It’s hard not to feel envious when Louise Chunn reels off the publications she worked for as a senior editor: Vogue, the Guardian, ELLE, InStyle, Good Housekeeping and the Evening Standard.
Or the celebrities the former Aucklander has interviewed since arriving in London almost 40 years ago: Madonna, Duran Duran, Julianne Moore and Morrissey.
By the time the 64-year-old gets onto some of the writers she’s commissioned over the years, I’m almost swooning.
“The 80s and 90s were a boom time in British magazines,” recalls Chunn, who got her start on the teen magazine Just Seventeen. “The budgets were also great so I could commission some serious talent – people like Nigella Lawson, Germaine Greer, authors Tony Parsons and Jeanette Winterson, and Luke Jennings, who went on to write the award-winning TV show Killing Eve.”
Chunn also convinced TV show host Graham Norton to review a lesbian cabaret act. “It was the 90s and he was a barman at the time.”
While the mother of three adult children and grandmother of one was busy carving her way through the British journalism industry, back home her brothers Mike and Geoff and were making their own headlines – as members of the iconic Kiwi bands Split Enz and Citizen Band.
“Both our parents were inspirational in that they took risks, were curious about the world and gave their five children a pretty long leash.”
While doing a history degree at Auckland University, Chunn discovered that working on Craccum, the student paper, was more fun. She went on to become the paper’s first female editor.
There was a stint in the United States while her then husband attended Cornell Law School before the couple arrived in London.
“I had a great run,” admits Chunn, counting off on her fingers. “I was deputy editor of ELLE for three years, women’s page editor of the Guardian for about the same period, deputy editor of Vogue for about four years, then editor of ES, the weekly magazine of the Evening Standard.”
It was at the Guardian that Chunn met her husband, Andrew Anthony, a journalist who’s been with sister newspaper the Observer for 25 years and is a columnist for the New Zealand Listener.
But in 2012, when Chunn finished her two-year stint as editor of Psychologies magazine, she realised she’d been a full-time employee working for a variety of media offices in central London for 30 years.
“I craved change and a greater sense of autonomy. There was also the risk I’d be left behind if I stuck to print journalism. Urged on by my husband, I researched starting a business that would be like a match.com for therapy.”
Two years after starting welldoing.org, which matches therapists with clients, Chunn won the only British spot on a Google-sponsored Silicon Valley accelerator. The two-week course fast-tracked her business and, as of last month, the site listed 1220 verified therapists throughout the United Kingdom and had matched almost 30,000 people.
“We now have a personalised matching service that ensures the best fit. We also recently added coaches to the offer.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, covid and the UK’s numerous lockdowns have seen an uptick in the number of people accessing the site.
“Covid has led to a huge decrease in people’s mental health. Thanks to anxiety, depression, relationship problems, health and social anxiety, disordered eating and panic attacks, many people are struggling. We’ve led initiatives such as 300 of our therapists offering free sessions to [National Health Service] staff, and we now match students with low-cost online therapy, as this particular group is seen as vulnerable because their university life is severely limited and late teens to early 20s is now known to be a difficult time for young adults in these unusual circumstances.”
While Chunn says launching a tech start-up in her 50s wasn't easy, she’s thrilled she took the plunge. “I’m 100% proud of what I’ve done with this business. It's genuinely helpful and makes a difficult situation of finding the right therapist less stressful. I also believe we could all benefit from being challenged to learn new things when we pivot in our careers.”
Both Chunn and her husband work from their home in Queen’s Park, north London. They’ve lived there for 24 years, and while the suburb has always attracted media types, their neighbours now include the likes of actors Thandie Newton, Mark Strong and Tamsin Greig and journalist Louis Theroux.
“Eventually we’d like to move out of London, because lockdown exacerbated a desire to live more deeply in nature and away from crowds.”
Although she gets back to New Zealand as often as she can, and remains connected as a trustee of the UK Friends of the University of Auckland, Chunn admits a move back is highly unlikely.
“The key reason is not just that I have a British husband but I also have three children. While they are conscious and proud of their New Zealand heritage (they all have dual nationality and can apply for NZ passports if they wish), they are British, and show no signs of wanting to leave that behind.”