• Sunday, February 25, 2024
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Jo Brand: My family values


The comedian talks about the effect of her father’s depressive illness on her childhood and how he burned all her clothes, her strong feminist mother and having her own daughters later in life.

My mum and dad met when they used to go on Young Socialist rambles together. We were certainly a family that discussed politics, which I think was quite unusual because I would talk to girls in my class and they would be flabbergasted that I was talking to my mum about politics.

What overlaid everything to do with our family was the fact that my dad had a depressive illness from the age of 17 or 18, which went undiagnosed until he was in his 50s, at which point he got antidepressants and that completely changed everything.

He was on an incredibly short fuse and I’d incur his wrath for playing music too loud, being rude or coming in too late. All of those might make him punch someone. He didn’t do it very often, but he could be quite physical. When we were younger, my dad’s issues weren’t noticeable as we didn’t see him that much because he was out at work. It was when things got worse for him and when I was a teenager that we locked horns.

One day, he burned all my clothes. I went to the cinema to see Emmanuelle with seven blokes, who were basically old stoned hippies. I’d set up an alibi by saying I was going to a friend’s house to do homework, but I forgot to tell the friend. I came out of the cinema and, horror of horrors, there were my mum and dad sitting outside. When we got home my dad said: “Your clothes smell like horrible hippy clothes and we’re not putting up with this any more.” He carried them down to the garden, poured petrol on them and set fire to them. He burned all the clothes I had. That was the end of my hippy stage.

Mum and dad split up when I was 15. Emotionally the fallout was worse for my younger brother, who was about 13. I was in the middle and my elder brother was 17. We sided with my mum, of course, but I felt sorry for my dad. The dynamic between my brothers and me was all about competition. It was quite a male upbringing. I really didn’t crave all that girly princessy stuff. My mum was a strong feminist and I wasn’t allowed to have Barbie dolls or Jackie magazine. I look back and thank her for that.

I’m probably more like my mum, who was very frustrated in her role as a wife and mother. She didn’t work until I was about 11 and then she got a job as a nursing assistant in a hospital. Then she trained as a social worker and worked in child protection and adult mental health.

Working as a psychiatric nurse gave me an illuminating insight into dysfunctional families. The family dynamic has a huge effect on people’s mental health. You really cannot underestimate how the groundwork is laid at such a young age and how it has the most momentous effect as you grow older. I think your adult personality is set in stone by the age of three or four. It is fascinating, and the only advice I’d give is to love your children and don’t do anything to them that makes you feel ashamed.

I’m a rubbish mum. No, obviously I like to think that I’m a kind mother, an entertaining mother, that I’m humorous and they are developing a nice sense of humour. And that I’m fair. I had my first daughter, Maisie, when I was 43 and Eliza two years later. I get quite a lot of: “What lovely grandchildren you’ve got.” The children just snigger at that.

• Jo Brand stars as the Genie in Aladdin at the Wimbledon theatre, London SW19 until January 12: atgtickets.com/venues/new-wimbledon-theatre

Culled from guardian.co.uk