There was never any hesitation in Sam Wise’s mind that she would one day become a headteacher. Education was, she admits, her all-consuming passion. “My mum was a teaching assistant and a child minder, so I grew up in Gloucestershire with lots of children in the house. I was going to be a headteacher and that was that.”
As soon as she could grasp a piece of chalk, Sam was busy playing ‘classrooms’, bossing her two sisters around. “They would sit down and basically do as they were told!” she laughs.
Encouraged to follow her dreams by her childhood sweetheart Philip (now her husband), Sam studied hard, and took her first teaching job at a primary school in High Wycombe. The role was everything she had hoped for. “I loved being in the classroom. I loved watching every child develop, progress and move forward. Education quickly became my life.”
Climbing the career ladder, she took on more and more responsibility, becoming head of various subjects, from design and technology to science. “I was really quite young to be in such positions, but it was great; I enjoyed the challenge.”
Looking to set up his own business, Philip decided to return to Cambridge, where he had studied computer science.
“Cambridge was obviously the place for computing, it being the ‘Silicon Valley’ of England, so we moved this way,” Sam tells me.
Taking a job at a primary school in Littleport, the 20-something teacher was in her element. “I was a literacy leader there, so spent most of my six week holiday setting up the school’s first ever library, and before long I got sent away on a leadership course to Nottingham.”
When the deputy head left the school, Sam was first choice to take on a co-deputy headship, which she wholeheartedly embraced. “I did that for a year and enjoyed it,” she recalls. “But it was stressful and a lot of hard work; I’d work a long day, then often be marking well into the evening or reading educational documents at home.”
Sam was becoming a workaholic; something she can now see, but was quite oblivious to at the time. “My job had become my whole life. My poor husband; it’s horrible to say, but it wasn’t like we were married because my life was work. I wasn’t bothered about having children because I believed in my heart of hearts that I had 240 or so children in my life every day, and they would be my world.”
However, all that changed one dark, stormy night, just before Christmas 2010. Sam picks up the story: “I had been in a really stressful Ofsted meeting. It was late, I was shattered, and I was coming home down a bendy road from Littleport to Little Downham in my pride and joy; my new red MX5. I loved that car,” she smiles, before turning more serious. “It was raining hard and there was mud on the road. I hit the mud and lost control of the steering, and that was it. I remember praying ‘please God, don’t let me die’. I felt something smash my head, and I don’t remember anything else.”
What had happened was Sam’s car had left the road, flipped over twice and ended up in a field, stopping just inches from a tree. A motorist had witnessed the accident, and ran to her aid.
“The next thing I knew there was a guy kicking the door of my car. I remember thinking, ‘why the heck is he doing that to my lovely car?’ I was a bit dazed and really had no idea what was going on,” she explains.
Sam managed to drag herself out of the gnarled wreckage, but failing to grasp the gravity of the incident, was initially more concerned about retrieving her laptop from the car. “I was so concerned that someone might steal it, but then I turned round and saw my car and realised how bad it was. Then I felt quite shaken up. It was completely smashed up at the front, smashed at the back and the soft top was all squashed in; I just burst out crying at that point.”
Paramedics were soon at the roadside. “The ambulance man came over and said ‘madam, I think we need to take you in and check you over’ and I just collapsed on to the road,” Sam recalls.
She woke at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, wired up to machines, having spent time in intensive care. “I didn’t have a clue what was going on. I was just lying there dazed, wondering what had happened,” she remembers.
Miraculously, apart from sustaining injuries from the seatbelt on crash impact and suffering with headaches,
Sam was otherwise unscathed. Within a week, she was back in the classroom, though admits that the crash had dramatically changed how she felt about her job. “I knew I needed to get back to work and be a teacher again, but it didn’t feel the same anymore. Everything felt so wrong. I remember turning to one of my colleagues one day and saying ‘why am I here?’ and they said ‘because you’re a damn good teacher’, but my heart wasn’t in it.”
The final straw came in yet another Ofsted meeting, Sam explains: “There was a woman ranting on about data, and I just thought ‘why am I wasting my life sat here?’ Then I collapsed.”
It’s thought that Sam may have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or simply job-related stress. Whatever the cause, she knew it was time to reassess her life. And the impending six-week summer break gave her plenty of time to mull over her plans.
“I have always loved baking and when I was little my gran used to have this trolley of delights, which had the most amazing cakes on it; her shortbread caramel slice was amazing!” she smiles. “ She always dreamed of being a baker but then the war came and she ended up, ironically, becoming a teacher, then an accountant. So I thought it would be lovely for me to achieve the dream for her.”
Buoyed by her friends’ favourable reactions to her oven-baked goodies, Sam spent six weeks perfecting her vanilla frosting, and trying out various flavours of cupcakes and fairycakes on a team of willing tasters.
And with husband Philip fully behind her sweet new venture, by October 2011, Fairy Cake Friends was in business.
“Philip said he just wanted me to do something that made me happy. He says I’m a different person now; happier, more relaxed. I enjoy my new job so much,” she beams, looking every bit as relaxed as she maintains. “Basically, I’m back to the person I think he knew pre-education, if truthful.”
Two years on Fairy Cake Friends is enjoying great success, due in large part to Facebook. “It’s amazing how much business I have got that way. I’ve also been really lucky to be able to stock my cakes locally at Chellies Beauty FX in Littleport, Haddenham Galleries, and next year they’ll be stocked at Little Downham shop, which I’m really excited about,” Sam enthuses.
As well as baking fabulously festive mulled wine cupcakes, mince pie sponges and zesty lemon sprinkled treats, alongside some seriously challenging commissions (dartboard or replica theatre cake anyone?), there’s been something else cooking in the proverbial oven. Sam and Philip’s son Daniel was born on February 4th.
“Though I’d always told myself that the school children were enough for me, after the accident I realised that life was so short and that actually I would like a family. I can’t tell you how much we love being a mum and dad. Our family is everything now,” Sam beams.
Christmas is a time for reflection, and having just spent their first Christmas together, the Wise family look back on that accident in 2010, and are thankful for the changes it brought about.
“It definitely made me reassess everything, it really did,” Sam reflects. “The fact I’m still here. People have died on that road; it has taken lives and I’m very lucky to still be here and walk away from it with nothing wrong. I’m very, very lucky and I’m glad it made me change everything. I’m so much happier now, I love what I’m doing and having Daniel has been a big part of that change.”
Find out more about Fairy Cake Friends at fairycakefriends.com or search facebook for Fairy Cake Friends.