First-time buyers bought £270k three-bed home 85miles from their dream location to get on the housing ladder

FIRST-time buyers from Essex ended up buying a £270,000 three-bed house a 2 and half hour drive from their dream location.  

A year into their house search, Stephen Nicholls, 27, and his partner Maria Merricks, 30, were forced to widen their search or face another three years rigorously saving.

House prices in Brighton – where the couple wanted to live to be closer to Maria's parents who live in the city –  have climbed £8,500 over the past year, with the average terrace house selling for around £450,000.

With a budget of £280,000, the couple were among the 63 per cent of first-time buyers who've had to compromise on location in order to get their foot on the property ladder, according to research by the Post Office.

Instead, they settled on a run-down three-bed home in Westcliffe-on-Sea, Essex, 85miles away from Brighton.

Their terrace house in the less-than-perfect area had a hole in the roof and was in need of some serious TLC.

Had they not settled, the couple reckon they would still be forking out £1,300 a month on rent for the tiny one-bed flat in London which they used to call home.

The couple have been living in their home for a year and a half now but still have their sights set on Brighton.

We caught up with Stephen this week in the My First Home series, to find out whether it was worth the sacrifice to won your own home.

What's your house like?

The house is a small, three-bed mid terrace house in Westcliff-on-Sea in Essex.

It has two double bedrooms and a box room which isn't even big enough to fit a single bed in to be honest. We use it for storage though.

There's an open plan kitchen, which we're currently doing work to to make it a bit more modern, and a living room.

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We've got a small garden around the back but it's on street parking.

We bought the house in April 2017 so we've been living her about a year and a half now.

How did you decide on location?

We were renting in Streatham in London when we first thought about starting to save to buy somewhere.

Ideally, we'd have loved to stay in London as that's where we both worked but the house prices there are so expensive we new this was unrealistic.

Our dream location is Brighton and Hove though. We thought, if we've got to leave London then this is where we really want to live.

Maria's parents live in Brighton and we wanted to be near them too, cut to when we started looking at what we could afford. It was ridiculous.

Our budget was around the £280,000 mark and for that we could have just about stretched to a tiny, one bed flat that would have needed a lot of work doing to it.

What help is out there for first-time buyers?

Help to Buy Isa – It's a tax-free savings account where for every £200 you save, the Government will add an extra £50. But there's a maximum limit of £3,000 which is paid to your solicitor when you move.

Help to Buy equity loan – The Government will lend you up to 20 per cent of the home's value – or 40 per cent in London – after you've put down a five per cent deposit. The loan is on top of a normal mortgage but it can only be used to buy a new build property.

Lifetime Isa – This is another Government scheme that gives anyone aged 18 to 39 the chance to save tax-free and get a bonus of up to £32,000 towards their first home. You can save up to £4,000 a year and the Government will add 25 per cent on top.

Shared ownership – Co-owning with a housing association means you can buy a part of the property and pay rent on the remaining amount. You can buy anything from 25 to 75 per cent of the property but you're restricted to specific ones.

"First dibs" in London – London Mayor Sadiq Khan is working on a scheme that will restrict sales of all new-build homes in the capital up to £350,000 to UK buyers for three months before any overseas marketing can take place.

Starter Home Initiative – A Government scheme that will see 200,000 new-build homes in England sold to first-time buyers with a 20 per cent discount by 2020. To receive updates on the progress of these homes you can register your interest on the Starter Homes website.

We widened our search to include Hayward's Heath but we were still getting nowhere, we just could afford the area.

It was absolutely crushing when we realised that we really can't afford to live there. There was absolutely no hope of us getting that kind of deposit together any time soon.

We started to look near where my parents lived in Southend in Essex but it was still pretty pricey. In the end we settled on Westcliffe-on-Sea.

On our budget, there wasn't many options in terms of location and we just wanted to buy somewhere and stop lining someone else's pockets in rent.

What's the area like? Is it really that bad?

At first we were a bit gutted about the area but we're learning to like it more. It's great during the day.

Westcliffe-on-Sea hasn't not got the best reputation and is known for being a bit of a rough area at night.

There are a lot of homeless shelters about and it has a pretty high crime rate.

But the area we've ended up in is a bit out of it really which is good and I like living by the sea. Plus it's not far from Roots Hall football stadium where I like to go to watch a game.

Maria still has her concerns and doesn't like walking back from the train station late at night, so I'll go and pick her up.

It's the place with the closest train line into London that we can afford to buy.

It takes me about an hour and a half to get to work door to door and it takes Maria about two hours.

Let's talk finances. How much did you pay for it and how much did you save?

