Mariella Frostrup tells Richard Purden about her book on female travellers, her days in the music business and childhood memories of her time in Ireland
Mariella Frostrup is enjoying a glass of Pinot Grigio in Edinburgh’s plush Bonham Hotel. “I loved the loquaciousness of Irish culture and the fact that everyone has a story to tell and they know how to tell it,” she says. “I think of Ireland as home.”
She’s discussing her latest anthology Wild Women, featuring 50 first-hand accounts of intrepid female travellers and their global adventures.
The Norwegian born, Irish raised traveller admits hazardous journeys are not on her agenda.
She’s traded London’s metropolitan elite for a quieter country life in Somerset. As a mother of two, married to human rights lawyer Jamie McCue she has preferred to sojourn these last five years to a much cherished setting.
Not long after moving from Oslo aged six, she adds that her Scottish mother and Norwegian father “bought this ruined cottage in the middle of the island and some land. We spent about four summers there and those were the only summer holidays I ever went on.
That place was a magical wonderland to me with white sandy beaches and huge flat rocks where you would stand and look over the Atlantic towards America. We were the kings and queens of all we surveyed.” It’s now more than fifty years since the broadcaster and journalist moved to Ireland with her Scottish mother (an artist) and Norwegian father.
“My parents met in Edinburgh, got married and went to live in Norway, then my father got a job as foreign editor for The Irish Times and we moved to Dublin.”
The family then flitted to Kilmacnougue, Co Wicklow with Frostrup later attending the Loreto School in Bray.
“I loved the loquaciousness of Irish culture and the fact that everyone has a story to tell and they know how to tell it. I also loved the joy of the Gaelic culture and traditional music, I loved everything there.”
Punk provided a pull towards London after the death of her father from alcoholism in 1977. Frostrup would eventually secure a job in press relations working for Phonogram Records. There was a natural Celtic connection with Scottish pioneers such as Simple Minds and Skids, two influential bands currently enjoying something of a rebirth and wider critical recognition.
She married the latter band’s front-man Richard Jobson in 1979, despite the marriage only lasting five years, they have remained close friends since.
“I love Richard. I met him at Rockfield Studios in Wales when I was working with Simple Minds.
"We were ambitious and intelligent but badly educated. His family were in Scotland and my father had died, I was sort of looking for a male figure, there was definitely a vacancy and we just fell together. For a couple of years it was great, we met when I was 16 and I don’t regret a moment of the time we spent together.
During the 90s Frostrup established herself on late-night television slots such as Video View bringing a conversational tone and canny style.
“The likes of Parkinson and Gay Byrne were part of a small number of people who had the opportunity to stamp their personality (on television) and we were the second wave of that. I loved that programme (Video View) and I still think my absolute place of comfort is late-night television.
"To my eternal frustration I got offered a chat-show job in America eighteen years ago…but I got the fear, the idea of signing a seven-year contract was anathema to me.”
The 57-year-old, who has since presented art shows such as BBC Radio 4’s Open Book adds:
“I don’t want to be up there saying ‘look at me’ in a broadcast way but I do still love interviewing people, it’s like unlocking a box of treasure, you don’t know what’s in there, it could just be a lot of tat but there could also be some really fascinating stuff.
"You have to have the right key because people are a mystery.”
Now something of a veteran, Frostrup admits the rules of celebrity culture have changed beyond recognition, telling one story of a date with Iggy Pop who took her to the movies. It turned out to be a pornographic film, unperturbed from naming names she also refers to an interview with Ridley Scott while promoting his film The Counsellor as an example of the shift.
“It was a weird movie that sank and was very bleak, his brother had committed suicide during the making of it and I asked ‘Do you think that impacted the film?’, he went berserk. I was really shocked because it was the sort of question you could ask an intellectual artist about.
"I’m a huge fan of Ridley Scott, he has made some of the most epic and classic films of our time, he’s a genius.
"Previously I was doing interviews with the likes of Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Clooney and Pitt and there was never that sense that the PR machine and market dominated the artistry.”
As a popular reviewer of films and books and as someone who worked at the coalface of the music industry for a decade she suggests there is less of a “cross-pollination” of ideas today.
An almost Zelig-like figure at the centre of pop culture, the writer and broadcaster counts Sir Mick Jagger among her close friends and first met an unknown Bono when she was 14.
“He (Bono) says I had an Irish accent back then but I don’t know where or when it went.”
She adds that the punk and post-punk energy of her teens benefited from a cerebral and aesthetic connection to cinema, literature and travel suggesting “there was an overspill from one artistic genre to another with bands like Simple Minds. They were obsessed with Berlin and proud to be interested in film and art.”
So what has changed?
“I think it has something to do with commercialisation of music, the priority has become success and not the exploration of an idea or an artistic movement.
"I think you find that anger with rap with artists such as Dave, there is nothing worse than anodyne pop. I love to see a challenge to the status quo. I believe we are at a revolutionary moment and things will explode, out of such blood-letting great art always comes.”
- Wild Women And Their Amazing Adventures Over Land, Sea & Air edited by Mariella Frostrup is published on paperback by Anima on Febraury 6