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Grandparenting Q&A with Janet EllisCreated by Verity in Q&A's
We’ve always been a big fan of Janet & her daughter Sophie Ellis-Bexter as they have always had such a strong mother-daughter bond, like many of our Grannynetters. So, when we got the chance to ask her some questions we jumped at it!
What was your best moment from the Blue Peter days?
I was very lucky to work with lovely people (we all became friends), to travel Britain (my dad was in the army so I spent a lot of my childhood abroad) and to meet fantastic folk along the way . Hard to choose, but off the top of my head: I loved singing at the last Night of the Proms and I really enjoyed meeting Kenneth Williams (not at the same time)!
You won Channel 4’s Come Dine with Me’s Christmas special last year. Were you surprised to win?
No, I was the best! In all seriousness, we all got on well – and are still in touch- so by the time we got to the end we were sad there had to be a winner. But I was happy for my chosen charity, of course and for the fact that I was (ahem) the only person who’d actually cooked their own meal….
Are you using your cooking skills as a grandmother?
I’ve always loved cooking, I find it therapeutic (and I’m greedy) we always ate evening meal together as a family, without planning to do so, it just came naturally. I’m pleased to say I’ve passed my passion down to my children, so my grandchildren eat well!
Did you foresee that your daughter, Sophie (Ellis-Bextor) would become a famous pop star when she was little?
You always think your children are special, but Sophie really could have done a lot of things. She was thinking about writing and journalism, right up to the sixth form. I heard her sing at a school concert when she was 14, and this amazing big, beautiful voice came out – so it isn’t a surprise that she chose singing after all. My son, Jackson is her drummer (amongst other people, he’s a session musician) and Martha is studying History of Art at Oxford. I couldn’t be prouder of my children – it’s annoying enough already, I’m sure!
How did becoming a mum change her?
Sophie was always the older child little ones flock to – her sister Martha is the same. She is a terrific mother – it’s hard to work and raise children, as we all know, but her energy and enthusiasm are amazing. Her brother and sister from my second marriage are eight and twelve years younger than her, and her father has three young children from his second marriage, so Sophie has had lots of practice… and she wants more children, I’m happy to say.
What has becoming a grandmother meant to you?
Much the same as having children, grandparenting changes constantly and surprises me. It deepens the relationship you have with your children when they become parents, and it’s wonderful to see such love and care. I guess I’m lucky that there’s a big gap, so my youngest was still at school when Sonny arrived and I never had to have those ‘when are you going to have children?’ conversations with Sophie (she’s lucky, too!). It’s terrific to be able to immerse myself in the world of little ones again, and a joy to watch them grow. And there are more people to worry about, oh dear.
What kind of grandmother do you consider yourself? Hands on?
I’m still working from time to time, of course, so I’m not always around to help – but when I’m there, I just slot in alongside, doing everything from reading to nappy changing. Sophie lives close by, so we see a lot of each other – I pick Sonny up from school or look after Kit when Sonny’s got things to do. I’m not a special event for them but just part of their lives.
Your father was in the army and you attended many schools when you were young which must have been a challenge. Have you influenced your grandchildrens’ schooling?
No! It influenced what happened with my kids – I wanted as much consistency for them as possible, and I’m sure that has affected how they feel. We talk things over of course, and give my opinion if asked for it but those decisions are for the parent.
You’ve got to have the best craft-skills of any UK granny… what’s your top tip for a rainy day spent indoors with the grandchildren?
I think everyone knows I didn’t come up with the ‘makes’ on Blue Peter – and I’m always happy to give credit to Margaret Parnell, who thought up most of them. Give your grandchildren choice, but not too much – especially if there are different ages involved. Of course, I think there are some excellent programmes on Children’s TV… and watching with them certainly keeps you up to speed on their crazes and language. Have board games available and things ready for glueing or painting or cooking, but never force it – no one will enjoy it. Play silly games – keep dressing up clothes and make up to hand. And have wellies ready to be able to go outside (and splash in puddles) as soon as possible. As I always say ( unless it’s blowing half a gale and freezing) ‘We won’t melt!’
Tell us about your involvement with the Wellbeing of Women charity?
I have several charities close to my heart – Wellbeing is certainly one of them. As it is allied to the Royal College of Obstreticians and Gynaecologists and is involved in the funding of research into health issues affecting every woman, it’s a no-brainer to me. We are all – and our daughters, sisters, relatives and friends - affected by what they do. I’m also a Patron of Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres , they are for anyone affected by the diagnosis, whatever cancer it is, no matter what age or sex the sufferer – I’ve lost several people including my mother and a close friend to cancer, and Maggie’s is an extraordinary and positive way to help. And I’m involved with the National Youth Theatre and the Lyric Hammersmith, both institutions dedicated to theatre and to helping young people through drama.