arabella-weir_1940329bThough looking completely unfazed by the youths knocking back cans of lager on the corner outside her house, even nodding an ‘Alright?’ to them as she passed, Arabella Weir looked a little uncertain about the tall, sweaty bloke on her pathway on the hottest day of the year so far.  Then a lightbulb went off.  ‘Oh fuck!  I forgot, I forgot…come in.’ she said to me, opening her front door.  Weir swears freely and often in a rather glorious way.   Apologies and explanations followed.  The kids had to be picked up, could I amuse myself for an hour?  It was the end of a long week and I was gagging for a pint.  She dropped me off at a pub where I listened to labourers arranging their weekend drugs and then paid an old Irish alky 50p to stop telling me jokes.  Example: ‘Why is sex so good when you’re camping?’  Because it’s fucking in tents’.

Arabella Weir started her comedy career securing the gladioli for Dame Edna Everage before working with Alexei Sayle on his ‘Stuff’ show in 1988 (‘I wrote a load of sketches about two lesbians who ran a bike shop called ‘The Menstrual Cycle’’).  ‘The Fast Show’ is what made her though.  Her and her bum.   ‘Does My Bum Look Big in This?’ was not only one of the most famous catchphrases to come out of the show, but also the title of a chick lit book that she wrote that sold shedloads back when enough book sales could make you some serious dosh.  It’s the reason that she lives in a lovely big house in a nice part of town, with sofas as colourful as her character (hot pink, in case you’re wondering).  Houses were cheaper then too, she reminds me.

the_fast_showThough she doesn’t remember exactly when she met Charlie Higson, he was at University with people Weir knew and she’d been at school with his wife, so she thinks that she’d always sort of known who he was.  She’d got to know Charlie better when Harry Enfield asked her to work on one of his shows.  Charlie and Paul Whitehouse were writing for Harry at the time.  One night they were all in the BBC bar together, which Weir remembers as distinctly unglamorous, despite being full of the celebrities of the day.  ‘Jimmy Savile was over there, Alan Titchmarsh, Percy Thrower.  Those were still the days when Jim Davidson was top of the tree and everybody was murmuring ‘bit of a wanker…’ behind his back.  Paul and Charlie were a bit uncomfortable around women, a bit autistic.  They walked over and said ‘We’re doing a sketch show now, without Harry.  You’re funny, do you want to do a bit?’ I was like ‘Yeah, alright’.

Weir reckons she was born a performer after entering the world as the youngest child with two older brothers, meaning that she was always having to compete for attention.  Her mother later told her that her brothers had never played with her.  By the time she was at school ‘I was so locked into being the centre of attention I couldn’t ever give ground.  I remember going into battle with a teacher when I was 12 years old and actually thinking ‘I don’t even hate you, get me off this.  I wouldn’t mind learning about geography’.  But at the same time there was this sea of laughter and all the girls were thinking of me as a ringleader.  I thought ‘I’m bullying her, I wish I wasn’t but everyone likes me.’  It bought me two weeks worth of respect.’  When asked what kind of job she wanted to do, she figured being an actor was the perfect fit for a show off.

Eight years of auditions followed while she was in her twenties.  She tells me the worst part was never getting feedback.  Did she ever think about giving up and getting a regular job?  ‘You’re always battling against the little voice saying ‘Come on, look at the graph, you’re not going to crack it’.  I was a PA to a local Labour councillor and it was a job I really enjoyed but the only reason I didn’t give up is because I knew I’d never love something as much as this.  You have to remember you are at a roulette table and when Robson Greene wins something you’re thinking, ‘What the fuck?  Where’s the meritocracy? Caroline Quentin?  Hello?  I didn’t hang around for 30 years to see her doing well!‘   The Fast Show gig turned up when she was 30 years old and the only secret to success, she says, is determination.

The book that she wrote with her catchphrase as the title sees our heroine, Jackie, worrying through life about any number of subjects but you can probably guess the big one: her size.  At one point in the book she decides she can write a self help book and describes the most flattering positions in which to have sex.  How much was Jackie actually Arabella, I wondered?  ‘All of it, every single word’.  So how often were you worrying when you were, er…? ‘Every minute of every sexual encounter and I’ve had loads of fantastic sex with tons of men and I’ve really gone for it, but there was always a bit of me that was thinking ‘Oh shit, the tits! Oh no, the stomach, oh god my bum’ and then I’ve just thought ‘Fuck it, we’re here now.’  If you’re skiing down a hill and you’re wearing a helmet, it doesn’t stop you enjoying it, you’re just taking precautions.  That concern about how I look, has been…present.’  It is a testament to what great company she is that I could have this kind of conversation with Arabella having met her only half an hour earlier.

The PA job that she had as a struggling actress triggered a lifetime of political engagement .  She describes herself as a socialist and is an ardent supporter of the Labour party.  We discuss politics in passing and she is hilarious about ‘oily estate agent man’ Cameron, remaining aghast that he was elected.  ‘He’s got gazillions in the bank and if things get a bit rough, he can go private.‘ which I take to mean that she thinks he will never really know how tough life can be for the majority of people.  When I ask her if she thinks Ed Miliband can win she fudges the answer, choosing her words carefully to describe him as ‘extremely impressive and engaging’.  Politicians are judged by their appearances as much as anything else these days and we both know, I think, that there is an elephant in the room when it comes to Ed.  She hopes that because Cameron is so overly polished, Ed will gain an advantage when the electorate eventually wants someone more genuine.

And then it’s time to go to Waitrose.  Weir’s daughter needs dropping off at a party and her son needs feeding.  ‘You’re coming with us.’ she says.  So I do.  The kids are a delight, her daughter doing that teenage thing of rolling her eyes in a ‘Duh!’ kind of way at her Mum’s conversation and her son telling me that he’d like to be a surgeon one day because he’s done a few dissections at school that he was really interested by.  Weir credits her kids as one of the reasons why she’s so fulfilled.  ‘My parents were fantastically interesting, amazingly intelligent, vibrant people but really awful parents.  So I feel incredibly fulfilled because I’ve had children, very late, and I’m everything my parents weren’t while also being a great role model as a woman.’  Constant jibes from her parents, particularly her Dad, were to blame for her insecurity about her size, the worrying about and constant analysis of which has made her career in a way.  She’s 55 now and we’re nearly 20 years on from ‘Insecure Woman’ (the character who gave birth to the catchphrase in ‘The Fast Show’) yet during the course of our conversation it’s apparent that her size is still somewhat of an issue for her.  When’s that going to go away, I ask her? ‘Never. Maybe when I’ve got cancer I wont be worrying about that too much. That’s my go to place.’

She’s tried therapy and found it useful for ‘the opportunity to acknowledge that I was not well brought up and I was very heavily judged for the way I looked but then that is who they were and that is what it was.  I’m not going to let all that get in the way of doing things that I want to do.’  So she’s learned acceptance? ‘Growing up is about managing expectations, realising that life isn’t perfect but life can be fucking good if you do fulfill your potential.  Someone asked me what I want for my kids.  If they end up working in Tesco in Nuneaton I won’t care as long as they feel they are maximising their potential.  I cannot bear people going, I’d really like to write a novel but I cant because blah blah.  Don’t do that!   I’m very lucky in that I have an enormous amount of energy but life is so short, so do the best you can possibly do with everything that you’ve got.’

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