Viv Albertine: ‘It’s a weakness to want to be adored’

The musician and writer, 63, on being in the Slits, the wisdom of older mothers and the genius of Vivienne Westwood

I’ve always felt a bit of a fraud looking like a normal English person when inside I’m a raging mixed up sort of mongrel from four different countries. I thought I had this horrible foreign sounding name when I was young because there was so much hostility towards “foreigners” after the war. The kids at school used to call me things like Albert or Albatross.

My mother taught me to be a rebel. She would always point out inequality and did far more to make me a punk than those spotty boys I met afterwards in bands. By the time I got my period I was a ball of fury because I was a woman and knew life was going to be harder for me. My mother gave me the bottle to pick up a guitar when not many other girls dared to.

Being in a punk band was very, very hard work. It wasn’t like going to festivals and hanging out and having a lovely sunny time. You constantly felt the pressure of other people you respected watching and criticising what you did.

I could easily be a hermit. It’s an effort to leave the house. I’m a natural introvert; everything that’s offered me I want to say no to. It’s almost easier to deal with an anonymous audience or readership than people I’m close to. When I write books it’s like ripping out my insides, but I want to tear apart any illusion of myself so young women can read an honest life of failure, dumping, sacking – and know they can be creative, too.

Vivienne Westwood was my first role model. She was an extremely rigorous thinker and it mattered to us what she thought. I don’t think she is given enough credit for this, but she very much set the tone for what became known as punk.

Being an older mother gave me a bit more wisdom. If I had done it younger, I might have been more stifling. I think you have to stand back and let your child grow into who they are. My mother filled me with adventurousness and anger and sometimes I wonder if I really was a rebel or whether she imposed it upon me.

I feel horror at the thought of another relationship. In the west we force people to be teenagers all their lives. It’s horrible. My mind is beginning to clear of believing in romance and fairy-tale endings. When you unchain yourself from your sexual drive and your drive to have an ideal partner, the space you’re left with doesn’t stay empty, it fills up with creativity.

It’s a weakness to want to be adored. People who have rediscovered the Slits come up to me and say, “Viv, you’re a legend!” and I think, “I’m not a fucking legend, my God”. You can be a better person in your work than you are in real life. I’m probably a petty little person in real life, but in my work I can filter out the revenges and gripes.

Viv Albertine will be speaking at the Royal Academy Festival of Ideas on 14 September

Juliana Piskorz

The GuardianTramp

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