As a newly-divorced mother-of-two, Myleene Klass is getting used to standing up for herself. But with women-baiting turning into a national sport for some commentators, the classical musician-turned-fashion designer has decided to speak up, this week hitting out at the “horrid culture … that criticises [women] all the time”.
Her comments mark a growing unwillingness among female public figures to accept poisonous press coverage about them as an occupational hazard.
Klass called for less malevolent public debate, particularly from other women, and to “give every woman a break for Christ’s sake”. “Women are so good when they’re helping each other,” she said, “but there’s a horrible culture at the moment, which I do not buy into whatsoever, that criticises all the time … everyone has to stop telling [them] what to do.”
Her comments come after singer Katherine Jenkins was forced to defend herself against the vitriol of the Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir, who had lambasted the singer for wearing “lashings of pink lip gloss, sooty false eyelashes [and having] her blonde hair pulled back into an immaculate ponytail”, while running 26.2 miles on behalf of Macmillan nurses, in memory of her dead father. That also followed the recent contempt heaped on the television presenter Claudia Winkleman for having, of all things, a fringe. Author Hilary Mantel and the classicist Mary Beard have also had criticism heaped on them recently, when male contemporaries would not have similarly suffered.
A self-declared “strident feminist”, Klass, 35, attacks the characterisation of strong professional woman as “bolshy, bossy, bitchy”, adding: “If they’re a guy, it’s just like, ‘Yeah, he’s strong.’ But if it’s a woman, they’re deemed [to have] male attributes. I look at the Beyoncés of the world and see the strides they’re making and how defiant and strong they have to be.”
Klass has found herself picked over in the pages of the press recently, after her short-lived marriage with long-term partner Graham Quinn broke down in dramatic fashion.
Legal reasons prevent her from discussing the break-up with Quinn, whom she met in 2001 when he was a bodyguard for pop group Hear’Say.
A High Court judge concluded that the marriage had “broken down irretrievably” and granted a decree nisi. Details of the settlement are being hammered out, but could see Klass lose a chunk of her estimated £12m fortune because there was no prenuptial agreement.
The treatment of women in public debate could have implications for young girls as they grow up, such as her daughters, Ava, five, and Hero, two, she said. “It will be very difficult to be a girl growing up in their generation,” she said. “They’re going to come from the generation of women that has it all. So they’re going to be the ones to decide where it all goes and was that the right thing. Or actually should they take a step back and re-evaluate?”
The split has left her as “mum and dad”, but she quickly adds that many others who cannot afford to employ the support she does are in a trickier situation.
She said: “I’m absolutely not a tiger mum. Of course, I want them to be the best they can be. What’s the point otherwise in surrounding them with strong female role models?”
Partly thanks to an opportune decision to wear a white bikini on the reality show I’m a Celebrity.... Get Me Out of Here, which led to her modelling for Marks & Spencer, Klass has found a second source of fame as a fashion designer – for Littlewoods and Mothercare.
Klass handles her clothing lines herself, jetting around the world for business meetings. On top of that, she presents two weekend shows for Classic FM and is contracted to the news network CNN.
“How do I fit it in? I always say that if I was going to create a new business I’d hire single working mums because I’d know that not only would it run smoothly and efficiently, we’d all be done by teatime because everyone has to get home to do the bath and bed.”
Hate messages: objects of scorn
Katherine Jenkins After running the London Marathon this month, raising £25,000, the 32-year-old singer was branded “smug” and “fame-hungry” for wearing make-up and designer sunglasses.
Mary Beard Following a turn on Question Time, the classicist suffered what she called “truly vile” abuse from online trolls that would “put many women off appearing in public”.
Hilary Mantel Became the victim of a hate campaign after she wrote about the Duchess of Cambridge. The Booker Prize-winning author said afterwards: “I have absolutely nothing to apologise for.”
Alexa Chung Was forced to defend herself against accusations of being “too thin” last year after she uploaded a photo of herself with her mother. The TV presenter responded: “Ok everyone thanks for the teen angst discussions. People are different sizes. I’m not trying to be thinspo [a ‘thinspiration’] for anyone.”