Award-winning writer and comedian
You wrote the screenplay for Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, where a middle-aged widow hires a male escort in pursuit of her first orgasm. What inspired you?
Two worlds colliding. The idea of a woman, who only sees shame in asking for pleasure for herself, finally seeking the help of someone whose mission in life is to give and experience pleasure. It felt like a scenario that was ripe for an interesting and entertaining film.
Which three words typify the general British attitude towards sex?
Passion; Control; Pantomime.
How could we loosen up?
There is a strong puritanical urge to attach guilt and shame to pleasure, and it would help if we tried to lose that. I think the creation of a middle-class, particularly during the Victorian era, led to an obsession that sexual expression was not “proper” in some way, and should be hidden and controlled in order to be considered respectable. This seems to have dragged on into the modern era and I wish we could get rid of it and relax.
How did you get Emma Thompson on board?
I wrote the script with her voice in my head, but I never dreamed she might say yes. And then the producer encouraged me (well, insisted really) that I send it to Emma, and she came back very fast saying she loved it and wanted to do it. I stood still, blinking at my phone for quite a long time.
What’s your favourite rom-com of all time?
When Harry Met Sally.
You became an evangelical Christian in your teens. How did that form you?
It was between the ages of thirteen and nineteen and wholly self-inflicted. I parted with the church after a year of studying Theology. I think what it left me with was a sense that being part of a community is a wonderful thing, but you should never place too much trust in the leadership because they are not always as good and right as they seem. I try to maintain a healthy suspicion of the overtly virtuous to this day.
Aren’t spiritual and erotic rapture quite closely linked?
The sacred and the profane – what better basis is there for art?!
Have you ever had a genuine epiphany?
In 2018 I was part of a BBC 2 show called The Pilgrimage, where a group of us walked an ancient pilgrim route to Rome and met The Pope. About halfway through I realised with a startling clarity that I was in fact an atheist. And thereafter, the closer we got to Rome and The Pope, the more atheist I became.
You won Celebrity Mastermind 2021, what was your finest moment?
I have, mostly through team work and some personal endeavour, also managed to win Celebrity versions of Pointless and University Challenge. My sister refers to it as the EGOT of British TV quiz shows. I was very pleased and relieved to win Mastermind because my specialist subject was Dirty Dancing. I’d written a book about the film, soon to come out. I thought it was a brilliant marketing coup, until I sat up suddenly in bed the night before the recording, sweating about what a marketing disaster it would be if I got every question wrong. The possibility had only just occurred to me.
Do you miss stand-up?
Not really. I like engaging with an audience and making people laugh, but I don’t have the temperament for long tours, and I don’t like working in the evening these days. My body clock has completely changed. If you went back in time and told my fifteen year-old self that she would one day choose to start work at 8am every day, she would slap you out of sheer terror.
If you could change one thing about UK politics, what would it be?
No more FPTP. I think coalitions represent more voters and encourage compromise and a more grown-up politics.
How were you changed by the pandemic?
I don’t know if I was changed, but I think maybe I became more myself. Before the pandemic I was travelling for work all the time, and the pace was relentless. Then all my contracts were cancelled pretty much overnight and I was forced to sit and think, and remember myself. I feel I came out of that period stronger in my personal beliefs, and that feels quite good. I am more anchored.
What keeps you awake at night?
Restless legs. And Quantum Physics, or what little I understand of it. I’ve been reading books on the subject, and they should come with a warning that if you even momentarily grasp what they are trying to explain about the true nature of the universe, it will shake you to your very core as it lays waste to every single thing you thought was real.
If you could ask any five people to Sunday lunch, who would you choose?
Billy Wilder, Nora Ephron, Steven Spielberg, Jay-Z, Mary Magdalene.
Katy Brand is an award-winning writer and comedian. She has written for and performed on numerous TV, film, radio and stage shows; she has also worked as a newspaper columnist and is the author of three books and a play