Mailbox Sessions Takeover – 5 Minutes With Joanna Simon

5 minutes with, Mailbox Life, Pamper

Posted on November 20, 2017

Mailbox Sessions Takeover

5 minutes with: Joanna Simon


The Mailbox Sessions are back with a bumper weekend of non-stop events. Marking one year since the relaunch, there’s plenty to choose from, with celebrations being hosted by Aluna, Gieves & Hawkes, Toni & Guy and many more. We’ll also be catching up with some of the guest hosts and stars of the events, as they take some time out of their busy schedules.

This weekend, award-winning wine specialist, Joanna Simon, joins us at the Mailbox for our very own wine tasting event – we caught up with her for five minutes:

1. Hi Joanna! Let’s start with a little about how you got to where you are…

I was very into food and cooking in my teens and I happened to pick up a book on wine. Something just clicked and I thought this is what I’m going to do. By the time I graduated from university, where I’d been heavily involved with the wine society (my parents probably thought a bit too heavily), I’d lined up a job in the wine trade.

From there, I moved pretty swiftly into writing about wine, editing a couple of specialist wine magazines before becoming The Sunday Times wine critic, which I did for years.

Along the way I wrote several books including Wine with Food, Discovering Food and The Sunday Times Book of Wine.

I’ve presented a wine series on BBC Radio 4, co-founded The Wine Gang, – an online monthly wine review magazine and wine events company that’s going from strength to strength, edited the food and drink pages for House and Garden Magazine, and travelled extensively to vineyard regions.

I also have my own website, which has weekly wine recommendations, recipes, restaurant reviews and so on. And of course, I love sharing the fun and excitement of wine, and wine and food, through hosting tastings and events.

2. The wine tasting session you’re hosting alongside Harvey Nichols sold out in a matter of hours. What can lucky ticket holders expect?

 I’ve chosen six wines from around the world that are delicious in their own right but which we’re also going to pair with Harvey Nichols charcuterie and cheeses. There’s a nod to classic wine styles but I’m also going to be introducing people to some really exciting new wave wines that they might not have thought of trying.

 3. We’ve heard you’re a fan of the wines at the Harvey Nichols Wine Shop. What’s your personal recommendation from there?

 It’s such a good selection of wines, it’s almost impossible to choose just one but I highly recommend Harvey Nichols own-label wines. They come from leading producers around the world and the labels are very stylish. If I was going to pick one, I’d say try the dry Australian Riesling. It’s a very underrated style of white wine and food-friendly.


4. If a novice walked into the Wine Shop and wanted to shop to impress an expert such as yourself, what advice would you give them before they went in?

Be adventurous! Instead of heading for the famous, recognisable names, go off piste and pick out wines that you don’t know anything or much about.

 5. You’re part of a busy weekend here at the Mailbox. What other events have caught your eye and why?

The Cocktail Masterclass – for new ideas and inspiration, and I’d love to see the dishes Richard O’Connell is cooking up at Tom’s Kitchen.


6. Obviously, there’s a different wine for every meal. With Christmas on the horizon, which wine should be on the table for turkey and the trimmings this year?

I think red goes better with turkey, so I recommend Pinot Noir because it’s good at coping with all the trimmings as well as the bird. Also, white wine drinkers are usually happy with it because it’s not a heavy, tannic red. I’d go for a New Zealand or Chilean Pinot Noir.

7. You’ve been lucky enough to travel with your work. Where’s your favourite spot on the whole globe? You don’t have to say Birmingham…

There are so many lovely wine regions but I’ve been on two trips to Italy recently – Bolgheri, close to the Tuscan coast, and to Valpolicella near Lake Garda. It reminded me how beautiful Italy is. I also spend a lot of time in southwest France in a remote spot not far from the Cahors wine region.

8. You’ve presented on BBC Radio 4 – let’s hop over to another show on there and play Desert Island Drinks – one wine, one cocktail, one non-alcoholic drink, one book (or boxset, it’s 2016) and one luxury item (we’ve given you a corkscrew).

