Bonkers: My Life in Laughs - Jennifer Saunders (2013)
It is May 1985 and I have just woken up in a huge bed in a huge hotel in the Lake District. Waking up next to me is a lovely man. I have married Adrian Edmondson.
We had a fantastic wedding at my home in Cheshire, which my mother managed to organize in six weeks. That was all the notice we gave her. In my 26-year-old mind, that seemed like ages. We told my parents that we were engaged just before we disappeared on a three-week holiday to St Lucia, the Iles des Saintes and Antigua, and left them to get on with it. Looking back on this – and having organized my own daughter’s wedding – I can’t believe we had the nerve. However, we did look gorgeous and tanned on the day.
Somehow, with help from our friends and some unseasonably good weather, they gave us a beautiful day.
My outfit was made by the costume designers we were working with on The Supergrass, a Comic Strip film we had just finished making. I absolutely didn’t want a fluffy dress, so they made me an Edwardian-style outfit from cream silk. On my feet I wore very early Emma Hope shoes. Ade wore a dress coat that had been worn by Simon Ward in Young Winston, and looked very handsome. His best man was Rik Mayall.
I had two tiny bridesmaids. Tiny because they were children, not midgets. In fact, they were barely children. They were toddlers. One was JoBo’s daughter, my god-daughter Cordelia, who was eighteen months old. The other was Peter and Marta Richardson’s daughter, Alice, who was slightly older but had only just learned to walk. They were very beautiful and made a very good attempt at following me down the aisle and only fell over twice. I didn’t fall over at all, which was a miracle. But then I had a sensible heel.
Can I just say (it’s me now, dear reader, in 2013), what is it with the height of shoes nowadays? Shoe stilts that women are forced into? Six-inch heels? Really? I know, yes, they probably have a platform, which means they only have a five-inch heel – but very few women can actually walk in these things. Once a heel is that high, you are basically just walking on tippy toes. You would be better off just painting shoes on your feet and actually walking on tippy toes. It would be less painful.
A few years ago, Dawn and I were offered a BAFTA Fellowship. I managed to persuade Dawn (who loathes awards and prizes) to accept it, and to attend the ceremony. (I dealt a low blow by telling her not to think about it as an award for herself but as something that would make her mother very proud. So low.) And besides, there would be no pressure that evening because we had already won the award and so didn’t have to be nervous or cross and could spend our time having a nice party and meeting people we admired. I really wanted to meet Harry Hill and hoped he would be there. Very few things have induced hysterical, pee-making, someone-may-have-to-slap-me-because-I-can’t-stop laughter, but Victoria Wood’s Acorn Antiques is one and Harry Hill’s TV Burp the other.
Because we had a lot of notice and knew we were going to have to walk the dreaded red carpet (though Dawn always seems to manage to find a back door and avoid the whole shebang), I decided, for the first time in my life, to prepare in advance what I was going to wear. Usually I leave it too late, convinced that I will shed a stone in a week, and then rush out and buy something I don’t like, just because it fits and I’m desperate.
There are too many clothes in the world and a lot of them are fairly spiteful. If I take a wander down Bond Street, there are clothes in the windows that really don’t want to be worn at all. They dare you to walk in the shop. They dare you to finger an item on the rail. They dare you to tell the spiky assistant that you’re just browsing.
Shall I put it in the changing room for you?
Because I haven’t been able to look at the price ticket yet and I’m almost 100 per cent sure you won’t have it in my size. And because you will try and make it fit and tell me it looks great and I will be forced to buy it out of embarrassment.
Then the evil clothes dare you not to leave the shop immediately, so you wander aimlessly towards the door, still fingering the rails, and then turn and say ‘Thank you’ before hitting the street and vowing never ever to go back.
I asked Betty Jackson to make me a dress.
Betty and I had been introduced by a brown tasselled leather jacket during the filming of a series of French and Saunders. Alison Moyet, a friend of Dawn’s, had worn the jacket on one of our shows and I had fallen in love with it. I wanted it. I wanted it bad. It fitted in with everything that I liked. It was just a bit cowboy, with shoulder pads.
