How We Met: Susie Orbach and Gillian Slovo

Susie Orbach, 47, is a psychotherapist and author of seven books, including Fat is a Feminist Issue. Founder of the Women's Therapy Centre in London and the Women's Therapy Institute in New York, she lives in London with her partner, Professor Joseph Schwartz, and two children.

Gillian Slovo, 41, is daughter of Joe Slovo, ANC National Executive member and, now, South African housing and welfare minister, and Ruth First, who was assassinated in 1982. A novelist, she came to Britain in 1964. She lives in London with her partner, Andy Metcalf, and their daughter.

SUSIE ORBACH: I first heard of Gillian from Joe, my partner, in 1976. He was doing a sabbatical at the Open University. They had a car pool, and he mentioned that there was a very interesting woman he drove up with - she would trouble to read the papers and have interesting bits of conversation. Later I discovered that the reason she was such a good conversationalist was that she felt that she wasn't very socially skilled, and so did her homework.

We first met to discuss a friend of hers who needed psychological help. I remember being aware of this absolutely gorgeous dark brown hair. She was quite shy. I'm a noisier person, but she had so much to say if you let her. At that time she hadn't the sort of physical presence that she has now. She was physically retiring, but very vibrant when she talked about her friend. I really liked her, and I invited her over. I think at that time she was breaking up with a boyfriend, and so we used to incorporate her into whatever was going on in our social life.

She wasn't happy at the Open University. She was considering going to medical school and was learning to play the saxophone, which I thought was great. I love jazz.

There were points in our history that intersected, not literally, but emotionally. Gillian came here when she was 12. Suddenly she was in a different country with a new set of rules, and with the terror because her father was underground. Although the situations were very different, I also came from a political family where there were a lot of secrets. My father was an MP. During the Suez crisis he was always going to the Middle East, and I was never allowed to say where he was. So I thought I understood something about Gillian's experience of holding secrets.

She became a novelist: novelists find ways to talk about secrets. I became a therapist who finds out secrets. So it was very formative for us, and we are both very good at keeping confidences.

She can be very, very funny. She plays straight woman and makes me funny, and I really like knowing that part of myself which I feel she's given me. We're also both terribly efficient, and we moan to each other about how difficult our jobs are. We've grown up as writers together, so we share that identity and the problems of it.

My girlfriends are a completely essential part of my life. With Gillian, I was probably big sister early on: I'm older than her, and when we met I had a stable relationship. But then her mother died, and she had to grow up very fast - Ruth had a state funeral, and Gillian had to deal with 8,000 people - so that changed. Now, if I'm freaking out about something, she is very thoughtful about how to intervene. When Fat is a Feminist Issue came out I remember a particularly dire interchange with the publishers - they wanted a different title. I couldn't handle it, but Gillian phoned up and dealt with it.

I love that about her: she'll have a take on something that is completely original. We'll be discussing video nasties or South Africa, the topic doesn't matter - it will be something I wouldn't have thought of that expands my thinking. I've never been to South Africa. I didn't feel I could go until the boycott was broken. But it will be lovely seeing her there now, even though it is still a very painful and confusing environment for her.

Gillian is a woman of our times, struggling with having a productive work life and a decent relationship and bringing up kids when the school system is falling apart - and trying to come to terms with what South Africa means to her.

GILLIAN SLOVO: About 18 years ago Susie's partner Joe and I used to drive up to the Open University together, and he would talk about her. I first met Susie when a mutual colleague had a baby, and we all went to visit at the hospital. Susie and Joe drove me home and I was very attracted to her. She's very outspoken; I was the opposite - quite shy - but she was good at drawing me out.

I have the world's worst sense of direction, except that I happen to know where I live, and I showed them a special route to Hackney which totally impressed Susie. I felt as if I'd deceived her, because she kept going on about this fantastic route. But the first present she ever gave me was a large scale Nicholson's, because by then she had got wise to my bad sense of direction.

We met properly when a friend needed therapy and I went to Susie for advice. She had an amazing combination of empathy and the ability to listen without pity, and I really warmed to her. After that, we started to be friends.

At that time my whole life was insecure; she was more grown up - she had a stable relationship - so in the beginning I think she looked after me. But the years have changed that. I feel that I've grown up with her. She has been a part of every important thing that's happened to me since we met. When my mother was killed I was on holiday in Spain. We went straight from the ferry to the airport. I had no clothes, and Susie arrived with a suitcase of her own things. So I went to my mother's funeral wearing Susie's dress, which meant a lot - I felt that she was there with me. I was in quite a state for a long time afterwards, and she allowed me to go through it in a very accepting way.

Now there is much more equality in the relationship. That's another thing about her I really admire - she allowed that change, she liked the way I changed and helped me to do it.

The success of Fat is a Feminist Issue changed her life. She had to handle all kinds of issues of fame and public presence, and it was very interesting watching her go through that change. She isn't scared to discuss things that we all experience but that we often keep quiet about because we're afraid of appearing weak.

In a way we come from similar backgrounds. Her father was an MP, and Susie used to tell me she could never say 'Egypt'. Her father was always going to 'EGYPT' - there was some secrecy, and this was the kind of code that went on. My whole childhood was bound up with that kind of secrecy. Susie saw past the glamour of what my parents were and the drama of my mother's death and actually saw the human cost of it.

She has enormous charm. She always says to me that I make her funny; I think she makes me charming. I think we've learnt things together. We both came to motherhood at an age when we had coped with the world already and we found ourselves having to cope with this other activity which raised all kinds of fears. I had Cassie by Caesarean section and after the birth was in no condition to breastfeed, so the first milk my daughter ever had was Susie's. She was very delicate about it: she thought it might be a difficult thing for me. But if Cassie had to have somebody else's milk, who better? Now the kids think of each other's family as family. For Cassie's first year she wore all Lucas's clothes and now Liana, Susie's second child, is dressed a la Cassie.

I was amazed by Susie's tolerance when I had Cassie. I thought I was being perfectly reasonable, but I now realise I was as obsessed as anybody who's ever had a baby. But I never felt that she was bored or that I'd vanished. She gave me permission to be who I was. She has always given me permission to be who I am.-

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
    The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

    The ZX Spectrum is back

    The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
    Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

    Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

    The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

    If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
    The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

    The quirks of work perks

    From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
    Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

    Is bridge becoming hip?

    The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
    Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

    The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

    Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
    The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

    The rise of Lego Clubs

    How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
    5 best running glasses

    On your marks: 5 best running glasses

    Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
    Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada