CLARE FOGES: I know why childless women in their 30s binge drink

CLARE FOGES: I know why childless women in their 30s binge drink

June 28, 2023

CLARE FOGES: I know why childless women in their 30s binge drink like I did

  • Clare Foges reveals she drank to drown out the panicked feeling that she’d never settle down and have children
  • READ MORE: US women are now binge drinking more than men for first time in history, Biden’s alcohol czar reveals

There was no denying, it was a new low — literally. As I lay on the floor of my flat, where I had suddenly fallen face-first after a night on vodka and espresso martinis, the tiny part of my brain that was still sober sighed deeply at this latest nadir.

Was this during the teenage tearaway years? Or was I a student who had overdone it at freshers’ week? 

No, I was a 34-year-old chief speechwriter to the prime minister, a responsible career woman — and absolutely sozzled, hammered or tanked, however you want to put it, every other night.

According to a new study, childless women aged 35 are more likely to binge drink than any other female group. This didn’t come as news to me; I lived it. 

While I had enjoyed drinking throughout my late teens and 20s, it was only between the ages of 30 and 35 that my internal Oliver Reed reared its head.

Clare Foges shared that she binge drank in her 30s in part to drown out the panicked feeling that she’d never settle down or have children

Not only was I not alone in this, but it seems it’s a growing problem. Women who turned 35 in 2018 and 2019 (I turned 35 in 2016) were found to be 60 per cent more at risk of having alcohol problems than those of the same age in the mid-1990s.

Something that was attributed to women increasingly delaying motherhood. Study lead Dr Rachel Sayko Adams, of Boston University School of Public Health, said:

‘Because more women are delaying having children, a growing proportion fall into the highest-risk group.’

I get why childless women of this age drink hard and fast. When I look back on my drinking days, I realise a lot of it was to drown out the mildly panicked feeling that I’d never settle down and have children. 

A bottle of wine turned down the irritating ‘tick-tock’ of the biological clock.

That’s the real reason why by day I was writing speeches about economic policy and advising the then prime minister David Cameron, but by night was polishing off a week’s worth of units before bedtime.

Clocking off from Downing Street around 7pm, London’s pubs and bars would beckon. 

Perhaps I’d start with a sharpener at a political drinks reception, followed by after-work pints at a Whitehall pub, followed by cocktails with friends in Shoreditch, followed by a nightcap at the Italian restaurant below my flat.

When the hangovers started to herald the black dog of depression and persistent anxiety, Clare sought the help of a psychiatrist who said the alcohol, along with chocolate and caffeine, would have to go

The waiting staff were usually enjoying their post-closing drinks when I tottered home, and with a hoary cheer they would invite me in for a Chianti or two before home time. How could I refuse?

I was never short on stories. At one Downing Street Christmas party we went to a West End bar where I was so drunk I lost one of my shoes and picked up my boss on the dancefloor before promptly dropping her. 

At another do, I collapsed onto a famous golfer who asked security to have me removed.

One night I was so inebriated I fell asleep on the last train out of Waterloo, only to be nudged awake by the guard at Portsmouth (50-odd miles beyond my stop).

I don’t want to cast too tragic a light over those years; fun was had. But increasingly, hangovers heralded not just the black dog of depression, but the black wolf of worry.

It all reached a head one summer when the mother of all morning-afters spawned a severe anxiety that wouldn’t shift.

After a few weeks, I wanted my mood to stabilise. Quite a few people I knew were taking happy pills, perhaps I should? 

Off I went to Harley Street to see a pricey psychiatrist. After a chat, I laid it out straight: ‘Pills please, Doc.’ 

Clare hasn’t had a drink for seven years and now, with three young children, there are few opportunities for drinking 

He gave a little bow of the head and described what he could prescribe, and the side-effects.

‘If you take medication A, it’s likely you will grow obese.’


‘If you take medication B, it’s likely you will grow a beard.’


‘If you take medication C, it’s likely you will grow obese and grow a beard.’

Holy Moses. What could I do?

‘The answer,’ he said, ‘is to completely give up alcohol.’

What? Impossible!

The doctor explained how the alcohol was affecting my brain. In addition, he told me to completely cut out caffeine and chocolate.

‘Really? No Dairy Milk?’ I wailed. The doctor shook his head, saying it was a neurotoxin which must be avoided at all costs.

I have not touched chocolate or caffeine in the eight years since. The alcohol took longer to wean off, but the last time I binge drank was seven years ago. 

And with three pregnancies in succession at ages 36, 37 and 39 — resulting in three young children, there are few opportunities for drinking.

Now, that I am immersed in the CBeebies and nappy years, I do wish I had felt less pressure as a 30-something and enjoyed the freedom without worrying so much about the ticking biological clock, and without chasing the worry away with gallons of Pinot Grigio.

A penny for your thoughts, Meghan

Has watching the Waleses thrive left Meghan and Harry feeling a pang of envy — or regret, even?

William and Kate can’t put a foot wrong these days. They do good works, they’re adored by the public, she looks more radiant with each passing day (what on earth is her secret?) 

Meanwhile, Harry and Meghan have been dropped by Spotify and are criticised by Hollywood heavyweights. 

I wonder if watching the Waleses has left the Duke and Duchess of California feeling a pang of envy — or regret, even? 

My fixed rate is up — and my nerves are shredded

The Prime Minister tells us to hold our nerve on interest rates. Alas, I’m one of those whose nerves are shot. 

We only bought our house in 2021. Now our two-year fixed rate is up, the monthly payment is nearing the debt of a small Polynesian nation. 

With interest rates at a high, property prices have become unaffordable for many

Having stopped splashing out on luxuries, we’re now cutting back on necessities: who needs shoes?

The cherry on the cake of this catastrophe is hearing older generations tell us to buck up because they suffered high rates, too. 

This misses the point that loans back in the 1980s and1990s were relatively small.

The last time property prices were this unaffordable was 1876. So please spare us the lectures.

Bread ice cream? Trust me, it works

Clare fell in love with the brown bread ice cream at a  Soho haunt, though she didn’t have much success when she tried to recreate it at home 

The highlight of my taste buds’ life was when I tried brown bread ice cream in a little Soho restaurant.

Sounds off-putting, but it was delicious: malty, moreish, flecked with soft, little crumbs that melted on the tongue.

I have tried to recreate this at home but always end up with something tasting like a condensed milk-laced BLT.

So I am delighted that Marshfield Farm ice-cream makers have created a brown bread flavour to be served at English Heritage sites. Mine’s five scoops in a tub. With a shovel, please.

Reading about the cleaner who destroyed 25 years of lab research by turning off a fridge, I recalled my first day of work as a pub pot-washer, aged 13. 

I mistakenly poured a vat of the chef’s finest sauce down the sink. Thankfully, unlike the cleaner, I was never found out! 

  •  Jenni Murray is away.

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