Vicki Psarias: Leeds’s own honest net mum

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Vicki Psarias’s ‘digital reach’ is in the millions. Neil Hudson talks to the ‘Honest Mum’ about blogging, vlogging, jogging and a bikini shot that went viral.

She has 27,300 twitter followers, 37,000 on Pinterest, over 10,000 on Instagram and even more on facebook. Her reach via her blog and social media is in the millions.

Last week, she interviewed Britain’s Got Talent judge Alicia Dixon over lunch and before that she was hobnobbing with Hugh Jackman for the launch of Eddie the Eagle. She’s also just partnered with Hartley’s too and will be sharing her and her family’s love of jelly with the nation this summer.

Vicki Psarias started her Honest Mum blog - now ranked in the top five per cent in the world - when her eldest child, Oliver, now 6, was 10 months old. To begin with, it was a platform for her to vent her feeling on newfound parenthood and rediscover her voice- but it struck a chord with ordinary working mums (and others) everywhere.

And before long it took on a life of its own...

With a background in media and a CV littered with writing and directing credits for the likes of the BBC, Vicki was well positioned to take advantage of the rise of the internet.

When I ask her to describe what she does, she tells me she’s a ‘digital influencer’, which basically means she has a big audience and one which respects what she says.

Which is why she’s also respected by firms such as Nivea UK, bareMinerals and Aveeno, fronted by Jennifer Anniston. On June 25th, she’s also up for a top blogging award in London at the BritMums’ Brilliance in Blogging Awards.

But despite her seemingly high-flying lifestyle, which regularly sees her mingling with the stars, Vicki, daughter of George and Vasoulla Psarias, owners of The Olive Tree restaurants in Headingley and Chapel Allerton, is very much a ‘feet on the ground’ person.

“I had a wonderful Enid Blygton kind of childhood. I grew up in Ilkley with my brother Solos and would walk the moors and build treehouses together... I remember when we moved to Leeds when I was seven, and we both just cried. In the end, though, it was a good move for all of us.”

I felt rather lost and alone and in need of a creative outlet. I couldn’t believe the response even in those early days.

Vicki Psarias, AKA blogger Honest Mum

She attended Leeds Girls’ High School (now Leeds Grammar) and went on to Notre Dame Sixth Form, which is where she says she “blossomed”, before taking a BA Hons in Media and Communications in London - TV presenter Alex Zane was there at the same time - and stayed on to do an MA in screen direction at just 21, coming away with a distinction and a short film Rifts which won awards all over the world at film festivals and caught the attention of the film industry.

She then became a writer/director making shorts, TV docs, drama, fashion films and music videos’.

“I used to be a TV Director and never thought about working online as a business nor did I when I first started Honest Mum... Then, in November, 2010, there were a lot of big US parenting bloggers but not many here. I was one of the first hence people often referring to me as being pioneering. I had quite a traumatic pregnancy, which involved pregnancy liver condition ICP and an emergency C-section, and felt rather lost and alone and in need of a creative outlet. I couldn’t believe the response even in those early days. I was honest, I always had that from the beginning, that it had to be real, about real life. Being genuine is one of the most important traits I feel anyone can have, so when I was brainstorming at the start of my blogging journey, I kept returning to the fact that I’m a straight-up, honest person-and I truly wanted to be honest about parenting-sharing the good times and importantly, the bad, so crucially others might not feel so alone. It made sense to me...and it grew from there.

She must have done something right because within just four weeks of starting her Honest Mum site, she found herself a finalist for a BritMums Brilliance in Blogging award.

“That really helped with my confidence. It made me feel that people valued what I had to say, that my voice mattered at a time I felt I had none. It inspired me to get back on set but by the time I was pregnant with my second son, Honest Mum had become a full time job.

“In terms of a career, I think it’s one which can be really empowering for women and yet some don’t know or understand its potential, the amount of money it can generate or the flexibility it offers in terms of lifestyle.

“The landscape has changed massively and it will continue to change. Take how we watch TV. I only watch on demand, as most do. Nowadays, people aren’t waiting around to see if the BBC decides to commission something which can take years, they are hitting publish or shooting their own material and posting it online-and reaching millions in the process in many cases”.

