Anne Robinson - because she's worth it?

Anne Robinson has put her foot in it again, this time insulting her native Liverpool. But she won't have to do a Boris - we'll forgive her anything, even that wink
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The Independent Online

Is it time, perhaps, to promote Anne Robinson to national treasure? Actually, what a silly remark. If it were, Anne would storm into some office somewhere, possibly at The National Treasury, and demand it most determinedly for herself. "It's time I was promoted to national treasure, and be quick about it," she would say, with a stamp of those high heels and a flick of that scary, Gucci full-length leather coat. "And wherever that Terry Wogan is, I insist on being two rungs above with a bigger office," she would add.

Is it time, perhaps, to promote Anne Robinson to national treasure? Actually, what a silly remark. If it were, Anne would storm into some office somewhere, possibly at The National Treasury, and demand it most determinedly for herself. "It's time I was promoted to national treasure, and be quick about it," she would say, with a stamp of those high heels and a flick of that scary, Gucci full-length leather coat. "And wherever that Terry Wogan is, I insist on being two rungs above with a bigger office," she would add.

Ms Robinson has never needed any help whatsoever when it comes to the business of promotion. Housework, yes. "I think I've got a washing machine somewhere, but I wouldn't have a clue how to use it," she once said. (Ah, a gal after my own heart!) But promotion of her own interests, no. Indeed when, some years ago, her current husband, the journalist John Penrose, fell out with Robert Maxwell and resigned from the Daily Mirror while Anne was still their star columnist, she went to Maxwell's office and resigned on the spot. OK, maybe not. Instead, she went to Maxwell's office and demanded a substantial rise to compensate for loss of household earnings. She got it, too.

No one knows, by the way, if she gave Maxwell that wink or not. That wink. Love it or hate it, you have to accept that given the lifted and Botox-ed nature of her face these days, the fact she can still do it at all is a miraculous triumph. Maybe she's installed a secret pulley system. I wouldn't put it past her.

Anne Robinson, now 60, should be a national treasure, I think. She's a force. She has guts. She's resolutely herself. She's greedy and vain and ambitious and all the things women are told not to own up to, but she does, ecstatically. She's clever (very). She's funny and truthful. "If you can't look exquisite in £2000 worth of Yves Saint Laurent, what hope is there?" she said when asked to account for all that plastic surgery. Plus, her absolute shamelessness means she can get away with things others simply can't.

Indeed, when Boris Johnson made negative remarks about Liverpool recently, he was immediately dispatched to the city to slope around dejectedly, apologising left, right and centre and all directions in between. But Anne's question to a contestant, a Liverpudlian teacher, on The Weakest Link earlier this week - "Do you teach your pupils to steal?" - could never result in such a pitiful display. I don't think this is just because Anne is a Liverpudlian herself (although perhaps it is like telling a Jewish joke; it's OK if you're a Jew) but because she simply would not countenance it. Anne Robinson apologising dejectedly is about as likely as ... oh ...I don't know ... the Welsh finally accepting they are a pointless and annoying waste of time?

Anne Robinson is an extraordinary woman. She isn't everyone's cup of tea, I know, but that's possibly because she will not behave in the way women are generally expected to behave. When the Daily Mail columnist Lynda Lee-Potter, always famously shy about her age, died and the Mail phoned Anne for a tribute, the conversation went something like this:

Reporter: "Would you like to say a few words about Lynda?"

Anne: "How old was Lynda really?"

Reporter: "I don't think that's relevant."

Anne: "Come on. How old was she really? 67? 70?"

Reporter: "No ..."

Anne: "HOW OLD?"

Sixty-nine, as it turns out. Anne got the answer she wanted. She refused to become part of the sentimental outpourings. She isn't sentimental. Or self-pitying, either. Her autobiography, Memoirs of an Unfit Mother, which charts her drunken years, is mercilessly self-lacerating. She doesn't give much of a stuff what you write about her either. She'll take it on the chin, although not in the eye, as specialist pulley systems are delicate and expensive to replace. On the other hand, she may get her own back in her brilliantly funny, sly way. "Amanda Platell," she once remarked after Ms Platell was snotty about her in some publication, "wasn't she once someone's secretary?" Ouch!

So, extraordinary and, now I think about it, as much for her formidable self-belief as anything. "Because I'm worth it" might have been invented for Anne Robinson as much as for L'Oreal, if not more so. "I know my worth and I make it my business to ensure that I am rewarded at an appropriate rate," she told me when I once interviewed her. How do you know your worth,I further asked, genuinely wanting to know. "I just do," she said. And I suppose that's it. You do or you don't and she emphatically does. She then added: "I believe that women's greatest strength is in their earning power. It gives them freedom." Freedom to do what? "To do what you want. I do despair of some our sisters. I don't think they operate in a business-like way. You have to go the hairdressers, You have to have a manicure. What hairdresser do you go to?" Um ... none. She sighed. I was a great and profound disappointment to her. Yet, if I recall rightly, I did go out the very next day for a very expensive new hair-do. Trouble was, I had difficulty thinking I was worth it. I guess this is why I don't drive a Mercedes or divide my time between houses dotted everywhere. It might even explain why I don't especially worry about £2000 of Yves Saint Laurent not looking exquisite.

