Arabella Weir

Arabella Weir (Image: Handout)

Now, after a sell-out run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, she is embarking next month on a 29-date UK tour of the show, based on her fractious, sometimes heartbreaking, often hilarious, relationship with her late mother. 

It features stories from her dysfunctional childhood, her family rows and life as a ­single mum. To describe the comedian’s ­relationship with her mother as combative doesn’t really do justice to half a century of pitched battles. 

Alison Weir died 10 years ago, managing even on her deathbed to make a derogatory remark about her daughter’s weight. 

“I took in something to eat while I sat with her,” recalls Arabella. 

As she settled herself down and opened her snack, her mother snapped into action. 

“Have you any idea,” she demanded, “how fattening a coronation chicken ­sandwich is?” 

Arabella smiles sadly. “To her dying day, she never let up,” she says. 

Does she think she could have written and performed this show while her mother was still alive? 

“Almost certainly not,” she says. “In fact, one of the jokes I tell is that I had to kill her first. Not true, obviously. But it’s taken this long to put together the little acts of cruelty that have shaped who I am.” 

Alison Weir had been raised in an upper-class environment in the Scottish Borders, the only child of emotionally repressed parents. 

Her father was the headmaster of a small boys’ boarding school and she was essentially brought up as one of the boy pupils, and not as their child. 

“She was fiercely intelligent and very poorly parented,” says her elder daughter. “She lacked any domestic skills and treated them with contempt. She regarded them as grindingly menial tasks. 

“If I were ever foolish enough to ask what was for supper, she’d reply, ‘Don’t be so bleeping bourgeois.’ She made it clear that I shouldn’t bore her with the tedium of my needs.” 

But it was more than that. Arabella, 62, has two older ­brothers, who were both sent away to boarding school when they were seven, and a sister five years her junior. 

“My mother picked on me. She thought boys were not only better but also less deserving of criticism,” she says. “I asked her one day why she treated me ­differently. To which she replied, ‘Because you’re the most annoying’.” 

Arabella’s younger sister didn’t get the same treatment. Why? “Because she was thin,” she sighs. 

Arabella’s father, Sir Michael Weir, was a diplomat and British ambassador. In 1981, he was sitting behind Egyptian President Anwar Sadat when the president was assassinated at a military parade. 

Arabella continues: “My parents regarded themselves as part of the ruling class. They were winners. And winners don’t have fat children. 

“Wanting to eat was not a necessity, it was greed. Hunger was good for you.” 

Looking back now, says Arabella, she’s convinced her mother regarded her as a rival. 

“Also, my dad, while emotionally pretty buttoned up, was very keen on me. My mother did once confess to being jealous of me.” 

The marriage ground to a halt in the ’60s. 

“The prevailing wisdom at that time was that it was the woman’s fault. She’d failed to keep her man. But she hadn’t got a clue as to how she was meant to behave. She was ­following a map she’d been given. And it’s very hard to break a chain of behaviour, something I only managed through extensive therapy. 

“She treated her own children in much the same way as she’d been treated. So, I don’t blame her in that sense. Indeed, I have a lot of admiration for her, just not as a mother.” 

THE FAST SHOW: Cast of the hit BBC comedy. Arabella is second left in front row between Paul Whitehouse and Caroline Aherne

THE FAST SHOW: Cast of the hit BBC comedy. Arabella is second left in front row between Paul Whitehouse and Caroline Aherne (Image: PA Archive/PA Images)

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Arabella was born in Washington before moving with her parents as Sir Michael progressed through the diplomatic corps to Cairo, London and then, when the marriage finally splintered, to Bahrain where she lived with her father. 

It was a simple decision, made easier still by her mother saying she should go and live with him. 

“She said, ‘I can’t bear the bleeping sight of you.’ I was nine at the time.” 

Just before she started secondary school at 12, Arabella was sent back to England and enrolled at Camden School for Girls where her mother had taken up a teaching post. 

“From day one, I decided I was going to make my mark which meant being ­unbelievably naughty. My mother was ­mortified. I was the class jester, and totally obnoxious – although not to my peers. 

“My aim was to be the most popular girl in the school and I was.”

She and her mother argued constantly. “I’d tell her I was hungry and she’d say, ‘You’ve clearly eaten enough already.’ Her attitude seemed to be that I could exist on my body fat, as though I were living on a desert island. 

“Little wonder that I came to believe the single defining feature of my body was my bum. If I ever reacted to my mother’s barbs, she’d invariably say she was only teasing. But teasing is unkind. I ­remember setting off for an audition when I was 21. My mother took one look and said, ‘Oh, look at you, all dressed up like a sheaf of uncooked bread.’ 

“I also remember her going on about how fat I was when I was five months’ pregnant. I tried to protest but she said, ‘What on earth are you going to look like when you’re nine months pregnant?’” 

Ironically, it wasn’t until the publication of Does My Bum Look Big In This? in her late 30s that Arabella’s attitude to food became more relaxed. 

“But it remains the go-to place when I’m very unhappy,” she admits.

Arabella had two children with her ­husband Dr Jeremy Norton – Isabella, 22, and Archie, 20, both still at university – before the couple divorced. Given the way she was brought up, Arabella could have gone in one of two directions: either ­forswearing motherhood altogether or embracing it. She chose the latter, trying to be everything to her children her own mother wasn’t to her. 

“When Isabella was little and mum ­criticised something, I told her that, ­whatever advice she gave me, I was determined to do the complete opposite. And, to her eternal credit, she said, ‘In which case, you probably won’t go far wrong.’ 

“She was full of self-loathing, poor thing, but she was also full of self-awareness. She absolutely knew she’d done a terrible job.” 

Despite all of this, Arabella has enjoyed steady success with her writing and comedy performances in The Fast Show, Posh Nosh and, currently, Two Doors Down which is about to film its fifth series. 

There’s no significant other in her life at the moment. 

“And I’m fine about that. I can’t say I might not meet someone special but I’m not on the lookout. I’m ­completely content with my life as it is.” 

She is anyway much taken up with her work in general and this new one-woman show, her first ever, in particular. 

What, I wonder, would her mother make of it? 

“Oh, I know exactly,” says Arabella. 

“I remember we watched a TV programme I’d help write and in which I was performing. At the end, I asked Mum what she thought of it. ‘Fine, darling,’ she said. ‘But hardly Proust’.”

• Visit www.ArabellaWeir.co.uk for tour details 



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