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Mary Portas on why she always finds time for TV – and never wants to be interviewed by John Humphrys

The queen of shops also talks sniffing out weak dramas and her obsession with Sally Wainwright

Published: Friday, 28th July 2017 at 7:20 am

You’re a very busy woman – do you find time to watch TV?


I make time for it, it’s really important. I love a bit of high brow, low brow and no brow culture. I’ve got a four-year-old [Horatio], a 22-year-old [Mylo] and 20-year-old [Verity] and I’ve learnt so much from TV, it would be ridiculous to ban it. People sometimes say, “I don’t let my children watch TV” and I think, “Why not?” These are major cultural references. You can’t cut kids off from that.

You must watch a lot of TV for four-year-olds…

No, Horatio likes watching telly but he makes us all go out of the room and watches it on his own. Thank God, I don’t have to do that again, I’m free from that. He started off with Peter Rabbit and now it’s those turtle things. I can’t bear it.

What do you choose to watch?

I love a good drama series like Fearless with Helen McCrory and The Crown. I’m also obsessed by anything by Sally Wainwright, she’s extraordinary. We’ve got some of the best dramas in the world in this country. I can sniff out if a drama’s a bit weak straight away.

Who do you watch with?

My wife [fashion editor Melanie Rickey]. I’m not good at watching alone, I like to have a natter. Mel’s really good at working out what’s going on and I’m much more into the emotional side of it. I’m like, “Who’s that American spy woman, which side is she on?” I’m less good at the analytical bits. I suppose I’m allowed to be slow in some areas, I’m too fast in others.

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How do you relax?

I bought a house in the country – the Cotswolds where Laurie Lee wrote Cider with Rosie – and I got the Woodland Trust’s Tree ID app to check what I’m actually looking at. I find myself walking around going, “What tree is that?” and now I can also answer Horatio when he asks me.

As a shopping expert, you must have a top-class sofa...

Anything too big in the house is a bit overstated so I have sofas that are big enough but not huge and they’re slightly worn. I don’t have a massive TV either, that’s hideous. I made the mistake of leaving it to my son to do the TV and he ordered it and then went back to university. When it arrived I said, “Are you serious?” It was a huge thing. It had to go back.

How do you start your day?

I wake up with the Today programme. I think Mishal Husain is very good; she’s got a confidence and strength without being a grizzly old bear. The less said about those, the better. I’ve done lots of interviews on Radio 4 and I always hope they don’t give me John Humphrys.

You and Melanie strike me as a sociable couple…

Our house is filled with people, too many sometimes! We’ve got three kids and we do lots of our socialising in the week as well as at the weekend. Last night my daughter came back from university and it was, “Oh Mum, can I invite Poppy round for supper?” and before you know it there are six people in the kitchen and you’re all cooking. It’s very Northern. I was one of five kids so I’m used to it – that warm, fuzzy security of lots of people around me.


Mary Portas chooses her Queer Icon on Front Row, 7.15pm this Friday 28th July on BBC Radio 4


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