It was February 2017, eight months after the historic Brexit vote. I accepted an invitation to attend the launch of the new fashion brand Cefinn, designed and owned by Samantha Cameron, wife of former UK prime minister David Cameron. Held in a private area on the second floor of Selfridges, London, the atmosphere was bubbly, not just because of the real bubbles going down nicely, but because of the chats about unimportant topics. I hate small talk; in fact, I am not good at it. English people love it, and they are fabulous when they start the most common one: the weather, and then move on to some local gossip. From the age of 15, when I first moved to this country, I’ve always admired this. I was living in Romsey, Hampshire, commuting to my school in Winchester.
It was the first time I had seen Sam in person since she left Downing Street. I was still there, pretty much daily, and still a member of the Downing Street press lobby. Except now, the country was diminished, it was a mess. Theresa May – whose wonderful shoe collection and taste for couture I greatly admired - was sailing our boat against the winds, mostly caused by her party and her agenda.
It was a moment of anger, when I thought, “what am I doing here?”, endorsing the creativity of the wife of a jester, who was so self-aware that he thought people would follow his agenda and support his decisions. He really admired himself.
I found myself at my most cynical that I was there, in one of the most prestigious stores in the world, drinking champagne and trying on clothes Sam had designed.
The universe is colliding, I thought, not just for me, but for everyone there in the private rooms of Selfridges. I came with my dear friend Dani, she is the most glam woman in the world, and we often go attend fashion and charity events together. I remember looking at her and wanting to say, “Hey, I must go”, when Sam saw me and started walking towards us.
Also, my evenings were very short during that period. I was doing my Master’s in film directing at the MET film school. I had managed to negotiate a comprehensive agreement with my employer, Public Radio and Television Slovenia. Most of my current affairs news stories were going live at 6pm, 6am and 7am BST, so I was flexible to attend the work at Ealing Studios. It would be totally acceptable to leave after such a short appearance.
Samantha gave us a big hug; she was kind, gentle and glamorous, as always. There was this sparkle, elegancy and authenticity in her personality, and she displayed it all that evening. After a few polite sentences and, of course, congratulating her on her new career, Sam asked me: “How are you? How is Downing Street?”
I didn’t think she would care, but then I spoke. I told her that, because of Brexit, I couldn’t complete my post, that TV Slovenia couldn’t recruit anyone to replace me at short notice and that I am probably having a midlife crisis, changing my career from a journalist-broadcaster with a secure income to a film director. “I must be a fool,” I said. “Well then, that makes at least two of us. Look at me!” She was smiling beautifully.
And then I thought she was quite impressive. First, to create all of this in such a short time and also in such circumstances. But I wouldn’t say that it was her night to celebrate anyway.
I remembered it was like yesterday, the evening of 23 June. I just finished my last report in front of the famous 10 Downing Street doors, getting ready for my final one at the nearby Abingdon Green (in front of Parliament). My cameraman was still packing the equipment away, it was past 10pm, the polling stations just closed. And suddenly, the doors of 10 Downing Street opened and a group of people walked out. I remembered I had seen them earlier; now they were leaving around 6pm. I heard a BBC commentator, Laura Kuenssberg, saying to her camera crew that they were Sam’s friends. Why were they leaving so early, I wondered. They must have come to the party, right? My cameraman was ready to leave when he suddenly said: “Nina, I bet this is the first time you don’t know what’s going on.”
It was one of these moments that you damn know, but it is too painful to admit. ‘Die Hoffnung stirbt zuletzt’, which could translate as: “The hope dies last”.
I made a radio show that Monday, four days before the referendum, and I told my audiences that the UK is voting ‘leave’, and that the pound would fall on Friday morning, a day after the referendum. The show was live when my editor called me, swearing and telling me that I was a joke, a hazard to serious journalism and that listeners were phoning in and complaining about my predictions. Some were calling me Nostradamus and some were making fun of me.
But four days away from the historic referendum, I knew… I finished the conversation with my editor very quickly, asking him where he was and why was he not in the studio, picking up all the calls from the audience. He replied that he was on a family holiday in Spain. My response was: “You are on holiday while the UK is holding a historic referendum on the EU, an editor-in-chief of a foreign desk?” I guess it was all set perfectly. A bluffing age of global phenomenon, no one cared any more, about anything.
As my cameraman and I started to approach the large gates of 10 Downing Street to exit, I turned back. Suddenly I noticed by the side entrance, by the doors where we usually enter the building to attend the press conferences, a pile of champagne boxes. Probably four or five of them. No one took them inside, it was nothing to celebrate, they got the news, that’s why Sam’s friends left, before the party could even start.
Weeks and months after the referendum were painful, and now almost seven years since the vote, are even more acute.
Sam left Downing Street to design clothes, ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, maybe! And whether we wear them or not; how it can all feel so cynical, most of us are naked now.
Six years after the event in Selfridges, ‘Sam Cam’ is still designing her Cefinn lines, and I am still making films. Theresa May was constantly saying “Brexit means Brexit and we are going to make a success of it”; what does this mean, I ask. Well, I did my Brexit, Sam did hers. What a naked truth!