Interviewing Fay Ripley is great fun.Fay Ripley is my new best friend. Well, clearly, she isn’t, but I’d like her to be. Warm, funny and gossipy, Ripley is not only a hugely successful actress, but a proud Mummy, the author of a cookbook that parents all over are claiming is changing their lives and a woman just like us, and also kind enough to spend time interviewing with us.
Fay Ripley has just sent her “little one” off to nursery with “two dozen nut-free, gluten-free, lah, lah, lah muffins”. She finished them at 11 o’clock last night and is now embarking on two dozen cupcakes for friends. That’s before she finishes a costume for the school play, but she still finds time to do this interview for us at Baby.
“Gotta love the London Mummy scene,” she mocks gently. But it’s clear this in-demand actress and author does love the ‘Mummy scene’.
She is one of those women who changes physically when they talk about their children. Her voice lowers, almost coos, and she gabbles proudly about them.
“I never imagined not having any children,” she said, “and I’m permanently grateful that I could.” It shows. Our entire interview is peppered with anecdotes about them, references to them and to Ripley’s role as their Mummy.
She concedes that her work, which is ever-increasing in profile, is tough to juggle with that of being a parent but she clearly relishes it.
Although having starred in umpteen dramas, comedies and plays since, Ripley is best known for her breakout role in the hit ITV thirtysomething drama series Cold Feet. She is also one of a dying breed of actresses who don’t mind being “best known” for something, or being recognised. I was once told by the agent of an actress who starred in Grease – and little else – that I should mention the movie in our interview “at my peril”. Apparently she “didn’t like the association”. Ripley, thankfully, is very different.
“It really irritates me when actors say they don’t like being recognised. You were in a movie, what do you expect?”
With a self-confessed “lack of ambition” her eventual enrolment into theatre school was all thanks to a drama teacher – the only one at her school in Surrey who believed she had drive and talent. But funding her courses wasn’t easy and Miss Chief, the children’s clown and party entertainer was born. I wonder if the glory years of Miss Chief prepared her well for motherhood?
“Well I don’t tend to do the school run in a red nose and giant comedy shoes, but I suppose I picked up a few tricks along the way that are useful now,” she said.
“It was a horrible, horrible job. The younger children were generally OK but the eight-year-old boys just wanted to hurt me.
“I did it for many years – to get me through drama school.”
And such a hit was Miss Chief, that she managed to save enough cash to buy her first home, putting down ‘clown’ on the application form. Oh yes she did.
“And we wonder why we are in a recession now,” she laughs, “the banks were giving mortgages to clowns”
Her role as Jenny Gifford in the show Cold Feet – originally intended to be a one-off, but which eventually ran for five series – saw her nominated for a British Comedy Award and a British Academy Television Award and it is easy to see why.
She is hilarious. I tell her I am a chaotic mother, outnumbered by three boys, one of whom wants to be Bananaman when he grows up.
“Better than a Buddhist chef,” she chips in. Eh?
Whilst interviewing her, it comes out that Parker, her seven-year-old daughter, has apparently had a long-held ambition to be a Buddhist chef. And no, Fay Ripley has no idea what that is either.
“I’m not sure if it involves preparing or cooking food in a different way, or actually what they can eat – or if they are in fact real – but I was perfectly happy with that until….the other day, out of the blue, she announces she is going to be an actress instead. And not a Buddhist one, just a straight actress.
“Well, I launch into this long speech about how she must go to university and to not make decisions now and how she will be poor because only two percent of us make any cash in this business, but she is adamant.”
I tell her it’s reassuring that successful celebrities (although she hates that word) still stress about their children in very normal ways and she smiles.
“I do worry about them, all the time. Being a mother changes you so much. I love it.”
But since having Sonny – he’s now three – she won’t be having anymore.
“No, I’m too old (43!) and too tired to have any more. The world does not need any more of my children, I have donated enough!”