We paid £270,000 for the house with a 10 per cent deposit which came out about £27,000. We took out our mortgage over 30 years and it's currently on a two-year fixed-rate.

We didn't use Help to Buy at all because we didn't like the thought of having to pay back a loan and a mortgage.

It took us three and a half years to get the funds together. We were pretty strict.

Together, we earned about £4,500 a month but were paying about £1,300 a month on rent in Streatham, and another hundred or so on train fares.

Between us we managed to put away about £700 a month but that left us with about £80 a week to live off after bills. We hardly went out socialising at all.

We also got £3,000 early inheritance which meant we could buy about four months earlier than we had hoped to, and we moved back home with my mum for the final six months to maximise our savings.

Our mortgage repayments are £925 a month at the moment which is £400 less than what we were paying to rent in London.

Did you have any trouble with the move?

The house itself wasn't in as good a nick as we'd like either really.

It didn't need totally renovating, but there was a hole in the roof which we haven't got fixed yet but we've been quoted about £2,000 for the work.

We've spent quite a bit of cash decorating it too because it hadn't been looked after properly by the previous owners.

We haven't got loads of savings left so we're making the changes gradually.

Was it worth giving up on living in Brighton? And are you looking to move?

Now that we're here and we have the keys, yes I would say it was worth it.

It was such a relief to finally have somewhere to call our own and we could stop spending out our entire weekends traipsing around houses with estate agents.

I'd say to other's not to be afraid to look further out. It's daunting to go somewhere you don't know but once you're there you can make it work.

The location still isn't ideal and the house isn't totally what we'd been looking for but at least we're not paying rent any more.

The dream is still to live in Brighton at some point but right now that's not possible.

The plan is now, is to sit around for a while. It's big enough to be a family house so I think we'll stay put until we're earning more money or outgrow the property.

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O2 DOWN – customers hit by network problems as 4G and data services crash

Furious customers took to social media to flag problems with 4G and data services.

It appears that the network issues started about 5.30am, and customers across Manchester, London and Southampton have all reported outages.

The network confirmed they were investigating.

A statement posted on the company's website read: "Our technical teams are investigating reports of issues when using data. Voice calls are working OK.

"We apologise for any inconvenience."

It also issued a statement on social media, commenting: "We are aware our customers are unable to use data this morning.

"Our technical teams are working on the issue with high priority.

"We are really sorry and working as hard and as fast as we can to fix this.

"Please keep an eye on our status checker:"





One frustrated customer wrote: "My data is not working neither are my calls. Not connecting and earlier I had no signal at all for about 45 minutes."

Another added: "Oh great, O2 data network down".

A third said: "Can I assume there's a widespread issue with o2 mobile data. Everyone's off around the country."

Another pointed out the irony of the company's response, saying: "Me: My internet isn't working 🙁

"@O2 : that's ok, check our website for updates"

The issues also seem to have affected customers with Giffgaff and Tesco Mobile, which both share O2's network.

The Sun has contacted both Giffgaff and Tesco for a comment but haven't yet heard back.




It's not the first time O2's network has experienced issues.

In October, the mobile network was down leaving thousands of customers unable to make or receive calls.

It also happened in September, as both Sky and 02 mobile networks were down due to Storm Ali.

Meanwhile, EE and Vodafone are being investigated by the watchdog over claims that they gave false information about network coverage in rural areas.

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Meet The Teen Actor Who Shares A Role With Natalie Portman In ‘Vox Lux

You may not have heard the name Raffey Cassidy before, but that’s all about to change. It seems that critics and film buffs agree that the 16-year-old actor is destined for stardom. Cassidy plays young Celeste in Vox Luxthe teenage version of Natalie Portman’s character in the movie that hits theaters Dec. 7. Throughout the first half of the thought-provoking movie about a struggling pop star, Cassidy is the lead. After a shooting at her school, Celeste is propelled into the spotlight in an unexpected way.

After the shooting, a 14 year-old Celeste performs a song to commemorate her classmates who died in the attack, and the combination of her grief and her talent grab the nation’s attention. A star is born, but Vox Lux is nothing like director Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s meditation on fame and talent.

Not only does Cassidy play a young version of Celeste, who’s negotiating her new life, but she also plays Portman’s version’s daughter in the second half of the movie, which takes place 14 years after Celeste gets catapulted into the spotlight with the help of her manager (Jude Law). As Vogue pointed out in an interview with Cassidy last May, Vox Lux is far from the young star’s first time working with big names. The British teen previously starred alongside Nicole Kidman in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, as well as with George Clooney in Tomorrowland and Charlize Theron in Snow White and the Huntsman.

