Saman­tha Cameron at home in Ox­ford­shire

Harper's Bazaar (UK) - - Con­tents - By LUCY HALF­HEAD Pho­to­graphs by HARRY CORY WRIGHT Styled by MARTHA WARD

Driv­ing to meet Saman­tha Cameron in the Cotswolds, I try to imag­ine what an ex­prime min­is­ter’s coun­try house is like. Pala­tial, hi-spec, min­i­mal­ist? In the end, it turns out to be much more low-key, a quintessen­tially English cot­tage, com­plete with roses climb­ing the façade, a flour­ish­ing vegetable patch and a tram­po­line in the gar­den. The armed guards and se­cu­rity cam­eras that en­cir­cle the prop­erty are the only clue to the iden­tity of its oc­cu­pants.

Saman­tha is sit­ting in the cream­coloured liv­ing-room, sur­rounded by piles of mag­a­zines and books (in­clud­ing the Enid Bly­ton par­ody Five on Brexit Is­land). Slim and el­e­gant, she is dressed in a navy and ma­roon midi-dress from her six-month-old fash­ion la­bel Cefinn, and of­fers a warm wel­come of tea and mac­a­roons. In one cor­ner is her hus­band’s desk, along­side his por­trait by Jonathan Yeo and an Al­i­son Jack­son print show­ing a looka­like ‘Tony Blair’ plac­ing a bet on the elec­tion. Else­where in the room is a touch­ing col­lec­tion of fam­ily pho­tos, in­clud­ing the Camerons’ four chil­dren El­wen, Florence, Nancy and the el­dest, Ivan, who suf­fered from a rare form of epilepsy and cere­bral palsy, and died in 2009 when he was just six years old.

Clutch­ing a mono­grammed teal diary from Smyth­son, where she was cre­ative di­rec­tor from 2006 to 2010 – ‘I go ab­so­lutely nowhere without it’ – Saman­tha takes me on a tour of the house they have owned for 16 years since David be­came MP for Wit­ney. We start in the glo­ri­ously un­tidy kitchen, where the ra­dio is play­ing in­die rock from BBC 6 Mu­sic. A plac­ard that reads ‘Calm down dear it’s only a re­ces­sion’ leans up against the win­dow be­hind the sink, and an old Par­lia­ment Square road sign (which looks like the gen­uine ar­ti­cle) is col­lect­ing dust in the cor­ner. ‘To be hon­est the house is slightly fall­ing down,’ Saman­tha says. ‘The win­dows are rot­ting, the roof needs re­plac­ing, but it’s lovely and it’s where we brought each of our chil­dren home

from the hospi­tal. It’s our fam­ily nest.’

At lunchtime, her hus­band ap­pears in a faded blue polo shirt and de­clares that he has been fix­ing the hot wa­ter. ‘How’s every­one get­ting on? Have you been in my in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed shed yet? ’ he asks, laugh­ing. Over home­made omelettes, the talk is of the fam­ily’s plans for the week­end – ‘I’m tak­ing El­wen to the cricket on the vil­lage green,’ David says, drink­ing cof­fee from a ‘Leader of the op­po­si­tion’ mug. Af­ter the ups and downs of the past year, mov­ing out of Down­ing Street and launch­ing a fash­ion la­bel, the cou­ple seem con­tent in this ru­ral haven.

Saman­tha was born in Lon­don in 1971, the daugh­ter of Sir Regi­nald Sh­effield and Annabel Jones. When the cou­ple di­vorced in 1974, Annabel mar­ried again to Wil­liam As­tor, nephew of her own step­fa­ther Michael As­tor, and the fam­ily moved to Ginge Manor in Ox­ford­shire. ‘I had an idyl­lic child­hood where I rode ev­ery day af­ter school,’ Saman­tha says. ‘My best friend was the farmer’s daugh­ter. We ran wild ex­plor­ing the lo­cal woods and streams, and we loved build­ing camps out of hay bales – dan­ger­ous but sort of ir­re­sistible.’

By her teens, she was mak­ing her own clothes. ‘I used to get things from Kens­ing­ton Mar­ket and cus­tomise them,’ she says. ‘Paula Yates was a big in­spi­ra­tion at the time – I ad­mired how she just did fash­ion her own way.’ Re­tail is in Saman­tha’s genes: her mother was a jew­ellery de­signer who started her first busi­ness at 19 and sub­se­quently co-founded the fur­ni­ture com­pany Oka. Cath Kid­ston, the home-fur­nish­ings de­signer, is Saman­tha’s cousin, and her aunt Sue Jones (a co-founder of Oka) worked for Jasper Con­ran. ‘I wanted to be an artist or a de­signer from an early age,’ she says. ‘In fact, my ear­li­est mem­ory is hav­ing the most ter­ri­ble tantrum aged three when I in­sisted on wear­ing a beach dress to nurs­ery school in the mid­dle of win­ter, when it was snow­ing out­side.’

She went on to study at Marl­bor­ough Col­lege ‘be­cause of its sem­i­nal art de­part­ment and the fact that they of­fered busi­ness stud­ies’, be­fore com­plet­ing a de­gree in fine art at Bris­tol Polytech­nic. ‘But within a year or so of leav­ing col­lege I re­alised I didn’t

want to be a painter,’ she says. ‘It’s such a per­sonal thing and you have to have a very strong ego.’ In­stead, she took on a va­ri­ety of jobs, in­clud­ing work­ing as a win­dow-dresser for the sta­tionery and leather com­pany Smyth­son. She ended up stay­ing for 20 years, mov­ing up the ranks as ac­ces­sory de­signer and then as cre­ative di­rec­tor. ‘It was a Bri­tish her­itage brand that I loved, but with the emer­gence of la­bels such as Prada on the scene, I felt like it was about to get left be­hind,’ she says. Saman­tha was in­te­gral to the launch of the com­pany’s hand­bag col­lec­tion and is cred­ited with its trans­for­ma­tion into a key player in the lux­ury mar­ket. The ‘Nancy’ bag was named af­ter her daugh­ter.

In 2010, preg­nant with Florence, and with her hus­band run­ning for premier­ship, Saman­tha re­signed from the cre­ative-di­rec­tor role and went down to work­ing two days a week. ‘It was also af­ter my son had died, so I just felt that I needed some space,’ she says. With more time on her hands she started to take weekly pat­tern-cut­ting lessons in the Down­ing Street din­ing-room. ‘I bought a ba­sic sewing ma­chine and then an over­locker and a dress­maker’s dummy, and over a cou­ple of years I shouted and screamed at the sewing ma­chine and spent my time try­ing to hone those skills.’

Af­ter test­ing her de­signs out on her friends and fam­ily, Saman­tha launched her la­bel this year un­der the name Cefinn, a blend of the

first and last let­ters of her sur­name and her chil­dren’s ini­tials.

The 40-piece col­lec­tion, in­clud­ing sleeve­less wool tops in a so­phis­ti­cated pal­ette of navy, ma­roon, blood or­ange, khaki and black, and midi-skirts with a red trim and kick hem, was an im­me­di­ate hit and is now stocked by Sel­fridges and NetA-Porter. Priced be­tween £150 and £450, the range sits some­where in the mid­dle of Saman­tha’s own wardrobe of el­e­gant, clas­sic pieces; for day-to-day items she shops on the high street at COS, & Other Sto­ries, Joseph, Zara and Whis­tles, and for evening, she loves Bri­tish de­sign­ers such as Er­dem and Emilia Wick­stead. ‘When Emilia was start­ing her busi­ness and I was preg­nant with Florence, she kindly adapted some of her dresses for me – I couldn’t have got through the elec­tion without her. And I met Er­dem re­ally early on in his ca­reer – he’s a ge­nius with fab­ric. He’s ex­tra­or­di­nary at what he does.’

Dur­ing her time in Down­ing Street, Saman­tha was ap­pointed an am­bas­sador for the Bri­tish Fash­ion Coun­cil and was praised for cham­pi­oning home­grown de­sign­ers. ‘Hav­ing worked in the fash­ion in­dus­try it very much felt like a world I al­ready knew – I can talk con­fi­dently about it,’ she says. One of her favourite out­fits was a full-length blue lace dress by Alessan­dra Rich that she wore to a state din­ner with the Oba­mas in Wash­ing­ton, a savvy move that in­tro­duced the small UK la­bel to a global au­di­ence. ‘Michelle is bril­liant,’ she says of the for­mer First Lady, ‘be­cause she’s so con­fi­dent and she’s got such dig­nity and in­tel­li­gence but she em­braces fash­ion and isn’t scared of her fem­i­nin­ity.’ But per­haps most mem­o­rable of all was the bold navy and or­ange dress by Rok­sanda Ilin­cic that Saman­tha wore as her fam­ily de­parted Num­ber 10 for the last time. ‘I’d ac­tu­ally bought it for win­ning the elec­tion be­cause it was up­beat, along with another for los­ing, but I ended up wear­ing the wrong one,’ she says. It’s al­most as if she knew there was a bright fu­ture yet to come…

Top: Saman­tha Cameron in the gar­den of her coun­try house, wear­ing tex­tured voile blouse, £210, Cefinn. Jew­ellery (through­out), her own

Right: a paint­ing cre­ated by Saman­tha while at art col­lege. Below: vin­tage

pieces in the bed­room

Clock­wise from right: wear­ing chif­fon dress,

£1,960, Er­dem. Tex­tured voile dress, £295, Cefinn, hang­ing

in the bed­room. Fam­ily pho­to­graphs

On the steps of her hus­band’s shep­herd’s hut, in wool, cash­mere and tex­tured voile dress,

£390, Cefinn

Tex­tured voile dress,

£280, Cefinn

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