She says, without thought or hesitation, that the greatest joy of motherhood is the “sense of belonging” and adds that she also loves the fact that her daughter and son are “incredibly funny” and make her and husband Daniel (Lapaine, also an actor) laugh a lot.
Since becoming a mother, she has leant her support to a Great Ormond Street Hospital campaign called Kiss It Better, and its offshoot, Bake It Better. What was her reason for getting involved?
“It’s very hard when you are in the public eye, because you get asked to support so many great causes but I do think that to see a child, who is properly sick, go through that is one of the most moving things.
“On top of the empathy you feel regardless, once you have your own children there’s this real bizarre sense of gratitude that it’s not you that is going through the ordeal and almost out of a sense of relief that it’s not you, you feel you want to help.”
I tell her my eldest son has spent a lot of time at Great Ormond Street and has a very limited life and that she is one of the very, very few people who ‘dares’ to suggest that feeling lucky it’s not you going through it, is often a motivational factor in helping.
It makes me warm to her more – that she is one of the few famous people I have interviewed who says what she thinks and who doesn’t have an agent on her shoulder moving most of the responses “off the record”. It’s a bold thing to say, I remark.
“Not really. I think if we’re just honest and say that there by the grace of God go I and we help, it doesn’t really hugely matter what the motivating factor is. It is nothing to be ashamed of.”
She also asks me questions about my son, not about what is “wrong” with him. Again, something most people don’t do.
She tells me a friend of hers, a boy called James who is now 11, was diagnosed with a brain tumour aged just seven and the “extraordinary” way he and his parents dealt with their battle was “humbling”.
The friendship she has with James – also treated at Great Ormond Street – and his family was another reason she got involved.
Kiss It Better raises funds for research into, and the treatment of, childhood cancer. This year it will pay for the training and employment of three clinical research nurses who will enlist children onto clinical trials. The spin-off campaign Bake It Better is one that fits perfectly in with Ripley’s new role as a food writer.
Yes, I was a cynical old journalist, and thought ‘here we go, another ‘celebrity’ moving into the lucrative world of food’ but as Ripley explains, her whole life has been about cooking and eating.
Her parents split up when she was young and her father married a German woman while her mother settled with an Italian.
From a very young age she was not only getting varied tastes but eating out, as a family, was a hugely important part of her upbringing.
When she was in her twenties, dating and discos would often give way to risottos and ragus and cooking was her drug of choice.
But, oddly, when it should be the most important time in your life to cook well and healthily, after she had her children, she says she lost her foodie passion.
“I obviously wanted them to eat well, so everything had to be organic and the best cuts, but I just whizzed everything to a pulp and forgot about the experience of eating and forgot about why I loved cooking so much in the first place.”
She wrote a cook book, which every mother or father reading this will wonder why hasn’t been written before.
Fay’s Family Food is simply about cooking something everyone can eat. No more one meal for the children and one for the parents.The book is entirely about creating dishes that the whole family can enjoy – together.
“Daniel’s family is from Italy too and we spent a lot of time over there,” she explains. We would go out to eat and be in a great restaurant that was full of parents and children eating happily together and there would I be with this tiny plastic pot of some mush I’d made, frozen and would be hastily defrosting at the table.
“It just suddenly came to me that most places on the Continent have no children’s menus or crayons on the table – they just all enjoyed eating the same food together.
“Back in England, the only time children ate out was in a restaurant where the waitresses dressed up as a kangaroos!”
She describes Fay’s Family Food as the “thing I am most proud of in my life – apart from my children” and personally did everything related to it – the food sourcing, ingredient buying, the cooking, the writing, even helping with the pictures. “The photographer got pretty fed up with me pushing potatoes around on the plate!”
I sense she is a cushion plumper. “Totally!” she hollers. “I try not to be now I have children but I am still slightly obsessed with having things in their place.”
The book has had great reviews and is an Amazon bestseller.
“It’s been mainly through word of mouth via Mummies with busy lives. You need my book girl,” she grins at me.
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