Jo Brand: a Kentish maid
By Jo Geear
She has been described as many things: an outspoken woman with razor-sharp observations on everyday life; more often as one of the best-known and best-loved female comics in the country. But Jo Brand prefers to call herself a Kentish maid.
Jo is a hard person to track down and when I finally do so, it’s an interview over the phone snatched between the squeals of her children and the sounds of a hectic home life. Jo lives in Camberwell in London with her partner and their two young children.
We are just getting our conversation underway when I hear her doorbell going in the background: “Do come in,” says Jo to her guest. “I won’t be long I’m just doing a quick interview on the phone,” then she laughs. “It’s alright - it’s not live radio - it would be very good if it was!”
When she was about four Jo moved from London to St Mary’s Platt near Sevenoaks. “We lived on a fairly modern housing estate and I went to the local primary school, says Jo. “We were only there for about a year and don’t remember an awful lot about it – it wasn’t a particularly rural place so there wasn’t much running around in the fields.” Suddenly a small child squeaks in the background “Oh, that’s my two and a half year old,” explains Jo. “She’s a bit grumpy today so please excuse her.”
At the age of six she moved to Benenden village in the Weald of Kent. “We lived just outside the village down a long country lane in an old converted oast house. I have two brothers and we basically spent our lives playing in the woods, falling in ponds, getting chased by wasps and riding donkeys that we shouldn’t have been riding.”
As the squeals continue Jo tells me that she spent a very idyllic childhood in the village and attended the local school “The village school was great. There were probably about 100 kids and it was on the village green, the church 20 seconds walk away at the top of the green. I loved it - there were a couple of rather scary, slightly sadistic teachers but apart from that it was all pretty enjoyable really.”
Jo became ensconced in community life; she was a brownie and was a regular churchgoer. “I used to do bell ringing in Benenden church,” laughs Jo. “It was really good fun actually. My best friend’s dad was the local vicar and so it was expected as her best friend that I would go to church every Sunday with her. I really didn’t want to because I hated church so as a kind of compromise I became a bell ringer - so I was actually in the church but I didn’t have to sing the hymns and say the words as it were.”
As a teenager, Jo went to Tunbridge Wells Grammar School a journey of 25 miles each way from the village and a total of two and half hours on the bus.
“School was great. There were no boys there which didn’t really bother me at the time because I had two brothers so I was quite pleased not to spend any more time with boys. I made some great friends there and I actually really liked school.” Then she said: “oi shush!” which I presume wasn’t aimed at me.
While at Tunbridge Wells Grammar School her favourite subjects were languages studying French, German and Latin and she hated the sciences especially physics. Musically she was into Bob Dylan, Neil Young and any hippy type music. “I’m very pleased that I missed the Bay City Roller phase – I was slightly too old for that and was sneering at them by the time they came round.”
Not only was she in to hippy music she also dressed in that style: “I had a short skinhead phase before I realised what it actually meant politically - but most of the time I was a complete hippy mostly wearing rubbishy Laura Ashley type long skirts and smelling of patchouli all the time – much to my parent’s delight.”
On the subject of fashion Jo was on BBC Two’s “What Not To Wear” and was scrutinised by Trinny and Suzannah but did she take their clothing tips onboard? “No, I certainly did not!” laughs Jo. “I ignored everything they said because I didn’t want to look like my own mother.
“The sort of clothes they gave me were not the sort of thing I like. Fair enough they had a go but I felt very uncomfortable in the clothes. If that had been me in real life I would have walked down the street and someone would have dropped some curry on them straight away because I’m the sort of person who can’t keep my clothes looking nice for any longer than 10 seconds!”
Jo ventured into comedy much later than her childhood years in Kent. “I wasn’t one of those hideous children who make their parents sit through hour-long performances when you’re seven. I didn’t do anything like that thankfully.”
Perhaps it would have been kinder if she had tried her stand-up act on her parents before stepping on stage for the first time. “It was appalling, it was dreadful. I went on at a benefit at midnight and I was very drunk and some bloke at the back started shouting ‘f*** off you fat cow’ immediately I got on the stage. He then just chanted it over and over again until I got off - so that was my first one. But the one good thing about it was that I was so drunk I didn’t care.”
If you think that’s bad, Jo has also had a pint of beer thrown over her, a slap around the face and at a student gig, rather than eating their food, the audience threw it at Jo. “It toughens you up” was Jo’s response to my horror at what she was telling me.
Back to Kent
Considering their input into our conversation it was inevitable that we would get on get on to the subject of children. Has motherhood changed Jo? “I hope it hasn’t,” she says. It’s just made me a lot more tired and more irritable. But apart from that, I don’t think I’ve become more mature - I hope I haven’t anyway.”
Once they are older she plans to bring her children to her home county. “I drive my children through Kent because my brother lives the other side of Hastings. And I’ve taken them to Tunbridge Wells a couple of times but at the ages they are they don’t realise the significance of it. Once they are a bit older and easier to travel with I’m sure I will bring them to Kent more.”
“I’d love to live in Kent but it’s all a question of work. Then she says, “hang on a sec” then says to her visitor, “I think it’s that one on the windowsill – if it’s alright?” and it must be because suddenly the once constant squealing dies down dramatically.
“Sorry,” says Jo. “Yes I’d love to live in Kent but it would involve a lot of commuting. It’s actually very hard when you’re settled in one place to completely uproot yourself and go. Because I had such a brilliant upbringing in Kent it wouldn’t worry me at all to move - it would all be down to how practical it was really. I’m a real Kentish maid you know."
last updated: 03/04/2008 at 10:48