Review: Marks and Spencer beauty advent calendar

I decided to treat myself to a fancy advent calendar for the first time last Christmas. The previous year I had jealously watched as the internet showed off the beauty nuggets it had found behind the cardboard doors and I was determined not to be left out in 2017.

Come December, I had already planned to buy a duvet from Marks and Spencer so was already well over the “must spend over £35” threshold to qualify for purchasing the shop’s beauty calendar and cheerily added the extra £35 cost at the till to take it home with me.

Unlike my friend who two years before had impatiently opened all the boxes on 1 December, I had decided to stick to giving myself a daily treat by opening each one with my breakfast.

First up was the Rosie for Autograph Amazing Radiance Body Glow which for someone whose legs are naturally milk bottle white will be a necessity once the season’s 60 deniers are retired. Day 2’s offering was from a brand I’m not familiar with – Filorga – and as masks aren’t part of my regular skincare routine, I’ll be interested to see whether it makes a difference.

Days 3 to 5 started a trend for more products in tubes – Nuxe’s shower oil, Gatineau’s advanced rejuvinating cream and Rodial’s dragon’s blood sculpting gel, which if I’m honest, I don’t really know what to do with.

I was starting to get face cream fatigue by this point so was excited to finally get a makeup product on day 6 from Stila, only to be disappointed by the generic shade – it would have been nice to get a bold colour, but I accept it’s safer with these things to opt for an inoffensive nude.

Day 7 was a dreamy-smelling wild rose night cream from Korres – a brand I’m fond of – and I immediately slapped it on my face. Days 8 and 9 were similarly exciting – an Eyeko mascara and a Nails Inc nail varnish in copper, both of which were gratefully received, though the former lacks drama and is strictly for daytime.

Days 10 and 11 were firmly planted in exfoliation territory with Formula’s radiance peel and Alpha Skincare’s liquid rose gold, the latter of which was for me, the standout offering. I would never have bought a full size bottle without trying it first, which is what makes calendars like this so useful (and lucrative).

Day 12 was a sculpting sponge I will never use. Ever.

Shay and Blue’s blood orange perfume was in day 13’s box. Marketed as a “cult classic” by the M&S beauty PR team, it got mixed reaction from myself and my friends – too fruity for me, a winner with another, but a “meh” from the third. A nice, weighty addition to the calendar though.

I was looking forward to Emma Hardie’s cleansing balm, which came the day after.  It generally garners mixed reviews from beauty bloggers and I’m adding to that list. It removed my make-up well enough but the smell is a bit off-putting and the seedy texture is a bit like rubbing cat litter in your face. Still, it had been on my ‘to try’ list for a long time and will certainly be used down to the last scrape.

I had conflicting feelings about day 15 – it was undoubtedly nice to get a full-size product, but did I really need a Diego Dalla Palma mascara when I’d already had one from Eyeko? An eyeliner would have made a nice change, but that aside it’s a nice product and better than my current L’oreal mascara by miles.

I rolled my eyes hard at day 16’s hairspray offering and moved swiftly on to enjoying day 17’s Ren firming shot, which does what it says on the tin. I haven’t yet tried the following day’s Ameliorate body lotion which claims it will “transform” my skin. We shall see.

I actually shouted “yesssss” when day 19’s Leighton Denny glitter nail varnish rolled out of its tissue-paper. I promptly applied a layer over one of my gels and stared at it like a magpie for the rest of the day. But my beauty high was quashed by another nude lip gloss from Pixi on day 20, which brings me neatly to my main gripe about the calendar.

Regardless of the fact it was a poor choice of product from a brand far better known for its skincare range, it left me wondering – where’s the eyeshadow stick? Or the lip balm? If I’ve spent £35 on an advent calendar, I want something notably different every day. I for one would much rather get a smaller sample from one of the other lovely brands stocked by M&S, like Origins or Neom, than two products that are essentially the same.

Things were looking up on day 21 with a Balance Me facial oil – a product which I am a nightly user of – except for when I’m slathering my face in day 22’s Formula X night cream, which I am already a big fan of. But then days 23 and 24 were both primers which reignited my annoyance about duplication. The final day was a cute little polka dot bag needlessly ruined with some mumsy embroidery. Shame.

So, would I buy it again? Looking over the items, I was really pleased with 10, had no use for 5, and ambivalent about the remainder, but will give them a try with a view to being pleasantly surprised. With those maths, come December I probably will buy another calendar but in the hopes the M&S team provides a more even split between skin care and make-up products and is perhaps a little braver with the latter.


Glasto honour for festival fairy

Sam loves Glasto with all her 'art

FESTIVAL season: a heady six months of incredible music, blurry nights and the inevitable flooding of your Primark tent. But no-one looks forward to those days of blissful freedom more than Pontefract artist, Sam Pattison-O’Brien.

Sam’s travelling art camp, Angel Gardens, pitches its teepees in festival fields all over the country, hosting a children’s creche, creative workshops and a chill-out space for weary revellers who need a brew.

And this year, Angel Sam – as she is known on the circuit – has been chosen to create this year’s sculpture at Glastonbury’s infamous creative haven, the Green Fields.

“I’m creating 20 little pods made out of willow which people can climb into and they will be all lit up at night,” said Sam. “I’m also producing a garden where I’ll be carving into the grass.

“Festivals are such creative and inspiring places to be doing this. It’s lovely, you can’t fail to be inspired at Glastonbury. “It’s not just about the music. To be chosen this year is a real honour.

“I was thrilled to be selected, Glastonbury is the biggest collection of artists, performers and musicians in the country, and to be invited to be part of that is wonderful.”

Alongside her artistic duties and childcare facilities, Sam’s decorated caravan, the Pixie Pad has been chosen as the VIP meeting place for performers and celebs behind the Pyramid Stage.

The full-time artist and part-time university lecturer is hoping Bono might make an appearance in her mobile home. But with a team of up to 90 volunteers and countless activities to organise, it’s a wonder the festival fairy has any time to enjoy herself. “

When we get into a field we put up our tents and take over about two acres and put up all sorts of creative things,” she said. “It’s a knock out. We have reading and singing workshops, a baby care area, performances, circus skills, a vintage gaming area where people can play Pacman.

“We do a fire show and toast marshmallows, we even teach kids about fire safety. There’s lots of stuff going on throughout the day right through the night.”

Angel Gardens is fast becoming the largest travelling space of its kind, with artists, performers and musicians pitching up at festivals everywhere from Yorkshire’s Magic Loungeabout to the Southwald’s Latitude.

Sam said: “What we’re trying to do is make it for everyone. We try to integrate children together with adults because it’s their festival too.

“It’s very much a community, it’s about living together, and sharing a cup of chai tea and child care and cooking – I wish we could do it all the time.

 “We have been waiting all winter and climbing the walls to get outside. It’s hard work but once you get in that field and living with like-minded people, it’s just wonderful.”