Heaven & Hell: Bella Middleton

Bella Middleton

Bella Middleton - Credit: Norfolk Natural Living

Bella Middleton started Norfolk Natural Living with one belief: to bring joy to everyday rituals. As a working mother of three, life is hectic enough, so she wanted to make it easier to choose environmentally-friendly products which also add an extra element of joy to your life.

She opened her first shop, a utility store, in Holt, Norfolk, in 2019. She then opened a wellbeing pharmacy and perfumery shop in December 2020, and in October she opened a little gardeners’ store.

Bella makes each product by hand in her King’s Lynn workshop, and believes in taking her time and using the finest natural ingredients. Here she talks to Gina Long. 

What’s the impact of COVID-19, and how are you adapting?  

We have three shops in Holt - a perfumery, a gardeners’ shop and a utility.  In fact, during the first lockdown we only had our utility store which we had to close - but it was because of the support from our customers during the first lockdown that I had confidence to open our wellbeing and perfumery store. The support from our customers to continue to shop with us online has been fundamental to our survival. I also think in some ways it’s actually brought us closer together - the sense of loyalty has been really wonderful and quite overwhelming.   

What is your connection to East Anglia? 

Even before we moved to East Anglia, my husband and I would love visiting Suffolk and Norfolk.  There’s so much beauty to explore - escaping from London, it’s a complete haven. One of my greatest friends lives just outside Coddenham in Suffolk and I have spent many hot summers in her garden. In fact, it was her rose garden that first inspired me to create our rose garden parfum. It’s quintessentially British, and I can’t imagine a better place to be as the evening draws in and the blooms release their intoxicating fragrances. 

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What is your East Anglian Heaven?   

Walking along the coast. From Pakefield in Suffolk to Holkham in Norfolk, I have always adored the wide, sandy beaches. My dog Hobbes goes quite wild when he’s by the sea, and watching the murmurations of the starlings in late autumn is something I look forward to all year. It’s utterly mesmerising. 

Bella Middleton

Bella Middleton - Credit: Norfolk Natural Living

What is your East Anglian Hell? 

It has to be the windy single roads. But at least they don’t have the hill starts of Devon - my clutch control is not up to that. 

What are your favourite East Anglian restaurants?  

To me, a good restaurant is about atmosphere and great food. In no particular order - I love The Gunton Arms in Norfolk, especially at winter time. The décor is out of this world wonderful and cosy and they have this fantastic open fire, which is quite a spectacle when dining. 

In the summer I love going to Snape Maltings - they always have amazing concerts on and the food is delicious. My number one though is the Pizza & Live Music in The Tipi, as it’s so relaxed.  

But I can’t forget to mention The Leaping Hare, Wyken Vineyards. It’s beautiful and the food is both seasonal and local - even the wine is from their own winery. And when the sun is out, it’s the best place on earth when you can sit outside and enjoy the view. 

Bella outside of Norfolk Natural Living

Bella outside of Norfolk Natural Living - Credit: Norfolk Natural Living

What’s your favourite East Anglian landmark? 

As I have a small family - everything is centred around entertaining my small brood. We love visiting Orford Castle - the basement maze of passages is wonderful to play hide and seek in. Holkham Hall is fabulous on a sunny day - we hire bikes and whizz around the grounds. The art exhibitions at Houghton Hall are always worth visiting, let alone for the décor inside the house - I’ve never seen rooms like it. Then of course I can’t forget Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk, we always take a picnic and the children love the adventure playground, but most of all following the UFO trail. 

What’s the best thing that happens in East Anglia every year?

Holt Christmas Lights. The town comes together, the mood is wonderful, the lights really feel magical and the children go wild for the fireworks. 

In the summer I adore the food festivals in Suffolk. There are so many to choose from, but we also visit the Bury St Edmunds Food and Drink Festival without fail. It’s on near the end of August - and I think it’s such a lovely way to end the summer before the children go back to school. 

What your specialist Mastermind subject? It would have to be fragrance - it’s my passion. I find it so intriguing. Blending new oils together to change how you feel, what you’re thinking about, your energy levels. It’s fascinating and I can’t learn enough about it. 