Dawn somehow arranged this, with one catch: I had to go to Betty’s shop and pick the jacket up myself. My idea of living hell. She was a famous designer; I was just a lumpy comedienne who didn’t really have any nice clothes. But I really wanted the jacket and went to Betty’s shop, looked at the floor a lot and mumbled. Betty was slightly braver and attempted to look me in the eye before I left, which resulted in us both getting quite embarrassed. However, the jacket was such a success that I went back for more clothes, and over the next few visits we even managed conversation and then laughter. It turned out that Betty and I had children much the same age and, gradually, we became friends, and our husbands became friends. As our kids grew up, we spent many happy and completely drunken Sundays together. The children would perform plays and fashion shows and sometimes weddings for us, while we disappeared into the bleary, happy world of eau de vie.
Anyway, back to the BAFTAs. I had lost a lot of weight on a detox diet, and didn’t even have to ask Betty to make the dress quite tight, because on the day I actually was going to be a stone lighter than usual.
All I needed was to find some shoes.
I found a pair of black satin Louboutins. They were beautiful. A small platform and a cope-able heel. They fitted perfectly. Not too tight anywhere. Just snug and remarkably comfortable. I bought the matching clutch bag too.
For the first time in my life, I had got a whole proper outfit a week ahead of an event. I got a fake tan and a manicure and, by the time my make-up and hair were done on the night, I felt very swish. I felt comfortable and confident – a feeling I had never experienced before when dressed up. I was ready on time, not in a panic, and not running up- and downstairs in different dresses trying to drag an opinion out of Ade.
‘Does this look mad?’
‘I think it does.’
‘It doesn’t. The car’s here.’
‘If you saw me, what would you think?’
‘I’d think …’
‘Look at me from behind. You don’t think it looks mad? That I look mad?’
‘No. The car’s here.’
‘I think it looks mad. I’m going to wear the other dress. FUCK, why can’t I just wear jeans?! Do you think we have to go?’
‘Car’s here. I’ll wait for you in the car.’
Ade was probably pleased to be busy on the evening of the Awards, so I took my friend, the set designer Lez Brotherston, and we set off for the Royal Festival Hall. Then the driver said he wasn’t allowed to drive up the side of the Hall to the entrance and we would have to get out and walk. Walk? It was a long way. By the time we actually hit the red carpet, I was in agony; the shoes were rubbing at the back of my heel and the balls of my feet were burning. As I reached the end of the red carpet, I was beginning to hobble. So I rushed into the Hall and took the shoes off, stood barefoot on the marble floor, cooled my feet until they felt comfortable and then slid them back into the shoes. But a strange thing had happened. They didn’t fit. My toes were squished into the toe space, as before, but now there was a centimetre gap between my heel and the back of the shoe. They had become Louboutin flip-flops.
Pain in toes now greater. Body trying to pipe itself through the peep toes. I found a toilet and attempted to pad the shoes with toilet paper. Nothing worked. I was in the grip of torture; Louboutin high-heely flippy-floppy body-piping torture. Lez guided me from then on, supporting me by the arm as if I had been recently shot.
I sat through the ceremony, during which I could only think, How am I going to walk up the steps without embarrassing myself? Richard Curtis made a jolly and kind speech and then Helen Mirren came on and did the same. (What an honour. After all, she is, to all intents and purposes, the Queen.)
The time came for us to collect the award. Dawn annoyingly skipped on to the stage in flat pumps. I walked, stiff-legged, with a slight scooping action to bear pain and stop shoes falling off (gap at heel had doubled by now), made it without incident, got given heavy BAFTA – ‘Thank you, Ma’am’ – and curtsied. As the evening progressed, the pain lessened but I lost all sensation in my toes (I imagine it’s a bit like frostbite). Got home and was frightened to take the shoes off in case my toes came off with them. Considered going to A&E to have them surgically removed. Never wore them again, but gave them to my daughter to wear to parties and trash.
And did I meet Harry Hill? Oh yes. Met comedy hero Harry Hill. During the walk into the auditorium I saw him. I let go of Lez’s arm and attempted to move towards him nonchalantly.
‘Harry Hill, how are you?’
