Caroline Fleming – The baroness moves home
Caroline Fleming became well-known when she starred in ’The baroness moves in’. She had just been through a divorce and recording the show became a kind of therapy for her in the days when she had to be without her children. We meet Caroline for a heart to heart about motherhood, childhood sorrows and her fascinating ability to look at life from a positive angle.
Armed with a huge smile and a mascara, Caroline waves us into her three-storey house in Chelsea, London where she lives with her three children. But only for a little while longer, she says, and reveals that soon they will be packing up their life in England and moving back to Denmark. Caroline wants to give her children a Danish childhood, for what is left of it, for her son Alexander, 15 years old, Josephine, 12, and Nicholas, 8. Even though Caroline has not lived in Denmark since she was 18, Denmark is where she feels at home. Now that she has taken over the running of Valdemars Castle with her sister, it feels right to move. Caroline smiles at thought of giving her children the opportunity to play in the garden, cycle to school and swim in the sea. Caroline saunters downstairs to the kitchen and returns with a plate of fruit, homemade nut bars and wheat milk cappucinoes. We settle into one of the many sofas in the sitting room surrounded by a multitude of photographs of her children. The children are everything to Caroline. On this April morning, the children are all at school and we have Caroline to ourselves for the next couple of hours.
”Recently I went to Austria with my godmother where we stayed at the Vivamayr health clinic. Here I made some interesting discoveries about my body which I shared with my followers on Instagram. I’ve weighed between 50-52 kg since I was 16 years old, but suddenly I put on 8 kg in three months”. At the clinic in Austria Caroline has her body fat measured. The number should ideally be between -2 and 2, but to everyone’s surprise the display shows -7. Caroline is what is called ’skinny fat’ which is hard to understand looking at the delicate person in the chair in front of us. She is sitting curled up in the armchair with her slim legs looking nothing like a person connected with the word ’fat’. ”I’m the fattest skinny person! My daily calorie intake has been between 3-5000 because I’ve been eating an extremely fatty diet with lots of nuts, avocados and oils. I just thought I had a high metabolism. My pilates instructor comes once a week and trains with me. When I asked her if she could believe that I was skinny fat, she replied that she easily could. Because we sit drinking coffee and eating snacks for 45 minutes, then we train for 10 minutes and I get my photo taken for Instagram. On top of that I do four sun salutations a week, and that’s it! I was under the impression that I lived really healthily. But my body hasn’t been able to process all the fat I’ve been eating. Now I’ve started to change my habits in order to help my body try to rid it itself of some of all the fat surrounding my organs. I’m eating fruit and vegetables and zero fat until 12 o’clock every day.” Caroline snatches a sick of raw celery from the plate in front of us and continues: ”To me it’s not about the kilos, I’m happy with the way I look. The numbers on the scales are just numbers. It’s much more about how I feel about my body. I became someone who was really bloated and looked like I was 6 months pregnant. That was my liver objecting. It couldn’t cope with the strain any longer. I am reading Medical Medium Liver Rescue and it explains the inportance of a well functioning liver. When the liver can’t do its job properly, it puts a strain on the kidneys, the pancreas and the intestines, which can have consequences for your health. A liver working overtime can show in anything from acne to eczema and fertility problems.”
Podcast on challenging subjects
Caroline may have been born a baroness, but her CV includes a long list of work ranging from cookery book author, sock and tights designer to having her own TV programme. In 2014, the popular televison reality show ’Ladies of London’ aired on the American station Bravo TV closely following six women’s private and social lives. Since last year in March, Caroline has produced the podcast ’Keeping it real’ together with one of the other women on the programme, Sophie Stanbury. Here they discuss everything from dating and health issues to motherhood. ”We approach subjects that can be difficult to talk about. Conversations that are relevant and touch on issues that often get ignored. Tomorrow, for instance, we’ll be talking about postnatal depressions. Something which affects a huge number of women. To many wonderful mothers the experience of having a baby becomes a sad one, and many times they don’t know that it’s due to a chemical inbalance in the brain. We want to have an open dialogue about this.”
”I felt amazing during all my pregnancies. I loved it – I could be pregnant again tomorrow! Even though I put on 25 kg you couldn’t see that I was pregnant from behind. After my first pregnancy I lost the baby weight in three months. With Josephine it took six months and with Nicholas nine months. I didn’t have to do anything, it happened naturally each time. My ribs have expanded by each pregnancy. Before I had children it was 70 cm and now it’s 74 cm. I don’t have any stretch marks and I think that’s because I’ve been drinking a litre of olive oil a week for as long as I can remember. That’s also one of the reasons why I’m so fat inside.”
Self-image after the birth
It is time for more coffee and on the way down to the large basement kitchen, Caroline continues to talk animatedly about the influence of pregnancy on the body. ”For heaven’s sake, you do look different, of course you do – it takes nine months to grow this baby inside your body so you have to give yourself some time to recover. Women have to care for themselves. It doesn’t help to be too self-critical which is easy to become because it’s all a big change. It can be especially difficult if you get the feeling that those around you don’t look at you in the same way as you would like them to. It’s a very important job for the woman’s partner to be understanding and embracing.”
