Kathy Burke on booze, boys and extraordinary people
When I look back to being a teenager the thing I remember most is the food. I remember the first time I had Chinese spare ribs, and the first time I had eggy bread. At home I was a moody miserable thing who didn’t want to clean her room, but with my friends I was a pretty happy person. I loved my friends and my music, especially punk and 2 Tone.
I did worry that boys didn’t fancy me – the ones round our flats just thought I was fat and ugly. And I worried about the fashion then – boob tubes and satin trousers. I thought, 'Oh God, my bum’s too fat for those trousers, and have I actually got boobs?' But that was the joy of punk coming along. It was such a relief. I could just wear jeans and flat caps and be a tomboy. It was a way of hiding my physicality and I felt real security in that. I remember when I first saw [punk icon] Poly Styrene on Top of the Pops, in her braces and twinset suit. She was like an angel, the coolest thing I’d ever seen.
I was told by teachers at school I couldn’t be an actress ’cause of the way I talked and how I looked. But when I got into the Anna Scher Theatre, Anna thought it was the best idea I’d ever had in my life and everything would be fine. I was very lucky to have an inspirational woman like that in my life at such a young age. And I met all these extraordinary people at the theatre. Suddenly all the boys wanted to talk to me. They didn’t fancy me, but they thought I was a laugh – they liked me.
I’d tell my younger self not to drink so much. I’d say, don’t think you need to get pissed to be funny, or to have a personality. My life only started to get complicated and upsetting when booze got involved. Before that I was able to just bob along and enjoy life. But drink is a very powerful thing. It f**ked up my early twenties on a personal level. I misjudged things, blokes mainly. I grew up in a house where Dad had a massive drink problem, yet the moment I was able to have a drink, I did. It’s amazing really. It made me forget about everything, I could suddenly just… be happy. Maybe I could get where Dad was coming from.
You never go into a job expecting it to be a hit. When I first worked with Harry Enfield doing Wayne and Waynetta Slob, I didn’t really get them – I thought they were a bit patronising. Then, when we put the costumes on I got it – they were cartoons with catchphrases. It was harmless. But when we came to do another series, I went to Paul Whitehouse and said, “Look, I think I’ve got more to give – playing this fat, smoking woman, it’s not really a stretch.” And he had the idea of putting Kevin the teenager with a character I’d created, Perry the pubescent. I loved Perry, the little fella.
I fell out of love with acting a few years ago. I think the real reason is that I was suffering with a very bad stomach condition that had been going on for years without my knowing it. I started to lose energy for acting. I don’t want to sound like a wanker but, when you act, it should come from the core. You have to feel the character from the inside. And I couldn’t feel anything any more. But I loved writing about the buzz I had as a girl [for her new drama series, the semi-autobiographical Walking and Talking], because I was writing for a brilliant young actress who has it all in front of her, and I loved that.