Beyond the Pale


Spoiled Rotten at Liberty

Everyone should get spoiled on their birthday, and while perhaps a bacon sandwich and a mug of tea in bed would have done at a pinch; this year I was absolutely spoiled rotten by the lovely people at Liberty London

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Imagine if you will the very moment I received the email telling me that I was the lucky winner of Liberty’s Facebook competition. I read it on my phone during a typically lacklustre lunch break at work. “You recently entered a competition on Liberty’s Facebook page..” it began. “Oh here we go, I bet it’s spam!” I thought cynically, until I read a bit further on and it finally dawned on me this was real. I had WON! I may have squealed quite a lot at this point.

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It was arranged that I could do the spa treatments, voucher, Champagne tea & hotel bit of the prize on the tenth of November – my birthday! – and the behind the scenes tour the following week, as the Liberty archivist wasn’t available on that day. Oh no, I’ll have to go back again. How AWFUL. ;p

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On a chilly, slightly drizzly grey Saturday, your humble author made her way to London, attempting to travel light and failing as usual, with her beloved fiancé carrying several items she couldn’t fit in her bag. As usual. On arriving at the wonderous W Hotel Leicester Square, the very kind chap at the check-in desk, on learning it was my birthday, gave us an upgrade to a seventh-floor luxury room with spectacular views.

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As birthday beginnings go, they don’t get much better than that.

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Obligatory explorations of hotel room over, we moved on to obligatory taking of pictures of hotel room, to show expectant friends and family members, before high-tailing it to Liberty and collecting my gift card.

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I remember my mother taking me to Liberty when I was a little girl, gazing wide-eyed at the gorgeous things all around me, strangely quiet for a precocious brat, subdued by magnificence. I really think Liberty retains this power to make you feel that excitement of a child in a veritable Wonderland. It’s quite amusing to stand back and watch the facial expressions of grown adults walking in, gasping and giggling as they pick up something, turn to their companions and say “LOOK!” as they exclaim their pleasure, practically bouncing up and down with glee.

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Or, of course, actually bouncing up and down with glee, as with this (mostly) grown adult. 😉 I honestly kept thinking someone would wake me up any minute , but they didn’t and the lovely dream continued as I made my way to the Decleor spa rooms with Vicky, their expert therapist.

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How to describe the next two hours? I can only say it was pure bliss and leave you to imagine, as words will not do. Suffice to say, In have never felt so entirely relaxed in my life, as every ache and pain was massaged away. Although Liberty was absolutely rammed with people that day, you’d never know it in the peace and seclusion of those rooms.

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Thanks to Vicky’s Decleor Facial expertise, I walked out in PUBLIC with no other makeup than a hasty reapplication of lipstick, for the first time since I was about 14 (I jest you not), so healthy, plumped and glowing did I look. I simply cannot recommend her – or Decleor – highly enough. Go and see Vicky at Liberty!

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My fiancé had thoughtfully bagged us a table at Cafe Liberty, so I was able to swan past the queue and go straight in to join him for the next treat of a Perrier-Jouët Champagne Tea for Two. Teeny tiny little perfect sandwiches and mini pastries and fruit scones still warm from the oven and slathered with clotted cream and jam. Divine!

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This would be a perfect afternoon treat at any time, but it was definitely the sweet centre of this birthday gal’s day. I savoured every single crumb that passed my lips (and there were quite a few of those, it’s a generous tea!)

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Slightly bulgy, and very glad that I’d not opted to have the tea prior to my full-body massage (for the therapist’s sake, if not mine) it then fell to me to Make a Choice and use my gift card to buy myself a birthday present. The delicious agony of this was quite overwhelming, and imagine my fiancé’s pleasure as I wandered around and around and around again, clutching my gift card and sort of muttering like a mad woman: “What about this? OOOH but what about that?! Or that one? But maybe I should get this one instead?” I don’t think I would have bourne it with such beneficence, had I been in his shoes, dear readers. Bless him, he didn’t complain once. Outwardly.

