S Magazine columnist Mindy Hammond, 48, is married to Top Gear presenter Richard and has two children, Izzy, 13, and Willow, 10. She met her best friend Mel Chance, 37, when the Hammonds moved to Herefordshire. Mindy says:
“Mel became my best friend six years ago, after I’d gone to a nanny agency to get some help at home.
We’d just moved into this bigger house with nine or 10 bedrooms, 20-odd acres and stables, and I was running round like a headless chicken. When Richard commented that I needed some help, I said, ‘No I don’t!’ And he said, ‘No, you really do!’
By the time Mel arrived to talk about the job, I’d gone off the idea. But as soon as I met her, we just clicked. I invited her in but we didn’t really talk about the job – we just had a laugh, and we’ve been doing that ever since.
As far as the kids are concerned, Mel is their mate. They call her ‘Melly Mel’ or ‘Smelly Melly’, and she and I call each other Steve and Dave. She’s Steve, I’m Dave.
Mel knows me better than anybody. She is caring, funny and bonkers – a bit like me possibly! And she does everything that I do. We muck out our 10 horses and ponies together, do the ducks and chickens, walk the five dogs and feed the five cats – there is never a planned day.
Your best friend is the person you ring in a drama, and that’s Mel. Like when Boot, our outdoor dog, was in danger of being washed away, so Mel rushed round in wellies to help out and clear the drains. Glamour is not something we do. In winter we have about 10 layers on, and thick trousers and loads of gloves. And I usually have hay in my hair.
Mel and I are always crying with laughter – the amount of times we’ve been in hysterics while herding the chickens and chasing the goats!
We are very alike with similar opinions and the same life rules, and we’re both very practical. If there is a broken fence, we will go and get a hammer and nails then start whacking it (usually we’ll do it wrong, but we like to have a go).
We’re both daft and soppy, too, and do things that other people wouldn’t do. Within the first few weeks of Mel coming to help me, we had a load of chicks hatch, and one of them was walking round in circles. I said to Mel, ‘It’s going to die.’ But she insisted on taking it home, having never had one in her life. She fed it religiously and it ended up being her pet called Winnie. When Mel stays the night, Winnie comes too.
It would be really difficult to find someone I trust like I trust Mel. And without her, I would never be able to sit down. Our life is really complicated – Richard is in and out, and there are so many animals with their peculiarities, like our senile cat who is 17, our other cat who is like a lion and brings in dead animals, and another one who thinks she’s a dog. The great thing about Mel is that she knows how everything works.
A lot of the time we stay in and have these impromptu glasses of wine that end up being several bottles and a takeaway until 4am.
If Richard is away travelling, Mel stays but we’ll get someone else to look after the kids for the evening so we can go out.
We are both very private people but we do confide in each other.
And what is really nice is that if one of us is at a low ebb, the other one will listen and then we’ll laugh about it.
Just before the car accident on Top Gear when Richard was seriously injured, we were about to move house. I remember thinking, ‘Should we move or not?’ But we decided to go ahead, and I’m so glad we did. After such a drama, moving somewhere new meant a fresh start for us as a family. And Mel has been part of that.”
“The first time I met Mindy I was quite nervous, as you would be for a job interview. But we got on straight away and it was an instant friendship. There’s a 12-year age difference but it doesn’t matter in the slightest.
She’s so warm and caring, a bit mad and late for everything. Our day-to-day life is always so crazy and we never stop talking, but I love our downtime at home when we have a few drinks and put the world to rights.
I spend five days a week with Mindy and house-sit if she goes away. I’m separated, so it’s just me, but I feel like part of the family. I love it when the girls are home on school holidays and, even when we’re not together, Mindy and I text. I’m always on hand if anything occurs – which it often does.
Funny things happen to us all the time. There are two ride-on lawn mowers and there’s always a bit of an argument about who’s going to drive which. One day Mindy was mowing this dip in the land and, as she tried to come back up, her mower started sliding backwards. I was on my mower but I was so busy watching what was happening to Mindy that I was nearly decapitated by a mulberry tree. Every day with Mindy is different and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”