Dudley & Co talks to Meg Mathews about her many lives, from party-going Britpop Queen, through recovery and revival, to her love of dogs and driving Britain’s fight against the scourge of puppy breeding.
Words Elliot Wilson
Meg Mathews is relaxing at home in London’s fashionable Primrose Hill when we speak. The 1990s wild-child and Britpop party queen has lived at least five lives and maybe nine or ten. She lived rough on the capital’s streets before going on to run a PR firm, work with hip-hop artists and marry Oasis frontman Noel Gallagher.
She’s been to 10 Downing Street to speak to three different UK prime ministers, to lobby to right wrongs inflicted by us on animals. Her efforts led to new laws banning puppy farming in April 2019. In between, she raised awareness about the impact of menopause, launching a Website, www.megsmenopause, and a range of products.
Right now she’s holed up at home, sheltering from coronavirus and missing Ziggy, her cross-breed German Wirehaired Pointer/Wirehaired Vizsla. Normally, Ziggy is a codependent little pup (no surprise there, as all Vizsla owners know) who’s content cuddled up on Meg’s sofa, or roaming Regent’s Park with his daily dog-walker, Ruth.
But in recent weeks, Ziggy’s been living it up in the bucolic surrounds of Suffolk, northeast of London, on Meg’s boyfriend’s farm. “I miss him, but we FaceTime every day. He can hear me talking; he recognises my voice when it’s on loudspeaker. He even sniffs the screen,” she says.
Ziggy lounging at home
It sounds like the evacuation in World War Two, when thousands of British children were sent from bombed-out cities to live in the countryside. Fast-forward 80 years, and Ziggy has shucked off city life with ease and is gallivanting round the farm with Meg’s daughter, Anaïs.
“He’s loving it,” she says. “He’s never been around chickens or sheep or goats. Ziggy hated the rain, loved the sofa and would never swim in Hampstead ponds. Now, his doggy instincts have kicked in, he’s stalking chickens and pointing properly [for non-Vizsla-owners, it’s best to Google that reference]. So long as they are all healthy and safe, I’m happy too.”
Even his sleeping habits changed. Country life means an overdose of smells – foxes, hares and deer, not too mention all those domesticated ungulates – and that means early to sleep and late to rise. “Usually he wakes me at 5am, tail wagging, wanting a walk,” says Meg. “On the farm, he snuggles up by the Aga and sleeps in ‘til eight.”
Speaking to Meg is like turning the tap on full. There is simply no pause – the verbal faucet goes on and the words tumble out, whole paragraphs of coherent thought built upon a lifetime of achievement. When many well-known people boast of having had “the most amazing life”, very often they haven’t.
But she has. Meg’s parents were both working class – Dad a scouser, Mum from the Isle of Sheppey – and despite a private education, she left with no qualifications or clear aim in life, and battling the hyperactivity disorder ADHD.
Yet despite living on the streets, she thrived, as survivors and fighters always do. “I never have thought I’d meet [the actor] Dennis Hopper, or Tony Blair when he was prime minister.” But she did, lobbying the latter to tighten laws on hare coursing. She worked for Def Jam records and designed wallpaper displayed in Liberty London, all the while knocking back champers and attending party after party (after party). “When I sit back and think about the things I’ve done, I’m in shock,” she says.
Even though she is dry and has been for years, life, she can picture “all the fun, the festivals, being up for days on end. I remember all the good times and I don’t regret them but I remember the dark times too. I am an alcoholic and I know that and the way to live my best life – for myself and for my family – is not to drink.”
Life is calmer now – lots of breathing and mediation, early to bed and, thanks to Ziggy, early to rise – but London is packed with friends, who she catches up with online and over the phone, at least while the pandemic Covid-19 remains a threat.
Most of us write to-do lists. Few get around to ticking the boxes, be they learning to play guitar, or scaling Mount Kilimanjaro. Meg does, putting her resources – her personality, drive and intelligence, not to mention her contacts book – to good use.
Her two latest passions are no exception. The first is puppy breeding, an issue hiding in plain sight until parliament finally acted last year. It is still a problem in many parts of Britain and across Europe, but one that’s slowly being addressed.
