Sophie Conran: My family values

The designer and cook talks about growing up in an unusually creative family and realising early on that her father – Terence Conran – was famous.

My parents gave me wonderful tools to enjoy life. My dad [Sir Terence Conran] taught me how to look at things, how to use my eye, and how to appreciate things by looking at form and function. These were the kinds of conversations we had at the dinner table. We’d talk about what makes an environment work and how to make it better.

I became aware that my dad was well known because we’d go to a restaurant and people would come up to him, say “Oh, you’re Terence Conran” and introduce themselves, and want to talk to him. The feedback from people was “You are a person who has made a positive impact on my life.” As a child, it made me feel good about my parents, that they were doing good in the world.

There were always interesting people coming in and out of our house. My parents had great friends and were always having parties. It was a lot of fun. There were always a lot of artists. Francis Bacon used to come for dinner. Dad had been taught by Eduardo Paolozzi, so he was around too. We used to go on holiday with Wayne Sleep and his boyfriend. They were people who were engaged in life and inspired.

My brothers were always sweet and caring to me, and still are. We were always close. Growing up, I lived with Mum [Caroline Conran], Dad, Tom and Ned, and Jasper and Sebastian [Conran’s sons with Shirley Conran] lived nearby, in Regent’s Park. They looked after me because I was little. I didn’t feel any different as the only girl.

We were all very creative. Sebastian had a massive train set in the attic that he let me play with, that he had set up with little people and trees. We had a cottage in Suffolk that we used to go to at weekends, and I remember there was always pastry to play with and crayons, and stuff to do in the garden. Dad was always fixing things.

My parents were strict. They expected us to behave, to respect each other and them, which I don’t think is a bad thing. It’s good to have boundaries. We were expected to say please and thank you, and to dress nicely.

We were allowed a lot more freedom when we moved from London to the Berkshire countryside, when I was eight. We moved into a building that had been a school, and had then been abandoned for a while. My parents were transforming it and renovating everything. Seeing a derelict building being turned into a home, when I was at an impressionable age, was an amazing experience. This was at the height of Habitat, so there were always shoots going on for the catalogue.

When my mum was writing about food for newspapers, she and I would go off on foodie adventures together, to Spitalfields or Smithfield market, or to find an Italian deli. It felt as if we were taking a holiday together, having to get up really early in the morning. She was a role model for me.

I left home when I was 18 because my parents wouldn’t let me go out clubbing every night. I said, “You can’t tell me what to do.” So I went off and lived with a girlfriend because I thought I was an adult. I didn’t want to continue my education; I hadn’t got on very well with it. My parents were disappointed. My mum cried when I left.

My parents just wanted me to be happy – that was all they ever asked. I’ve made lots of mistakes and I’m sure I’ll continue to make mistakes.

Interview by Sophy Grimshaw

The GuardianTramp

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