Meeting the dream man
Before Caroline became a mother we have to go back to 2001 when she meets British Rory Fleming, the father of her two oldest children, Alexander and Josephine. ”I was very young when I married Rory and we had a lot in common then. We were both on a cloud and had little sense of reality.” Rory and Caroline met a friend’s leaving party in L.A., Caroline was only 23. She was smoking a cigarette and when she looked about for an ashtray, Rory came up to her, took out a piece of paper from his pocket and made a small ashtray from it. ”It was love at first sight and we fell massively in love. We were never apart for a single day or night for the first two and a half years. It was very romantic and I thought he was the funniest man I’d ever met. At that time I had no idea that I also had other emotional needs.”
Childhood and grief
Caroline takes us back to her childhood to explain her younger self. Her mother is only 36 when she is diagnosed with cancer. Three weeks later she dies and leaves her daughters, Caroline is only 11 and her younger sister is 7 years old.
”My father, may he rest in peace, came from a very old-fashioned family where you never showed or spoke of feelings. As a result, his best solution for the situation was for us not to talk about my mother’s death. I was told to put a stop to the waterworks and dry my eyes. That was tough. It’s absolutely dreadful to lose one of your parents as a child, and it’s especially dreadful when there’s noone to comfort or help you. We just had to pull ourselves together. And I can promise you I became good at that. Whatever happened later in my life that made me sad, I just pulled myself together.
That has undoubtedly hardened me up and when I met Rory I was probably what you would call emotionally stunted – that’s why I fell in love with him. He was exactly the same. There was a lot of passion and laughter in our marriage, but we didn’t make any emotional demands on each other because none of us felt the need.”
Motherhood changed everything
But something changed fundamentally in Caroline when she became a mother. She was now 29 years old and had been married to Rory for three years. ”When I became a mother, my heart opened in such a crazy way. Suddenly something inside me was screaming and shouting. Having a baby awakened the inside of me. I was waking as from a coma and could feel myself for the first time since I was a small girl. There I was with a load of feelings and questions. I began in intensive therapy and my therapist took me on an internal journey. It’s had a massive effect that my mother was torn from us at such an early age. And that we’d grown up in a home where anything unpleasant was hidden away. I experienced in the process that feelings don’t disappear just because you don’t talk about them. Consequently, it’s never the solution to brush everything unpleasant under the carpet. I had an emotional spring clean – everything was taken out, dusted off and put back where it belonged.”
”I emerged on the other side with a whole new set of emotional needs. During the following years I searched for them in my marriage. Unfortunately, it was in vain and when Alexander was 3 years old and Josephine was 10 months, I chose to divorce. It was a brutal decision, but I felt lonelier when Rory was present than when he wasn’t. I had a huge pent-up need for love and a burning desire to be married to my best friend, someone I could talk to about everything. But he could neither see nor hear me. I was crazy about Rory and I loved him which made the divorce even sadder and more difficult. Rory is a great father and he does his very best within his limitations – he knows about a lot of wonderful things. My children go hunting and fishing with him. They know much more about nature than I could ever hope for. He’s given them an enormous amount of knowledge about plants, trees and birds from all over the world. I think that’s a huge gift.”
A short time after her divorce Caroline was offered her own TV programme, ’The baroness moves in’. ”That opportunity help me in many ways. Instead of grieving over not being able to be together with my children for three days every other week, I could go to Denmark to film a programme where I, together with a super production team, helped families back on the right track. It was very heart warming and it filled me with joy at a time when I was sad. It was a wonderful gift which I got at exactly the right time in my life.”
A love of order
Having seen Caroline in full flow on ’The baroness moves in’ on her knees scrubbing other people’s toilets with ferocious energy in her pink rubber gloves, it is not hard to notice her genuine wish to help others. Her love of order is apparently innate. Caroline’s father has recounted that she out of the blue started sorting and cleaning all the kitchen cupboards as an eight-year old. ”I’m a Virgo and I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist. When I stuck my whole face into the families’ fridges it’s because I believe that the less mess there is in your home, the less mess there is inside your head. I’ve always spent a lot of time tidying up my own home. It’s almost bordering on OCD”, Caroline laughs out loud and adds, ”my children haven’t inherited it. But they’ve reached an age now where they have to make their own beds and keep their rooms tidy. It’s an important responsibility. I think it’s really healthy that children learn to look after themselves, their homes and with that their lives. That’s a gift the day they leave home. It’s the result of making an effort. Always do your best. Always.”
Focusing on the positive
It is clear that Caroline is a person who always makes an effort. Not only with her home and herself, but also when she encounters adversity. ”Yes, I carry a great amount of grief and I’ve lost much in my life. Two years ago my father passed away, and this August I lost my grandmother. She was everything to me. I’ve lost girlfriends to horrible illnesses, and even though I chose to end my marriage, it was still painful. But that’s the essence of life; there’s a great deal of joy, but also a great deal of pain. I think the most important thing is to be able to create a balance so that joy is of the utmost. I’m blessed with three wonderful children, magical friends and friendships that go way back. It’s very rarely that I can’t find something positive in a situation.”
