While watching Mastermind last week, my flatmate asked what my “specialist subject” would be. I considered the question, realising I have no area of expertise. Then it hit me: Stacey Solomon.
The reasoning behind answer was twofold. When you pick a person, you surely have to memorise only the basic facts of their life: their birthplace (Dagenham), where they went to school (King Solomon High), which song they sung in the Michael Jackson round of the sixth season of the X-Factor (“The Way You Make Me Feel”) etc, etc. That, I thought, must be easier than studying the complete works of Proust, or the history of Luxembourg. (I have since learned that I was grossly oversimplifying the rules of Mastermind.)
But the second reason behind my rather naïve choice is that I feel as though I already know Stacey Solomon. I have spent every day since lockdown (and before, albeit less religiously) with her family, nosily peering into their lives via the open window of Instagram Stories.
Solomon, much to the enjoyment of myself and more than three million others, is a prolific Instagram Stories poster. Her content is comfortingly habitual and spans the entire day. I awake and watch her exclaim, “Good morning, Pickle” at Rex, her giggling ten-month-old son with her partner Joe Swash.
When I next tune in, I am at my desk. Solomon, meanwhile, is making her bed. If my boyfriend suggested I sat and watched him make our own bed, I would be baffled. I would at the very least politely decline. But I watch Solomon do so, and it is surprisingly soothing. Her elder sons, the Big and Middle Pickles, are downstairs taking part in PE with Joe Wicks. Solomon says she will join in tomorrow. I’m not sure she means it.
I check back in at lunchtime. The Pickles are eating sandwiches cut into the shape of sea creatures. A slightly exasperated Solomon has spent the morning attempting home schooling; I know as well as she does that she’ll probably give up by early afternoon. But that’s OK, Solomon makes no pretences about the realities of lockdown, stressing the importance of not beating yourself up when it’s not all plain sailing.
If this all sounds mundane, that’s because it is. Solomon’s is not a typical celebrity Instagram account. There are no airs and graces, no lip gloss-sponsored posts, no flashy parties or name-dropping. It is normal, everyday life – dialled up to 100 and set in a large, grey-scaled Essex home, with smiling children and a loving partner to gently mock. Of course, Instagram is only ever an edited highlights reel, but watching Solomon’s Stories feels “real” even if deep down you know it isn’t. It’s like watching the first season of a really nice reality TV show – when the cast are just getting along because nobody’s really watching, and the directors haven’t yet resorted to scripting the drama.
One of the things that won Solomon her cult following is tidying. She posts a picture of a living room strewn with toys, torn through by three boys under the age of 13, adorned with a sticker reading “Tap To Tidy”. When you tap through to her next picture, you see the same room, from the same angle, but with everything in its proper place. Simple, satisfying, ordinary; a task performed by parents nationwide – and reportedly trademarked by Solomon earlier this month. “Stacey’s ‘tap to tidy’ is genius,” writes Grazia. “When everything outside is such a mess, it’s textbook that we’ll turn into ourselves and sort and organise and control where we can.”
That certainly seems to be Solomon’s motto. Earlier this week she “suddenly felt really weird and anxious” – so she sorted out the spice cupboard. Seemingly everything in Solomon’s house, from spices to washing powder to dog food, is removed from its original packaging and stored in identikit glass jars and bottles, with wooden lids and calligraphy labels. In one cupboard, she has erected a tension rod, from which bags of crisps hang on pegs, suspended in an orderly line. Her children’s crayons are separated by colour into individual boxes.
Organising may help Solomon with her own mental health, but she’s spending her lockdown helping others, too. This week, she asked followers suffering in isolation to write down their worries, take a picture and privately send it to her. She handwrote a letter back to every person who did so.
Anybody who shares their life on social media, particularly a woman in the public eye, opens themselves up for criticism. Solomon is no exception, often receiving messages from people taking issue with her parenting, all of whom she refers to as “Susan“. Sometimes she reads out their concerns: “Why are you more excited about your Polly Pockets than your children?” She cackles from the bath, hair scraped back, a champagne flute of Coke in hand. “Have a day off Susan! For crying out loud, have a day off!”
Stacey Solomon chilling in the tub laughing at “Susans” who troll her is a whole goddamn mood pic.twitter.com/gREhHnY35c
— Ryan Love (@RyanJL) February 27, 2020
Funny, relaxed, silly and creative, this is when Solomon is at her best. Making fun of her partner with a thick Essex drawl. Dancing alone in the kitchen with the Hoover. Lying on the sofa, chatting to the camera at an angle many would consider unflattering. Making her kids homemade McDonalds, complete with hand-drawn golden arches on cardboard boxes, to celebrate their last day at school. Brightening up the dark days of isolation, one lip-sync to a Nineties pop song at a time.