Sophie wears jacket and trousers, The Fold
She’s tidying her way to nearly four million followers and counting. But behind the perfectly polished posts, MRS HINCH found herself plagued by terrifying anxiety.
Just after Christmas Sophie Hinchliffe, aka Mrs Hinch, the cleaning sensation with 3.7 million Instagram followers, found herself outside her GP’s office, steeling herself to ask for help with anxiety. ‘It was terrifying; it’s a big step telling someone you need help,’ she says. ‘But my stomach was in knots morning and night and I knew I wasn’t OK. It had got to the stage that my family were worried. Something had to change.’
For months Sophie postponed making the appointment, fearing the GP, like many others, might ask: ‘What on earth has she got to be anxious about?’ On the surface, her life appears to be a blissful merry-go-round of uploading videos of herself cheerily mopping, walking her spaniel Henry and playing with her 15-month-old son Ronnie.
Her @MrsHinchHome account, dedicated to showing how to make your home sparkle (known as ‘Hinching’), started two years ago and has netted her over £1 million. She’s gorgeous, has a loving family and an adoring husband Jamie, 41, who’s on a break from his sales manager career, to support her.
Certainly, Basildon-born Sophie, who met Jamie when they both worked in sales, is grateful for everything her unexpected Hinching career has brought. But there have been downsides she never anticipated. Worst is the trolling from websites where people gather to attack Sophie for her looks, her parenting and – most shockingly – little Ronnie.
‘They message saying, “Your baby should be moving more, he should have more teeth.” They’re even horrible about my dog! It turns my gut and takes my breath away; it makes me want to scream and cry.
‘I know I should ignore them, but when you get told the same thing over and over again – “Your voice is horrendous”, “Your face is wonky”, “Your hands are disgusting” – there’s only so many times you can ignore it without wondering if it’s true,’ Sophie continues, her voice quivering. ‘So I look at my hands and think, “Maybe people don’t want to see them,” and put on rubber gloves when I don’t need to.’
Often the messages aren’t just cruel, they’re downright threatening, meaning the police have occasionally been involved. ‘That’s so I feel safe,’ she says, now trying to hold back tears. At Christmas, vile comments about an Instagram story – a form of short video – of her wrapping Ronnie’s presents sent her into a full-blown panic attack. ‘I was hysterical, struggling to breathe – it felt like I was dying,’ she says. ‘Everything was whizzing past at 1,000 miles an hour.
‘I make sure to do my gratitude check-ins a lot,’ she says. ‘I remind myself of the amazing things to set me back on the right track.’ Those pinch-yourself moments include when Hinching was mentioned on Coronation Street and EastEnders, or when her teenage crush Lee Ryan from 90s boy band Blue sent her a message. ‘I was swaying with shock. If only I could tell my younger self this would happen!’
But at the same time, this naturally withdrawn woman can’t help reminiscing about her life two short years ago, when she’d just moved in with Jamie and was training to be a hairdresser. ‘Now everything I do gets put under a microscope and is open to scrutiny. It’s overwhelming. I’m a normal person, who was leading a boring life which I loved.
Sophie with husband Jamie, son Ronnie and their spaniel Henry
‘A friend who lives a similar life to me said as much as you love the opportunities your new life brings, you can’t help but feel sad about the life you’ve left behind,’ she continues. ‘Even if I was to come away from Instagram tomorrow, I’d never get my old life back and that can feel like a grieving process.’
Sophie’s talking over Zoom from her spotless, naturally, Essex home (though she insists she’s not obsessive about cleaning and can happily leave a pile of dirty dishes in the sink). We’re here to talk about her new memoir This Is Me. She’s published three books already – all huge bestsellers. They briefly mentioned Sophie’s anxiety, helped by her cleaning (‘It keeps my mind off things and helps me switch off’) and the terrible health problems that followed gastric-band surgery which helped her lose eight stone. But largely, they were guides to keeping a tidy home.
In contrast, This Is Me is a gut-wrenchingly honest account of how fame has transformed her life, not necessarily for the better. ‘This book isn’t about dust-busting, it’s myth-busting,’ she laughs. Writing it, with the help of a ghostwriter, was, she says, ‘like therapy. It was so good to open up, even though it was difficult. Often my life seems like a dream that’s happening to someone else, so to tell the truth on my terms was amazing.’
