The first thing Cherry Healey does when she gets a day off work isn’t go out and enjoy a rare moment of freedom. Instead she blocks out space in her diary, puts on her comfiest socks and jogging bottoms, and hibernates with her two children, Bear, 4, and Coco, 9, at home in Shepherd’s Bush, west London.
The 37-year-old BBC TV presenter can go for periods of more than 40 days filming a new show, often away from home, so when she gets a chance to choose her own schedule she chooses to ‘scrunge’ – a term made up by her family to describe lazy days. “I can’t believe that’s now officially out there, but it is my favourite thing to do. Scrunging is magic.”
A typical day’s scrunging will include time spent in the kitchen – preferably baking with her son while her daughter draws nearby – but the key ingredient is that it has to be done slowly. “Everything in my life is so rushed, back to back and minute to minute, so this is the way I relax and find peace,” she tells me.
The day starts with a visit to their local shops – weekday shopping is done at the Tesco Metro down the road – but a scrunging day sees the family go to a local deli, butchers and fishmongers. There the shopkeepers take time to talk Bear through the ingredients, the colours of vegetables, the difference between organic and non-organic, filling up his paper bag with items of his choice.
“My daughter isn’t interested in food and couldn’t care less, but I’ve cooked with Bear since as soon as he articulated he wanted to do it,” says Cherry. “What my son really wants to do is for me to lay out all the ingredients in front of him and just watch – his own little cookery show.”
Her son will either help her with the meal prep – “he chops the onions and the mushrooms” – or he will take centre stage and bake his own cake, gradually learning the perfect ratios of eggs, flour and sugar needed to make it rise.
Like many parents, Cherry says that too often her post-work dinner can end up just being a pitta bread and hummus or a bowl of cereal. So she relishes time spent cooking or baking with her son. She says she has never purchased as much self-raising flour as she did during the summer holidays.
Regardless of what they make, it’s the process itself that allows this single mum to “unclench”. This involves letting her kids get messy and not getting stressed.
“It’s quite a good mindfullness exercise to remind myself to let go a little bit,” she says. “Being calm at home and not jumping on a train or racing around a factory or getting on an aeroplane.” All things she’s recently done on camera. “Just taking things slowly is really fabulous.”
Once they’ve finished baking the three of them settle down on the sofa with a crisp cocktail (different flavours of crisps all mixed together in a single bowl) – “for some reason my kids think that is the naughtiest most hilarious thing ever” – and watch television. Currently they are working through classic films from the 1980s. Last weekend, they watched ‘Back To The Future’.
To other people it looks like I’m not busy but I don’t understand why people need that explaining."
“To be with my kids at home in our socks and sloppy clothing is so blissful,” she says. “Scrunging is a really important part of self care. When someone says, ‘are you busy on this day?’ I factor that in. To other people it looks like I’m not busy but I don’t understand why people need that explaining.
“My job requires so much of me. The days are very long and it’s a lot of emotional investment. I can only do that once I’ve filled up my cup. You can’t pour from an empty cup.”
Cherry places a lot of importance on being organised to maintain her mental wellbeing. “Running a home is running a business: you have people and they need constant feeding, and doing admin and bills and payments. Luckily I love logistics. I have calendars and Excel spreadsheets everywhere.”
Last week she left her paper diary on an aeroplane. “It was awful and I had to buy another one right away. I just ran to WHSmith. I couldn’t wait a moment.”
For the mother-of-two, this isn’t just about her own wellbeing, but everyone around her who relies on her carrying on. “I’m driving the bus and there’s a lot of people on the bus – my kids, the people I work with – and if I don’t carry on they won’t have the things they need. There aren’t many times I can actually chill out so I have to create the space to do it.”