Vanessa Feltz: My family values

The broadcaster talks about her family

My family weren't religious Jews but we were certainly cultural and traditional so there were Hebrew classes, Friday night Sabbath dinners at the grandparents, innumerable religious festivals and a voluble chorus of grandmas and aunties and people pitching in with an opinion on everything. It was a convivial, very jolly, very family-based existence really. And a lot of food was eaten too.

My parents expected hard work, academic excellence and a constant stream of achievement every second of every day. When I was four, at my school a star badge was given out to one child every week and every week my father would say, "Have you got the star badge?" and if I hadn't I'd have to run the gauntlet of recrimination and accusation about why I hadn't got it. So that hard-working spirit is now ingrained in my psyche.

My mother studied history at the London School of Economics. She was academic and clever and informed but modelled herself on a sort of Jane Austen-type heroine. She was constantly doing tapestry, petit point, calligraphy, portrait-painting, water colours, tinkering with her herbaceous border, that sort of stuff. She didn't go to work but she kept herself busy.

My father worked and worked and worked and talked about work and made a terrific fuss about work and acted as if he was going down a coal mine every day when really he was just going to a warehouse in Bounds Green from which he sold underwear.

My sister is three years younger than me and all I will say about my sister, who I love very much, is that she took a different path from me. She took a path of more resistance. Rebellion was always more her forte than mine.

When I was 13 I brought a boyfriend home. He was a 15-year-old gangly, spotty adolescent and my father just flung at him, "What do you think of Kinnock?" He was expected to mount a podium and give a kind of political diatribe with cogent thoughts for and against but he was only 15, poor fellow.

My father was hugely relieved when I got married. I hoped my marriage would be for ever but when it ended the effect on the family structure was just as it is in every family; utter dissolution and disintegration and terrible sorrow and disappointment and regret. My mother was dead by then. She died at 57 but she would have been heartbroken and horrified. My daughters Allegra and Saskia, who are now 24 and 21, dealt with the divorce with colossal brio and tremendous courage and optimism.

Becoming a mother was remarkable. I felt just like everybody else, transmogrified by love. I also felt a tremendous sense of responsibility and that I could never sleep again because I'd have to stand guard over their cradles for the rest of my life. My greatest regret is having had only two children. Terrible mistake. I did it for every responsible, respectable, middle- class reason in the book and I think they were all wrong. I should have put them all in a shoebox and fed them gruel – just had lots of them.

Family is utterly, completely central in every thing I do and my absolute idea of earthly happiness is to have both my daughters within cuddling distance at all times.

Vanessa Feltz will be presenting the Radio 2 Early Breakfast Show at 5-6.30am, from Monday 17 January


Nick McGrath

The GuardianTramp

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