Changes: Grace Dent
The audio version of this episode is available here.
Annie [00:00:03] Hello! It's Annie here. You're so welcome to Changes. How you doing? It's the end of June. Maybe you're on your way back from Glastonbury or gearing up for other festivals this summer. Thank you all for sharing the past episodes with Emily Eavis and Róisín Murphy around Glastonbury Festival. This week I have the most charming and warm and lovely guest. Her name is Grace Dent. Grace is a broadcaster, columnist, author, award winning food critic and now a podcaster. She regularly appears on TV shows, including MasterChef. She works for The Guardian as their restaurant critic and hosts a fab podcast called Comfort Eating. You can currently watch her hosting a new show with Ainsley Harriott called Best of Britain by the Sea for Channel 4. Grace is also a novelist. She's written 11 young adult fiction novels, and she released a memoir a couple of years ago called Hungry: A Memoir of Wanting More. And it's this, her back story that has brought her to Changes, because despite living a glittering media life in London, dining in some of the best restaurants in the world and critiquing the food of Michelin star chefs, Grace is from humble working class beginnings growing up in an area called Currock in Carlisle in the North of England. How does someone make that leap? And do so whilst not dialling down her northern roots, accent or personality in the process. I wanted to go beyond the food and get under Grace's skin and find out about the changes she's had to go through to become who she is today. This conversation focuses on identity and class and ambition and grief. It was an absolute pleasure to speak to Grace. I really could have done with another 4 hours but this is what we got. Welcome to Changes, Grace Dent.
Grace [00:02:00] It's really lovely to be here and yet at the same time, 10 minutes before I sat down to do this I thought, why on earth did I choose those subjects, right? Because they're so intimate and confessional, and I thought, why didn't I just fudge it and go-
Annie [00:02:21] Why didn't I just talk about my first job in a magazine as opposed to-.
Grace [00:02:25] Yesss!
Annie [00:02:25] Yeah, I know. I hear you.
Grace [00:02:26] I think that even with the best will in the world, the things that I want to talk about are true. And if they're true, right, then if they're out there it doesn't matter.
Annie [00:02:40] Why do I feel like I'm going to cry in this podcast already? Oh my God.
[00:02:51] *Short musical interlude*.
Annie [00:02:51] So listen, this is Changes. What you were referring to is the three questions that we send everyone in advance of this podcast, which is kind of some defining changes in your life. One at the start of your life, one as an adult, and one that you would maybe, potentially, still like to make. And we normally start at the start, really. But before I do, first of all just like, how is life? How are you?
Grace [00:03:13] Right. I think that a bystander would say that my life is amazing, because it kind of is. You know, I've got an amazing career and I've got a fantastic partner and I live in a house in London and spend a lot of time in the lakes. Internally. I am never quite satisfied. You know that Madonna song, American Life? Where suddenly she gives an entire list of the things that she has. What does she say? 'I've got a lawyer and a nanny and a gardener and a chef and two chauffeurs and a bla- Do you think I'm satisfied?'. Why that was so good was because I think that that is the deep heart of not just women, but almost everybody that's kind of pushing and striving, you know? So, am I good? Yeah I'm alright, but I'm always kind of looking onto the horizon.
Annie [00:04:12] And are you a catastrophist? When you look at the horizon, is it a glass half empty or a glass half full situ?
Grace [00:04:17] Oh, God. My family are catastrophizers. Like, you know, well they were... what's left of my family *laughs*. My family were always kind of, 'you can't go on the French exchange at school because you'll get there and then you'll probably get murdered by a serial killer', you know, that kind of thing.
Annie [00:04:36] Big imaginations.
Grace [00:04:37] Really! And really kind of catastrophizing would keep you- really keep you in your place, you know? I am not, no. But like, I do like to plan. I like a plan, I like a things to do list to bat away the catastrophes. I get up at 5:00 every morning and start making lists.
Annie [00:04:57] Do you?
Grace [00:04:57] I know. Yeah, I do.
Annie [00:04:59] I love that. I mean, I'm the same as you. I thrive off a list *gets list out*. There it is, look at that. I write mine on those two, you know, the kind of life insurance envelope or something. You know, that type of vibe.
Grace [00:05:10] That's exactly it. Yeah, at the moment I need to email Shannon, my personal trainer, and I need to get rid of a chandelier which is in a box. I need to find somewhere to put it. These are all- *laughs*.
Annie [00:05:24] Yeah, love it. Love the chandelier. LOVE.
Grace [00:05:29] I know, the moment that came out my mouth I thought, that is not a relatable thing.
Annie [00:05:35] *Laughing* But it's great. It is great because it's-
Grace [00:05:37] It's like, can't you just get rid of a chandelier?
Annie [00:05:38] In the context of the book, which I've just finished, your memoir, it is rather wonderful that you've said that because so much of it is about the idea of you moving to London and getting this job and being like, 'am I posh now?' like, 'am I different now?'. This kind of identity shift. Grace, I just loved your book like so much. And I just loved how you wrote, and it's so unpretentious and so moving and it just grabs you and there's bits of it that just ruined me, you know? And I'll never forget it. I was kind of photographing pages and sending it to various people that I know, one of whom was writing a memoir. Probably not helpful for him. Just being like, 'look at this, look at this, look at this'. But first of all, how was it writing this book? Hungry is what it's called, and it's out now for listeners.
