Swiss Cottage charity founder donates her children’s book to key workers
PUBLISHED: 11:32 20 April 2020
Last month Esther Marshall gave her empowering book Sophie Says I Can I Will to Harry and Meghan for baby Archie, now she is raising funds to give it to NHS staff
Founding a charity, writing a children’s book, and meeting Harry and Meghan - Esther Marshall has packed more into her first few decades than most do in a lifetime.
Not to mention that the former South Hampstead High pupil completed her book in the small hours while feeding her newborn son.
It was his birth that spurred Esther to write Sophie Says I Can, I Will.
The Swiss Cottage resident explains: “I found the nights an incredibly lonely place. You are under so much presure and told it’s wonderful to breastfeed, but I was up every hour feeding and I was drained. Looking through Instagram I felt so low looking at people’s perfect lives, in my sleep deprived state it wasn’t good for my mental health.”
As she later explained to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, she switched instead to reading behavioural science books which explained that a child understands “where they fit into the world” by the age of three.
“All the books are about white male characters or animals who go to the park. I wondered why on earth are there none for children of that age with a more empowering message? And how has children’s publishing not caught up with the fact that 45 percent of children come from mixed backgrounds - it’s such a great opportunity to change harmful stereotypes.
“There was nothing I wanted to read to my son so I used that time in the night to write the book I wish I had as a little girl. I wanted to give him all the lessons I wish I had known about equality and good mental health.”
Heroine Sophie can’t sleep, so she puts on her thinking hat and imagines all the wonderful things she might be - from pilot, scientist and lawyer to sporting star. Her parents encourage her with positive messages about kindness, self respect and achieving her dreams regardless of gender, race, religion or class.
All proceeds go to STandTall a charity she founded to “get people back on their feet after abuse or bullying.”
It springs from her own teenage experience in an abusive relationship.
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“Eleven years ago I went through an abusive relationship. I didn’t want to talk about it although my friends obviously knew I was in hospital. Until you are out of it, it’s so difficult to see... afterwards I felt totally ashamed that it was my fault. It was only when I went to University that I became my own person and realised my worth .
“Some years later I went to a One World event and heard people talking about abuse and realised ‘this is part of who I am. I am stronger because of it, why am I hiding this away?”
Last month Marshall, who speaks in schools about self esteem and empowerment, met Harry and Meghan as part of The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust to talk about Sophie Says and STandTall. The meeting to champion young leaders was one of the couple’s final engagements before stepping back from Royal duties.
“Harry and Meghan loved the book, it’s going to Archie, which is lovely,” says Esther. “It was a private meeting. We were all shaking, fumbling with our name badges, but they walked in and put everyone at ease. They were so sincere and caring, it just felt like a normal chat.
“They really love the work that young people around the world are doing and they are going to continue as President and Vice President.”
Marshall, who grew up in East Finchley, named her charity after a line in something that she wrote at the time of her abusive relationship.
“At the end it said ‘I am going to stop writing and I will stand tall again’. I decided to name the charity after that because on days when it gets too hard that will keep me going.”
“It feels good that it’s an experience I can turn into a positive - it’s my superpower because it’s given me a different perspective on life.”
Marshall has now launched a campaign to raise £10,000 to supply 2,000 copies of ‘Sophie Says’ to schools and charities for vulnerable children and children of key workers during the pandemic. People can donate the cost of a book which will be delivered to schools and charities - all proceeds will go to STandTall.
“With Covid 19 I sat there like everybody thinking ‘what can I do? My parents are doctors and I can’t do anything. But the more I read about children’s mental health being locked up in a room and stats on calls to the domestic abuse helpline, I thought can we ask people to donate the price of a book to children of key workers?
I feel STandTall’s work is even more vital now.”
They have raised nearly £6,000 already and Marshall adds: “How amazing people are when everyone comes together. It makes you realise there is sunlight at the end of this tunnel.”
Donate here justgiving.com/crowdfunding/sophie-says-1
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