piece of my mind: with Helena Lee

Now, how to do Helena justice...

I met Helena on my Journalism Masters course back in 2011. We quickly worked out we had lived identical lives; both North London girls who had been to exactly the same school and university, separated by just six years. This was something that often made me sad...that I had been robbed of so many years of her friendship.

She was pure sophistication even back then; insightful, wise and classic. She was the first foodie I ever met. A revelation, after three years spent drowning in a puddle of pesto pasta. I remember being blown away that she had left a top job in advertising- shooting campaigns on South African beaches and even owning a work phone- to start from scratch as a writer. I was mainly impressed that she had helped put those Comfort fabric conditioner rag-dolls on television screens nationwide (what a cultural contribution.) Here she was, back-to-school, eating Pret sandwiches and doing coursework with the rest of us. 

Helena landed her first job at Harper's Bazaar magazine where, once again, our paths aligned, living out the assistant dream. She is now the Features Director there (of course) but, most incredibly, the founder of East Side Voices; a vital new platform celebrating the writers and creatives of East and Southeast Asia- with a mission to smash the problematic stereotypes of Asian culture in the media.  

Her cultural salon launched in February at The Standard Hotel; a series of in-conversations with award-winning novelists Rowan Hisayo Buchanan and Sharlene Teo, as well as the designer Rejina Pyo, no less. Oh, and she has a book deal...so look out for her curated collection of essays on everything from sexuality to typecasting and tokenism in Hollywood, due 2022.

It is an absolute honour to have just a five-minute window into Helena's beautiful brain. Off I go to Google all her recommendations...
What is your current state of mind?
Hopeful. Against the background of terrible things that are happening, I am lucky to be surrounded by and working with people with purpose, and the best creatives in the world. 

If you could own any piece of art, which would it be?
Barbara Hepworth’s Pelagos, which I would put in the middle of my living room, so I could walk around it, admire its perfect shape, and think of the sea.

In another life you would have been...
An animator. 

Who is your real life hero and why?
The ‘experts’. Women like Professor Sarah Gilbert, who are helping humanity just by doing their job excellently, without the purpose of profit, or benefit to themselves. It’s cliché, I know, but I can’t help loving Michelle Obama. Imagine how many young girls’ lives have been changed because of her.  

Which books do you have on your bedside table?
A stack of proofs as high as my head. Also, Caleb Azumah Nelson’s Open Water; Fleche by Mary Jean Chan; Sophie Mackintosh’s Blue Ticket; Virago’s Writers as Readers; Girl by Kenya Hunt are all keeping me company right now.   

Which piece from your home would you save in a fire?
A painting given to me by a dear friend who is no longer with us.

What have you learned about yourself these last few months?
That I’m more resilient, and yet more breakable than I thought, and that I definitely take pleasure in the small things (framing a piece of art, a newly-painted fireplace, the crispy pork I’ve just made for dinner). I’ve also discovered that I really like my children, they’ve both genuinely got a great sense of humour (that’s no guarantee, you never know what you’re going to get!)

What is your most used emoji?
The double heart. Dishing out all the love right now, whenever I can. 

Can you name a piece of literature that has changed your life and why?

‘Wild Swans’ by Jung Chang. It has devastating power, and is storytelling at its best. It’s a book that simply couldn’t be written now.

What is your motto?
Never regret.   

Who or what has taught you your greatest lesson in life?
I was once told that one should always talk to the oldest person in the room – because everyone avoids them, but more fool them – you’ll get the greatest reward.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A hug.