Mi­randa Hart:

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!

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

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.

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