Vanessa Feltz: ‘Preserve your mystique at all costs’

The broadcaster, 58, on God, privacy, Mini convertibles, the rudeness of Madonna and her school nickname, Vanessa the Undresser

Even aged two, I was a child of great perspicacity. At nursery we had to answer the register by saying “Yes, Auntie” or “Present, please”, which I found deeply confusing. First, I thought, you’re not my auntie. And if I’m asking politely for a present every day, where on earth is it?

Vanessa the Undresser was my nickname at school, and I put that down to my parents. When a sex scene started on TV I was banished to the hall. I’d stand with one ear against the door desperately trying to work out who was doing what to whom and in what position. Thus was aroused in me an unshakable thirst for sex in all its permutations. I’ve never tired of it, menopause or not.

A chorus of disapproval accompanied my childhood. If I went to wash my hair, there’d be one grandma on the phone and another in the kitchen both asking, isn’t it too late? Too early? Didn’t you wash it yesterday? I became accustomed to being constantly commented on and deconstructed. Suddenly you’re grown up, they’re all dead, and it’s lonely and quiet.

All I wanted from Cambridge University was my own Sabbath table cloth and a nice Jewish husband. I would be stopped by staff every time I went to the library – a girl dressed like me with bleached blonde hair? Must be an interloper. I simply went to follow the boy I loved. I was damned if he was going anywhere without me.

Preserve your mystique at all costs – that’s the best advice I was ever given. Don’t let everything hang out in front of your other half, no shaving of legs or other ablutions. Anything bodily you do in private, preferably not in the same postcode as the man you’d like to seduce.

I’d be entirely obnoxious if I let my desire to correct people’s speech and grammar run rampant. If someone is talking about the “tenants of their beliefs”, I find it colossally difficult not to interrupt and explain: “It’s ‘tenets’, actually.” Still, I don’t, else I’d be churlish and disgusting.

My belief in God was confirmed in a Mini convertible. When neither of my girls had yet found Mr Right, I’d fervently pray out of the open roof: “God, send them please a man they’ll love, someone who’ll be faithful and look after them.” They both met nice Jewish boys straight after, and that settled it in my mind.

There’s no greater preparation for lockdown than two stints on Big Brother. It taught me how to survive constraint, to not take everything too personally or seriously. Most of all, though, I learned to really appreciate the life I have: other people loved the experience, but I was miserable being away from my loved ones at home.

I wasn’t starstruck when I sat on the bed to interview Madonna, but I did have the urge to strike her. She turned up seven hours late and was rude, unbearably high-handed and disinterested. Had I been a violent person, I might have hit her hard around the face.

Talking about my weight became tiring a long time ago. I had hoped having gastric band surgery in 2010 would make me a magnificent Twiglet like Cheryl Tweedy, but it wasn’t very effective, so I had a gastric bypass a couple of years back and became a slim size 12. If people ask about it now I tell them I didn’t do it myself so they should talk to my surgeon.

I’ve stayed off social media and had never had an iPod, tablet or computer. I’ve done two radio shows a day for 10 years; I have my newspaper column and Agony Aunt slots on This Morning. I’ve got enough places to say how I feel without inflicting my opinion on anyone further.

I’ve been called “the woman who ate her audience”. One quality broadsheet said I had breasts like World War One barrage balloons. And those are among the more flattering comments. People assume you’re given the choice to become famous, but it just sort of happens. You wrestle with the ramifications forever.

The Vanessa Feltz Breakfast Show is on BBC Radio London every weekday from 7am to 10am


Michael Segalov

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Joan Bakewell: ‘I did enjoy the 1960s very much’
The broadcaster, 89, on wishing to write one perfect poem, having a high old time, failing to make the world a better place and missing wearing high heels

Tim Lewis

04, Mar, 2023 @2:00 PM

Article image
Chris Packham: ‘I don’t look for conflict, but I won’t shy away’
The naturalist, 58, tells Nick McGrath about death threats, autism, miniature poodles, his partner’s tigers and his failure as a conservationist

Nick McGrath

29, Dec, 2019 @11:00 AM

Article image
Michaela Coel: ‘The secret to relationships is be happy by yourself’
The actor and writer, 32, tells Michael Hogan about growing up around women, winning Baftas, finding her mantra and surviving sexual assault

Michael Hogan

06, Jun, 2020 @1:00 PM

Article image
Simon Blackwell: ‘I nearly died in an old Smithfield meat market van’
The comedy writer, 53, who gave us The Thick of It and David Copperfield, on Oscar nominations, lucky breaks and why we’ll miss the BBC when it’s gone

Michael Segalov

29, Feb, 2020 @2:00 PM

Article image
David Schwimmer: ‘I was a roller-skating waiter’
The actor, 54, tells Rich Pelley about childhood activism, studying drama at Oxford, bringing up his daughter and learning to fight the good fight

Rich Pelley

19, Jun, 2021 @1:00 PM

Article image
Joanna Lumley: ‘I love Patsy because we’re such polar opposites…’
The actor, 74, on Ab Fab, recycling, President Clinton and why you can’t be happy all the time

Rich Pelley

24, Apr, 2021 @1:00 PM

Article image
Felicity Kendal: ‘I struggled with my temper – I used to throw things around the house’
The actor, 72, on arguments with her ex, how she dealt with stalkers and missing out on 60s hedonism

Nick McGrath

05, Jan, 2019 @2:00 PM

Article image
Anna Paquin: ‘I am absolutely a control freak. It’s in my DNA’
The actor, 37, on breaking Oscar protocol, loving film-set pranks, and being a backseat producer even as a child

James McMahon

24, Aug, 2019 @2:00 PM

Article image
Joanne Froggatt: ‘Mick Jagger is a big Downton fan’
The actor, 41, tells Michael Hogan about double entendres and the Duchess of Cambridge, her awe of musicians and why friends call her Jo-Fro

Michael Hogan

27, Nov, 2021 @2:00 PM

Article image
Jamie Demetriou: ‘Crisps are the sensory soundtrack of childhood’
The actor, 34, on gherkins, slugs and choosing his own bedtime

Michael Hogan

18, Dec, 2021 @2:00 PM