Arabella Weir digs up parental problems to find she’s still a teen at heart
- Credit: Archant
Arabella Weir’s debut kids’ novel required her to mentally wriggle into the unflattering school uniform of teenager Tabitha Baird. But the Crouch End actress and writer says it wasn’t much of an imaginative stretch because part of her has never really grown up.
“If I’m completely honest, I have a teenager who lives inside me and quite a lot of my reactions are those of a 13-year-old,” says Weir, 57.
“That voice still feels like my first reaction to a lot of things. ‘WHAT! I CAN’T WEAR THAT!’
“Writing this was licence to be a kid.”
Weir also chose a 13-year-old heroine because it’s the crossover age from childhood to emerging adulthood when you are “negotiating humanity, finding your boundaries, and the difference between right and wrong”.
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Uprooted from a posh private school when her parents divorce, Tabitha is negotiating multiple problems – from an alcoholic dad to a mother who vents her bitterness via a blog.
The character, who bears more than a passing resemblance to her creator, is also adjusting to life in London with her batty gran and annoying younger brother while trying to make new friends by cheeking the teachers with pranks.
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“You’re beginning to think about boys, thinking you know it all because you are so grown up. It’s the beginning of adulthood when your parents begin to treat you as if you have some responsibility,” says Weir.
But in a very modern way, Tabitha’s parents are too obsessed with their own problems to consider her.
“I wanted to get across something that was very true for me and my friends – of parents behaving like children.
“People have kids and they’re supposed to have read the grown-up manual but, in truth, they are struggling to get it right.
“A high proportion of adults among my generation are addicts or drink too much.
“When Tabitha tells her dad, ‘Don’t try and make me be your parent’, that’s something I actually said to my mother. She was always wanting me to see how awful life was for her.”
Having a mum who over-shares details of her collapsed marriage in the very public forum of a blog earns the full eye-rolling ‘you’re a loser’ response from Tab.
“What could be more excruciating than your mother sharing her problems with the whole world? My kids can’t bear me mentioning the smallest thing on the phone without demanding ‘WHO WAS THAT?’ HOW DARE YOU TALK ABOUT ME!”
“Your parents’ insecurities and weaknesses are part of the agony of growing up – you barely want to think of them as human and certainly don’t want to know about their unhappiness.
“I’m not saying people should put a brave face on it, but teens don’t need a mother sitting at the kitchen table weeping night and day drinking endless bottles of wine. They need to feel that their world isn’t going to fall apart because you are feeling fragile.”
Far from being an angel, Weir has Tabitha dole out plenty of teen put-downs to her parents.
“Teens are monstrously cruel,” laughs Weir, who had a testing relationship with her own mother.
“My mother was brilliant in many ways but consistent and kind she was not. She would do anything in the world to wind her daughter up and I was relentlessly ghastly and cruel to her because I felt she deserved it.”
Weir has written frequently on female body image and self-doubt in her novel Does My Bum Look Big In This? – a catchphrase that sprang from her Fast Show character Insecure Woman.
Tabitha is regularly accosted by her mother as she reaches for a biscuit with the aggressively affectionate “darling little pudding”.
“I thought I was the only person in the world to have my mum and dad go on about how fat I was and what a disappointment. But if that was true, Does My Bum Look Big In This? would never have been successful,” says Wier, who now has a 16-year-old daughter and is trying not to repeat the same mistakes.
“I am not getting the same Full Metal Jacket grief that my mum got from me. I’ve staved off the worst, but they’re subconsciously aware I’m robust enough to handle it.”
As a grown-up she is better able to understand her mum’s point of view.
“She didn’t have a clue, but her generation didn’t have close friends or a language to talk about being a bad wife or mother or say ‘f***ing hell I don’t know what I’m doing.”
And despite doing well as an actor, comedienne and presenter, she’s glad her daughter is more interested in the law than showbusiness.
“I chose a career with high unemployment. Luckily it worked out for me but I determined my children wouldn’t do this because it’s a job where meritocracy can’t be applied. Crap actors can do well and there’s no rhyme or reason why x actor has his own series and y doesn’t.
“I do want them to be happy but I don’t want them to be obsessed with money. I hope they make a contribution.”
The Rise and Rise of Tabitha Baird is published by Piccadilly priced £6.99.