What is always in your fridge?

Chocolate. 

What’s your simple philosophy of life?

To try and find joy in the everyday. Even if it’s just taking five to notice a bird sing, the warmth of a hot cup of tea, or a new bud on a tree. There’s so much to marvel at without going anywhere. 

Bella testing out scents

Bella testing out scents - Credit: Norfolk Natural Living

What’s your favourite film?

I’m an 80s film lover - it’s got to be ‘Working Girl’ or ‘Overboard’ (the original with Goldie Hawn). 

What was your first job?

My brother and I had a little makeshift stall outside my granny’s house when we were about six. She had one neighbour and we sat outside all day for him to finally drive past and buy the raisins we had carefully wrapped in tin foil. Thank goodness he stopped by - it was a long day. 

What is your most treasured possession?

It to be my scrapbook. I keep mementos from ticket stubs, to lockets of my children’s hair, pressed flowers from beautiful walks. It’s full of nothing and everything. And I keep adding to it - it’s a lifetime of gorgeous memories. 

Who do you admire most?

I admire so many people, like Anna Whitehouse for the stance and real change she is making for working mothers. And Jane Austen for her brilliant Novels - without Pride and Prejudice, I don’t know what I would do. I’ve been in love with Mr Bingley my whole life!

But I’m always adding to the list, I couldn’t possibly name just one - I listened to an interview on Radio 4 recently with Ahmed Kathrada who was imprisoned with Nelson Mandela for 27 years, his compassion and love for other humans was wonderfully inspiring to listen to, and brought me almost to tears. I equally admire my mother, who quite frankly has done nothing on paper so dramatic or heroic, but she’s always supported, loved and helped me and anyone else she could, which I can only hope my children say the same of me one day. 

What is your biggest indulgence?

I wear a scent every day - it makes every morning feel special. 

What do you like about yourself most?

I love meeting new people. Some of my very best friends are so shy and I know it's their worst nightmare, so I thank my lucky stars I get such a thrill from it as I cannot imagine life without the colour and warmth of other people’s stories. 

What’s your worst character trait?

I’m disorganised and I always lose my car keys. 

Where is your favourite holiday destination?

Home is number one. The humdrum of a day at home in the sunshine, with all the time in the world and no pressure to do anything or be anywhere. 

Best day of your life?

It’s got to be a month really, as all three of my children were born in February. 

What’s your favourite breakfast?

Poached eggs on toast with lots of pepper, and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.  

What’s your favourite tipple?

Gin and tonic with lots of lemon. Or if I happen to be in Berlin, a whiskey sour with my husband at about midnight. 

What’s your hidden talent?

I can smell lavender from 500 metres away. 

What’s your earliest memory?

Whenever I polish my son's shoes for school, I’m instantly transported to my mother’s wardrobe. I must’ve about four years old, stumbling about in her heels trying to be a grown up.  

Bella Middleton

Bella Middleton - Credit: Norfolk Natural Living

What would you like played at your funeral?  

I like the idea of having a great big party when I die, so the first song should be something like ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ by Queen. Ideally with a live band and dancing, and I hope everyone is laughing. 

Tell us something people don’t know about you?

I am terrified of heights, yet I dream of swinging from a trapeze.   

What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?

As someone who talks too much, I think nothing at all has to be the worst. 

Tell us why you live here and nowhere else?

It’s beautiful. The landscape and the buildings, the air is fresh and so full of life, the people are kind and my children have space to run around. I couldn’t ask for anything else. 

What do you want to tell our readers about most?

Our stores in Holt. We’ve had our utility store for a couple of years now, yet we only opened our gardeners’ shop a few months ago, and the wellbeing and perfumery shop had its one-year anniversary this Christmas. I would love your readers to come visit. We make all of our own products in Norfolk, so I would love them to experience them. 

To find out more about, visit Norfolk Natural Living, visit norfolknaturalliving.com 

I am always looking for interesting people from Suffolk and Norfolk to feature in my Q&A. Please do contact me at gina@hallfarmfornham.com 

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