I was born in India, raised in Hong Kong and Malaysia, and went to my first boarding school at eight, which now seems paralysingly young. It seemed par for the course as my parents were brought up abroad and sent home to school. I especially loved my second boarding school, an Anglo-Catholic convent in the hills behind Hastings. The nuns wore blue stockings and were brainy and lovely. There were 70 boarders and I was happy as a clam.
We were very innocent teenagers. By 16, we may have kissed a boy on the cheek. One day a girl was rumoured to have “done it” and we were awestruck. I was a bit spotty and had problem hair. The music was fabulous. It was the beginning of The Beatles, the Everly Brothers, there was still a bit of Elvis going on – all listened to on Radio Luxemburg on borrowed transistor radios underneath the bedclothes. It was pretty darned thrilling! On Saturday nights, we would dance to 45s on a Dansette in the school gym.
If we could, we would have all looked like Brigitte Bardot or Claudia Cardinale with their tiny waists, stiff petticoats, cute expressions and pink lipstick. There was a lipstick called Pink Capri and even the word Capri seemed too exotic to speak. We were besotted with the idea of riding on a Vespa wearing silk scarves like Sophia Loren. Being mistaken for a French-woman was the height of my ambition.
I never wanted to go to university. I couldn’t wait to get out into the world
I would tell my younger self to concentrate. I was a show-off, a comedian, a clown. We were so vague and dim about the future. When people were revising, I drew pictures in my rough book. The idea of actually studying filled me with horror. I never wanted to go to university. I couldn’t wait to get out into the world. I was already mad keen on acting but usually had to play the men’s parts because I was tall. So when Patsy started wearing moustaches in Absolutely Fabulous, it was already second nature. I loved making people laugh.
I am pleased the lazy, lively little girl was a teenager then. If little Jo was 16 now, it would be a different story. There would be the tyranny of social media. Girls are worried about their weight, what people think of them, what they should be wearing, and that is horrifying. Those things didn’t matter to us a jot. Dipping our petticoats in sugar water so they went stiff was the nearest we got to trying to look nice.
In those days virtually anybody could be a model. London was swinging, and suddenly one was in the middle of it all. We did our own make-up and hair and went everywhere by Tube. We were in control of our lives. There were not many rules – when I got a Mini, I would drive where I needed to be and just leave it in the middle of the road! Our flat in Earls Court seemed like paradise, even though we shared rooms. We were poor as rats but happy if we could scrape the £9 rent between four of us. There was an extraordinary, slightly hippy-ish feeling that money was not the object. And I think today, money is the object. That has turned the world into a different place, quite sour, hard-nosed and harder-hearted.