Grace [00:06:27] I think that people would like to hear that writing a memoir about my childhood, kind of focusing on my relationship with my dad and at the same time talking through the process of losing my dad to dementia, which was absolutely horrific. And I think people would like to think that was cathartic, right?
Annie [00:06:51] Yeah.
Grace [00:06:51] I don't know if it was, really. I'm really glad that I got it on paper. And I'm really glad that a lot of the stuff that I wrote along the way when I was in really dark places and all the jokes I wrote along the way because, you know, God, look, dementia to anyone that's been around it, it kind of has to be funny sometimes because if you weren't laughing, you would be out in the street screaming, right? So, the stuff that happens is funny sometimes. I'm glad it's all in a book and I'm glad that my life story's in a book and that people can kind of be inspired by it or moved by the whole dementia thing. But God, yeah, I do feel- there's a point in my book where I say that my heart still kind of is broken about my father and it kind of grows the slenderest of scabs. And then every so often, I either just pick the scab off myself for the scab comes off.
Annie [00:07:46] And all it takes is one memory for the scab to go.
Grace [00:07:50] Oh, god, absolutely. You know that Sting lyric, you don't get to quote Sting very often but when he sends the message in a bottle and he throws the message in a bottle and he says, 'I woke up one morning and look what I saw, like a thousand million bottles washed upon the shore'. And that's what Hungry was like because the moment the hardback went onto the shelves, like my Instagram DM was just loads of people just our age, just going, 'thank you for writing this, thank you for writing this, Oh my God. Thank you. Thank you'. So what, you know- Hungry the book isn't just about dementia, it's about career and family and life and love and destiny and whatever... working-class-ness. But that strand of the story, I do feel like I achieved something, you know?
Annie [00:08:41] Yeah. In terms of, yeah, helping people.
Grace [00:08:45] I don't know what I achieved, I just basically put a flag in the sand and went, 'this shit is happening!', you know.
Annie [00:08:52] Yeah, it's happening. And the way that you talk about it, again, there's no sugarcoating it. The way that you talk about it is the same as the affliction itself. It's kind of deeply, deeply feeling like overwhelmed and sad and angry. But it's also- there's just moments of just total humour.
Grace [00:09:11] Yes.
Annie [00:09:11] And joy and clarity, ahh!
Grace [00:09:15] There has to be in everything. In everything. You know when people say, there's nothing funny about death, there's nothing funny about cancer, there's nothing fu- kind of, but when you're in it, when you're just in it in the house, you have to!
Annie [00:09:27] There's always something, yeah.
Grace [00:09:29] You have to. Anybody that's listening to this now that's dealing with chemo or what, the big things that kick you up the arse in life, you and your family, laugh. You have- you just have these stupid in-jokes, gallows humour. And it's very British as well. We like to laugh.
Annie [00:09:49] So, you grew up in the most northern part of North West England, that's how you describe it in the book, in Currock, in Carlisle. What and how does Carlisle still kind of run, run through you? Like how does it still exist within you as a place?
Grace [00:10:07] Carlisle and coming from a background like that will never, ever leave me. It's never- it's in me.
Annie [00:10:16] No matter how many chandeliers you've got to get rid of.
Grace [00:10:18] However many spare chandeliers I have *laughs*, no it's never going to leave me. It's still in my accent. It doesn't matter how much Radio 4 tried to knock that out of me, it's still in there. You know, I grew up in- I have to always try to be sensitive when I talk about Carlisle and Currock because it's where people live. It's where lots and lots and lots of real human beings live, and still live. And so I never like to tell a story where it's like, 'oh thank God I got out of Currock!'. However, Currock is one of the most deprived places in Britain. I think it's in the- still to this day is in the bottom 4% of the country. And Currock, even by Cumbrian standards, is very, very rough. So we're talking about schools that don't have a lot of success in getting their kids into higher education and all the other- all the things that go with it, you know, all the different things. I didn't realise how working class I was until I actually got to London. You know, because my mother- like we were working class, we lived in a terraced street, the centre house in a terraced street. There was loads of kids. Loads of kids everywhere, always playing out in the street, you know, kind of bikes and throwing tennis balls at windows and getting into trouble and running around the parked cars, that kind of thing. There was a lot of different types of working class people in that street. I always say the working class aren't just this kind of big mass, 'the working class'. There's like 15 different classes on that street. And my mother was tall, blonde hair, elegant, and always made us feel as if we were kind of- I never realised we were poor really, you know. I didn't think we were poor. We bloody were but like I didn't know anything different. There was no *laughs*, you know, going back when there was no internet and stuff to look at, I didn't really get to compare myself to- the only posh people we ever saw were the royal family on television, you know, and maybe a posh character on on Channel 4, you know, on Brookside, the middle class people on Brookside, Max Farnham. So *laughs, so I didn't even realise that we were that poor. So, yeah, all of that is in me. It's in my attitude to food. It's in my attitude to money. And by money, I unashamedly love money, you know. I don't think money brings you happiness. I think it certainly makes things easier, you know. When middle class people try to tell me, oh money doesn't bring you happiness, I'm a bit like, look, sorry, can I just stop you there, right. Being able to get a train whenever you like because you've got money in your bank account, does make you happy, you know. The things that money brings you on a surface level does. So there's things like that within me that will always be a bit Currock and Carlisle, you know, and also God, to look at me, I don't look like a lot of people on telly because there's- you know, I've got kind of silver fillings and a slightly wonky front tooth from like NHS dentistry and I bloody love a spray tan, you know, I love a spray-. I mean my spray tanner is at this house constantly, right *Annie laughs*. I love a spray tan, I love a high heel, I love sparkly diamonds. I like that kind of northern working class exotique look, where it's kind of all the plates spinning at once and a push up bra, you know. I can't do boho.
