Danish-British comedian Sandi Toksvig regales Danny Scott with stories of her 33 yearlong gap year in the entertainment industry.

I remember...

my Dad being famous

I was born and spent my early years in Denmark, and it didn’t take me long to realise that my father Claus Toksvig was very well known. Back then, Danish TV started at about 7pm.

There was an hour of news read by my father, followed by a programme about our Queen’s collection of spoons, and that was it.

He was our Richard Dimbleby and the whole country seemed to know who he was. He’d met my mother in London. She was a studio manager at the BBC and—can you believe this?—women working for the BBC back then had to give up their jobs if they got married.

Sandi Toksvig's Father

Moving to the US

Dad got a job as a foreign correspondent and when I was about seven [in 1965], we relocated to the US. It was fantastically exciting, but I struggled with the school system over there.

Thanks to my father’s influence, I was a fast reader and I loved arguing about stories I’d read in the newspaper. Unfortunately, the teachers didn’t like to hear a little Danish girl disagreeing with their analysis of the Second World War.

I was eventually thrown out, but it wasn’t because I was a rebel or anything like that. Dad’s work meant we moved around a lot, so I was absent for days at a time… and I was bored! There just wasn’t enough for me to do.

 

Boarding school

At 14, we moved to England and I was sent to a school near Guildford. I hated it! Absolutely the worst four years of my life. I always say that boarding schools are run by therapists to turn out future clients.

There was no way I was sending my kids to such a place. I love spending time with them—why would I want to send them away? I had a look round the local schools [Sandi lives in Kent] and they went to a great comprehensive.

There’s a lot of talk about the education system in this country, but if you’re concerned about your child’s school, get involved. Become an active parent and give them extra help at home.

 

Getting into Girton College, Cambridge

Of course, I was pleased, but I think it meant far more to my parents. My dad had never been able to go to university and he was thrilled. It was a tough regime and some students fell by the wayside, but I loved that challenging atmosphere.

I’d also been acting in plays and putting on shows throughout my school years, so I was overjoyed when I discovered the Footlights, which was the university’s revue-show thingy.

There was quite a line up while I was there—people like Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. Obviously, I had no idea who they were at the time. They were just “those funny blokes”.

Sandi Toksvig Young

Wanting to be a lawyer

Even with all the acting and comedy at Cambridge, I didn’t have the slightest interest in it as a career. I wanted to be a lawyer. Out of the blue, somebody told me about a job at Nottingham Playhouse and I thought, OK, get this out of your system, then get stuck into law.

That was 33 years ago—surely some kind of record for the world’s longest gap year!

In the early Eighties, I started doing Saturday morning kids’ TV, I joined the Comedy Store Players [with Josie Lawrence and Paul Merton], then Whose Line Is It Anyway? happened and, almost without me noticing, comedy became my job.

Law is still one of the things I’d love to do. Maybe one day I’ll finally get to save the world from the lofty heights of the courtroom.

 

Sandi Toksvig Young

Having a very long discussion about having kids

My former partner [Peta Stewart] and I were talking for years about wanting to have them. Obviously, our situation was slightly different to most families, but I honestly believe that anyone thinking of having kids needs to have long and serious discussions about what they’re about to do. We tried to go through every eventuality and problem, but the truth is that you only really know how life is going to change after you hold that little bundle in your arms and go, “Wow!”

Does the biological connection make a difference? [Sandi’s children were carried by Peta and fathered by a friend, Christopher Lloyd-Pack, by artificial insemination.] Not to me, it doesn’t—I wouldn’t have cared if we’d got them from Tesco. Being a parent is all about the love you give to your child. I sat down for dinner with my children recently and I was so full of love for them I thought I was going to burst!

 

Getting death threats

In the early Nineties, I was warned that I was about to be outed by a tabloid, so I did it myself. At the time, I don’t think there was a single, solitary “out” gay woman in the British media, and I was told my career was definitely over.

Making that decision to tell people wasn’t easy and it got very heavy. We had death threats. People actually wanted to kill me! It’s impossible to understand how much psychological damage has been done over the years, just by people having to keep such an essential part of themselves secret.

Look at poor Alan Turing [the mathematician who helped crack the Enigma code]—he was chemically castrated for God’s sake! When he died, this country lost one of its greatest minds.

Thankfully, things have changed and you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody who doesn’t have a friend, relative or colleague who’s gay. Even the Tory party passed a law on equal marriage!

Sandi Toksvig radio 4

 

Writing my first book Tales From the Norse’s Mouth in 1994

Like almost everything in my life, writing just sort of happened. At no point did I spend months sweating over my great work, desperate for a publishing deal. Someone came to me and said, “Do you fancy writing a book?”

My father was a journalist; my brother Nick is a journalist; my sister Jenifer writes. It’s in the blood. Dad used to compare writing to eating fish. “First you have to land the fish. Then you fillet out the best bits.”

I just write and write until there’s something on the page, then I winkle out the good stuff. Do I get writer’s block? I’ve got three kids and a stepdaughter. I don’t have time!

 

Wondering if I should get a Twitter account

I don’t really like interviews; I’ll do them, but I don’t have that burning desire to see my words splashed across every newspaper in the land. So when somebody explained Twitter to me, I thought about it for a few seconds and said, “Not interested.” If it’s your thing, then great. Knock yourself out. Enjoy your Twittering.

Personally, I just think it’s a lot of sad maddoes showcasing the very worst of humanity. Trolling! I mean, c’mon. That’s just like screaming at all the other drivers from the safety of your car.

There’s a Twitter account with my name on it, but my agent looks after it for me. And I never, ever Google myself.

 

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