Cerys Matthews: ‘I love today’s attitude towards gender neutrality’

The musician and broadcaster, 48, on her nursing days, what motherhood taught her, and why she doesn’t miss the strangeness of fame

My childhood involved a lot of hay, rain and periwinkles. I remember being in the back seat of my parents’ car – I was maybe three – when a 15st sow leapt out of a tractor in front of us and the farmer went chasing it down the road. We started singing a Welsh song about a pig. It’s my first memory.

My grandmother was a keen mezzo soprano, but she lived in a time where, if you were a woman, you got married at 18 and that was it. As soon as I was given a recorder at school that was it for me. I was mesmerised by what you can do with sound. I collected recorders for a while – really nerdy.

You attract a lot of attention as an 18-year-old in a nurse’s uniform. I came to London as a student nurse at UCH, fresh out of school. It was the beginning of the Aids epidemic, so we were looking after some of the first patients. I didn’t have a thick enough skin to become a nurse in the end.

When my band [Catatonia] signed a deal back in the 90s, we didn’t have to work in a 9-5 job to supplement it. We just hit Denmark Street and bought a load of guitars. I’m not so sure that’s the case any more with young artists.

I was fine with being called a ladette. I’m a country girl at heart and a bit of a tomboy. To me, gender never came into what I did, although I was constantly asked what it was like to be a girl in a band. I love today’s attitude towards gender neutrality and defining yourself by who you are as an individual rather than whether you’re female or male.

Life doesn’t have to be complicated. Being in a field, round a fire, listening to people make music and talk – the sort of thing that humans have done since day dot – is sometimes all you need for a bit of perspective.

Motherhood didn’t change me at all to begin with. When you have your first baby, it’s almost like having a new pet – there’s a novelty factor. As time went on and I had more children [Matthews has three], it was like I unconsciously set an anchor down.

I really don’t miss the 90s. I’m very happy to be where I am now, post The Strangeness [of fame]. What was difficult about it at the time was that fame presented people in one dimension – a paper cut-out – rather than as the beautiful and flawed people most of us are.

Being on I’m a Celebrity… taught me nothing. It was fascinating to watch how a reality show is made from the inside, but there was no big lesson I learned about myself. It was fun, sort of. It made sense to me at the time.

The Pacific nearly killed me. I went for a swim many years ago and I was pulled out by the tide and I thought: “This is it. I’m gone.” I managed to save myself by digging my toes into the sand and, very slowly, pulling myself to the shallows.

Life ahead is a lot more precious than what you leave behind. I never look backward.

Cerys Matthews is part of the presenting team covering Glastonbury on the BBC. She presents her BBC Radio 6 Music show every Sunday from 10am-1pm


Shahesta Shaitly

The GuardianTramp

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