It’s been ten years since the iconic sitcom hit our screens, but was it all ‘such fun’? Writing exclusively for YOU, Miranda Hart opens up about the surprisingly serious life lessons her comedy alter ego has taught her.
This autumn has been an interesting one for me, as it marked ten years since the first episode of my sitcom Miranda aired. A marker like that naturally gives one pause for thought – and I think pausing for thought is an important thing to do. Writing and producing the television celebration of Miranda, which I recorded at the London Palladium (thank you in advance for watching!), has been a reflective time.
It’s therapeutic to remember wonderful times, grieve difficult times, laugh at unexpected times, pat yourself on the back for industrious times, see what times are of value to you, and what times you could do without happening again. (I’ve said ‘times’ too many times now.) All those feelings and memories swirling about inside; releasing them has been incredibly… well, releasing. (I know, I am so good with words.)
The thing is, lovely YOU readers – and a belated hearty hello to you – it feels like a threshold year. I spent 15 years before Miranda aired honing the character on the comedy circuit, trying to make a living as a jobbing actor; then I got the chance to make Miranda. Unexpectedly, it soared and my life changed considerably. Now I am celebrating all that went into making ‘her’ and wondering what the next chapter will be. I sound like a wise old theatrical sage – I wish I could tell you I was wearing a kaftan, a turban and smoking a thin cigar while dictating this from a chaise longue. But, nope, I am slouched in an armchair with a lunch stain on my breast shelf, scruffy as ever.
Musing on this past decade, I’ve gained a lot of insight from my alter ego. It turns out that in writing the sitcom I was writing the answers to my own problems. Here are ten things I have learnt about life, which all stem from on-screen Miranda.
1. Being playful isn’t silly, it’s vital
Miranda couldn’t understand why adults stopped ‘playing’, and was at her most miserable when trying to abide by society’s expectations of an adult. I have always felt this way, too. Leaving school seemed like I was entering a new kind of playground – one where you might be judged for any kind of silliness. Life was about striving to succeed or measuring up to standards. Down with that, I say!
Playing doesn’t have to be childish – it can be sitting down to listen to music you love, getting back to hobbies you stopped, finding time for friends and the things that really make you laugh. It can simply mean turning the mundane into fun: dancing while cooking, or a big singalong on the school run. Or it can mean drastic life changes, such as leaving the job that stifles you and following your soul’s dream. Miranda tried to do a ‘normal’ job but had to go back to her beloved joke shop. Whatever it is, don’t stop playing – your soul needs it.
2. It’s more important to be yourself than be popular
And, paradoxically, by being yourself you end up being more popular. Nobody wants a robotic, cardboard cutout version of what you think you should be. They want the expressive you, the fun you, the deep you – the authentic you. Think no one will like you if you show your true colours? That never happens. But if it did, you would still be a thousand per cent happier being yourself than trying to fit in.
Miranda would rather have played with her ‘fruit friend’ band on her own every night than go to a party and be something she wasn’t. When I realised that I was also an introvert and needed alone time to recharge – that I preferred small informal gatherings to posh dos – it was the most freeing moment in my life. I finally allowed myself to be the person who doesn’t like to dress up and instead needs nights by the fire to read (which makes me sound Edwardian but, don’t worry, there’s often pizza and a fluffy dressing gown, too).
3. Being yourself frees others around you
Following on from the above, if you allow yourself to be the person you want to be and don’t restrict yourself through fear of comparison, you will in turn free others to come out of their shell. In Miranda, her mother Penny and school nemesis Tilly are people Miranda feels she should be more like and they feel very strongly that their own values are right, but in the end they wanted to be free like Miranda. One of the greatest compliments I have received was quite recently when a friend said that on seeing me not wearing make-up all the time she felt inspired to go out without it, too. I literally fist-punched the air as if I had won a tennis match because the idea that I had helped someone feel freer felt so glorious.
4. Loving and talking about food is not greedy or unfeminine
Food is a great gift. Cherish every delicious mouthful, make silly snacks, have feast days, plan your next meal with glee, and freely ask for seconds if you want them – even if you are on a date. I will add that I eat a lot more healthily than on-screen Miranda. But I respect her deeply for picking up the top of a cake, grabbing all the icing from the middle, then putting the top back on and sneaking away. It was the one time I got the real giggles in front of the studio audience when we filmed it.
5. Celebrate your unique beauty
This was hard for on-screen Miranda – she was deeply insecure about her appearance. Just by looking unusual and not wearing the ‘right stuff’, she felt desperately out of place. Eventually, she realised she was beautiful because she was unique. As she said, ‘Women like me can be sexy, it just takes us a little longer to realise it.’
This was the biggest similarity between myself and on-screen Miranda. I took a long time to accept myself and, actually, when I had, becoming famous didn’t help at all – suddenly you are being judged and written about in a way that can be quite shocking and derailing. (Fame isn’t something that leads to affirmation or happiness, trust me.) I just don’t listen to that any more – and feel fully happy in my skin.
6. A relationship won’t work until you accept yourself
Miranda didn’t marry her love interest Gary until she realised she didn’t need him, she just didn’t want to live without him. This is the only way to do a healthy relationship. If you are looking to your partner for approval then I am afraid that is not their job. Of course, our partners are there to support us and love us, but they are not there to solve us, or be responsible for filling a gap of self-hate. Big home truth.
