Desert Island Discs with Kate Abundance (née Aldridge)

 

It’s 2027. Kirsty Young is still hotter than she should be. Kate Madikane is still…very Kate

Kirsty Young: My castaway this week is a lifestyle entrepreneur who managed to slot herself into the post Brexit malaise that hung over the UK in the years between 2017 and the present day. She has been lauded as Exporter of the year in 2025, with the expansion of her clothing lines, spa, retreat and lifestyle brands expanding in African markets and is still very much hands on as the head of her family business which runs, with the help of her daughters, Phoebe and Noluthando across the 2 continents.

Her foundation is a major player in women’s emancipation and development and she is herself a United Nations Ambassador.  She has celebrated a landmark birthday this year but is incredibly youthful in her outlook and approach belying her half century on this planet – Call me Kate – her autobiography was a smash hit a few years ago and she is no stranger to bringing her own flavour of personal reflection to her global brand Spiritual Home. We are excited to hear your desert island discs Kate Abundance.

Kate: I am delighted to be here Kirsty, I have no fear about looking back over the path that brought me to where I am today. I am truly blessed to have led a fascinating life and love to talk about my inspirations and motivations.

KY: Can I ask initially about your recent name-change? Listeners might know you as Kate Aldridge or Kate Madikane?

Kate: You can Kirsty – As I laid out in the book I realised that I have been attached to a series of men’s names in my life – was born an Aldridge, married a Madikane but I chose my own name Abundance to signal that finally – at 50 – I am able to receive the gifts the universe has for me, myself.

KY: And they certainly seem abundant Kate – is it true that you always wear your own line of clothing?

Kate: That is correct Kirsty – everything from these vegan shoes to sustainable denim jeans and this crisp white cotton t-shirt, the undies and even these ethical diamond earrings. I eschew fast fashion and have built my brand on simple, inexpensive, fairly traded pieces that never go out of style.

KY:  Wonderful, before we get going can you tell me a bit about your brand itself? It seems to wrap around one’s whole life – combining food, beauty, lifestyle and homewares and key trends in health and wellness.

Kate: There are those who deride the wellness industry as superficial and promoting vanity, or packaging  premium prices for non-essentials but I see it as more of a spiritual calling. but the best kind, with a lot of swaggy merch that you can sell.  I would never call myself a wellness guru but things really began to change for me in late 2017 when I met a few truly inspirational women who became generous  mentors and friends to me.  Through my work with social media thought leader gingham cloud I began promoting my small rural spa Spiritual Home on Instagram and before I knew where I was I was invited to a series of women-wellness networking events.  Into the vacuum left when Melisssa and Jasmine Hemsley gave up on the clean eating and fell off the wagon and into the pies I learnt that multi-platform branded lifestyle goods were the way forward, and at all price points! Spiritual Home has become a sort of one-stop shop for millennials, the premium wellness brand in the UK with our body scrubs and clay masks in Boots, our chia seed and coconut protein balls in Waitrose and our pube and body-hair curlers available online at –

KY: Other pubic hair curlers are available, this is still the BBC after all, despite assaults on our public service ethos by commercialisation you still are’t actually supposed to nakedly plug your own stuff you know?

Kate: Oh so sorry, my aunty Lillian said that this would be good for my profile – she loves the effects of the curlers – so much more natural than these dreadful Brazilian wax-jobs the young girls are into – such an extension of the male gaze straight from porn you know – I believe that bodyhair makes women powerful in their own right – and I believe that the tide might be turning if sales of my intimate conditioner are anything to go by –  oh sorry I realise how deeply uncool product placement is but I am my brand and can’t really help but drip that through my –errr – self.

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Edina Monsoon: an upmarket Kate

But we also bring our messaging around positive psychology, body image and blanace  to women with less disposable cash with a tie in with Poundland which, frankly is far more lucrative than the high-end stuff

KY: you’ve been dismissed by rival as a ‘pound shop Anita Roddick’ or a ‘cut-price Edina Monsoon’

Kate: Hahahah I hadn’t heard that last one – hilarious no I am not ashamed of making money in different market segments. It is just basic business sense  – turning over half a million units of Epsom salts flavoured with a trace of essential oils in a week is always going to return more than selling a facial in a spa for £500 a throw.  The aspirational part of the brand feeds the mass part – all tied together with PR to die for and creating enough surplus for the foundation and for me to donate my profits to charity. Philanthropy – good causes – self esteem –wellness – it is all a mutually reinforcing belief system. It sort of takes the Goop approach to its natural extension – total wrap around lifestyle branding.

KY: Well, quite. But looking over your early life it may not be always obvious that you had absorbed the business acumen shown by some members of your family, who had made their fortunes in more conventional spheres.

