Ten minutes with Mariella Frostrup

Danny Scott / 24 June 2019

Never drink and tweet, says Mariella - and have faith in humanity!



Your Radio 4 show, Bringing Up Britain, is about families and parenting. What does the word family mean to you?

On the one hand, there’s the ‘family unit’. My husband and my two kids. But, these days, I don’t think family is just defined by blood or marriage. It also includes the people who we surround ourselves with… the people who have our best interests at heart. I’ve known some of my friends for over 35 years and, to me, they’re family.

What’s the most important lesson you learned from your parents?

They taught me that anything is possible, as long as you’re prepared to work hard for it. We were quite a fractured family because my father was an alcoholic and my parents eventually split-up, but I did leave home with a degree of self-belief. Despite what was happening at home, I was never undermined. Looking back, I wonder if I actually had too much self-belief. Some people regarded me as rather obnoxious. Hopefully, I’m better these days!

You were one of five kids. Did you all get on?

Because of everything else that was happening in the house, arguing with my siblings wasn’t high on the agenda. It all got quite complicated when my father left because I went to live with him, but the others stayed with Mum. We were very close as young children and I still feel very protective towards them.

Have you kept anything from childhood?

We moved from Norway to Ireland when I was six, then I moved to London, so a lot of my stuff was lost. I’ve got a couple of things. My dad was a journalist and I’ve got a book of his… The Book of 1000 Words. The kind of thing that was very useful in the days before Google. He wrote his name in the front and I love looking at his handwriting. The one I wish I’d kept is a fluffy lion that was my constant companion for several years. I named him Clarence, after Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion from the TV show, Daktari. Where are you, Clarence!

You’ve got the use of a time machine for the day. Where/when are you off to?

I’d go forward. I read a lot of futuristic, dystopian science fiction and spend a lot of time wondering what the world will be like in 50- or 100-years’ time. I suppose there is the chance that I’d open the doors and see what we’ve done to the world and think, ‘Oh God! Get me back to 2019’.

What was your favourite childhood TV show?

It wasn’t quite childhood because I was 16, but I used to love watching Tiswas with a hangover on Saturday mornings. Seeing all that madness seemed to make me feel better. Although it was a kids’ show, adults used to watch it as well. I think that was part of the joy… it was a show that everyone could enjoy.

What was your worst telling off at school?

There wasn’t one, really. I loved school. We had some great teachers and it often felt like a bit of a respite from all the chaos at home.

Did you know what you wanted to be?

Not a clue. I did OK in my O Levels – I took seven and got five Grade A’s – but my dad died around that time and, as soon as my exams were finished, I walked out. I wanted to be off in the big wide world… finding out what it had to offer.

What was the first band you ever saw?

I’m not sure if it was the ‘first’ band, but it was one of the first. U2 at a small club in Dublin called McGonagles. This is the part where I should say, ‘I could immediately tell they were brilliant and would become one of the biggest bands in the world’, but I thought they were rubbish! Now, of course, I love them.

Probably my favourite gig was Dire Straits in Jerusalem. I ended up in the music business and worked with them for a while. The atmosphere was incredible. They had the Wall behind them and there were Palestinians sitting on top, watching the show. They weren’t allowed to come over. When the band played Brothers in Arms… wow! Very emotional. A lot of tears.

Any fashion disasters over the years?

One of the drawbacks of being on TV is that you can look back and see what you were wearing in the 80s. It’s still on YouTube. And one of the joys of getting older is that you no longer worry about what you’re wearing. It doesn’t matter if this dress is in or out… all that matters is whether you like it.

Twitter – yes or no?

I’m probably somewhere in between. I’m on Twitter for work and it can be incredibly useful, but I think we all need to be more aware of the time and effort we’re investing in stuff that isn’t important and isn’t good for our general well-being.

Look at what happened to Danny Baker, recently. That’s an example of just how dangerous it can be. You react to something in the moment, make an innocent comment that you think is funny and… too late, it’s all over the six o’clock news. It’s a powerful tool and we have to be very careful with it. Maybe they should start introducing breathalysers for phones. If you’re in the pub and you want to post something on Twitter, you first blow into the breathalyser. If you’re too drunk, it shuts down all social media till the morning.

Can you run a mile?

Yes, I run three miles twice a week with some of the other mums from the local school. I try and look after myself, but I do occasionally drink too much wine. I enjoy the bad stuff, then I punish myself with Pilates or a two-hour walk with the dog.

What did turning 50 mean to you?

I was quite looking forward to it, thinking that it would be a great chance to have a massive party. Woo, yeah! Then, as the date approached, I started to get a bit nervous. You get yourself into a state because it’s meant to be one of those big, defining moments in your life. I did have a party and life felt exactly the same as it did when I was 49. What was I worried about? I interviewed a lady the other day and she was 31. She was worrying that life had already passed her by. Ha ha! It’s all relative, isn’t it.

 What are your hopes for the future?

The immediate future doesn’t look so hot, does it. But I have faith in humanity… there are a lot of amazing people out there. Young people, too. We will get it right in the end. We have to!




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