Cassidy already has an impressive IMDb page for someone who’s so young, but Vox Lux proved to be an even greater challenge than some of the work she’s done before. In a press conference during the 2018 Venice Film Festival in September, Cassidy told reporters, "I thought it was really cool to have to create these two different characters." As challenging as making Vox Lux may have been, especially for a young actor playing two key roles, it seems like Cassidy was more than up for taking it on.

Like the character she plays in the first half of the film, Cassidy has also been a public figure from a young age. She got a big start in Hollywood playing the young Snow White in 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman. Unlike Celeste, however, Cassidy manages to maintain a sense of normalcy in her life by continuing to attend school when she’s not filming. Cassidy told Vogue that she’s "getting the best of both worlds," so she hasn’t totally missed out on a normal adolescence like the rising pop star unfortunately does. "On the day of the incident, that was the day that I kind of thought of her childhood was lost and everything changed for her," Cassidy told reporters in Venice.

Cassidy has so much going for her already, and she has her sights set on more, even beyond acting. In a 2017 interview with Interview, the then 15 year-old said she’s decided to pursue a career in fashion design as well. She’s not walking away from the industry just yet though, and acknowledges that work is particularly interesting to her now, as more and more young women characters are being centered in films.

"There are a lot of interesting and cool parts at the moment, especially about the teenage experience. It’s a good time to be an actress," the actor told Vogue. It’s likely that you’ll be seeing a lot more of the Vox Lux star in the coming years.

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What Gifts Does the Royal Family Get Each Other for Christmas?

As you may already know, Christmas with the Windsors is a little bit different. One such difference? Gift-giving is reserved for Christmas Eve only so the following day can be devoted to going to church and listening to Queen Elizabeth’s speech. But that doesn’t mean the royals don’t know how to get presents for their loved ones! Here’s a look at the kinds of gifts the royal family gets each other for Christmas.

Prince George, Duchess Kate, Princess Catherine, and Prince William in the Royal Family Christmas Card 2015 | Kensington Palace via Instagram

For starters, they don’t typically give fancy gifts

Instead, the royal family is keen giving little cheap joke gifts when they do their present swap at teatime on Christmas Eve.

“The quirky tradition makes sense seeing as the royal family has access to everything they could ever want or need,” Business Insider points out. “Why bother trying to pick out something tasteful that no one has any use for when you can get something cheap that makes everyone laugh?”

We have to admit, it’s hard to disagree with that logic. Plus, giving silly gifts is a great juxtaposition to the black-tie formal set-up the royals partake in for dinner.

A Christmas tree at Windsor Castle | Jack Taylor/Getty Images

There’s an order to how the gifts are opened too

Former royal family chef Darren McGrady tells the Huffington Post gift-giving isn’t a free-for-all when the royals congregate at Sandringham Estate on Christmas Eve. McGrady explains “since the Royal Family is of German descent (on Prince Philip’s side and the Queen’s patrilineal side) they keep some of those traditions and exchange gifts after afternoon tea on Christmas Eve. The gifts are displayed on a table and the family takes turns opening them in front of each other.”

Which of course means nobody misses out on the goofy gag gifts that get passed around.

None of the gifts are serious or expensive. | iStock/Getty Images

What does the royal family get each other for Christmas?

According to the Huffington Post, Kate Middleton once gave a then-single Prince Harry a “Grow Your Own Girlfriend” kit as a Christmas present. Princess Anne once gifted her brother, Prince Charles, a white leather toilet seat — which, believe it or not, the heir apparent reportedly takes on overseas tours with him because he likes it so much. (Of course, that could totally be a rumor.)

But the award for reported best gag gift — surprise surprise — goes to Prince Harry. According to Wales Online, the red-headed royal once gifted his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, a shower cap with “Ain’t Life a Bitch” scrawled on it.

The queen, in case you’re wondering, apparently loved it.

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Joe Jonas & Sophie Turner’s Comments Defending Nick & Priyanka’s Wedding Are So Epic

When it comes to Sophie Turner and Nick Jonas, family always comes first. And the famous couple is proving that with their reaction to an article from New York Magazine’s The Cut that heavily criticized Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas’ marriage. Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner’s comments defending Nick and Priyanka show just how fierce and protective they are, especially when it comes to family.

In The Cut’s article, which was called "Is Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas’s Love for Real?" and has now been removed from the site, the author accused Priyanka of being a “global scam artist.” The author also claimed that Nick had entered into a fraudulent relationship and needed to get out ASAP.