Kate:  Made and lost Kirsty. Fetishing land deals as my father did showed a very 20th century sensibility.  Adaptation is the key these days.

KY: …and you have most certainly proved adaptive – if I was talking to you as a 20 year old single mother or  a 40 year old college drop out it would be hard to predict this meteoric rise.

Kate: Well yes Kirsty but I am ready to speak openly about some very difficult issues from my life. At times it felt as though music was my only friend. I have had periods of my life where I have been absolutely desolate with depressions and I always had some specific songs that I kept with me even if I was separated from the people I loved, my children, my parents… myself even.

KY: Well lets start at the very beginning – You have written in your autobiography that your Home Farm childhood was not a happy one despite being part of an affluent and prominent county family?

Kate: Ugh, what does that even mean? That snobby nonsense about status. You are right to say that we were indulged with material things but we were starved in other ways.  My therapist told me once that “The children of lovers are always orphans” but just imagine all the drama and confusion of being the daughter of such flagrant and egregious philanderers as both my parents.  And the hypocrisy? Being part of a prominent county family played right into Jennifer’s rather controlling and perfectionist streak, which seemed to harden the more out of control her liasons felt to her and as for  Dad- well let’s just say through my whole childhood he was more interested in other women than little girls.  It was often quite chaotic and worrying for a sensitive child and sometimes I would feel very lonely and  weird, even as quite a young child.

Kate: God no – both Brian and Jennifer are quite selfish and the atmosphere was often quite tense between them in ways that we children couldn’t help but pick up on. I have had quite a lot of therapies over my life including a lot of counselling, past life regression, emotional release therapy, reiki, reflexology, and well… you don’t need to be a Jungian analyst to point out that people who struggled as much with marital fidelity as my parents aren’t exactly role models for either emotional open-ness, reliability or security.  I had a wonderful feminist therapist years later who pinned most of my later issues on fear of rejection and a struggle to trust people.  The sheer effort my parents put into expending all their emotional energies outside the family, had long-ranging consequences on all of us. It certainly is no coincidence that my other siblings are childless and that I have never lived with all 3 of my children in a family setting I have learnt that recent studies suggest that the subtle changes in an adulterous parent’s behavior can unsettle children, regardless of whether the truth leaks out and even if the children are too young to understand what is happening.

Against this backdrop, however  I have one very strong memory, however which sticks out where we were the big happy family that Jennifer imagined we looked like to the rest of the village  and it was a Sunday I couldn’t have been older than 3 or 4 and this funny marching song about Captain Beaky came on the radio – Dad seemed to know the words and sounded hilarious reciting them and we all did a conga round the kitchen pretending to be all the animals – cos I was small I was passed between Adam and Debbie, and Mum and Dad and I think Gran was there too.  We were all laughing together and pretending to play instruments and singing and fooling around.  The song puts me right back in the kitchen, in the early 80s…

  1. Captain Beaky

On reflection I was desperate for someone – Captain Beaky or anyone – to have any form of moral compass.  “he’d march the woodland singing songs that told how we had righted wrongs” wrongs weren’t righted much at Home Farm, more covered over, allowed to fester and denied.

KY: So not quite the idyllic picture postcard childhood then? But there were other sources of support available to you? Your half-siblings and your sister Alice?

Kate: Yes despite the 7 year age gap and the fact that we were so different as characters I have always been able to rely 100% on my big sister Debbie.  It was a huge source of pain to us both that life took us to different countries so often but I still text, message phone or whatsapp her most days wherever I am in the world.  She really understood, you see, the upset of being part of our family and how hard I struggled to trust and to love.  Debbie would always save her Just17 magazines and Smash Hits magazines for me and we would often read Smash Hits together poring over the lyrics of the songs, and taping the charts from the radio following along with the lyrics in Smash Hits, I remember all the lyrics from things like yazz and the plastic population, Frankie goes to Hollywood and We’ve got a fuzzbox  and we’re gonna use it – we liked the more obscure and female-led bands even then having graduated from Pepsi and Shirley, we liked Madonna of course and kylie but  the real stand-out that we enjoyed together was a singing along with our hairbrushes to   uh-oh we’re in trouble by shampoo – I remember their bubble gum smash hits cover and learning all the words – I must have been 10 or 12. Despite laughing with Debbie and singing into our hairbrushes it was far more my experience than hers- she wasn’t a rule breaker really, not a rebel like me and never in trouble. I on the other hand…

2. “Uh-oh we’re in trouble”, Shampoo

Kate: We went to see Shampoo together in Felpersham. Jennifer was relaxed about where I went as long as Debbie was firmly in charge and I flipped out over the energy of the live show – I was fascinated by the lighting rig, the crew, all the people behind the scenes.  For a girl bored by country life and insecure about her place in the world it seemed like a wonderful magical travelling circus… and planted a seed about performance, lights, camera, action and spotlight. This was in the period after I was expelled from Cheltenham Ladies College.