‘Jennifer Saunders. Why are you walking so strangely?’
I told my daughter to party in them, walk in mud in them, spill vodka on them. Kill the wicked evil shoes.
Anyhow, I’ve taken us well off track. Let’s go back to 1985.
Screen goes wobbly.
Ade and I are getting married.
The ceremony took place in our local church in Crowton. It’s a funny old church. On a Sunday morning, you would be amazed to hear the most beautiful bells ringing out across the fields. Amazed because the church itself didn’t have a bell tower and so had, very obviously, no bells at all. Not even a small tinkler. It all came from speakers rigged up by the vicar who was going to marry us and whom our next-door neighbour, Clara, an Italian Roman Catholic, refused to sit next to, not because of religious differences but because someone had told her that he had had an unexploded bullet lodged in his spine since the war and she was afraid it might go off at any time and hit her.
He was generally a good vicar, but on that particular day he got very overexcited by some of the faces in the congregation. Jools Holland played the organ as I entered. I met Ade at the altar. And then the vicar took over.
‘I see we’ve got Lenny Henry in the audience.’
That was his opener, and from that moment he veered off course into a small stand-up routine.
There were two types of people as far as my father was concerned: funny, nice people and ‘stupid arses’. For most of the wedding, all I could hear was my father (who was an atheist) muttering loudly, ‘Stupid arse! What’s the stupid arse doing? Just get on with it, you stupid bloody arse!’
The vicar then moved on to the serious bit – the bit where he gives advice to the young couple starting out in the world. He talked to Ade and me about faithfulness and temptation and the dangers of kissing other actors and actresses during the course of our careers, and how challenging that would be for the other partner, the strain it might put our relationship under. I couldn’t understand what had prompted him to see us suddenly as romantic leads. I knew Dawn would be laughing, and my father hadn’t let up.
‘Stupid bloody arse!’
The vows went without a hitch. We managed to say our bits without crying too much. Rik did the statutory ‘Oh no, I can’t find the ring’ routine and, before long, we were walking out to Jools jazzing it up on the organ.
Happy, happy, happy.
The sun shone all day and we ate a delicious lunch and drank plenty of delicious Champagne in a marquee on the lawn.
My wonderful mother had pulled all this off without fuss or complaint, but then I do think weddings were more straightforward in those days.* We had a rest after lunch and speeches, and then everyone plus more came back for a party in the evening, and stayed in hotels organized by my brilliant mother. Dancing and drinking and general merriment until somehow, and reluctantly, Ade and I were decanted into my black Alfa Romeo Spider, and we drove away with the roof down to our first stop: a hotel in Chester that had a jacuzzi bath. In retrospect, yes, I must have driven over the limit, alcohol-wise, but breathalisers hadn’t been invented yet. I was also three weeks pregnant, it later transpired.
SHUT UP, MUMSNET! My daughter was born happy and healthy – and still is.
So, how did all this come about? How come I’m waking up to a person I hardly even mentioned in the last chapter?
Well, a lot happened, let me tell you.
When the Comic Strip club eventually closed, we went on tour around Britain in a coach: Peter and Nigel, Rik and Ade, me and Dawn, Arnold Brown and what had become the house band – Rod Melvin on keyboards, Simon Brint on guitars and Rowland Rivron on drums. Rowland was a great drummer and a crazy man, while Simon and Rod were civilized and sat together making convivial conversation. The rest of us drank beer and played ‘Who can stand on one leg the longest?’ at the back of the coach, as it heaved us from venue to venue.
Usually, we would pull over in motorway services for the loo and lunch, but once we were driving through the back end of an industrial town up north and couldn’t find anywhere until we came upon a rough pub in a run-down housing estate. We decided to go in. The boys put on their donkey jackets and working-class dispositions and, despite the odd look from the locals, we were served beer and a sandwich and seemed to fit in nicely. Then in came Rod and Simon – Simon in his favoured long black coat and fedora. He went to the bar as Rod sat down. He looked out of place. It was as if a drawing by Aubrey Beardsley had wandered into a Lowry painting by mistake.
Then the Aubrey Beardsley turned from the bar and said very loudly, in his wonderful gentle voice, ‘Is that a dry sherry, Rod?’