"At times, marriage can be a beautifully wonderful union that warms even the coldest of hearts, but sadly, this union evokes no such feeling," the post read, according to screenshots published by India Today. "All Nick wanted was a possible fling with Hollywood’s latest It Woman, but instead he wound up staring straight at a life sentence with a global scam artist … Nick, if you’re reading this, find that horse and gallop away as fast you can!"

Yikes. Those are some seriously misguided and ill-informed assertions. And Joe and Sophie made that clear with their reactions to the article.

In a Dec. 5 tweet, Joe took aim at The Cut, calling the article “disgusting.”

"This is disgusting. @TheCut should be ashamed to have someone write such evil words," he tweeted. "What Nick & Pri have is Beautiful Love. Thank u, Next."

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a better use of “Thank U, Next” than right here in this tweet.

Joe’s fiancée, Sophie, also decided to tweet about how “inappropriate” she thought the article was.

"This is wildly inappropriate and totally disgusting. Very disappointed that The Cut would give anyone a platform to spew such bulls–t,” she wrote.

The two stars were clearly upset by the fact that The Cut would ever publish such an article, especially since Nick and Priyanka literally just got married days prior. The famed couple tied the knot in the early days of December in an extravagant multi-day celebration at the Taj Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur, India. Obviously, it’s a very happy time for Nick, Priyanka, and their families, so for such a negative and outlandish article to be published by a major publication has to sting a little bit.

It seems that The Cut, which was subjected to some serious fan backlash via social media, recognized their lapse in judgment in publishing the article and, in turn, decided to take it down. In an editor’s note on the article’s original page, the publication apologized for having published the story at all.

"Upon further editorial review, we found this story did not meet our standards,” the editor’s note reads. “We’ve removed it and apologize.”

At least the article is gone for good and The Cut has realized their mistake. Hopefully, Nick and Priyanka won’t have to deal with anymore hot takes like that again.

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Which Netflix Original Movie Was the Best of 2018? Vote For Your Favorite Now!

We have to admit, 2018 has been an excellent year for Netflix’s original content. From its hard-hitting documentaries to its revival of the romantic-comedy genre, the streaming giant has definitely churned out a number of cinematic gems. No matter what your movie-loving heart desires, Netflix probably has something to satisfy it. So if you’ve spent the last year binge-watching movies from your couch like the rest of us, we have to know which popular Netflix original movie you’d rank the best of 2018!

Vote for your favorite movie below before the poll closes on Dec. 21 at 11:59 p.m. ET!

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Outlaw King

The Holiday Calendar

Like Father

The Kindergarten Teacher


Alex Strangelove

6 Balloons

The Princess Switch

Hold the Dark

Nappily Ever After

A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding

The Land of Steady Habits

Sierra Burgess Is a Loser

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Sir David Attenborough makes plea on behalf of Earth as signs of ruin stack up

Sir David Attenborough has warned the Earth is on the brink of destruction – and the signs can be seen even on our own shores.

He issued an urgent plea for greenhouse gas emissions to be cut as he addressed a UN summit this week. Deforestation, pollution, poaching and industrial farming are among the other activities destroying the planet’s ecosystem.

Here we look at the impact of human activity on our fragile planet, what is at risk – and what will happen if we fail to cut emissions to stop temperatures rising.

Marine Life

Fifty of the most unusual sharks and rays are on the brink of extinction due to threats such as commercial fishing, including a species whose tail stuns prey.

“The biggest myth around sharks is definitely the perception that they are dangerous, that they are man-eating machines – they’re not,” marine biologist Fran Cabada said.

Most sharks are at the top of the food chain, which makes them crucial to the health of the oceans.

Losing even one of these “living fossils” would also wipe out millions of years of evolutionary history.

This is the first time these creatures have been assessed for the Edge (Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered) of Existence programme.


One-in-five mammal species could disappear from UK shores, with the red squirrel, the wildcat and the grey long-eared bat all under threat.

Beyond our borders, species around the world are facing extinction – with 26,000 on the endangered list.

The world’s last remaining male northern white rhino died at the age of 45 in Kenya this year, a species hunted to the brink of extinction for their horns, which by weight hold the same value as gold on the black market.

The last, slim remaining hope for breeding relies on IVF, pairing one of the surviving two females with the semen of a now-deceased male.

It joins 18 other animals of World Wildlife Fund’s list including 60 Amur leopards, 880 mountain gorillas and 800 orangutans.

Alongside breeding programmes, protecting habitats and global bans on poaching, experts also say, if managed ethically, wildlife holidays can – and do – provide genuine support to endangered species. This,
in turn, provides a financial incentive to local communities help protect wildlife.

Granada ‘caught spying on opponents and referees with hidden camera network’


Some 8,000 tree species, 10% of the planet’s total, are under threat of extinction because of degradation or destruction of woodland and forests.