Annie [00:14:11] Oh my God, there's an amazing line in the book about boho. "I accepted that my type of working class people are really not suited to being bohemian, as bohemian really means chaotic, self-destructive, whimsical, and a bit wiffy. Most North London bohemians would be a lot happier if they stopped wife swapping and got a nice to do list on the go. Then their homes might be full of neat rows of fabric conditioned socks rather than self-involved sobbing, cat piss and orchids". *Slams book* *Both laughing* Drop the book! Bang.
Grace [00:14:43] That comes from Currock. That comes from like, you know, I'm not saying we were angels but working class, Currock people with literally nothing, love fabric conditioner. They love neat rows of fabric conditioned socks on radiators. You know, this whole kind of keeping everything together, you know, as a woman you're like, you're a terrier, you know, you're up and you're doing stuff and you're in everything and you're in control. You're like titanium. And then, you know, I started kind of meeting these like, bohemian people who'd had everything handed to them on a plate, and they're just like standing in like a kind of wiffy, smock, waiting for their mother to give them some more money. *Laughing* I'm not lying. Annie, I know you don't want to join in but these people, like. And, you know, when you say to me, how is that still in me? Wow, God, you've opened a vein here *Annie laughs*. Right, so I always start these things going, 'don't say it, Grace. Don't say it'.
Annie [00:15:48] Say it.
Grace [00:15:49] And then I'm like, 'pull up a chair, right, I've got more things to say!'. Ermm, okay. The gap between me and people that came from very, very nice backgrounds, it never goes. Now, it might seem like it does when you see me and you know, I earn very good money, I own property, all these things, you know, I kind of, I look the part, I'm on telly. But for anybody like me who's made money, the gap will never really go because, for example, there's no property coming to me, right? There's was no inheritance coming to me, there was never that cushion, right. Whereas, people who are around me in their forties who had that, you know, first of all, they probably had a really big wedding that their parents paid for and then they were helped onto the housing ladder and then they had more houses comin to them. So, what I'm saying is these gaps never go. If you come from my background, you'll keep on feeling it, you know? And as you age, you're then at the mercy of the government to look after you. Whereas everybody around me in their forties, in their fifties, in their sixties is probably sitting on all the generational wealth that's sprinkled down, right?
Annie [00:17:09] Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Grace [00:17:10] Gosh, this is all very serious. I, I've been through a stage recently where my parents have been dying, which is a very normal stage in life. But because I am from a very working class background with no money, no property, no nothing to sell, we were, we did it through the NHS, you know. And that is a very different thing to people that are, that have always had a spare million sitting somewhere because when the shit hits the fan for those people, they chuck money at the problem.
Annie [00:17:41] Right.
Grace [00:17:41] At least, God forbid, at least I did have some money, you know, because I could throw it a bit. But I do, I do notice this, there's still a little bit of me that's just a little girl in Currock, because you know, I'm kind of you know, I'm late forties now and my friends are all kind of casually telling me that they've just inherited a massive house on the Isle of Wight. And I'm like, shit, how are you still ahead of me?! *Laughs* Oh your dad's died and left you 4 million... how?! So, it keeps me very focused and- but there's always a bit of me that kind of, is still the little girl from Currock. And I kind of love it though, you know, it keeps me, it keeps me focused and it keeps me very grounded that I am that person. Keeps me very grateful as well.
Annie [00:18:36] Yeah. Yeah.
[00:18:47] *Short musical interlude*.
Annie [00:18:47] In the book, you talk about your childhood, you talk about 'I turn my mother's hair silver with anger' in adolescence, you talk about the rave years. It just gets a little paragraph that, it feels like that could be an entire book in itself.
Grace [00:19:00] Oh God, yeah, yeah.
Annie [00:19:00] You know, walking home from raves in the morning in your bare feet through fields and losing entire, you know, weekends whilst you're still in school. But let's get to this first change Grace, so the first change that you cited is leaving Carlisle and moving to glittering media London *Grace laughs*. Tell me, I mean, there is the most incredible story in the book that feels very kind of representative of everything you've spoken of so far, which is your trip to, was it Cosmo or Marie Claire? The Cosmo- when you go to the posh restaurant with the editor.
Grace [00:19:36] Yes. Well, that was one of the first times that I'd ever seen posh people, I suppose. I went to uni in Scotland and did- at 18, did an English Lit degree and started entering competitions, writing competitions. I mean, this was before the internet, before blogs and like being able to put your shit out online and say, look, here I am. The way that you could get noticed was to enter competitions, really. And I entered one at Cosmopolitan and I won it and they invited me to meet Marcelle D'Argy Smith, the editor who's this impossibly glamorous woman who you would see- she'd often appear on like breakfast television or whatever looking just amazing, you know. And yeah, I came down to the- it was at The Groucho which to anyone listening is a private- it's an unmarked private member's club in Soho. There was, I don't know if this changed now, there was no sign that said, 'this is The Groucho Club', because it's very secret. And I got there- so what year was this, this was about 1995. No, God, it would have been about '93. Anyway, we're kind of going into the kind of- The Groucho was where Damien Hirst and like Blur and everybody was hanging out and it was just this epicentre of debauchery and coolness and-
Annie [00:21:01] And you knew all about it in advance, like you were so obsessed with it, weren't you? As a young woman.
