How We Met: Arabella Weir & Jan Ravens


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The Independent Online

Arabella Weir, 54

A comedy performer and writer, Weir rose to fame on 'Alexei Sayle's Stuff' in the late 1980s, and later in 'The Fast Show'. She has written several books, among them 'Does My Bum Look Big in This?'. Married with two children, she lives in north London.

We met in 1988, on the second series of Alexei Sayle's Stuff; we became friends from the first day. Jan wasn't competitive towards me for a moment [Ravens had been in the first series, Weir joining for the second]; I just remember us laughing a lot. I was seeing a man named Patrick at the time, who was a producer. Postman Pat had just started, so Jan and I would sing "Producer Pat, Producer Pat" to the theme tune. We made ourselves sick with laughter. He had a black-and-white cat as well, funnily enough.

When I was on The Fast Show, they were both the best and worst times of my life – [for the final three years of the series] I was the only woman among a group of men who acted like a rugby team. I felt like the unsupported sister.

But with Jan, I have not only a shared sense of humour, and also a sense of solidarity; one of the reasons I love her so is that she has such a positive attitude to life, so much more than me. Somebody pushes me over in the street, and I'd call them a fucking wanker; Jan would be sure it was a mistake. She is less bitter than I am, which is amazing when you consider our situation: it's not easy being a woman in comedy, an institution largely run by Oxbridge men.

We don't socialise as much as I'd like because, frankly, she may as well live in Turkey as far as I'm concerned, only without the oppressive regime. Or maybe they do have an oppressive regime in Barnes? I'm from north London, another continent altogether.

We compromise by meeting in town, for drinks normally. I'm the lairy one, shouting a lot, and Jan is always the one trying to calm me down, saying, "OK, that's quite enough of that, Marjorie." My name isn't Marjorie, incidentally. It's just a thing we do.

We've talked about collaborating on something for ages now. It's either going to be a pastiche of the TV show Country House Rescue, or a stage show about two women of a certain age. No, not all about control pants and pubic hairs on chins, thank you, but long scenes that ramble on and on with no end – rather like me.

Jan Ravens, 54

One of Britain's leading impressionists, Ravens found fame on 'Spitting Image' and, later, in 'Dead Ringers'. She is married to Max Hole, vice-president of Universal Music Group, and has three sons. She lives in Barnes, south-west London.

I first met Arabella in 1989. The sketches we did on the Alexei Sayle show were brilliant, but even there the women in the scripts were called "Girl 1" and "Girl 2". That, I think, is indicative of the battle we have had to face in the world of comedy. I'm not sure what Arabella thought about being "Girl 2", but I was bowled over by her. She seemed so confident, so amazingly full of life, and she really made me laugh. We had an instant rapport, both of us being quite feisty ladies in a world in which we, as women, were the minority.

Her life was far more colourful than mine back then. I was already married with one child, and Arabella, as I recall, was pretty much footloose and fancy-free. We've always had periods in our lives when we have come together and gone away again, but it is always easy to instantly reconnect with her. In many ways, we've had parallel lives ever since, juggling children and careers.

She can be quite scary sometimes, Arabella. I tend to be a bit of a people-pleaser. Obviously, as an impressionist, I can also be quite scabrous myself, but my default mechanism is to be nice. Arabella has more confidence to say fuck you.

But then, underneath it all, as with all of us I suppose, there is a lot of insecurity too. Even having known her for years, I was gobsmacked reading her book The Real Me is Thin, about her issues with food and how they came about. I'm surprised she isn't completely bonkers having gone through what she did. In many ways, reading and discussing her book has deepened our friendship. We can laugh together, be a couple of funsters, but also talk about anything.

We don't socialise very much: she is way up in Crouch End and I'm out in Barnes. But we are trying to write together, and we meet in town as much as we can. She's very good at it, very forthright, and comes up with ideas all the time, whereas I am more self-editing. If we were both like me, we would never get anything done.

Will our relationship endure? I think so. Unless she goes off me, of course.

Jan Ravens will be starring in 'The Intervention' at the Assembly Rooms from 3 to 26 August at the Edinburgh Festival (