Champagne. Negroni. Freshly squeezed blood-orange juice. I don’t think I can claim to need any of my own wine books but I’m hoping to find some vines growing on the island and so I’d like Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz. It covers more than 1368 vine varieties and tops 1200 pages so it’ll keep me going for a long time.

As for the luxury, I shan’t need the corkscrew (but thank you anyway). I’d like a supply of vintage Champagne. I’ll find a cool cove, cave or stream in which to chill it.

9. Imagine we’ve given you a £500 gift card to spend on a new autumn/winter wardrobe at the Mailbox, but the rule is that you can only spend it at one shop. Where do you head for your shopping spree?

I’d be off to Armani Collezioni!


10. And finally, if you could share a bottle of wine with any celebrity, living or dead, who would have the other glass and why?

The Reverend Richard Coles! He was one half of the band, The Communards, in the 1980s and now presents BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live (when he’s not being a vicar).

He always sounds such fun and so grounded. He got to the semi-finals in Masterchef, so I know he likes food and cooking, and I’m assuming he likes wine too.

Tags: Dr Sam Buntingharvey nicholsMailboxmailbox sessionsWine

Mailbox Sessions Takeover – 5 Minutes With Suzanne Virdee

5 minutes with, Mailbox Life, Pamper

Posted on November 20, 2017

Mailbox Sessions Takeover

5 minutes with: Suzanne Virdee

It’s the biggest event in the Mailbox calendar, as the Mailbox Sessions return to celebrate our first anniversary! Bigger, better and featuring even more exclusive sessions across the weekend, we’ll also be catching up with some of the stars of the show for a special takeover of our ‘5 minutes with’ interview.

Hosting no less than four of our exciting sessions across the weekend, we caught up with TV presenter Suzanne Virdee, to talk fashion, beauty, Birmingham and more!

1. Hi Suzanne! Let’s start with a little about you and the day job…

I always wanted to be a journalist. From a very young age I wrote and produced my own newspaper which I sold to family and friends (well, made them buy!).

How did I break in to journalism? Well I didn’t give up and kept banging on doors until one opened and I landed a job as a trainee newspaper reporter. Since then I’ve worked for BBC Radio, ITV News Central, presented on BBC Midlands Today and BBC Breakfast, and now I’m a presenter and reporter for ITV News in London. My job is a very privileged one because I get to meet and interview famous people, and very varied too. For example, a couple of weeks ago I was interviewing Daniel Radcliffe (aka Harry Potter) about his new films, and then the next week I was reporting live for the ITV National News about the junior doctors appeal against their new working contract. I’ve also interviewed the Prime Minister, and presented documentaries!

The job is highly pressurised but there’s never a dull moment, and it can lead you to amazing opportunities. Just this summer, I was asked to appear in a cameo role as a newscaster in a film called The Death and Life of John F Donovan. It meant flying to Canada for about three lines of script, but it was so much fun and what an experience.

I’m also passionate about helping girls to achieve their dreams and to be resilient to all the 21st century throws at them. As we know from so many recent news reports, growing up is tough nowadays, so I’ve recently written a book called A Teenage Girl’s Guide to Being Fabulous! It’s for 11-16 year olds to help them navigate those tricky teen years.

2. You’re hosting no less than four events for us at the Mailbox Sessions, how did you know this was an event you wanted to get involved with?

I get asked to host a lot of events and I do rather pick and choose. But this one was a definite YES. I used to work at the Mailbox when I presented BBC Midlands Today and have loved seeing how the Mailbox has become a real jewel in the crown of the city. It’s got such a lot to offer and each event I’m hosting really showcases that.

