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Advice from mums: mother knows best

20 February 2017 ( 17 March 2020 )

Here’s some of the wisest, most touching and downright daft advice mothers have given to a mix of readers and well-known names.

Mother and child

Tony Robinson
Activist and TV presenter

‘Always wear a fresh vest and pants every day.’ I must have heard my mum, Phyllis, say that each morning of my childhood. It was a pride thing, as much as anything.

When I was a student, there were times I was tempted to be a bit slipshod, especially if nursing a hangover. But I’d hear her voice and start to feel very guilty. And while the vest is now long gone, the daily fresh underpants remain!

Tony’s autobiography No Cunning Plan is available on the Saga Bookshop

Nicky Campbell
Radio 5 Live presenter

I was adopted as a baby but my mother and I talked about it from an early age. ‘Get things out in the open,’ she would advise. As a journalist, it’s very handy to have this natural curiosity and desire to speak about things – and as a parent. There’s so much to be gained by a family simply… talking. Don’t hide from each other.

Even at 93, Mum still enjoys a glass of wine and a good conversation. My kids adore her because she talks to them… really talks to them.

Gyles Brandreth
Writer and broadcaster

From the age of six, I travelled to school by underground – on my own. However, just before my mother died, aged 96, she revealed that she would follow me, getting into the next carriage.

She had been living by Kipling’s phrase ‘God could not be everywhere, and therefore he made mothers.’ But she’d taught me to feel independent – without letting me out of her sight.

Gyles’ book Jack the Ripper: Case Closed is available on the Saga Bookshop 

Gyles Brandreth takes the Grown Up Test

Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill
Olympic legend

On the days when I wanted to go out instead of training, Mum wouldn’t give me any speeches about working hard. She’d say, ‘Jess, you’re probably right. Don’t bother going to training. You might still make the championships next week. Should I ring your coach and tell him that you’re letting the rest of the team down? I’m sure he won’t be too upset.’

By the time she’d finished, I had my kit-bag packed and was already out the door!

Glen Matlock
Former Sex Pistol

Our family was always a bit hand to mouth but Mum, who worked part-time at the gas board, was very good with money. ‘Stand on your own two feet,’ she’d say.

A nearby clothes shop ran a club where women saved for Christmas. But she got her savings well before then. Once my underpants needed replacing, so Mum batted her eyelids at the bloke serving her. She was good at it. I got the underpants and a string vest!

Glen’s book I Was a Teenage Sex Pistol is available on the Saga Bookshop

Romesh Ranganathan

The best advice that my mother ever gave me? ‘Hey, don’t eat those! They are poo mangoes!’ I was eight at the time and we were staying at a family home in Sri Lanka with a beautiful mango tree, loaded with fruit. I was about to tuck in, but it was a bit close to the outdoor toilet, which was more of a hole in the ground. Thanks, Mum!

Jeffrey Archer

My mother, Lola, had little formal education, but decided to put that right when she took her A levels in her 40s and got a degree at 53. She taught me ‘you must never stop learning’ - one of the reasons I’m still writing every day. After 24 bestsellers in a row I could pack it all in and have some fun but for me my work IS my fun.

Jeffrey's book This Was A Man is available on the Saga Bookshop

Claude Littner
Executive and The Apprentice star

Mother would always say ‘be true unto yourself’. She encouraged me to be straight and honest. There was nothing we couldn’t talk about. We were a close-knit family, the Littner clan.

But though mother was calm, unfortunately, I’m irritable and not calm at all. Still, as she pointed out, you can only be yourself!

Single-Minded: My Life in Business is available on the Saga Bookshop

Emma Freud
Red Nose Day director

Soon after starting work I returned home wearing – with some pride – a wonderful new striped cardigan. My mother admired it, but when I told her how much it cost she exclaimed, ‘Oh, you could feed a family of four for a week with that’! Her words remain seared on to my heart.

She went through rationing, never wasted anything and I’m always aware what money can buy for those more in need. I’ve tried buying expensive clothes and jewellery but end up sending them back the next day!