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I decided that I should get something to do with Liberty’s heritage – a classic Liberty Type Thing – which I could treasure forever, rather than a bang-up- to-the-minute high fashion item. You are rather spoiled for both extremes at Liberty, though, as they really do have something for everyone, from the classic-lovers to the Ultra Trendy Fashionistas I tremble in the shadow of. I especially love the fact that Liberty really believe in supporting and encouraging new and emerging designers, as among these Bright Young Things will be the ‘classics’ of the future.

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Amidst the manifold temptations of the infamous Scarf Hall, my beady eye kept getting drawn back to the sumptuously rich Ianthe print wool and silk scarf, specifically in the purple colour way, as I felt this really highlighted the pattern and the lustre of the fabric.

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Spoilt for choice doesn’t even begin to cover it, but I’m thrilled with my pick, and delighted at the prospect of owning a Liberty print satchel when the Strawberry Thief print is back in store again.

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Oh, it’s just stunning, and something I know I’ll treasure forever. This is the sort of thing you can fling on with jeans and a jumper for a walk in the woods (or more likely, in my case, to the Gin Emporium); or worn draped around your shoulders at the most elegant of weddings or special occasions. What’s not to love?

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This is me in my Hera print Liberty shawl, which I wear a lot and had swaddled myself in against the biting chill of the day. I know I’ll love my Ianthe print one all the more for the special memories it holds. 🙂

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More scarves. WANT.

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Very tempted by the chandelier print scarf, too. Just everywhere you look, it’s gorgeousness abounding.

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I loved these quirky Victorian style illustrated letter tiles, and would like the entire alphabet but would settle for my initials. 😉

I did rather have my heart set on getting the Dr Marten’s limited edition Liberty Print large satchel in the Strawberry Thief pattern (indeed, I blogged about lusting after this very satchel not long after it came out, earlier this year), but sadly they are out of stock of it, as it’s so popular! Sad face.

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However, the lovely gentleman who served me at the till took my details and said he’d let me know if they got some in again, hopefully before Christmas.

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OH NO, another reason to HAVE to go back to Liberty. Again. What a personal disaster.

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Fab Christmas windows at Liberty. I was especially drawn to the crazy lobster window.

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Higgledy-piggledy decadence is their theme – opulent chaos. Adorable!

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Skipping out of Liberty, iconic purple bag in hand, I noticed that it had somehow suddenly got dark. Of course this hasn’t happened ‘suddenly’, but do you know, when you’re being pampered to within an inch of your life, the time veritably whizzes along.

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Thence it was back to the hotel to get ready for the W’s award winning Spice Market restaurant’s tasting menu, that my darling chap was so generously treating us to that evening. But first, there was one more surprise in store for me…

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On returning to our room, we discovered that the lovely check-in desk guy had arranged for a bottle of Champagne, selection of juicy raspberries and blackberries, massive slice of Red Velvet cake topped with strawberries with a candle and “Happy Birthday” written in glittery chocolate, and a card wishing me a very happy birthday and saying if I needed anything at all, to let him know.

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HOW darling is that? I actually cried I was so moved. It had been quite a horrible year thus far, in many ways and for various reasons, but this (forgive me) literally was the icing on the cake!

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We decided to save the cake for later on that evening, as we were still quite full from the afternoon tea (talk about First World problems, eh?) and lounged about drinking more Champagne and lazily getting ready for the meal.

When booking our table online, the chap and myself had ooh-ed and ah-ed over the menu for ages, practically drooling at the mere descriptions of the dishes on offer. As their website puts it:

“A timeless paean to Southeast Asian sensuality, Spice Market will delight London with Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s unique interpretations of the region’s cuisine served in an informal and sultry atmosphere.”

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And they ain’t wrong. Delightful it was, every single mouthful. We had plumped (quite literally) for the tasting menu, as we just couldn’t settle on what to try. Little bits of everything seemed the best way forward, and so it proved, with waves of delicacies placed before us, and everything absolutely perfectly cooked and immaculately presented.

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The Spice Market is laid back but upmarket, exactly the kind of atmosphere to suit the cuisine, we were in a cosy booth on the corner, all the better for people watching (one of my favourite activities) and soaking in the ambience. We couldn’t fault a single thing about the meal, only asking for a break the better to digest and ready ourselves for the next lot of courses (there are nine in total) to begin. Hardly a complaint – “this is all TOO delicious, please cease a while!” You can stow the violins away quite safely, I think.