7. Galloping is more fun than the gym
Of course, if you love the gym, then keep on. But if you don’t, then generally keeping active by brisk walking, or breaking into a gallop like Miranda (it genuinely does feel joyous) is all a body needs – unless you’re an endurance athlete. As she says, ‘Running is only fun when done professionally or as a child.’
I have always loved sport and exercise but I joined a gym for about ten days before realising the whole place smelt of crotch and was full of personal trainers shouting at women to do more squats. I needed to be in nature. My latest thing is canoeing – for real! It’s so much fun.
8. Nurture your friendships so you have someone to be vulnerable with
Without her best friend Stevie, Miranda wouldn’t have survived. Instead of being embarrassed by her problems, she asked Stevie for help and was always met with love from her. I realised that Miranda allowed herself to be vulnerable in a way I probably never have. Vulnerability is a great strength. Without it you can get stuck, because you never acknowledge what you are really feeling. If you constantly suppress your needs you get stressed, tense and tired, and that can spiral into deep-seated anxiety. By ‘needs’ I mean a good cry, sharing a problem, asking for a hug. Needs are not weakness.
9. Be able to say ‘no’
This is a key need but warrants a point to itself. Initially, Miranda would go to events because she felt she should – that it would be rude not to. Then she realised that it was OK if she didn’t want to go to Henley Regatta with her posh friends, for example – so she wouldn’t.
If you listen to yourself, you start to notice how many times you say things such as, ‘I don’t want to go, but I should’. However, it does yourself and others around you a great disservice to be somewhere you don’t want to be. You are much more trustworthy by being able to say no; because when you say yes, people can trust that you are going to commit and you truly, joyfully want to be there.
You are never going to get Brownie points by going to things that exhaust you. No friend would push you to go to their dinner party if you were run-down. They would say, ‘Go to bed, my friend.’ So be a friend to yourself and say no. People want the best version of you – they don’t want the run-ragged, only-here-under-duress you. Be faithful to yourself.
10. Being a woman doesn’t stop you being loud, opinionated, big or silly
Being physically bigger you often try to hide in an attempt to make yourself more ‘feminine’. This was obviously something that on-screen Miranda and I shared, because, spookily enough, we look identical. I know – weird. But as I got comfortable about being tall I realised I diminished myself in other ways. I think most women feel they can’t take up their rightful space: to speak up, speak loudly, make a point without apologising, send an email without a ‘no probs if not’ at the end, or say what we need without over explaining why. We need to stop thinking that being angry or brash is unacceptable as a female; there are times when those things are appropriate and right. As one of my heroes Brené Brown [the American author and motivational speaker] says, ‘Don’t shrink, don’t puff up, stand your sacred ground.’ I think that’s exactly what Miranda did, and why I loved to play her.
Straight from the Hart
Most-used emoji? My memoji is spot on.
Last credit-card splurge? A surprise hotel stay for my mum’s 80th birthday.
Favourite tipple? Appletiser – retro!
Last person you texted? I am all about the voice note, and it was to my sister.
Last great book you read? The Truants by Kate Weinberg.
Love is… The freedom to be who you are.
Your house is on fire – what do you grab? My dog Peggy. I literally own nothing of value at all.
Who’d play you in a film of your life? George Clooney. Obviously. Or – me.
What are you having for dinner tonight? Gluten-free pizza with a bowl of veg.
Career plan B? Working with animals on a farm or ranch. I think that’s always been plan A in my soul, so watch this space.
Miranda’s most memorable moments
‘I don’t think I enjoyed this scene – where Miranda’s necklace gets trapped in a sushi conveyor belt – until I heard the studio audience laugh when we played it to them (some scenes have to be done on location). There was no choice but to actually clamber up. It was quite a tricky stunt.’
‘It was mortifying to film this – where Miranda’s dress is ripped off in a taxi door. There were at least 50 crew watching on the other side of the road – but I just sensed it was funny so I went for it. If one person laughs out loud to something I have written, I am happy.’
‘I watched the British Comedy Awards every year growing up, wondering if my dream of being in that room would happen. I remember feeling a bit awkward when I won three awards for Miranda in 2011; initially part of you doesn’t know how to negotiate the attention.’
‘Joining Call the Midwife in 2012 was one of the most special moments in my life. I only wrote my own work because when I started out the character parts for women just weren’t there. Then, aged nearly 40, Chummy landed in my lap. I loved it.’
‘The Glamour Women of the Year Awards were the best. To be in that room was enough, let alone be presented with the Best Writer Award [in 2013] by Ronnie Corbett, a hero from an era that inspired me to do what I do. The younger me was going insane.’
‘Appearing on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in 2013 was an out-of-body experience. I remember sitting next to actor Bryan Cranston and I hadn’t yet watched Breaking Bad. I was terrified they were going to ask me what I thought of it – luckily they didn’t.’
‘I interviewed Bruce Forsyth for When Miranda Met Bruce in 2013. It was an absolute joy and honour to share a stage with Brucie. To feel connected to that rich comedy history and be the last people to record a show at the hallowed BBC Television Centre was very moving.’
‘When Miranda married Gary in the final episode of Miranda [in 2015], it felt like a redemptive moment. I was proud of having written a romcom within the sitcom but also the story of a woman wholly accepting herself – I didn’t want her marrying without having achieved that.’
‘Playing Miss Hannigan in the West End production of Annie [in 2017] was wonderful but weird. When such a dream comes true it can be overwhelming and I think shyness overcame me. I could do the part better now and I would let rip (creatively, not wind-wise, but maybe both).’
Miranda: My Such Fun Celebration will be on BBC One this Christmas