How Gemma Cairney spends ANYDAY

Gemma Cairney
Hannah Verdier

The interview series that discovers how stars really live. This time: award-winning broadcaster, youth-rights activist and author Gemma Cairney

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?
These days, I get a coffee made for me when I wake up, which makes me feel very lucky. My partner, Cameron, has an independent coffee project, MF Coffee Project, which sees him source beans from smallholder farmers in Malawi – which is where we met.

I’m so lucky I’ve been introduced to the specialty coffee world through love. I used to associate romantic gestures with oysters or a glass of red wine, but when someone’s potentially a bit groggy in the morning and you’re giving this delicious, sweet nectar to enliven them, it’s really lovely. 

Don’t pretend you don’t check your phone. What’s your most used emoji? Who did you last WhatsApp and what did you say?
I go through phases with emojis, but I think it’s the starburst at the moment. It expresses how I feel at the end of festival season after all the teamwork, tenacity and love of creativity. I’m into it all.

My last WhatsApp is actually really weird – it explains how I kind of live in Alice’s Wonderland. I have a double decker, open-top yellow bus called Dandelion and now I’m a weird bus nerd who tries to find safe places for her to be stored. She’s quite temperamental. I messaged my assistant asking if she could get a quote to take her to Jupiter Artland, a mystical place in Scotland.

Describe the style of your home in five words
A hotch-potch that glistens.

What do you have too much of? And too little of?
I don’t really believe in having too much of anything – I really like my house and everything in it. If I’m truly honest, I would say I have too little routine, but it’s all filled with so much love and there’s a magical method to the madness.

What does an average day at home look like for you?
Languishing is a word I’ve been thinking about a lot and trying to inhabit recently. This summer has been so busy with festivals, DJing and a project with The Open University, so when I do get a day at home I love to sit on my giant, green velvet, L-shaped sofa and think of ways to bring friends together and plan something exciting in the future. Downtime is sacred for me, but I’m also writing a book and we’ve opened up a pop-up coffee and art shop in our home, which made it a bit of a hybrid. Yesterday, we were eating spaghetti and listening to vinyl – our choices are very random, from old-school garage to jazz.

What would you most likely eat for lunch?
Lunch is whatever spontaneously takes our fancy. I don’t have set lunch times or eat three meals a day. Instead, I try to listen to my body and look around my environment to work out what I want. My dream lunch is sitting in the garden, eating a massive salad with loads of healthy seeds in it, followed by some mango.

What’s the weirdest thing we’d find in your kitchen?
There’s some weird stuff in there, especially all the different utensils required to be a coffee nerd, which completely baffle me. My style of cooking is very much from the belly: what I need, what I fancy and what I’m in the mood for. Yesterday I made a giant pot of tomato and spinach pasta sauce because I knew I really needed greens.

Can we wear shoes in your house?
I try not to let people, but sometimes that slips if we’re in a rush or going out to dinner. The only shoes I like to see on display in this house are the ones on my bookshelf. It’s filled with 1970s-style Terry de Havilland shoes. He was a friend of mine and I’m lucky to have them; they’re like works of art.

The only shoes I like to see on display in this house are the ones on my bookshelf. It’s filled with 1970s-style Terry de Havilland shoes…

Gemma Cairney,-Broadcaster, Activist and Author

What would you save if your house was on fire? And what would you be glad got burned to a crisp?
I’d have to make sure my dog, Billie, was out safely. She’s an Australian cattle dog and she’s quite odd, but I love her. What else would I really care about? I once would have said my clothes, but now I think it’s more the art that I’ve started to collect. I’d save my giant golden goddess – I see her as a talisman of protection. I had her commissioned in the pandemic by a Margate-based artist called Charlie Russell.  

I broke up with fast fashion three years ago and I don’t miss it. Now I really carefully source garments, get things made or repurpose. But there are things from years ago that were bought hastily in the razzle dazzle of being in the public eye. I don’t want to get rid of them, but I don’t know what to do with them, either – I’m rethinking them, but there are some pieces I really don’t like so I’ll have to use my imagination!

Do you have pictures of yourself in your house?
I’m very lucky because I’ve done a lot of cool photo shoots, but I’m not that comfortable with having pictures of my own face up. There are a few photos of good times, like a holiday in Sardinia where I’m in a cuddle puddle with my mates. I do have a painting [of me] by Gia Milinovich, though. We did a Radio 4 programme and we really got on, then a few months later I got something in the post and it was a painting she’d done from one of my Facebook pictures. I’m laughing so much in it – I look like I could be a character from EastEnders

Got any subscriptions?
We have Netflix, our ethically-sourced coffee and I did experiment with veg boxes but now I live near a great community-run co-op. I also support my friend Dawn O’Porter’s Patreon page – she’s such a fantastic writer.

Where’s your happy place?
In water. I love swimming, but I’ve realised I love every type of water, whether it’s a bath or the sea – and I’m really intrigued by waterfalls. Water makes me feel at home wherever I am.

Can you keep a plant alive?
I get on with some and less so with others. It’s because I travel a lot. I am an earth mother, but in terms of domesticated bliss for plants, it’s difficult. Our communal garden is lovely and I’m very lucky because my neighbour upstairs really looks after it.

What’s on your bed? And on your bedside table?
My bed is just for sleeping, but I do sometimes have a pile of folded washing on there. I have linen bedding, which is from John Lewis. On my bedside table, there’s a pile of books and a giant rose-quartz crystal. I’m obsessed with the smell of essential oils, so I have my tinctures – eucalyptus and frankincense – which I put on my wrist. Living in Scotland, I find it easy to sleep because the air’s good, the sky is darker and we always have a window open. 

Gemma Cairney is working with The Open University

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