'Nothing prepares you for days at home'

Television presenter Anthea Turner is about to turn Ely house-husband David Palmer into a domestic god. The 47-year-old auctioneer from Newnham Street has been given a starring role in Turner s BBC Three show The Perfect Housewife. But as David explained

Television presenter Anthea Turner is about to turn Ely house-husband David Palmer into a domestic god.

The 47-year-old auctioneer from Newnham Street has been given a starring role in Turner's BBC Three show The Perfect Housewife.

But as David explained to reporter LESLEY INNES, being a stay-at-home dad is certainly not child's play.

SOPHIE Palmer was just six months old when dad David took on the role of full-time house-husband, carer and stay at home dad.

Now, five years on, the pair have a special bond which has developed despite having no set routine.

In fact, freelance auctioneer David, who has taken part in television shows Bargain Hunt and Flog It! is so confident with his role he is about to bid to be the Perfect Housewife.

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Over the next two weeks he will take part in filming for the BBC Three show hosted by Anthea Turner that will aim to turn him into a domestic god.

But, despite his new found skills as a full-time carer, David admits bringing up Sophie has not been totally conventional.

"Sophie and I are more like co-conspirators," admitted David. "That's how I find I can control her.

"If I purport to be naughtier than her she will tell me off. If I'm going to do something we shouldn't, barge into a place where we shouldn't be, she will stop me."

David took on the role of house-husband when his wife, Mary, returned to her teaching job at Soham's Weatheralls School.

He left the maternity ward equipped with the knowledge of how to bath and change his new daughter - but like all parents nothing prepared him for the days ahead alone with Sophie.

"She was so small and delicate," remembers David. "I thought that you just put the baby in a room and carried on with life. I didn't know what I was going to do with this tiny living thing."

Even as a baby Sophie never drank warm milk because "it was too much bother" and she has grown up with a liking for eggs and bacon, steak and olives.

Sophie often enjoys vegetables for breakfast, because dad knows how to cook them and she just "assumes that is what you are supposed to do".

She is used to trailing round museums, art dealers or even sitting through a London theatre production, which she has done since the age of three.

"She loved Les Miserables but fell asleep through Guys and Dolls," said David, "but I found that one boring."

She has attended the Edinburgh Fringe, a Pagan wedding and spent Christmas in London hotels.

David admits to taking Sophie into the ladies' toilets at mother and toddler groups to carry out a nappy change and can pinpoint exactly all the baby changing rooms in the Early Learning centres and Boots.

"You certainly get into a better class of toilet with a baby," he said. "But if you're out and there isn't a baby changing room as a man you are in no man's land - you can't go into the ladies and I wouldn't take her into the gents'."

He has hosted mother and baby socials at his home, confidently struck up conversations with mums about their offspring and handled tantrums in the supermarket.

"I remember Sophie had a tantrum at playgroup," added David. "I ignored her and left her in the middle of the floor. But I had to pick her up when the vicar came in."

Freelance auctioneer David has been with Sophie when she started nursery and school and is a regular at Jazz Babes, Rainbows and drama classes.

"All fathers should spend a period of time, not just the odd few days, but weeks on end looking after their children," he said. "They are so distracting and you still have to find time to fit in all the cooking, washing, shopping and cleaning.

"I couldn't leave her for two minutes because I knew she would be up to something.

"Sophie has been brought up without a routine. I can't do routine. So if someone rang up asking me to do something I would just go and take Sophie with me. I would drag her off to an art exhibition.

"I have been with art dealers in London with Sophie in the pushchair. I remember getting on the wrong train with her but fortunately I have never left her anywhere."

David admits that he wouldn't choose to take on the role again.

Since Sophie joined Weatheralls School, David, who sold his auction business in Burwell just before she was born, has returned to work part-time.

"I wouldn't do it again," he said. "I have experienced it and I can speak with authority and first hand knowledge.

"I treated it as a job but I found it very difficult. It is the hardest work I have ever done."


# There are just under 200,000 stay-at-home dads in the UK and the number doubles every five years.

# Twenty five years ago, the concept of house-husbands was virtually unknown in western countries.

# In Britain in the 1970s, men spent an average of 15 minutes per day with their children and today that figure has risen to two hours a day.

# The number of mothers staying home full-time to look after their children has fallen from 1.8 million in 1997 to 1.5 million.