The pub went silent. We’d been rumbled. We swigged down our drinks and were out of there.
The tour went relatively well and we played small venues up and down the country: arts centres, theatres, a working men’s club and an old cinema in Glasgow where the seats had to be sprayed with disinfectant before the audience came in. We already knew each other well, but on that tour I felt we became a proper gang. I have to say that at this point, although I got on well with all the boys, there was no particular special spark between Ade and me. WE WERE JUST FRIENDS. Nothing to see here. Move on please, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you.
The following year, we were booked to go to Australia to perform at the Adelaide Festival and then some gigs in Melbourne and Sydney. It was this tour that meant Dawn had to give up teaching; it was comedy or education, and I hate to think what my life would be today if she had chosen the latter. I would probably still be sitting on a step in Chelsea doing the crossword and sprouting a small beard.
Going to Australia was like being paid to go on holiday. We stayed in proper hotels. We had our own rooms. We sunbathed by swimming pools, took trips to see kangaroos and koalas, I ate my first oyster, and we became fans of the Tanztheater Wuppertal, who were staying in the same hotel as us in Melbourne. We had a picnic at Hanging Rock and drank beer on Bondi Beach. We also had to perform shows in the searing heat – degrees-we’d-never-heard-of heat.
It was a busy old year, 1982. Before we even went on tour, Rik, Ade and Nigel had shot the first series of The Young Ones. Peter was originally going to play the part of Mike in the show but had fallen out with Paul Jackson, the producer and director. The problem with Pete was that he always had to be in charge, and still does. Pete had his own ideas and wanted to make films. Pete was, and still is, a man who decides what he is going to do and does it. He’s incredibly persuasive, and managed to land a deal to make a series of short films for the soon-to-be-launched Channel 4. So a couple of months after returning from Oz, we found ourselves making Five Go Mad in Dorset, the first Comic Strip film, which was to go out on the Channel’s opening night.
It was a low-key production. With all the budget going on the film itself, we actors came cheap. It was very home-made. We drove down to Devon together, picking other people up on the way, listening to our Walkmans in the back of the car and trying to stay calm when they chewed up our mix tapes. Once there, we stayed at Peter’s mum’s house, and slept in bunk beds and barns.
I had terrible tonsillitis for some of the shoot, and Betty Richardson was very kind to me, trotting up and downstairs with hot and cold packs to soothe my painful throat. My voice in Five Go Mad is pretty weird – halfway to Sandi Toksvig. When we went to Hope Cove, to film on the coast there, we stayed in basic holiday cottages, right on the beach and unbelievably damp. Bunk beds again for me and Dawn. It was like being on the greatest holiday with all your mates. Sleeping was the last on the list of priorities. There seemed to be no dividing line between work life and social life.
Having grown up there, Pete knew the South Devon coastline like the back of his hand. We shot in all his favourite secret and often almost inaccessible locations. The crews were small and the runners generally members of Pete’s family. We didn’t have Winnebagos or caravans or even an idea that they existed. No make-up trucks or wardrobe facilities. If you weren’t filming then you lay about in the sun or hung around on set. Even if we weren’t required that day, we generally made our way on to the set to watch stuff happening and consume the catering. Free food!
We all had the happiest time, mainly because we got given our first per diems. Per diems are basically envelopes full of money: an actor’s daily allowance for expenses. And, because your accommodation and food are provided by the production, it is basically money for nothing. Or actually, money for drinking. As soon as filming had finished, we’d head for the pub. I was keen on getting to the pub, mainly because I was so good at pool. Nights ran into days, with limited sleep between the two. On several occasions during the shoot, the boys didn’t actually get any sleep at all.
Channel 4 launched on 2 November 1982 at 5 p.m. Five million people tuned in to watch its first-ever programme, Countdown. Five and a half hours later, The Comic Strip Presents … Five Go Mad in Dorset became Channel 4’s first-ever comedy show. Only 3.4 million people watched it, but it was about 3,399,700 more people than we’d ever had in an audience before. The next day, several viewers called in with angry complaints about the irreverent spoof of poor old Enid, but it didn’t seem to bother the Channel 4 bosses, who agreed to transmit the four remaining films in the series at the beginning of 1983 and commissioned a second series to be filmed later that year.