Grace [00:21:06] As a young woman, I followed all this from afar, you know, buying the Guardian on a Monday when there was a job section, like looking for a job advert that said 'Wanted: New Julie Burchill character to begin immediately'. *Laughs* obviously there was no job. There was- *laughs* there was no job for that. And yeah, so I came down to The Groucho and just, I just remember sitting at that table and there was lots of other girls there, I'd foolishly thought I was getting a one on one, but there was lots of other young girls there kind of talking about gap year. Which back then I had no idea- I was just really, I was really grateful that I was bloody, that I was even at uni, you know, and I didn't have this plan to just go and not work. What the hell would I live on?, you know. And people talking about sailing.
Annie [00:22:06] Yeah, yachts. Yeah.
Grace [00:22:08] People talking about- 'do you sail, Grace?'. And I'm like, what? How would you sail? *Laughs*
Annie [00:22:15] And also just the food, the culinary aspect, like getting served this kind of plate of really rare, bloody lamb.
Grace [00:22:21] Oh, rack of lamb. So in the book, I talk about how this rack of lamb came through the door and sat down in front of me, and we'd all had our kind of meals chosen for us. And it arrived and I just thought, I have no idea how to set about this. I don't know how to get the lamb from between the ribs and it's bloody anyway. And I'm very interested in how working class people find a lot of restaurants, spaces, just like it's not for them. Even if they had money, you know, I've watched this with my own family when you go to them, 'come on, let's go to this amazing posh place', they go, 'Grace, we don't want to go', you know, because it's not us. And what are the things that make it that? Well, it's stuff like this, the fear of something coming through the door. Whereas the actual truth, if you are listening to this, rich people don't give a damn about that. If something came through the door and they didn't recognise it, they'd more likely blame the waiter. They'd go 'what's this? This isn't how I ordered it. Take it away'. They wouldn't think at all about it. Erm, yeah. So that was one of my first trips to London and I was promised work experience at Cosmo, but I didn't get it.
Annie [00:23:38] And it's a very poignant moment because after that trip to The Groucho, you go off and you get an all day breakfast in John Lewis or one of those big department stores, BHS. And you have a little cry.
Grace [00:23:50] I did have a little cry.
Annie [00:23:50] Yeah, understandably, because that's all your dreams and suddenly you're like, well, I don't belong in this world or whatever, but you make a big shift then in terms of a change of attitude to London and how you were going to approach it. Tell me what you kind of- what changed after that.
Grace [00:24:08] I realised that there was a lot of things about my life and my past that people didn't need to know. That was the first thing, so I stopped talking about my background. I shoved my middle name into my name to make my name longer. So I insisted on the masthead of Marie Claire when I first got an editorial assistant job, that I was Grace-Georgina Dent. And it just made it bigger, you know? And so that was another thing. And I just started lying about- I realised that the answer is always yes. Can you do this? Yes. Can you do shorthand? Yes. Can you type? I absolutely can. Do you know how to use, I mean going back, do you know how to use a fax machine? Yes. Can you be here for another five weeks? Yes. You know, even though you've got nowhere to live. And I say in the book that I was determined to stick because I got in on an internship at Marie Claire and I was absolutely determined that I wasn't leaving, right? I got there and the minute I got through that door and there was you know, all the models were arriving and I was booking castings and like- I was a dogsbody going and getting people's, you know, dry cleaning without a ticket and all these things, but it was the epicentre of, again, britpop, nineties cool, cool Britannia. It was at the point where Liam and Patsy were on the front of magazines. And I'm in this magazine house and as I always say, Labour got in at that point and it was about '97 and people were going, 'oh, things can only get better', and I was like, how the fuck can things get better than this? I'm from Currock! And we're all fucking drinking champagne, what!?
Annie [00:25:58] And it's free.
Grace [00:26:00] There's a party tonight, and Loaded magazine are having it and we're all going and it's just full of fit boys and like, every time the door opens, gifts arrive. 'Things can only get better'... what!? And I was like, I'm not bloody leaving. No way. And they kept, at one point, they kept saying that they had to keep the internship free for about four or five weeks because Chris Patten's daughter was arriving.
Annie [00:26:24] Back from gap year or something.
Grace [00:26:26] And I remember that. And I was just like, okay, so this is how it works, does it? And these CV's kept arriving, of like these women called like, you know, Fenella Ponsington Smythe who's- and it would say, 'my mummy asked you to get in- to get me in touch with you because do you remember, you were at uni together and it would be so fab-', and I was like, right I'm going to be completely honest.. I started putting them in the shredder.
Annie [00:26:54] *Laughing* She started putting them in the shredder!
Grace [00:26:55] I remember feeling, like alive, as I just went *BRRR BRRR*. It's like, you'll have to write again, bitch. *Annie laughs* So yeah, sometimes you gotta-
Annie [00:27:12] But that's what I mean, you had all that in you, right? You had it all in you but it took going to London and kind of seeing yourself. So basically like, like you said you didn't know that you were working class till you went to London and then seeing yourself in the context of London you're like, okay, I'm not like them. So, I'm going to have to like put up a different type of fight here.
Grace [00:27:32] I'm not like them. And that is what makes people like me so frightening because we're not going.
Annie [00:27:38] You call it knotweed. You said, 'I was in like knotweed'.
