Edith Bowman: My family values

The radio DJ talks about longing for her brother’s arrival as a child and her husband Tom Smith’s surprise proposal

I stopped breathing when I was a baby. I had a seizure because I was severely epileptic and my grandad had to hang me upside down and give me the kiss of life. I had my last seizure when I was about eight and, touch wood, I’ve been fine ever since.

Mum and Dad ran a seaside hotel in Anstruther in Fife. It was a family run business, so I worked in the kitchen and helped out as a chambermaid and waitress. That’s where I get my work ethic from – seeing my parents work incredibly hard.

I was desperate for my little brother to come along. I remember coming home from school after doing a project about wishes, and Mum asking me what I’d wished for. I said a brother or sister. I now know that Mum had a couple of miscarriages, but I got my wish and Alex came along when I was seven. I became his little mum, but there are times when he seems like the older sibling – perhaps because he became a parent before I did.

I adored Grandad Bowman. He looked after me at weekends when Mum and Dad were working, and he’d make me oatcakes smothered with Dairy Lea, and a cup of hot milk, before reading me bedtime stories. He had a stroke when I was seven, which meant he could use only one arm. He wasn’t expected to last the year, but lived another 27 years. We were at a cousin’s wedding when we got the call to say he’d been taken into hospital. As he lay dying, I collected some pictures and candles to brighten up his room, and played his favourite Al Jolson songs. It was hard, but I’m glad I was there.

Dad was great fun and I was a real daddy’s girl. I inherited my love of music from him. Mum took me to my first gig, to see Rod Stewart, when I was seven, but it’s Dad’s record collection I remember most fondly – from Eric Clapton and Dr Hook to Fleetwood Mac.

Mum is the glue who keeps us together. She’s a bag of love whose sole purpose is to help others. We lost two uncles to cancer recently and she dropped everything to be there. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, but even when she was undergoing radiotherapy she was more concerned about everybody else. It was only after she’d been through the worst that she crumbled a bit – and rightly so.

My husband [Tom Smith, frontman of Editors] asked me to marry him in 2013 when I was least expecting it. We’d always joked that we’d get married on our 10th anniversary together, but it still took me by surprise. We’ve lasted because we’re respectful of each other and each other’s work. Both our professional lives are in the public eye, so our relationship is private.

Doctors advised me to have our two sons, Rudy and Spike, by caesarean section because I have a heart problem. But I was disgusted when some people claimed I wouldn’t have as strong a connection with them as if I’d had a natural birth. They didn’t know my situation and it’s nobody else’s business how you give birth.

I went a bit bonkers after having Rudy because pregnancy – not to mention sleep deprivation – messes with your mind. I also had to work out who I was. In terms of work and attitude, I felt I had to prove that I could be the same as I was before – but I couldn’t.

It makes me happy that I’ve made Mum and Dad proud because they’ve always been so supportive. I remember when I’d just had Rudy – Tom was away and Mum phoned. She must have sensed something was wrong from my voice because five hours later she turned up on the doorstep, having travelled all the way from Scotland. Amazing.

I manage to juggle family and work commitments because Tom and I coordinate our diaries. We also have an amazing nanny, who is a mother herself. That’s the thing I’ve come to terms with – it’s all right to ask for help.

Edith Bowman’s Great British Music Festivals is published by Blink, £16.99.


Interview by Angela Wintle

The GuardianTramp

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