Anne Robinson calls #metoo generation ‘wusses’ and reveals how colleagues used to look up her skirt but it just made her work harder as she attacks modern feminists in new show and meets the grid girls
- Anne Robinson’s latest project is a documentary on modern feminism
- She believes women affected by#MeToo need rat-like cunning in the workplace
- She recalls her own experience of blatant sexism working in the newsroom
- She claims to have overcome the behaviour by working her way up the ladder
- The former Weakest Link host says many women feel powerless to harassment
- Anne, 73, discussed her traditional views on womanhood with Jenny Johnston
Who cares about the weakest link when the entire chain seems to be on the ground, in bits?
Anne Robinson is despairing – were her clothes not quite so high-end, she might rend them – over the plight of women today. Not that Anne, one of the most powerful women in British broadcasting, and certainly once the best paid, just calls them ‘women’.
She uses another term: ‘wusses’. In particular she’s talking about the #MeToo generation, that band of sisters who came out of the shadows of the Harvey Weinstein scandal to make a stand about sexism and bullying and all manner of workplace persecution.
Anne isn’t feeling very sisterly towards the #MeToo brigade today. In fact, were they here in her £5 million Kensington pied-à-terre (her main mansion is in rural Gloucestershire), I think she’d give it to them with both barrels.
Anne Robinson, 73, shares her thoughts on traditional womanhood ahead of her new BBC documentary on feminism
‘I’m really disappointed,’ she admits. ‘I feel my generation crashed through enough of the glass ceiling and we handed on the baton. Well, what happened? I thought they would run with it.
‘I didn’t expect to now discover that there are lots of really clever, well- educated 45-year-olds crying in the loos at work over their bosses’ behaviour.
‘Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning that behaviour, but come on! That generation – I’m not talking interns here; I’m talking women in their 30s and 40s – had everything.
‘They had access to education. They had equal opportunity, not entirely equal, but increasingly equal.’
‘Maybe my lot handed them too much on the plate because suddenly there are all these wusses, clever girls getting upset about the treachery of the workplace.
‘Every office is treacherous. Male bosses shouldn’t be able to push you up against the wall, but it’s not a bad idea to think about how you’ll deal with it if it happens. You just need some rat-like cunning.’
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And gosh, don’t get her started on the Hollywood version of #MeToo. ‘So Uma Thurman was appallingly treated. But instead of saying something about it at the time, she went back to make another film with Harvey? Really?’
The rise of the #MeToo movement is at the heart of Anne’s latest documentary project.
When we meet, the programme, which looks at feminism, does not yet have a title, which I suspect is largely due to the fact that Anne, who tends to get her way, has a very specific title in mind, and there are probably a lot of terrified execs trying to work out how to tell her she can’t have it.
‘The working title is something very vague,’ she says, pulling a face. ‘I want to call it ‘What The **** Happened?’.’ (It later will be named The Trouble With Women With Anne Robinson)
Anne (pictured chatting to Grid Girls for her show) claims a number of young women had terrifying views of feminism during her project
‘So what did she find? Well, she mostly found that women were as wet as the weather. ‘I went on a march. That was an eye-opener. I kept stopping women and they’d tell me about sexual harassment.’
‘I’d say, ‘What are you doing about it?’, and they looked at me as if I was a Martian – ‘Ooh, we can’t do anything about it’. There is a lot of that attitude.’
‘I say, ‘Stop marching in the rain! Stop moaning! Go and have a facial. Have a pedicure. At least that wouldn’t be a waste of time.’
It got worse. Anne went out with younger women, aged between 24 and 32, and her heart sank.
‘I’d gone into the project asking, ‘Where are the warriors, the suffragettes, the Dagenham women?’, and when I met them, I came away thinking, ‘When God wants to punish you he gives you what you asked for.’
‘This lot were terrifying. None were in long-term relationships, it was all about one-night stands.
‘But then they complain if the man puts his arm somewhere they don’t want! I mean, there’s an upside to #MeToo, which is that no man again will think he is too powerful or too rich to get away with bad behaviour, but with the women, this was hardcore.
‘And it wasn’t attractive to me. This idea that you take a man down for saying you look nice. Why? When someone tells me I look nice, I usually perk up.’
Ironically, of course, if she chose to go down that route, Anne, like so many women of her generation, could out #MeToo them all.