In the UK 15 endangered species are listed as priority in our biodiversity action plan.

Palm oil is in half of supermarket foods, as well as cosmetics and biodiesel, and the growing demand is devastating tropical rainforests across South East Asia.

John Sauven of Greenpeace UK said: “Orangutans have been pushed to the brink of extinction and indigenous peoples’ lives are threatened. It’s no exaggeration to say that keeping these forests intact is vital for all life on earth.”

He wants consumers to use products made from existing farms and put pressure on firms to end deforestation.

Destruction of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest is at its worst in a decade with 3,050 square miles – an area five times the size of London – lost to illegal logging.

The ecosystem is home to 10% of global species but president Jair Bolsonaro wants to limit fines and weaken controls.

It would take more than two years to prepare port of Dover for no-deal Brexit

Impact on the UK

“From Norfolk to North Yorkshire, these communities are already facing the effects of climate chaos and are the ones most at risk of further catastrophe,” explains Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Emi Murphy.

“Communities such as Happisburgh, Norfolk, have already seen as many as 35 homes claimed by coastal erosion in the past decade.

“Soaring summer temperatures in the UK led to moors such as Saddleworth burning for days on end…

“With a greater risk of summer heatwaves…, we may well see wildfires become a far too regular threat.

“York and Leeds, which saw devastating flooding off the back of Storm Desmond in 2015, could also disappear under flood waters,” she warned, if sea levels
continue to rise.

“As well as extreme flooding, UK farming is also threatened by the risk of regular summer heatwaves, like those seen this year which left farms across Surrey, Kent and East Anglia parched after weeks on end with no rain.”

Climate Change

Global warming has led to a drastic reduction of our ice areas – the snows of Kilimanjaro have melted 80% since 1912.

Arctic sea ice has declined by 10% in 30 years and the water flowing into seas warms them, expanding their volume. This has had a major role in raising sea levels up to eight inches over 100 years, said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Expert Alesandro Silvano said the rise “weakens currents that trap heat and carbon dioxide, affecting global climate”.

Rising heat also has an impact on our deserts, affecting their plants and animals. In some cases this is predicted to increase their size – they already cover a quarter of Earth.

Firewood gathering and animal grazing are also converting semiarid regions into deserts.

Coral reefs

Marine heat-waves cause by a change in ocean currents in 2016 killed close to a third of the coral living on the Great Barrier Reef – and is unlikely every to recover.

But novice divers, of whom there are an one and a half million a year, pose the biggest threat to these diverse ecosystems, which support a myriad of creatures, particularly in tourist hotspots, according to James Harvey, operations manager at Reef-World Foundation.

“When you look at busy dive sites, you often see more broken corals, a lower species diversity and a change in fish behaviour. These corals are less likely to recover from bleaching events.

“Novice divers dive in an upright manner, with their fins down,” he said. “They kick up sediment and corals use a lot of energy to clean themselves, which makes them vulnerable to climate change and disease.”

Other risks posed to marine life by the industry include physical damage from heavy anchors used by dive boats, and the oil and other pollution the boats discharge.

Thailand, who makes 10% of its GDP from tourism, this year closed Maya Bay, made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio’s film the Beach, because of environmental damage by tourism. In 2016, it closed 10 dive sites in an attempt to slow a coral bleaching crisis.

The organisation advises divers to only use firms signed up to the Green Fins scheme, which helps to reduce their environmental impact.

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This IRL Hitmaker Helped Natalie Portman Convincingly Play A Pop Star In ‘Vox Lux’

In the new drama Vox Lux, out Dec. 7, Natalie Portman portrays fictional pop star Celeste Montgomery, sharing the role with Raffey Cassidy, who plays her as a teen. Sporting a flamboyant glam stage persona, a gruff Staten Island accent, a complicated and tragic life history, and a rough attitude, the adult Celeste makes for quite the intriguing character. And one aspect of the pop star that especially shines is the music she performs in the film. The Vox Lux soundtrack is shaping up to be one of the best movie soundtracks of the year, and the reason why has everything to do with the woman responsible for crafting the film’s catchy pop songs.

The songs in Vox Lux were written by pop superstar Sia specifically for the film, while the film’s score was composed by singer-songwriter Scott Walker. The soundtrack is set to be released on Dec. 14 according to Billboard, exactly one week after the movie makes its debut in theaters. But while it’s clear the soundtrack will be outstanding thanks to Sia’s involvement, fans unfortunately don’t know what it will consist of just yet. That’s because the track list for the album hasn’t been announced, leaving fans to speculate as to its contents. However, some educated guesses can be made. For instance, IMDb lists four tracks that appear in the film. Two of these songs, "Bang Bang" and "Dance All Night," are by electronic pop duo Sunrise in the Desert and were not made specifically for the film; they were licensed, according to the band’s website. Therefore, it seems unlikely that they will appear on the movie’s soundtrack album.

