Looking ahead to 2021 with Angela Scanlon, Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse, Benjamin Zephaniah, David Tennant, Tuppence Middleton, Tom Kerridge
2020 has been a struggle for many of us – not least for The Big Issue’s vendors. But among the challenges, there have been rays of light to be found. To help all of us recharge in time for 2021, The Big Issue spoke to stars from the worlds of TV, music, comedy and politics to find out what got them through this difficult period… and what they are hoping for in the new year.
Read on for David Tennant’s plea for theatres, how Nirvana offered comfort to Biffy Clyro, Eddie Izzard’s battle against isolationism, Paul Whitehouse’s Pomeranian and more…
Adam Kay – writer, comedian, former doctor
What was the best thing about 2020? Not an easy question – it’s like asking me about my favourite dental extraction. But we need to look for light amongst the dark, and the love and support we’ve seen for the NHS this year fills me with hope for the future.
Who or what got you through 2020? Telly. I must have watched 2,000 hours of it. If it wasn’t for having to get up and walk the dog, I’d be totally sofa-shaped by now.
What would you most like to see happen in 2021? I’d like to see the end of the anti-vax movement. Come on, Santa – is that so much to ask?!
Kay’s Anatomy: A Complete (and Completely) Disgusting Guide to the Body is out now from (Puffin)
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Angela Scanlon – TV and radio presenter
What got you through 2020? I think there’s been a kind of creeping back to terrestrial television, with a slight collective comfort in knowing that we’re all watching together. I have found myself watching linear TV in quite an old-school way, which I hadn’t done for a very long time.
I watched Succession. They’re pretty unlikable, but actually, I think it’s quite escapist isn’t it? Because it’s otherworldly and it’s beautiful and it’s like fantasy in a different way. Obviously I watched Bake Off and I have loved Gogglebox – during lockdown It was a saviour. It was just such comfort because again, it was a very literal representation of what we were all doing. It wasn’t like they’re at home watching telly while I’m out partying – we were all sat at home watching telly. So I really loved that. More recently I’ve watched The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix and I’ve loved it.
And we’ve really learned that the most important things are those small things – appreciating your daily walk, which sounds like literally prison. But to be able to shift your mentality to not focus on the 23 hours that we were not allowed to go out, but instead focus on that daily walk being a saviour has been really important.
What would you most like to see happen in 2021? This year has been for so many people a nightmare. But I think 2021 will be the beginning of a new wave. And I think we’re gonna be alright. I think there’s hope for humanity on loads of different levels, without getting too political, but I think there’s a sense that for so long we were all doing our own thing and working towards our own goals and actually it now feels like there’s a softening and a sense of looking after each other that feels quite nostalgic. You know, it sounds twee, but actually it’s sweet and lovely.
Benjamin Zephaniah – poet, writer, lyricist, musician
What got you through 2020? I’m not the kind of person to sit down and watch sitcoms, but I think I needed to escape a bit. And I really got hooked on Ghosts. I just really loved that.
Then there was another one, which is I May Destroy You. And the reason why I watched that. I mean, I watched it because it was good anyway, but also because I remember me and her hanging out one day, she was telling me about this idea she had. Me and her did the Colin Murray show [on Radio 5 Live]. And, you know, she kind of spent the time telling me about the show she was developing. And that was it.
But on the other end of the spectrum, I read a book called Homosapiens. It’s written by an academic and without dumbing it down, he has written in a really accessible way. It literally starts with the dawn of man. In fact, it starts with the Big Bang. It asks: what’s the difference between the different ‘ologies’ and different sciences? Why do we eat the way we eat? Why did we start drinking milk? Why did religions happen the way they happened? I mean, just fascinating. I really enjoyed it.
What got you through this year? I’ve got through it by watching vast amounts of television. But I’ve told myself with my television and I’ve told my son with his video games, let’s do this guilt free. Let’s just give into it and if we’re going to watch a boxset, let’s watch without any guilt. And I’m writing – would you call it an autobiography if you’ve written it yourself? – which I never thought I would do. Seeing all these empty months ahead of me I thought I’d give it a go.
We all sort of look a little bit for a bit of structure, don’t we? So there’s someone I talk to in the morning, then I do a book, then I’ll watch telly in the middle of the day if needs be. Because I don’t want it all to get on top of me.