Unlike most, Anne is possibly living the very life she has always wanted for herself. Fame is fine with her. You won't find her whining about fame. Blimey, if you were to not recognise her, then you'd probably get it in the neck. "One of the side effects of fame is that when you walk into a room, people do want to talk to you, and I love that. It's shallow, I know, but I do." She's always worked frantically hard, and been intensely competitive. As a columnist for, over the years, the Mirror, Today, The Sun, The Times and the Daily Telegraph, she has always detested taking holidays in case her stand-in proved to be rather too good. According to Sarah Sands, deputy editor of the Daily Telegraph, she's "a wonderfully professional journalist who is very sharp - terribly sharp - and still very curious about other people. She can behave quite badly. When Lynda Lee-Potter went to interview her she took great pleasure pointing out all her paintings and other lovely things. But it was very funny, too. And she's much, much nicer than she'd ever like you know."

Because of The Weakest Link, and its success both here and in America, Anne is now a millionaire several times over. And she loves being rich, gorges on it. Money can't buy you happiness? Screw that. Her daughter, Emma, by her first marriage to Charles Wilson, describes what it is like to go shopping with her mother. "She'll buy an £800 cashmere hooded cloak and then ask for it in every colour, which mortifies me." Mortifying? That's thrilling, Emma! Imagine not having a mother who gasps at the price of something, then says: "Look at this hem. It's so badly sewn. Put it back. Put it back now." That Emma doesn't know she's born. And as for the houses, which Anne will boast about endlessly - and why not; she's earned the money - they are very wicked indeed. There's the ultra-chic Kensington one as well as the Gloucestershire spread which comes not just with an indoor swimming pool, which I guess is OK if you are into that sort of thing, but also two dishwashers, "one to stack while the other is on the go". Now, that is classy. Of course, she neither stacks nor unstacks herself. Her husband, whom she calls "Penrose" - he calls her The Guv'nor - does all that. "A dishwasher that you can't fill or empty is vital," says Anne, "because then men think it's mechanical and say, 'leave it to me'." And that, I have to say, is possibly one of the wisest things I've ever heard. As for Penrose and The Guv'nor, they are a very devoted couple, by all accounts.

Now, all this said, I don't think Anne is entirely without a certain vulnerability. And her weak spot is said to be her daughter. Anne, says someone who knows her well, "cannot refuse Emma anything. She is utterly helpless when it comes to Emma." Guilt, I expect. She lost custody of Emma to Wilson (who would later edit The Times) when Emma was two, and Anne was drunk, dribbling into gutters and waking up in beds she didn't recognise surrounded by her own vomit. It's hard to imagine her as someone so out of control but, then again, it might help explain why Anne, who last had a drink 25 years ago, is so in control today. It's not something she wants to go back to. It may even be something she fears going back to. Anne Robinson, the vicious-tongued witch from the Weakest Link, frightened? Maybe not but, then again, who is to say?

In a way, Anne Robinson is a woman whose time has come. When she was fighting Charles for custody of Emma, "his barrister asked me if it was true that I'd rather report on the Vietnam war than Hoover the sitting room. Absolutely, I said, which in those days was considered disgraceful." Anne Robinson has fight, spirit, brains and is also a fabulous writer and TV quiz host. She does things on her own terms in a way most of us wouldn't dare. The National Treasury awaits. Shove up, Terry, do. And should she give you the wink - that wink - don't take it wrong. She's probably just checking all pulleys are fully operational, that's all.

Strongest Links: The Life And Times Of Anne Robinson

1944 Born in Blundellsands, Liverpool, to a teacher and a poultry wholesaler

1967 Arrives in London to start work on the Daily Mail

1968 Marries Daily Mail deputy news editor Charlie Wilson, later to become editor of The Times. They have a daughter, Emma

1972 Marriage with Wilson breaks down, with Emma less than a year old. Robinson starts to drink heavily

1973 Divorces Wilson. He wins custody battle. Robinson joins The Sunday Times, but her drinking reaches new levels

1977 Alcohol-related inability to file her copy contributes to Robinson being sacked by The Sunday Times

1978 Joins AA and quits drinking. Continues 60-a-day smoking habit

1980 Starts writing a column for the Daily Mirror, where she meets and marries the journalist John Penrose

1987 Begins television career as presenter on the BBC's Points of View

1988 She is given her own show on BBC Radio 2

1993 Chases unscrupulous builders and overcharging phone operators as the main anchor on Watchdog

2000 Takes helm of new BBC quiz format The Weakest Link which leads to her being named "the rudest woman on television" by TV Times

2001 Her description of the Welsh as "irritating and pointless" on Room 101 brings a complaint to the BBC from Commission for Racial Equality

2002 Insults Scots with jibe at Andrew Neil that most Scottish men "are actually quite mean"

2003 Robinson's Memoirs of an Unfit Mother published

2004 Continues pattern by insulting her Liverpudlian compatriots by suggesting they are generally criminals

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