Unparliamentary Language: Rosie Duffield
Marie Le Conte sits down with parliamentarians to ﬁnd out more about the human side of politics. This week, Labour MP Rosie Duffield on being perpetually late, getting fired and her hidden comic talent
What were you like at school?
Oh my gosh, I was terrible. I was always either in detention or on report. I went to a small all-girls school, and I thought it was strict but looking back it really wasn't. And yeah, I was terrible. I played truant a lot and I left at 16. So, I really was not a model pupil in any way.
What's your earliest memory?
I was about two, two and a half and I remember very clearly hearing roosters, cockerels crowing early in the morning, because we were in rural Norfolk. I mean, you never know if those memories are reliable, but I can remember that.
What did you want to be when you grow up?
I always wanted to be a journalist. I've been writing since I was about six or seven, you know, fake stories and making things up, and I still do that all the time. It was always something to do with writing; I can't remember a time when I didn't want to do that.
What's the best present you've ever been given?
Good grief. I can't really say my engagement ring, it's tainted now. That's a pretty hard one... it was probably from the children because this year they went and they chose me some really cosy slippers from Joules. They're at the age where they got something I really wanted, they're really tasteful. They're 20 and 16 and it was really nice, actually.
What's something you've done once and would never do again?
I'm such a coward. So things like go on a roller-coaster, trying to be brave, and then I'm sick afterwards and thinking I'm never doing that again. Things like that; although you say that after childbirth and then do it again. But still – trying to be brave physically and I'm not in any way.
What's your most annoying habit?
I'm late for everything, all the time, constantly. Always have been. My excuse is I'm a little bit dyscalculic so telling the time and working out how long it will take me to get to places is literally impossible. If someone says to me see you downstairs in five minutes, I have no idea what that looks or feels like. It's a bit like dyslexia but to do with numbers and perception. If someone says to me that the plane is like 30,000 feet in the air, I can't conceive of what that is. Or if they say to me, it's two metres down the road – literally no clue. I can't picture it in my head, there's nothing there.
How do you find out you were dyscalculic?
I was late for so many things all my life and one of my son’s teachers when I was late yet again for the school run – despite having got up on time – said to me: "There are a few clues here Rosie". So I spoke to a friend who's a maths teacher and he went, "Oh god, yeah. I've always thought that about you".
If you could have a trip in a time machine, where and when would you go?
In my fantasy, I was a suffragette, but one of the really, really extreme ones who lobbed and bricks and things. I suppose I'd like to go there and do that and just know that I absolutely have done my bit towards suffrage.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
When you get elected you get so much advice. I think the best piece of advice is take it all with a pinch of salt, and that everyone will give you advice and you don't necessarily need to listen to it all. I think you do at first and then you have to do your own thing; I'm now saying that to some of the new people that are going, "What should I do? how can I...?" and I just say: don't listen to everyone with an opinion because you will feel your way into it. Trust your instincts, I think is the best piece of advice.
Have you ever been fired for a job?
Oh god yeah, lots of times! I've probably been fired more times than anyone else I know. I mean timekeeping was always a huge issue with me, it's probably the number one issue. Everyone tried; employers tried really hard to be lenient and really nice to me, before I even knew I had something I could blame.
Well on the bright side most MPs are late to everything…
Yes, thank god! I do try incredibly hard, I couldn't try harder to be on time, but it just doesn't work. I've got friends who literally have this thing called Rosie time, so they know that when we're meeting for a meal or we're going out for someone's birthday, they will build in that half hour, and when I find out I get really cross, even though I know it's the right thing to do.
What something your colleagues don't know about you?
Oh, I don't know, we talk about everything; we have to, you spend more time with your colleagues than your family. I suppose... some of my comedy sketches. I've tried to keep hidden.
Are they on Youtube?
I'm not going to say anything else about them…
Do you have any unusual talents or party tricks?
None whatsoever! I can't sing. I used to do ballet when I was younger but I don't dance anymore because it's been so long. Oh actually – my party trick, and other people are going to test me on this now, is that when we have Christmas crackers, my talent is to get the punchline of the jokes, and I drive my family crazy because I never don't guess it. Really, really crap crackers jokes, I can always answer the question.
Have you ever broken the law?
I used to be a hunt saboteur; I was really young, and my dad was very strict on what I wasn't allowed to do. I didn't do the whole balaclava thing, but I came close.
Who would play you in the movie of your life?
I would love it to be someone really fun like Renee Zellweger, but I've done a few photoshoots where people have said I look like the woman from King Kong, Naomi Watts. But yeah, someone just hilariously funny, that would be much more fun wouldn't it?
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Hang on in there, it will be okay. And all of the really shit times that you're going through or going to go through will be character building and will be important for where you end up. Because if you get to Parliament, and you haven't been through some pretty difficult times, then it's much harder to relate to everyone else. So, yes, I'm glad things I've been through made me tougher.