I really hate social media for what it’s done to our culture and that. But during this last eight months I have found a lot of comfort in it.
Mr Paul Whitehouse texts every day – he’ll call me names, reminding me that I’m a worthless individual to cheer me up. I have a friend that I always have a morning chat with. And I’ve noticed that a lot of my extended family have suddenly come on to WhatsApp. We’re all chatting a little bit more to each other using that than we would have before. So I think social media is one little positive thing.
What was the best thing about 2020? The way communities across the country have come together to support each other and protect the most vulnerable during Covid. So many times, we saw Covid bringing out the best in people and revealing a community spirit that is too often overlooked.
Who or what got you through 2020? The support of family, friends, colleagues & knowing however hard the week was, there was always the prospect of weekend walks with the dog on the South Downs.
What would you most like to see happen in 2021? That we use the Covid crisis to reset the way our economy and society is run, turning our back on a system which wasn’t working for millions of people. I’d like 2021 to mark the year we pivot to a better, fairer, greener future.
Catherine Mayer – author and activist, president of the Women’s Equality Party
What was the best thing about 2020? Given what happened to me and my family in 2020, you might expect a one-word answer to this question: “nothing”. My lovely stepdad died in December 2019 and my sisters and I were supporting my mother Anne Mayer Bird, living alone for the first time in her life, when my husband and dearest love Andy Gill sickened and, despite brilliant care from St Thomas’s Hospital, died on February 1.
Of course, soon after that, my mother and I found ourselves locked down in our fresh grief. So far so unrelentingly sad, but grief gives clarity. I have never had a clearer sense of what matters and what doesn’t.
What matters is tackling the inequalities laid bare by the pandemic, which hit hardest the poorest and the most marginalised and set the clock back on progress for women. What matters is pushing back against the narratives about Covid that judged some lives as not as important to save as others.
What matters is love—for the living and the dead. Love isn’t a passive state. It’s a call to action. Love was the best thing about 2020.
Who or what got you through 2020? Under lockdown rules, I began visiting my mother once a week as her designated carer, helping her with “sadmin”, household tasks and bringing her food. Those visits mattered enormously to each of us – it meant we got to see someone in the flesh once a week, even if in masks and at distance.
In her loneliness, my mother began to write letters to my stepdad, telling him of the strange and terrible events since his death. I began to blog, not least because my husband was a public figure—co-founder of the band Gang of Four and a world-renowned guitarist and producer. The interest in him was intense (and grew more so after the revelation that he may have been an early victim of Covid) and my blogs were designed to answer questions collectively rather than trying to address all the individual messages I was receiving.
My publisher asked me to write about all these events. This resulted in the book Good Grief: Embracing Life at a Time of Death, written by me and including my mother’s wonderful letters. It has just been published by HarperCollins. We hope it will encourage people in these tough times and help them to deal with grief and dealing with the grieving. The project means my mother has a new career as a first-time published author at the age of 87. She’s already working on her next book.
What would you most like to see happen in 2021? Rapid progress towards equality. I co-founded two organisations, the Women’s Equality Party and Primadonna Festival, that both work in very different ways to turbocharge such progress. I always urge my colleagues in these organisations to “seize the turbulence”. We are seeing old certainties and established ways of doing things breaking down and dangerous though this is, it also means we have a chance to reimagine the world for better.
Good Grief: Embracing Life at a Time of Death by Catherine Mayer and Anne Mayer Bird is out now (HQ Stories)
What would you like to see happen in 2021? Film and TV production is beginning to tiptoe back to life, which is great. Let’s hope that continues. Because otherwise we’re going to run out of new telly, apart from anything else – and we all need things to watch in this world that we’re currently in.
But theatres a bit of a problem. Theatres need to be rooms full of people. They don’t really work with social distancing.
Theatres exist on quite slim profit margin, so while they can have 30 per cent capacity, they need 60, 70, 80, 100 per cent capacity. And that doesn’t work if you have to be two metres away from everyone. So, I’m worried for the theatre.
The government has made some strides to provide funding and we thank them for that, but we ask them to keep an eye on it because that money will be eaten up very fast. And of course, there’s one thing about preserving the buildings and the structures and the companies – there’s also a lot of people who work in theatre who are freelance so if they’re not working they don’t have any money coming in. And that has economic knock-on effects.
