A few weeks ago, MailOnline carried a rather mundane story about some personnel changes at my charity, Sarah’s Trust, and another I support as patron, Humanitas. The piece reported quite fairly some of the work that we have been doing, including supplying hundreds of sleeping bags and essential supplies to homeless people. I rarely venture into readers’ comments, finding the online world rather frightening, but for some reason on this occasion I decided to scroll through what people were saying. I should have been put off by the warning that greeted me: ‘The comments below have not been moderated.’ Someone calling themselves Russell Nash, of the Highlands, had written simply: ‘Leech.’ Cannae2301, who described themselves as coming from ‘Londonistan’, declared: ‘Didn’t she represent WeightWatchers once? Looks like it didn’t work for her.’ Avast, supposedly of Futtocks End, resurrected and misspelled an old tabloid nickname of mine: ‘The Dutchess of Pork.’ Growly Sheep from Gotham insisted: ‘They draw huge salaries from the many “charities”’ (a completely false allegation).
The experience reinforced my impression that much of the internet is an unregulated Wild West. On social media in particular, people appear emboldened to come out with things that they would not dream of saying face-to-face. The online world may have revolutionised how we communicate but it has become a sewer. After 35 years in the public eye, I’ve learned to take it on the chin, but I worry about the effect of this online culture on my daughters, and more broadly, on all of our children. I find it appalling that people spend so much time and energy being so cruel to others. We need to teach our children that there is a dark side to the internet and very often people aren’t kind to each other there. It is too easy for people to post hatred and bile towards others with no consequences whatsoever. If you want to post that kind of thing, you should be asked to put it in your own name.
In our online-obsessed world, too many people have forgotten how important it is to be kind in everyday life. Kindness is the quality I admire most in others. Is it possible to measure it? Psychologists have been working on this question and have concluded that every human being has a measurable Kindness Quotient — or KQ. The discovery of KQ, like its equivalent IQ, will reshape the science of human kindness. It also reinforces the idea of introducing ‘Kindness Curriculums’ into schools. Schools that have already implemented a Kindness Curriculum report a drop in bullying, higher academic attainment and a significant rise in the self-esteem of pupils.
For many years, writing has been my means of escape. I’m old-fashioned and I write in longhand, with a Montegrappa fountain pen that I designed myself. I have been best known for my children’s books, but this year I was immensely proud to publish my first novel for adults, Her Heart for a Compass, a mid-Victorian romance based on the life of my great-great-aunt and fellow redhead Lady Margaret Montagu Douglas Scott. The book had been in the works for 15 years, but the extra time I had during the pandemic was the kick I needed to finally get it written. It was one of the highlights of my year when it made the Sunday Times bestseller list. I’m now working on a second book, again with my co-author, Marguerite Kaye. We can’t say too much about it at this stage, but it will build on Lady Margaret’s world and have more of a mystery element to it.
I’m an ambassador for the British Heart Foundation and am supporting its work to improve out-of-hospital cardiac arrest survival rates. What happened to Danish footballer Christian Eriksen, who collapsed with a cardiac arrest at Euro 2020, was a very public reminder that this can happen to anyone, at any time. I’m due shortly to visit an ambulance response centre where I will be shown how ‘The Circuit’ works. It’s a new national network that is responsible for mapping all defibrillators for NHS ambulance services across the UK, so that people can be directed to the closest defibrillator in the event of somebody having a cardiac arrest. Taking the time to register a defibrillator on the Circuit could ultimately be the difference between life and death for a loved one, colleague or stranger.
This Christmas will be my first as a grandmother. I am looking forward to spending time with August and Sienna, and my step-grandson Wolfie. They all seem to find my high energy hilarious already, which is good for the soul. The best thing about being a grandparent, however, is seeing just how wonderful Eugenie and Jack and Beatrice and Edo are turning out to be as parents. It reassures me that we must have done a good job in raising our girls, and that they are now passing it on.