Jenny Eclair: 'I just find babies are very boring'
Funnywoman Jenny Eclair is touring the UK and trying not to eat too much salt after a recent high blood pressure diagnosis. She talks to Kate Whiting about staying healthy ... and why she's a very different mum from her own
Jenny Eclair has just turned 56 and is midway through her 50-date How To Be A Middle Aged Woman (Without Going Insane) tour of the UK, with a cough she can't shake.
But don't expect her to put her feet up with a hot honey and lemon and an adult colouring book when she comes off stage. She's not a fan of the craze.
"I'd rather take HRT personally," quips the comedian, who posts pictures of her watercolours on her candid blog (jennyeclair.com). "It's basically saying, 'I have no imagination whatsoever'. It's a bit like tracing - that'll be the next big thing. Let's face it, it's weird!"
She does give colouring books their due, however, admitting they "have got people looking in bookshops again". But, as an author, she finds it "stressing" that her own titles, "with a beginning, middle and end", are being "outsold by some kind of imaginary garden colouring in book" on Amazon.
Colouring books dispatched with, it's on to something else that's been bothering Eclair - her health. She was recently diagnosed with high blood pressure, after suspecting she might have it for a while.
"I was running away from it. I kept blaming 'white coat hypertension', wriggling my hand out of that cuff at every opportunity," she says on why she kept putting off getting checked.
Eventually, she had to be monitored for 24 hours, with a diagnosis of "moderately high" blood pressure and a prescription for medication, "which is a bore".
"I should have been more sensible and tried to do something about my lifestyle 10 years ago, but, of course, I was just too busy having a great time to worry about blood pressure," says Eclair, who, in 1995, was the first woman to win the prestigious Perrier Comedy Award.
"A lot of things catch up with you in your 50s and, all of a sudden, you're a bit frumpy, you're a bit gouty, you're a bit acid refluxy. This puts me in a sort of amber light area of other dangers from high blood pressure, like heart attack."
There's also an increased risk of something called atrial fibrillation, an irregular and abnormally fast heart rate, which can cause stroke, but Eclair has been tested for this too and says she doesn't have it.
Her father, who died early last year at the grand age of 90, had heart disease from his 60s onwards and had a quadruple bypass.
"He had to go some time," she says matter-of-factly. "He had all his marbles and we put him in a nursing home. He was bed-bound before he died for about 18 months, so he'd had enough. Every organ packed in on him in the end. He had been kept alive with love and medication really, and my mother was extraordinary. So, that side of the family is a bit prone to heart stuff."
Thankfully Eclair says she doesn't suffer from any other health problems and tries to stay as fit as she can, but it's not always possible.
"Salt is the one you really have to watch with hypertension, but it's so difficult to have a salt-free diet when you're on tour. There's a lot of convenience snacking. I do eat a lot of vegetables and I'm a salad fiend, but I also have an 'evil crisp hand'. You know, two glasses of wine and evil crisp hand is snatching."
As for exercise, she does Pilates and goes to the gym "under the supervision of my 27-year-old daughter, who makes me do 15 minutes or 20 minutes on three different machines".
Phoebe Eclair-Powell, Eclair's daughter with her long-term partner Geof Powell, is a playwright - "she's much cleverer in an academic sort of way" - and recently moved out of the family home in London, although she "comes back to do her writing because it's warm".
On her blog in February, Eclair wrote that she keeps forgetting Phoebe's gone "and buying too many bananas that turn black in the fruit bowl and make me feel unbearably sad".
"It's very difficult to let go of the things that you like, and I'm not very good with change," admits the comic, whose most recent novel, Moving, came out last year. "I do struggle with people moving out, I do struggle with my mother having to move from her cottage to a flat, even though the flat has got this fabulous view and she's really very lucky."
Her mother, originally from Blackpool, lives some 300 miles away from Eclair in Lytham St Annes. "She wouldn't be happy in London, she's got all her friends and sister up in the north."
She credits her stoical parents with keeping her relatively sane. When she was in the jungle on I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here! in 2010 (she came third), Eclair realised "all the people who were totally off their trolleys in the jungle came from f*****-up backgrounds".
"I learnt that I was very, very lucky with my family because I didn't have mental parents. I had parents who were actually very good to me."
Her own style of mothering is very different from her mum's, however.
"I have gone totally the other way and spoiled and smothered. I still check she's breathing at night time," she jokes. "My mother's very stoic. I have a line in my show where I say, 'last time I stayed with my mother, by the time I managed to get up, she'd already made soup and been to a funeral'. Whereas I'm a woman in hysterics, clinging to my daughter, saying, 'Can I come too? What time are you going to be home? Will you ring me when you're on the night bus?'"
Although she dotes on her daughter, Eclair admits she's glad she didn't have another child. "I only got pregnant once and I cannot tell you how relieved I am to have just one child. She will probably have a different opinion in years to come when she's looking after two incontinent, mental, aged parents, who she can't quite fob off because they're needy of her. But I do not have enough space in my heart for anymore. I knew that quite instinctively.
"I wanted a career and, I am really sorry, but I do not think I would have sustained the career I have if I had two because there would have been so many more financial implications with childcare. Phoebe was very sickly as a child, so I could have had another sickly one. No, I came to a conclusion when she was very young that I found babies very boring."
When the tour's finally over in December, Eclair will go back into "writing mode", admitting she's still "very ambitious" - and there may be a wedding on the cards soon, as she sort of proposed to Geof on leap day, February 29.
"I shouted down the landing, 'do you want to marry me?' and he said, 'why would I want to marry you?'. But I think there's an unspoken agreement that we are going to do it. We're joking talking about it, but there's an element of seriousness.
"It will be so low-key that even I would probably not realise it had happened."
Jenny Eclair is working with Boots to raise awareness of Atrial Fibrillation, one of the most common form of irregular heart rhythm and cause of 20% of strokes in the UK.