She was brought up in rural Oxfordshire and made the interesting point that, when she first started, there was a more thriving folk club circuit around the UK.
“Poetry has got a reputation for not selling,” she said yesterday, “What I did was go around the local folk clubs at the time Billy Connolly was working round the folk clubs in Scotland and Jasper Carrott was working round the folk clubs in the Midlands and I got some experience – they were like comedy clubs are today, I suppose.
“Also I went on the local radio and I produced a little book of my own – a little pamphlet, really – that’s all it was – and I drew the drawings and I typed the manuscript and I took it to the Church Army Press in Oxford and I got sixty run off .
“I took them round the local bookshops and it was, without a doubt, the most difficult and excruciatingly humiliating experience of me life. I had to stand in a bookshop surrounded by expensive, well-produced volumes and say: Please will you stock my book? It looked so paltry and they had used the wrong paper and if you touched it, the fingerprints stuck on it. So it looked really awful…
“But not a single person said No. Everybody took some. I always thought that was a great credit to the local booksellers.”
Her breakthrough came in 1975, when she won the Opportunity Knocks talent show on ITV.
“In an instant,” she said yesterday, “I went from folk clubs, where a few beer-sodden friends would cheer you on… to being thrust out in front of an enormous paying audience. One of the first professional gigs I had was at the Winter Gardens in Margate with thousands and thousands of people and I had an act of about 20 minutes.
“I was utterly mortified. I was terrified for years because, if you win a TV talent competition, you go from performing in a small way to going into a massive arena. It was terrifying. For years, I was terrified of performing and I always thought the audience was hostile. A lot of performers feel that. It’s not true, of course, otherwise they wouldn’t buy a ticket.
“When people say to me I’d like to be a performer I tell them the only way to do it is to do it. Even if you fail the first few times, you learn from it and you become more relaxed.
“Now that I’m a woman of a certain age I think, Well, I’ve got me marbles and I’ve got me health. But I don’t know how long I’m going to keep those for, so I just enjoy it now and all that fear has lifted off. I just write the funniest things I can and go out and put them over as best I can and enjoy it and love it in a way I wasn’t able to earlier.”