Susannah Constantine - "In the 70's, mental illness was treated so very differently"

Virgin Radio

2 Oct 2022, 16:25

The fashion guru has a memoir out - and it's got the Norton seal of approval.

Former What Not To Wear host Susannah Constantine appeared on The Graham Norton Radio Show this weekend to talk about her memoir, Ready for Absolutely Nothing.

"This is a good 'un...", purred Graham, teeing up the introduction of his guest.

"I never thought I would stoop so low as to write a memoir," she jokes, "but during lockdown I went public with the fact that I'm an alcoholic. And it got a lot of attention.

"Publishers called me up asking if I would write a book about my journey to sobriety. I said no, but then I started looking back at my life and thinking, 'How could I have avoided being an alcoholic?' That's when I realised that maybe there was a memoir of some kind..."

Susannah was born into a wealthy family - her father was successful in property and shipping sectors. She was privately educated and grew up isolated from 'reality'. Hence the name of the book, which concerns the Hammersmith born Renaissance woman's entry into the fashion scene of London, as well as the tabloid column inches that come with dating a Royal.

"It's called Ready for Absolutely Nothing," says Susannah, 60, "but it was going to be called Girl At The Back of the Room. That's how my life was, I was like Forrest Gump, in all these extraordinary situations meeting these incredible people. Looking back, I realised I was ready for absolutely nothing..."

She continued, "I was encouraged to marry and to marry well. I went out with David [Armstrong-Jones, 2nd Earl of Snowdon], Princess Margaret's son, not because he was Princess Margaret's son, but because he was so interesting. He was different. He was different to the kind of people I grew up with. That was my rebellion. Not going to parties, but getting off my ass and getting a job."

Elsewhere the book deals with Susannah's memories of her parents, and Graham was keen to point out the great 'empathy' in which she writes about them.

"I kind of understand them better [for writing about them]", she says. "My mum was severely bipolar. I have tremendous empathy for her and what she was going through. In the '70s and '80s, mental illness was treated so very differently. The way I illustrate her mental disorder is kind of like a gothic novel, Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre. Had she been born 25 years earlier, she would have been put in the attic and the keys thrown away. To me, that's just bonkers, if you excuse the pun."

"We weren't upper class," she continued. "We just lived in a upper class environment, and male businessmen of that time... they needed their gold pen, they needed their smart briefcase, and they needed a glamorous wife, and my mum was literally like an accessory to my father. She was a trophy wife. She was incredibly beautiful, but his word was law and whatever he did she did at his side. Had she been allowed to be a more hands on mother, she would have been a lot happier."

We'll save more of the details for you to enjoy firsthand when you pick up this remarkable book.

Ready for Absolutely Nothing is in shops now.

Listen to The Graham Norton Radio Show every Saturday AND Sunday from 9:30 am on Virgin Radio or catch up on-demand here.