How We Met: Mariella Frostrup And Gina Bellman
Sunday 20 December 1998
MARIELLA FROSTRUP: The first time I met Gina was at dinner at the documentary-maker Nick Broomfield's house at Sussex. He was having a dinner party - there were about eight guests and Gina was one. We didn't speak much at this dinner because we sitting at other ends of the table. But I was just so struck by how beautiful and composed she was. I couldn't stop looking at her. She looked like a racehorse. She had that liquid movement and easy elegance. It's how I've always wanted to be and I've always failed miserably. This was last autumn.
We spoke briefly that night, and a few weeks later, early in the new year, she borrowed Nick's house for the weekend. I live just up the road and I was planning on going for my first open-air jog of the year, so I ran by and collapsed in the kitchen and she made me a cup of tea. And something just happened: we couldn't stop talking. We spent every minute of that weekend together and we talked about men and families and life and work, and we've been pretty inseparable since then really. It's almost adolescent. That's the peculiar thing about it, because I think you don't make good, new, close friends very often as you get older. You tend to have the same close friends you've had for a long time and just make new acquaintances.
After that weekend, the next time we saw each other was when a friend of ours was having a drinks party at the Ritz and we were both invited. I went over to say "Hi", and she said, "I had the most erotic dream about you last night." I was kind of thrown because it was so honest! And immensely flattered, because she is just so beautiful and I think that was just another bonding thing. I mean, we're not lesbians, but it moved our relationship on to another level of intimacy. It was around this time that she started sharing an office near mine. Now we'll go and have a cappuccino after work, and relate the boring, mundane details of our days. We speak a couple of times every day, we go out together often - we're going out for supper tonight.
I think what's interesting about my friendship with Gina is that at quite a late age we have forged the kind of soulmate relationship that you have when you're much younger. It's an invaluable support. We're both single and I think that she compensates for the lonely moments. I think there's an intimacy between us that makes up for the fact that we both live on our own. There are elements of the adolescent crush, but at the same time we're both fairly adult and I think we have so much in common on an intellectual level that while our friendship isn't based on wandering around, holding hands and giggling at boys, it's nice that there's a bit of that.
There are very few subjects that we don't have a mutual interest in. We've just been on a diving trip: I've loved diving for eight years but I've never had a girlfriend who liked it. I was nervous before we went on holiday, because I don't make intimate new friends all the time, and I just didn't know how we'd get on. It worked out fantastically well. I was so bossy at one stage. I'd get up every morning and at breakfast I'd say, "We're going to go diving at 9.30 and then we can stop at 12 and have a conch salad. At two o'clock we'll go on to the beach. Then I thought at four o'clock we could sit at the bar and do the New York Times crossword. Five o'clock we'll have a nap." Most people would have just gone, "Shut up and give me a break," but Gina was really really patient and understood that it was a thing I had to go through before I could relax.
We have a similar sense of humour. We'll laugh at things that no one else understands - people look at us as if we're Martians. We laugh a lot, for catharsis. It doesn't matter how bad either of us is feeling: we can always manage to pull each other out of it. We'll do our navel- gazing but, two seconds into it, one of us will say something to make the other laugh.
I admire Gina's spirit. She's like a racehorse with the soul of a foal. She's got joie de vivre. She makes mundane things exciting. Every day I find out more things I like about her.
Gina is incredibly loyal and generous, with her time and her money. Her priorities are to do with friendship. I haven't ever lost a friend so I'd be very surprised if Gina and I fell out: I can't imagine us ever not being friends.
GINA BELLMAN: I'm pretty sure I remember Mariella giving me a bad review once on The Little Picture Show, which she doesn't remember. Her sister is convinced I'm befriending her so that later I can stab her in the back. But on our diving trip I had the perfect opportunity to cut off her air supply, and I didn't.
We met at Nick Broomfield's house in the country, on Guy Fawkes' last year. Nick was having a dinner party and Mariella arrived - she's got a place a few minutes away. She brought platters of roasted vegetables and an amazing dessert she'd made herself. She came into the house like a whirlwind. We were at opposite ends of the table, but I remember her being incredibly erudite and a fantastic raconteuse. She tells stories with such energy that she commands everyone's attention. Meeting her made an enormous impression: I hadn't expected her to be so warm or funny.
A while later, I borrowed Nick's house for a week and she called me to invite me round. I knew her house was only a couple of minutes away but I didn't know how to get there. So she said, "I'll come and get you." And suddenly this vision in Lycra appeared. She'd gone for a jog, which made me feel sick. When I'm in the country I can just about make it to the woodshed. I'm incredibly lazy. All I do is lie on the sofa. But she arrived in Lycra, all sweaty, which was impressive, and said, "Come on, I'll take you back. It's only across that field." Mariella's got the worst sense of direction. She took us on this cross-country epic journey through bogs and barbed-wired fences and cornfields and she kept saying, "I know where it is. I know where it is. Just across this next corner, or just through this hedge." And finally we were standing at the bottom of her garden and she was still looking out into the distance, saying: "I'm sure it's here somewhere."
We ended up talking all weekend. I hadn't made any new friends for the last 10 years, and what surprised me was that there was no tentative "let's get to know each other" period. We just fell into the friendship. We're both sarcastic and immature, and we put up a show of being sophisticated women but it's just a facade. Underneath, we're giggling schoolgirls.
Mariella's got this amazing energy: she keeps going like a Duracell battery. As an actress, I've had so much time on my hands that I'm much better at relaxing. I think our differences make us really good for one another. She feels she can relax with me, and in turn she makes me more motivated.
A lot of the time when we see each other it's in a crowd, and yet when I'm in a crowd with her, I often feel we're alone. Our powers of observation are very similar, and we've both got vivid imaginations. When we were on holiday we'd make up little scenarios about the other guests in the hotel.
I feel very confident that we'll always be friends. I have to squeeze into Mariella's schedule, though. There have been times when she hasn't been able to fit me in. It's so funny when she gets work-stressed. She's not brilliant at prioritising. So you can ring her in the middle of a crisis and she'll go, "Not now, I'm in the middle of a meeting but I can fit you in between five and six this afternoon." So I'll call back and ask, "Is this a good time to cry?" We give each other tons of advice, listen attentively and then do the complete opposite. I'm thinking of trying some reverse psychology on her in future. We used to spend all our time gazing at our own navels but now we gaze at each other's. What drives me crazy is that Mariella is so genuinely insecure sometimes and doesn't know how powerful and beautiful she is.
There is something courageous about her. It's hard to define, but I feel like she's an old Scandinavian warrior woman. I feel like she'd do anything, try anything, taste anything, experience anything: she's fearless. She knows she's a control freak, which suits us both because I'm quite happy to give up that sort of control. She can hold the passports and the tickets and make the arrangements. And when our luggage got lost when we went on holiday, I just sat on a chair and watched her deal with it, thinking, "Should I help her?"
Any friendship or relationship is about a language. Mariella and I speak exactly the same language, whether on a humorous or emotional level. There is no disguise or artifice with us. I think the thing I like best, though, is her smile. It lights up a room. When you're around Mariella, it's like being in a patch of sunlight.
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
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