The 8th March marks International Women’s Day, but what does it really mean? For us it’s a reminder to champion all the women in our lives *every day* – our phenomenal customers, our supportive colleagues, our friends, family and mentors – and the importance of amplifying the voices of women who inspire us. With our Women of Spirit we want to continue the message of International Women’s Day year-round by pursuing conversations with the leaders, freethinkers and voices for change.
To coincide with this year’s IWD theme of #ChooseToChallenge, we are pleased to introduce our March Woman of Spirit – Camilla Thurlow. Camilla is no stranger to challenging the stereotypes women are often faced with, from working as a bomb disposal expert to finding love on national TV, authoring a book and becoming a new mum. We sat down with her to find out more.
What does it mean to you to be a Radley Woman of Spirit?
“It’s an honour to be asked by such an iconic brand to join this campaign – particularly in the company of such incredible women. So often the day-to-day determination and fortitude of women is not given the space or acclaim it deserves so it’s always a joy to see the spirit of women being celebrated. I hope this campaign reminds women to be proud of all they accomplish.”
Tell us about your work in Explosive Ordnance Disposal and with The HALO Trust.
“I joined The HALO Trust when I was 23 and my first posting was in Cambodia. In the years following I travelled to many other places including Nagorno-Karabakh, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan. I worked in humanitarian mine clearance and explosive ordnance disposal, which involves visiting areas that have been affected by conflict and removing explosive items that continue to pose a threat to the men, women and children living there or trying to return home.
“The work is very tangible in that you can visit an area contaminated by mines that people cannot use and then when you return after clearance you find it is being used to grow crops; or perhaps a school has been built there. It really was a dream job for me and opened my eyes in so many ways. I completed my Explosive Ordnance Disposal training with HALO and I hold an IMAS Level 3 Explosive Ordnance Disposal qualification.”
How do you find courage in such high-pressure environments?
“Good question. In terms of the practical side of EOD, I knew I had been trained by some of the best in the business, so from that perspective I felt pretty confident taking on practical tasks. What was far more challenging was consistently moving through different countries and having to figure out the best way to slot in and work effectively within a team. It taught me a lot about being adaptable but there were times when it was difficult, although nowhere near as terrifying as the first few days in the Love Island villa!
“That was a whole other level for me as I couldn’t focus on trying to prove myself through work. Instead, it was all about being sociable and I knew that was certainly not one of my strengths. I think I had these smaller goals on Love Island, especially at the beginning. For example, I would just try and at least contribute to a couple of conversations a day and that got me through the first few weeks.
“I think both decisions (to do reality TV and to join The HALO Trust) may appear outwardly courageous, but came partly from feelings of fear that I wasn’t fully embracing all that life had to offer and not contributing or making a difference in the way I had hoped to.”
You’ve also written a book, Not the Type. What do you hope readers will take away from it?
“I hope that it goes some way towards debunking myths and stereotypes and that perhaps it exposes why I haven’t always made obvious choices, despite feeling anxious about how my decisions were perceived. I hope it helps people feel that they can live life on their own terms and whilst that can be scary, perhaps it is scarier not to.”
What is the most important lesson you’ve learnt or the best piece of advice you’ve received?
“I know it’s not ground-breaking but try to be kind to yourself. It frees you in so many ways to really embrace life; to make mistakes, to try something new and not be the best at it, to change your mind when things aren’t right for you without feeling like you’ve failed. I still find this hard but try to talk to yourself like you are your best friend. The longest relationship you will have in your life is with yourself, so making that a caring and supportive one is so important to your overall happiness.”
Which Women of Spirit have inspired you most in your life?
“My number one Woman of Spirit has to be my mum. I think I’m only just realising and truly appreciating how strong and resilient she is now that I’m a mother. I’m just so grateful to her for all she gave to me and my siblings, I wouldn’t be half the person I am today without her.
“One of the women in my life that I miss is (lecturer and parachutist) Dilys Price. She was so freethinking and that gave her enormous capacity to challenge the invisible boundaries that are sometimes set for us. She held the record for the oldest female solo parachute jump, which in itself was a huge accolade, but she always tried to translate her own incredible achievements into positive change for others. She really managed to transform so many lives and it’s always a reminder to me how much of an impact one person can have if they allow themselves to live outside the box. I was lucky enough to join her for a skydive in Scotland in 2019 and spend a weekend in her company; she was sensational in every way.
“I’d also like to mention Jacinda Ardern (Prime Minister of New Zealand) – she has taken on the challenges of the past year with such grace. She’s an exceptional leader and it seems to stem from compassion, which is such a lovely trait.”
If you had to choose one quote or mantra to live by, what would it be?
“From the utterly iconic Ruth Bader Ginsburg, ‘Fight for things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you’, and ‘Reading is the key that opens doors to many good things in life. Reading shaped my dreams, and more reading helped me make my dreams come true’.”
How will you be celebrating your first Mother’s Day?
“Oooh, I have no idea! I feel like after you have a baby people think the romance goes out the window and in a way it does (there isn’t really the time for grand gestures anymore), but I see so much romance in the small gestures.
“Jamie is very good at making me a cup of tea when he knows I’ve been busy feeding or making sure there’s some lunch ready for when we have a chance to sit down and eat. I think it’s all about meeting each other’s needs through those small gestures that say, “I see you and I know how hard you’re trying”. So yes, maybe Mother’s Day will be a celebration of that and how far we’ve come as a team and hopefully a cup of tea and an afternoon nap!”
What are you most looking forward to in 2021?
“More time with Nell, she is just everything to me, I am so, so lucky. And any time I spend with my family – Jamie, Nell and our two dogs (Audrey and Gus) – is precious. It’s amazing how extraordinary the ordinary can be in the company of the right people.
“I hope we’re able to go to Scotland with Nell to stay with my parents. I’d love to take her for a walk around where I grew up.”
We hope you can too, Camilla. Thank you from everyone at Radley London for taking the time to talk to us.
If, like us, you’re a fan of Camilla’s classic style then click here to discover the bags she’s coveting from our new spring collection. Our Head of Design is also on hand to tell you more about the latest arrivals.