Our industry is in a better place than it was but in terms of the theatres, there’s a lot to unpick there and they’re going to need more help so they can reopen fully and enthusiastically and be the economic engine that actually they are.
Every pound that’s invested in the arts brings back five. But of course right now, every pound that’s invested is bringing back nothing. So right now is when we need that extra investment. To get that five pounds for every one pound that we’re going to need to rebuild our economy, we might just need to splurge a bit more money now.
What was the best thing about 2020? The NHS and frontline workers. Finally even the people who don’t like the NHS – like, you know, right wingers – they were suddenly realising its value. The NHS [workers] were suddenly valued as they should have been valued since their invention. They went above and beyond the call of duty.
As did the frontline workers who weren’t in the NHS but also kept going in such dangerous circumstances. You know, a number of them died in the course of trying to keep United Kingdom’s citizens going. They were wonderful, they did an amazing thing.
Who or what got you through this year? I think it was doing these charity gigs that I did down in Bexhill [in the De La Warr Pavillion in September in aid of the Bexhill Family Collective] and Eastbourne [in the Italian Gardens, in September]. They are my twin home cities, even though I was born in Yemen. My granddad was born in Eastbourne. My grandmother was born in Bexhill.
In Eastbourne, I did a charity show for a headmaster [Peter Pyemont, who taught Eddie at St Bede’s Prep School] who had passed away. I did the Dickens show [a live performance of Great Expectations]. He loved Dickens.
We raised money for Camilla’s Bookshop, a wonderful old curiosity shop-type bookshop that had been fire damaged just as Covid started. We did it in the Italian Gardens, which is very hidden. It was an old chalk quarry that was turned into these wonderful gardens in the 1920s. And kind of hidden away. I’d been trying to do a show there for ages. And people came and they sat in Covid safe places on blankets, and we did the show and it worked. And we raised money. So that was just a wonderful thing to do.
In Bexhill I was doing two shows a day. It was quite tiring. But there was just something about it and the fact that it was helping other people. So I loved it. Brilliant.
What would you like to see happen in 2021? I would like to see people turn a corner. With the Tweedledum of Donald Trump having gone, people should try and reach out to connect. To help ourselves and help others. To try and work forward, so that everyone has a fair chance in life. I’d like to see us start heading towards that rather than this wave of simplistic politicians pulling back, retrenching and going back to the 1930s.
I would like to see us head toward the 2030s with a more positive, open-minded, tolerant attitude. Reaching out and making friends and just saying, ‘what can we learn from you? What can you learn from us?’ That’s the way forward rather than retreating into isolationism.
What was the best thing about 2020? The best thing about 2020 for me, was being closer to friends and family than I have been in years. It’s ironic that during a period when physical contact has been difficult, we’ve been able to stay in touch more often and reforge relationships that are really important in difficult times. I see that on a wider level as well, with society at large coming together to right the wrongs in this world and standing together for important causes.
Who or what got you through this year? The obvious answer to this one is music! In the earlier part of the year I was yearning for music from my youth, something familiar like an old friend. I’d go on little adventures listening to old Beatles records or going down a Nirvana wormhole on YouTube and you could really lose a good bit of time doing that.
In the recent months I’ve been getting back into discovering new artists and I guess that goes hand in hand with feeling more positive about the future.
What would you like to see happen in 2021? In 2021 I’d like to see society learn from its mistakes of the past – it’s the only way to move forward. The rhetoric in the media has seen the rise of nationalism and I genuinely hope that as we go through with this terrible idea that is Brexit, we don’t add fuel to a fire that is already out of control. There has been great progress made in certain areas of society and I hope we can continue the path to a world that is fairer and offers everybody the same chances in life.
Lord John Bird – founder, The Big Issue
What was the best thing about 2020? The outburst of social kindness everywhere.
Who or what got you through this year? The incredible dedication of the NHS (though thankfully I didn’t have reason to experience it myself).
What would you like to see happen in 2021? I would like to see an attempt at keeping people in their homes so they don’t slip into homelessness. Having been homeless myself, I fear it more than I fear anything else.
Kyle Falconer – singer, The View
What was the best thing about 2020? 2020 was an amazing year for my family and I – we were in America when everything blew up, writing and recording, and it was scary being over there and so far away from home. It was so good to get back home and feel safe.
As much as it’s an awful loss to the live industry, being able to focus on being a dad and family man rather than touring was actually quite an amazing opportunity.
