Jenny Eclair - is she really that grumpy?

21 September 2015

As the 55-year-old comedian tours the UK with her new show How To Be A Middle Aged Woman (Without Going Insane), we ask: how old is she in her head?

What was your childhood nickname and do you still have it?

There was a phase of being called Hard Cheese because my surname was Hargreaves, but it didn’t really stick. I don’t think girls were that enamoured of nicknames to the same extent that boys were in the Seventies.

Naughtiest thing you did at school?

I was just a congenital nuisance. Attention-seeking, boredom, falling asleep on the desk. I didn’t do anything dramatic like set off a fire extinguisher because I was a coward.

What was your plan B?

 I didn’t have one. I had no other skills. If I hadn’t been so lucky I would probably be living with my mother.

Worst hairstyle?

A perm when I was 17. I had a serious boyfriend and lied to him that it was natural. After about three months, I panicked when the curls started to drop out. It’s been at its best since I’ve been on HRT.

When did you last drink too much?

Days ago at home. I prefer drinking there because I know I’ll get home safely.  It’s often to do with boredom. Just wandering through the kitchen thinking I’ll just finish that bottle because it’s open.

If your 16-year-old self could see you now, what would she say?

She would be horrified I’d got this fat. At 16 I was quite chubby but very aware of it. And I became anorexic in my second year at drama school. I always thought I’d be a lot more glamorous as an older woman with my hair up in a bun.

What makes you really grumpy?

Things I can’t control that interfere with my life, like a recent bike race through London which shut down roads. It’s great for cyclists, but it meant I couldn’t get to an exhibition of sculpture in Twickenham. If I could have knocked people off their bikes I would have done.

What single thing would make getting older easier?

Good luck.

What did you parents teach you?

The importance of loyalty, duty, love and laughter.

Twitter: yes or no?

Yes. I find it incredibly comforting. It’s a fantastic tool. I re-tweet a lot and follow people that interest me like this woman who does these fantastic knitted fish.

Who or what is your greatest love?

I should put my partner and my daughter neck and neck, and I do most of the time. But I have an obsessive unhealthy adoration of my daughter. Although I know I would be totally useless without Geoff. We’ve been together 33 years.

What do you wear around the house?

Often just knickers and a T-shirt.

When did you last stand naked in front of someone?

It happens regularly. I live in a glass house on a main bus route and I know people have seen me naked and I couldn’t care less.

How do you relax?

I paint still life. I’d like to be better at it, then I’d do it more. It’s a shame to be this old and not very good. There’s a big discrepancy between what I can do in my head and what I put on paper.

Name two people from the past you’d like to sit next to at dinner.

Leonora Carrington who was a mad artist, writer, eccentric,  runaway and part of the Surrealist movement of the 1930s who lived most of her life in Mexico. And I wouldn’t like anyone on the other side as I’d want to just talk to her.

Object you’ve kept from childhood?

A rocking horse. It’s not one of those carved wooden ones that posh people have in the middle window of their Georgian houses.  It’s a little wicker rocking horse I was given when we lived in Kuala Lumpur, and I used to feed it apples.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

An actress. It was that or nothing. I didn’t really know there was such a thing as stand-up. I always knew I wanted to perform.

What are the two main lessons life has taught you?

There’s always another train and life isn’t worth living without books.

What’s the bad habit you can’t break?

Sloping off to watch very bad television like Love Island and America’s Next Top Model.

What was the last public complaint or protest you made?

I’m a good complainer. The last time I tried to get my parking permit re-issued someone was so rude to me on the phone I reported them.  I got a year’s free parking.

What is your longest  friendship?

Gill Simpkin who I’ve known since primary school and lives in Hove. The great thing about doing gigs is you can still catch up with friends in faraway places. 

Last time you laughed til you cried?

I’m far too judgemental as a comedian to do that. I came very close with Greg Davies who had a stand-up show in Edinburgh a few years ago where I became hysterical.

When did you last forget what you went upstairs for?

Probably yesterday. I am learning this new stand-up show at the moment and it’s become much harder. I received a parcel this morning, then a phone call interrupted it and I forgot to finish opening the parcel.

What would you prefer: your youth back or what you have now?

What I have now. I could easily have blown everything.  The way the dice landed, I don’t know if I could go back now and throw the same dice and be so lucky again.

When and where were you happiest?

It’s more about moments of fleeting happiness. Sometimes it might be walking out of your own front door and the sun is shining and you feel absolutely ecstatic that you are here and now and for a moment you think, it’s all okay. I never used to care about nature, or weather or looking out of the window. I don’t think I ever looked out of a window until I was about 50.

What is your greatest regret?

I was really great and showy-offy  at yoga in my mid-thirties. I was in magnificent shape, very bendy and I let it go. I can still do a headstand though.

When was your first kiss and who with?

Fourteen on a Girl Guide holiday and the Boy Scouts were in the next field and I got one of them!

Always on a diet?

I haven’t had a biscuit for about 30 years. I can be very virtuous when it comes to puddings and cakes.  I actually don’t eat chocolate for political reasons because I don’t like the way it’s pushed into women’s faces. But I counterbalance that by having an awful crisp, cheese and ham habit.

Childhood pet?

I wasn’t allowed one because my father was in the army. And I am still pet free although I’ve been looking seriously at dachshunds the way that some people look at babies. I’d love a sausage dog, but my partner won’t have one because he’s worried he’ll trip over it and break his legs.

Which latent talent is yet to be discovered?

There’s a bit of me that thinks when you get to 57 you should automatically be able to play bridge. I wonder if there is a cardgame mentality lurking inside me. I play quite a quite complicated version of solitaire on my iPad.

Town or country?

Town. I crave London when I go away.

Glass half full or half empty?

Half full, and then I drink it, and it’s empty.

What would be your preferred epitaph?

She’ll be back.

Best childhood holiday?

We rarely had them. My father was in the army and we used to live in Berlin, so we got dragged to a caravan somewhere when all I ever wanted to do was stay in a hotel.

Which decade are you most nostalgic for?

The Eighties. I’d like to get back underneath my own skin and relive my life between 20 and 30 because I forgot to take notice of what was really going on. I’d like to be less vague about that decade. I was probably out of control for some of it.

What piece of music gets you on the dance floor?

Wild Horses by The Rolling Stones. I only go on the dance floor to show off.

In the past ten years have you learned a new skill?

Pilates. I am not interested in hearing about people’s bad backs until they have had at least six months of Pilates classes.

VERDICT: Anyone who can still do a perfect headstand comes in at a youthful 45 – so that’s Jenny’s virtual age.

Jenny Eclair’s fourth novel, Moving, is out now. On September 25 Jenny embarks on a brand-new stand-up tour, How To Be A Middle Aged Woman (Without Going Insane). www.jennyeclair.com

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