Sandi Toksvig on politics, happiness and life

BY Tom Browne

1st Jan 2015 Celebrities

Sandi Toksvig on politics, happiness and life

We were privileged enough to have a big old chin wag Sandi Toksvig for the November issue of Reader's Digest. Here are the bits that didn't make it into the mag.

Sandi on…her education and upbringing

"My father didn’t have a lot of time for children, so he treated us like adults who hadn’t grown."

So probably from the age of eight, before we sat down for dinner, we’d be expected to have read the first three pages of the New York Times or The Times or something, so we had something to say.

He was always engaging us in political conversation. And he endlessly took us out of school to attend big events, because he thought it was a better education. I think you get into terrible trouble for that now, but sitting and learning the French for horse or going to watch the first manned rocket taking off for the moon…what’s going to be better in terms of your education?



Sandi on…her accent

"The decision to speak like this was a deliberate one"

I grew up in the United States and my natural accent, if I’m tired or I’ve had a glass of wine, is American. I never lived long enough in Denmark to have a Danish accent, and we always spoke English at home.

I was bullied at school because of my American accent, so the decision to speak like this was a deliberate one. One night I watched Brief Encounter and I picked up some tips from Celia Johnson!



Sandi on…her favourite QI guests

"Alan Davies, who’s a regular, is my wing man. I’m totally in love with him—I would definitely turn for him." 

Noel Fielding is hilarious, delightful and beautiful to look at. Then we had some wild cards such as Jerry Springer, which was sort of weird.

It was quite clear he had no idea what the show was about, who I was or what we were doing. But I really enjoyed it, and he told some great stories. He’s such a pro.



Sandi on…her career

"I wasn’t interested in fame—I only do this because I was asked."

These days everybody has a plan or a career, but I still don’t. A director saw me in a show in the Footlights [the amateur theatrical club at Cambridge University] and asked me to go and work for him. I thought it’d be a laugh and I’d have a gap year after uni as well as before.

So I’m basically having the longest gap year in history. That’s how I see it.



Sandi on…her early years in comedy

"They booked a Sunday night at a strip club in Covent Garden and turned it into the Comedy Store for one night."

Nobody thought that stand-up would work in London. They had some posters made on really cheap paper and plastered them over the pictures of topless women, so through the signs for the Comedy Store you could just see nipples and tassels and things.

I was an innocent student down from Cambridge, thinking we were going to do some amusing banter, and there I was in what was effectively a strip club, and sitting in the dressing room where all the stuff…well, it was astonishing some of the equipment the strippers utilised for their acts.



Sandi on…changing course in life

"I understand that it’s difficult to make the change, but I’m always impressed when people do."

I meet a lot of members of the public and I’m frustrated when people say, “I hate what I do.” I always think, “Well, please do something else because life is short.” I’m a fellow at Lucy Cavendish College in Cambridge, which is specifically for mature women who want to go to university.

I met one woman who’d been a ticket salesperson in a railway station—every day she’d sell tickets to people commuting into London, and she wondered what they did. She didn’t have any schooling, so she decided to do some GCSEs. Then she decided to do some A levels. Then she applied to Lucy Cavendish, and she’s now a qualified lawyer. So it can happen if you’re determined enough.



Sandi on…starting a political party

"The system is stacked against you."

I think if I’d known what we were about to embark on, I’d never have done it. They make it really difficult. For example, in recent the London mayoral election, our candidate received more votes than one of the people who actually got a seat.

It’s specifically designed to keep small parties out. I also didn’t realise that the volume at which your voice is heard is entirely dependent on the amount of money you have.



Sandi on…the Women’s Equality Party

"We don’t have a side: we’re not left, we’re not right, we’re absolutely about getting the job done." 

The job that needs doing is making sure we have equality for all our daughters and our sons. We’re not just fighting for women’s equality.

Only ten per cent of men in this country take paternity leave—that’s not good for them, it’s not good for their children or for their partners. We’re also looking at why boys are not doing so well at GCSE level and what we can do about it. So equality is for everybody. The only place where men and women are absolutely equal is at the ballot box. There’s isn’t anywhere else.



Sandi on…social media

"I don’t engage with it. I have a Twitter account, but only to stop other people from tweeting as me." 

My agent will sometimes tweet something for me if I ask her. It’s one of my ambitions to create a safe social-media space for women, if I could get together a lot of technologically minded people.

One of the sad things about social media is that it’s full of lies. People photoshop their photos and project this incredible image of themselves. So what’s happened in a way is that we know less about each other through social media, rather than more.



Sandi on…tuition fees

"My profound disappointment when [former Liberal Democrat leader] Nick Clegg broke his promise over university tuition fees was almost unbearable." 

My son, who had campaigned for the first time in his life for a political party, was so disillusioned and devastated.

I’m Chancellor at the University of Portsmouth and I see the huge amounts of debt our wonderful graduates are saddled with when they leave. I had the benefit of a free education and I believe universal education should be a right. I’d like to see it state funded, but I’m an idealist and not in charge, which is probably good thing.



Sandi on…her Desert Island Disc selection

"Everybody has a quiet side and a dark side, but given the choice between being miserable and being optimistic, I’d rather go for optimism."

You don’t want to be miserable on a desert island.  I really did think about what would it be like, being on my own and separated from the people I love.

I thought the least I could do is have some cheerful music. There’s no point in having Leonard Cohen or something—the rescuers would turn up the day after you decided to off yourself.



Sandi on…the key to happiness

"Be careful about being somebody you’re not. I think secrets are a cancer of the soul." 

Sometimes it’s hard to be yourself. It’s really hard for the gay person to stand up and say, “Those homophobic jokes you’re making, that’s me you’re talking about.

Please could you stop?” Or when there’s a general conversation at a table and you don’t agree with it, it’s hard to be the one person who speaks out. So it’s not easy, but just try and be yourself and in the end you’ll feel better.


Read our full interview with Sandi Toksvig in the November edition of Reader's Digest

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Top illustration by Michael Gambriel