I've admired Polly Wholey from afar for some time; she's textbook "my type" of girl crush; background at Vogue, smiley young mum, taller, skinnier and more tanned than I'll ever be and quietly, but very confidently, stylish. She's been quite aloof about 'doing' Tuesdayschild, being quite a private person. But, now in her last weeks of living in Dubai, ahead of the family's move to Singapore, she's indulged me.
I got to know Polly a little when our boys were at nursery together, briefly at a few extra-curricular socials, a little more when we did this shoot at her home, but I fell a little bit in love with her when I read her answers to my feature questions this week.
I'm so honoured that in them she talked about the brain tumour she had removed when the boys were one month and 13 months old, and left her partially deaf, temporarily immobile and six stone in weight. Something I know she's preferred to not dwell on, ever since.
She's also talked so honestly about the highs and lows of her eight year relationship with Dubai - "I don't know that you ever get that close to Dubai itself." And returning to real, hard work; booking Careems to collect the children under boardroom tables and missing her own birthday party at a photo shoot that went on all day and night. “In truth, I have never stopped working, I’ve just tucked my children under my arm and carried on", the Harper's Bazaar Interiors Editor says, a reflection that so many mums I know will relate to.
Thanks for giving so much to this story Polly. I loved reading your answers and you, Lando (4) and Lucien (3), were so easy to photograph. (I've barely mentioned the boys, who are fab; Lando is Mr Sensible and Sensitive, Lucian, a whirl wind of determination and chaos for his patient big brother... and Daddy, Liam, who ironed the boys' pyjamas before the shoot, which deserves a shout-out ;))
“Liam and I arrived in Dubai on July 1 2009, the ink on our marriage certificate barely two months dry. It was at the start of the economic downturn in London, where we are both from and where we were working at the time (him for Quintessentially, me for Vogue) and so when the opportunity came up for Liam to head up the team out here we leapt at it. We arrived with 1 suitcase, barely 100Dhs between us and definitely no idea what 50C felt like… Since then we have moved four times within Dubai, had our two boys and amassed a lifetime of memories - and in just three weeks we head to Singapore for the next chapter.” - PollyOn Dubai
“People keep asking me if I am sad to be leaving Dubai and I honestly don’t know what to say – I’m sad to be saying goodbye to some amazing friends and feel nostalgic about the good times that have been and gone but I don’t know that you ever get too close to Dubai itself.
“I think it’s a place of contradictions, where life can be super easy but also super hard, where it can all seem so familiar and yet it never quite feels like home, where everything is always changing and yet not much actually happens.
“Somebody described it to me as ‘shifting sands’ and I would agree with that – you never quite know which beat to dance to. That said, it has given us some incredible opportunities which I am truly grateful for and above all, it has given us our children.
“On that note - never underestimate year round sunshine when you have small children. To be able to throw on a pair of shorts and a tshirt 365 days of the year rather than battling with endless tights, coats, gloves is reason in itself to move here!” - PollyCareer
“I’ve wanted to be a journalist since before I can remember and started off by heading up the fashion section of my university paper. Before moving to Dubai I worked for Vogue and Tatler in London and when I moved here I just carried on in the field, contributing to a lot of the fashion titles including Harper’s Bazaar and Mojeh. Ironically, it wasn’t until after I had my babies that my career really took off though – a sudden need to provide for my children, along with some unforeseen circumstances, saw me take on my first, full time magazine position and before I knew it I was editor for Harper’s Bazaar Interiors. I do believe in being in the right place at the right time, which I absolutely was, but more than anything I believe in plain hard work.” - PollyTHAT Health Issue
“In 2014, a month after giving birth to my second son, I was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Thankfully, it wasn’t malignant, but it was still totally devastating, both emotionally and physically, as we had to uproot our family and head back to London for three months while I underwent surgery and treatment. Even today I don’t know how to describe that time – I was 32, I had a one-month old and a 13-month old and I had no idea what the future held anymore. One minute I was riding high on the euphoria of motherhood, the next my life was derailed by MRIs and neurosurgery and radiotherapy. I had to stop breastfeeding, didn’t see my baby for 10 days, had to learn to walk again, lost my hearing. I shrank to six stone and could barely look after my boys. At the same time, my husband’s company went under. It was a terrible time and it isn’t something that I talk about very often – I honestly believe that some things are just better left in the past.