The other two songs, however, are a different story. They were both penned by Sia and her longtime collaborator/producer Greg Kurstin, and are performed on screen by Natalie Portman’s Celeste. They are "I Crumble" and "Wrapped Up," and both seem like surefire inclusions for the movie’s soundtrack. "Wrapped Up" can actually be partially heard in the film’s second trailer, which you can listen to below (the song comes in around the 0:25 mark being performed by Cassidy as young Celeste; Portman’s version starts at about 0:45).

Even though it’s Portman singing, "Wrapped Up" has the same haunting lyrics and catchy melodies that are the hallmarks of many of Sia’s other hits, and it’s not hard to imagine the singer herself belting it out. And while Sia has become a huge star in recent years on the backs of hits like "Chandelier" and "Elastic Heart," she was previously mainly known as a songwriter who penned tunes for other artists, according to The New York Times. She co-wrote "Diamonds" for Rihanna, "Pretty Hurts" for Beyonce, "Titanium" for David Guetta, as well as tracks for Flo Rida, Christina Aguilera, and more. So the singer/songwriter was more than qualified to craft songs for Vox Lux‘s soundtrack to be performed by Portman in order to convince you that she’s a real pop star.

The Vox Lux soundtrack remains mostly a mystery, but if all the songs are as good as "Wrapped Up" — and there’s no real reason to think they won’t be — then Sia fans are in for a big treat.

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Why I love being a muscly mum

Why I love being a muscly mum: Like many mothers, Kitty struggled to stay slim — then realised she’d rather be strong than skinny

  • Kitty Dimbleby, 38, began weight-lifting after a friend suggested a gym in Bath
  • She explained her goal to be in the best shape of her life by age 40 
  • She can currently bench-press 30kg and squat and deadlift 40kg 
  • Kitty finds encouragement from other middle-aged mums building biceps
  • Studies say strength training and protein powders is the best way to fight frailty 
  • e-mail


Motherly pride was my motive for posting the photo.

Having just returned from the gym, I wasn’t exactly looking my best. But when Max, three, jumped on to my back, hanging off me like a monkey, he looked so cute I had to share it on Instagram.

My phone pinged with comments. ‘Look at your arms!’ said one friend. ‘Thighs look good,’ added another. Two more said: ‘You look fabulous.’

As a mother of two whose weight has fluctuated since having kids, it was a bit of a shock. So I took a second peek. And I did look good. My triceps, supporting 14kg of wriggly child, were defined and my thighs were toned — all down to two months of hard work.

Kitty Dimbleby, 38, (pictured) revealed how was able to overhaul her body after birth by weightlifting at a gym in Bath 

You see, like so many women my age — I’ll be 39 next month — I’m now a fully fledged MAMBB (Middle-Aged Mum Building Biceps).

We’re a bit like the female version of the MAMIL, the Middle Aged Men In Lycra who do long-distance cycling with cult-like devotion.

No one is more surprised than me. At secondary school I used every excuse to avoid PE. In my 20s, structured exercise was a no-no. And I could get away with it; at only 5ft, my weight rarely went above 8st, despite the post-work wine and late-night carbs.

But last year my weight hit 9st 11lb, a scale mark I’d only seen during pregnancy. I was exhausted and finding it hard to keep up with my boisterous children.

I tried fitness classes and eating healthily, but I couldn’t stick to it and the weight crept back on.

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Then a friend told me about a new gym in Bath offering weight-training strength classes and High Intensity Interval Training. I’d thought of weightlifting as the domain of grunting men, sweating testosterone and ego. But this regime is all about being toned and athletic. I love it.

Now I can bench-press 30kg and squat and deadlift 40kg. I do 22 full press-ups in a minute, too. Four or five days a week I rise at 6.30am to work out. I’m fitter and I have muscle definition where, even at my slimmest, there was none.

The clothes stuffed at the back of my closet fit again. I’m now 8st 5lbs, and have lost at least an inch from my waist, arms and thighs in two months. I have more energy and happily race around the park with my kids. Chloe, six, tells everyone she wants to be strong ‘like mummy’.

My goal is to be in the best shape of my life by 40. And I’m not alone. Three-times Olympic athlete Sarah Lindsay, 38, founder of London gym Roar Fitness, says after the 2012 London Olympics there was a shift in women’s gym goals.

