Arabella Weir interview: ‘It's a game of two mums’
Actress, writer and comedian Arabella Weir – star of The Fast Show and Two Doors Down – talks about the ‘inspiration’ for her new live show.
In a show full of amusing catchphrases, it’s rather sad to know that the story behind one of The Fast Show’s best-known utterances was in fact rooted in deep insecurity from a heartbreaking source.
“Does my bum look big in this?” was said repeatedly by Arabella Weir’s ‘insecure woman’ character, along with other similar phrases, in all manner of situations, from being at a funeral to being pulled over for speeding, as a nun and in hospital giving birth.
She even scared off a mugger by demanding that he be honest about her choice of shoes.
The star’s new live show, Does My Mum Loom Big in This?, deals with some tricky issues and she examines her relationships with her mother and her own children.
The Cambridge Junction will get the chance to enjoy hilarious true stories from Arabella’s childhood, her long career and her life as a single working mother when the 62-year-old comedian, actress and best-selling author presents her show at the venue in March.
“The first half will be about me and my mum,” explains Arabella, whose TV appearances include Doctor Who, One Foot in the Grave and Skins, “and then the second half is all about me as a mum – so it’s a game of two mums.”
She continues: “I had a very dysfunctional relationship with my mother, and so it’s all the stories from all those years. I never stopped talking to her or anything, but we had a very combative relationship.
“There’s a lot of humour in the stories, but there’s some unbelievable stuff to talk about. That’s where it all comes from, the long and tricky relationship we had.”
Although some of the stories may be hard to believe, Arabella assures me that they’re all true.
“It’s very much a sort of confessional show,” she says. “Funny and poignant and true – and pretty shocking I think for a lot of people.”
On the title, Does My Mum Loom Big in This?, an obvious play on words of her most famous catchphrase, Arabella says: “I thought of lots of titles and that one is the one that seemed to make the most sense, and of course be funny. It seemed to work as a gag and do what it says on the tin.”
Arabella says that her mum was definitely key in the neurosis and insecurity that led to the whole “Does my bum look big in this?” phenomenon, which not only inspired the popular Fast Show character but also her first novel, also called Does My Bum Look Big in This?.
“The way she treated me and her obsession with how fat I was or thin I was, or that I looked right, absolutely led to me coming up with that character. I suppose with my troubled childhood, that is what I did, I learnt to be funny – I discovered that that would be the way to deal with it.
“My mother was tricky and I annoyed her, and my size and my looks annoyed her and she wanted me to be different – so that character totally came out of all that.”
So being treated that way spurred Arabella on to try to be different and a better mother for her children? “Yes, and whether or not I’ve achieved that is part of what comes out in the show...
“Definitely I have tried a bit harder to make sure my children are not as criticised – well, I don’t criticise them, basically. I’m a perfect mother in every possible way, I think it’s fair to say.”
And is Arabella now in a good place, emotionally speaking? “I’m pretty content, yes,” she says. “I don’t look at myself and go, ‘I’m amazing, I’m beautiful, everything about me is gorgeous’, but yes, I would say I’ve put quite a lot of work into trying to wrestle my demons. I accept who and what I am.”
Arabella’s tour runs from February 21 and criss-crosses the country before finishing on April 24. She will then start work on a new series of Two Doors Down, in which she co-stars with Jonathan Watson and Alex Norton.
“Then I’ll probably be having quite a big rest,” says Arabella, whose other books include the memoir The Real Me Is Thin.
It wouldn’t be right to speak to Arabella and not mention The Fast Show.
“We’re talking about doing a celebration of 25 years of The Fast Show so watch this space,” reveals Arabella, when asked if the series might ever return, “but I don’t know is the absolute truth.
“There is discussion of doing some sort of celebration of it, which would obviously mean revisiting some of it. If we do it, it will be quite soon.”
Some television programmes from the ’90s have aged somewhat, but The Fast Show still seems as fresh now as it did then. “I think it’s still pretty good,” agrees Arabella, whose other characters in the series included ‘no offence’, ‘she’s different with boys’ and ‘girl men can’t hear’.
“I can say that because it’s not all me. I think The Fast Show’s stood the test of time pretty well, I have to say.”
Arabella says she loved all of her characters in the show but has a particular fondness for ‘insecure woman’ and ‘no offence’, the rude, orange-faced South African cosmetics saleswoman who has no qualms about informing women of their physical imperfections.
“I loved doing her and sometimes I do it going round the house,” she adds.
Arabella is a fan of modern comedy. “I think there are some great people coming up, particularly women,” she says. “Roisin Conaty, Aisling Bea, Jess Fortescue, Jessica Knappett...
“It’s great, there are many more girls than there were in my day. It’s fantastic, and there seems to be space for them, which is bloody brilliant.
“I suppose I do gravitate more to things written by women, like GameFace and This Way Up, but I’m not particularly gender specific about that sort of thing, it’s just what I think will be funny and what I’ll enjoy.”
Arabella Weir will be appearing at The Junction (J2) on Friday, March 20, at 8pm.
Tickets: £20 at junction.co.uk.