KY: you have been very open in the past about your teenage rebellion and drug use. I mean in the early nineties rave culture and psychedelia were quite mainstream and blended with youth culture but Kate you did take it to a bit of an extreme.

  1. “Little Fluffy Clouds” (long edit), The Orb 

Kate: well yes Kirsty – ‘when I was young and stupid I was young and stupid’ but you are quite right I definitely took my teenage rebellion to an extreme. I confused dangerous with interesting for a long time and had a whole series of totally unsuitable and careless men, Warren for example, who almost killed me in a stolen car. i simply couldn’t understand that I took risks from a deep sense of self loathing  The first time I ran off with the new age travellers after my GCSE results in 1994 it was a pretty shiny happy time – It wasn’t only about sex and drugs but there were all kinds of radical possibilities swirling around. It sounds silly now but it truly felt as if a new society were possible without ownership, patriarchy and boredom and loneliness – sharing and building and growing.

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Kate’s semicolon tattoo: a sign of a “punctuated existence”

Road protest movements were to show that a society not in harmony with the environment is a sick one.  Well I realise it sounds pretty naïve now but it has taken me very long time to realise that escaping Ambridge for ever beardier versions of Brian – self aggrandising swaggering narcissists, like Luther, Byronic, moody and infinitely physical who turned me on to all sorts of stuff but was a deeply controlling person I was so in awe of him and he taught me so much, but then  it took me a long time to realise that reading Schopenhauer on mescaline was all very well but if a man is taking your money to buy drugs – then the bohemian nature of the transaction is only skin-deep y’know. I do wonder what happened to Luther, did he burn brightly and extinguish himself? or is he a middle-aged guy somewhere? At least I didn’t bring him back to Home Farm like I did Jolyon Gibson, who I was foolish enough to install back in Ambridge, who was the ultimate trustafarian cliché. But there were elements of the lifestyle that were unfluffy in the extreme, there were times of utter abject desperation and totally intense union and camaraderie. I was on one drug or another every day of that time.

 

KY: And this changed – when?

Kate: When I started to feel that there might be worse things than being warm and safe – I also began to forgive my mother after a particularly intense series of revelations up a tree on a road protest at Newbury… Not really knowing what else to do I went home, took anti-depressants and tried to fit back into a straight and conventional life. my somewhat shattered sense of myself and my self worth. I had attempted suicide on NYE 1995 you see – just wanted to check out and make the madness stop. That is why I have this semi-colon tattoo Kirsty, it is worn by people who have reached that place and for whatever reason decided to go on. A punctuated existence so to speak.

  1. “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore”, The Smiths

Kate: I became very obsessed with this song around that time – and it totally fed into my self-desctuctive state of mind – I became obsessed with the idea that “I just might die with a smile on my face after all” havi been far more into electronic music the way that a guitar gently weeps when you are down mirrored me at my lowest. Before I took the overdoes of Tamazepam on NYE 1995 I listened to the section of this song from 2 minutes in over and over and over again… you had to rewind the tape deck and it had a heavy clunking sound. I just stayed like that for hours and hours.

Oddly enough later talking to Roy about music became a point of connection, all those post-punk bands like The Cure, Joy Division it was music that was part of  the attraction of Roy at the beginning –  he was almost amazingly uncomplex and – despite some ugly friends – who no doubt are UKIPPERS in this day and age he adored me, helped to rebuild,  also we hit the road again but in a far more manageable form than the road protests had been concentrating on selling wholefoods in a van at the less chaotic and druggy fringes of the festival scene. That summer was one of the happiest of my life – we made an absolute killing, worked hard and I felt we’d found a happy medium between freedom and structure… the van pulsations was wildly popular.  Despite being really happy I sabotaged the relationship, it was never going to be quite enough for me to be on the fringes and I kept getting drawn back towards toxic people and scenes  having properly scared Roy with my consumption of various substances the happy days were over between us. He was only ever really a tourist I suppose.  However there has always been a piece of my heart devoted to Roy – and I have never been so grateful for the fact of his parenting of Phoebe- who – as everyone knows was born at Glastonbury in 1998.  It  was hellishly muddy that year but I managed to enjoy a few bands before my waters broke watching Jhelisa – I have always loved this song and it now reminds me of having Phoebe and the infinite possibilities of new life.

  1. “Friendly pressure”, Jhelisa

Kate: It didn’t last however,  I suffered terribly with post-natal depression, felt horribly trapped in Ambridge and with a disapproving Jennifer and extended family watching me with my new baby and again the old trouble began to flare – feelings of worthlessness and like I was going mad – which with PND I might have been. Later in therapy it was explained that the psychadelics I had taken with a developing brain, combined with post-traumatic stress from risky and terrifying behaviours around men and sex, and mixed in with the hormones of being a new mum were a very volatile chemical mix.  I did a flit with Phoebe to Morocco with some old mates but when she fell ill and I felt unable to cope I crashed back to Ambridge feeling even worse about myself.

