By The Mole on The Hill
Kitty: Grandad, why are all those people going into that shop?
Mole: That’s not a shop, Lass. That’s Sam’s Caff.
Kitty: Who’s Sam?
Mole: Sam’s a man who had a dream about starting a caff that would be the meeting point for Primrose Hill. And that’s it down there.
Kitty: He’s lucky. Not many people see their dreams come true.
Writer and columnist Hadley Freeman, a deeply embedded resident of Primrose Hill, is a regular at Sam’s Café. She meets her friends there, takes her children there, interviews people there and, if it’s not at Sam’s, then it’s at Lemonia.
“When I lived in in Westbourne Park, I was coming up on the 31 bus every other day for Triyoga in Erskine Place, and I realised this was my favourite part of London. I then spent a year and a half looking at what seemed like hundreds of houses until we found the one. Now I’m never leaving this area, I love it so much.”
Hadley was born in Manhattan, and lived there until she was eleven. Then the family moved to West London, when her father was transferred to the London office of his company. Shortly after that he moved into diplomacy, working for the European Bank and helping to build Eastern Europe after Perestrioka.
“During the holidays, our family travelled with my Dad to Russia. This was post-Cold War with Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. Moscow looked very different then from what it is now. There were no retail stores and the best hotel, the Intourist, was a bit like a Premier Inn. We also went to Japan and Hong Kong where it was very different, much more affluent. It was a great education for me and my sister.”
Back at school in West London, everything was fine. But things were about to change. In her account of her eating disorder, Hadley describes anorexia as a bomb waiting to explode. In her case the trigger was a comment by a somewhat thin girl, “I wish I was normal like you.” Harmless enough, unless you take it to mean “I’m too fat, so I will stop eating.” Hadley was hospitalised nine times over a three-year period for a total of two and a half years.
“It was not great fun. You only go to hospital if you’re in danger, so it’s a serious business. At first you’re under bed rest and eat half-sized meals because your body is not used to food. After that you eat together and are weighed every week. There is some therapy, but mostly it’s boring. It’s not all young people; there are women there in their fifties. Once you’re out of danger, you’re allowed home and the cycle starts again.”
It says something that during this turmoil Hadley passed her exams and was accepted to read English at St Anne’s College, Oxford. She also edited the university newspaper, Cherwell.
“The college system at Oxford was good for me. I was still quite ill, so I didn’t have the ‘Oxford experience’. I mainly stayed in my room, but the journalism was great fun and I made close friends on the paper who are still my friends now, many of them working in journalism. I always sent my work to my Mum and, without telling me, she sent two of my interviews to a Daily Telegraph competition, which I won. On the strength of that, I was offered a job at The Guardian.
Hadley started at The Guardian as assistant fashion editor and then became a columnist. She stayed there for twenty-two years. The Guardian, according to many including Hadley, began to change. There was subtle pressure from editors which came to a head with the debate about trans-gender issues, and Hadley resigned. No problem. She was given an offer by The Sunday Times and joined them as a columnist in 2022.
“I love doing interviews. Probably my best one was Mel Brooks. He is New York Jewish, the person who you watched as a kid growing up. He was compelling, lively. It was like meeting God. I interviewed him twice and he sent me a video thanking me. Then there was Judy Blume. I spent a weekend with her in Florida, and she was just as warm and lively as you would want her to be. If my ten-year-old self could have known I would be meeting her, I would have self-combusted with excitement. And then there was Keanu Reeves. I’m not normally star-struck by celebrities, but he was my big crush when I was a teenager. I could barely speak and found myself almost flirting with him. And I was nine months pregnant at the time. It must have been horrible for him.”
After her grandmother, Sala, died, Hadley travelled to her apartment in New York and found a shoebox filled with memorabilia. What followed was ten years of research to try to make sense of a woman she’d never really known. Hadley worked on making it a book, House of Glass, by piecing together letters, photos and an unpublished memoir, and the search took her from Picasso’s archives in Paris, to a secret room in a farmhouse in Auvergne, to Long Island and to Auschwitz.
Add to that Good Girls and two earlier books − The Meaning of Sunglasses and Be Awesome − and Hadley already has a formidable body of work. So what next?
“I’m doing two pieces a week for The Sunday Times, and I still travel, but not as much as I used to. Then I used to spend as much as six months a year in the States. My partner is a sports journalist and has to travel, so we arrange things in a way that one of us is at home all the time. But however careful we are, we could not do this without the outstanding childcare we have, the same person since six months after the twins were born. At the moment I’m busy, but there will be something in the near future. Definitely not fiction and nothing personal. So maybe a biography.”
Meanwhile, it’s back to Sam’s Café.
Kitty: Do all the famous people go to Sam’s Caff?
The Mole: They’re not all famous. You stand outside Sam’s for half an hour and I guarantee you’ll meet half a dozen of your friends, either passing by or popping in for a coffee and a snack.
Kitty: So his dream has come true. That’s very nice.
Photo credit: Sarah Louise Ramsay