Although the films were Pete’s babies, and he wrote the majority of them with Pete Richens, they were very much an ensemble effort. We all had the same sensibility and by then we were all beginning to know what we wanted to achieve. For me and Dawn especially, the work was a learning curve; we got a practical education in film: how to work with directors and film crew, what worked and what didn’t. And there wasn’t a sense that you had to fit in with what a committee of executives wanted. On the whole, we were left to our own devices.
A week after the screening of Five Go Mad in Dorset, the first-ever series of The Young Ones went out on BBC2. While the boys (Ade, Rik, Nigel and Alexei) became a cultural phenomenon, Dawn and I continued to work live, touring small gigs and fringe theatre venues throughout 1983. We had an agent, Maureen Vincent (still our agent today, she has single-handedly managed to keep the wolves from our door with patience and brilliant negotiation), and were forming our identity away from the Comic Strip.
We had a set that we could perform almost anywhere and required only basic facilities, i.e. a place where we could be seen by the audience. One of our first shows was performed to an audience just in front of the fireplace at the Chelsea Arts Club, all three or four of whom were, in fact, asleep. During another – performed to some directors’ wives and, oddly, a Polish youth orchestra at the Nat Lofthouse suite at Bolton Football Club – we made the mistake of saying the word ‘clitoris’. Cue gasps from the ladies present. We were virtually marched out of the building. The orchestra didn’t understand any of the act at all, and the wives didn’t like it.
One St Patrick’s Day, we played to a full Irish pub in Kilburn on a tiny stage with only one microphone. We needed the microphone because the noise from the crowd was so loud, but only one mike isn’t great for a double act. The punters were trying to have a conversation and we were an annoying distraction. We finished our act halfway through and left the stage. Nobody noticed. Next act on was Wacky and Zany Jim Barclay (arrow through the head), a regular on the circuit, whose finale was to place a large coin between his buttock cheeks then squat over a beer glass and drop the penny in. Nobody noticed him either. Tony ‘The Guvnor’s Cookin Tonight’ tried a bit, realized it was hopeless, so packed in with his usual sign-off: ‘Goodnight and may your God go with you.’ By this time, everyone in the pub was facing away from the tiny stage. Suddenly there was silence. A person in the crowd sang ‘Danny Boy’ to huge applause and tears.
Still, we got paid. And that generally was the point.
Once we had established a little bit of a reputation, Maureen managed to get us our own small shows, Pentameters Theatre and the New End Theatre in Hampstead. This meant that we had to come up with an hour of material. Our other regular venues were the Latchmere in Battersea and the King’s Head in Islington. By the time we were playing those venues, we realized that we needed a support act, and either John Sessions went on before us or we took Raw Sex (more about them later) along too.
Raw Sex allowed us time to change; they would fill in while we desperately pulled on a funny hat or our Menopazzi leotards. Oh yes, the Menopazzi Sisters were still part of the show and very popular, thank you. Their act now included juggling and quite a lot more flour. They were always the finale, so the mess could be coped with. They were also the bit that Dawn and I enjoyed most – even more than the audience. Totally covered in flour, a drum roll, huge amount of circussy preparation, a bit more flour, and then one of us would do a forward roll followed by bowing for the next three minutes. Thank you and goodnight!
In 1983 we took the show to the Edinburgh Festival, which was to be the only time that we would play there. Edinburgh is a showcase for new acts, particularly comedy acts, but Dawn and I spent most of our time at the Doris Stokes show. Doris was a famous medium and psychic and would speak to the dead relations of audience members. It didn’t really matter to us whether she was for real or fake; she had to fill an hour by whatever means possible. First, she would go into a semi-trance. Then:
‘I’m getting a “T”. A “T”. Hang on. What does “T” stand for, dear? Oh, he says they will know. So does anyone here know a “T”? No. You’re going to have to help me a bit more, dear. Is it Tim or Tom or … ?’
Person in audience puts hand up. ‘I’ve got a Sam!’
