By Zoe West
Mel Giedroyc may just be one of the busiest women in showbiz. Comedian, presenter, actor, podcast host, and now author - she’s done it all. Even as we speak she has just wrapped up two new TV shows (Unforgivable for entertainment channel, Dave, and Good with Wood for Channel 4) and written her first debut novel, The Best Things.
It may be something to do with her upbringing. ‘My dad came to England from Poland in 1947 with absolutely nothing. He wasn’t interested in material things like fancy houses and cars. Education was all he cared about for us.’ He must have been pleased then when his youngest daughter went on to study Italian at Cambridge where she first crossed paths with comedy duo partner, Sue Perkins.
As well as having a busy career, Mel, 52, is Mum to Flossie, 18 and Vita, 17, her two daughters with TV Director, Ben Morris, and has even found time to enrol in a Polish language class. It’s clear she enjoys life, taking nothing for granted.
Her new book is full of one-liners and hilarious scenes, but just where does her love of comedy come from…
As the youngest of four children (and two younger foster brothers for a while too), you have to make your mark - and my family are a lively bunch. There was always a lot of banter so in a rather desperate way you have to keep up. We’re a tight family. Mum and Dad always managed to see the funny side of things, and I think we all try to emulate that. You weren’t allowed to take things too seriously at home. Even now I know I’ll get some ribbing from them all about writing a book.
I wrote my new book, The Best Things, in the library. I’d make sure I got the same blue chair every day. I love the library. It’s where all of life happens. I got to know a couple of Polish guys who’d sneak their cans in, the guy who liked to come in for a sleep, the local toddler group and a brilliant book club for the over 60s. I could have downed tools and listened to them all day.
When you have children, life is brilliantly (and I love this word) discombobulating. I had my two daughters very close together and I lost a couple of years where I can’t actually remember anything - apart from one time when I was taken to the edge. Shortly after the birth of my second daughter, our two lodgers came home from waitressing at 1am and they were giggling, which is fine. But I was so tired, I went upstairs in an horrific dressing gown and lost my marbles. I asked them to leave. And they did - within two days! I still feel awful about that. I’ve never admitted that to anyone.
I thought in my deluded head that once kids get to a certain age you can get back to normal. But, of course you can’t - you are irrevocably changed. Life is messy, as one of the characters in my book finds out when she chooses to stay with the ‘perfect family’. She realises she misses the mess.
My kids tell me I’m way too uptight about computers and social media. I’ve had this fantasy for a while of taking all of our phones, putting them in a sack with some rocks and chucking them in the canal, then telling everyone ‘Yeah, they’re gone, deal with it.’ I sound Victorian. Everything happens so quickly on social media. It can’t be good for your health.
My mother always has very good advice - and when it comes to bringing up children, she says, ‘Have them on a very, very long piece of elastic,’ which is really sweet. They won’t even know they’re on it but at some point you just give it a little tug.
Sue and I bonded as soon as we met. We saw in each other the same obsession with comedy. Interestingly, our families are quite similar - there was a lot of teasing. When there’s no banter it’s time to shut up shop. I keep saying to my friends, when we’re old and grey we should all live in a house together. We can pool all our resources, get some hot carers, see each other out and continue having fun.
Sue and I had a lot of fun presenting Bake-Off. When it’s a little chilly and the crocuses are just coming up, I get this overwhelming bittersweet feeling of longing. It’s when we’d usually start filming Bake Off. It’s just for a day, but I feel it. Sue and I used to look at each other and say, ‘What? I can’t believe this is my job.’ We would honestly cry with laughter. Of course, it’s easy to look back on it with rose-tinted glasses, but it was a gift. When we filmed the first series, and no one knew what to expect. We were standing in a tent with some baked goods and I said to Sue, ‘Don’t worry about it, this isn’t going to take off.’
I have so many comedy heroes. In the early days it was Morecambe & Wise, Victoria Wood, French & Saunders. Nowadays, I’ve really enjoyed This Country, People Just Do Nothing, and I’ve been re-visiting Peep Show with my daughters.
My fantasy is a walking holiday in Italy. Is this a sign of middle age? I don’t know, but I don’t care either. I wouldn’t even mind some of those metal sticks you stride along with. I love aqua aerobics too, and two weeks ago I started my first Polish language classes. We have lots of Polish relations, so I’ve got a hankering to do a GCSE.
I want to write more books too. My new book is a redemptive one, and it’s about hope. We meet my character, Sally Parker, at a time when she’s pressed the snooze button on her life. I found that really sad, and that’s the point where I wanted to meet her. There’s nothing like escaping into a book. Maybe I can have a small library in my commune - just a small one.
The Best Things by Mel Giedroyc is out now (£12.99, Headline, HB)
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