I'm her mother, not her friend

A Family Affair; Edwina Currie recalls her reaction when daughter Debbie, then aged 15, revealed she had lost her virginity
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The Independent Culture
Writer and broadcaster Edwina Currie was born in Liverpool in 1946. Her daughter Debbie, 23, is a television presenter for L!VE TV and lives in London. While in their local supermarket Debbie announced to her mother that she had recently lost her virginity. According to Edwina, they have never visited a supermarket together since.

Edwina

It was Sainsbury's in Kingsway, Derby, and Debbie must have been about 17 or 18 years old - she was still at school. I cannot remember why we were talking about sex and life, except that you do not get much opportunity to chat with your teenage daughter.

I can remember discussing which kind of fish and soup to buy. We were picking things off shelves and also looking at make-up - both my daughters spend a great deal more on make-up and creams than I have ever done. When she told me, I think I said something rather bland like "I hope you enjoyed it". I was not too impressed it had happened when she was 15 years old. I was afraid she was a bit young and might have been taken advantage of by someone. But by then she was substantially taller than me and towering over me so I felt in no position to remonstrate.

I do not think the topic would have come up if Debbie had not wanted it to. I think she wanted to talk about it. Picking a time was probably difficult because I was so busy. I suspect she was also trying to shock me a bit and trying to tell me she was not a little girl, which certainly got the message home. It also meant that I could not question her in too much detail as we were surrounded by other people.

I was determined not to be censorious. I did not drop the eggs or walk off in a huff. I felt I was fairly adult in dealing with it. I was a bit gobsmacked, I have to admit, especially at the way she had chosen her moment. It is not quite what you expect when you draw up your shopping list, is it?

I was also astonished that, for her, it was a fairly natural subject for discussion - it was not the sort of thing you discussed in my day. I appreciate, on the other hand, that she was able to be so open with me. It showed she trusted me. I suspect she was trying to test my values: was I curious, was I despairing, did I want to know more? I also think she was quite proud of it - she was boasting a little. I felt it was important not to make it a big issue.

But when Debbie began to talk more intimately about the experience I stopped her right away. I was curious because she clearly did not regard me as most people regard their parents, which was both warming and scary. It was almost frightening that she would treat me as her friend. I am not a friend, I am a mother. Mates go along with things, join in conspiratorially, explore things together. I am not going along with that, especially since the darker corner of modern life is not to my taste.

I cannot remember Deborah confiding in me before the episode in Sainsbury's, although after that she somehow started to treat me as a pal. What matters most to me is how things feel for her. I will listen to that side of it and perhaps ask questions when appropriate.

Whenever my daughters phone up and say "I'm in trouble", my first question is "Are you pregnant?" and they fall about laughing and say "Nothing like that".

One thing I did after Deborah confided in me was consciously set out more time to be with my daughters and to see them separately - I felt Debbie wanted time aside to be treated as an adult. I also had to accept that she had grown up and was old enough to take her own decisions.

Debbie

The deed happened during my final term when I was about 15 or 16 years old. It did not come out of the blue when I was telling mum. I think she had been asking how my weekend had gone: I had met a boy at a summer party. We had gone to another boy's house and watched videos and drunk too much and the conversation came up via that. I think I said: "And by the way, something quite exciting happened." I did not mind telling her - because it is her. Both my parents are very cool and very open. They are both of the opinion that too little knowledge is a very dangerous thing and that if you have got all the information, your mistakes will not be that huge.

Telling her like that was a bigger deal to everyone else than it was to me. Losing my virginity was quite exciting and it was something I wanted to share with her. When I told her, she went quiet for a bit and then said: "Did you enjoy it?"

Losing my virginity was not a big deal either. I do not remember seeing it as anything other than a conversation starter, like, "Actually something exciting happened to me". At that age, we still wanted to get it over and done by the age of consent. I do not think that worried her - the age of consent is neither here nor there. It is whether you feel ready at the time.

She had always said: "Do what you want, but use a condom." As long as she felt we were doing it safely, she would never preach.

So many of my friends cannot talk to their parents about sex - they still see their parents as "adults". When it comes to chatting to my mum I have never felt like that. She does not open up herself, but she is a great listener.

Even at that age, when everything was very up and down and adults were viewed as the enemy a lot of the time, I saw both my parents as my best friends. It was almost easier to share things with Mum than it was with friends because there was less prodding and competition. And being in the public eye means that I cannot always trust everyone around me. Mum also knows that she can confide in me for the same reason. I think there is a deep bond of trust between us. Looking back, at the point I told her it was only a couple of years before she left government and we did not see anything of her. She spent so much time down in London, although I knew if I was in real trouble, she would be there for me. But on a day- to-day basis, it was very difficult to keep up with her, so it was a period of my life when I wasn't seeing too much of her and discussing things.

I still talk to Mum quite freely about my relationships with guys. There is a generation gap and she does see things differently. She is ever so slightly shocked by what we get up to and gives advice from a totally different perspective - and she will stop me if the details are too gory.

Sometimes she mourns the fact that I have never found a boyfriend with a degree and concentrate on looks too much. When she was at university that was a big deal, whereas I can see someone as bright whether or not they have got a degree. But mum thinks I could do better than I have so far. We do have different ideas, which we talk about, especially since she has separated from Dad.

Basically, we are two single girls living in London, so discussing things with someone my age gives her another perspective - it helps both of us to see things differently.

Interviews by Emma Cook

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