Portrait: A Nightingale sings

She was `born for blonde' but is not afraid to go through the odd aubergine phase. Annie Nightingale explains why her looks send her mood swinging

In Broadcasting House there's a picture of me, taken about 10 years ago, and I'd really like to pull it down. I look much better now than I did then.

I think getting older is easier for men, but maybe that's changing, and it's important to me to be part of that change. Girls say to me, `Oh, you've been such an icon,' and I think, `Well, I can't just stop now.'"

Mind you, even when I do radio, I get my make-up mirror out just before I go on air. I believe you should always give of your best to the listener.

When I lived in Brighton, that hour travelling to London on the train was very useful for doing my make-up. I'd go into the ladies' and come out a different person. Now that I just have a 10-minute cab ride, I have been known to ask the driver to go round the block because I haven't finished.

I go through phases with buying clothes. I do it in bursts, feel guilty, then think, `Well, I won't have time to go near the shops again for ages.' When you see something you like, you should buy two, because next year you might not find anything. Last year I went mad on slip dresses in Oasis, then cut the linings out.

I've got bad hair, very thin and straggly, so I spend a lot of time on it. I was born fair, then my hair kind of went mousy, and now I have it this whitish blonde. I did decide at one point to go aubergine. People didn't recognise me. A Russian friend said `Darlink, you are born for blonde,' and I realised she was right.

I believe in innovation - in make-up, clothes, everything. Like my new glittery nail varnish. I found it in a motorway service station, in a shop that catered to little girls' fantasies, selling tiaras and pink feather boas. It looked as if it had stars in it, so I thought, `I've got to give it a try.' It looks extremely doubtful.

I have a very unpleasant scar from when I was mugged in Cuba and had my leg broken, I am still embarrassed about it, but last summer I went to Sicily with people who took all their clothes off. I didn't take everything off, but I pretty much did and that was probably quite therapeutic.

After Cuba, because I was on so much medication, I stopped smoking and got thinner, I was thrilled, but everyone said `You look grey and haggard.' My skin's improved a lot, though, since I gave up the cigarettes.

I'm very mood-swingy about my looks. I've got very low self-esteem. As a child I thought I was hideous. Fourteen was the worst. I had a pretty friend, and one of her many boyfriends said, `Annie has a nice personality,' so I thought I'd better work on that and went around agreeing with everyone for the next three years.

I am very, very self-critical. You have to be careful, and not make a fool of yourself, not wear things that are too young for you, but develop a look that suits you.

Recently I did The Jo Whiley Show, and I kept my shades on, so The Sun said `You've been doing naughty things at a festival, that's why you've got to keep them on.' But it wasn't that at all, it was a fashion statement. They're rather posh shades. I bought them in Whiteley's shopping centre in west London, and they were very expensive. When I wore them to the literary festival at Hay on Wye, Tom Wolfe wanted them. He said `I like your shades.' I said `You're not having them.'

People will ask me, `What was your favourite decade?' and I say `Right now.' I've had a great time in the Nineties. You can't live in the past.

`Wicked Speed' by Annie Nightingale is published by Sidgwick & Jackson at pounds 15.99. She presents `Annie on One' for Radio 1 from 4am every Sunday morning.

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