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16 January 2019

Sue Perkins Q&A: “I hope it’s obvious that I don’t own an oil portrait of myself“

The broadcaster talks getting more dogs, October 1988, and the B-word.

By New Statesman

Sue Perkins was born in Croydon, south London, in 1969. Alongside her comedy partner, Mel Giedroyc, she is best known for “The Great British Bake Off”, “Light Lunch” and writing for “French and Saunders”.

What’s your earliest memory?

Falling over and hitting my leg, and then feeling like I was flying as my mum and dad rushed to pick me up. After that, I developed an obsession with the idea that I could fly, and would throw myself off things. They created a narcissistic Icarus.

Who were your childhood heroes?

Blue Peter’s fab four: John Noakes, Valerie Singleton, Lesley Judd and Peter Purves. They existed in an age before health and safety. You could turn on your TV and watch one of them potter into a lion’s den. I remember watching Noakes nearly die as he bobsled down the Cresta Run at 300mph.

What was the last book that changed your thinking?

The Shallows by Nicholas Carr: about how the internet has changed our concentration span so we can only concentrate for seconds.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Nye Bevan. Universal health care is for me the most sacred part, the most important pillar, of British citizenship.

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What would your Mastermind subject be?

The Gothic novel, or Jacobean tragedy. No trifling for me: it’s all about grimness, death, destruction and monsters.

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In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I’d like to live permanently in October 1988, when I started college. I had no responsibility and the energy to do whatever I wanted. My optimism wasn’t dented by experience or low self-esteem.

Who would paint your portrait?

My friend Emma. I once had my portrait painted in oils on Sky TV. It is, I hope, obvious that I wouldn’t want an oil portrait of myself around the house. I sent it to her, knowing she would despise it. She’s put it up in her toilet, so that whenever she urinates she looks at me with hatred. She could paint one of me that I’d have to put up in my house. It would be awful.

What’s your theme tune?

[She hums “Mahna Mahna” from The Muppets.] Whatever that one is, that’s it.

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

Once my grandmother, then well into her nineties, beckoned me over. I thought: God, this is a woman who survived wars and drove ambulances in the Blitz, this is going to be a real nugget of wisdom. And she said: “All cats are grey at night.”

What is currently bugging you?

The B-word. The fact that whichever side of the B-word debate you’re on, it’s caused such immeasurable anger, division and hatred in society. That upsets me hugely.

What would make your life better?

More dogs.

When were you happiest?

I’m always content. I hold much more store in contentment than happiness.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I’d have worked with an orchestra, been a chef, or a zoo keeper.

Are we all doomed?

I think the question almost takes away personal responsibility; now is the time to embrace personal responsibility more than ever. I’m going to make sure that I do, in my tiny, tiny way, whatever I can to make sure we’re not doomed, and I encourage anyone who feels the same way to do likewise. 

Sue Perkins’s latest show, “Insert Name Here”, is on Wednesdays at 10pm on BBC Two

This article appears in the 16 Jan 2019 issue of the New Statesman, How Brexit trapped Britain