Your career has been varied and had many parts to it, but you are probably best known for Catriona in Absolutely Fabulous. Do you mind this? Or do you, like the rest of us, think of her as a well loved yet dippy friend?
I’m more than aware that I have been given some lovely jobs – this was one. Although we didn’t know it at the time, Ab Fab went on to make so many people happy and connected with an iconic time by lampooning affectations with colour and wit and more than a little edge. I’d done a fair bit of stand-up comedy and bits and bobs before, but if this is the one that people really get then so be it! I loved being that kind of vacant but benign posh person who was just… who liked, “lovely chairs”.
Was Catriona fun to play?
Huge fun. Jennifer was very generous with people’s suggestions. It was still the era of Sloane Rangers, although these are called something else. We had a lot of laughs in rehearsals… and frankly, why wouldn’t we? Everyone was in a fun hit series – no room for sad faces. A lot of the people involved had also worked together before, so it was always jolly from that point of view. That mean it could be scary for the newbies, though!
Did you all have a real laugh filming Ab Fab?
Jennifer genuinely has an affection for the subject; she likes reading magazines and finds the content of Hello magazine hilarious and interesting. Her enthusiasm rubbed off on us. Joanna Lumley is a delight to work with. Everyone was. We all got on with the job and enjoyed it at the same time – bliss when you look back on it.
You started out in the 1980s with a well known group of comedians including Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Ben Elton and the late Rik Mayall in London’s Comedy Store. What are your abiding memories of those times?
I remember being at the Edinburgh festival the same year that Rik Mayall was doing a sell-out comedy show. He came to my little venue (the Masonic Lodge) and gave great advice. He was such fun and very supportive. And he was like this with everyone. I was very appreciative of any help – and I was also very appreciative of any jobs – that he was kind enough to offer. I was writing and performing my own material, so was totally fixed on getting on stage and doing my bit without throwing up. It took a lot of focus.
What was it like in the Seventies for you? Happy times? Or are you glad you never have to go back there again?
I would not want to revisit those times as there was a lot of hostility and competitiveness to contend with. But that wasn’t the whole story, at all. On the other hand it was intense and brilliant and part of a changing time; I just got my head down and got on with it, but looking back I can’t believe what insults were hurled at me.
Were you a “funny” child? The class clown? Or was it a case of making them laugh to get you out of trouble?
I was funny. I had to be funny – I really had no choice. I was fat and asthmatic with a large hair band – it was sink or swim. I also had enthusiasm and a naivety, which I still have. That gets you through. I was often in trouble, but always by accident, although no one ever believed me
Were your school days ones of which you have happy memories? Or not?
They were happy up until I reached the age of 10. Then it went downhill. I had to toe the line and I found it tricky. I also found it difficult to concentrate – which set me back. I’m sure I’d be on some kind of scale of a behaviour thing nowadays, but with the way that things were then, I got told off a lot and squeezed through the system – with a lot of fun in between times as well as anxiety.
You have always written. Was it a big jump from writing scripts to writing a book?
I was writing poems at 10 and forcing my poor parents to listen to them. Then I wrote my stand-up and learned the hard way how many words worked and how many didn’t. I abandoned two novels before I wrote Losing It, and I’m so glad I did because it all led up to this one.
What was the inspiration for the book? (Which is utterly brilliant by the way and had me chortling with laughter.)
I wanted to tell the story of Millie – her plight and how she got out of it. But more than that I wanted to express my own dysfunctional mind and my own relationship to the word “food” – and to make people laugh. I personally have done everything that Millie has done, so there is an authenticity to the voice, I hope.
Although the book is very funny, there is a more serious side to it. Do you think women over a certain age have a tough time in our society?
I think it’s a time where women of a certain age are very much alive and kicking and wish to get stuck in; therefore, any literature or art or blogs which reflect this can really make a difference. I veer between being a mouse and a louder mouse. I think most of us understand that – we have genuine conflicts – but it is an exciting time to have fun with them and err on empowerment. The 35-year-old out there will not suffer these thoughts, but hey.
You write about diet pills in Losing It. Have you had personal experience of these?
Yes! I’ve done them all: herbal amphetamines, powders, injections – and you know what? I’m still fat! I lost weight when I was chucked once – but it went back on.
This is your first book. Was it a joy to write or were you pulling your hair out? How long did it take you?
I loved it. Looking back, it was easier than promoting it and hoping folk will buy it in the book shop. I loved the discipline. Pity the house next door was installing their kitchen at the same time. I have never needed headphones so much.
Are you planning another one?
Yes, I want to get stuck in before I get doubtful. I know what it is about and I’m looking forward to putting those headphones back on.
Do you have any connections with Sussex?
I love Brighton. It’s the perfect place to get near the sea, buy jewellery and have a cocktail. I used to take my daughter there when she was little. It was easy to get to (I get lost easily.) And they have good fortune tellers.
Are you looking forward to your Bookish Brighton event? We know we are.
I can’t wait! It’s such a great idea to have food and drink with literary endeavours, and to meet other people is always a brilliant thing; it gets the endorphins going.
What’s next for you that you can tell us about?
I’m in Hollyoaks at the moment (Channel 4), which I loved filming – as an alcoholic midwife. And, of course, I’m promoting Losing It – which is weird – and then I begin the next one.