“When I am asked how I coped, I don’t know what to reply – you just do, we all do, when faced with the impossible we find a way that is far from anything that we ever imagined having to find and we just get on with it. I have friends who have lost a child, lost a partner, whose tumours have been malignant – they coped too. I don’t think I am braver or more capable than the next person because it wasn’t something that I volunteered to do and there were plenty of dark days. But I do think it is important to find the silver lining and this much I do know – I am a much more grateful, much humbler, much more compassionate person for having been through those experiences. I discovered that I have some extraordinary friends and an exceptional family. Nothing knocks your confidence and then builds it back up again tenfold than a brush with death. Above all, I have a sense of perspective that never leaves me - ultimately, there are far worse things in life than a non-cancerous brain tumour.” PollyOn Being a Working Mum
“In truth, I have never stopped working, I’ve just tucked my children under my arm and carried on. When my eldest was born I freelanced and did most of my work when he was either napping or had gone to bed but working from home definitely has its disadvantages - you are never really able to concentrate on work for very long. At times it’s been a total circus – booking Careem Kids under the boardroom table, reading bedtime stories down the phone, missing my own birthday party one year because I was stuck in a photoshoot – but help is at hand in this part of the world and we are so, so lucky to have that option. I don’t feel like we can ever complain and so I don’t – my London friends still work, still have babies and could never dream of having a full time nanny or someone to collect their kids from school so we are nothing but fortunate.” - PollyTop Three Dubai Tips
“When I compare it with the reality of raising children in, say, the UK it really does strike me how lucky we are. That said, it can feel lonely if you are used to having family around so my number one piece of advice is to find yourself a handful of good girlfriends – they can be your lifeline at times.”
“My second tip is to take full advantage of the winters here and get out as often as you can. Whether it’s to the beach, the park (Khazan Park and Barsha Park are favourites of ours), the galleries at Al Serkal Avenue, the Dinosaur Park, the stables at Desert Palm or the desert and Al Qudra lakes, get outside every single day, without fail.
“Finally, remember that while life is for living and enjoying, it is all too easy to lose sight of what you and your family are doing here. Don’t get sucked into the lifestyle or side tracked by what other people are doing; remember your values and where you are from; and respect the fact that this is somebody else’s country.”
“My style has definitely evolved with my family although I have never bought into the idea that you have to adapt your house to your children. But since the boys I’ve embraced much more colour and prints and patterns than before and I think it’s just a reflection of how much more content I am since having these little people around. If I had to summarise it, I would say it is part colonial-part English country home - although who knows what our new home in Singapore will look like!” - Polly
“My iPhone – whether it’s to call a friend for a chat or in a crisis, keep my boys in check from afar (and, all too often, entertained while doing a Spinneys run!) or keep an eye on emails while on the move it is, sadly, one of my life essentials. It is also loaded with Apps, from Careem to Headspace to Real Pilates, that I rely on almost daily. That said, I have successfully managed to avoid downloading the dreaded Whatsapp!
My diary – I am an old fashioned girl and I need to physically write my appointments down or else I forget them! I like to see the week ahead.
Tea – the elixir of life and the answer to every problem.” - Polly
Quickest Way to Relax
“In winter, a walk on the beach is my go-to for when life gets out of hand and it’s one of the things I miss the most when the summer sets in – at that point I head to Mary’s Foot Spa in Al Wasl Square for some reflexology if I feel the need to unwind. I’m also a huge fan of yoga and Pilates and try and squeeze in at least two sessions a week. That’s not very much I know! But it does do wonders.” - Polly
Most Important Lessons for the Boys“Be kind, be brave, be generous. Kindness, though not to the detriment of yourself, is key; Bravery will get you far; Generosity, of your time, spirit and yes, money, is the basis of all good human relationships.” - Polly
On Singapore“Recently, I’ve started toying with the idea of a total career change – I love the idea of starting again, learning something new, maybe even studying for a while. It sounds a bit dramatic, like I’m having some sort of crisis! But really, now just feels like a really great time to press reset so we’ll just have to wait and see. I’d love to do something with plants.” - Polly
More Feature Mum stories here.