It is not only the searing temperatures that will make the summer of 2022 memorable for best friends Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, as they have their very own record-breaking moment to celebrate.
At Helen’s Berkshire riverside home, the double Olympic champion rowers and their children have come together for an exclusive hello! photoshoot, as they remember the incredible day they entered the history books as the first of Team GB to win gold in London 2012, and tell how their lives have mirrored one another’s ever since. “I can’t believe it is ten years. In one way it seems only a few years ago, and yet so much has happened since then,” says Helen, 36, now mum to Logan, who has just turned four, and two-year-old twins Kit and Bo, her children with her husband, TV wildlife presenter and adventurer Steve Backshall.
The whole nation was waiting for that moment to celebrate the first gold in our home Games, and to be the people to do that was incredibly special. The Games came just after the Diamond Jubilee, and there was still lots of bunting up everywhere. It felt like a continued celebration as there was so much British pride in both.”
The same is true on our shoot, as the children delight in playing with the Union flag – as well as their mums’ medals. “They are usually more interested in bugs than my medals,” says Helen, who also won gold with Heather at Rio 2016. “It is the first time Magnus has shown an interest,” smiles Heather of her two-year-old son’s fascination today, as she recalls: “I guess I may be looking back to 2012 with rose-tinted glasses as I most remember the fun stuff and enjoying the experience with Helen, not the hard work we’d had to put in!”
The pressure was certainly on that day as they kicked off the record-breaking haul of 65 medals, 29 of them gold – making it the UK’s most successful Olympics since 1908.
Both agree they couldn’t talk about their part in that triumph without mentioning their coach Robin Williams. “He was always telling us that it was our journey, our dream, and reminding us how much we loved it,” says Helen.
But it did not end there, as the two women became the closest of friends. “You know in that moment in the boat together, you have something that connects you,” says Helen. “And win or lose we knew we would always be connected by this shared experience. We really are the best of friends, and always will be. Our lives have taken similar directions and that has only enhanced our friendship.” Today, they are delighted that the spotlight is on not only them, but also their children, who enjoy spending time together, meeting as often as they can.
Soon there will be a new addition to the fun, as Heather reveals the wonderful news that she and her husband, army officer Jonny Howse, who live in Wiltshire, are expecting another child. “Our second child is due in November, which is very exciting. Magnus adores playing with Helen’s three. He has been following Kit around like his shadow. I grew up with two older brothers, so I wanted him to have siblings,” says Heather. Motherhood has massively changed their lives.
Helen says: “Being a mum has changed my overall perspective of what is important in life. My kids’ happiness is a far greater responsibility than I ever felt sitting at the start of a race.” Logan, Kit and Bo are “a little pack, but with extremely different personalities”, she says. “There isn’t a leader – they probably all consider themselves the leader. Logan has an artistic side, he has discovered dancing, drawing, and is an absolute bookworm. Kit is a total cheeky chappie and can charm everybody – he is full of life and gets stuck into everything.
“And Bo, through totally her own accord, has discovered a love of dresses and unicorns, which just makes us laugh and is lovely, but we don’t know where she has got that from.” Helen regularly delights her followers with photos of their outdoor, mud-filled adventures with Steve. “But Bo will be with them in a dress halfway up a tree, climbing faster than either of her brothers, so she is that lovely mix.”
Would either Helen or Heather, who is an army major and was given dispensation to pursue an Olympic career, hang out the bunting if their children chose to follow their path in life? “The military has given me so much, so if that is the chosen path I would support it,” says Heather. “And in terms of sport, yes, definitely. Even if you don’t become a professional athlete, you learn so much about yourself and other people through sport. It is how I gained my confidence.”
While Helen says that what she and Steve have most quickly learnt through parenting is “that we have very little say about what they do in life! Steve and I are really on the same page of giving them options and opportunities, but never having in our minds what we would advocate for them to do, because that is probably what they will rebel against. “Of course, if any of them decided to become sporty then, yes, I’d be really happy to share something that I know and love. For now, learning to swim is the only sport we say they must do, as living by the river, they know the rules and they know to respect the water.” It is also where they feel most at home, even providing the perfect place for nap time. “They don’t always fall asleep in their cots, but put them in the canoe and they go fast asleep!”
Today the two mums have winning words for one another. Heather, Helen says, “is one of the most amazing people I have ever met; she is such a solid friend, super organised, super determined and quietly gets on with things without realising quite how brilliant she is”.
The praise comes flooding back. “Helen is fiercely competitive and extremely capable, but also so caring and genuine. She always thinks of other people before herself,” says Heather, who describes Helen’s return to competition with Polly Swann for the Tokyo Olympics – the first mum to make a British Olympic rowing team – as “such a huge achievement to even get there, and then to get so close to winning a medal, and at the same time juggling three children under three”.
There is bound to be more to come from the two women. “There is a world of adventure to have,” says Helen, whose new book with Steve, Wildlings, is inspiring families to embark on some outdoor fun. “We are already planning some wonder ful and wi ld camping adventures,” says Heather. “What can possibly go wrong? The kids get muddy,” she laughs. “We’re both outdoorsy families and love spending time together.”