Who or what got you through 2020? It was my family who got me through, as they always do. I have a two-year-old and a three-year-old and every day was full of laughs despite what was going on in the world. Children are funny things. I owe my happiness to my kids, my fiancé Laura and my sisters.
What would you most like to see happen in 2021? It would be amazing to see everything go back to normal so we can enjoy gigs and festivals to lift everybody’s spirits. I think there is a slight fear out there that it’s never going to be the same again… or go back to normal… but it will, and the quicker we see some normality, the quicker this will be behind us.
I don’t think anything will ever be the same again, how could it be? I think we’ll take positives from this…. and things will be different, but for the better. Change is coming and it won’t all be bad!
What was the best thing about 2020? The spring. Suddenly the human world stopped turning and nature took over. Every day we’d walk through the local peat bog (within the acceptable movement zone!) and there’d be some new buds or flowers bursting out, some new bird call or splendid butterfly. All without the distant rumble of traffic or vapour trails in the sky.
We are extremely lucky to live where we do, I know, and the resulting economic downturn will hurt people, but it was a useful reminder of how peaceful things can be when we all just stop for a moment.
Who or what got you through 2020? Molly, Daisy, Victor, Poppy and Colin: our dogs. When the feeling of isolation finally started to bite this autumn I was very grateful for their companionship. And their refusal to allow me to stay in bed.
What would you most like to see happen in 2021?
I would most like to see the world’s hospital staff, care home workers, and scientists rewarded for their bravery and tenacity with a massive uptake of the vaccine. It really is the very least we can do.
What got you through 2020? I have just been like mainlining TV shows. I got really into Euphoria, which I hadn’t seen but had heard so many brilliant things about. Zendaya is amazing in it and I’m just completely obsessed with the whole thing.
And then, by contrast, I’ve been watching a lot of – this is not so highbrow – The Real Housewives. The sheer amount of them you have to watch is quite comforting. Knowing we are locked in for six weeks, I’m like, well, you know, I guess I’ll start in New York and see where I go from there…
What got you through this year? I’ve been doing exercise rehab for my heart for a years but I racked it up during lockdown. I do structured exercise for an hour and try to get my 10,000 steps in. I got a puppy for my youngest girl. It’s not a lockdown dog – lockdown dog, that’s a strange yoga position, isn’t it – we applied for one before. They said we could have one but it turned out to have a heart defect. How apt.
So by the time we got the puppy we’ve got now, it actually was in lockdown. So that’s taken up quite a lot of time. But it’s a black Pomeranian, and the only harness I could get is pink. So when I’m out walking it, can you imagine this sort of walk I do, like I have got a pitbull – but on the end is this tiny, gender neutral dog. But it has been great.
Who or what got you through 2020? Oh, my friends. Even from a distance I feel so lucky to have such an incredible group of chosen family. And we’ve been really committed to Zoom game nights and FaceTimes and keeping in touch however we can, even though we’re all spread out all over the country in lockdown. I’m so grateful for friends and my dogs. So many puppy cuddles!
It reminded us that it takes so little time and effort to be able to see each other. It often feels like such a chore to get on the phone and catch up with people, no matter how much you love them. But it’s been a nice reminder that even just for a couple of minutes in the morning, to be able to see someone you love’s face can brighten your entire day. I think we will be in more frequent communication now that we realise how easy it is.
What was the best thing about 2020? On a personal creative level it was hosting a live 25 hour science variety show which included four astronauts, a successful search for supernovae and three songs from Robert Smith and also overcoming my fear of appearing on Mastermind. On a personal level it was all the walks where I watched the seasons with my son.
Who or what got you through 2020? Greg Davies’s Man Down definitely played its part – possibly the funniest sitcom ever.
What would you most like to see happen in 2021?
I would like to see a sharp decline in conspiracy thinking and a continuation of the camaraderie from a distance that has blossomed in so many places.
Who or what got you through 2020? Walking my dogs. That’s the bit that’s kept me sane through all of this. I’ve got two Xolos, Mexican hairless dogs. One is really big, about 33 kilos, and he’s a bit of a lump. And the other is quite little and cute.
Long walks with those two gives you time to reflect and pause and just enjoy the feeling of the sunshine on your face. It was solitude and walking with the dogs that I found strangely comforting during that time as well. When the whole world is upside down, you recalibrate your view of the world. And that takes some processing.
