In 2015 I asked Pandora Sykes if a book would be on her radar for the future, to which she answered; ‘Who. Only. Knows.’ Fast forward five years and Pandora is merely weeks away from achieving that incredible milestone with her debut book, How Do We Know We’re Doing It Right?: Essays on Modern Life. Pandora is a journalist and speaker based in London whose career has focused on social commentary, lifestyle, fashion and celebrity. She first came on my radar by the fashion savvy Wardrobe Mistress column in the Sunday Times Style and since then she’s written for ELLE, ManRepeller, The Observer, The Telegraph and Vogue UK plus many, many more. Amongst all of this she’s appeared on panels galore, acted as a fashion consultant with the likes of Topshop and Selfridges plus collaborated with Hunza G on a swimwear collection.
Pandora is probably most famous for The High Low podcast which she co-hosts with friend and fellow journalist Dolly Alderton. Since the launch in 2017, the duo have explored witty topics with the aim that nothing is too grand or too irrelevant for discussion. From the big stuff to the everyday, it is this mix that has propelled The High Low to be the iTunes No.1 weekly pop-culture and current affairs podcast with 1.2 million downloads a month.
I admire Pandora on many levels, from her positive and proactive thought leading pieces to her immeasurably clever social media posts and everything in between. In fact I love her writing so much that you can only imagine how hard I am finding writing this introduction! I hope, like I am, you are looking forward to her new book, which like The High Low, considers our modern life and is sure to resonate with all of us.
Here’s my Getting Naked With interview with Pandora Sykes.
Pandora Sykes on The High Low Show
NakedPRGirl: Many readers will know your podcast, The High Low, which you co-host with Dolly Alderton. I’ve read that you get about 250,000 weekly listeners–are you ever taken aback by this? Why do you think your content resonates with so many listeners?
Pandora Sykes: It’s an enormous surprise and honour that we built up such a lovely community of listeners. I think perhaps people respond to different things: bookworms might like that we give lots of book recommendations, whilst others might just enjoy our inane chit chat up top. I’m sure it’s not for everyone, but I’m so glad that The High Low gets to reach as many ears as it does.
NakedPRGirl: Regular listeners of The High Low will know that it’s an abundant source of recommendations, from articles, books, movies, podcasts and television shows. How much time do you read or consume content every week (it’s impressive how many books you get through!)?
Pandora Sykes: I honestly read a lot, because I don’t know any other way to be. I have always read masses. The thing is, in order to read a lot, you have to let other things slide. Like, you can’t be out on the tiles every night; you can’t be a real muso, or cook elaborate meals every night, or spend your evenings doing exercise classes, or even be someone that watches an entire box set every week. The only reason I read as much as I do, is because it’s how I spend most evenings! That said, I also read a lot for work – so I do sometimes include that reading as part of my working day.
NakedPRGirl: On The High Low, you encourage individuals to write in with their problems in your “Ask the High Low” segment and I love how you and Dolly answer these with so much thought and compassion, especially when it comes to younger listeners. Do you enjoy giving advice generally?
Pandora Sykes: I do like giving advice, although Dolly is much better at it than me. I’m just a sharer, in general. So, I like sharing a book and I like sharing wisdom that someone else might have said to me, that helped me. But I’m no expert!
Pandora Sykes on her first book
NakedPRGirl: Tell me about your new book, How Do We Know We’re Doing it Right?. What inspired the concept and the format (essays)?
Pandora Sykes: They’re essays about the anxieties and trivialities of modern life: the big and the small – whether that’s Whatsapp and the surfeit of online fashion retailers, or the misogyny of wellness and the psychological impact of expecting a seamless life. I’d also wanted to write a book of essays; I love longform non-fiction. The common denominator (I think!) with all the essays, is that we are labouring under a mistaken belief that there is a ‘right’ way to do things and that we can ‘cement’ a static sense of self – or lasso happiness. None of those things are true. I hope that might be a comfort to some readers.