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After the meal we waddled to our room and laid on the bed in the hotel’s dressing gowns, in a sort of gourmet stupor and sipping wine tentatively while watching nonsense films and marvelling at the sheer bliss of the weekend. Somehow, we found room for the birthday cake slice, eaten while tucked up in our little nest of covers, shared out in mouthfuls, buttercream smearing our probably quite horrifically smug faces.

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Us: slightly squiffy, woozily blissful.

The next day we sauntered home in golden Autumnal sunshine, smiles wider than the Thames, walking alongside a Salvation Army band as they marched their way down Regent Street on Remembrance Sunday; so grateful for what we’d experienced and most of all, for having each other to share it with.

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I have never felt so truly pampered – it’s been a difficult year what with one thing and another, but this was like a break in the clouds. Perfectly timed, so needed, and VERY much appreciated. Thank you to Liberty, Decleor, W London, Spice Market and my darling fiancé for making me feel so thoroughly, wonderfully spoiled!

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Top Ten ‘Can’t Live Without’ Beauty Products I Swear By: #6 Posy Glow by Pink Quartz Minerals
August 17, 2012, 4:29 pm
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#6 Posy Glow by Pink Quartz Minerals

I long lived with the belief that bronzers/glows were only really for those strange, orange people (Z List ‘Celebrities’, Donald Trump, Christina Aguilera and other Oompa Loompa-alikes) who craved a product to desperately rub over their faces should a hint of natural coloured skin threaten to break through their carrot-tinged visage.

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That was until I found Pink Quartz Minerals and fell in love with their Posy Glow.

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It’s more of a gently blushed highlighter, really, and gives a hint of tenderly sun-kissed healthiness rather than attempting to look as if you fell into a vat of something you’d use to seal a fence.

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As a semi-rehabilitated goth who still breaks out in a heat rash within seconds of glancing at the sun, I do need a bit of help bringing a bit of colour to my complexion. I generally wake up looking like something a cat coughed up, frequently suffering with insomnia and considering 5 hours unbroken sleep to be a luxurious night’s rest; therefore this doesn’t so much bronze me as infuse a sensation of life back into my face!

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Many bronzers in days of yore suffered from a kind of Disco Fever, with their makers believing that you desired nothing more than to look as though you’d covered your face in glue before hurling yourself to the floor and rolling around in a mixture of Wotsits* and glitter. Perhaps you’re find of this look, dear readers, and should be receiving counselling, but it’s far more flattering to use a product like this, with the merest hint of a shimmer: Sophisticated Face v Basket Case.

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I’m a big fan of mineral makeup and have tried many brands, big and small, but this is my favourite bronzing/glowing product for fair complexions I’ve tried so far. It’s well priced and lasts for ages, too. There’s a vast selection of blushes and bronzers to try in this range, so maybe pick a few and try the excellent sampling service to see which ones suit your skin tone best!

*[Cheetos for our Colonial chums; or any cheese-flavoured snack product will do].



Top Ten ‘Can’t Live Without’ Beauty Products I Swear By: #5 Tweezerman Tweezers
August 8, 2012, 11:18 pm
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#5 Tweezerman Slant Tweezers. For anyone who has spent time doubled up at unnatural angles, swearing at a reflection of themselves in the bathroom mirror as they ineffectively stab at their eyebrows with a pair of tweezers that couldn’t pull a candle from a cupcake… these, my friends, are for you.

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I thought all tweezers were pretty much the same, some with fancy designs which you paid more for. I used to scoff at people who purchased these. Fancy paying over £10 for a pair of tweezers, I thought. What fools! I was utterly, completely wrong. Cheap tweezers are like cheap knives: they tend to be blunt, badly made and rarely do the job you want them to. Tweezerman offer a free sharpening service to keep your tweezers in tip top condition and are also covered by a guarantee. I can usually waffle on for England, but there simply isn’t much else to say, except do yourself a favour and invest in a pair!



Top Ten ‘Can’t Live Without’ Beauty Products I Swear By: #4 Jemma Kidd I-Perfector Prep & Brighten
August 5, 2012, 11:41 pm
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“I don’t like Mondays” Bob Geldof famously sang, and one got the feeling that it was but the start of a very long list of Things he didn’t Like. I wholeheartedly concur with the sentiment, though, and I think most of us would agree that we may need some extra help on Monday mornings.

