Fern Britton’s been loving lockdown in Cornwall with her newfound friends
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Not a lot of people know this but I’m very good at… making things out of nothing. When the children were little and they’d tell me at bedtime that they had to go to school in fancy dress the next day, I was very good at cobbling something together last minute. I’m also good at throwing meals together from leftovers in the fridge, which has come in handy during lockdown.
My best friend is… Actually, I have a handful of really close women friends. Most of them have come to me later in life, which has been a gift – either through cycling or since living in Cornwall. I know I could go to any one of them and they would listen and help if they could – and I’d do the same for them.
My nickname is… As a child, I didn’t know my name was Fern. My parents called me Fifi, as did my schoolmates at the school for actors’ and directors’ children I attended in Buckinghamshire, just up the road from Denham and Pinewood Studios where my father [Tony Britton] worked. It was only when my parents divorced and I started attending the village primary school that people started calling me Fern. The teacher would call out my name and I’d just sit there, looking round. I had no idea.
The bravest thing I’ve ever done is… start cycling the world at 48. My first charity cycle challenge was cycling along the Nile in Egypt. The training took a lot out of me, but I did it – and I was hooked. I’ve since cycled through India, Egypt,Tunisia, Zanzibar, Cuba, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Estonia and Russia. I’ve probably covered 5,000 miles and between us we’ve raised millions. I cycled from Land’s End to John O’ Groats five years ago and plan to do the return journey next year.
My favourite TV show is… May I choose a radio show because I love The Archers? As I’m constantly telling my girls, it’s the best soap there is.
My perfect evening is… to spend the evening locked in my bedroom with a pot of tea, a good book and possibly a cat. We have two moggies – Bob is black with a lovely tummy. Bramble is a tortoiseshell.
I’d like to say sorry to… anybody I’ve hurt accidentally. I really am sorry. I didn’t know. It wasn’t intended.
My first kiss was… I was 14, on a school skiing trip with my girls’ school. One night we were allowed out to grab a coffee in a local bar. We were playing billiards and The Beatles were singing Come Together on the jukebox when a boy from another school joined us. We had a little kiss and he tasted very fruity – almost like Ribena.
My biggest regret is… I’ll go wild and say I wish I’d been a movie star. It would have been so much fun living the high life in Los Angeles, then returning home with an Oscar and sitting in the back garden saying, “I did that.” I toyed with acting when I was young, but you need a burning ambitionto succeed.
The one thing I’d change about myself is… I wish I could stop being so self critical. Imposter syndrome looms large. Many television presenters finish a show on a high, but I never did. It was the same for my father. I’d just think, “I’m not as good as I want to be.” And once I’d left the make-up room, I could never look in the mirror to check myself because I’d see something that would unnerve me.
The best thing my parents taught me was… This too shall pass. When things are bad, they taught me to just put one foot in front of the other. Mum died just over two years ago; Dad passed away six months ago. It hasn’t been easy, but I feel their presence all the time.
The last time I cried was… I can’t remember, but it would have been some time this year because I’ve shed a lot of tears. I try not to cry, but when I do they come in a flood.
The first record I ever bought was… My Boomerang Won’t Come Back by Charlie Drake.
It’s not good for my image but I like… not to have an image. Occasionally people say to me, “You’re such an inspiration.” But I don’t want to be a poster girl for anything or anybody. I’m just a very normal person. A couple of years ago, a man watched me park my car at the railway station because I had to catch a train into London. As I walked past, he said, “I didn’t think people like you had to drive their own car and take the train.” I said, “What do you mean – people like me?” But I kept walking because I didn’t want to know the answer.
My greatest weakness is… sleeping. I can lie in for 10 hours, no problem. Getting into bed is one of the best moments of the day and I’m often in my pyjamas by 7.30pm. I’ve been going through patches of not sleeping well, particularly since my parents died, but I’m much better now. And my 18-year-old daughter Winnie spent her first earnings from her waitressing job on a new mattress for me. Wasn’t that lovely?
If I could pass any law I would… cut itchy labels out of clothes. Then I’d tackle the national debt and everything else…
The shop I can’t walk past is… Waitrose. I know that sounds very middle class, but my nearest is a 40-minute drive away so we don’t go often and it always feels like a treat. I find the fruit and veg aisle very exciting, but if I want some calm I head for the Persil section. It’s the same when I go into a big John Lewis store. You know there’s a haberdashery, you can get a cup of tea and buy nice make-up – and everything is right with the world.
The most expensive thing I’ve ever splashed out on is… I haven’t done it yet, but if I got the money together, I’d go on a world cruise. Turning 70 would be a good time to go – just before my children buy me a dog, which they keep threatening to do. I went on a return cruise on the Queen Mary, from Southampton to New York, just after my mother died. Five whole days at sea and back again seemed like a gift. I discovered I liked being at sea more than being at the destination.
My perfect Sunday is… I’m very keen on Radio 4, so I’d start the day with Broadcasting House, followed by The Archers, while preparing roast lamb with proper mint sauce for family and friends. By the trifle course, if Formula One was on, I’d allow my guests to leave the table to watch the race, building in a little snooze time around laps 40-60 when it gets a bit dull. In the evening, we’d go for a walk or sit in the garden with a glass of wine.
My favourite place in Britain is… Cornwall because I enjoy the freedom. You don’t have to dress up. No one stares at you if you go out without make-up. And since the lockdown, we’re all walking round with hair that’s too long and dark roots, and absolutely rocking it.
My last holiday was… I went to the Algarve in Portugal last October with three of my children. We rented a lovely villa with a large pool and delightful gardens, and drove to little villages to find somewhere for breakfast or lunch by the sea.
I’m currently reading… The Second Sleep by Robert Harris. I’d forgotten how much I love Harris. He writes a cracking good story.
The best day of my life is… always today. We have to make the best of it, particularly in the current situation.
If I had half an hour left on Earth I’d… I adore sleeping outside so I’d make up a bed in the garden, get nice and comfy, and just lie there, listening to the birds.
Fern’s latest novel, Daughters Of Cornwall (HarperCollins, £12.99), is out now.
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