At a low time in her life, comedian Miranda Hart took on a puppy called Peggy… and the lessons the little dog taught her led to a hilarious new book. The talented star tells Nicola Russell why having a puppy is such fun!
who needs a therapist when you have a puppy named Peggy?
She’s made us snort-laugh in her sitcom Miranda, thoroughly charmed us as Chummy in Call the Midwife and chronicled, with hilarity, the awkward and embarrassing moments of her life in her book Is it Just Me? Now the award-winning actress and comedian has a new offering – a freshly released book about life with her trusty canine companion, Peggy. Like her other biographical endeavours, Peggy & Me is a rip-roaring ride through the giggles and gaffes of the English-born Miranda Hart’s life, but beyond the humour is the story of a sensitive and thoughtful woman who adopted her pup during a harrowing time in her life, and via Peggy learnt some important lessons about love, friendship and self-acceptance.
It is also a book that was written twice, after the completed first draft was lost in late 2013. “Oh, it was awful,” Miranda tells The Australian
Women’s Weekly. “I was about to email my publisher a copy of the book and then decided I would give it one more read over – you know, being the good hardworking girl that I am! That decision was made on a Saturday afternoon when I left the house to go to my nephew’s sixth birthday party.
“I returned later that evening slightly weary on a significant sugar down – I’d won six packets of sweets from Pass the Parcel (which is easily done if your opponents are children and you simply refuse to pass them the parcel) – and as I approached the house I noticed the sitting room window onto the road was open.
“I opened the front door and it was chaos. I had been burgled. Such a shock. To cut a long story short, they had taken my laptop and, being the techno-idiot I am, I hadn’t backed up the book. I know, I know! I thought backing up was a polite way of talking about constipation. So I lost the entire thing. I don’t exaggerate when I cried all night. I was so upset.”
The book had been a year’s work in the making, carefully crafted around a knee operation, the writing of a stand-up comedy show, the filming of Call the Midwife and TV movie Gangsta Granny and making Maracattack, a comedy fitness DVD.
Many would have grieved their significant loss and moved on, but Miranda was determined her hard work would see the light of day. There was no time in 2014 to rewrite, with the Miranda finale and a stand-up tour and a film on the go, and the following year was dedicated to reclaiming some of her lost time with family and friends – but in 2016 she got down to the business of writing the book again.
“I didn’t want those burglars to have won, plus I really wanted to share with you all my lovely times with the wonderful Peggy. So you better like the book now!” she warns readers.
Peggy came into Miranda’s life in 2007 when the actress was working on English sitcom Not Going Out. “She belonged to the costume lady. Peggy (then named Eunice) and her siblings were these gorgeous balls of fluff, and I used to hang out with them and play with them in the costume department all the time. Peggy seemed to always come running to me first when I came in, so we became, well, friends.”
Falling head over heels for animals was not new for Miranda, who has coined her adoration of animals the “animal goof gene” but she believed she was safe with puppy Peggy (née Eunice), who had been already adopted out.
Newly out of a long-term relationship with the “Hart heart” in tatters and on the tail end of a bout of glandular fever, Miranda also had no intention of taking on the responsibility of caring for another being – but when Peggy’s home-to-be fell through, Miranda found herself saying yes to taking Peggy, with no idea what she was in for.
“It was a difficult time. I had just started getting some regular acting work in sitcoms and writing my own radio shows when I got a serious bout of viral fatigue that wouldn’t go away. I was working through it and only later discovered it was glandular fever, so I wasn’t very well at all. Plus I was going through the end of a long-term relationship. Suffice to say I was pretty down and very exhausted. It wasn’t the most sensible time to get a puppy!”
The entrance of a needy creature into a life hanging precariously on the edge of functionality brought some unwelcome surprises. “The biggest shock was the night-time whining,” Miranda continues. “Oh my goodness! It was no different to having a baby. Except for the breastfeeding – just to make that very very clear. I was sleep deprived for a week or two because Peggy had terrible separation anxiety. I then became the worst dog owner in the world and let her sleep at the end of my bed. Or you could say I became the best dog owner – to Peggy.”
But once she had got through the “poonamis” (you’ll have to read the book) and the high-pitched calls to action, Peggy started to help Miranda negotiate her way out of her sadness by forcing her out of the house and into the world at times when she would rather have pulled the bedcovers over her head. Dogs need walking, and this meant trips to the park.
“When I first got her I was exhausted and not very well and my instinct was to draw the curtains and watch box-sets to recover, but I had to take her out. And being forced to chat and be outside was what started to lift my spirits. I also loved to watch her gambolling and rushing about with her new doggy friends. That made me laugh. I decided that it would be much better if instead of small talk at a party, we humans could just run and
The biggest shock was the nighttime whining. It was no different to having a baby.
bounce up to each other, have a sniff and decide whether we want to hang out or just move on and sit on our own by a chair. And dating-wise, dogs have got it sorted. Sniff each other’s bottoms, and decide whether to hook up. No dates and push-up bras and awkward conversation for them!”
The park also gave birth to Miranda’s favourite section in the book, which describes in detail the types of dog owners she met on her daily outings – including: Posh People Who Ask Lots Of Questions; The Husband Who’s been Made to Take His Wife’s Dog For A Walk; and Jogging Alpha Male That His Spaniel Can Hardly Keep Up With – among many others. But as well as her London park anthropology, Miranda found that going out with Peggy provided some welcome teachings.
