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Comic relief: How laughter, friends and blethers helped Arabella Weir in tough times

Arabella Weir
Arabella Weir

ARABELLA WEIR’S latest project couldn’t be more apt.

She’s launching a podcast in which she gets to, well, speak. And speak. And speak.

And having just caught up to chat about her latest TV appearance – the new series of comedy hit Two Doors Down, which starts tomorrow – there’s no doubting that chat and Arabella go together very nicely indeed.

She’s like a warm wave washing over you, launching straight into a highly entertaining barrage of blether.

Arabella, still much-loved from her “Does my bum look big in this?” Fast Show days, turned 60 last month and the ageing process is one reason for her podcast.

“It’s going to be called Me-No-Pause – do you like that wonderful play on words there?” laughs Arabella.

“I’m doing it with an actress friend of mine called Esther Coles and it’s going to be about women of our age.

“It’s basically about how we’re not going to stop just because we’ve got to a certain age.

“It was on the recommendation of Bob Mortimer, who’s funnier and more famous than me, who said I was funny and never stopped talking so I should do one.

“Apart from The Fast Show and Posh Nosh, as an actor you have pretty much no control over your career and your creative output.

“So I love the fact that Esther and I can manage this together rather than wait for someone to write it for us.”

Two Doors Down, made by BBC Scotland, has become one of the TV comedy success stories of recent times, going down a storm with viewers all over the UK.

Arabella plays Beth, wife of Alex Norton’s Eric in the popular sitcom about the residents of fictional Latimer Street which also stars Jonathan Watson, Elaine C Smith and Doon Mackichan.

There have been some comparisons to the Royle Family, with all the characters just interacting together at home.

And the everyday normality that viewers relate to is what appeals to Arabella, too.

“I like things that are ordinary and real.

“It’s funny things like your neighbour coming round and saying, ‘Can you re-park your car because I want to see my car, not your car outside my window’. I’ve had that happen to me.

“Mad things like that, not where you’ve had to construct crazy scenes.

“Although, we do have a big scene in the last episode involving seriously heavy industrial machinery!”

Arabella stars alongside Alex Norton in Two Doors Down (BBC / Alan Peebles)

But while Two Doors Down is centred on neighbours and families, Arabella’s own family background was far from always a laughing matter.

Although her dad, diplomat Sir Michael Weir, was from Dunfermline, his postings meant her upbringing was a bit of a jet-setting one.

He and Arabella’s mum Alison, who grew up in Melrose, split when Arabella was 11 and it was the mother-daughter relationship that was a troubled one.

“My mother had a very tricky upbringing and she visited it on me,” said Arabella, mum to 20-year-old Isabella, who is at university in Bristol and Archie, 18.

“There was lots that was great about my mum as a person, but none that was great about her as a mother.

“To be entirely fair to her, she more or less admitted that herself.

“She said she wasn’t equipped. She was a privileged woman with a high education, yet she hadn’t a clue how to be a mum. She didn’t really know what she was doing and she wasn’t very good at it.

“When I was young she struggled and didn’t do a very good job. She was aggressive and unpleasant and just not very nice to me.

“She had an upbringing of no affection, no emotion and I certainly didn’t idolise her, although I did idolise my step-mother.”

Arabella insists she doesn’t want to come over in any other way than simply stating the facts of what happened.

And sweeping things under the carpet and not addressing them does no one any good.

“When I first spoke out about it a friend said I shouldn’t be talking about issues like that. I just said, why wouldn’t I?

“If I’d had a prosthetic leg you wouldn’t be expecting me to say I hadn’t had my leg amputated and dealt with by doctors.

“She said I shouldn’t say I’d had therapy but I’m really pleased now that people are saying you should talk about mental health.”

Arabella (PA)

What Arabella, who is in fine fettle, is also happy to talk about is abuse and rampant sexism in the entertainment industry, big news in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

She saw so much of it and had so many personal examples of sexual harassment over the years, much of it absolutely shocking, that it became almost the norm.

“The culture that prevailed was like being on a building site,” she confides. “I wasn’t in the slightest bit shocked when the Weinstein thing came out. To me that was an ordinary day.

“He’s at the monstrous end but you’ve only got to set up the atmosphere and you get men thinking, ‘Right, I’ll do what I like’.

“In my case it sharpened my comic skills.

“Although I never went public or spoke to producers, I always told my friends.

“I’d entertain groups of people with stories with the real names. People who weren’t in the business would say that they couldn’t possibly have done that.

“And other actors who were there would just say, oh him.”

Arabella, who understandably welcomes the #metoo campaign, says that thankfully things have moved on in the industry, with a very different culture existing when she walks on set these days.

And the Two Doors Down filming days are just a delight.

“When you do a show you’ve become used to it’s like a family – with all the bickering, too, about who stole biscuits and who at all the cakes,” she says.

“We pretty much replicate in the green room what we do on screen.

“It is very nice, though, and the more you work with people, the more you know what’s funny and what works.”

The Fast Show cast (PA)

And getting back to Scotland – the series is filmed at the BBC Scotland studios in Dumbarton where River City is shot – is never a hardship for London-based Arabella who had David Tennant as her lodger for five years when he first moved to the capital.

“I live in Glasgow when I come up, which I love.

“My folks were all from the east coast so Edinburgh has always felt like a second home but I’ve really got to know Glasgow.

“I think it’s a bit more – I’ll get shot for this – lively.

“This is such a great thing to be involved with.

“I can honestly say that from the moment I read the script for the original one-off episode I have never wanted a job more.

“I had to meet for it as, other than one or two occasions, I have never managed to reach the heights where I just get offered a job.

“If someone had said to me that when you’re older you could be doing a sitcom in Scotland I’d have said, ‘Oh please God let it happen’.”

Two Doors Down, BBC Two, Monday 10pm