Celia Imrie

My mother Diana was wonderful at giving parties. Her inspired advice was ‘mix the ages and always serve something hot’.

Young children often get on brilliantly well with the older generation. My siblings and I would rush from the oven to the guests, handing around platters of hot snacks and people loved that.

Celia’s novel Nice Work (If You Can Get It) is available on the Saga Bookshop 

Nick Knowles
TV presenter

I was one of five kids and mum definitely didn’t want us under her feet. If we were ill and suggested staying home she’d say, ‘Stop moaning. You’ll feel better when you get started.’ Honestly, I could have had leprosy and she’d have wheeled me into school in my bed.

But I’ve taken her advice. When I’m about to do a live show in front of thousands of people and feel like I’m going to have a heart attack, I just remember that it’ll be all right – once I get started.

Nick’s cookbook Proper Healthy Food is available on the Saga Bookshop

Sherrie Hewson

My mother, Joy, was a top model, dancer – and party animal. ‘Regrets are futile,’ she’d say. ‘Live every single second and be proud of who you are.’

Each Saturday in the Sixties, our house was filled with people and, because my brother was a DJ, there’d be famous bands like The Searchers playing. Right up to the age of 88, mum was dancing, doing yoga and flirting.

Her philosophy made her formidable character, too, wanting me to focus on my theatrical career. I was on stage in sequins at four. But she made me a survivor.

Readers write...

‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be’, my mum always said. She’d once lent a friend Lorna Doone, didn’t get it back and never quite got over it. ‘Did I ever tell you about that book I lent to so-and-so?’ she’d say. ‘Well, let me give you a bit of advice...’, ‘Yes, you told me,’ I’d reply. ‘Many times!’ Erica Wicks, Spalding

‘Don’t put it in writing’, ‘drip-dry everything’ and ‘always take your socks off before your trousers’. My mum’s sayings reflected her wariness of commitment, a dislike of ironing and maybe a traumatic aesthetic experience when first seeing a man’s legs in his woolly footwear!

Have they influenced me? Well, I like ironing. But I’m slow to commit and I am resolute in taking my socks off before my trousers. James Donald, Liverpool

I could write a book about my mother’s tips… for anyone who’d want to read it. ‘Drop a fork, you’ll have a visitor; drop a knife, you’ll have a surprise.’ And she believed it! She’d drop a fork on Tuesday, her sister would come on Wednesday and she’d say, ‘Here’s my visitor’. Her sister always came on Wednesdays! Micky Higgins, Wolverhampton

My mother used to leave notes all over the place. ‘Keep the kitchen tidy’, ‘Always put your toys away’. I can laugh about it now, but I hated it then. It was only when I had children that I realised she was preparing us for life. Before Mum died, she lived with us and it was hard work, but I was always there for her, looking after her the way she’d looked after me. Pat Carney, Essex

My mum met my dad in Germany after the war and gave up her medical studies to come to England. I think she still regrets not having a career. ‘Whatever it is, just do it! Follow your dreams,’ she’d tell me and my sister. That’s stayed with me my whole life. I’ve travelled, lived in the Middle East, worked in the Mediterranean - a wonderful, exciting life. And even at 63, I still feel there’s so much to do. Who wants to put their feet up when there’s all that world to explore! Shirley Mundy, Norfolk

My mum was full of funny little bits of advice but the one thing that has held me in good stead (I hope) is this: Before you do anything, if you think you would be embarrassed or ashamed afterwards, don’t do it! I told my daughter and, as far as I know, it seems to have worked! Karen, via email

Strive to be happy, always believe in yourself, you have an amazing talent, you are clever than you think you are - and dreams do come true! Jill, via Facebook

Never be anyone but yourself. My mum taught me and I passed this on to my kids. So many people lead fake lives or hide who they really are. Anna, via Facebook

If your mother imparted a fabulous nugget of wisdom, we'd love to feature it! Email us on


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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