It was a relief to counter the bonkers theories about Sophie that flood the internet. One rumour is she employs a cleaner. ‘A paparazzo was waiting outside for the cleaning van that was supposed to turn up.
I said, “You’ll be waiting a long time.” I don’t want anyone cleaning my toilet; I enjoy cleaning my toilet!’ Others say she fakes her anxiety to gain popularity points – ‘that amazes and saddens me’ – and that she’s the puppet of a management company who concocted the Mrs Hinch phenomenon. ‘If this could be created and designed then everybody would be doing it,’ Sophie exclaims.
In fact, it would be impossible to invent such a bizarre trajectory as Sophie’s. Initially, she set up her Instagram account to share cleaning and decorating tips. Within six months she had a million followers; by the end of 2018, two million – a tally that’s since nearly doubled. ‘I still don’t know how it happened. I haven’t even left the house,’ she says.
She and Jamie live in the same house as always, shop at Morrisons and were shocked when a spontaneous decision to breakfast in a central London hotel cost them £45. ‘How come the hash browns were three times the price of McDonald’s? A potato’s a potato!’
She refuses most freebies and turns down scores of invitations to events. ‘I decline nearly all TV appearances. I hide away. I’m probably the worst person for this to have happened to because I’ve always been such a worrier.’
You may wonder why she doesn’t walk away – after all, money’s no longer a worry. It sounds as though at some point she’ll start winding things down a touch. ‘Things come and go, it could all be gone tomorrow, who knows?’ she says. ‘I need a more manageable balance. People think I stay at home and photograph cloths, but there are lots of meetings with management, with brand partnerships… it’s daunting. Having said that I am aware of what an amazing opportunity this is and how lucky I am; I love what I do.’
Sophie wants more children and to be able to devote her time to them. ‘I’d love more kids – it’s finding the right time… but then again, there never is a perfect time. Watch this space!’
But Sophie’s bond with her followers is so close, she’d never quit Hinching entirely. ‘I’m not going to say, “Goodbye, so long” any time soon. Wherever I go I’ll be taking my followers with me. We’re part of each other’s lives.
‘They help me more than they know. The love outweighs the hate a million times over.’ In return, she feels enormous responsibility for them. Recently, a GP told her several patients had come off their anxiety medication after becoming Hinchers (the name Sophie has given to her army of fans), because Sophie had helped them find a positive focus in cleaning. ‘She said, “If we could bottle you, we’d prescribe you,”’ Sophie says. ‘I still can’t get my head around it.’
Dress, Sorapol London. Picture director: Ester Malloy. Stylist: Sasha Barrie at A&R Creative, Assisted by Meg Edmond. Hair: Carl Bembridge at Carl Bembridge Hair using Colorwow, Dyson Hair, GHD. Make-up: Mikey Phillips using Fenty Beauty, Nars, Laura Mercier, Bobbi Brown and Rodial
She felt especially duty-bound to cheer up Hinchers during lockdown. ‘I counted my blessings but I was struggling. It was difficult to be away from my friends and family, but I wanted to keep my Instagram a positive space, where my followers could switch off.’
She tightly controls her Instagram: no one else is allowed to post and she often leaves random Hinchers surprise voice notes or chats with those who have messaged her. She won’t delegate those jobs – ‘they’d sense if it was coming from someone else’. But since her panic attack a friend screens direct messages, blocking hateful comments. ‘Some slip through, but I cannot explain the difference screening has made to my mental health. My friend says she pities these people, they can’t be OK.’
Sophie is attempting to employ the same mindset. ‘I try not to look at their attacks as personal, but think so many people are fighting battles that we know nothing about and acting out can be a reflection of what’s going on in their lives. But sometimes I can’t help wondering if they have a heart. Why don’t they stop watching when they clearly can’t stand me? They could be doing more with their lives: spending it with their family, their friends, putting that effort into a career.’
Many people aspire to be the next Mrs Hinch; a survey showed 52 per cent of children would like to be a social-media star (just 13 per cent want to be a doctor or nurse). Sophie is shocked by this. ‘When I was at school people wanted to be a vet or a teacher. My niece is 12 and she wants to be a dance teacher, but if she’d ever said she wanted to be an influencer we’d be having a serious chat. She’s seen the darker side. I think it’s crucial we don’t let likes and followers and comments consume our children’s lives. They need to know they’re living their best lives right now. My life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I advise anyone wishing to join this industry to make sure they do it with their eyes wide open, knowing exactly what they’re letting themselves in for. It can be really tough.’
