Desperate housewives UK
Leafy and well-heeled, Tandridge in Surrey has been revealed as the town with the most stay-at-home mothers in Britain. But are the lives of its residents as perfect as they seem



22:21 GMT, 22 August 2012

Every afternoon at 4pm, shiny 4x4s line up outside an exclusive private school. Super-toned women with perfectly highlighted hair and manicured nails loiter by the gates, flicking their hair and chatting.

Their attire — skyscraper heels, figure-hugging jeans, designer tops and diamond jewellery — would not look out of place on the catwalk. But these body-conscious yummy mummies have all the time and money in the world to make themselves look beautiful.

Welcome to Tandridge, Surrey, the housewife capital of Britain. Here in this privileged pocket of suburbia, two-thirds of women are stay-at-home mothers, compared with an average of 30  per cent nationwide.

Mum's the word: Tandridge housewives, from left, Sammy Chute, Melissa Mitchelson, Agi Dewberry, Jo Ward and Faye Pearce

Mum's the word: Tandridge housewives, from left, Sammy Chute, Melissa Mitchelson, Agi Dewberry, Jo Ward and Faye Pearce

So is life for the women in this leafy corner of affluent Surrey as glorious as it seems on the surface Or do they yearn for excitement away from their perfect suburban homes Femail went to meet the real-life desperate housewives . . .


Sammy Chute, 44, is married to car maintenance businessman Gary, 48. They have three children, Becci, 19, Jake, 17, and Layla, eight. Sammy says:

Woman's work: Sammy says looking after her family is her duty

Woman's work: Sammy says looking after her family is her duty

It made me laugh to see Tandridge come top of the housewife survey, but I wasn’t surprised. I’ve lived here almost all my life. Everyone knows everyone’s business, but it’s a lovely place to live — perfect houses and amazing neighbours.

I have lots of friends and we fill our days with prosecco and gossip-filled lunches, which can start at coffee time and go on until the school run.

I work hard to eat what I like, spending four mornings a week in the gym at martial arts and yoga/Pilates classes — it’s not luck I’ve stayed slim.

Every week, my friends and I go to Bluewater shopping centre near Dartford, where I might come back empty-handed, blow 200 on casual fashion at Topshop or, as a special treat, a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes.

My friends’ company is important because Gary works 12-hour days. He may not be around much but we have a close relationship. I think he prefers me being at home, as it gives him peace of mind everything here is taken care of.

It must be horrible to work at a job you hate and juggle it with kids, so I’m sure there are women who would be very jealous of my amazing lifestyle. And at the same time, working mums who love their careers probably think my life is boring.

But I pinch myself sometimes, I feel so lucky. I grew up in a council house a few miles away and, after my parents divorced, my mum worked full-time for a travel company. I remember letting myself in to an empty house after school, and I never wanted that for my children.

Before I got pregnant, I had an exciting life as a stewardess for Virgin Atlantic and enjoyed trips to Tokyo, San Francisco and Florida. Then I worked in marketing for two days a week while my first two were little, but I gave up work completely in 2002, six years after Gary and I got married.


Nearly nine in ten British women plan to quit their jobs to look after their children

Looking after my family is my duty. The children all went to Oxted School, a fantastic state school, but now my elder two are older, there’s less running around. The housework is down to me, apart from the help I get from my fortnightly cleaner. I put dinner on the table, at least in the loose sense of the word.

I’m not much of a cook and only really go into the kitchen to make coffee, but you’d be amazed how much you can do with mince. And I always make sure I look nice and made-up — for Gary’s sake and mine.

The one downside of being a kept woman is I have to ask permission for big purchases. I have been known to spend 500 on a Mulberry handbag — though I do try to wait until the sales. Gary loves to spoil me, so he doesn’t mind.

A couple of weeks ago, he surprised me with a 50,000 BMW X6. But my X3 is only 18 months old, so I made him take it back. My friends thought I was mad, but I’ll always be a bargain-hunter at heart.


Agi Dewberry, 28, is married to John, 48, who owns several tour companies, and they have a four-year-old son, Tomas. Agi says:

Adjustment period: Agi took time to settle in to her new life

Adjustment period: Agi took time to settle in to her new life

I live in a pretty town with the man I love, our beautiful son and a purple Aga in which I bake cheesecakes and make preserves.

But while it sounds the perfect life, for a year after Tomas was born, I mourned the career I had planned before falling head-over-heels in love with my husband.

I was the only child of Polish
middle-class parents and I spent years with my head in a book at Warsaw

Then, five years ago, I met John on an academic trip to
London. I moved my life to the UK to be with him. Within months, I got
pregnant unexpectedly. John was overjoyed, but a baby wasn’t part of my
plan. I’d dreamed of an academic career as a university lecturer.

2007, we moved to Tandridge, and while it is chocolate-boxey on the
surface, underneath it can be intimidating.

At mother-and-baby groups,
it was hard to be an outsider with a foreign accent and I felt judged
because I didn’t have stories to share of the high-flying job I had
before becoming a mum.

Many nights I cried myself to sleep
and I was diagnosed with postnatal depression. I’d been used to big
cities and felt lonely when John wasn’t around. I also hated not earning
my own money.

