My very dear friend Mary P (Mary Portas) has taken a bit of a hammering in the press this week. She’s accused of misleading the Select Committee about her income. Actually, she didn’t. She misinterpreted a question. She’s far too media savvy to lie in public. She was nervous about the select committee. She’s not a politician, she’s Mary.
So why do I love her? And more to the point, what is friendship? Everything, I’d say – worth more than anything money can buy or headlines can say. Mary and I met twenty three years ago at the first rehearsal of a play called: Come back to the five and dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. She played Sissy, a busty, brash, heartbroken woman, I played Mona, nervy and star-struck. We reduced each other to helpless laughter pointing up the crazy contrasts in our characters: she was Vogue, I was Woman’s Weekly (she claimed, Good Housekeeping, I protested), she drove a snappy red sport’s car, I a Vauxhall Nova, she wore Gucci, I Equation, by John Lewis. She was about to hit the board of Harvey Nichols, I was a part-time teacher on the brink, though I didn’t know it, of having my first novel published. I had two little girls and my horizons were the school playground and toddler groups. She was quite newly married, a career woman whose playground was Knightsbridge and London Fashion Week. But we fell in friendship, that’s how I’d describe it.
We were the shadow sides of each other - she was the me I’d never quite let rip – cheeky, feisty, ambitious, free-spirited. I was the other side of her – family-loving, contemplative, intellectual. And we had both been brought up Roman Catholics, we loved theatre, we shared a sense of ridiculous, and soon we shared a band of mutual friends. We had sons within a couple of months of each other and we shared drizzly Saturdays in parks. We were blessed with close friends who have a house in the country and who gave us and our children weekends of pure delight – sea and country and cosy meals. We grew older and reached further.
My novels are always about strong women, extracted from history. There is usually a central theme of friendship between women, cousins or friends. They are often contrasting, their personalities collide, tussle, resolve. The novels acknowledge that women need other women to make them strong.
And so it continues. What the viewers see on the TV, is the same Mary that I see. When I’m down, Mary pulls me up – a bracing word, a bit of advice, laughter. When I’m recovering from abdominal surgery, stuck in hospital, desperate to go home, she sends me a text: ‘Start effing and jeffing and wet the bed, worked for me....’ She is honest, fiercely loyal, right thinking, dedicated to family and friends. Of course she’s ambitious, of course she’s creative, of course she’ll be forever coming up with new strategies, new ideas. That’s Mary, and that’s why I love her. So don’t kick her for being what she is. Rejoice, that there are women in the world who dare to be different.