Ella Mills may be pregnant with her second daughter, bringing out a new cookbook, and considering the changes to life after lockdown – but the thing that keeps her up at night? Her sourdough...
Ella Mills has found a new hobby – baking bread. “I’m obsessed with making sourdough,” she laughs, explaining that the process occupies her thoughts so much that she has, on occasion, been known to bring her proving loaves and starter mix into the bedroom at night for fear that the kitchen might be too cold – much to the amusement of her husband, Matt.
“And, because I’m pregnant and have to pee all the time,” she continues, “when I get up at night, I have to stop myself from putting on the light to have a look at how the loaves are doing...”
Ella’s bread-based obsession is a result of lockdown, and finding herself with more time – thanks to the absence of the morning commute, back-to-back meetings, and moving between her central London office and deli as the founder and creative director of the hugely successful Deliciously Ella brand.
But it’s fair to say that Ella still has quite a full plate on which to cram her new baking ambitions. Her latest book, Quick and Easy: Plant Based Deliciousness will be published this summer, her role in the family business she started in 2012 is as wide-ranging as ever, and she continues to produce a chart-topping podcast alongside her husband and CEO of Deliciously Ella, Matt.
The couple are also expecting their second child this autumn, their daughter, Skye, is just 10 months old when we speak, and they all share their home with furry family member Austin, a playful Cocker Spaniel who, Ella notes, is delighted with their extended time at home together.
While lockdown may have brought about a pooch-approved change of pace, Ella is all too aware of the devastating impact it has had on others. She describes her own experiences as ‘mixed’, thankfully without illness, with the main challenges centering around responsibilities as business owners.
“As with everyone, the beginning of lockdown was tough,” she explains. “I think partly just from a Deliciously Ella perspective, we were trying to sort out a thousand changes, and that was pretty overwhelming.
“Once we got a better handle on everything, and settled into a new rhythm, a new plan for the year, and a new focus, things kind of levelled out.”
Despite the rocky start to quarantine, the expulsion of the ‘old normal’ has brought some positives, including Ella’s experience of pregnancy carrying her second daughter, which she describes as “a joy, and a significantly easier experience”, adding that: “Motherhood has been the most unbelievable transformative period of time in my life. I’ve learnt so, so much.”
As well as the lessons motherhood continues to offer, Ella shares that Skye’s arrival last year signalled a much-needed shift in her own attitude to work. “I was working 14 hours a day, six days a week, and that was just not going to be sustainable, having a baby.”
Now, her approach has changed, and Matt has taken an even greater role in moving the core business forward. It’s evident from the way Ella speaks that they both love what they do, their teamwork, and each other, very much.
Motherhood has been the most unbelievable transformative period of time in my life. I’ve learnt so, so much
Ella and Matt’s work ethos, capacity to learn, and share their failures, was beautifully illustrated in Ella’s 2018 title The Plant-Based Cookbook. Stories of stock concerns, cash flow issues, business growth challenges, and burn-out, were nestled between mouth-watering recipes, and each chapter led the reader through the highs and lows of entrepreneurship.
In 2020, life looks very different for Ella and family, and so the narrative surrounding the plethora of plant-based recipes in Quick and Easy is one of wellbeing, evidence-based health information, and snippets of advice from the industry experts interviewed on their podcast. Most importantly to many who follow her progress, it includes her own personal health and wellness experiences over the past eight years.
“During that time, I’ve come to appreciate that although wellbeing is such a complicated topic in many ways – and impacts so many areas of our lives from the way we work, to our relationship, and friendships – in other ways it’s really simple,” she says emphatically.
“There are small things that have so much science behind them that we’re not always brilliant at doing, and yet they can make such a fundamental difference to our health. Trying to sleep well, making time for a bit of exercise, preparing that easy nourishing lunch or dinner – they’re all things that genuinely have a big impact.”
Ella’s passionate advocacy around wellbeing extends to sharing her deep love of yoga – a major pillar in her own wellness plan. “There’s no better way for me to connect to how I feel and think,” she enthuses. “There’s just a sense of peace and calm that I get from yoga that I haven’t found from anything else I think that’s why I keep coming back to it. That’s what pushes me to practise and learn more.
“And yoga isn’t for everyone,” Ella explains. “But there are so many other types of movement to explore and enjoy, and if you find what you love, you will keep coming back to it, too.”
Having and maintaining her own wellness, Ella says, is a privilege that she doesn’t take for granted, because of her own ill-health in the past. The original Deliciously Ella blog, and catalyst for her books and business, emerged from an extended period of illness and isolation at home in her early 20s, after being diagnosed with Postural Tachycardia Syndrome – a debilitating condition that causes even the simple act of standing up to become a overwhelming challenge for some people.
And how is she today?
“Now, on a day-to-day basis, I feel good physically and mentally, and that’s something I’m so grateful for. My wellness is also a massive work-in-progress, and always will be.”
Further reflecting upon the period of isolation she spent as a younger woman, as well as currently social distancing, Ella ponders the advice she might now give to her 21-year-old self.
“I’d probably say enjoy the ride a little more!” She laughs. “There’s been so many intensely busy and scary periods for all kinds of reasons, and it’s really hard to enjoy it when you feel like you could go out of business tomorrow, and when you’re always moving on to the next thing. That’s something I’d like to change.
“I’d also say that this year has taught us, more than ever, that we just don’t know what’s coming next, but as human beings we have an unbelievable ability to adapt and put one foot in front of the other. More trust in our ability to do that would probably serve us well.”
‘Deliciously Ella Quick & Easy: Plant-Based Deliciousness’ by Ella Mills, out now (Yellow Kite, £25)