Comic Oprah with a kosher touch: She's fat, she's brassy, she's bold, she's funny - she also read English at Cambridge and she's about to fill your TV screen
The Feltzes have been in the house three weeks, and she can only find an evening skirt; she hitches it over her ample bosom to look like a dress anyway and hovers by the cooker. Her daughters, Allegra, seven, and Saskia, five, wander in, see her four necklaces, and summon oceans of sarcasm to say: 'Oh, yes, very snazzy.'
Until recently, few people had heard of Vanessa Feltz. After 13 September there will be few who haven't. Feltz - she doesn't like it put this way, but knows it's true - is set to become the British Oprah Winfrey. Her exuberance, and big, generous personality (she gives good quotes because she treats the interview as a performance) seem set to make her far more successful here than Oprah, with her weird American guests, could ever be.
Twelve Vanessa shows have already gone out in the Anglia television area, taking 67 per cent of audience share. 'People said it wouldn't work in England - you wouldn't get audiences jumping to their feet to say, 'I'd like to pay for sex.' No- Trouble-At-All]' Two afternoon network slots a week have been created for her. And she's been hired as a columnist by the Daily Mirror, starting at the end of August.
Vanessa Feltz is 32, and her greatest ambition was always to get married. She went out with the same boy from 13 to 21; he used to carry a copy of Eliot's Four Quartets everywhere, take her to hear Ted Hughes reading when other people were at discos, and make her life a misery. 'Someone once told me he had all the tantrums of genius without the genius. And one day I realised it was true.'
Her grandmother found Mike. 'She was in hospital and he came to do a blood test. She said: 'Are you married, are you Jewish, how old are you? Have I got a girl for you]' That afternoon when I turned up with a bunch of grapes, she told me: 'Brush your hair and borrow my mascara, and go down to Casualty and introduce yourself.' I said I couldn't possibly. But she said: 'I'm your grandmother and I love you and I'm telling you to go.' ' She and Mike were engaged within five weeks and have been married for 10 years.
It was always obvious that she would work. Her father, who is known in north-west London, where Vanessa grew up and lives now, as Norman the Knicker King, 'had the Jewish version of the Protestant work ethic, which is the same thing but with a lot more guilt and Angst and misery thrown in.' Norman made and imported underwear; his daughter was expected to work as a secretary throughout her year off between school (Haberdashers') and university (Cambridge, where she read English).
She was sacked from her first job, as an editorial assistant on Campaign, the advertising trade magazine. 'I was told when I was hired to use it as a springboard. The job consisted of making the tea and typing, so I made the best possible tea and typed the best possible typing, and waited to spring. I used to get in at 7.30am and leave at 7.30pm, and then I was sacked for not looking totally in love with the job. 'But,' I said, 'I was meant to spring]' '
She married soon after, and started to make her way as a freelance journalist, writing for Wedding and First Home and Hair and Beauty - 'the sort of thing you can do while breastfeeding and in the middle of the night. I never thought, 'I'm better than this.' I just thought, 'I love my husband, I love my children, I'm earning some money, I wish it was more money, but thank God I'm doing this, now I'll go and defrost a chicken.' '
She has never employed a nanny. Her mother and mother-in-law both live nearby, and she has often worked at night. Under these circumstances, her career has been meteoric. She began writing for the Jewish Chronicle, and produced an article claiming that the Jewish mother - 'at the hub of her family, stirring gefilte fish while breastfeeding and looking after her husband' - was nowadays more often out shopping or training. She became the paper's first woman columnist, and its first under 30.
Invitations to speak at Jewish charity events followed, and she now does two a month, for non-Jewish charities as well (unpaid: 'I think it might be my insurance against rotting in hell'). She is booked up until November 1995. In true showbiz tradition, an impresario spotted her at one of these, and booked her into the New End Theatre, Hampstead, for an evening of stand-up. The show, which she describes as 'nice smut, the sort of smut you wouldn't mind your grandmother hearing, like 'is sperm kosher?' ' led to further sell- out shows at the Shaw Theatre.
Invited on to Greater London Radio's Jewish programme, she was so good she was asked back the following week, and the week after. She talked about 'Jews and toilets, Jews and furniture, Jews and plastic surgery' nearly every week for a year (unpaid again) until they asked her to host the show. She has since moved on to present a non-Jewish programme, which despite going out in the Sunday-night deadtime slot, between 10pm and 1am, attracts 650,000 listeners. She has also started presenting the Friday afternoon show, Something For The Weekend, Sir?, in which a satisfied patient of a surgeon specialising in penis extension recently tried to show her the results on air (the surgeon forestalled him).
She took over from Maureen Lipman as the back-page columnist in She magazine; and an appearance on the Richard and Judy Show to talk about one of her columns led to a contract. Her interviews - with Sylvester Stallone, Omar Sharif, Johnny Depp, Kurt Russell and others - were enough to convince Anglia and co-producers Multimedia (who make the longest-running talkshow in the world) that she was right to front an Oprah-style show here.
Consequently she has just returned from New York and 'an orgy: much better than sex' of clothes-buying: 'They've got better clothes for fat ladies over there. So having 150 outfits to try on was multiply orgasmic, if I knew what a multiple orgasm was, which I don't'
Vanessa Feltz is, as the Mirror has promised, 'big, bold and brassy'. She is also very intelligent, perceptive, and clever with words; a typical north London Jewish housewife (with media ambitions) who can see exactly what she is and doesn't want to be any different.
She doesn't even want to be thinner, if that means having to eat less. 'I'm not saying I particularly enjoy parading round a communal changing room. But I've got nice legs and a very nice pair of boobs, good shoulders and quite a nice face. I have hearty appetities. I know my aim in life is supposed to be to feel delighted about not having a chocolate mousse. I know lots of people who feel good today because they didn't have the chocolate mousse. But somehow I still want it.
'I'm quite disciplined in almost everything else. I work hard. I'm freelance, so I have to be self-motivated. I try like hell to be a good mother and not deprive my children of my presence. I'm nice to my parents, and I keep a kosher kitchen. I feel I'm a good girl; I can't eat salad as well. I don't take drugs, I don't gamble, I don't drink. And I really cannot bear not to have the chocolate mousse.'
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