Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

giggles, gaffes and growing pains

Embarrassing moments are the story of Miranda Hart's life. But, as she tells her former teenage self in her new book, it'll all be ok in the end. James Rampton meets the comedy star

Miranda Hart sighs with mock horror as she recalls a particularly traumatic incident from her childhood.

"A pigeon once landed on my head, and that's scarred me for life," she explains.

"But now we've come full circle and the story makes good dinner party conversation."

Indeed, Hart has made a bit of an art of revisiting mortifying moments.

Embarrassment may have plagued her youth, but now provides endless comedy inspiration.

Her hit BBC sitcom, Miranda, in which she plays an exaggerated version of herself, a klutzy joke shop owner who is unlucky in love and life, has won a string of gongs, including three British Comedy Awards and three Royal Television Society awards.

Although the show follows a storyline, the premise for the comedy is rooted in the same turf as Hart's stand-up - taking the mickey out of herself and drawing on her wealthy supply of humiliating and awkward moments.

She makes the most of her 6ft 1in frame, which, rather than being imposing, only serves to make her more endearing to viewers, particularly on the many occasions she falls over on screen. Reflecting on the popularity of the show, she says: "It's very hard to be objective about it, but I think it works because everyone feels an idiot at times.

"Some people feel that all the time, and others just occasionally. But all viewers identify with that faltering attempt to deal with life.

"We often fail and try to cover it up, and some people are better at covering it up than others."

Off-screen too, she says she has a tendency to be "open and direct", which can have amusing consequences.

"I don't like small talk. My friends will say to me before Mary arrives, 'Don't mention Mary's divorce'.

"Then the first thing I say when Mary comes through the door is, 'Tell me all about your divorce!' Come on, she wants to talk about it and I'm desperate to hear about it. So let's crack on!

"That openness comes across, and maybe people warm to that."

It clearly pays off, and fans often approach Hart in the street to tell her they relate to her sitcom persona.

"A lot of parents come up to me and say, 'Thank you. Since watching your sitcom my daughter feels better about herself. She says, "At least I'm not as bad as Miranda - I can relax about my life!"'

"That's a real compliment," Hart proudly adds.

It is a compliment that Hart's younger self would have been wise to have taken on board, if the star's new book is anything to go by.

Is It Just Me?, which runs through some of the more squirm-inducing incidents of her life, is predicated on the dialogue between the adult Hart and her Neighbours-obsessed teenage self, and delivers advice borne out of bitter personal experience on how to navigate life's more testing times.

There are moments of typical self-deprecation, such as when the star compares her looks to "a sack of offal that's been drop-kicked down a lift shaft into a pond".

The author hopes readers will be able to follow "the wonderful laws of Miranda-land" and sidestep the sort of social disasters she has frequently collided with.

Explaining the idea behind the project, Hart says: "It's the concept of talking to my younger self. Since my sitcom has done well, I've often thought, 'Imagine what my 13-year-old self would think about what has happened to me!'"

The reason behind the title is, she says, "just to double-check".

"It's like when you are with your girlfriends and you say to them, 'This could only have happened to me!'

"But it's also inviting the sense that we have common ground. Like the sitcom character Miranda, I'm saying, 'We're all a bit like that, so don't worry!' It's good for people to feel that they have something in common."

Despite the huge success of Miranda, Hart has made no secret of the fact that she is not a fan of the writing process.

She thinks inventing stories is "very dreary" and has said previously: "I'm just there in my pyjamas in the afternoon, crying over my laptop."

But it seems Is It Just Me? was an altogether more enjoyable experience, despite the challenge of dredging up long-forgotten childhood memories.

"I have a terrible memory," she concedes. "I had to ring lots of friends and family and say, 'What happened?' My sister was very helpful in that respect.

"But I loved the experience of coming to new realisations about myself as I was remembering the past. For instance, as I was writing the chapter on holidays, I realised that I was a natural adventurer and had forgotten that.

"The book did make me learn much more about myself, and that was really positive. Ultimately, it was like doing therapy, only cheaper. And much more fun."

Hart, who turns 40 in December, was born in Torquay, Devon, but grew up in Petersfield in Hampshire, and was educated at the prestigious girls' school Downe House in Berkshire.

Despite reading politics at university, French and Saunders were her heroes and she knew she wanted a career in comedy.

She won roles in shows such as Smack The Pony, Absolutely Fabulous and Not Going Out, but it was with Miranda, which will return for a third series in December, that she achieved nationwide recognition.

She has also proven to have a knack at straight acting, and was nominated for a best supporting actress TV Bafta for her role in BBC1 drama Call The Midwife.

There is no doubt that her career is going swimmingly, and Hart hopes her book will offer some comfort that "life gets better as we get older".

"We all feel awkward, insecure and shy, but we also all feel more confident as life moves on," she says.

"It sounds a bit naff to say it, but we should all try to follow our dreams, and the sooner we admit that, the better."

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