A queue stretching right down the Euston Road, a packed theatre and two of the funniest women in the country in conversation on the stage.
Those were the ingredients for the latest recording of Chain Reaction, the BBC Radio 4 series where a well-known figure interviews someone they admire. They in turn choose someone else to interview – and so the baton gets passed down the line.
This week it was the turn of Times megastar columnist Caitlin Moran, who’d chosen to interview comedienne and Absolutely Fabulous creator Jennifer Saunders. Or as Moran put it, “I asked Jennifer Saunders out on a blind date on the radio and she said ‘yes.’”
The programme was recorded at London's Shaw Theatre and won’t be broadcast till August. But as the pair’s sparkling 75-minute conversation will be cut to 30 minutes, I thought I’d report some of my favourite bits. In fact wannabe journalists could learn a lot from the brilliant Moran in action as an interviewer. Far from sticking to safe, boring questions, the conversation ranged from whether Saunders considered herself a feminist (yes) to the last time she got drunk to the last time she called 999.
Actually, if any of her one-liners were anything to go by, Moran could probably earn a bob or two as a comedienne herself. When Saunders told her she’d spent the afternoon with her daughters and “we all had hair and nails,” Moran insouciantly inquired: “Why, didn’t you have any before?”
Along the way, Saunders revealed that she was a “forces kid” who moved house every two years. On arriving at a new school, “I’d have to learn to assimilate and not be noticed and be everyone’s friend.” She and Dawn French started their comedy act for themselves and used to howl with laughter in the flat they shared.
Saunders, who’s married to comic Adrian Edmondson, is always surprised when people know who she is. When Moran asked “out of ten how famous are you?” Saunders thought she was about a seven. “I reckon you are more than a seven, love,” quipped Moran quick as a flash.
Oh, and just a few other things we learned along the way:
- Saunders loves the film Bridesmaids – “they’re such strong comedy performers.”
- No one ever calls her Jenny – she’s either Jen, Fer or Jennifer.
- She thought she’d go on Twitter “for five minutes, for research,” – “and then I got hooked.”
- She decided to write Viva Forever, the Spice Girls musical, because her three daughters loved the girl band when they were growing up. It opens in December and as she told Moran, “I really am quite pleased with it.”
- She’s a self-confessed procrastinator.
PS. This was the Hogwarts-type view of St Pancras from the queue outside the Shaw Theatre…