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RReeaall lliiffeehhaassssuunn and shade in it; BOOKS Pottery queen Emma Bridgewater's wares may be bright and breezy, but there's a lot of heartache behind her success, she tells HANNAH STEPHENSON.

SHE has made her ceramics business into a household name, her cosy, comfortable plate, cup and bowl designs gracing tables, dressers and sideboards at home and abroad.

While Emma Bridgewater, 53, may appear to have breezed along creating her eponymous lifestyle brand for the middle classes, having four children while her business grew and working closely with her husband Matthew Rice, in reality, life hasn't always been rosy for the pottery queen.

The daughter of a publisher, she had a privileged childhood growing up in north Oxford with her siblings, enjoying languorous sunny afternoons and enormous picnics which seemed to last all day. Her mother and father had three children before divorcing when she was a toddler. They both remarried and had five more children between them.

But life was to change irreversibly when her mother, Charlotte, on whom she doted and who inspired her ceramics business, suffered a riding accident in 1991, which left her with permanent brain injuries at the age of 52.

She spent nearly three months in a coma and returned home in body but not in mind. For two years, the family looked after her, but she needed professional care and ended up in several nursing homes.

"The pain of losing her is still raw, and it often springs out to ambush me from something of hers - a song, a scarf or a plate can detonate a landmine, any day," she writes in her autobiography Toast & Marmalade And Other Stories.

"It was an appalling, difficult drama and we had to pull together as a family, which is hard to do as you struggle with great tragedy, but we did and we do. It's made us all very close," she explains.

At the time, Emma had two small children and she says her mindset was to put the terrible pain somewhere useful. She often asks herself whether her business would have done as well had her mother not had the accident.

"Grief and all the things that go with tragedy - the anger and the feeling of unfairness - can be very constructive and a great driver and force for energy because, in some way, you're trying to put it right.

"When she died in December I felt a huge, blissful sense of relief for her and for all of us, and I suddenly felt 22 years younger," Emma reveals. "All the sad years just blew away at her funeral and she just came rushing back.

"She was in limbo for a very long time. It was as if she had Alzheimer's for 22 years, but it's like it came on catastrophically suddenly when she was the age that I am now, and then didn't kill her for 22 years."

The autobiography charts not only Emma's early life but also the huge influence her mother had on the whole family. Indeed it was her mother's dresser, full of mismatched mugs, cups and plates which went comfortably together, which inspired Emma's first designs when she set up the business almost 30 years ago.

"She was a very wonderful presence. As you get older you realise, with a wry smile, that you're turning into your parent."

She says she has managed to run a business and bring up four children with a lot of concessions, an extremely supportive husband and a wonderful wider family.

"The business would have grown faster if I hadn't had children, and the children would have probably fared better if I hadn't had a business. I conceded on both sides of the deal. I run a slightly more squalid house than I would ideally do. There isn't much ironing achieved. You have to compromise.

"It has been thrilling, but real life has sun and shade in it. I have a strong feeling that if you pretend there's no shade, there's no dark, you do a disservice to the sisterhood. The most common feeling, if you polled lots of women, is guilt - the feeling that you're shortchanging your team when you're at home and you're shortchanging your kids when you're at work."

The stress of running a business also affected her own health, she believes, in that she suffered rheumatoid arthritis in her 40s.

"I'd had nausea, dizziness and disorientation for some time in my mid-40s. You have to take drugs which make you feel sick."

Despite the medication, she continued to feel ill until she reduced her workload and eliminated the stress in her life, handing over the running of the business to Matthew.

"Miraculously, the treatment worked and within two years it had gone into remission."

But she's still hands-on and Emma and her husband still do all the designs. Yet it seems she is pacing herself better these days; it's her mother's influence which has helped her do that, she says.

"She was a very peaceful person to be around. One did quite a lot of lying around on the lawn trying to persuade someone else to go and make another tray of tea, and a bit more lying on sofas," Emma recalls.

"I know I have to really remind myself to do that, because work life had me by the throat."

| Toast & Marmalade And Other Stories by Emma Bridgewater, published by Saltyard Books, PS25

When (mum) died in December I felt a huge, blissful sense of relief for her and for all of us. She was in limbo a very long time

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| Emma Bridgewater with some of her popular pottery. Above, right: the cover of her new autobiography, Toast & Marmalade
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Apr 26, 2014
Words:919
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