CORNWALL LOVES... FERN BRITTON
PUBLISHED: 12:33 07 July 2015 | UPDATED: 13:03 30 August 2017
Fern Britton took to the sea last year when researching her new Cornwall-set novel A Good Catch, although she admits that she is no fishing expert
Life is whizzing by for one of Britain’s most recognised television personalities. As Fern Britton heads up a charity bike ride to traverse the length of Britain EMMA PARFITT dips into her latest Cornwall-set novel and finds out why she likes to call the county home
It is literally a picture of charming Cornish domesticity that we dive straight into as I chat to Fern Britton. It is less interview and more like stopping for a neighbourly chat to the engaging and warm personality of television presenter. As the doorbell rings, the kettle is put immediately on standby.
Fern, now 57, is keen to make the most of this year’s challenges and is in sparkling form. After some tough times she is embarking on a new cycle of reinvention as author and charity fundraiser and, like that well-meaning neighbour who has stopped by for coffee, we are applauding her all the way.
Fern has always had a soft spot for the South West. In 1979 she started her career with Westward Television in Plymouth and switched to present BBC’s flagship South West news programme Spotlight.
For 30 years Fern wrote television scripts, short-links and voiceovers for Western Television, so she knows how to weigh her words carefully in an effective active writing’ style.
Fern explains that this: is all about not using the word “be.” For example: “Fern Britton will be talking about her new book later in the show” is inactive; but “Later Fern Britton is talking to us about her new book” is active and brighter!’
Of course, she says, I am bound to have broken this rule many times in my books, so just feel superior knowing that you have spotted them!’
After her stint on the This Morning sofa, rather than pottering in the garden,’ Fern found herself writing her autobiography Fern: My Story in 2008. And it was publisher HarperCollins who tasked her to write a novel. The resulting New Beginnings found her on familiar territory, telling the tale of Christie Lynch, a journalist in the difficult job of making the work/life balance really work. Her next books The Holiday Home portrays two sisters, one home, and a cache of a secret to uncover andA Seaside Affair directs us to Trevay’s Cornish theatre threatened by a takeover bid from a coffee chain - Café au Lait. In her latest book A Good Catch Fern tells of the homely tangle of life in a Cornish fishing community, which may well murky the waters when love and family ties come into conflict. Cornwall is the constant character throughout,’ she says of her books. Steadying the plot, peaceful, calming and beautiful.’
Cornwall is her second home and she fondly recalls many happy childhood memories here. Cornish honeyed tourist hotspots such as Padstow, Bodmin Moor, Newquay Zoo and Gweek’s seal sanctuary are Fern’s Cornish favourites too. But dig deeper and she recalls: I remember taking the magical speed-boat trip from Looe to Polperro as a child with “Vicky Speedboat” and spending family holidays with the children at a static caravan at Mother Ivy’s Cottage on the North Cornish coast.
There was so much freedom, few rules and you could just run on the beach. At Halton Quay, near Saltash I would sit on a summer’s eve and listen to the salmon leap.’
Fern took to the sea last year when researching A Good Catch, although she admits that she is no fishing expert. In her book she gives a hint of what she has been up to, by giving a big thanks to friend David Flide, of the Divisional Launch Authority of the Padstow lifeboat, who arranged an unforgettable trip for me including a launch down a boat slip.’
Fern explains: It was during Wednesday night RNLI training and I was standing at the back of the boat. It was great fun! But when I got down in the main cabin, I realised that they might not be able to see clearly if it was really rough. They admitted too, of being really scared in really rough seas. That was incredible, as you see the lifeboat service in a new perspective. You tend to think of them as super-heroes who are never scared.’
She also checked out the Newlyn fishermen’s blogs to get that all-important marine know-how. Fern loves the bounty of fresh seafood available off the Cornish coast including firm-fleshed turbot, lobster, prawns and, of course, a good fish and chips - although supper tonight does not have such a fishy theme. It is to be inspired by a harvest of purple-sprouting broccoli with olive oil, chilli and pasta, served up by her daughter in a celebratory mood, having just passing her driving-test, she tells me.
We also hope it meets the approval of her husband, the well-respected chef Phil Vickery who she ushers into the conversation, confiding it was Phil who wooed me with his gooseberry crumble. His mantra is two-thirds crumble to one of filling.’ (Other Vickery recipes are available in his Puddings book).
So how does she credit the secret of her own success? I don’t mind making a fool of myself, or failing,’ she says introspectively. People are frightened of failure. They would like to join us on this cycle ride, but are too scared of the road. I would not cycle in London, but I am doing this ride. If you are too frightened you might not do anything.’
Which brings us nicely on to her latest fundraising event. #Challenge 57 is a 1,000-mile cycle ride from John O’Groats to Land’s End in aid of the Genesis Research Trust which is working to end miscarriage. Fern has enjoyed other challenges - such as contestant in Strictly Come Dancing in 2012 finishing in a respectable tenth place. Russian partner Artem Chigvintsev, was, kind, patient and in her own choreographed words very exacting’. Her other challenge of the home-grown variety was The Great Big Allotment Challenge. Gardening has been a therapy for Fern in past bouts of depression. Did she learn anything new? The green-fingered Fern says: I learnt how to grow straight sweet peas by the Cordon method - the straighter the plant the better the blooms!’
The blossoming Britton household is planning to downsize as the couple’s four children are likely to leave home within the next few years. Fern and Phil are looking forward to a simpler life in Cornwall, of course’ with the diversion of trips to Lake Como, or Venice which I love, to charge us up again,’ says Fern.
It appears that Cornwall could hold the key for Fern to enjoy just being herself. For Fern we know what a good catch Cornwall is bound to be. n
A Good Catch (HarperCollins, £12.99) is out now. See more at fern-britton.com
This article first appeared in Cornwall Life June 2015