Experimental feature

Listen to this article

Experimental feature

Francesca Martinez, 36, is an award-winning comedian and a disability rights campaigner. She has cerebral palsy but prefers to describe herself as “wobbly”. She worked to secure a parliamentary debate on welfare reforms set down by the Resistance to the War on Welfare (Wow) group, of which she is the public face.

What was your earliest ambition?

I wanted to perform for as long as I can remember. My main ambition was to spend my time doing something I loved. Security, money and status never crossed my mind.

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

State school. I hated high school and couldn’t wait to leave! When I got a part in Grange Hill aged 14 I was thrilled, because I got to act and miss lots of school. I left school at 16 and never went back . . . I learnt far more out of school than in it.

Who is your mentor?

My dad, Alex, wrote me a film script when I was about 17 and he made my character a stand-up comic. The script was bought by a film company and, in 1999, I went to research the part by joining a comedy workshop. Eighteen months later, I won an award. So, I owe my dad, big time.

How physically fit are you?

Not for hanging clothes on: an exercise bike

I like swimming and have an exercise bike, which I try very hard not to hang my clothes on . . . 

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?

Both. One on its own won’t get you very far.

Have you ever taken an IQ test?

Yes. They seem to be so narrow in the kind of intelligence they measure … I wouldn’t put any faith in them.

How politically committed are you?

I try to do as much as time allows. People who don’t think they’re “political” are often some of the most political, because their disinterest allows the status quo to be upheld.

Do you consider your carbon footprint?

Yes. I’m hugely worried about climate change.

Do you have more than one home?


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


What’s your biggest extravagance?

I sleep at least 10 hours a night.

In what place are you happiest?

Looking at the sea, or being in the middle of rolling hills and birdsong.

What ambitions do you still have?

I’d like to live until 100. I’d love to have my own comedy series and write more books. I also want to set up a campaign for a global carbon cap.

What drives you on?

I feel incredibly lucky that I get to be creative for a living.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?

Probably accepting myself as I am. This world doesn’t make it easy, with all the constant pressures to conform and be “normal”. But when I realised that nobody was normal, it was a huge liberation, one that transformed my life. I’m also proud to be part of the Wow Petition, which is fighting the disability cuts.

What has been your greatest disappointment?

Wasting much of my teenage years not liking myself.

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

She’d be amazed that I don’t worry about trivial stuff any more and at how happy I am being wobbly.

If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?

I don’t worry about losing things, only people.

Do you believe in assisted suicide?

I think choosing to die is a human right.

Do you believe in an afterlife?

Not sure, but I’d love there to be one.

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

10. Every day is a gift and tomorrow is never guaranteed, so I feel very lucky to be alive.


“What the **** is Normal?!” by Francesca Martinez, is published by Virgin Books, £12.99; www.francescamartinez.com

Photographs: Megan Taylor; Dreamstime

Get alerts on FT Magazine when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

Follow the topics in this article