3. One of the sessions is finding your colours for autumn/winter; what’s your favourite colour to wear and why?

That’s a really hard question to answer. I think my mood dictates what colours I wear. For work on screen I go for fairly bright or neutral, block colours. I go through phrases of loving certain colours; a few years ago everything I bought was purple! This winter I’m loving all the dark rich reds out there and the khaki coloured greens, whilst my off duty wardrobe will have quite a few winter floral patterns. There’re so many out there at the moment and I think they’re gorgeous.

I think it’s true though that just because a colour or style is in fashion it doesn’t mean it suits everyone. I think we’ve all bought something because it looked fabulous in the shop but then when we’ve tried it on at home realise the colour and shape does nothing for us – I know I have anyway! I’m looking forward to hearing how not to waste money like that and get it right first time!

Aluna Cocktails Mailbox Birmingham

4. You’ll also be shaking things up at the cocktail masterclass with Aluna; if you could create your own signature Suzanne cocktail, what would you include and why?

It’s no secret among my girl friends or my husband that I’m rather partial to a cocktail! A cheeky cocktail kicks off the night if I’m out, and when we have friends over for dinner, I’ll take on the role of bartender to mix a few signature cocktails. I don’t like sweet cocktails, so normally I go for something like a cosmo or maybe an apple martini. A gin or vodka based drink is always a winner, but I love champagne too, so a cocktail with champagne would be heavenly. I can’t wait to see what Aluna serve up and get a few more recipe ideas.

5. A little bird tells us you celebrated your birthday earlier this month, but what’s the best birthday present you’ve ever received?

Gosh, now this is a tough question to answer because I risk offending so many people! I have to say my friends and family know me so well and I always get lovely gifts. But the best birthday present was from my husband and was a Tiffany and Co necklace from the Fifth Avenue store in New York, in homage to one of my all-time favourite films Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

6. You’re originally from the Midlands, but now spend a lot of time working and presenting in London. Be honest, do you prefer Birmingham or London, and why?

Well I’m a Birmingham girl so I am biased towards Birmingham, but I also love our capital city. It really is an amazing place to work and play, although getting around it for work isn’t always easy! London is like no other city in the country so it’s an unfair comparison in some ways, but Birmingham has never been better, especially for shopping or eating. I believe we have five Michelin starred restaurants which is amazing. I don’t think I can choose, I genuinely love both cities and I’ve got the best of both worlds working in one and living in the other!

7. Where is your favourite spot in Birmingham, and why?

My favourite quiet spot to wander and watch the world go by is Cannon Hill Park in Edgbaston. I used to go there as a very young child to feed the ducks and play crazy golf with my grandparents. I still go there now; it’s just a stone’s throw away from the city centre but a world away from the hustle and bustle. However ever since the wooden windmill was burned down by vandals it’s not been quite the same! I also love watching the city wake up, so grabbing an early morning coffee before a meeting and sitting by the canal watching joggers and people head to work is nice too.

Harvey Nichols Birmingham Mailbox

8. Just imagine we’ve given you a £500 gift card to spend here at the Mailbox. There’s just one rule, you have to spend it all in one store… so where are you headed for a shopping spree?

That’s tough – anyone who knows me, knows I adore shoes. I’ve bought shoes from Daniel Footwear, LK Bennett and Harvey Nichols in the past, but if I was given £500 to spend in one store then I’d have to choose Harvey Nichols because of the variety. They’ve got so much choice under one roof, from the shoes to clothes and you can even get your hair done and a massage. There’s also the added bonus that after shopping and a little pampering I could go for a nice lunch too.

9. You’re used to being the one in front of the camera, but it’s time to take a step back. If you could pick anyone to play you in a movie about your life, who would you pick and why?

Oh my – what a question. I’m not sure anyone would want to make a film about me. However, as we’re in the realms of fantasy I’d choose the brilliant and stunning Natalie Portman. She’s got brown hair and eyes after all!

10. And finally, describe the Mailbox in 5 words:

First class shopping and fun.

Tags: alunaBirminghamharvey nicholsmailbox sessionssuzanne virdee

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