Chris­tian O’Con­nell

‘As a teenager, I wasn’t cool. But be­ing funny, I re­alised I had cur­rency’

The Guardian - Family - - Front page - In­ter­view by Camilla Palmer Ra­dio Boy by Chris­tian O’Con­nell (Harper Collins Chil­dren’s Books), £6.99.

I was born on a lovely coun­cil es­tate in Winch­ester, but none of my mates at school lived there – they were mid­dle class, went on ski­ing hol­i­days and lived in de­tached houses. We went to the Isle of Wight on our hol­i­days and lived in a semi. Dad worked for Ford in Southamp­ton as a foreman, and my mum was a nurse for 43 years.

Our life was ab­so­lutely hum­drum. I’d come home from school and Mum and Dad would be at work. I had my own key. I felt like I was my own lit­tle man. I’d make a cheese sarnie and watch telly while my sis­ter – two years younger than me – hid in her room.

We had proper in­de­pen­dence then – if I had a time ma­chine, I’d go back like a shot. In the end­less sum­mer hol­i­days, we’d just bug­ger off – with friends, or to the li­brary, or to build a camp – and come back for tea. Mum would make me have a pint of milk be­fore I left, though, as if that was enough to guard me against any hor­ror that might be­fall me.

My sis­ter and I got on, but we were chalk and cheese. She was in­tro­verted. She loved horses, but my BMX was my pas­sion – I got it one Christ­mas, but I knew where it was kept be­fore it was wrapped up, so I’d ride it when Mum and Dad were out, clean it up and put it back. I was still so ex­cited on Christ­mas morn­ing though.

Dad’s par­ents were Ir­ish, deeply re­li­gious and very kind. Grandad was the care­taker at my pri­mary school, and I would see them both a few times a week. When I got my first Satur­day job at Wool­worths, I could pop round and watch Foot­ball Fo­cus with them.

My mum’s mum was In­dian – but that was never, ever dis­cussed. To me, she

My mum’s mum was In­dian – but that was never, ever dis­cussed. To me, she was Nanny Norma from Wales

was Nanny Norma. I was look­ing at old pic­tures with my wife when we met, and she asked who Nanny Norma was. When I said she was my grand­mother, she said, “She was In­dian – that’s amaz­ing!” and I just said, “No – that’s Nanny Norma and she was from Wales.” Her her­itage wasn’t men­tioned, but that was the 1980s for you.

She met my grandad in In­dia in the war – he fought with the Gurkhas in Burma. He died when I was young, but I re­mem­ber his sto­ries and medals. He was a big man – army heavy­weight box­ing and swim­ming cham­pion – but very quiet. I wish my grand­par­ents were still alive – the older gen­er­a­tion have so many sto­ries and so much wis­dom. When we are young, they are just our rel­a­tives, and we never think of the per­son be­hind that.

As a teenager, I wasn’t cool, be­cause I wasn’t good at sport – lots of mas­cu­line iden­tity came from that. But be­ing funny, I re­alised, had cur­rency. So I made peo­ple laugh. Adrian Mole [Sue Townsend’s teenage cre­ation] made me feel less alone. I re­mem­ber think­ing, “I get it now. Other peo­ple feel like this!”

Be­ing a dad is the best thing that has hap­pened to me. [O’Con­nell has two daugh­ters, Ruby, 12, and Lois, 10]. For a long time, my wife and I didn’t know if we were go­ing to have a fam­ily. We had been mar­ried quite a while, and we hit a bit of a cross­roads. We won­dered if that was it, re­ally, whether there was some­thing we were miss­ing.

When you are young, you think it is the big things that mat­ter – the job, the house – and that they will make you happy and ful­filled. But, with the chil­dren, the lit­tle mo­ments are the best. Mine still like to be car­ried, usu­ally when they are knack­ered and need to go to bed. I know they won’t ask me to do it for much longer, but they don’t know what it means that they still do – to me the day can’t get any bet­ter.

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