A tale of two mums (and a bum)
Arabella Weir – star of The Fast Show and Two Doors Down – talks to Adrian Peel about the tricky maternal relationship behind her first one-woman show
In a show full of amusing catchphrases, it’s rather surprising to discover the story behind one of The Fast Show’s best-known utterances was rooted in deep insecurity gifted by a troubled maternal relationship. Arabella Weir’s “Does my bum look big in this?” sketch might have rang true with many viewers but was given a brilliantly dark comedic edge when Weir’s character pathologically repeated questions about her appearance in the most unlikely circumstances; mourning at a funeral, being pulled over for speeding and in hospital giving birth. She even scared off a mugger by demanding he be honest about her choice of shoes.
“My mother was tricky and I annoyed her, and my size and my looks annoyed her and she wanted me to be different – so that character totally came out of all that,” says the actor and writer who has spent the past two decades as a familiar face and sharp wit on our television screens. “It’s very much a sort of confessional show. Funny and poignant and true – and pretty shocking I think for a lot of people.”
Arabella, who is bringing her new live show, Does My Mum Loom Big in This? to Cambridge Junction this month is blisteringly honest in reflections on her relationships with her mother and her own children. “I had a very dysfunctional relationship with my mother, and so it’s all the stories from all those years. I never stopped talking to her or anything, but we had a very combative relationship. There’s a lot of humour in the stories, but there’s some unbelievable stuff to talk about. That’s where it all comes from, the long and tricky relationship we had,” says Weir. “The way she treated me and her obsession with how fat I was or thin I was, or that I looked right, absolutely led to me coming up with that character. I suppose with my troubled childhood, that is what I did, I learnt to be funny – I discovered that would be the way to deal with it.
So did being treated that way spur Arabella on to try to be different and a better mother for her children? “Yes, and whether or not I’ve achieved that is part of what comes out in the show. Definitely I have tried a bit harder to make sure my children are not as criticised – well, I don’t criticise them, basically. I’m a perfect mother in every possible way, I think it’s fair to say.”
On the title, Does My Mum Loom Big in This? Arabella says: “I thought of lots of titles and that one seemed to make the most sense, and of course be funny. It seemed to work as a gag and do what it says on the tin. The first half will be about me and my mum and then the second half is all about me as a mum – so it’s a game of two mums.”
And is Arabella now in a good place, emotionally speaking? “I’m pretty content, yes,” she says. “I don’t look at myself and go, ‘I’m amazing, I’m beautiful, everything about me is gorgeous’, but yes, I would say I’ve put quite a lot of work into trying to wrestle my demons. I accept who and what I am.”
The one-woman show criss-crosses the country before finishing on April 24 when she will start work on a new series of Two Doors Down, in which she co-stars with Jonathan Watson and Alex Norton. “Then I’ll probably be having quite a big rest,” says Arabella, whose books include the memoir The Real Me Is Thin and TV appearances Doctor Who, One Foot in the Grave and Skins.
It wouldn’t be right to speak to Arabella and not mention The Fast Show. “We’re talking about doing a celebration of 25 years of The Fast Show so watch this space,” she reveals when asked if the series might ever return, “but I don’t know is the absolute truth. There is discussion of doing some sort of celebration of it, which would obviously mean revisiting some of it. If we do it, it will be quite soon.”
Some television programmes from the ’90s have aged poorly, but The Fast Show still seems as fresh now as it did then. “I think it’s still pretty good,” agrees Arabella, whose other characters in the series included ‘no offence’, ‘she’s different with boys’ and the fabulously feminist ‘girl men can’t hear’.
“I can say that because it’s not all me. I think The Fast Show’s stood the test of time pretty well, I have to say.” While loving all of her characters in the show she has a particular fondness for ‘insecure woman’ and ‘no offence’, the rude, orange-faced South African cosmetics saleswoman who has no qualms about informing women of their physical imperfections.
“I loved doing her and sometimes I do it going round the house,” she adds. Arabella is a fan of modern comedy. “I think there are some great people coming up, particularly women,” she says. “Roisin Conaty, Aisling Bea, Jess Fortescue, Jessica Knappett. It’s great, there are many more girls than there were in my day. It’s fantastic, and there seems to be space for them, which is bloody brilliant. I suppose I do gravitate more to things written by women, like Game Face and This Way Up, but I’m not particularly gender specific about that sort of thing, it’s just what I think will be funny and what I’ll enjoy.”
Arabella Weir’s Does My Mum Loom Big in This? is at the Cambridge Junction (J2) on Friday 20 March at 8pm. Tickets and details at junction.co.uk
Read moreReal Life Stories
More by this authorLisa Millard