What would you most like to see happen in 2021? A big question for me is, what comes next? How can we help people? For me, one of the biggest challenges I experienced through homelessness was about social mobility – how can you change your story?
We know people who are experiencing poverty have got less access to opportunities. But we also know people experiencing poverty have just as much potential as anybody else.
So the point for me is, how do we build a stronger society the other side of this? How do we help build opportunities for social mobility so that everybody can realise their potential?
What got you through 2020? I was very pleased when we thought it was safe enough for my six year old to go back to school, just for a few weeks. When you’re a parent of a six year old, it’s delightful to see so much of them. But for them, it’s utterly bizarre to see so much of the adults.
I found the lack of creativity very frightening initially. So I quite quickly, I think on the second day of lockdown, decided I would start a project where if people wanted me to read poems for them, I would read them and post them on SoundCloud. And I’ve just posted hundreds.
Plus we’ve had about 100 done by guest readers as well, Benedict Cumberbatch reading John Donne last week, my father [Timothy West] read some Tennyson, my mother [Prunella Scales] read Edith Sitwell – I think reading the lyrics of Firestarter by The Prodigy as a Shakespearean sonnet was my one of my high points.
It’s helped me feel like I was doing some good. It’s made me realise what a brilliant bunch actors are. And because no money has changed hands. poets have been very helpful when I’ve asked them for permission to read.
What would you most like to see happen in 2021? I really missed football. I missed sitting next to strangers and watching a story, whether the story is a windy no-score draw on a cold Tuesday in November or Hamlet. That’s what I love. And not being able to do that I think does damage to us – not just damage to our GDP but damage to us as a society.
The great thing about art is that our reaction to it is human and therefore infinitely different. But there is such a thing as an audience that will, you know, fly on a laugh or a whim or an idea, and I feel like we’re quite a long way away from doing that again and that makes me very, very sad and worried.
But we will be back in the theatre – and the most important thing is that we rebuild from the ground up. We want to hear some voices that we haven’t heard from before. We want a more representative or more real reflection of the streets within our theatres. We want our companies and our productions and our stories to look more like a modern city does.
And we need the laughs. We’re going to need to come together and remind ourselves that that there are such things as hilariously funny evenings.
Tom Kerridge – Michelin-starred chef, RORA supporter
What was the best thing about 2020? 2020 stretched and pulled all emotional feelings and created huge gaps in peoples lives, however, the realisation that we all need social and physical connection once it had been taken away from us is actually a good thing. The fact that we always took it for granted, that we could catch up with friends and family whenever we could. Now that it was taken away, the strengthening of those relationships and those bonds have become much firmer.
Who or what got you through 2020? I am very lucky that over the 15 years that I have operated my business I have surrounded myself with some incredibly strong, brilliant and beautiful people. These colleagues and friends have been amazing throughout this incredibly testing times, particularly for hospitality. As a team of people, they have never questioned or asked and have just helped firm up the foundations of our business with their complete loyalty and commitment.
What would you most like to see happen in 2021? Everybody’s life getting back to normal and being able to see people’s faces smiling without having to wear a mask.
Who or what got you through 2020? I feel very lucky – it’s a weird time and it’s hard for everyone. And it’s really hard for everyone’s mental health. So I feel lucky that I have a roof over my head and a family around me. It makes you think about what you do have and you’re grateful for that. But it’s our new reality, I guess, for a while.
We’re so adaptable, though, aren’t we? We get used to it so quickly, it’s kind of amazing. I look at my sister’s kids and they’re almost three but they just accept now that people wear masks indoors. And it’s amazing how quickly even we as adults adapt – it feels strange if someone’s on the tube or in a restaurant or shop without a mask on. That was totally alien to us only a few months ago.
I’ve been reading some Deborah Levy, I’ve been reading some Thomas Bernhardt and I’ve been listening to the Dear JoanandJericha podcast, which is so fun.
I’ve been cooking lots, I’ve been trying to paint and write, and I’ve actually been trying to catch up on films I haven’t had a chance to see at the cinema because I was working. Portrait of a Lady on Fire was the best thing I saw during lockdown. I absolutely loved it.
Interviews by Adrian Lobb, Alastair Reid, Hannah Westwater, Laura Kelly, Liam Geraghty
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