So what was the outcome of Sophie’s visit to the GP? ‘I’m not ashamed to say that I was put on anti-depressants and they have taken some of the edge off during the day, but I still struggle at night – I’m not quite there yet,’ she says. ‘It’s important to talk to someone when you aren’t feeling yourself. Make sure you get the help you need. We wouldn’t think twice about going to see someone if we hurt our leg, but for some reason we don’t treat our heads the same. I’m proud of myself for going and I’m starting to feel better. People say to me, “Sophie, your positivity gets me through the day.” And those words keep me going. I want people to know that I’m not perfect. I never said I was. I’m just like everyone else.’
‘Being a mum is amazing, but terrifying!’ An exclusive extract from Mrs Hinch’s new book This is Me
Jamie and I planned to start a family as soon as we were married, so when it didn’t happen straight away, I started to panic. I knew how much Jamie wanted to be a dad – what if I couldn’t give him the one thing I knew was so important? I was waiting for something to go wrong, like I always do.
However, after being in hospital with a blood clot in my leg, we decided to put the baby plans on hold because of the stents I’d had fitted in my iliac vein. We were advised it wasn’t a good idea to get pregnant and so I put it to the back of my mind.
But one evening in October, I went to my mum’s house for a cup of tea and she was oddly concerned about my behaviour. She looked me straight in the eye and said: ‘Do a pregnancy test, Soph.’
I laughed and told her I wasn’t pregnant because I’d just had my period. But when I got home, I couldn’t get what she’d said out of my head, so I got a test from the cabinet. A few minutes later I was staring at the word ‘pregnant’ on the screen. I couldn’t believe my mum knew before even I did!
I handed Jamie the positive test. He looked at it and then burst into tears.
‘WE’RE HAVING A BABY!’ he cried.
It was the final stages when it went south.
I was seven months gone and had a rare day at home as it was bang in the middle of my book tour. I had this horrendous pain in my back and groin. I don’t know where it came from, but I fell to the floor in agony.
An ambulance took me to Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford, where I was kept in for three days. No one has ever given me an explanation. Maybe it was my bones moving preparing for the baby, but it felt like they were breaking. It was more painful than Ronnie’s actual birth.
I have to be thankful that happened, though, as while the doctors were investigating, they discovered another potentially more dangerous complication.
In 2011, I’d had a gastric band fitted that helped me lose eight stone, but also caused a series of issues. If I’d known how one operation would turn into such a nightmare, I would never have gone through with it.
By the time I was pregnant, the band had long been unclipped, but as Ronnie grew and my stomach got bigger, the band moved and caused what the doctors described as similar to a kink in a hosepipe. No food could go into my stomach and whatever nutrients were going in came from liquids. As a result, I was losing weight. I was getting hurtful comments at the time for appearing malnourished and thin, but people didn’t know what was really going on.
Ronnie was growing fine, and that was what I was most concerned about. I was the one who had been getting weaker.
Sophie has nearly 4 million followers on Instagram
We were told I would have to have an operation under general anaesthetic. The band was inactive, but needed to be moved. I was shaking out of fear and as I was being put to sleep, I held on to my stomach thinking: ‘Please, please, just let him be OK’.
When I woke, all I cared about was my baby. As the midwife tried to find his heartbeat, I’ll never forget the moment she said: ‘I can hear him. He’s there.’ I broke down. That was when I realised how being a mother is the most amazing, but terrifying, thing in the world.
I ended up staying in for ten days and had the general anaesthetic plus three blood transfusions without my followers knowing. People asked what was wrong, but I just said it was a check-up and we were fine. I knew there were people with worse to deal with.
For all the complications I had, my birth was absolutely textbook. I had my sister, my mum and Jamie in the room. There was no way I was having my baby without all three of them. For some reason, it was my sister who I needed the most. I was constantly looking for her and kept saying I couldn’t do it. ‘But Soph,’ she’d say, ‘you ARE doing it!’
After just two hours and a few excruciating pushes, Ronnie was born and they put him on my chest. After he was weighed and they brought him back, that’s the first time in my life I can say I felt really proud of myself. ‘They’re my boys,’ I thought. ‘My gorgeous boys.’ I couldn’t wait to start our new life together.
I want dads and mums to know there’s no shame in admitting you haven’t got a clue. Nobody does! All new parents have to start somewhere and learn together. Jamie found it hard accepting that for once he wasn’t able to make everything OK. He struggled being dropped in at the deep end. We both did.
