not always easy.

Is it hard or liberating being away from home when you travel for work?

I just did a documentary for Discovery, called David Baddiel On The Silk Road, filming from China to Istanbul. It took about seven weeks. But I insisted on doing it in two or three week blocks and coming home in between, so I could spend time with the family (thus in fact it took about 12 weeks). I have spent months away (longest time was the World Cup in 2010, when I was podcasting with Frank Skinner – that was about 7 weeks) but in general I don’t like it. It is good to be away for small amounts of time, but I hate being away from the kids for too long.

Are you a feminist?

Yes. I know male feminists can be much reviled, not least by female feminists, but I am. I just am instinctively – I have never seen any reason to downgrade the ability or capability of someone due to gender. Just seems totally ridiculous, and against the obvious evidence of one’s own experience.

Sometimes I think some women might think I can’t possibly be a feminist because I’ve always been very open about the actuality of being a heterosexual male. But for me, being sexually attracted to women is irrelevant to what I think about their social capability. Wanting to have sex with a woman, does not, in my opinion, prejudice my sense of how she might be as a CEO, or a judge, or a comedian, or any other walk of life.

How long did it take you to get ready for work today?

I spend a lot of time - sometimes two hours - pissing about on the internet mainly, before I start writing properly. And sometimes doing interviews.

When’s the right time to have a child?

I think it was good for me to have them in my mid to late 30s. I’m not sure I’d have been that good at dealing with it before. I’m a very fixed person – I think most of my friends would tell you, wearily, that I have hardly changed at all as a person in 30 years, despite all the stupid fame and showbiz nonsense. The only thing that really changed me – for the better, because it made me less self-involved and more empathetic – was having children.

How much housework and chores do you do at home?

Quite a lot. But I think my partner would disagree. I’m not, I would say, very good at housework. I never really understand where, like, cutlery goes.

How much cooking do you do? Are you a good cook?

A lot. Morwenna – my partner – doesn’t do that much, and isn’t in general that interested in food. Although she does bake, which I can’t do. I like cooking, and like inventing recipes. My daughter is a vegetarian and a great cook, so she sometimes helps me. I baked my first ever cake for Bake Off: Extra Slice the other day, with her, an extra-sour lemon drizzle. I was very proud of it, although Michel Roux slagged it off. But secretly liked it.

What would your advice be to other fathers looking for a career in your industry?

If you’re mainly writing, it’s a great career for a father (as long as you’re not, like, Norman Mailer, and think that being a writer means you have to have seven wives). If you’re mainly performing and filming, it’s not so good.

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HuffPost UK is partnering with Southbank Centre’s Being A Man Festival, taking place 27 - 29 November. It will focus on lighthearted, serious and challenging issues facing boys and men in the 21st century. There will be talks and debates, concerts, performances, comedy and workshops with contributions from over 200 speakers and performers, including Akala, Frankie Boyle, David Baddiel and Kellie Maloney. Day passes are £15, 3-day passes are £35. For more information, visit the website or call 0844 847 9944.

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