Kitty (pictured) was advised by her trainer to ditch scales and focus on her body looking leaner

‘They used to just want to be thin, but it changed to strong as they had female role models winning medals,’ she says. ‘The athletic look was desirable.’

Sarah, who trains TV’s Caroline Flack, chef Gizzi Erskine and singer Pixie Lott, says: ‘If you want to change your body long-term you need to weight train, regardless of your goals. For example, you’ll run better if you have strong quads — and injury is less likely.’

Her client base is 75 per cent women in their 40s and 50s, making time for themselves after having children. ‘Weight training helps women age better,’ says Sarah.

She’s right. In a recent report published in the British Journal of General Practice, researchers from University College Dublin found prescribing a mix of muscle strength training and protein powders is the best way to fight frailty in the elderly. In a review of 46 studies involving 15,690 people, the easiest and most successful treatments involved weightlifting.

Which female celebs practice weightlifting?

Celebrities who like to lift include Ellie Goulding, Cameron Diaz, Blake Lively and Michelle Obama

I train with Arron Collins-Thomas, founder of gym ToniqLife, and personal trainer at members’ club Babington House. First, he told me to ditch the scales (yay!), as I might gain weight — since muscle weighs more than the same volume of fat — but my body would look leaner.

‘You have to starve yourself to be very thin, but if you build muscle you increase your metabolic rate, so you’ll need more calories. You can eat lots of healthy food but still look your best,’ he says.

I’m encouraged by stories of fellow MAMBBs. Suzie Beale, 46, from Wedmore in Somerset, has four children. She discovered weight training two years ago while struggling to lose weight by running. ‘Within two months I was getting stronger. After a year I had lost 3st, going from a size 18 to a size 10,’ she says.

Two years on, Suzie can deadlift 115kg, the equivalent of a large man. ‘It has transformed my life,’ she says.

‘The arthritis in my hands has gone and my cholesterol is lower. It’s empowering — sometimes I work out near friends of my son, 18, and I’m stronger!’

Kitty (pictured right with trainer Arron Collins-Thomas) claims she feels so good after a workout that she struggles to take a day off from it 

GP Rebecca Kay, 45, a mum of five from Wokingham in Berkshire, began weightlifting when her youngest was four. ‘In a couple of months people started commenting on my arms,’ she says. Now she feels better than she did in her 20s: ‘I weighed 11st 10lb 20 years ago. I’m 9st and more toned, but still have curves.’

Bex Bennett, 36, from Derby, is a junior doctor with a three-year-old. In two years, she’s gained 6lb but dropped a dress size. ‘Women and men all admire my new physique,’ she says.

Clinical psychologist Linda Blair notes: ‘Women are celebrating their bodies rather than punishing them by starving them. They’re showing their children that you can do anything at any age.’

As with all exercise, there is risk. Marie Curtis, 46, a mum of two and a jewellery designer from Bath, started weightlifting five years ago. ‘I was fine for the first year, but then I got a niggle here and ache there. I ignored it until my leg started to drag,’ she says.

‘An MRI showed the bottom disk in my spine had worn away, causing nerve damage. I used weights which were too heavy, and my technique was wrong. I ran and I think the combination was too much. Now I can’t sit comfortably.’

Arron Collins-Thomas and his team are very safety-conscious. ‘I won’t let people over-train.

‘We have two trainers at every class to ensure everyone is using the proper techniques,’ he says. ‘I also encourage clients to eat enough of the right foods, get sleep, take rest days and watch their stress levels. All of this helps prevent injury.’

So far, I’ve had no issues —my only concern is I feel so good after a workout it’s hard to take a day off from it!

While I won’t be taking on the Hulk in an arm wrestle any time soon, I feel strong, healthy and fantastic.

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Fast fashion? Darling, I only wear couture

Fast fashion? Darling, I only wear couture: BARBARA TAYLOR BRADFORD on why the secret of real value is to spend a small fortune on designer outfits — then wear them for ever

  • Novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford has an estimated worth of £200 million
  • She explained why despite her wealth she’s an advocate for ‘slow fashion’
  • She advises saving up to buy something expensive, looking after it and reusing it
  • Barbara describes her taste as timeless and says the method is value for money 

When it comes to clothes, novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford’s mantra is: buy something expensive and it will last years.

And while the wardrobes in Yorkshire-born Barbara’s spacious New York apartment are bursting at the seams, there’s not a trace of ‘fast fashion’ here.

The collection of designer outfits and one-off creations made for her by a seamstress flown in from Paris — some costing nearly £20,000 and decades old — is perhaps best described as ‘slow fashion’.