‘Hang on, I’ll ask him. Are you a Sam? Oh. Yes, he says, “I am Sam.” I’ve got your Sam here, darling. He says he just liked a cup of tea. Did he like a cup of tea, your Sam?’
‘Yes he did, Doris!’
‘Then it is your Sam.’
Audience applause. She was a genius.
I’m not very good when it comes to chronology, and I can’t quite work out how we fitted it all in. I asked Ade if he could remember 1983 and he seemed to think he had spent most of it in the pub with Rowland Rivron. This was no use to me at all. But then I don’t ever remember feeling we were at work. Work and social life merged because we were young and always with our friends. Pub, film set, pub, pub, studio, pub, gig, pub, pub, pub, film set, film set, pub, pub, wine bar. There was only fun to be had.
In 1984, pub, pub turned into travelling round Dorset with my friend Ade looking for small cottages to buy. We weren’t going out at this point but just loved driving in his huge Jaguar Mark X listening to Hank Williams and Emmylou Harris. He had an idea that he wanted to buy a cottage, and I thought I could buy it with him. In retrospect it seems a bit weird. But I really liked the Jag and I really liked being with him and that was it, I thought.
I hadn’t been short of boyfriends in my young life. There was Joe 90, of course, and my first real boyfriend, Roger, who was tall and blond and a bit of a dish. Then there were the obviously slightly tarty times in Italy (no porn films, though, mind you!). I recently found all my diaries from the seven months I spent there, which make an eyebrow-raising read.
10 March 1977
After lunch, met Oscar outside and we walked. He asked me what was wrong and I said I was just pensive. In fact, I was wondering what the Hell I was doing going out with him …
After dinner, I set out for the Old Fashion to meet Roberto. Just outside the house, I got a lift from a Sicilian guy who I knew from the Old Fashion and he gave me a lift to Gambero Rosso, where I met Roberto.
At the Old Fashion, the small Sicilian guy had a private word with me and I agreed to meet him on Sunday. Roberto was rather suspicious.
Got a rather confused lift back to Via S Orsola with a policeman friend of Roberto’s.
11 March 1977
Oscar is funny, he only wants to know about my childhood and what I do and what I’m thinking about. When he rings up he always asks what I was doing when the phone rang and what I’ve done all day. He knows I go out with Roberto which is one thing and I think he’s getting the idea that I don’t want to be his girlfriend just his friend.
12 March 1977
In the afternoon, again did little except eat digestive biscuits in milk. Roberto rang. I had forgotten to ring him at 1.00. Arranged to meet him at G. Rosso at 8.00. (Actually 3.30 but I heard him wrong.) Oscar rang at 7.30 because I’d said I might go out with him tonight. We spent hours on the phone in complete silence because he was upset that I was going out with Roberto. Was I in love with him? Why didn’t I love him? etc. What a bore …
14 March 1977
At school I sat next to Ian, as usual. That gorgeous Turkish boy was there again wearing tight jeans and stars and stripes braces. CORR.
Oscar annoyed me. He asked me to find an English girl for him to talk to, to replace me when I go. And I hope I annoyed him by walking super quickly home and talking to him so he couldn’t understand and then not repeating myself (I enjoyed that).
16 March 1977
Have just rung Roberto and he can’t get out tonight but I’m meeting him tomorrow at 10.00 Alla Poste Pza Cardusio. So who can I go out with tonight? It might end up being Oscar unless I go and pick someone up at the USIS. I wish I knew the Turk better.
18th March 1977
Oscar depresses me and I want to hit him all the time and Roberto is too possessive and getting a bit heavy. Maybe he’s just a bit too smooth.
Anyway, anyway. Back to 1983 and Ade. The only hint I had that I might like him quite a lot (my old brain is fairly dense about these things) was when a boyfriend and I split up, and his parting words to me were along the lines of: ‘I don’t know why you don’t just go out with Ade, because you only seem to want to talk to him. You refer everything to him.’
I told him he was an idiot. I had no interest in Ade at all.
WE WERE JUST FRIENDS, ALL RIGHT? Nothing to see here. Move on please, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you.
