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19 April 2023

Jack Monroe: “I’m still working through my teenage rebellion”

The food writer and campaigner on her hero parents and belting out “Shout” by Lulu to combat nerves.

By New Statesman

Jack Monroe was born in 1988 and grew up in Southend-on-Sea. She rose to prominence with her food blog, A Girl Called Jack, and has worked with charities such as the Trussell Trust and Oxfam to campaign against poverty.

What’s your earliest memory?

I was abducted from a local park when I was about four. I remember my mum hurtling across the car park, shouting at the woman who was trying to put me into her car. We went to my grandparents’ house afterwards and I sat on a high stool in the kitchen, staring at my nan’s teapot.

Who are your heroes?

My childhood hero was my dad. Firefighter, former paratrooper and decorated war veteran – he was an all round multi-cape-wearing human. My hero now is my mum, who quietly got on with the thrift, frugality, grunt work and physical and emotional labour of running a household full of foster children, so that my dad could run around in his capes.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Too many to list just one. Nye Bevan, Diane Abbott, Dawn Butler, Angela Rayner.

What would be your “Mastermind” specialist subject?

The cost of supermarket basics ranges over the last decade.

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

I believe I’m exactly where I need to be. But I’d like to still be here 60 years from now, God willing, so I’d better get some more early nights and eat my greens.

[See also: Inside the mental health epidemic among teenage girls]

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What book last changed your thinking?

A big blue one. It didn’t so much change my thinking as reassure me that other people think like me, that I’m not terminally unique, and that there is a solution.

What TV show could you not live without?

Eastenders. It was the only soap that my parents wouldn’t have on in the house and I’m still working through my teenage rebellion two decades later.

Who would paint your portrait?

My friend John Bulley did, and the thing is the size of a door and propped up in my hallway. I keep trying to foist it on my parents but, “It’s a little large, love.”

What’s your theme tune?

Before I do any public events, or if I’m nervous before a TV gig, I take myself off somewhere private, close my eyes, throw my head back, and belt out “Shout” by Lulu. It absolutely works. I got caught doing it in the loo at the BBC once, but I daresay that’s probably not the worst thing that’s gone on in there.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Surrender to win.

What’s currently bugging you?

An ear infection, the deliberate decimation of the NHS, and a chronic sleep deficit.

What single thing would make your life better?

Gratitude and sobriety. And it does, one day at a time.

When were you happiest?

Today, hopefully.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I once filled out the government’s careers website to see what else I could be doing, and it came back with prison governor, forensic examiner, firefighter or therapist. So make of that what you will.

Are we all doomed?

Not everyone, but most of us have been slowly doomed by 13 years of consecutive Conservative governments.

“Thrifty Kitchen” by Jack Monroe is published by Bluebird. She will appear at Cambridge Literary Festival with Kit de Waal on 22 April:

[See also: The identity politics of the coronation quiche]

This article appears in the 19 Apr 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Axis of Autocrats