Since 2002, Dani Harmer has been a regular on our screens, playing one of the most iconic British children’s TV characters, Tracy Beaker. Over 20 years on, Dani is still portraying the part of Tracy, who is now a mum – something she and mum of two Dani have in common.
In the latest and final series of The Beaker Girls on CBBC, it picks up where it left off. Tracy has made the decision to foster Jordan and things are pretty tense as they anxiously wait for the fostering to be approved. There aren’t many shows that appeal to such a wide audience like the Tracy Beaker series do, with young children, teenagers and parents all a fan of Tracy.
“We're not really sure where the program should sit really, because we’re on CBBC but then all the adults want to watch it. It's quite nice that we've got iPlayer now so teenagers don't feel like they're watching anything too babyish.” Says Dani.
Although both Tracy and Dani are now parents, Dani doesn’t think that she and Tracy share any of the same parenting qualities because of their vastly different upbringings.
“Me and Tracy are very, very different in terms of how we grew up which has a huge impact on how she parents – obviously, anyone's upbringing does. However there are of course loads of things I can relate to when it comes to parenting. Jess (Tracy’s daughter) is a lot older than my own children so it's kind of a weird glimpse into my future. In the current series, Jess turns 13, which is obviously quite a big milestone. She's becoming a teenager so Tracy is kind of trying to loosen her grip a little bit, but struggling with it. I know I'm going to be exactly the same with my daughter when she turns 13.”
My daughter has just started watching Tracy Beaker
There’s a bit of an age gap between Dani’s two children, with her daughter, Avarie-Belle aged six, and little Rowan who is about to turn one. While little Rowan might be too young to watch mum on TV, we couldn’t help but wonder if Avarie-Belle enjoys seeing mummy on TV.
“Strangely enough, it's only happened in the last couple of days where she's wanting to watch it. I think what's happened is that everyone at school has watched The Beaker Girls on Friday and then told Avarie-Belle all about it. And now she wants to watch mummy on the telly. Whereas before, she had no interest in it whatsoever. She's decided to weirdly watch the really old ones. And I think maybe The Beaker girls is probably a bit too old for her. She tried watching My Mum Tracy Beaker when that came out and she told me it was really boring.”
Finding a balance between work and mum life is hard
Between filming the new series and running her performing arts school, we don’t know how Dani manages it all with two young children.
“I don't know what the juggle is. I have not found a balance at all. I have no idea what I'm doing and we basically just wing it. It's really hard being self employed, you never really know where you're going to be, what jobs are coming next, where in the country you’re gonna be so you kind of just have to roll with it. We're really fortunate to have a really great family support network around us who will look after the kids basically at the drop of a hat. So we are really, really lucky.”
Finding this balance and being a working mum has been a struggle for Dani, and the mum guilt can get to her from time to time.
“I think quite a lot of parents struggle with it as well because you kind of you go to work and then you're really guilty that you're not with your kids. And then when you're with your kids, you're really guilty that you're not working. So it's just this constant guilt that mums carry throughout our entire lives.”
Dani’s top parenting advice
“Every child is different. I think I've learned that from having my second child, and how massively different my two children are. It's crazy. So what works with my first kid definitely doesn't work with my second. Try not to be too hard on yourself – it's a really hard job being a parent, so don't be hard on yourself."
It’s clear that Dani’s parents are very supportive grandparents, and they’ve taught Dani a lot of lessons when it comes to parenting.
“I am quite laid back in a weird way, my mum was quite laid back in terms of me working and kind of being in an adult environment from a young age. She was a huge support when it came to letting me express myself too. If I showed an interest in something, she was my biggest champion so I'm very much the same way with my daughter.”
Being honest and open on social media is very important to me as a mum
If you follow Dani on social media, you’ll know how honest and open she is about the real side of parenting, something we don’t often see with celebrity mums. But showing this side of her life is very important to her.
“Everyone is looking like they they're some kind of crazy mum octopus, where they're just nailing every single aspect of their life on a daily basis. And I'm like, That can't be right. There's no way you've done all of your washing, you've done a workout, you've dropped your kids off at school, and you've had a cup of coffee, absolutely not. This is not all happened in one day. I refuse to believe it.
"I just think it's really important because there's so much pressure when you look on social media, and you're comparing yourself to other people. And what you don't really see is that these wonderful, rich celebrities have got lots of help. They've got private chefs and they've got personal trainers. I don't have any of that. It's just me and my partner. And so I like to just be open and honest in the hopes that people can relate to it and know that they're doing a good job. But you know, even if you've got out of the bed in the morning, and you've washed and you've got your kids to school, you have nailed the day, there's no need to go above and beyond, sometimes it's the bare minimum and that's ok too.”
One part of the parenting journey Dani was very honest about was her breastfeeding struggles. With her first, Avarie-Belle didn’t want to latch which went on for weeks before Dani gave in and began bottle feeding. With her second, she was determined to give breastfeeding a go again, but after Rowan had very severe tongue tie, they resorted to bottle feeding.
“I think there's quite a lot of shame coming from how you feed your child. As an adult, there's no way you're gonna be able to tell who was breastfed as a child and who was formula fed. It's just it's not possible. Some people just physically can't, and I was one of them.
"With my first, Avarie just didn't want to latch at all. It was a really stressful time for both of us. I was getting worked up which was making her get worked up and this went on for weeks so I just ended up giving her a bottle. She's happy when she's fed and you're going to be happy because you can just relax, and that's what worked best for our family.
"I was determined to give it a go again with Rowan, but unfortunately he had a really severe tongue tie. Just from the get go, it was just kind of working against us, really. It worked for us as a family and you know, it's your own personal choice. I don't understand why anyone would want to put any pressure on anyone else on how they raise their children full stop, let alone how you feed them. As long as they're happy and healthy. That's the most important thing.”
Dani’s must have parenting products
“Lastly a really good pregnancy pillow is essential. You can get them on Amazon now and they’re just glorious. It helps with pregnancy, it helps with feeding, it helps if you just want a better nap or if you've got a sore back. So I highly recommend a pregnancy pillow even if you're not pregnant.”
What's the naughtiest thing you did as a child?
"I wasn't that rebellious as a kid, I think mainly because I was too busy working. But I did steal a penny sweet once and I felt so bad and I cried and I cried I cried and I went and paid for it."
Who was your childhood crush?
"Weirdly apparently when I was like three or four, I had a massive obsession with Chesney Hawkes. I'm not entirely sure why and I don't think that's carried on. But yeah, I think Chesney Hawkes was that my first one true love."
Favourite TV series as a kid
"I would say Tracy Beaker but I've actually never watched them because I cannot bear watching myself on TV. I used to love watching things like Sister Sister, Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Yeah, so kind of like American sitcoms I was quite into when I was younger."
Which celebrity parents would you love to have a playdate with?
"This is difficult because there are many, many good ones out there. I mean, the Beckhams would be fun if their children were younger because I would just like to know how they live really. Prince Harry, he'd be a good one – would be an interesting play date."
The Beaker Girls is on CBBC every Friday at 6pm and on BBC iPlayer.