The Inventory: Joan Bakewell

Joan Bakewell, 77, has been one of Britain’s best-known and most popular broadcasters and journalists since the 1960s. Appointed CBE in 1999 and DBE in 2008, she was made a Labour life peer in November last year

What was your earliest ambition?

I wanted to live a wild life. I wanted to be Cathy in Wuthering Heights; I wanted to suffer for love. That quickly segued into wanting to be an actress but it soon became clear that I wasn’t good enough.

Public school or state school? University or straight into work?

Stockport High School for Girls. After the 1944 Education Act came in, I got my education free at the grammar school. My home was sometimes unhappy because my mother was depressive so I longed to be at school. Then I got a county scholarship to Newnham College. I was let loose on Cambridge and all these male undergraduates. It opened up a different world.

Who was your mentor?

My father, a self-made businessman who’d been orphaned very young, went to a school for poor boys and was fired with ambition.

How physically fit are you?

Absolutely A1. I’m fit, I walk, I go to Pilates.

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?

Ambition, but not in an “I want to be cock of the walk” way, simply the will to do better. In my career I’ve taken quite a lot of knocks. I could have limped off to lick my wounds. It’s all about strength of will. My talent’s middling. I pay attention, but I don’t have a great brain.

Have you ever taken an IQ test?

No, I suspect I’ve avoided it as I might not do as well as I’d like.

How politically committed are you?

I’m taking the Labour whip in the House of Lords, which is my biggest political commitment so far. I’ve always had a vision of social justice and equality of opportunity, those seem to me to matter globally. The Labour party is simply a mechanism for that.

Do you consider your carbon footprint?

I’m frugal by temperament and I happen to like trains and hate planes.

Do you have more than one home?

No. We had two homes when I was married but that went with the divorce.

What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?

I’m averse to very valuable possessions; my watch cost 50 quid and I’ve had it eight years. So something unlikely like a flashy modern car.

What’s your biggest extravagance?

I eat out more than I should.

In what place are you happiest?

Home. I’m a nest builder and I’ve been in the same house for 45 years.

What ambitions do you still have?

To get the most out of each day and have plenty of them.

What drives you on?

My friends say that I’m addicted to work and I like to have an objective.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?

I’m constantly surprised by how nice my children and my grandchildren are.

What has been your greatest disappointment?

I have not had a lifelong, deeply gratifying one-to-one marriage.

If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would she think?

“Gosh, she’s got a bit grand.”

If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?

I’d address the situation with enormous energy and zeal. I wouldn’t be fazed.

Do you believe in assisted suicide?

I have made a living will and I carry a do-not-resuscitate card but I wouldn’t say I believe in it for anyone because that’s too dogmatic – though in specific cases I might say yes.

If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?

8 or 9. My life is how I want it at the moment.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web.