Cookie Girl - a class act

When her husband Zeben decided to stop touring as a keyboardist with The Pretenders, Xanthe knew it was time for her to sharpen up her financial acumen and become the main breadwinner. ‘I didn’t know how I was going to do it, as having left school at sixteen, I had no qualifications and no experience that I could see as relevant to any ‘proper’ job.’

After thinking about her skills, Xanthe realised that friends and family had always enjoyed her baking. She decided against time-consuming cupcakes and, spending her last £10 on ingredients, made 100 soft chocolate chunk cookies which she stacked into a pretty floral basket previously gifted from Chrissie Hynde. Xanthe rummaged through her vintage wardrobe and calling on her acting skills, created Cookie Girl (think a typical D&G advert) voluptuous, raven haired beauty with a sprinkling of naughtiness and gingham, and a brand was born.

Despite the initial disappointment where she was refused the opportunity previously agreed to sell in a large studio space and the resulting fear of not being able to feed her family, Xanthe was determined and resilient. This strength of character paid off, and the next office building she visited, for the most part, welcomed Cookie Girl with delight and appetite. ‘By the time I went home I felt like Dick Whittington. The streets of London really were paved with gold…and I had found a way to keep my family afloat!’

Encouraged and with new confidence, Cookie Girl went on to discover West London’s celebrity community and a new culture of customers, including Take That, Cat Stevens and Annie Lennox, experiences which inspired her blog and then column The Cookie Chronicles. ‘It was as if the walls of buildings had fallen away and I knew exactly who was behind them and what they did… I could see the intrigue and dynamics that brought them together.’

Nevertheless, this period of gathering success wasn’t about hobnobbing with celebrities, but real graft. ‘It was a period of exceptionally hard, mundane work. It seemed I never stopped baking, selling and cleaning up. I had ‘cookie spanner’ blisters!’ (This was the ice-cream scoop used to make the cookies).

After a few years of working on a market stall on Portobello Market and making some good connections, Xanthe finally 'got a couple of lucky breaks' or - perhaps more likely - all her hard work paid off. ‘Selfridges asked me to stock my cakes and cookies, then Random House got in touch to offer a book deal'. The book went on to be a bestseller and earnt Cookie Girl a huge amount of press, with her Youtube promo reaching 4.3 million views. 

Lady.co.uk was delighted to chat to Xanthe aka Cookie Girl... 

Cookie Girl has clearly gone from strength to strength over the years and now boasts a number of classes for people / organisations to get involved in, including birthdays, charity and corporate days. Do you have a team of people supporting you?

When my book came out in 2010, I had seven to eight girls working on a freelance basis hosting events and someone doing the baking and another dealing with enquiries. Once I had my two little girls the number of events reduced, so I was able to return to doing most of it myself again. I am in the process of building the team up again. I've always had a great girl to cover me when I've needed to be in two places at once. She is brilliant at hosting, baking and admin so is a good all-rounder. My husband Zeb has always been a great supporter of my business too.

What are the three key things you’ve learnt from your entrepreneurial endeavours?

Resourcefulness over resources - I had no money when I started Cookie Girl. That meant everything was home-made which gave the brand authenticity. This inadvertently gave me a strong brand identity.

Be tenacious and humble - I worked really hard, day in day out doing something that was very low status. I was basically a pedlar! Even when doors closed on me and people were rude, I would keep trying to win them round by being smiley and friendly whilst also being persistent. I couldn't afford to give up as I was the breadwinner. This has really taught me how important it is to never give up!

Patience - I'm still not good with this and get frustrated that things aren't happening quick enough for me. But when I look back on my trajectory I know that there were years of hard slog before amazing things happened for me.

What area are you most proud of?

I'm really proud that I managed to sustain writing a column for five years, and that it was so popular with my readers. My recipe book was in the top 20 without me being a celebrity chef, and it seemed to connect with so many of the people that read it (an upside of social media is that I was able to get feedback from them). But I guess the thing that I'm proudest of is having started Cookie Girl with 10 pounds 15 years ago and it still going strong (despite having had two babies at the height of my success).

How do you balance working life with being a mum?

Having babies and being pregnant whilst running a business was unbelievably challenging. Looking back I don't really know how I coped. I didn't have any nanny, au pair or childminder although my husband is a self-employed musician so he was able to do a lot with the kids. The business definitely dropped off after I had the first and even more so with the second because I wasn't able to keep my profile up and drive the business forward.

Now that my youngest is at school I've seen a big pick up in the business. I try and do the bulk of my work while they are at school but I do still find myself having to deal with emails etc when they are home. I think you just muddle along as best you can. I am phasing out my group classes over the next couple of months as I don't want to be working so many Saturdays as it's our family time. That's why I'm focusing more on the corporate side of the workshops.

Where do you see Cookie Girl in five years / how do you want the business to develop?

I am currently training people to take over some of the business responsibilities so that I am able to spend more time being Cookie Girl rather than working in Cookie Girl. This means starting focusing on writing again and also investing more time on my social media platforms doing baking and decorating tutorials. I've also been toying with the idea of doing stand-up. I'm looking at creating a one woman show that would involve aspects of audience participation cake decorating in it. I have always wanted to create a comedy/drama series inspired by my Cookie Girl story and column. The dream would be for that to be on screen with me in the lead role obviously! I would love to get back to focusing on acting and also get behind the camera. 

Do you like cooking at home as well and what is your favourite thing to cook?

I enjoy making a Sunday roast, despite all the washing up! I also love doing Mexican food, particularly an amazing pork pibil dish hick is marinated in spices and oranges. I'm trying to cook mainly vegetarian during the week and I do a delicious slow cooked Brazilian bean dish. Unfortunately my kids won't eat it so it's a constant juggling act trying to find things that work for the whole family. We often make rainbow pancakes at the weekend. We use squeezy bottles so the kids can create multi-coloured picture pancakes. 

Any plans for another book or a TV series?

At the moment I'm working on recipes with healthier ingredients. My eldest daughter is vegan so I'm thinking that if I was to do another recipe book that's what I'd like to do. I have discovered that I'm gluten intolerant so I'm experimenting with different flours. And generally I'm creating lots of lower sugar snacks and treats that I can feel good about giving my kids now that we realise how bad sugar actually is for us! I have done about 50 YouTube videos so I will be adding to those. If I was going to do TV I would be more interested in acting than being a TV chef.

http://www.cookiegirl.co.uk / Youtube  / Instagram 

 

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