At 16 I was virginal. I thought about sex almost every hour of every day. Imagining it, anticipating it, fearing it and longing for it. I was at a girls’ school and my brother was at a boys’ school so I fell in love with each of his friends in turn. Mostly misguided crushes on inappropriate people. Always asking, when will the moment happen? Before that I’d practised kissing on plums, other girls, pillows. I feel very affectionate about the teenage me. I was full of hope, always looking for the good in every moment. And always looking for the laugh.
I was angry, confused, bewildered, sad, blaming all the wrong people, including myself
There were points when I didn’t have much confidence. It would go from high to low a lot. My dad gave me a bit of talking to one night, when I was off to a party in my purple suede hot pants. He told me what I was to him. A beauty and a prize. He said if anything happened to me he’d be devastated. He told me any boy would be lucky to have me. And I utterly, utterly believed him. He was probably handling me carefully, knowing I was a bit vulnerable, off to a party, maybe not with a lot of confidence. But I believed he spoke the truth and it really stuck with me. A dad’s boost of confidence to his daughter is a very potent thing. I was very lucky to have him. And I still believe what he said to me was, and is, true.
I was 18 when my dad committed suicide. If I could go back an put an arm round my teenage self I’d say, one day, eventually, you will understand this. Because it was so hard to understand then. It was a giant trauma. I was angry, confused, bewildered, sad, blaming all the wrong people, including myself. But as time has gone on I’ve learned about mental health, and understood that if my dad had perhaps lived in a time when he didn’t feel so ashamed of his depression, it might have been very different. It’s a cliche but it’s true – over time you learn to forgive that person and understand they sought a way out at a particular time. At that point, for him, life was a sort of hell. He was just then altered, and not the dad I knew.
It wasn’t until the middle part of my life that I began worrying and catastrophising. Probably to do with having kids. Paying mortgages. Having responsibilities. I longed for children and I was so happy when it happened, but when they were there the responsibility sometimes felt overpowering. It can wear you down if you’re not careful. Since then I’ve made conscious decisions to live differently. There’s a Jane Hirshfield poem where she says “I move my chair into the sun”. That has been the most useful thing I’ve learned in the last 10 years. You can choose to move out to where it’s warmer. Now it’s like muscle memory, I’m starting to feel much more optimistic. I’m back to where I was when I was young.
The 16-year-old me would be amazed and very impressed that I ended up in the comedy world with comedians I adored. I still have odd starstruck moments, like when I met Michael Palin or John Cleese, and I thought, ‘Oh God, I have adored you’. And I have to tell myself, come on, they’re just people, they’re normal. Among people I actually knew, Rik Mayall was very easy to love. Not only was he beautiful, he was extremely funny in a unique way. He used to have me in absolute fits of laughter. Probably because he performed very easily in his normal everyday life. He would do anything, any stupid thing, to get a laugh out of you. He was a complete tart for a laugh. I have a lot to thank him for.