NakedPRGirl: In the book, you talk about anxiety in the modern world…How do you deal with your own anxieties? For instance, you have stated that you’re spending less time on social media, is this related?
Pandora Sykes: It’s a bit of that. I like social media for finding out information, and certainly it’s been enormously helpful as a work platform for me. But I hate how much time it eats and I don’t think it’s healthy to know so much about everyone else’s lives, all the time. I love switching my phone off and frequently do so for an entire weekend. If I had a different job, I suspect I’d be offline a lot more.
NakedPRGirl: I am in love with the pre-publication reviews like: ‘Plainly and hotly, ahead of its time. It is a masterful collection of essays that I held in my hand like a tome.’ Lisa Taddeo and ‘Self-aware, self-deprecating, relatable, funny and brilliantly curious’ by Stacey Dooley. How did it feel to send out your work, your baby, and then receive back such incredible endorsements?
Pandora Sykes: I’m so incredibly grateful that a bunch of women I admire, got what I was trying to do. I am not sure it’s really sunk in yet.
NakedPRGirl: You also talk about finding one’s path to contentment in the book. Do you feel like people struggle with the concept of happiness, or perhaps we complicate it too much? What is your idea of happiness?
Pandora Sykes: I think where there is a disconnect, is that we have forgotten that happiness is a contrastive state. That in order to be happy, you also have to sometimes be sad. I think it’s great that we really consider our lives and our psychological states a lot more than we used to – but I do also worry that we are moving from being aware of our feelings into sort of surveilling ourselves at all times. It’s definitely exacerbated by social media, and I don’t think that’s healthy.
Pandora Sykes on life
NakedPRGirl: Now that you’re in your 30s, what would you say to your younger self? Your career has taken a few interesting turns and you’re now a mother, so has your outlook on life shifted?
Pandora Sykes: Oh for sure. And it shifts all the time. I think I would remind myself to concentrate on the things that matter. And always act and respond with conviction and thoughtfulness.
NakedPRGirl: With working from home being a hot topic right now, you have two young children at home – do you find it challenging to work from home, or do you enjoy the flexibility?
Pandora Sykes: It’s hard because there’s no strict demarcation between my work self and my mothering self – just a kitchen door – but it’s lovely because I get to check in with my babies throughout the day. Having not really taken a maternity leave with either child (and regretted it), it makes me feel much safer and calmer to be at home, albeit in another room, whilst they are being looked after by our incredible nanny, without whom my husband and I would not be able to do our full-time jobs. We are enormously fortunate.
NakedPRGirl: I think I have read that you only check social media on certain days, how did you come to that decision, and that has that really worked well for you? I find myself endlessly torn between feeling like I have to be continually available and checking what is happening vs thinking what is better for my mental health and more efficient in general (in a compartmentalising 4 Hour Work Week – if you’ve read Tim Ferriss – kind of way).
Pandora Sykes: I normally check once a week – I want to instigate Monday as my check-in dates. I’m checking a lot more at the moment as I have to be for various work reasons, but I will definitely go back to once a week, when I can, post-publication.
NakedPRGirl: Okay, a tough one: what is your proudest moment of your career to date?
Pandora Sykes: I was enormously chuffed when I got my job at The Sunday Times, as I had always wanted to work there. Hitting No.1 on the iTunes charts with The High Low was a true ‘pinch-me’ moment. And I imagine holding my book in my hands will, when I come to my sane senses, feel incredible! At the moment I’m in the thick of it and I haven’t really had time to pause and appreciate the full weight of how lucky I am, and how proud I am that I managed to write it, whilst not having the easiest pregnancy.
NakedPRGirl: And finally…What’s next for you (rest and relaxation is a completely acceptable answer!)?
Pandora Sykes: Publishing the book! And then some downtime in August.
Listen to The High Low here
Buy Pandora’s Book on Waterstones here.