I really wanted to give breastfeeding a go because I knew it had lots of benefits and was great for bonding. I tried to persevere, but my confidence was knocked when Ronnie lost weight and I felt like a complete failure. I kept doubting my ability. At least with the bottles I could see the amount he’d had and in my head that made things better.
After a few weeks, the health visitor told me it was OK to stop breastfeeding. It was like she was giving me permission and that was what I needed. A weight had been lifted. But the mental situation I was finding myself in was far greater than just one issue and I was starting to seriously struggle.
Before you give birth, you imagine being in this magical bubble, but the truth is you’re on edge and exhausted and a newborn changes everything. Add in the raging hormones, anxiety and recovering from labour, and I definitely lost myself for a while.
I felt like a different person. And then I’d hear Ronnie’s cry and think: ‘That’s my baby.
I can’t believe that’s my baby.’ It was as if it was all happening to someone else.
I’d hesitate before labelling what I went through as postnatal depression, but I showed a lot of signs. I felt guilty for feeling so down when I should have been happy and grateful to have a healthy baby. Ronnie was a very much wanted baby, so why couldn’t I lift myself out of this lowness I was feeling?
Dress, Nadine Merabi
I found myself waking up with my stomach feeling like it had dropped. I couldn’t manage everyday routine. Ronnie started refusing milk and I told myself it was because I was feeding it to him. I looked in his eyes and felt I wasn’t making him happy. It broke my heart.
I love Ronnie so much, but knowing his survival depended on me was huge pressure. I couldn’t help worrying that he could have a better life if it wasn’t me who was his mummy.
Looking back, I know now those thoughts were irrational, but I was on a hormonal rollercoaster and I couldn’t help it. Jamie struggled to understand. But words couldn’t help. You can’t just snap out of it. The midwife came to see me, and I poured my heart out. I felt better for having spoken about it so I left it, thinking everything would be OK. But after a couple of days I started spiralling.
I just wanted to go back to feeling like my old self. I couldn’t imagine feeling relaxed again. Is he sleeping OK? Does he need feeding? Is his nappy changed? Is he too hot? Too cold? You feel like for the rest of your life you’re going to be anxious and it’s exhausting.
It was putting a strain on my relationship. Things came to a head when Ronnie was eight weeks old. I think the two-month mark is where it hits you: this is real life now, no going back. Jamie had taken our dog Henry out for a walk while I was trying to get Ronnie to sleep. I found myself crying uncontrollably.
I was distraught. Jamie came back and looked at me and said: ‘You’re acting crazy.’ He made me feel like I’d lost my marbles and I felt a huge rush of anger. ‘Don’t EVER use that word!’ I shouted. ‘I don’t know why I’m crying myself, Jamie! Let alone being in a position to explain it to you!’ I collapsed on the bed, my body heaving with sobs. He put his arms around me and apologised. I told him to read up on postnatal depression and mental health. And that’s exactly what he did.
Jamie started to understand how seriously this was affecting me and that I couldn’t control how I was feeling. And once I felt he understood, I started to feel more relaxed and supported. We started to talk honestly about how we were feeling. We had been trying without any success to get Ronnie into a routine, but I found it was putting more pressure on an already stressful situation. For us it worked better to let it happen naturally. Ronnie found his own routine. We all did. When I accepted that I wasn’t failing when something didn’t go according to ‘The Plan’, that’s when I could enjoy things more.
Everyone is different, all babies are different. I’d tell myself: ‘He’s OK and he loves you.’ The more I said it, the more I believed it.
Dress, Nadine Merabi
To all the people bringing up little ones, I’d like to say: it’s OK to have good and bad days. It’s normal to feel like you’re getting it wrong. Don’t feel guilty if you’re finding it tough. We all do. You’re never alone, so talk about how you’re feeling, ask for support and don’t be too proud to accept help. Take advice from trusted sources – your mum, your best
friend, your health visitor – and ignore the busybodies who will say you’re doing it wrong. Mothers are warriors and we’ve got this. We are all enough, exactly as we are.
This Is Me by Mrs Hinch will be published by Michael Joseph on 1 October, £16.99. Order a copy for £8.49 until 11 October at whsmith.co.uk by entering code YOUHINCH at checkout. Book number: 9780241454305. terms and conditions: whsmith.co.uk/terms.