ANGIE HILTON catches up with JULIA GREEN, an interior stylist, writer, producer, speaker, brand ambassador, TV host, consultant and mum of two gorgeous boys – an touches on the sensitive subject of bullying.
I fell in love with Julia before we even met.
To be honest I didn’t even know who she was at the time, but I ended up in her house (while she wasn’t there) to interview her inspirational son Max on how he overcame bullying.
Julia’s husband Adam greeted me at the door of their house, I took one step in the front door of her house and my jaw dropped. It felt a bit magical as I wandered down the corridor trying to stay present to the conversation with Adam but internally drinking everything in that my eyes landed on.
This house has serious ‘feel’ – each piece of art, furniture and trinket has so much character and purpose. I started raving to Adam about his amazing taste and, in true humble ‘Green style’, he said “Oh, my wife is a stylist so I’ll give her all the credit.”
It wasn’t until after I left and did a little internet stalking that I found out it was famous stylist Julia Green’s house from Greenhouse Interiors. I knew I had to catch-up with and pick the brain of such a successful woman who has raised two beautiful boys and has a thriving career. Could she really have it all? Does she have the magic elixir of work/life balance? Also, I really wanted to find out how, as a family, they dealt with watching their son Max go through two years of horrific bullying.
Angie: Julia! I finally get to meet you in the flesh. I’ve been devouring all your Greenhouse Interiors content on Instagram and your website, and I’m feeling so inspired to give my home an overhaul. How did your career as a stylist begin?
Great to meet you too Angie, and thank you for your kind words. It’s actually a hilarious story. I was heavily pregnant; in fact Jesse was due to be born that day! I was selling a couch on eBay (as you do when you’re pregnant – sell everything that’s not nailed down). So I get a knock at the door and in came this stranger wanting to buy my couch. He walked in and started looking around at everything. I actually started getting nervous, thinking that I was about to be robbed. He must have picked up on my apprehension and apologises for being such a sticky beak. He asked “Who do you style for?” My response was “What ebay?” I was so naive. I didn’t even know what a stylist did. I’d been in the pharmaceutical game for 17 years. Yes, I was a professional drug peddler (laughs). He handed me his card that said Vogue Photographer and told me that if I wasn’t a stylist I was in the wrong job. It was a complete sliding doors moment. I was so flattered but also in shock. I knew my current job didn’t crank my tractor but I also didn’t know if I was capable. When my maternity leave came up I thought ’there has to be more to life than the corporate existence’. That actually never sat well with me. I plucked up the courage to call him and the rest is history.
Angie: As hard as it is, your fierce passion for it is very obvious.
It’s an addiction – a real adrenaline rush. I must admit in the thick of it I ask myself, ‘Why am I doing this? This is so so hard!’ and then you get to end and I think it’s just like childbirth where it’s a moment in time. My mum always said having children is all about moments. It’s a series of moments and some of them are so good and some of them are so crap! (laughs). The ‘moment’ for me is when I’m presented with a blank empty room and I have to create a whole space that creates an emotion. Let’s say I do this to eight rooms in one day. When it gets to 6pm I stand back and give myself a tiny high five. I can see why you’re so successful, because not only are you super passionate and creative, but you have so much energy. I imagine it’s very hard for you to slow down. Now, this is my greatest downfall of all. In fact, I recently got given a cup that says ’Sleep is Overrated’. In other words, people have come to associate me with this ferocious appetite of energy, which is all very good and well, but what happens is the people who suffer the most as a result of that are my own family. I really don’t know if the word ‘balance’ exists. I do think it’s fictitious. I think people who have their own business find it the hardest. I’ve allowed myself to have one sick day in eight years.
Angie: Does it ever spill over into anxiety?
Yes it does. I found anxiety kicked in after the birth of Jesse. It’s not something I’ve ever spoken about publicly. Because of my background in pharmaceutical and, I knew enough about mental health to realise where I was headed. I sought help very quickly and was very open about it with my family who were a great support. They popped me on to some anti-anxiety medication for a time. I think after having Jesse the intense feeling of responsibility really hit me and I had this overwhelming sense that I wanted to make things perfect for my children. Also, since running my own business I feel way more nervy and anxious than I ever did in a normal job.
Angie: Well you’re obviously made of pretty tough stuff, as are your boys Max and Jesse. I had the privilege of interviewing Max about how he overcame the affects of bullying. How did it all unfold? Did you know he was being bullied right from the start?
Yes, he was a lot more open when he was younger. Now he’s an obstinate teenager who I’m lucky to get a grunt out of (laughs). That’s a whole other story – how to parent teenagers. My goodness! On a serious note, we always fostered very open communication. It wasn’t hard to pick the problem. We could see emotionally and physically what was happening. The difficulty was in getting them addressed. Was the school helpful? They were absolutely useless. Horrid actually. We put up with it for two years and then withdrew Max from the school. We had countless meetings with the principal and, at one point, we even had to engage the Department of Education because things were so hairy. The school and the families involved were in complete denial. It was just a shattering experience all round. Did you contact the parents of the bully? Well you follow the protocol, which is to go to the school first so it’s handled appropriately. We were happy to abide by the rules as we hadn’t been through anything like this before. I mean, who gives you a rule book telling you what to do if your child is bullied? We learned pretty quickly that nothing was going to happen. So we did end up contacting the family directly. So did the bully keep at him through that whole period? Yep, the whole time. To the point that the school ended up allocating one teacher for recess and lunch to shadow Max like a bodyguard. And the moment the teacher left to go back to the classroom, Max got knocked to the ground and hit his head on the concrete. That was the day where we just said, you’re not going back. So you can imagine the emotional consequences that Max went through. He totally withdrew and stopped eating. It got so bad that he was hospitalised for what we thought was appendicitis because he was in so much agony. After two days of testing, the doctors announced it as pure anxiety.
Angie: That must have been so painful for you both to watch as parents. What steps did you take from there?
It was a long process. After we withdrew him from school we engaged professional help straight away. We received absolutely nothing from the other parents despite handling it as best as we could. How could the other parents just ignore it? Well this is the root of the problem. It all starts at home and if the children’s parents can’t see the wood for the trees you’re up against it. I don’t pretend my kids are perfect; if someone came to me saying we have a problem with Jesse or Max because of XYZ, I would investigate that. I would not say “my child would never do that”. Those in denial are so much to blame for perpetuating this crappy situation. We started him at a new school only four weeks into the year. He fortunately had a fabulous year and the new school really nurtured him through it. As painful as it was, he has learned some great life skills – resilience being a huge one.
Angie: As a parent, what was your biggest takeaway from the whole situation?
The greatest thing we learned was about bystanding. I am so passionate about teaching Jesse and other young ones you must not watch this go on, you must speak up. The most disappointing aspect of the situation was that there were about 10 families that knew what was going on and said nothing. It was like they had their fingers in their ears. It was disgusting!
Angie: How did your younger son Jesse go throughout all of this period?
He was only young, but over time he has really taken a lot away from the situation. I’m so proud of how Jesse reacts in the schoolyard these days. If he sees anything unjust he storms up there and with his big voice he says “That’s not right. That’s not fair. How do you think you’d feel if someone said that?” It makes us so proud.