Meg hit the problem head-on when she bought Oscar, a Boston Terrier, from a breeder in a town in northeast England. “It was a five-hour car ride to Grimsby. We saw a playpen at the house but not Oscar’s Mum or Dad. There were different sized terriers everywhere, but I just didn’t put it together at the time. I chose the runt of the litter, as you do, and left.”
That’s when the problems started. Oscar visited the local vets 35 times in the next six months. “He was kind of the hero of the place,” Meg says. But the pain the little guy felt was intense. Oscar was born with a cleft palate and cleft lip, and with his stomach separated from his other organs. His kennel papers weren’t worth the paper they were written on.
Eventually, Oscar had surgery in north London. He was in agony, and after having his stomach stapled, it was touch-and-go whether he’d survive. But he did, passing away peacefully in Primrose Hill last year, aged eight.
Puppy farming is a scourge. All issues that cast a shadow over life are. For most of us, the reaction is to wring our hands, or perhaps sign an online petition or donate.
Meg’s hands-on approach to life doesn’t work that way. Through Oscar’s slow and painful journey back to health, she met Marc Abraham, or ‘Marc the Vet’ as he’s better known, a veterinary surgeon, broadcaster, author, and animal welfare campaigner.
Pup Aid, Marc’s brainchild, which promotes better understanding of puppy breeding, has been running for years. At one event, the Queen musician Brian May gave Marc a guitar to auction, with Meg convincing Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller to donate signed guitars. It’s through their work and countless others that rules were tightened last year. The next Pup Aid event is slated for November 2020.
Meg was happy sharing her home with family and Oscar. But then Anaïs got fixated with Wirehaired Vizlas, and that was that. “I’d have preferred adopting a shelter dog,” says Meg. But her daughter was resolute. Anaïs saved up £800 and drove to Cambridge. This time there was no puppy breeder, just a normal family with a litter of squeaking pups. That’s how Ziggy ended up being a star of Primrose Hill.
Meg’s second passion is more complex. Sooner or later, every woman faces the menopause. It can hit fast or slowly, inching its way insidiously into life. But arrive it does, and when the train bore down on Meg, she was unprepared. During a family holiday in California, she barely got out of bed. Her body and mind were flat-lining.
“I didn’t leave the house for three months,” she says. “I didn’t set an alarm, couldn’t wash my hair or take a phone call. I went to such a dark place, I can’t believe I’m here today.”
Meg’s Menopause range
Finally the embers sparked to life. She had blood tests– privately done and at considerable cost – and saw the problem was a lack of oestrogen. After rubbing a night gel into her skin, the night sweats evaporated. Two weeks later, her mood lifted. She visited her local doctor, who found a yam-based hormone replacement therapy called oestrogel, available on the NHS for just £4 ($5).
Trouble is, many doctors, not just in Britain but also around the world, know little about the menopause or its transition stage, peri-menopause. British GPs study it for just three hours – even though suicide rates spike among women in their fifties. Piqued by general inaction, she set out to educate women and the health system, and launched her own affordable range of products, available in Tesco or Superdrug, and direct via her Website, www.megsmenopause.com.
Meg spoke to media, lobbied government, and met with companies, encouraging women to open up about menopause, and asking society to listen, instead of letting the issue hide in the shadows. “Every woman should be told about this at the age of 45,” she says. “There should be a place in HR for this. Women shouldn’t have to say: ‘I have brain fog. I’m scared to lose my job’. This should be supported from the top.”
Meg Mathews has spent her life identifying difficult destinations then finding ways to get there. Listening to her speak, I’m reminded of the American operatic soprano Beverly Sills, who once said: ‘There are no shortcuts to any place worth going’.
But like all of us, it takes very little to make her happy. She’s in a good place, living the latest iteration of her best life. The day after we speak, Ziggy returns from the boondocks. A lovely surprise, she tells me by email. Instagram posts show a very happy Meg and a very happy Ziggy, reunited again on the sofa in Primrose Hill.
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