Grace [00:27:41] I'm like, knotweed. I'm like knotweed. And it's the same with a lot of us. We're not going anywhere. You can make me a trending topic on Twitter as many times as you like. Like, I'll be sad, I won't like it, but what do you think I'm going to do? Just stop, right? What do you think, do you think I'm going back to Currock? *Laughs* No! And that's what makes people like me so terrifying, because you know, I'm still here like 27 years later because I saw that life, I saw over the fence and I started to observe. So many things happened at Marie Claire that I thought- silly things like when I got there I realised that a lot of the girls that worked in fashion were having their birthday parties in a private room at the Groucho. And I thought, how are they doing that? Because I would be totting it up in my head and going, 'but that costs about however many thousands to-', you know, and literally my birthday party was, you know, at a roped off section in a in a Rat and Parrot in Acton, you know *laughs*.
Annie [00:28:53] Yeah.
Grace [00:28:53] And there was so many things that happened there that made me go, 'ah ah, I'm not- they're not, they're not getting rid of me', because I knew also that I like hard work and I liked to be in that office nipping about doing stuff. I didn't write. I didn't write anything when I was there. I left when they started suggesting to me that I was quite bright and maybe I should go and think about doing a degree. And I was like, I've got a degree.
Annie [00:29:27] Already done a degree.
Grace [00:29:28] So, I went freelance. I approached lots of other magazines and just said, again, oh God, this sounds terrible, fibbing. You know, I went to a lot of the women's weeklies and they were like, where are you? I'm at Marie Claire. Are you writing there? Yes, I am. Wasn't. I'd been writing a lot at uni. And then they said, okay, so can you do next week to maybe do five shifts covering for the deputy features editor? Yes. You know what I mean, and I would just go and do it and just think, if you put your shoulders back and carry around a notepad, nobody ever challenges you *laughs*.
Annie [00:30:11] It's also, kind of what you're doing is you are growing a sense of entitlement that didn't exist before, that everyone else has already.
Grace [00:30:19] Yes.
Annie [00:30:19] Let me ask you something, Grace, about just your identity at this point, because in the book, you're just loving all the trappings that come with this job, like the first class trips, all the free stuff, all the parties like you said-
Grace [00:30:33] That was a fundamental change in my life, actually, the first time I ever went first class anywhere on a plane, right. I do say it structurally changes you at DNA level, right. You will never be the same again. The moment you turn left on that plane and you sit on a chair by yourself and people give a shit about you and start coming up going, 'would you like some more soft squashy socks and perhaps a lovely glass of champagne?', and you're like- suddenly it's like, I'm never- please never, never let me- it's so, it is. That was one thing that got me.
Annie [00:31:13] Sometimes it takes people an entire kind of adulthood to come back and embrace where they're from, and they're kind of running away from it a little bit. Yes, we know you were physically running away. Was there a sense of kind of mentally running away from where you came from as well in terms of class? Do you think you wanted to be posh? Were you trying to kind of own that for a while?
Grace [00:31:33] I've always known that I would never be posh. People sometimes assume I'm posh, by the way that I look and things but I've always been very realistic about the idea of poshness.
Annie [00:31:43] Yeah.
Grace [00:31:45] I think that people with money and the upper middle classes, I think they like to have you around, but they're never going to marry you, right. Because that's the way they keep their wealth.
Annie [00:31:58] Their stock pure.
Grace [00:31:59] The way they keep the stock pure *laughs*. So I was always very realistic about it. I never tried to date them. I'm always really surprised when- a model that I know and she married into a really, really classic British family and she's from like somewhere right up north. And I always think, how does that work? Because surely they're all eyeing her suspiciously, and thinking, you know, she's gonna divorce him and take the money. So I know I never wanted to be posh. I do think that I definitely went through a stage with my family where, I think like everybody does when they leave, of then being kind of resentful and sniffy about where I came from. You know, it's just a small town, I don't need to go back, you know, not seeing your parents for six months on end because you're just far too busy to go and see them. And the other thing, more importantly is when I started to make money and have access to all these lovely things, assuming that my family would want it too. Now, that's the big mistake you make as a working class person.
Annie [00:33:19] I've been there.
Grace [00:33:19] That's a world of heartache. It's a world of heartache. Because the thing that people don't often accept about a lot of the working classes is, they don't bloody want to be.
Annie [00:33:33] The amount of years I've said to my parents, 'just travel another airline that's not Ryan Air'. 'Well Ryan Air's great, it's never late'. It's that's, all the way. They're happy in their space.
Grace [00:33:44] Exactly. I think that a lot of working class people, they don't want to jump a class, they don't want to be middle class. What they want is more money, quite rightfully, to do the things that they like doing. This is a very kind of sensitive thing to try and explain because people come at you and go, 'oh, are you trying to say that working class people don't want nice things so they shouldn't strive?'. No, I'm not. I'm saying something more complex than that. My family love a chunk of money, but they're not going to say, 'oh, I'm so glad we got that thousand pounds. Let's go for a weekend at Babington house'.
Annie [00:34:22] It's so much about belonging, I feel. And being comfortable belonging somewhere. And yeah, you can have loads of cash and still just live the way you're living but have more choices. Basically, it's that isn't it?
