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Thursday 27 July 2017

'I spent years feeling guilt over my dad's early death'

Mariella Frostrup says her experiences growing up in Ireland made her resilient
Mariella Frostrup says her experiences growing up in Ireland made her resilient

Larissa Nolan

Broadcaster Mariella Frostrup has told how her father's alcoholism cast a shadow over her "idyllic" Irish childhood. Arts journalist Mariella (54) grew up in Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow, while her father, Peter Frostrup, worked here as foreign editor of The Irish Times.

She says she blamed herself for years after he died in her teens, convinced she could have done something to save him.

"I spent a good couple of decades feeling guilt that I should have, or could have, saved him somehow. I took a long time to grow out of that sense I was to blame," said Mariella, who is back in Ireland next weekend for the Dalkey Book Festival.

Her parents split up when she was eight, and he went on to have a family with his second partner, the artist Alwyn Gillespie. But this relationship failed, too, due to his addiction, and Mariella later went to live with her father in Dublin.

Mariella, who now lives with her own family in London, said: "My memories of my father's alcoholism are melancholic.

"When my parents split, I remember Leonard Cohen constantly on the turntable singing That's No Way To Say Goodbye.

"Then later, after dad split with Alwyn, I went to live with him wherever he was, in Percy Place and other apartments in the city. I was the last to live with him, until finally I couldn't take it any more.

"I recall this incredible stream of places we stayed, decreasing in comfort as he went deeper into his descent. Dirty dishes and despair.

"I was trying to go to school and I'd come home and the place would be a tip. It was hopeless; I couldn't go to school and look after him. One night I sneaked out of the house and went to my mother's.

"I bumped into him three months later, in a pub. He said he had seen me steal away in the night, but he had known he couldn't offer me anything to change my mind.

"That to me defines the supreme sadness of that time. He was aware he was unable to help himself or anyone around him."

She remembers her Norwegian father as "a die-hard liberal", saying: "My dad wore clogs and flared corduroys and green parkas and he drove a Renault 4."

Her mother Joan, a Scottish painter, is still alive. They came to live in Ireland when Mariella - who was born in Oslo - was six years old.

Her relationship with her father had a significant effect on her romantic choices for a long time, she said.

"I spent a lot of time dating men with similar addictions, driven by a Messianic sense I could repair the damage of the past.

"In many ways, every girl is in love with their father until they find someone to fall in love with. I kept falling in love with my father, or manifestations of him."

She is now married to human rights lawyer Jason McCue, and the couple have a son and a daughter.

Mariella left Dublin at the age of 16, eight months after her father died.

"I took the ferry from Dun Laoghaire with my friend Mairead Houlihan, from Kilkenny. I'd just had enough sadness. "And I'd had enough of adults and I decided if they were going to make such a mash-up of things, I might make a better job of it myself."

She landed in London in 1978, where she lived in a squat for a while and then got a job in Parlophone Records, which led to a career in the music industry and then broadcasting.

She is now known as one of the foremost arts broadcasters in the UK, and is dubbed the "sexiest voice in British broadcasting" for her trademark husky tones.

Mariella presents literary show Open Book on BBC Radio 4, has presented numerous arts shows and has been on the judging panel for the Booker Prize and the Orange Prize for Fiction.

She recently edited Desire: 100 of Literature's Sexiest Stories for Erotic Review.

Mariella says her experiences growing up in Ireland have made her resilient.

"I learned the hard way at an early age to look after myself and I'm sure it hasn't made me the most gentle of people, but it had certainly made me robust, AND a survivor.

"There are many worse childhoods. In many ways, the early part of my childhood in Ireland are like a halcyon dream period. I was very well loved and that sets you up for life."

Mariella Frostrup speaks on Desire, The Kama Sutra and Other Stories at Dalkey Book Fest at 2.30pm this Saturday

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