‘Sue is an amazing cook, I’m the housekeeper’
Anna Richardson is watching, wideeyed, at the bar of The Dorchester hotel, as stars from Made in
Chelsea lope past in their finery, heading to an awards ceremony in the next room. “Look at that dress! Oh Christ, I’ve just rocked up in an M&S shirt.”
We are chatting over a couple of glasses of sauvignon blanc, biding time before Richardson is presenting a trophy at the Stroke Awards in London. While she has a personal link with the charity (her father suffered a stroke last year), she finds showbiz dos unbearable. “I get the heebie-jeebies,” she says, “especially if I’m on my own, because I never know anyone.”
The TV presenter is without her sidekick tonight; her partner of nearly five years, Sue Perkins. Richardson was previously in a relationship with director Charles Martin for 18 years, before they separated, and she met Perkins in 2013, a night she describes as “magnetic and extraordinary”. ”.
“The planets were singing, there was something magical in the air, and suddenly I realised I wanted this person in my life.” That Richardson found love with Perkins at 43 has never seemed significant to her. “I just happen to have fallen in love with a woman – simple as that.”
And this year, when life threatened to overwhelm them, she was more glad than ever to have the former Bake Off presenter by her side. “What’s interesting about a relationship with a woman is that you find a fellow nurturer, which you don’t always get with a guy,” she says.
As the couple approach 50, does she ever wish, I wonder, that children had been in the picture? Yes, dearly. But it isn’t, she says, something she has ruled out. “I can’t speak for Sue, but as I push towards 50, I’m sad that I don’t have a family… That’s all I can say.”
The past year has been taken up with other matters, and the pair have battled a difficult few months. Perkins, 48, lost her fat father to cancer – something she admit t admitted, last week, that she had only started to deal with while filming her BBC tr travel series The Ganges – while Richar Richardson was coping with her own fa father’s stroke and subsequent diag-no diagnosis of vascular dementia.
Then Then, this summer, her previously strong and healthy mother suffered a break breakdown so profound she became suicidal. Regular trips up the M1 to the Peak District – where her mum an and brother still live – and a battle to get her the right care, took over. Lit Little wonder she and Perkins have ne needed each other more than ever. “W “We’re quite a tough little unit,” she says. “We pull together. Sue has bee been absolutely incredible. She has bee been through a lot in the past year as well, so we’ve been able to really support each other.
“It was awful to see her going through the trauma of her dad dying. She was so brave, and she did a lot of the caring. I’ve tried to help her and she, in turn, has been there for me, especially while my mum has been ill. She has been brilliant. She came up and did a lot of the cooking.
“I think it shocked her to see my mum so unwell, especially so soon after her own loss. She’s had a really difficult time, but I think that’s what made her so understanding when I was quite frightened.”
Richardson knows better than most the importance of supporting your loved ones in dark times. She has, she says, suffered terribly from mental illness her entire adult life. She lists a number of experiences that have contributed to bouts of severe anxiety and PTSD, including an ectopic pregnancy that left her fighting for her life at 21, a terrifying incident when she woke up in a hotel room to find burglars ransacking the place, and discovering she was infertile after having tests as part of a TV programme she was making on sex education in 2008.
Then there was the time, 15 years ago, when she became embroiled in a legal battle after alleging that Arnold Schwarzenegger had groped her, when she was interviewing him. She took the star and two of his aides to court, claiming they had attempted to ruin her reputation by saying she had fabricated the incident; they eventually reached a settlement.
It is something she has put behind her, though the sexual harassment revelations of the past weeks have, understandably, brought it all back.
“It makes me so angry that I experienced this 15 years ago and here we are, over a decade later, with women coming forward saying: ‘I’ve experienced the same thing and nothing was done about it.’”
Alongside her TV career (she is known for experimental dating shows like Naked Attraction), her focus these days is on helping others. It’s why she has set up a new website called Mindbox, which she hopes will give people all over the UK access to affordable therapy.
This project, too, has a family connection. Richardson’s grandmother killed herself when her mother was only 19, and her mum’s breakdown this year was – she and her brothers believe – in part, a delayed reaction to that early trauma.
“I wasn’t prepared for my mum, who is robust and sociable, having a complete collapse. I was genuinely frightened she was going to kill herself. It was a bank holiday weekend and she was saying: ‘I am seriously on the edge and I don’t know what is wrong, but I’m going mad.’ I drove her to A&E. I told them they needed to call the mental health team. They said there was nobody available: ‘It’s a bank holiday, what do you expect?’”
Her 74-year-old mother, Janet, was sent home with Valium and told to see her GP on the Tuesday. Luckily, Richardson had the means to get her to a private psychiatrist, and she is feeling better after regular therapy.
“I wanted to grab those in A&E by the throat and go: ‘Can you not see that this person is on the edge?’ It’s not good enough to say: ‘We haven’t got a consultant psychiatrist on call, you’re just going to have to wait’,” says Richardson, the strain of the past weeks clear in her voice.
Mindbox, which launched last week, offers users 24-hour access to more than 300 psychotherapists and hypnotherapists, over the phone or online. There are also videos and podcasts of therapeutic techniques.
“Therapy is changing,” says Richardson, a trained hypnotherapist. “You should be able to do it from your own home, you should be able to get it at any time of the day, and you shouldn’t have to pay £200 an hour, or sit on an NHS waiting list.”
She and Perkins are beginning to emerge from the fog of the past few months, and their home in north London, which they share with their rescue dog Tig, has been their haven. These days, she values simple things – the countryside, walking Tig and relaxing. “Sue is an amazing cook, I’m the housekeeper. She drops her pants on the floor, I pick them up.”
She seems, above all, a survivor. Approaching 50, Richardson is more determined than ever to do worthwhile work and enjoy a life lived well. “Right now, I’m really good. I know myself really well and I’m in a good head space.”
For more information or to access a therapist, visit mind-box.co.uk
‘I just happen to have fallen in love with a woman – simple as that’
Survivor: Anna Richardson, above, has experienced a hard few months, but has been buoyed by her partner, former Bake Off presenter Sue Perkins, below