Grace [00:34:35] I'll give you an example, so with my mother, as I made more money and got, you know, got these lovely windfalls that come in when you're working in media and you're working freelance, you get these checks. And I'd go, 'mum, where do you want to go? Let's go anywhere'. 'Where do you want to go? We can go..'. Obviously you'd start with, 'do you want to go to the Caribbean?' Absolutely not. 'Do you want to go- Why don't we get a villa in like Gran Canaria?' Ooo it's quite far and it'll be too hot. And she would wheedle you down and down and down until you're at Blackpool, every time, right. And this is a running joke in our family now, now God, you know, she's gone. We just all sit there going, 'Blackpool this year guys?', because my mother loved Blackpool, she would get us all to go, that was her happiness, right? If she could round us all up from round the country and we would meet her and be in Blackpool, that was her joy, right. And she did that all of her life. She didn't bloody want to go to Miami, you know, she didn't want to go and stay in Miami, Soho House, Miami. I once took her to a malmaison and she was really freaked out by it. I remember we went to get coffee or something, she was just looking at it going, why is this coffee so expensive? And also, why is everyone being so nice to us? Because it was like proper service, you know?
Annie [00:35:54] Yeah. Yeah.
Grace [00:35:55] My mother's favourite type of day out was to go to B&M or Home Bargains, you know, she loved it. She loved that. So, Toby Carvery, these things made my family really happy. And I'm talking about the nineties as well, you know, these- and into the noughties when I was kind of coming back like Billy big bollocks going, 'let's all go to this Michelin star restaurant in Cumbria that, you know, most people would only go once in their life. I can go there this Sunday, let's get a table'. And they'd be like, why are we spending money on that? They don't care. So did I ever want to be posh? I knew I would never be able to and my family didn't bloody resolutely want it, so you know, I didn't. But you know, I kind of love talking about this because when I think about these things, that was my family happy.
Annie [00:36:49] Yeah.
Grace [00:36:49] You know, because, you know, my mum and dad aren't here and I look back now and I think, God, oh my God, I would give anything to just get off the train in Carlisle and go up to their little flat they were in when they were retired and get in my mother's, you know, car which would just be full of stuff for the tip. And go to Toby Carvery at 4:00 in the afternoon and sit and, you know, have a glass of- I'm trying to think what, you know, like really, really warm, merlot *laughs* out of a sticky bottle, you know. Oh God, you miss these things.
[00:37:28] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:37:38] So you cite your mam and losing your mam as your big change in adulthood and being forced to consider your own mortality.
Grace [00:37:48] Oh, God. I mean, look, my mother died February the 1st 2021, right. And she eventually died, right. She'd been sup- *laughs* gotta laugh I'm sorry. She'd been scheduled to die for a long time, but she was far too busy. She had far too many things to buy on the shopping channels. My mother, she absolutely loved erm-.
Annie [00:38:20] What, QVC, that kind of stuff?
Annie [00:38:21] Oh God, QVC! Loved QVC. You know, when my mother was lying on her deathbed in- if she could hear this, she would laugh her head off, right. In January when she was literally breathing her last, I'd be sitting on the side of the bed talking to her about stuff, and then the door would ring and it would be stuff that she'd ordered off QVC *both laugh*. 'Mum, where are you- what is this?', she'd be like '*sighs* it's just a lovely pair of shoes I saw last night'.
Annie [00:38:50] *Laughs*It gives her joy. I love it!
Grace [00:38:54] I just let her. Oh, my God, I let her. I just let her get on with it. My mother was a force of nature.
Annie [00:39:02] Yeah she sounds amazing.
Grace [00:39:03] Just a kind of really tall, Amazonian, Cumbrian woman. You know, she wasn't academic, at all. She had never- she didn't have a career. But you would go out to school and you'd come back and she'd moved every bit of furniture in the house just with her bare hands *laughs*. Just one of those women.
Annie [00:39:23] Yeah.
Grace [00:39:25] You come in and like all the television and everything was just facing in a different way. She was always the mother that when we were playing netball at school, in the primary school she would like, 'I'll get you all to King Moore primary, don't worry'. Turn up in like a kind of a maxi car and just bundle like 11 girls into the back and set off. She was funny and sarky and you know she got cancer once and managed you know, I nursed her through that and she managed to get through that. And then it came back ten years later, and when it came back I didn't think that she had very long but she just kept going on and on and on and on. We always say, you know, she was kind of too big for death, really, too much to do.
Annie [00:40:08] Too many things to order.
Grace [00:40:10] Too many things.
Annie [00:40:11] Too much shopping to do.
Grace [00:40:12] She had to go to B&M.
Annie [00:40:14] And grace, tell me like, because you talk about in the book this move from going to London and going back to Cumbria. And I'm fascinated by that, kind of what was the catalyst for that decision to go and care for your parents and what you think about it now? Like how you feel about that phase in your life?
Grace [00:40:32] I mean, God, going back and being there through my mother's decline and my mother dying and being there was- it's a massive privilege. It was hell. If you can do it and you've got the time and the resources and the effort and the energy, I'm really, really glad I did it. I'm glad I was there. Why did I do it? I absolutely had to. There was no way that I couldn't go there and be elbow deep in it. Had to do it. It's too much to do. At the very thick of it, my father was last stage before care dementia. Absolutely as m- oh my God, absolute mad man where you have to... God, lock them in the house and-
Annie [00:41:26] Yeah, yeah. Just so unpredictable, yeah.
