Miranda Hart walks into my house and apologises for her wind. I assume she’s being funny, but it soon becomes pretty obvious she isn’t kidding. By way of distraction I offer her a small cuddle with my son’s guinea pig, Ron Burgundy.
“Well, you’re handing him to the right woman,” she says. “When I first started doing comedy, I completed a small animal care correspondence course in case it didn’t pan out.”
Guess what reader, it did pan out. It’s been an astonishing rise since we first met when she worked as a personal assistant at Comic Relief in 2003. Check these figures: she was the first woman to sell out all 14,000 seats of the O2 this year on her 40-date stand-up tour.
She’s received five Bafta nominations, won three British Comedy Awards, sold over half a million copies of her first book Is It Just Me?, has 1.68 million followers on Twitter, regularly gets nearly 10 million viewers for her sitcom Miranda, and won Comic Relief’s Celebrity MasterChef in 2011 when she became the first person to make an “Eton Messy Trifle” in the Downing Street kitchen for David Cameron. Miranda is now one of the most successful comediennes in the UK.
She puts the guinea pig to one side and we sit down to lunch – a huge cheese and bacon pie.
Miranda and Emma with Sanjeev Bhaskar for Comic Relief 2011
Miranda Hart Excellent. May I carve? Half each?
Emma Freud Did you always want to be a comedienne – even when you were working at Comic Relief?
MH God, yes… The first time I saw Richard Curtis [Emma’s partner] at the office, I was outside the building kicking a football around with some other people. They all knew I wanted to be in comedy and said, “Go on… say hello”. So I kicked the ball right at him. And it hit him. I ran over and said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. Hi, I’m Miranda – I work as an assistant to Liz and I want to get into comedy. Are you all right?”
EF Did he help?
MH Yes he did. Do you think he knew I hit him on purpose?
EF Yes, he did.
Miranda splutters with embarrassment, spraying food all over the cardboard cut out of Kate Moss that lives in my kitchen.
EF Are you going to clean that?
EF I have temporarily lost sight as to why we are, as a nation, so fond of you. Can you explain it?
MH Rude. Well, I think it’s because Miranda the Sitcom Person is living out the inner turmoil of most people. The biggest surprise was that she is greatly loved by teenagers. Why? I’m a middle-aged woman who goes to bed at 9pm. But the thing is that being a teenager is so nightmarish because you haven’t found yourself yet – you don’t really know who you are, or what makes you interesting, and the world is just baffling. And that’s who Miranda the Sitcom Person is. She’s terrified a lot of the time, she struggles with little things, she does the wrong stuff at parties.
EF So do you think Miranda the Sitcom Person holds a mirror up to her audience?
MH Maybe – but then I hope the entire show has been a bit of a journey. Miranda starts by thinking she’s fat and ugly, and ends up by realising that a) she’s not, and b) it’s not about that… That the key thing is that you have to love and accept yourself – for three series, she doesn’t.
EF People openly wept when you announced Miranda would be finishing this year. Why would you end something so fabulous?
MH She couldn’t stay in that “getting it wrong” place perpetually. Well, she could, that’s the sitcom, but I feel it’s time for her to learn a bit and grow a bit and start to like herself a bit. And when she knows what to do, she’s not funny any more. She’s come into her own – and once she’s come into her own, we’ve done her. It’s over.
EF Won’t you miss her? She’s been so good to you.
MH I will really miss her – she has been so very good to me. But I’m terrified of not leaving on a high, plus I think in some way I’ve grown out of performing it. When I trip over, or sing, or do fruit people – I think, “Oh come on Sitcom Miranda Person, that’s a bit embarrassing now”.
We have left the remains of the pie by now. Miranda returns to manhandling Ron, who in turn wees on her. I promise not to mention it.
EF Are you personally happier now than you were when you started the series?
MH Much happier, I like getting older, I know how to be me these days. I don’t care if I’ve got the wrong shoes on… I do less of that going home at night saying, “What did I say?” I have more confidence.
EF Is that because the show’s success has made you more confident?
MH I don’t think that’s it. I was more self-assured before I was in sitcoms – a lot of my worries about my looks only started when the media got interested. When I did Hyperdrive [the 2005 sci-fi sitcom, above] it was always written up as: Starring Nick Frost and the massive Miranda Hart. I thought to myself, “Nick Frost is not a slim man, but it’s me who’s described as larger than life.”
That really skewed my perception of myself. In the first two series of Miranda I was very low on my looks – it’s only now I’m beginning to think I might be allowed to consider myself attractive. It’s not fame that brings you confidence that’s for sure.
