Miriam Margolyes falls for New Orleans: “It’s a happy-go-lucky town”

Miriam's Big American Adventure is back on BBC1 - and she takes on the Deep South

Miriam Margoyles

On the final leg of her US road trip (BBC1, 9pm), the inimitable Miriam Margolyes heads to the southern states to doggedly debate with Trump supporters.

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She also tries to interview the Ku Klux Lan, meets Texas’s first black female sheriff and upsets a Christian who home-schools her 12 children so she can teach Creationism.

Oh, and she fell head over heels for New Orleans. Here’s why.


In the final episode of your Big American Adventure you visit New Orleans. What were your first impressions?

It’s a very beautiful city. You go along St Charles Avenue and you see the most wonderful houses – domestic architecture of the most elegant sophistication – and that was very exciting for me. I love to look at lovely things.

You say it doesn’t feel like an American city…

New Orleans feels extremely European and obviously French, because that was the dominant influence. I was conscious of the very tense, terrible racial history there, but when you meet people they’re not spiky – they’re warm and relaxed. It’s a happy-go-lucky town – people walk slowly and look about them. I suppose part of that is because there’s music everywhere.

Are you a fan of jazz?

I like old-style Dixieland jazz. I’m not terribly good at the modern stuff, but you hear all kinds, and people just stand in the street blowing the tuba or playing the violin. It’s a very sweet city and I’d love to go back there.

Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans
Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans

New Orleans is also famous for its creole cuisine – did you develop a taste for it?

Well, that is where I’m disadvantaged because, as a Jew, I don’t eat gumbo and the great dishes of New Orleans cuisine. But what I could eat, I enjoyed enormously. Creole cooking is quite spicy, which I like very much.

Apart from unwinding in jazz bars, what did you get up to off-camera?

I have some cousins there and I took the opportunity of meeting them. One of them is a retired judge and his family took in Louis Armstrong when he was a poor little kid and bought him his first trumpet, so he was always very grateful to that family.

You drove through the heartlands of Middle America for this series. Where surprised you the most?

Arkansas. I didn’t know I was going to be overwhelmed by the beauty and sense of space and the variety of the different terrain – and just the width of it. We were high up in a ranch looking out over cattle grazing in the paddocks and the fields beyond, and the mountains in the distance. There was a majesty about it and a sense of peace that I would not expect to find in America.

Programme Name: Miriam's Big American Adventure - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 3) - Picture Shows: Miriam and cowboy Dan Eoff. Dan Eoff, Miriam Margolyes - (C) Wild Pictures - Photographer: Wild Pictures
Miriam meets cowboy Dan Eoff in Arkansas

You lived in Los Angeles for 16 years. Is that your favourite US city?

God, no! It’s not even a city: it’s a collection of neurotic neighbourhoods. My favourite city in America is San Francisco. It’s beautiful.

And your least favourite place in America?

Going into a diner is like going into the pit of hell. It is absolutely terrifying: great waffles that would envelop you, syrup that you could drown in, so many eggs you’re fighting for air… I’m a fat woman and I like to eat, but it really is scary.

Do you usually travel in style or are you happy to rough it?

No, I am not happy to rough it! I don’t require absurd luxury, but I like to have an en-suite bathroom. That would be my absolute minimum requirement.

Most TV presenters probably wouldn’t admit on camera that travelling is difficult with a weak bladder – but you don’t let it stop you?

Well, you can’t let yourself be controlled by your bladder. That would be frightful.

Why do you love travelling?

I love life to be dynamic. I don’t want it to be static. And when you travel, you meet situations and people that you aren’t familiar with and that’s very good for you. It means you’re forced to be fresh, to open your eyes and your mind and we don’t do that often enough.

So this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Miriam Margolyes on tour?

Well, I don’t know whether I’ll be allowed to be on television any more! Obviously I would love to – b****r old Joanna Lumley! I love her, but she swans around the world. I’m not beautiful, but I’d like to try being an ugly duckling around the world.

So where should the BBC send you next?

My great interest is genealogy and so I would like to meet all the relatives I have all over the place – in Israel, America, New Zealand, Australia, Poland, Lithuania. Me and My Family. I have suggested it.

Miriam’s Big American Adventure is on Wednesday 24 January, BBC1, 9pm

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