Grace [00:41:28] Oh, God. It's constant nocturnal, you know. And my mother was terminally ill, and I was determined that we would stay together as long as possible. Thing is, it's really difficult to break a family up, you know. At that stage it was very much like last stage before a divorce or something where everybody goes in their separate ways. And I was very determined that if there was just a house that we could all be in and there was just a dining table and that we could all sit around, then there would still be a structure of family life until the absolute last minute when it all stopped. So, I was going backwards and forwards and backwards and forwards and backwards and forwards. I lived on the West Coast line. Got to say, I've got an amazing brother who was also, you know, doing proper the proper donkey work. He was there as well. And then eventually I just thought, no, I have to have a proper eyes. I have to have eyes on it, you know, all the time, because it becomes just a never ending things to do list. I just wanted to, I just wanted to do it. I wanted to be there. There was something very lovely about just making breakfasts and making dinners and washing sheets and-
Annie [00:42:50] That's how you say I love you, init?. Doing the laundry, making the dinner.
Grace [00:42:57] Yeah. You know, yeah. The last place I lived with my mother, because we got rid of the bigger place when my dad went, and then we went into a tiny flat. And I kind of spent a little bit of time in London again then but then I knew she was on her way out. And I just packed a case one day and got on the train and said to my bloke and to everybody, I don't know when I'm coming back, you know, I just don't know and this is it now. And then I got there and there was just this, like, little room, and I just kind of made it into like, a little student bedroom. And then you get in touch with the NHS and you tell them that you're opting for a home death, which is very much like a home birth. Because then you get all the paperwork and you tick all the boxes to say that, you know- and you have to have all the do not revive conversations and the dangerous drugs arrive to put them out of their misery in their last minutes and that's when the shit gets real *laughs*. Fucking hell. And it's all sitting behind the couch and then I was just there. I was just there for months like, administering morphine.
Annie [00:44:06] How long?
Grace [00:44:07] Well, the last stage was about nine weeks. You know, the last stage of, you know, when we knew.
Annie [00:44:13] Yeah.
Grace [00:44:14] But look, you know, what I'm describing here is coming to millions of us. We just don't talk about it.
Annie [00:44:20] Of course.
Grace [00:44:21] You know, that kind of- that line, 'they died peacefully in their sleep, surrounded by family', right. I mean, that's just bullshit, right *laughs. The last 24 hours, is not that. It's not that. You know, even with the best will in the world. I always say this, I always think if my mother could have walked into the flat in the last 24 hours and saw what was going on, she would have wet herself laughing because it was just pure, just like horror, you know. People running around and people arriving and like, oh, God. And, you know, and her making a noise and- and it was just, oh, God. It was just horrific but, God, I'm really glad I was there.
Annie [00:45:09] How does it change how you feel about living life, the rest of yours?
Grace [00:45:14] It's really difficult sometimes to understand what the hell I'm doing it all for now, because your mother, doesn't matter what relationship you have with your mother if you're still on speaking terms. No one's more interested in your life than your mother. Nobody. Like believe me, those calls that you're screening from your mother, you realise that your mother wants to hear your stories. You know, she wants to *laughs* she wants to hear the shit that's happening at work. She wants to know about your partner. She wants to know what you had for dinner. And then she- and everything that happens to you your mother's- every promotion, every contract, every pregnancy, every whatever is your mum's like-. And once that person's gone, I do feel a bit like I just want to ring her all the time to go, 'you'll never guess!', and then she's not there, you know. My mother loved the gossip. She loved the fact that I was like, in MasterChef and in all these shows and the people that she read about in the paper, I knew the back story. So, like, it's really hard. It's really made me feel like everyone's shifted up a gear now and I'm the matriarch.
Annie [00:46:30] Wow.
Grace [00:46:31] Like, I'm in charge now. Like I run Christmas.
Annie [00:46:35] Well, you took charge. You took charge in that whole scenario, didn't you? You kind of went right, this is what's going to happen. And you did it and you took charge. So people probably are happy when someone takes charge in that way. Happy to be led.
Grace [00:46:47] *Sighs* you know, I just yeah, it's funny, you kind of, you constantly compare things that happened when your mother was this age and you keep going, oh God, that's me now.
Annie [00:46:58] Mmm.
Grace [00:46:59] It's kind of been like rocket fuel as well to me with regards to working because I do realise now that time is finite. It is finite.
Annie [00:47:10] Are you working more or less, Grace? Now.
Grace [00:47:13] More, more, more.
Annie [00:47:15] Throwing yourself in?
Grace [00:47:16] Yeah, I went back to work immediately. I mean, I was working when she was literally dying. I was like, in my little room I had this microphone set up. I did some radio 4 shows and things like that. I did some voiceovers.
Annie [00:47:36] Yeah.
Grace [00:47:36] Because I just kind of had to keep it going. And I was determined that no- and I didn't tell anybody what was happening. And then when she died on February the 1st and I had this project on the back burner, which was the Comfort Eating podcast, and I just remember after about nine days in the gap waiting for the funeral, I just said, let's do it. Let's just start. You know, Annie I bet you would do the same.
Annie [00:48:01] Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Grace [00:48:01] You're just like, let's do it. Just put it in and we'll start taking meetings, and the fear of the fact that, you know, Stephen Fry was booked to come to my house kind of stopped me thinking about it, you know. I don't think when you lose your parents, I don't think that the grief ever stops. I think it maybe changes shape, but.
Annie [00:48:26] It's just part of you.
Grace [00:48:26] It's just there. You know, I don't feel like I've- I've never really had a proper cry and never really- but God, you know, as I always say to my family, I'm the captain now *laughs*.