We leave the house at this point and walk down the road to pick up my son from school. When we arrive, three small girls see Miranda standing outside their classroom, open their mouths and involuntarily scream, the way girls screamed at the Beatles in the 60s. It’s a strange thing to witness and I can’t quite work out why the sight of her caused the astonishing noise…
Is it shock, joy, adulation, incredulity, general euphoria that Miranda actually exists? Maybe relief? We pick up my son and go to a café for a snack.
EF Have you always wanted to be well known?
MH When I was a teenager I used to want to be famous – I thought it would justify my whole existence. I imagined that if I was famous, when I tripped up in the street, people would just think, “Bless her, she’s famous, that’s fine”.
EF And do you like the attention?
MH Actually, I find it vaguely embarrassing. I’m not into fashion or the right look or going to the right places so it’s quite hard being scrutinised and judged. Ultimately I’m an introvert. If an extrovert wants to wind down, they’ll call some mates and go to the pub, whereas an introvert will stay on their own and watch TV. If I go to a party I need two days to recover.
EF And now, when you fall over in the street – DO people say “bless”?
MH Well, that’s the thing… I don’t think I’ve ever really fallen over in the street. Except for the classic little pavement trip and we’ll all do that to our dying day. I hope. I find it funny, not embarrassing now.
We drop my son at a friend’s and wander into a shoe shop where I try to extend our time together by forcing Miranda to buy some winter boots and a bag. It’s the first time she has been shopping this year, and possibly the first bag she has ever purchased.
EF It all happened quite late for you, didn’t it? You’re no Jack Whitehall.
MH Well that’s the thing isn’t it… Virtually all the famous funny women are older. I think men have an innate confidence in themselves at a younger age – whereas women don’t mature into themselves till later.
EF Is that a bad thing?
MH Really it’s a blessing to be able to apprentice in your 20s and develop and hone your craft and then blossom into comedy in your 30s and 40s. Melissa McCarthy, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Katherine Heigl – they all battled for years, so when it happened for them their star shone brighter.
EF Do you like being older?
MH I love being older. I don’t need a job to define me. Part of it is realising that no one really cares what you wear, think, do and say. Everyone is too worried about what THEY are wearing, thinking, doing and saying. And actually insecurity is quite selfish – it stops you seeing a bigger picture, or having more time to care about other people, or do your work or whatever it might be. It’s only when you get older that you can peel away some of the self-doubt by realising your energies are better spent elsewhere. And whose approval are you looking for anyway?
She goes to pay for the shoes and handbag, and remembers she has failed to bring her credit card with her. I end up paying for her purchases, which bizarrely come to exactly what I’m paid by Radio Times for this interview.
MH Hooray – you’re only down the cost of the lunch. That’s OK then.
EF So what’s next?
MH Going back to your house for the rest of that big pie?
EF I mean professionally.
MH I suppose I’m at a bit of a crossroads. In a nice way, I feel like my star has waned. My “Oh my God” moment has been and it was lovely. Some people are terrified of that moment going – but another thing about being a bit older is that I’m fine with that, I always knew it wouldn’t last. Dawn and Jennifer are the Queens of Comedy and will always be national treasures – but their moment of, “Oh my God” has been and gone too. Everyone only gets the initial “Wow” thing once.
EF Where does that leave you?
MH The end of the series is the end of this chapter, and I have to decide what I’m going to do next. Taking a step back from the pressure of making people laugh will be a good thing, then you can find the joy of it again. This is
the first year for seven years I haven’t had anything in my diary. I don’t think I could have done another year. For me, I need a bit of a fallow period. Also I need to see some friends. And buy a guinea pig.
Three days later I receive a cheque in the post from Miranda to reimburse me for the shoe-shop debacle. She adds a £1 tip to thank me for my trouble. A week after that she comes over again, this time for Halloween. Brilliant. I think, the children coming round trick-or-treating are going to go crazy when they see her on my doorstep… this will do wonders for my standing in the community.
At 6pm a big group of 12-year-old girls dressed as scary cats knock on my door. I’m in full “mad witch” outfit when I open it and Miranda pops up behind me holding the sweets. As she starts to hand them out to the girls she’s face to face with her target audience – just the type of girls I saw screaming for her at the O2 and my son’s school. But these little pussy cats are passive, accepting the sweets from the legend that is Miranda Hart without a flicker.
“Wow,” I think, “maybe her moment in the sun actually IS passing?” As they pad off down the street we both hear one little girl say to another, “Did you see the lady dressed up as Miranda?”
As Miranda prepares for part two of her extraordinary story as one of Britain’s finest female comics, she can take comfort in the fact that she is already mythical.
The Miranda Christmas special will be on BBC1 at 7.15pm on 25th December