by FRANK GRICE
WHILE most Brits heading for France are doing so as a gradual slowing towards simpler days in seductive surroundings, for comedian, presenter and broadcaster Jenny Eclair, her flirtations came about as something of a busman’s holiday. And a peculiar one at that...
By her own admission, the 51-year old star of Grumpy Old Women and I’m A Celebrity... was perhaps a strange choice of narrator for Channel 4’s A Place In France series; the producers, we hope, not influenced by her surname, given that it was acquired one night quite a long time ago in a Blackpool nightclub.
Of course, Ms Hargreaves, as she should probably be known, was not complaining when she landed the role on the popular reality show, as it presented her with the chance to share the experience of numerous holidays in Burgundy with a watching television audience of millions.
“The whole thing came about because of a phone call out of the blue, to be honest,” she begins. “When my agent asked if I’d be interested in narrating, I must admit I was slightly nervous about the whole thing. I don’t actually speak any French – at school it was more danke schön and ja than merci beaucoup and oui; and I could just picture French speakers at home wincing over my less than proficient pronunciation of place names and attractions.
“But I got the gig and it was a great thing to do – really enjoyable. It also offered me some good ideas for holiday destinations other than Burgundy. I think you can return to the same place a few too many times given the chance!”
A Place In France was one in a long line of lifestyle reality shows that looked to tempt frustrated Brits into escaping the dreary and grey overcast offerings of Blighty. Their success shows little sign of slowing, with more and more people looking to set up camp abroad.
“It has been a real phenomenon over the past couple of decades,” Jenny continues. “Before then, people really did stay in the same country all their lives. I don’t think Europe seems so far away these days because it’s so easy to get to, and travel, like property, remains relatively cheap.
“But mostly it’s about the culture. Being a comedian, I’m always interested in the culture of laughter, and I think some Brits have the feeling that their own humour is unique and noone else really “gets” them. In reality, it’s as likely to be the other way round... most Brits don’t get French humour, mostly because they don’t know the language.
“Comedians like Eddie Izzard and Marcus Brigstocke are very good and very brave in trying to transcend that – namely by doing gigs in French.
“Eddie’s well-known in France anyway, but Marcus did a stand-up gig in Méribel without being that well recognised, and by his own admission, his French is quite ‘schoolboy’. But the show he put on went really well and was good fun.
“Maybe I should leap into a bit of German comedy, it could be the making of me!”
Back to France though, and Jenny admits to wanting to go off the beaten track when the opportunity arises.
“Marcus is addicted to France, always off with his family in their camper van. I guess I’d like to be that ambitious. We’ve always gone to the south of France on holidays, and it’s an easy choice because of the sheer beauty of the place – the fields, the sunflowers, the beautiful balmy evenings and the wine. I mean... what’s not to like?
“As time has gone on I’ve become more curious about places though. I was genuinely excited about gigs in Telford and Aberdeen – a feeling I would never have experienced 20 years ago! But I think as you get older you want to make sure you haven’t missed anything along the way.”
“I’d like to extend that logic to skiing, but having dabbled fleetingly on the slopes a while back, I’m of the opinion there are some experiences you shouldn’t re-run. You talk about the French sense of humour – well anyone who goes skiing is obviously good for a laugh, and undoubtedly has sadistic qualities thrown in for good measure.
“My dislike of skiing probably has more to do with the fact I just can’t do it. I can ice skate, but skiing is something else. I find the boots uncomfortable, and the whole thing of lumbering your equipment around... I just don’t get it. And the food is dreadful, and the place where you stay is full of orange-varnished pine. But apart from that...”
So the Alps and the Pyrenees aside, could Jenny ever see herself having the courage of her narrative convictions by joining the band of expats she encouraged to venture towards mainland Europe?
“I love France, I really do, but for me, Britain would be hard to leave,” she admits. “I think I probably had the best of both worlds when doing A Place In France. I obviously had a good look into what living in France would be like, but I love London, and with my loose grasp of the French tongue, my career may very quickly fizzle out if I took the leap!
“But I’m more than happy to carry on encouraging others! What’s most important though is that people only ever take ideas out of programmes. “At the end of the day we’re talking about people’s lives, and I’ve never been one to tell folk how to live.
“I’m even fearful about recommending books these days! I think if you’re a reader, you’re a reader, and you should find what you would like to read. Just like if you’re a tourist, or a homeowner - it’s all terribly personal, isn’t it?”