My experience as a first time mother
”I had Alexander at a hospital in London.Thereafter I was transferred to a small town in Switzerland where a maternity nurse helped me with the breast feeding for the first couple of weeks. None of my friends had children and I didn’t know anybody locally. I remember I thought how nice it would’ve been if my mother had been alive. We had regular visitors but noone I could speak to about what I was going through. There wasn’t such a thing as a mothers’ group, and I had to google and research to get answers to all my questions. Once in a while I could use my little grandmother. I read Gena Ford’s book The Contented Babyand The Baby Whispererby Tracy Hogg which are about babies and sleep. Gena Ford’s quite strict and Tracy’s a little looser. From those two women’s theories I concocted a pattern which worked for me, and it meant that I finally got some sleep… But honestly, I’ve almost not had a full night’s sleep in 15 years!”
Finding company in the kitchen
”I’ve always enjoyed cooking, and I’ve grown up in a house with a father who was phenomenal in a kitchen. My mother couldn’t boil an egg or make a slice of toast when she met my father. But my enormous passion for cooking was truly born when my children were very small. I was completely alone so I discovered the great joy of being in the kitchen. Every time the children were asleep I would experiment and make preserves and pickles. When I started to feed them proper food at about 5-6 months, I bought a Beaba Babycook. It’s a machine used for both steaming and blending the food. I made puréed vegetables and began to add parmesan, herbs or a little coq au vin from last night’s dinner to ensure they got a varied taste experience from the start. I think this has contributed to the fact that my children will eat anything today. They’ve never been picky eaters.”
Three births in the bag
While I was pregnant with Alexander, I was told at 30 weeks that I wouldn’t be able to have a natural birth. The doctors assessed that I was too small, and because my mother had had an emergency Caesarean with both me and my sister, they didn’t want to run the risk of a natural birth. The only operation I’d been in contact with up until that time was my mother’s when she was ill – and she died. From 30 weeks and until the birth I was scared every day that I would die during the operation. It went fine, but I subsequently developed an infection in the wound. Josephine was also a Caesarian and that was intense. She couldn’t breathe when she came out. She was completely blue and was immediately attached to a ventilator. I wasn’t allowed to see her before the anaesthesia had worn off and I’d regained the feeling in my legs. The hospital’s polaroid camera was broken so it was 12 hours before I saw my baby. My ex-husband had gone to celebrate the birth as is the norm in some circles in England.
Nicholas’ birth was also traumatic. It came at a time when there were many problems regarding Valdemars Castle. I was fighting a heavy battle with my father and my ex-husband, two of the most important people in my life, and I was about to have a baby with a man I knew I wasn’t going to stay together with. Normally, a Caesarian takes 15 minutes, but with him it took an hour and 45 minutes. I simply disintegrated when they were suturing me. When they finally succeeded, I started to bleed seriously. The doctors couldn’t stop the bleeding and I was going in and out of consciousness. The fact that my body reacted so badly to the Caesarian was quite definitely linked to my mental state. I went home from hospital five days after the operation, and when I’d been back just two hours my wound opened and I was re-admitted to hospital. My doctor met me at the hospital and gave me two options: He could either set up the operating theatre and prepare me for yet another general anaesthetic or we could do it straight away and withoutany anaesthesia. I chose the last option. It was better for my body not to go through another general anaesthetic. I had 16 stitches without any anaesthesia and you won’t believe the pain! To be completely honest, I was in so much mental pain that I needed to feel myself though the physical pain.
Nicklas (Bendtner, ed.) and I parted 10 days after Nicholas was born. We met in the innocent surroundings of recording ’The baroness moves in’. We fell deeply in love. We were completely different people and our relationship was in no way viable. But I didn’t want to see it – I don’t think either of us wanted to.”
Supposedly having an easy life
If there is one myth Caroline has spent some time trying to kill off, it is the rumours of the many millions she got from her divorce. ”I don’t live my life the way I do because I made a killing in my divorce settlement, because I didn’t. I have to work to earn my own money. It’s easy to judge other people and my life may look great. And it is, but I do work my socks off to create it. I write books, I do interiors, television, perfumes, podcast and Youtube. All of that provides me with an income which luckily enables me to live the life I wish for. But all that doesn’t happen overnight. In your 20’s and 30’s you may think this is not how I want it to be, but it takes time and life experience to build up the framework. You have to work out who you are and what works for you. It’s a process.
My children have a different childhood
I may have grown up in a large castle, but what is best, not to be comforted when your mother dies or to sit in a one bedroom flat and be hugged? I know what I would prefer. The life I give my children is in very many ways different from the childhood I had. When I am cuddling all my children I am grateful. It means everything to me to be able to give them love and attention. I soothe my own heart by giving them all the things I didn’t have myself.”
Words Bea Fagerholt Photos Liv Winther
Caroline Fleming on Instagram @carolineflemingofficial