‘I don’t think of the money. I buy something because I like it,’ she says. And what she likes, lasts.

In fact, BTB, as she likes to be known, rarely sets foot in a department store. Instead, she takes her film producer husband Bob Bradford to designer boutiques, where they choose outfits that are made to measure.

Barbara Taylor Bradford (pictured) revealed why she believes in splurging on expensive styles instead of embracing ‘fast fashion’ – Pictured: Gold coat made by dressmaker from Turkish fabric: Cost: £1,500. Age: Ten years. Worn: Ten times. Cost per wear: £150

She also loves buying exotic fabrics and having them made into one-off outfits, like the gold coat featured on this page. She found the fabric in Istanbul.

And when she’s gone to this much effort — and expense — no wonder Barbara expects outfits to last beyond the next few seasons. ‘I do not subscribe to this fashionista idea that clothes should be discarded after five years,’ says Barbara. ‘I’ve got some that go back decades, and have been worn hundreds of times, yet look like they were made for me yesterday.’

Despite her wealth (the 85-year-old Woman Of Substance novelist is thought to be worth £200 million), she’s appalled at today’s throwaway culture, with clothing the fastest-growing type of waste in the UK.

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Last week, it emerged that Britons send 235 million pieces of clothing to landfill each year, and that charity shops are being flooded with low-quality items that cannot be resold. This is because of the trend for fast fashion that means items are so poorly made, they do not last.

Barbara says: ‘While, of course, not everyone can afford couture, it seems the other extreme is becoming a very real problem. Perhaps retailers and manufacturers should show some responsibility and find a middle ground — making better-quality clothing at a reasonable price.

She advises: ‘Save up and buy something expensive. As much as you can afford. Look after it, and you will have it for ever. I have developed this attitude over many years and it works for me.’

Barbara had 24 Hermes bags on her last count – Pictured: Oscar de la Renta jacket: Cost: £9,000. Age: 18 years. Worn: 180 times — including when she collected her OBE. Cost per wear: £50

An ongoing problem for Barbara is finding enough space to store her collection. Five years ago, she downsized from her 13-room Manhattan apartment to a £3.9 million three-bedroom home on Park Avenue.

Together, we try to work out how many closets she has. We’re close to a dozen when she ushers me through the kitchen and maid’s quarters to a long room with floor-to-ceiling wardrobes.

Probably once a grand-scale pantry, some cupboards do hold crockery but in most it’s clothes, clothes and more clothes.

Then there are the designer handbags — 24 Hermes at the last count and just about every other big name, too — neatly stacked on shelves. Almost all are presents from her husband, who clearly loves spoiling her. He is also responsible for her spectacular jewellery, bought during 55 years of marriage.

In 2013 — before they sold their old home to actress Uma Thurman for £8 million — Barbara auctioned a third of her collection at Bonhams. One lot, a single diamond ring by David Morris, went for £446,500. In all, the auction raised ‘just under’ £1 million. ‘But I still have 80 pieces left which I cherish,’ she says.

Barbara says she has about 30 pairs of shoes – pictured: Two-piece evening suit, made by dressmaker: Cost: £1,600. Age: Six years. Worn: Eight times. Cost per wear: £200

Barbara and Bob, who never had children of their own, have decided that their entire estate will be auctioned and the money divided between heirs. She can’t put a price on her designer collection. Its worth, to her, is in the memories pieces invoke and the pleasure she gets from them.

When I ask if she’d ever hidden expensive purchases from her husband — she laughs. ‘No, I tell him everything. He’d find out anyway: he does the accounts.’

Bob is amused by his wife’s attraction to shoes. He once joked to a reporter that she owned 2,000 pairs and it became part of the BTB myth.

She insists she never owned that many, and now has about 30 — but that’s after a serious clear-out.

Barbara says her love of fashion goes back to her Yorkshire roots. ‘I come from Leeds, where the ready-made clothing industry started in the 1800s,’ she says.

Her first job was at the Yorkshire Evening Post and Barbara remembers saving for ‘good’ clothes even then — scrimping for a C&A beige raincoat, which lasted years. And why change now?

So is she ever worried about people noticing she wears the same things again and again?

‘If someone recognises an outfit, I’m quite glad,’ she grins. ‘It shows I am getting value for money and my taste is timeless!’

Barbara claims she’s glad when people recognise that she’s worn an item before – pictured: White organza jacket and black trousers from London boutique: Cost: £5,000. Age: Nine years. Worn: 20 times. Cost per wear: £250

Barbara’s latest novel, Master Of His Fate (£16.99, HarperCollins) is out now.

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