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Step forward the best kept secret in the beauty business – Jemma Kidd’s Makeup School range, a supreme collection of products I’ve fallen in love with and could have chosen many items from for this Top Ten series. Having been a top model for many years, Jemma has had all manner of brands smeared over her face, but was inspired to create her own because she’d never found the one perfect example of what she was looking for.

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This isn’t some vanity project, it’s the real deal – I’ve stumped up the cash and tried these products for myself and can honestly say they are fantastic. My ultimate must-have, without a doubt, is the I-Perfector Prep & Brighten Duo (phew, bit of a mouthful!)

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I could waffle on about the fantastic one-swipe crayon end that conceals redness, discolouration and acts as the perfect eyeshadow base, and the genius flesh-coloured inner-eye liner end for instantly popping open your peepers; but in a nutshell: it MAKES YOU LOOK ALIVE! No, honestly, it really does. I’d post a before and after version of myself, but I’d be reported for including Offensive Content.

This is the perfect weapon to banish tired, red [shhhhungovershhhhh] Monday morning eyes, and the flesh tone eyeliner is a revelation. No more white-eyeliner 1980’s flashbacks (because really, ladies, that doesn’t make you look as though your eyes are bigger/whiter, it makes you look as though you’ve gone crazy with a pot of Tippex). You can use this all around the eye area, it’s anti-ageing, waterproof, long lasting and contains vitamins C & E for further soothing properties. What’s not to love? Get it, try it, thank me later. Mine’ll be a Gin & Tonic. You’re welcome.



Top Ten ‘Can’t Live Without’ Beauty Products I Swear By: #3 Ultrasun Glimmer
August 3, 2012, 10:05 am
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Q. What should you always remember to wear when exposing your skin to the sun? Apart from a top hat, of course…

A. #3 Ultrasun Glimmer 20. This is my favourite product, but I highly recommend all the Ultrasun range, really. As someone with sensitive skin and a tendency to break out in prickly heat while merely peeping out the window at the sunshine, I do struggle to find sun protection products that don’t actually aggravate the problem rather than helping. Most of them still seem obsessed with making us smell of coconut (not my favourite smell at any time) or leaving you slicked up like a vein-straining body builder. Hardly attractive.

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The Ultrasun range is especially for highly sensitive skin, sinks in easily and – oh glorious rapture – only needs to be applied ONCE a day, and is waterproof to boot. Usually I wear a far higher factor in the summer, but this shimmer is just beautiful and really makes your skin glow. It’s noticeable but not tacky – you look as though you’ve been sprinkled with fairy dust rather than dipped in a pot of glitter. In fact, I tend to use this as a kind of highlighting body lotion rather than for the sun protection factor alone – it looks amazing when smoothed over the décolleté.

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“Oh no! I forgot the Ultrasun!” [Still taken from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane]

The chap is a big fan of the Sports Spray in this range, which is completely clear and is spritzed onto the skin in seconds. And it doesn’t have glitter it, which I think is a shame, but the chap is quite relieved about.



Top Ten ‘Can’t Live Without’ Beauty Products I Swear By: #2
August 1, 2012, 8:46 am
Filed under: Beauty | Tags: , , , , , , ,

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[Ginette Leclerc in Le Corbeau, directed by GH Clouzot, 1943]

The image of a woman painting her nails has often been used in films, glossy magazines et al to denote a glamourous, sexy vamp readying herself to trap a man. Often pictured in a boudoir, or atop a satin bed sheet draped in a froth of lace, ostrich feathers and silk (as, you know, all women are), it is a scene that crumbles at the edges somewhat when held up to the cold hard light of Reality.

The awful truth, dear readers, is that I am generally not draped in ostrich feathers or languorously reclining on a satin-topped bed while I paint my nails. No. Generally I am stuffing a piece of toast into my mouth as I attempt to find my door keys and find a matching shoe to the one I’m desperately hobbling around the room in as I try to get ready for work/to go out, all the while slathering a hasty coat of whatever nail varnish was nearest to me at the time I so wisely decided that NOW would be a great time to re-paint my nails. I never learn.

