Isabel Spearman: 'Working with Sam Cam and how one successful horse played cupid for me'
She went from Samantha Cameron's girl Friday to front-page news over her controversial OBE. Isabel Spearman shows Katie Law round her home in London's Shepherd's Bush and sets the record straight on life at No 10, that nickname and the time her husband did a runner ...
When Isabel Spearman moved in with her new husband, Mark Crocker, four years ago, one of the first things she did was order two skips. "I really enjoy having no clutter and it's lovely to have a clear space in London, but it's more difficult now we've got children," says Samantha Cameron's former special adviser, picking up her one-year-old son, Jack. We're sitting at a long, sanded-oak table in the Spearman-Crocker family home in a leafy enclave of Shepherd's Bush. Apart from the wooden toy railway set that Frank (2) is playing with on the floor, the top-floor open plan space is entirely clutter-free and zoned into three separate areas for cooking, eating and relaxing.
During the week, the couple and their two sons, plus dachshund Hippo, live here, while weekends are spent in a rented cottage in Oaksey, Wiltshire, where Crocker grew up. Did Crocker mind having all his stuff thrown out of his old home? "No, it was quite therapeutic. I'm naturally more of a farmhouse-type, but this space lends itself to clean design."
The pair bought the London property, part of a former Victorian laundry, in August 2013 when it was still offices. They were living in South Kensington, but Crocker immediately saw its potential and employed award-winning architects McLaren Excell to work on the two-year project. "We had to get change of use from office to residential; then we completely gutted it," says the former tech entrepreneur, who sold his previous companies, Zycko and hardware.com, "very profitably" five years ago and has since become a dab hand at property development.
Light pours in through the five-metre high vaulted glass ceiling and corner south-facing terrace, which has a lush vertical "living" (although in fact fake and UV-resistant) garden down one wall. "I love not having a garden. The park is just opposite and London gardens always look so ragged unless you spend time and money on them," says Spearman, who herself looks immaculate in a Zara skirt and grey Cos sweater.
On the floor below are four boutique hotel-chic bedrooms - all beige carpets, walls painted shades of Dulux pale grey and minimal down lighting - while the three bathrooms are wall-to-wall Carrara marble and mirrors.
Crocker explains that the downstairs ventilation system, controlled via an app, is MVHR (mechanical ventilation heat recovery), which is highly energy efficient and produces fresh filtered air like a Passivhaus, without needing to open a window. It's helpful for the boys who have asthma.
Heating is underfloor, including beneath the expanse of polished concrete upstairs. Rows of smooth, custom-made, oak-panelled doors concealing oodles of storage space stretch out as far as the eye can see. "We've got so many cupboards and benches for all the toys and things, which is brilliant when you're entertaining," says Crocker, lifting a bench seat next to the table.
So who do they entertain? Their joint address book must read like a condensed Who's Who. Before making her name in Downing Street, Spearman (38) did a stint in Delhi for Sam Cam's mum, Annabel Astor (co-owner of toffy interiors store, Oka), having previously worked for Anya Hindmarch, who is Frank's godmother. Close mates include Sam Cam's half-sister, Flora Astor, Johnny Kidd - father of Jodie and Jemma - and Tom Helme, whose fabric company, Fermoie, provided the textiles for the bedroom curtains.
"Actually not many of our friends are in west London," says Spearman. "But the space has been an amazing opportunity to pay back so many people who have given us beds and dinners over the years. I tend to cook and Mark plays front of house although, in his defence, he's a very good cook. I'm just a control freak."
Spearman grew up in London and went to boarding school at Downe House in Berkshire when her parents (her mother is Spanish) moved to Perthshire. She went on to Newcastle University, "which I hated", and quit to work for Hindmarch. "I always wanted to get on, to work in fashion and to earn money. I was hungry to get going," she says.
How did she end up at Downing Street? "I wanted to go back into fashion (after Oka) and bumped into Samantha. It was coming up to the election and she said she could use some general help. I said that would be quite handy between job interviews. Then in 2010 they won the election and I stayed on," she explains.
"I was a bog-standard special adviser and did what every special adviser does, which is look after who they work for and make sure that they turn up appropriately dressed, although Samantha is very conscious of her own style.
"She did a charity reception every week and a lot of charity work, which wasn't particularly public. She was working at the time and had all the children, so any visits we did, I'd go and recce - any media liaison and press, I was the go-to for all of that."
During her five-year tenure, Spearman came in for a lot of stick from the media, not least when David Cameron recommended her for an OBE in his resignation honours list. And then there was her nickname. "I hated being Bells. Sam knew me as Bells because her brother calls me that, but only him. Then she called me Bells at Downing Street and within a week everybody else was, and it was too late." She sounds fed up. "And please don't put in what my salary was, because I can't say what it was, but it was nowhere near that amount," she continues. Is she referring to her reported £60,000 salary? "That's the thing, but you can't say; you have to sit on your hands; and I was the only person who worked for her."
Spearman now runs her own branding consultancy, spearmanconsulting.com. "I'm going back to my roots with fashion brands and marketing, which I love. I've got a handful of successful clients who are women. I'm helping them to feel confident on the image side and with what they're wearing," she says.
There have been rumours of a joint fashion venture with Sam Cam but Spearman, who has signed non-disclosure agreements, insists none of her clients is especially high profile.
In 2011, she was named Tatler's most eligible singleton before tying the knot with Crocker (45), who was no bad catch himself. Brought up in Wiltshire and educated at Milton Abbey, Crocker left school at 16. His stepfather was the race-horse breeder, fundraiser and commentator, Lord Oaksey, who died in 2012. Still, the family has continued to enjoy a string of racing triumphs, most recently with Coneygree, winner of the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
"Isabel came and spent a weekend (in Oaksey) and fell in love with a horse. That's how we met," Crocker jokes. A passionate rider, she had been invited by Crocker's sister, Clare Casey, whose husband, Nigel Casey (now Theresa May's private secretary for foreign affairs) had been working as a diplomat in Delhi at the same time as Spearman.
"I didn't realise there was a brother involved; it was a set-up," she laughs. Ironically it was another horse, called Carruthers, which eventually helped seal the deal. "Mark and I had broken up for four months; he had done a runner, but came back to see Carruthers race," says Spearman.
"I was at that point where I was either going to get married or not," Crocker says. "I freaked out and ran off to Barbados to stay with the Kidds but realised the error of my ways and came back for the race. Carruthers won (the 2011 Hennessy Gold Cup) very unexpectedly, so then I went to see whether Isabel would still talk to me." He proposed to her in the Lanesborough Hotel the next day and they were married in the village church in Oaksey.
In a twist of fate, Crocker got a call from a Wiltshire neighbour last August to say the 45-acre farm Crocker's stepfather had sold 30 years ago was back on the market, so they have decided to sell their Wendell Park home. "It came completely out of the blue and it's been a big decision to move from London back to the country, but with two boys running around, it should fit into place nicely."
*Rylett Studios, W12, is for sale for £2.2m via Finlay Brewer (020 8749 7719) and Knight Frank (020 3797 2233; onthemarket.com)