Young at heart: Janet Street-Porter is not about to grow old gracefully. she vents to Gaby Fagan and Kate Whiting about what annoys her most
Newspaper editor, TV personality, smallholder - as she approaches her 68th birthday next month, Janet Street-Porter can say she’s ticked a fair few things off her wish list for life. But there’s one achievement that has so far eluded her.
“What I really want to do is grow purple sprouting broccoli properly so it doesn’t go all stringy. And grow a cauliflower that’s decent and why are runner beans always too big by the time you pick them? I have lots of challenge in the garden,” she concedes, with a wry smile.
Runner beans might be annoying, but they’re nothing compared to what’s on Street-Porter’s list of biggest bugbears. She’s made her reputation as a professional antagonist, so it’s hardly surprising that, when prompted, the flame-haired chatterbox can rant for England.
Of men for example (and she should know, she’s had four husbands), she says: “They don’t change after 40, it’s hopeless. We always think men will do what we want, and we can mould them in some way, and that’s a total myth. You can’t mould any bloke whatsoever, you can trim around the edges, you can airbrush a bit out, but it will come back, habits come back. If you really start moulding them, then you lose interest because they can look a bit weak.”
Her partner of 13 years has a penchant for Radio 4 Extra and has “clogged up” her Sky+ with repeats of Dad’s Army and Robson Green’s Extreme Fishing: “This man is getting orgasmically excited over a fish. I mean, I like fishing but I can’t cope with that programme.”
Also in her sights are people talking in quiet carriages in trains, people who smoke outside her front door and people who shout on their mobile phones on the street: “I had someone outside the house shouting into a phone for 20 minutes and I rushed out on to my balcony and shouted at him. He said, ‘Hang on, I’ve got to deal with a mad woman’ and I just told him not to speak so loudly.”
But what’s making her blood boil most at the moment is nuisance phone calls to her landline - so much so that she’s supporting BT’s new phone, which promises to block 100 per cent of nuisance calls.
“I have had loads of people ring me up and hang up, because they do bets to hear my voice. It’s pathetic. They record it. People in the public eye do sort of accept there’s going to be a certain amount of harassment,” she says.
She knows she’s not alone though: “Apparently, the average person gets six a week and half the country don’t answer the phone - how ridiculous is it that we have to do that? Then there are all the jokers, calling up without speaking - I get people calling me up in the middle of the night, then hanging up, it’s mad, so you have to be able to block calls.”
At their worst, nuisance calls have even made her fear for her safety.
“When the phone rings, just as you enter the house, you can think, ‘Is there someone watching me?’ and then there’s no-one speaking on the line. It’s not nice, but for older people, it is quite terrifying and they rely on their landline. I shout at the phone when I get these nuisance calls, so your blood pressure goes up without reason.”
Considering her success, that can’t be that often though.
Street-Porter left home at 19, married fellow architecture student Tim Street-Porter at 20, and embarked on a career in journalism with a job on a new women’s magazine called Petticoat, before joining the Daily Mail in 1969 as deputy fashion editor. She broke into TV as a reporter for LWT in the mid-Seventies - and all the while, she was having the time of her life, drugs and affairs included, as she revealed in her 2006 memoir Fall Out.
“I don’t have any regrets about anything in my life, what’s done is done... and I don’t think there’s any point in growing up,” she says now. “Being an adult is over-rated. Being sensible? I’ve never been interested in that!”
So when the producers of I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! came calling in 2004, she didn’t think twice, finally leaving the jungle in fourth place, but her hatred of all things conventional also helped boost sales of the Independent on Sunday, when she became its editor in 1999. She’s still their editor-at-large and has weekly columns in the Mail, Independent and on Yahoo, which allow her to vent her spleen, as well as her regular appearances on Loose Women and panel shows like Have I Got News For You. All that, and she’s pushing 70.
“If you have the right attitude you don’t find ageism,” she says. “I’ve always been a can-do person, and it never occurs to me that I may not be able to do something. Along the way I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I just carry on. Some things have worked and some haven’t, but on balance, I don’t think luck is involved, it’s hard work and determination.
“And there’s no let-up on what I do as I’ve got older - and I’m certainly not conventionally attractive,” she says, getting into her stride. “I might be attractive to some people, and I don’t think I’m ugly, but I look the way I look, so you have to be well balanced.
“I don’t know how I ended up well balanced because I certainly didn’t have a good relationship with my mother or my father, but what they did teach me, probably inadvertently, was go out and get it yourself. Don’t wait for people to help you, you have to go for it.”
Janet Street-Porter is working with BT to launch the BT8500, the UK’s first home phone to block up to 100 per cent of nuisance calls. For further information please visit www.bt.com/shop.