“It’s the same with newspapers and magazines and how people engage with them. Those that are changing, are surviving but magazines are folding every day - anything that requires you to go into a shop, unless you are a huge name like Vogue are in decline.”

Vicki, who is also mother to younger son, Alexander, three, has found herself very much in demand - she presented a piece on Sky News encouraging women to overcome ‘the imposter syndrome’ and also filmed pieces for Good Morning Britain last year helping parents with ‘Back to School tips’. Her site and media work has even led to her being regularly recognised in the street.

“It’s happened a few time-mostly in London,” she says. “But also several times in say in the Trinity shopping centre. I think it’s very lovely, of course but also ludicrous, I’m just a normal person at the end of the day. I think that’s why people read about my life and watch my vlogs on YouTube. They feel I’m their friend”

She’s also in demand professionally - at a recent workshop hosted with Jessica Huie MBE at the British Library in London, she recalls people were “queuing out of the door”.

She puts part of her tenacity and sense of adventure down to her parents. Father George, a force in his own right, and mother Vasoulla, established The Olive Tree restaurants-

“He’s a real old-school entrepreneur, a bit of a risk taker. Whereas my mum is more cautious and level headed (she’s a former University Lecturer) and together they make a great duo. When we were younger, they put a lot of emphasis on education and I think that paid off massively.”

Meanwhile, brother Solos, 22 months younger than her, is also successful, running the Giorgio’s restaurant chain, which recently expanded from Headingley to Rodley.

Between blogging and vlogging - she has just returned from the Cannes Film Festival - and taking tea with celebrities such as Anastasia, she’s still got ambitions to meet.

“I think the sky’s the limit, there’s still plenty to do. The potential for digital is massive. I consider myself a digital storyteller, and being able to share mine and my family’s lives (along with my passions as I cover food, fashion, culture and travel on the site) and hopefully entertain and inspire people whilst I’m at it, is what means the most to me”.

She discovered just how effective the web could be a few years ago when she uploaded a picture of herself in a bikini on holiday last year, which showed some stretch marks on her stomach sporting”.

She recalls: “It was the first time I’d worn a bikini since my youngest and it was one of those moments, I had stretch marks but thought so what, I was really proud of myself- I never expected the picture to go viral but it did and I got a lot of great feedback from people. Women who said they’d now take their kids swimming and would wear swimwear with pride”

FACTBOX

Favourite trash TV: Made in Chelsea, my guilty pleasure

Favourite dish: I adore cooking and particularly baking when it comes to releasing stress. I love the ritual of creating dishes and seeing the pleasure (hopefully) in everyone’s faces when I feed them. I’m a feeder! My Dad has been an amazing influence on me and since childhood has spent time teaching me to create the most exquisite Greek dishes and cakes. My favourite, for a special Sunday lunch it would be lamb kleftiko (oven baked lamb with herbs) http://honestmum.com/lamb-kleftiko-oven-baked-lamb-with-herbs/ and for dessert, something refreshing like orange sorbet or a simple Greek yoghurt with watermelon, drizzled with honey.

The thing I couldn’t live without: apart from family and friends, dark chocolate.

Favourite film: Goodfellas holds a special place in my heart as it was one of the first movies I enjoyed with my Dad and brother as a tween. Not sure if we were a bit young for it then but we LOVED it!

First job: I did work experience on Calendar News whilst on a school holiday which was a real eye-opener and the start to a career in the media. I distinctly remember how valued they made me feel-like one of the team!

If I could invent a law: I want greater equality for women- and parents. So much more needs to be done to support a more flexible way of working so women are not handed the short straw when it comes to wanting a family and a career. That’s what I love about working in the digital field. You can work flexibly and remotely in a way that works for your family doing something you love, be it blogging or running an e-shop, without compromising on financial success.

Together with Jessica Huie MBE, I host workshops empowering women to do just that-to work in a liberating and empowering way online. Our first workshop ‘Turning Passion into Pounds’ with Stylist Magazine last year was a huge success and we followed it up with a partnership with the British Library (our most recent event was a sell-out) with an upcoming tour.

And another thing... I love to run and try and get out for 20 minute jogs three or four times a week. I have a treadmill in the garage which helps (when I’m not hanging clothes from it) and for when the weather doesn’t play ball, which is a lot in Leeds.

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