Unparliamentary Language: Sharon Hodgson
Labour's Sharon Hodgson after winning Washington and Sunderland West at the 2019 General Election
Marie Le Conte sits down with MPs and peers to find out more about the human side of politics. This week, Labour MP Sharon Hodgson on an embarrassing encounter with the Prince of Wales and how her childhood jazz band changed her life
What were you like at school?
I don't think I was with the popular kids, I was just average, middle of the road. I wasn't particularly sporty and I was pretty studious; I was in the top classes all the way through. I remember as a young child in primary school, not realising that it wasn't cool to be clever, which is why I loved when Michelle Obama came to the schools in London and was saying ‘it's cool to be clever’. I wish the seven year old me could hear that, because I can remember being that kid and getting laughed at and picked on, because I was the one putting my hand up, answering all the questions and going home and saying to my mum "why is everybody being mean to me just because I got all the questions right?" I was always in the top set but I was trying not to draw too much attention to myself because nobody wants to be bullied. And I could never have been one of the super cool kids because I grew upon benefits, so I was never in the super cool clothes. I've got lots of happy memories of school, I loved learning, but it all came to an end too soon as I left school when I was 16 to work. That was a consequence of being in a one-parent family and growing up on benefits, it was expected that I would leave school and get a job, which I did.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Coming from the background I did, I just wanted to work in an office, because you wore nice clothes and you went to work every day. And then I remember hearing about personnel and I thought "oh, I'd like to be a personnel officer". And the weird thing is I sort of did become a personnel officer, so I did fulfil that ambition. I worked for Northern Rock, in the personnel department, so I remember sitting there, at 21, thinking "I've made it". But the other thing I wanted to be when I grew up was married with kids in a stable family and relationship, which had not been my experience, and I've been married for 30 years this year and we have two kids together. I feel that was an achievement as well.
What's the best present you've ever received?
I became an MP, then my husband turned 40 then I turned 40, so we went to New York as a joint celebration with the kids, and he took me to Tiffany's and bought me one of those tiny little necklaces, diamonds that would just be at the nape of the neck. I've still got it, it's like my family heirloom.
What is the worst present you've ever received?
Oh, also my husband – when we were newly married, he bought me a canteen of cutlery. He thought this was a fantastic president and he said his mum would have been over the moon if he’d bought her that. He couldn't believe why I didn’t think it was an appropriate present. Not even a canteen, that implies a big box with lovely silver cutlery; this was from Marks & Spencers and it was four knives, four forks and four spoons, and it was yellow. Our kitchen was decorated in blue and yellow at the time and he thought "Sharon would love that". So he went from the worst present ever to a diamond necklace from Tiffany's.
If you had one trip in a time machine, where and when would you go?
I think it would be to the future, because all the times in the past I think about would be harder to live in. When people talk about periods of time in the past, I always think "yeah, well I'd be the scullery maid", you know when you think of Downton Abbey times, and I definitely wouldn't be upstairs, as much as I'd quite like to be upstairs. So if I had a time machine I think I would quite like to see my own family's future, see if I've got a nice big happy brood.
What's something your colleagues don't know about you?
For most of my childhood, from about five to 18, I was in a juvenile jazz band, which were very popular in former mining communities in the North East. We carried banners, we played kazoos, it was a marching band. It was the children's version of the miners' banners and the brass bands that the miners would have. I started off as the mascot, then I was on the small drum for a while, and I didn't play the kazoo for very long – I don't think I was any good at that – then I was drum major, marching at the front. I've got 300 medals on a sash that I still have. I went to away every weekend, and it was the one constant thing in my childhood because the band was run by my aunt and uncle. It gave me an outlet outside of living in poverty, it expanded my horizons and when people have said "what do you think made the difference in your life that didn't put you on being pregnant at 16 like everybody around you?", it must have been that because that was the one thing that was different, that took me away and put me on a different trajectory.
Do you have any unusual talents or party tricks?
I can still twirl a mace! Probably not with these false nails but I can still throw a mace around and do sort of all sorts of tricks.
What's the most embarrassing thing you've ever done?
As a new MP we were invited to Prince Charles' residence, and we got a chance to have a look around the grounds; we were looking around the gardens and there were these unusual trees that looked like sculptures, and we were told that Prince Charles loves them, and they're called stumperies. You take a tree and you turn it upside down so all the roots are showing and you sand them in and varnish them and it becomes a sculpture. So anyway, then when we get introduced to Prince Charles in little huddles and everyone is going "oh, I thought the begonias were just fabulous" and I was trying to think of something really interesting and insightful to say, and looks at me and I said "oh, I thought the trunkeries were lovely". He burst out laughing, was laughing his head off, like a real belly laugh. Trunkery! And I started laughing along but wondering, what did I say? And he eventually says "they're stumperies, dear girl".
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Stop being in such a hurry to grow up and get there. Being the eldest and with my mum and dad getting divorced, it was just me my mum, so there was always that tendency to want to be very grown up, I couldn't wait to leave school I couldn't wait to be married, I was always thinking "when I'm older, when I'm older...". And I just wish I could go back and say: just slow down and enjoy being young, because you're only young once, and you're old a long time.