But as Tomas
grew and developed, my confidence as a mother grew, too. And in 2009, I
was accepted to study at the Institute of Education in London. It was
hard to juggle academia and looking after Tomas — I was in London one
day a week, so John arranged to be at home with him — but it was an
amazing feeling when I graduated in my gown last April.

Now I’m part of the community. I’ve helped at youth clubs, taught Spanish and started painting. It helps get me through the days, which would otherwise be dull.

John and I had a beautiful wedding last year at a National Trust property. I love him as much as when we first met. Tomas may not have been planned, but he’s very much wanted, and I look after him full-time.

My dream for the future is to stop feeling restless and find contentment. And maybe my career will come along one day, too.

Yummy mummies: The cast of TV's Desperate Housewives

Yummy mummies: The cast of TV's Desperate Housewives


Jo Ward, 31, lives with her husband Linton, 38, managing director of four recruitment companies, and their two children Sam, three-and-a-half, and Sophie, 22 months. Jo says:

Old-fashioned values: Jo is happy to be a stay-at-home mum

Old-fashioned values: Jo is happy to be a stay-at-home mum

I love being a stay-at-home mother, which to me, if done properly, is a full-time job.

I’m not sure how I’d fit in work around the play centres, tennis clubs and ballet classes where the children and I spend our days. I’ve been brought up to believe the male’s role in a relationship is to go out to work, while the mother stays at home, keeping house and looking after the kids.

It might sound old-fashioned and it wouldn’t work for everyone, but it worked for my parents and it works for me and my husband.

I was always destined to be a mum. I was probably the least career-driven of my friends, and loved my job as a primary school teacher. But after I had Sam, I knew I never wanted my child brought up by someone else.

I do have friends who work part-time and love it, but it would be pointless for me, as my teacher’s salary would barely cover the childcare costs. Linton’s salary is our only income.

The downside is my husband has taken on a more demanding role at work, so Sam and Sophie don’t really see their dad during the week.

He leaves the house at 6am and is not usually back until 8pm, but he makes a huge effort to get home a couple of nights a week to put the kids to bed. I know he’d love to see them more. But he’s driven, and wouldn’t be happy in a less-influential job.

Linton and I struggle to spend time alone together, but we’re trying to improve that. For our anniversary this year, we had a romantic night together in a country hotel. It was lovely to be away from the house, not worrying about the chores.

I feel lucky to be around for the most important years of my children’s lives, but I’ll have way too much time on my hands when they start school — I’m planning to go back into part-time teaching.


Melissa Mitchelson, 36, is married to City finance worker Rob, 33, and they have a son James, two. Melissa says:

New challenge: Melissa misses her job in the City but loves being a mum

New challenge: Melissa misses her job in the City but loves being a mum

We moved out here last summer from Greenwich, to swap the hustle and bustle of London for a quieter area with more space. We didn’t know anyone, but when we arrived it felt right. We have a lovely five-bedroom house and James and I wander to the station every day to meet Daddy from work and look at the trains.

I see exhausted friends who have had to carry on working, so I feel grateful Rob is able to take on the burden of being sole breadwinner.

But my decision to sacrifice the job I adored, working for a global finance company, to look after James was unbelievably hard. My career in the City had been my identity.

I bought my first flat in Canary Wharf aged 26. And my ambition didn’t abate when I fell in love with Rob. /08/22/article-2192258-149DA14B000005DC-896_306x590.jpg” width=”306″ height=”590″ alt=”Wag: Faye is married to ex-Blackburn and West Ham footballer Ian Pearce” class=”blkBorder” />

Wag: Faye is married to ex-Blackburn and West Ham footballer Ian Pearce

Women in town have been talking about how embarrassed they are that Tandridge has the highest proportion of housewives, but I think it’s great we’re getting some recognition for the important job we do.

It’s easy for people to make assumptions about me because I’m married to a footballer and I’ve never worked. I’ve avoided the WAG label as we’re not caught up in that lifestyle, but I presume there are those who think Ian and I are shallow or stupid, and that everything has been handed to us on a plate.

But Ian has worked hard for his success — now he’s retired, he’s still commentating and talent-scouting. And it’s not by accident our children are hard-working and well-behaved.

I take my job seriously, and feel I’ve done my bit. I breastfed all four of my children, and spent years in baggy clothes with sick on my shoulder. I don’t care what other people think of me — first and foremost, I’m just a mum. No matter what our income, I would have liked to stay at home — you always have a choice, even if it means sacrificing holidays and bigger houses.

Ian and I met at Oxted School, which our children attend. I was 16, he was 17 — afterwards I took a degree at university in Preston while Ian played for Blackburn. We then got married and moved back here to be close to both our families.

We had no reason not to start a family young, as I didn’t need to work. It has sometimes been hard with Ian being away for birthdays and Christmas, and for weeks in the summer, but I’m quite independent. It’s nice to have him around more now, and he helps run the kids around and entertain them with tennis and football.

Now the children are all at school, I have time to take the dog on long walks, have my nails done and see friends without having to justify it.

We haven’t spent lots of money on silly cars — Ian has a Mini and I have a Mercedes 4×4. But we do have holidays to Sardinia and Portugal and I go on girlie Christmas shopping trips to New York — it’s my therapy.

It’s a lovely life, but I keep busy. Last year, I trained as a doula to assist mothers through labour and after the birth, so hopefully I can help other people become mums in the future.