Doon Mackichan: “I didn’t have any serious ambition to be an actor”

The Smack the Pony star on why her parrot Fred was her teenager comedy inspiration and how she took teenage romance "very seriously"

We’d moved to the middle of nowhere in Upper Largo when I was 12, and that was quite a shock, going from the suburbs of Surrey into the wilds of East Neuk. I didn’t want to go but I do remember the day we arrived I drove around on my bike with the dog in a basket and thought, God, this is so beautiful. Then my hands froze and stuck to the handlebars. The next few years were just me and the dog exploring the kind of nature I hadn’t seen before. I swam in the North Sea with my dad. It clearly sparked something in me and I’m a passionate wild swimmer now, in cold weather all year round.

We moved back to the London suburbs when I was 16. I was keen to get back to somewhere close to London, so I could go to Kensington High Street with my friends and head for the free makeup counter at Biba. I was trying to find my feet as a young lady but I was quite a slow developer and felt a bit behind my friends. I thought I was very flat-chested and used to pad my bra with cotton wool that fell out when I was dancing at school discos. I didn’t have many boyfriends, having had my heart broken a few times by the gorgeous Scottish laddies. I remember having my heart broken by a guy I’d met at a dance and his mum didn’t think I was good enough for her. I was quite romantic, I took it all very seriously. But I didn’t properly fall in love until I was 17, and then I was with him for eight years.

I was trying to find my feet as a young lady but felt a bit behind my friends

I wasn’t a very confident teenager but I did like making people laugh by putting on funny voices. We had a parrot, Fred, who flew free around the house and he could do everyone’s voice perfectly. He was my inspiration. I think I’m basically just a parrot. But I didn’t have a serious ambition to be an actor. I’d never met anyone famous except Yehudi Menuhin, briefly, when I was about 10. My dad worked in advertising and he wanted me to do that. He’d come to my stand-up and give me contact details for ad and PR agencies I might work for. I think the younger me would be proud that I’ve been on TV shows that people really loved [The Day Today, Brasseye, I’m Alan Partridge, Smack the Pony, Toast Of London, The Comic Strip Presents…, Plebs, Two Doors Down]. And maybe inspired young women to get into comedy writing.

I was quite an adventurous girl. I had some great times being naughty with my little gang – sneaking off to see Led Zeppelin at Knebworth, we were all grounded for weeks after that. My parents were quite adventurous. They’d be like, right, it’s a full moon, let’s all go sledging – at 10pm on a school night. I don’t think working in an office was ever going to happen for me. I recently went paragliding, not something I thought I’d ever do. I was in South Africa, filming with David Tennant, and I just jumped off a mountain strapped to a bloke. It was ridiculous and tremendous and reminded me of being young when you couldn’t get me off the big scary rides and rollercoasters at the fair.

DID YOU KNOW…

In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.

It would be good to go back to when my son was very ill [11-year-old Louis was diagnosed with
leukaemia in 2005] and tell myself that he was going to live.
Other than that, my only advice to myself at that time would be, keep breathing. I’m not a religious person, I’d say I’m spiritual, and I have a belief that things will turn out for the best. I do feel my heart has been made bigger by what went on. I have more empathy and compassion. I was unable to cope at the time. It’s a very alienating place to be, always feeling your life is worse than everyone else’s, unable to hear them complain about anything. I was in a bubble of pain and it’s taken me a long time to recover. Years. You think, I’m fine now, and then you find yourself crying. But I know I’m out of it, not grieving for a dead child like so many others. And all the clichés about appreciating every aspect of life twice as much are true. I have joy in my life again.

I’m happiest when everyone’s here around me

My son lives in London now and I have to be on guard not to be looking for constant updates on how he is. He needs his space to make his own life, especially after living in hospital for two years. I’ve had to learn not to panic, to think the worst, to be ruled by fear all the time. I don’t get to touch my kids much now. Two have left home and my youngest, she’s 13 and she doesn’t want me to touch her. I have to almost get her in a headlock, grabbing her as she goes out the door. Fortunately I have a dog who still loves a hug and jumps all over me. But it’s fine. I’ve done 23 years of mothering now and it’s quite nice to de-dock and just swim off into the ocean, no nurturing hormones left. It’s quite interesting. I’m happiest when everyone’s here around me, but I also enjoy being on my own and I see the next 30 years ahead as being quite a different time.

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If I could go back in time and grab one last conversation it would be with my dear dad, Rocky. He died eight years ago. I miss him an awful lot. He was very charismatic and confident. He did some amazing things. He worked with the Commonwealth Press Union and I’ve just been in South Africa, where he once organised a conference with Mandela and Bishop Tutu and Tony Blair. I took a picture of him with Mandela and just showed it to everyone in Cape Town, I was so proud. I’d like to tell him how proud I am of everything he did and grateful for the confidence he gave me to do things a bit differently. I wish he could have seen Two Doors Down, he’d have loved it!

If I could re-live any moment in my life it would be the birth of my daughter. It wasn’t a particularly nice birth. I’d had these great hopes of this natural beautiful birth and it was pretty brutal and scary and long. I remember coming to afterwards, still quite high on drugs, and seeing the room full of people. Then later when I woke up again the room was quiet, with just my husband and the baby on my chest. This little tiny person on top of me. And I knew life was changing forever. I don’t think I’ve ever felt happier in my whole life.

Doon Mackichan appears in the fourth series of Plebs, coming to ITV2 in April