How We Met: Philippa & Grayson Perry
'We'd sit in the pub and smoke and bitch about everybody. We don't smoke any more'
Sunday 09 May 2010
Philippa Perry, 52, is a practising psychotherapist. She has just published her first book, 'Couch Fiction', an introduction to psychotherapy in graphic-novel form. She lives in north London with husband Grayson and their daughter
I was at a creative-writing class and, although I was genuinely interested in writing, I was looking for a baby father – not consciously, but I was definitely on the hunt. Before online dating, if you wanted to meet someone you had to go out and learn Italian or something. I scanned the room and saw a handsome blond guy in a red-leather jacket. I thought, "OK, he's a possibility... but I'm liking the Irish poet more at the minute."
We went round introducing ourselves and Grayson – he had a really strong Essex accent – said, "Well I did pot-ry classes and done a gal-ry show and I made quite a lot of money, so I thought I'd 'ave a go at this writing game." And being a middle-class snob, I thought, "Oh no, that won't do!"
So I went out for a drink with the Irish poet and various other people and none of them were right so I thought, "OK, I'll have to go out with the show-off." Grayson and I started going for drinks after the class at a tatty old pub called The George, where we'd sit and smoke and bitch about everybody. We don't smoke anymore.
I think what attracted me to him then is what still does – he has different way of looking at the world, a very original mind.
I knew he liked cross-dressing from the off. I think our first non-date – it wasn't a "date" until about six months later – was a choice between a private view and a tranny club. I'd recently spent a week in New York and gone to dubious bars with transvestites dancing on tables, but this was more like a WI meeting – lots of men dressed as frumpy women hanging around talking about motorbikes. Very odd, but fun. Grayson's look as a woman has got more glamorous. He's found his own style, I think. I don't suggest much, he might occasionally say, "The blue or the pink?"
If we have free time, we go to a little cottage on the South Downs to cook, watch documentaries and read. He is such a do-er, but I just quite like the "being", so a couple of days' isolation from the world in a little cottage is my idea of bliss.
I do most of the work around the house until I get fed up of it and then Grayson does it. Then I decide that I want my vegetables chopped more finely and I'll start doing it myself again. I don't want to be unfair though – since we've been married I've only put the bins out twice and Grayson does that wonderful, restful thing of washing up all the dishes between the main course and dessert. He doesn't do it if he has a dress on, though. That's the only annoying thing about living with a transvestite – he thinks it's feminine to just hang around in a chair.
Grayson Perry, 50, is an artist, best known for his work in ceramics. In 2003 he was the first potter to be awarded the Turner Prize. He accepted the award as his female alter ego Claire, who often features in his work
First time I met Philippa was the autumn of 1987, at creative-writing evening classes. I was a struggling artist working as a sandwich-maker in a hairdresser's. I didn't notice Phil at first, but we were asked to do a diary of our week as homework and I thought hers was really funny and sharp.
We got chatting afterwards and went to the pub, then did that every week for two or three months. It was a very slow-burn number. Up to that point I was terrible, I very rarely had one girlfriend at a time. Phil had to put her foot down.
The fact that I cross-dress has never really been an issue for us – it's secrets that cause problems. We never kept it from our daughter, she just kind of grew up with it before she even knew what it was. Then, as she got older we'd just say, "Daddy's going to a party" and she got used to seeing me dressed up.
Philippa is very emotionally vigorous – you can't get away with any bullshit with her. Even before she became a therapist she was like that. It can be a bit painful but it's a good thing – like polishing up the lens that you look at the world through.
We get invited to a lot of nice dos now because of what I do and Phil is always great at them. As a partner in life I don't have to worry about her getting bored or not being able to talk to people. I always get people coming up to me after dinners saying ,"God, your wife, she's lovely!" It's nice to have someone who you can share the funniness of those situations with.
Now Phil's written her book, it's interesting to be around someone who is putting their own head above the parapet. It's given me a bit of an insight into what it is like to be Phil. For the partner of anyone who has had a bit of success, the plus-one syndrome can be pretty cheesy. I think she's occasionally struggled with that.
If you ask her what the most romantic evening we've had was she'll say, "Oh! The day you first took me on the motorbike." It was late at night after one of those classes and I suppose I was showing off and we went roaring up the M11 and the bike blew a valve so we ended up pushing it up the hard shoulder for two hours in the rain. I've still got the broken valve on the shelf now as a souvenir of that moment.
'Couch Fiction' by Philippa Perry is out now (Palgrave, £12.99)
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