Step forward my saviour…

#2 Seche Vite Fast Dry Top Coat. Another must have – yes, it’s more costly than many top coats you can get in supermarkets and such like, but I’ve tried practically all of those and found them lacklustre in almost every respect. I’d seen this reviewed in so many magazines and it’s won oodles of awards, but still I resisted, because to tell the truth, it’s just not that exciting, is it?

A fabulous lipstick or a divine smelling perfume I can work myself into a lather for, but a clear nail varnish? Nah. Until my fiancé tired of hearing me withering on about it and (bless his heart) purchased a bottle for me to put in my Christmas stocking. The first thing to note is how incredibly thick and gloopy it is – completely different to anything else I’d tried. They suggest you put it on top of nail varnish that’s still wet – another point of difference – and when they say it dries fast, my god do they mean it!

From application, it’s sealed and dry to the touch in well under a minute. It makes your colour pop like nothing else and is fantastic at protecting nail art/textured effects. If there were a top coat that did the same job at half the price, I’d buy it, but there isn’t (unless you tell me otherwise), so I use this.

My fiancé loves it because it means he doesn’t have to wait (quite) as long for me to get ready & I’m far less likely to scream “Oh for GOD’S SAKE, now I’ll have to do them all AGAIN!” as I think my nails are dry but discover they aren’t quite, as I pull my hand from my bag/pocket/brushing my hair to find them all smudged. He’d probably buy me another bottle if it were three times the cost, to be honest. It’s a good investment.

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Top Ten ‘Can’t Live Without’ Beauty Products I Swear By: #1

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[Woman at Dressing Table c.1873 by Gustave Caillebotte]

I should probably admit right away that I am a complete beauty whore, and skip from one product to another, trying every new brand I can and avariciously coveting those I read about in magazines, beauty blogs and any manner of other outlets I can use to fuel my lust. I can think of nothing more boring than only ever using one cleanser, one shampoo, one moisturiser for the rest of my life – no more than I could think of only using one perfume ever (the HORROR!) Therefore, I am not on some manic quest to find The One – that magical product that will do everything and be my saviour, because I do not believe it exists and, furthermore, I’d be really disappointed if it did!

I must also admit to hesitating somewhat over the title of this post, as you so often see articles and blogs seemingly claiming they CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT the following 100 products, and frankly my dears, that’s clearly an outright lie. Unless the article is published in a medical journal and those products are things like – I don’t know, insulin, let’s say – then the chances are quite high that the author could have a fair pop at living without them. Having established that, I should also acknowledge that “Top Ten Things I Would Very Likely Be Significantly Grumpier If I Had To Do Without” is a somewhat clunky title, so I’ll stick with what I’ve got and cut to the chase…

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#1 Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser. This had to be my first choice – it’s something I’ve been using on and off for over 10 years now, and although there are lots of other cleansers I really like, I have yet to find one that tops this. It’s gentle yet effortlessly removes even notoriously stubborn lip stains and waterproof mascara, and although it’s melodramatic to say, I honestly think this cleanser saved my skin.

I used to suffer from acne and really struggled to find something help calm my face from the harsh treatments my doctor prescribed to treat it. I’d been using oil-stripping products and my skin was red raw – this cleanser immediately began to soothe and cool and my face never felt cleaner. I love the sensation of using the muslin cloth, too, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone. This is something I’ll always go back to: a Desert Island product for sure.

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I really enjoy taking my makeup off – I know that sounds odd, but I like taking time for myself and pampering myself occasionally. Of course most evenings after work I’m exhausted, just like everyone else, but those remove it all in one swipe type wipes are anathema to me. For one, I never feel they do a very good job (though feel free to recommend me some if you know a great brand! I remember India Knight recommending some French – I think – facial wipes that she raved about, though I cannot recall he name); and for another, I actively enjoy the experience of using a good product that lives up to the hype and actually does the job. No wonder this has won so many awards and is constantly gracing the pages of those Editors Picks type spreads In all the glossy magazines – it just works, beautifully.

Top Tip: I like to buy the largest size squeezable tube version, as when you think you’ve run out of it, you can cut it open and get as much as an extra week’s worth of product out of it!