Sara Cox: “I got teased for having things like long skinny legs and big lips”

In this week's Letter To My Younger Self, Sara Cox looks back at her wild Radio 1 days and tells us about Radio 2 is much more compatible with parenting

At 16 I was raving. I was the youngest of five and my eldest sister Dot really looked out for me. My mum didn’t know I was cadging lifts with boys in their Xr2s to drive me to go clubbing at Angels in Burnley. I had a real look going. My hair was a pineapple on the top of my head. I had a terrible spiral perm, my fringe held up with hairspray. I wore three pairs of knee socks and scrunched them down to my ankle so it looks like I had one of those massive tags you get when you’re on probation. I’d have Kickers on, a Joe Bloggs T-shirt and huge big parallel jeans that completely covered my feet. My best friend Joanne and I would drink Taboo and lemonade and have a grand old time.

During the week I was actually quite quiet and well behaved at school. I wasn’t really a big fan of school. I remember people saying it was the best years of your life and I thought, God, I hope not, this is shit. I’d never been that happy at school – I’d been bullied ’cause we’d moved around a couple of times. I was quite awkward, I got teased a lot. I got teased for having things like long skinny legs, big lips. Now I think, here I still am with long legs and big lips; that didn’t turn out so badly.

I wouldn’t go back to being a teenager, you don’t have a scooby doo about anything. I enjoyed getting older, getting more confident, learning what I wanted in life. I had a lot of male mates as an older teenager, I found them much less complicated than girls. I realise now I was just hanging out with the wrong kind of girls. Or maybe girls around the age of 16 are just a nightmare. But now I have lots of great female friends.

I was really lucky. I was living with my mum and step-dad and they worked really hard and a lot, but I had a very secure upbringing and I wasn’t particularly angsty. I always had a feeling I’d be alright. I never really worried about getting job, I think because I have my mum’s work ethic and I’ve never been a snob about the kind of work I do. I’d worked since I was 14, behind a bar collecting glasses, on the door of a nightclub and then as a barmaid. I did have thoughts of becoming a vet but I knew I wouldn’t stick with studying for all those years. Then I thought of being a mounted police officer, because I was looking for a job where I could be sat on a saddle all day. I had vague thoughts of doing media at college but really, I didn’t have a clue.

I always enjoyed writing and drama, and at home I’d play the fool and make people laugh. My grandad Vince was a real raconteur and joker. He went to comedy school for a couple of days; the dream was to get on The Comedians, that big TV show in the Seventies. He never quite managed it. My sister told me tales of woe from college, having no shoes and living on a potato between 15 people and I thought, God, I don’t fancy that much.

I got scouted as a model when I was in Paris, while I was walking around a clothes shop. They came up to me and said, you’ve got a really good look for now. I think if that happened to my daughter now I’d just bustle her away. But I did that for a couple of years, and from that came the job presenting The Girlie Show. So I thought, I’ll do this presenting for a couple of years… 20 years later, here I still am.

If I met the 16-year-old Sara now I don’t think we’d have anything in common. She’s 16! Maybe we’d go riding together, that’s the only way we’d bond. She’s a very different creature. I don’t remember her very well. I still have little glimpses of self-doubt but nothing like I did at 16. It would blow her mind that I have three children. I didn’t even look after my hamsters well, so looking after and feeding three small people would have been an outrageous thought. There are some things we’d have in common though. She tried to be a good person, and I’ve always done my best.

I don’t have any career regrets, but I do think when I was presenting Breakfast on Radio 1 I was just knackered a lot of the time. I loved doing it but if you’re really going to do that job you need to have a lot of early nights and I struggled with that because I’d be out every night. Part of the vibe of that show was us going out and doing what the audience was doing, being a bit wild. I guess if I hadn’t done that, other parts of my career might have taken off more sooner. Saying that, I was young. Then before I knew it, I had my first baby so that derailed me a bit. But to be truthful, I wouldn’t change any of it.

I wasn’t that ambitious or career-driven for the first 10 years of working, I’m a lot more focussed now. I think that’s got a lot to do with my being with my husband Ben for the last 12 years. I’m much more settled in my home life now, so I can focus on my career because I’m happier.

I think being a mum was always part of the plan. The marriage my first daughter came from didn’t last for much more than a year after she was born (she split with DJ Jon Carter in 2005) but I don’t have any regrets because the result was Lola. And she’s a unique product of that marriage. More than any other kids who come afterwards, the first child is the real shaker. For the first time you can’t put yourself first. It’s also quite a nice excuse to take yourself off the merry-go-round. I absolutely loved being a mum. I’ve been asked to write parenting books but I kind of hate those. “Oh look, you’re a celebrity who’s managed to have children, just like the billion women who came before you. Why wouldn’t people want to read your children’s cook book?”

It’s nice being at Radio 2 now, I can really be myself and talk about what’s going on in my life and in my family. But I still feel… I said to Lola the other day, I don’t know if I’m much good at this parenting lark and she said, oh mum, you totally are, we’re not too damaged. I said, oh thanks babe. Everybody just muddles through, don’t they?

Sara Cox hosts Love in the Countryside, coming soon to BBC Two