ARABELLA WEIR: True to herself, despite riding fast track to fame
Admitting to having corrupted Dr Who while he was a lodger in her home, Arabella Weir talks candidly over lunch with Ham&High reporter Charlotte Newton MEETING Arabella Weir in the flesh is every bit as amusing as watching her in the BBC comedy serie
Admitting to having "corrupted" Dr Who while he was a lodger in her home, Arabella Weir talks candidly over lunch with Ham&High reporter Charlotte Newton
MEETING Arabella Weir in the flesh is every bit as amusing as watching her in the BBC comedy series The Fast Show, in which she made a name for herself. Within moments of engaging with the comedian and writer, she confesses to wearing "a very expensive bra" and frets about the sticky August heat making her sweaty.
Flinging both arms high above her head, she says: "So I'm going to have to do my grocery shopping like this for the rest of the day. Do you think the shop assistants will understand?"
Warm, witty and highly intelligent, the 50-year-old mother-of-two makes the perfect lunch companion as she glides from topic to topic, offering a refreshing perspective on current affairs and north London issues.
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Although Ms Weir's big break came in the 1990s with the Fast Show, when she played Insecure Woman (which she created and based on her own insecurities) she does have a serious side. She's also renowned for being fiercely loyal to her friends who include, among others, Dr Who star David Tennant.
They met 15 years ago on a TV set while filming in Scotland. Tennant, who is godfather to her daughter, wanted to move to London and became her lodger. He lived in Ms Weir's house off Crouch Hill up until eight years ago, even after she had married and had two children.
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"At my 50th birthday recently, he made a speech in which he said I was like a big sister to him. He said I corrupted him, but he also admitted that he needed corrupting," she said.
Moving on to other more earthly topics, Ms Weir is quick to defend Prime Minister Gordon Brown's turbulent tenure at Number 10, with the prospect of a leadership fight from Primrose Hill's David Miliband.
"Gordon and Sarah are good friends and they're real people. I don't know enough about the nuances of politics to voice an opinion on Miliband, but I do know enough to say this: Brown is suffering from the Heat (magazine) generation," she states.
"Just because he doesn't look like a Fulham estate agent and wear Boden swimming trunks on holiday doesn't mean he can't be a top Prime Minister. It's all about style over content these days. But I think he must continue being true to himself because it never works if a politician tries to adopt a persona, like 'I-wanna-be-your-best-mate Blair', or 'hug-a-hoody Cameron'."
Being true to yourself is, Ms Weir believes, the key to happiness and success. And as someone who has experienced the peaks and troughs of acting, she should know.
Born to Scottish parents, the former British ambassador Sir Michael Weir and Alison Weir, an ex-A-level English teacher at Camden School for Girls, she spent much of her childhood vying for their affection. They divorced when she was nine, leaving her mother with two older sons, herself and her younger sister to bring up.
"I don't think she could cope with me and everything else that was going on, so when I was nine she sent me off to live with my father in the Middle East for a year," Ms Weir says.
Her mother's rejection dented their frayed relationship further. But she has positive memories of living with her father. School finished at midday because the air conditioning was broken and it was too hot, so she spent the afternoons swimming and riding. But she was lonely because all the other diplomats' children were at boarding school and it wasn't the norm to mix with local children.
A year later she found herself back in north London and at Camden School for Girls which, she says, was the making of her.
For the first time in her life she knew she would be at school for more than two years and it was here she met lifelong friends Sophie Muller, now a successful director of pop videos, and Sue Holt, a north London textile designer.
The girls all came from divorced, dysfunctional homes at a time when single parent families were still frowned upon. They stuck together, enjoying the punk music of the 1970s and revelling in being school rebels.
But Ms Weir's shenanigans at school did not go unnoticed, which was problematic for her mother, who was a teacher there.
"I was frequently suspended and although I'm not proud of it today, I was proud when my mother told me that she could not hold her head up in the staff room," she recalls.
"I thought, 'well if I've reached those levels of notoriety, then I'm home and dry'."
Leaving school with two O-levels and three A-levels, she auditioned for drama schools up and down the country. To her bitter disappointment, almost everyone rejected her and she remembers "sobbing particularly hysterically" when the Central School of Speech and Drama said no.
Around this time, she was singer in the band Bazooka Joe which featured one Stuart Goddard before he became Adam Ant.
Eventually the North Middlesex Poly, which used to be in Golders Green, accepted her for a two-year course, but it wasn't exactly plain sailing afterwards.
It took a further 10 years of auditions, minor parts, rejections and a part-time job working for Haringey councillor Nicky Gavron before she landed a role in Harry Enfield.
It was through this that she met Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson, who created the Fast Show. The success of the cult sketch show hinged upon the fact that viewers were able to identify the cast as caricatures of everyday life.
Ms Weir's Insecure Woman appeared in a variety of different locations exclaiming: 'Does my bum look big in this?'
The role also gave her both the financial and emotional security she had spent much of her adult life searching for.
But it was undergoing therapy which really helped her to off-load much of the emotional baggage which had burdened her.
"Therapy allowed me to realise that I was not different from everyone else, which is how I'd felt for much of my life. It made me feel good in my own skin and shoes," she said.
Meeting and marrying Jeremy Norton, a scientist and carpenter who is 12 years her junior, also helped her put her demons to rest.
Although still a successful actor and columnist for The Guardian and Independent, much of her time is devoted to the couple's children Isabella, 10, and Archie, eight.
She also gives copious amounts of time and energy to their primary school, Ashmount, and is actively campaigning to relocate it to an idyllic spot on Crouch Hill.
The current building is falling down and has been deemed not fit for purpose.
"It goes back to my point about Brown and the Heat generation," she says. "Just because the building is in disrepair, doesn't mean that children won't get top drawer teaching there - the building tells you nothing about the quality of education."
Then, with a tug on her unfashionable shopping trolley, she braces the summer heat and disappears down Crouch End Broadway.