Christine Webber is a former singer, TV presenter, agony aunt, columnist and Harley Street psychotherapist. After a break of 29 years to write over a dozen non-fiction titles, Christine Webber returned to writing fiction in 2016. The result was a wonderful novel called 'Who'd Have Thought It?' This is a romantic comedy about the change and challenges we encounter in mid-life. Her subsequent novel, 'It's Who We Are', further explores the theme of the turbulence of mid-life.
I wondered about the impact of Christine's experience as a qualified psychotherapist and psychological coach on her own well-being as well as her friends during the lockdown and caught up with her online recently. I asked her how her life had developed since March.
Good Morning, Christine, and welcome to Autumn Chickens. How have you found living in a pandemic? Have you changed?
Initially, to be honest, I found it an adventure, even though, like everyone else, I was nervous of getting the virus. But it was fascinating to observe how we were adapting to the new order. People, who normally had hectic lives and lots of takeaways started cooking from scratch. Dads who routinely left home before the children were up and returned when they were in bed, got to know their offspring and started saying: ‘I’m never going back to those 12-hour days in the office. I’m a different person now and enjoying my family.’ And I remember having a conversation early on with a young man who worked for a major investment bank who said it was going so well with the staff working from home that they realised they didn’t need all their shiny skyscrapers in financial districts. It seemed then to me that the world would change and those really essential people - like nurses, fire-fighters, teachers and care workers - might be able to live as well as work in major cities, because those empty commercial premises could be turned into affordable housing. I probably got a bit carried away with the idea that a major revolution was taking place!
As for my own time, because of my background as a therapist, I decided to make myself available to friends or colleagues who were not coping. And quite a number of them asked for support which I was happy to give.
Also, I altered the theme of my newspaper column from positive ageing to topics that would help in the crisis.
And I made a change too in my podcasts. Prior to the pandemic I’d launched a series of videos on positive ageing, which were professionally made with a cameraman. But when that became impossible, I decided to have a go at making them myself. And it turned out to be remarkably easy. The hardest thing – and even that wasn’t very hard – was to learn how to compress the finished product into a file that my technical support lady could put up on You Tube and the website.
Another change was that I’d rarely used Skype or Zoom, but I quickly realised I must get up to speed with them or I was going to be totally isolated. I began Skyping twice a week with a very close friend who is a doctor, and who was facing issues the rest of us can only guess at. In fact, this has become such a help to us both that I think we’ll do it forever! I also turned to Skype, instead of the phone or email, to communicate with my niece and her baby, and with my step children and step grandchildren. And I took part in lots of lively WhatsApp chats. I firmly believe that it’s the people who matter most to us who are getting us through this. They have never mattered more, have they?
Have you noticed any trends in the changing lifestyles and concerns of people within your network?
I’d say the biggest change is in how people have realised what their real needs and priorities are. For example, several individuals I know – and I believe this is a growing trend – have decided that living alone is not all it’s cracked up to be. As a result, they’re looking to live in a more multi-generational way. This isn’t going to work for everyone. Depends on how much you like your family, I imagine! But I think it will happen more and more. I’ve certainly been thinking that it’s important for singletons like me to review their situation regularly. Isolation is not healthy over any prolonged period. Will friends move in together? Might some of us offer low-cost rental to a lodger in exchange for company? There’s a lot of thinking going on. And certainly, many people are upgrading to bigger houses – either because they intend working from home long-term, or because they want to share their space with others.
Do you feel optimistic about the future?
I’m an eternal optimist and tend to believe that good will triumph over evil. But my optimism has been tested in the past months, and I have had darker moods and more anxiety than I would have predicted. Luckily, I have a network of sensible, competent friends with a great sense of humour – and we support each other. I do worry about the UK and about how divided we seem at the moment; I don’t remember a time when this was worse. And I’m truly appalled that we, in a supposedly civilised and wealthy country, have such high levels of poverty, and homelessness. I believe that the swell of decent, public opinion will change this but I don’t see it happening soon, which I think is shameful.
Tell us about your latest project and who you hope to help?
As a result of working informally with people during the pandemic, I decided to re-launch my practice. When my husband became ill in 2016, I left my consulting rooms in Harley Street and assumed that that part of my life was over. But that was then, and we are in very different times now. So, I’ve opted to return to coaching, but not in-depth therapy. I started again a few weeks ago and am mostly seeing people who have tough stuff in their past, but who really want to move on.
I’m tailoring my fees to what clients can afford and am working in a very flexible way. All online at present, obviously. So, if someone wants just one session to discuss her relationship, her lack of confidence, her reluctance to exercise, the fact that she can’t seem to lose weight …whatever, then that is what I will do. Some people, on the other hand, want to do it weekly. I am going with the flow and adapting my methods to fit what individuals need or want. But one thing is clear, a lot of the population – as a result of Covid-19 – are desperate to makes personal changes, and I hope to support some of them while they do so.
Have you done much writing during the past few months? Are you planning another book?
Yes to both questions! Obviously, there’s my regular column, but I’ve also finished another novel for, and about, older people. It focuses on the situations we encounter as we age – widowhood, starting surprising new romantic relationships, sudden illness, family secrets, the strength of mid-life friendship, and so on. I hope that doesn’t sound grim because actually I think it’s quite an uplifting book. And it has a dog at the heart of it who turns the life around of one of my main characters. The title is 'So Many Ways of Loving' and it will be available early next year.