Dame Jenni Murray on fat shaming, cancer and a call to the Samaritans

February 5, 2021. Series 3. Episode 19

The renowned broadcaster and writer Dame Jenni Murray is my guest for Episode 19.  For 33 years the brilliant and calm voice of Woman’s Hour, Jenni talks powerfully about the myriad private crises she has faced.  Her difficult relationship with her mother led to a lifelong battle with obesity, low self-esteem and, at her most desperate, a call to the Samaritans.  In 2006 – the same week that she lost her mother, Jenni was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer resulting in a mastectomy. Jenni, who underwent drastic surgery in 2015 to lose weight, speaks candidly about these and other challenges in her life. And how she got through them and her brilliant book Fat Cow, Fat Chance. Jenni is patron of British research charity Breast Cancer Campaign and the Family Planning Association, Vice president of Parkinson’s UK and a supporter of Humanists UK.

Jenni’s Crisis Cures:

1. Dogs – I could never be without a dog. I love seeing them run around the park enjoying themselves. Then we cuddle up in front of the TV in the evening watching ‘Call My Agent’.  I adore them.

2. Reading crime novels – I love reading. Val McDermid & Sarah Paretsky are my two favourites. Sarah didn’t write for a while but now she’s back and Val always has something that keeps you up till 3am because you can’t put it down.

3. New Forest Ice-cream. We often go to Lymington and there’s an ice-cream shop where you can get a fancy cone with two scoops – I always have one vanilla and the other ginger, and that can cheer me up anytime!


Breast Cancer Now : https://secure.breastcancernow.org/#/

Jenni’s book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fat-Cow-Chance-Jenni-Murray/dp/0857525840

Show Notes:

To the millions who tuned into Jenni Murray on Woman’s Hour – she was the consummate professional, completely composed broadcaster. That she was so down at one point that the only way forward for her was to phone the Samaritans was an astonishing and poignant revelation and speaks, I hope, to one of the most resonant lessons from these conversations. That crisis really doesn’t care who you are.  Jenni’s frank assessment of her near life-long struggle with obesity alongside the cruel and counter-productive fat-shaming she received – both from strangers and most shockingly from her own mother, was also compelling.  Her ability to recognise its impact on her life and yet find forgiveness, demonstrates her extraordinary resilience.  Finally, Jenni’s coping mechanism throughout her crises struck a chord with me.  That through it all, keeping busy, taking charge of the practical issues ahead, was her key device to avoid the darkness.  Another example of that simple idea – focus on the things you can affect – however small and it will ease the anxiety caused by those things that you can’t change.

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