“Peggy has taught me quite a few lessons – spiritual lessons for want of a better word. I think the most important one was being in the moment. I was always a real worrier. Planning ahead, predicting what might go wrong, fearing the worst, always stressed about what needed to be done. And I started to notice Peggy’s joy on walks, being present in the moment, enjoying what was in front of her.
“She doesn’t have the capacity to look ahead and worry. She would just say, ‘But look, there are beautiful bluebells, come and sniff them and look at them with me and do your emails later.’ It was a great lesson. I find I now have a better memory too, as I am much more present. She basically taught me Mindfulness.
Who needs a therapist?! She has also taught me the importance of friendship. I can easily isolate myself when tired or stressed but of course having friends around, being connected with others, is calming and reduces stress. Good old Peggy.”
Did she worry that people may label her a crazy dog lady for writing an entire book about her dog?
“Well, if they do, they probably don’t have the animal goof gene, that’s all I can say!” she responds, unfazed about the potential judgement. “I understand. There is a part of me – the shy, embarrassed side – that has to stop itself apologising for it being a bit bonkers. But actually, pet owners will get it. Dogs in particular really do become part of the family, loved as equally as any other member of it. And in my case, she is my family. It’s me and Peggy and we have had some right old larks together, which it turns out make for good reading. I hope readers agree!”
Besides, she says, she simply can’t help it – she was made that way. “Some of us are born with a peculiar love and interest in animals,” she explains. “I am sure there are a few of you reading who are obsessed with your pets like I am with Peggy – I sing her songs for heaven’s sake (no, really, and I have been known to lie next to her basket and hold her paw when feeling down) – but also obsessed with animals full stop. Be it hilarious YouTube videos; or being unable to walk past an unknown cat on a street without taking a photo or stroking it; or watching animal-based films ( Homeward Bound anyone?); or even just galloping like a horse like you know I love to do. Basically I wanted to be Joy Adamson from Born Free and run a lion sanctuary and rehome animals. Still do.”
Nope, she’ll make no apology for her brazen love for her pet – in fact, she makes a strong argument for dog relationships being better than human ones.
“I dedicate a chapter of the book to this. It’s a very important debate and don’t worry, readers, I give it all my thinking powers and cover all ground here! It was another favourite bit of the book to write. As I wrote it I didn’t know whether dogs or humans would win.
“But suffice to say this: is it annoying when your partner follows you around the kitchen breathing heavily when at a loose end? Yes, yes it is. Is it sweet if your dog does that? Yes, beyond cute. Does your dog ever misconstrue your stroking their
Peggy has taught me quite a few lessons – spiritual lessons for want of a better word.
tummy as an offer of (mouth it please, I am British) sex? No, it doesn’t. A partner might, and you are just not in the mood. Can you put a partner out in the garden when it stinks? No, they would take offence. Oh I have loads on this. Such fun.”
As are her “cray cray” love displays for Peggy, which she admits to in the book. Can she describe some?
“Well, this will make me seem bonkers, if writing a book about my dog didn’t. Umm… oh, I have gone a bit shy now! First off – I often call Peggy ‘my little girl’. Worrying or sweet? Don’t answer that. My command to get her to come to heel in the park is ‘What’s this?’ (as in what treat is she about to get?), which she only understands if spoken quickly and at a high pitch so it sounds like I am screaming ‘horses’ as I pound around the park. And sometimes, when she is sleeping in another room, I like to suddenly shout ‘what’s this?’ because I love watching her bounding towards me with expectant joy at what I might be offering her. These probably aren’t even the worst ones, but don’t worry, I dish all in the book.”
As does Peggy. There are sections written in Peggy’s voice, and she reveals some fabulous intel on her owner’s habits – such as her feelings about a short romance Miranda undertakes and… Miranda’s propensity for eating dog biscuits.
“Let me quickly explain…!” Miranda interjects. “Peggy was once given some healthy dog biscuits by a kind fan. She said they were totally natural – just oats and honey. And I thought, well hang on, they sound more like Miranda biscuits than Peggy biscuits to me. I tried them and they were delicious. Like a porridge biscuit, and great for dipping in tea. The trouble was they were bone shaped so I looked properly mad eating them.”
The comedian won’t talk about what her current relationship status is (we may have to ask Peggy), but she will discuss some potential upcoming projects. Miranda writes in the book’s introduction that she has found the kind of writing she loves in Peggy & Me. That being so, could fans possibly expect more books to come?
“I am always nervous in saying publicly what might come next, in case I don’t pull it off or someone doesn’t employ me or whatever it may be, but in this case I am going to be bold and say: Yes. I hope I haven’t jinxed it now! I really would love to write another book. I have a few ideas, so watch this space.”
And for the many readers who will be missing her signature humour on Miranda, and her charming acting on Call the Midwife, you may not have long to wait before we see her on our screens once more.
“Ah, well now, I am more hesitant in telling you this. I know, I am such a tease! Tom Ellis [who plays Gary, her onscreen fiancé on Miranda] recently said he wanted to see
Miranda and Gary’s married life, so that’s something for me to think about. Would you New Zealand lovelies like to see that?!”
Why, yes I believe we would. “I would love to do some new parts in both drama and comedy,” she continues. “Comedy is my first love, but to do some more drama would be interesting. And I have yet to come and tour New Zealand. That would be such fun!”
Turn to page 178 for an extract from Peggy & Me.
LEFT, FROM TOP: Miranda as she appears in her fitness video. As Chummy in And with co-stars David Walliams (also the writer) and Robbie Williams.