On one of our jaunts in Dorset, the romance began and we had a kiss (I am blushing now and won’t go into much detail, I’m afraid). A certain sort of knowledge was now had.
It was very easy. We were already such good friends. The hardest thing was announcing it to other members of the Comic Strip. It didn’t feel incestuous, it just felt awkward. It felt like when Monica dated Chandler in Friends. Awkward. Dawn knew, of course. She said she had always been convinced that we should get together and was frustrated by how long it took us.
So, in the summer of ’84 we made a Comic Strip feature called The Supergrass. We filmed it in Devon with the whole gang and then everybody had to know. We were holding hands under the table in the pub of an evening. We were sharing a room. And the plot of the film required us to kiss (the vicar wouldn’t have had to worry), which we didn’t seem to mind.
The only possible spanner in the works came when Ade crashed into my car. In those days, before he got responsible, Ade was forever having accidents. Within weeks of buying a beautiful old Ford Cortina off Dawn he had wrapped it around a lamp post in Soho. The council made him buy a new lamp post, which still makes us laugh. ‘That’s my lamp post,’ he’ll say, whenever we drive past it. In fact I think he owns two.
We were in Devon filming, driving back from a night out. Ade was in front of me in his huge Jag, and I was driving the car behind with Robbie Coltrane in the passenger seat. As we turned a corner to go uphill to the hotel, Robbie started shouting, ‘He’s in reverse, he’s in reverse!’ He had seen Ade’s reversing lights go on, but I couldn’t get my car in reverse quick enough and the Jag came back heavily into the front of my car. It fairly well crumpled the front, but it was still drivable. It was a tense moment. Ade was mortified.
The truth was, though, I loved Ade more than the car. Yes, more than my Alfa Romeo Spider. And I really loved that car! I had bought it with the very first bit of money I ever had. It cost £2,000, which was a FORTUNE. I should have done something sensible with the money, of course, but why would you? (Even now, when I hear myself telling my girls to do something sensible with any money they might have earned, there is a voice in the back of my head saying, ‘Or you could just buy a really pretty car!’)
My Spider was so damn cool. It was a head-turner. I wore a black hat and black leather jacket and drove it with the roof down. I still miss that car. I had to get rid of it eventually because when I was pregnant the lack of power steering became an issue. I swapped it for a newer red one, but it was never the same. I miss the smell of a classic car: leather and damp and engine oil. It’s a heady mixture.
I learned to drive in an old banger in a field, and was allowed to drive my parents’ car down the lane. So when it came to taking lessons I was fairly competent. My mother gave me a small sherry to calm my nerves before I took my test, and I passed it first time. Within a couple of weeks, however, I had smashed a tiny Honda the size of a biscuit tin – which contained me and three of my schoolfriends – into a tree and overturned it. The car was a mess, but no one was seriously hurt. It was horrible, but probably the best lesson I ever had. I have been lucky since and never had anything more than the odd scrape.
I love driving. I mentally pat myself on the back if I think I’ve taken a corner particularly well.
I love cars.
I believe I was the fastest-EVER female contestant on Top Gear’s Star in a Reasonably Priced Car. If I had done one more lap, which I was offered, I know I could have beaten Simon Cowell. I was an idiot.
I like driving fast cars.
Mainly, I like beautiful cars.
Cars I would most like to own are the 1959 Bentley Continental, E-Type Jag, a 1949 Bristol 402 and an original Fiat 500. Meanwhile, Ade is probably happiest driving a Land Rover. He doesn’t like my little Porsche. In fact he is happiest in a boat. So I like cars, he likes boats. I say potato, you say potato. I say tomato, you say tomato.
Nothing to see here, ladies and gentlemen … except the prospect of a long and happy marriage.
So we’ve got there. We are back. That’s how come I am lying in bed, on honeymoon, with him. We are wearing matching His and Hers nightshirts that were given to us as a wedding present. Outside, the weather is terrible. It has rained constantly since we arrived and I think I have developed tonsillitis because I fell asleep in the jacuzzi bath of the hotel we stayed in on our wedding night. When I woke, the water was cold, the window was open and Ade had passed out on the bed. I’m not feeling at all well.