Annie [00:48:40] *Laughing* you're steering the ship. Oh, Grace.
[00:48:46] *Short musical interlude*.
Annie [00:48:54] The last change question you have cited, retiring from partying after 25 years. Very interested in this.
Grace [00:49:01] It's probably longer than 25 years. It's longer. I started partying when I was 14.
Annie [00:49:06] But you did it really well and you did it really hard.
Grace [00:49:10] *Laughs* I gave it my all.
Annie [00:49:12] You did.
Grace [00:49:12] I was a high impact player.
Annie [00:49:13] You could win trophies for partying.
Grace [00:49:17] Look, you are one of the only people who's ever mentioned that bit in the book, which I skirt over in about two pages, about raving.
Annie [00:49:26] Well, I saw a lot of similarities between me and you in the book, and that was one of them. One of them.
Grace [00:49:33] I drank and partied in a very Cumbrian, working class way, from the age of 14. And then when I got to uni, I partied like a 90s student, and clubbing and partying and living in Scotland. Oh my God, I lived in Scotland in the nineties and the Sub Club and resurrection raves and like.
Annie [00:49:57] Yeah, the arches.
Grace [00:49:59] The arches and colours and like, you know, 16 hour John Digweed sets *laughs* all these stupid things, you know. I bloody love Scotland, but like they love to party. I moved from that to media London, the home of the free bar, the home of the high functioning drug user, you know. My first husband was in the music industry, so I was a journalist working in media and with the music industry as my life, as my kind of home life. Partying, partying, partying. Anybody that's younger that's listening to this, I'm not saying to everybody, oh my God, stop doing everything you're doing, you know, do whatever you want, have a bloody- you're young, have a good time. However, if you think that there's a point that your group around you will naturally grow out of this, there isn't, right. There isn't a cut off point.
Annie [00:50:58] There's always someone older who's still caning it.
Grace [00:51:01] There's always someone older.
Annie [00:51:02] Who's still caning it.
Grace [00:51:04] Absolutely caning it. And I had absolutely wanted to live a more sober or a sober lifestyle for years. You know, I remember in my thirties saying I just don't want to lose days of my life anymore. I drank in a very acceptable British way, which means all the time, everywhere, you know. And then I moved into working in food, which means everywhere I go, I'm like, 'oh, Miss Grace Dent is in, send her a bottle of bolly'. And when my mother was dying, I was definitely doing that thing where I just have a glass of wine on a night, and have two, you know. And then obviously after she died, I was like, God, you know, I'm sick of having like, gin and tonics on a night. I just want to get away from it. And people were like, oh well come on, you're in grief, that's okay, it's acceptable. It's like it's another level. And then in the end, I just thought, I just want to be free. And when I say that's it, I want to be free because we're so trapped in alcohol in the British society, we're so trapped. It is like, more acceptable to say to your friends that you had a massive weekend and you were out on a 48 hour bender after a wedding, than to go, I'm not drinking on Tuesday night, so I'll come and I'll come down to see you, but I'll have a coffee. People would rather-
Annie [00:52:35] They can't handle it. They take personal affront at it. It's like a personal offence, isn't it? It's like, well why? Why aren't you drinking? What?
Grace [00:52:43] I just don't, you know, I want my time back. I need to live. I see giving up booze as- and it sounds cheesy. You've got to think what you're gaining and not what you're losing. We started talking about The Groucho, right, and how all I wanted to do was be there. Nothing good has ever happened in any private member's club in London after 9:15, right *laughs*. Get your ass home.
Annie [00:53:11] That's it. That's. That's. That's the word. That's very, very true.
Grace [00:53:18] I wouldn't swap a single second of it but, babe, I'm too old. Like, mic drop, I'm out.
Annie [00:53:25] I hear you.
Grace [00:53:27] Do I sound like a boring twat? *Laughs*
Annie [00:53:28] No, you sound amazing. I wish you a lifetime of clarity and living every day to its full potential. And I just thank you so much, Grace. I feel like we need a part 2, part 3, part 4. But I really, really, really am so grateful to you. Thank you.
Grace [00:53:45] Babe, thanks for having me.
Annie [00:53:50] Thank you so much to Grace. Do share this around to anyone who you think could be inspired or just relate to Grace's life and work and get some kind of, joy out of her story. And do please go and get Grace Dent's memoir, Hungry: A memoir of wanting more. Honestly, it's such a beautifully written, kind of gut wrenching book, and I think you'd really enjoy it. We'll put a link to it in the show notes. Okay, next week I will be welcoming to Changes, a woman who goes by the name Lady Unchained. She is a poet, performer, broadcaster and mentor, but also a black woman who spent 11 months in prison and five months tagged after being sentenced to two and a half years for GBH with intent, for being involved in a fight at a nightclub. She was 20 years old, about to launch her own business, and with no former convictions. She didn't believe she was the type to go to prison. Her story is shocking for many reasons, and she wants to prove there is life after prison. In her own words, she says, "my life ended and began with a prison sentence. I got tired of waiting for change. So, I became the change. I chose to be unchained". So that's Lady Unchained on Changes next week. A completely riveting conversation that will have you on the edge of your seats. Thank you so much for listening as always. Let us know what you thought, hit me up on Instagram, Annie Macmanus. Changes is produced by Louise Mason through DIN productions. Thank you so much. Take care. I will see you next week.