Anne (pictured with her daughter Emma) believes there was a huge unfairness over how she lost custody of her daughter when she was two-years-old
As the only girl reporter in a male-dominated newsroom she suffered blatant sexism, but tells the story of how former colleagues used to routinely look up her skirt with acceptance, rather than anger.
‘I didn’t march about it,’ she says. ‘I chose to stay in the workplace, getting far enough up the ladder so I didn’t have to put up with it.’
When she was unceremoniously removed from the editing rota at the Daily Mirror after running a story revealing that Princess Diana had an eating disorder – Palace press secretary Michael Shea rang the Mirror editor and had her sacked – she was reportedly told to ‘do more television, blossom.
It’s what you’re good at’. But she didn’t scream ‘sexism!’, she hot-footed it to tellyland and went on to become the best-paid woman in British TV, worth an estimated £60 million.
‘Who has the three houses now?’ she crows, remembering the editor who called her blossom. ‘Who’s bought a house for every member of their family?’
After two hours in her company, I genuinely can’t decide whether all women should be more Anne Robinson or whether that would ultimately lead to the destruction of the species.
She is such a conundrum – spiky, uncompromising, tough, yet oddly maternal, albeit in a rather dysfunctional way (she’d be the sort of mother who put you on a diet and told you your hair was better blonde; she famously offered to treat her own daughter Emma to some Botox for her wedding day).
Anne questions why Actress Uma Thurman (pictured) continued to work with Harvey despite being treated appallingly
From the moment I arrive, I’m swept into her no-nonsense embrace, first with flattery (‘Wonderful scarf. Issey Miyake?’ Er no. Accessorize), then with firmness.
She asks if I’d like a drink. I do that wussy thing of saying, ‘Oh, are you having something?’ She holds her hand up, exasperated. ‘Tell me what you want and we’ll get there quicker.’
She isn’t unkind (quite the opposite, she has prepared an enormous platter of fruit and stands at her open fridge, asking if there’s anything else I’d like to eat. ‘Yoghurt? Cheese? Salmon?’), but she is startlingly in control.
During our interview she makes me tea (‘Do say I made you two cups’), throws her legs up on the sofa, and commands me to ignore her spaniel who’s snuggled between us. ‘If you encourage her, she’ll be the centre of attention when it should be me,’ she says.
She is funny, even when she is being furious. She does love a good fight. We get into a tussle over her facelifts when I suggest they are anti-feminist.
‘I thought liberation was about the right to choose, to have the freedom to be the good girl, if you want to let your hair go grey, to have Botox, whatever,’ she says.
But aren’t your facelifts about you being seen as thin and young and all those things you have to be to be on telly, even at the age of 73? There is a bigger picture here, and it’s not helpful to the women coming up behind you.
She leans forward. ‘Life is unfair. You know what? I can’t get a trial for Arsenal. How unfair is that? It’s horses for courses. Don’t work in television if you don’t like it.’
She does deliberately try to make you spill your tea. At one point we are talking motherhood and she takes issue with all these sudden ‘experts’ on bringing up a baby.
Gina Ford, author of the Contented Little Baby series, gets it in the neck. ‘Her message is all about discipline, isn’t it. So why is she so FAT?’
Anne (pictured on The Weakest Link) believes men are too full of their egos and says she was easily able to play them on The Weakest Link for 12 years
While she doesn’t hate other women (except perhaps fat ones), she seems permanently exasperated by all the ones who aren’t Anne Robinson.
What about her attitude to men? As with most things (money, ambition, self-belief), she says it comes back to her mother.
‘She was a successful breadwinner and she and my father had a very funny, skittish relationship. Every day was like a fast game of ping-pong. I learned a sort of verbal karate which has held me in good stead.
‘I’ve never thought you should start kicking men in the b***s. I think you should be clever enough to make them feel as foolish as they should feel. It’s a game! Treat it as a game, like bridge or poker.’
Men, she suggests, are too full of their ego to see when they are being played. ‘I did The Weakest Link for 12 years and they always put the ugliest man on podium one.’
Anne (pictured) revealed her solution to avoid battling men at home was to earn enough money to have staff help with chores
‘I’d always say, ‘Have you always been so devastatingly attractive?’ and they’d always say, ‘thank you’. Not once did they say, ‘Don’t be silly.’ Men are wired differently.
‘My mother used to think men were a bit comical and not overly bright. She used to do deals and shake her head. I come from a household where men were not that important.’