KY: This was somewhat of a pattern for you? You found yourself drawn back to Home Farm but once there almost immediately want to set off again

Kate: Yes I hadn’t understood until my forties when I finally became more comfortable in my own skin then that it doesn’t matter where you are in the world – the one constant is yourself and how you feel in yourself.  That is why I embrace wellness as a philosophy – anything I can do to make people –especially young women – to feel more their best selves I will try to do. And I know that that stuff can’t be marketed and sold.   Single motherhood in Ambridge was absolutely awful – another grim period- I became convinced that just being in Phoebe’s life was irrevocably damage her in some way and just had to get away.  I sat at the airport repeatedly playing the cassette single of the Macy Gray song over and over again and sobbing.  “I try to walk away and I stumble”

But in the end  knew I was doing the right thing for Phoebe – It look me 40 years to forgive my mother for the things she did wrong and I truly believed that my absence would be better for her than my presence and so I boarded the flight.  This was 1999 and was the longest period I spent away from England and the past. I didn’t return until 2010.

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Macy Gray, “I Try”
  1. “I Try”, Macy Gray

Kate: I had a whole other life with Lucas in Africa but it took me more than a decade to realise I had exchanged one oppressive close-knit, enmeshed village setting for another, feeling trapped and miserable I fell passionately in love with someone outside my marriage – a friend of the family of all people – and they were all so horrified and disgusted in me that I had to go back to Ambridge again.

Again I had it – and I smashed it.

KY: And then what? What made you stop smashing and begin building?

Kate: Well this is a song from just around the time when everything started to come together for me – a song that reminds me of my daughters and feeling like the person I was supposed to be and pushing on and getting going! It makes me cross when people are just on a nostalgia trip y’know… bitching on about how music was better way back when…

Sometimes you need something completely fresh and new to shake you out of yourself and move on y’know?

  1. “He is the voice I hear”, The Black Madonna

Kate: The tune is just infectious isn’t it? It guess I was just ready to stop being a mess and start rolling up my sleeves.  And I coudnt be happier with the results. My pride and joy is to see Phoebe as the COO of the Foundation now, travelling the world investing our profits in women-led businesses and doing deals with governments, the United Nations  and other non-profits whilst Noluthando runs the production side from her base in South Africa.

That these two strong, proud and competent women are my daughters is the joy of my life and we have built adult relationships as women that I was unable to commit too when I was first their mother. I really only have a notional role with the businesses these days although I do keep a close eye on the spa business, still headquartered at Home Farm and, it is a true family affair as Debbie and Lilian are on the Board, as are my close personal friends; Stella McCartney, Amal Clooney, Melinda Gates and Hillary Clinton.   I hope that my story is one that can inspire women to transcend their emotional blockages, work through their childhood and adolescent issues and to take their places as world leaders, no matter what their start in life. I truly believe that everyone deserves to be able to flourish, and that women helping one another can create a kinder form of capitalism.

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“Jennifer took the loss of Brian’s money and his death very hard…”

KY: One person you haven’t mentioned Kate in this meteoric rise – your mother Jennifer – does she get a seat at the glittering table you have just described with world leaders and feminist philanthropists?

Kate: Poor Jennifer, no she hasn’t been doing too well these past few years, she took the loss of Brian’s money and his death very hard, and has been somewhat trapped in a spiral of guilt and self-loathing. We provide for her very well of course but the loss of face and status was all a bit too much for her.

And this brings me to my final track – the Pete Seeger version of Sometimes I feel like a motherless child. Another sad song I’m afraid but the lyric – sometimes I feel like a feather in the air, reminds me to forgive and forget.

  1. “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child”, Pete Seeger

KY: So Kate, you can take with you The Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare What book would you like to take to your desert island?

Kate: I would like Kirsty, a copy of the complete works of Robert Anton Wilson, he was hugely influential in the Spiral Tribe days but I was always a bit too distracted or off my face to read it properly – I would like to see if there really is anything to it.

KY: So if all but one of these tracks was washed away which would you keep with you?

Kate: Oh god – so difficult. I think I’d keep Jhelisa thankyou

KY: And for your luxury?

Kate: A lifetime supply of my own brand pants

KY: And on that note Kate we must end. Though I feel there is enough material here for several more hours we are at the end of ours. Thank you for letting us hear your desert island discs

KM: Thank you

Music swells

Thanks to Dr Nicola Headlam (@networknicola) for this Easter special guest post

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