‘They can behave in a ridiculous fashion and their egos run away with them at times. I do think they walk around the office jangling the change in their pockets so whatever a woman says, they can’t hear it.’
‘And if you go to a meeting with seven people, the men will do all the talking. But you just have to challenge them on it. Say, ‘Why are you repeating yourself? You’ve said that.’ I think the trouble is that at home, no one is on c**p-control with these men.’
Is this a good point to ask about her two (failed) marriages, and her advice on a harmonious home life? She goes for the laughs.
‘I say women should leave all their management skills locked up in a drawer at work when they go home, and just be useless, because useless women have nice nails.’
And happier marriages? ‘Well, I’m not an expert on that but, seriously, women do have a problem when we ask the men to peel the potatoes and then get cross with them when they ask, ‘What knife?’, to the point where we say, ‘Oh here, I’ll do it myself.’
‘Personally, my solution was to earn enough money to have staff. It’s the freedom of the purse strings and, to be honest, that’s what it all comes back to. There is more freedom from earning money than there is from marching from Millbank to Trafalgar Square in the rain.’
Obviously her tangled domestic life is a Pandora’s box, but to her credit it’s one she opened herself when she penned a devastatingly honest autobiography entitled Memoirs Of An Unfit Mother, published in 2001.
Anne said she pulled the plug on a Hollywood film about her life after her daughter objected
In it, she detailed her anguish at losing custody of the two-year-old Emma to her ex-husband, The Times editor Charles Wilson, after his lawyers successfully argued that her alcoholism made her an unfit mother.
She can quote you word for word the exchange where the judge asked if it was true she had said she would rather take on a journalistic assignment in Vietnam during the war than hoover the living room.
‘There was a huge unfairness about it, but at the same time there was nothing I could do. It was so painful to only have her at weekends, but by the time she was seven I wasn’t a drunk any more and by the time she was 12 or 13, we had managed to cope with it.’
The book was destined for the Hollywood treatment, she reveals.
‘Paul Greengrass [director of the Bourne trilogy and Captain Phillips] was going to do it. They had Hugh Bonneville in mind to play Penrose [her second husband, the ever-affable John Penrose, whom she divorced in 2008] and Andrew Lincoln for Charlie.’
Anne herself? ‘Renee Zellweger,’ she says. Obviously her ego would have loved that but she says she pulled the plug after Emma objected.
‘She thought it was a step too far, for her, for Charlie. I knew that to insist on it would be selfish.’
Anne is single now, although on friendly terms with both former husbands, who come round for tea.
‘We’ve emerged from the wreckage quite well, considering.’ She says she won’t marry again (‘too expensive’) but that every woman ‘needs a playmate’.
Anne has traditional views of parenting and doesn’t believe a ‘househusband’ can work
A playmate for what? Sex? ‘What would you like me to say,’ she says, leaping up. ‘Yes, I’m having great sex. Put that in.’
She clearly adores Emma, who lives just around the corner (‘and is forever here, clearing out my fridge’), and is a doting grandparent to Emma’s two sons.
Emma is a very different mother than she was, she concedes, incredibly hands-on. ‘I think she is less concerned about her career than I was,’ she muses.
Anne still has very traditional views about the fact that a mother should be the ‘first’ parent. In the programme she visits a house where there is a ‘househusband’, which she never thinks works.
‘They were a delightful family but when the child cried, it ran to him. I thought it was an example of conflict. I would have felt a twinge that the baby went to him, not me.’
She is obsessed with mothers and their impact on us. She asks about mine. I come to feel that hers is in the room with us.
She plays a good game with her girlfriends where you have to finish this sentence with the first thing that pops into your head: ‘My mother…’
So how would Emma finish that statement? ‘She’d say, ‘My mother is nuts. She has always believed in me and encouraged me, but she is mad.’
Of course, Emma is a wholly different person to her. ‘She’s quite parsimonious, you know,’ she says, quite baffled that she could produce a daughter who does not like to splash the cash.
‘She can take two weeks to choose a cabbage because she’s afraid of getting the wrong one,’ she says, rolling her eyes.
What a wuss! But if even Anne Robinson’s daughter can’t be more Anne Robinson, what hope is there for the rest of us?
The Trouble With Women With Anne Robinson airs on Thursday at 9pm on BBC1.
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