Konnie Huq: Writing good for fitting in with mumming says ex-Blue Peter presenter
Konnie Huq talks to Hannah Stephenson about diversity, juggling work and family life, and why TV has taken a back seat for the time being
IT'S been more than a decade since she left Blue Peter, but Konnie Huq is still immersed in a children's world.
Since she left the popular children's show, she has married satirist and writer Charlie Brooker, had two sons, and has now written and illustrated her first children's book – Cookie And The Most Annoying Boy In The World.
It's the first in a series of three books, possibly more, and centres on the adventures of nine-year-old Cookie Haque, a quirky girl from a Bangladeshi family with a penchant for science.
Clearly there are some similarities between Huq and Haque – both like science, both are from Bangladeshi families, and both like a bit of drama.
"It's full of diversity – the fact that Cookie is from a British Bangladeshi family doesn't make her unrelatable because we all have characteristics that define us, whether it's having curly hair or being a trainspotter, or being from an ethnic minority background."
Huq (44) was raised by her Muslim Bangladeshi immigrant parents who came to Britain in the 60s.
"I grew up in a very middle-class suburban environment in Ealing [west London]. I was the kid whose mum wore a sari and whose parents ate with their hands. I had a sister [called Nutun] nine years older than me [her other sister is Labour MP Rupa Huq], so my mother was a lot older than a lot of the other parents. It wasn't the diverse place that we live in today.
"I don't feel that I suffered at the hands of racism in a big way," she adds, "probably no more than any other child growing up in a good neighbourhood. But I remember one child pointing at me in the playground, saying, 'She's Indian', and me thinking,'No I'm not, I'm from Bangladesh, actually, I'm British'."
Her parents wanted her to be a doctor but, after gaining a degree in economics from Cambridge University, she went into television.
"When I got my job on Blue Peter, there was a lot said about the first British Bangladeshi presenter. I guess you have to go through the tokenism to make the switch to normality. That's just progress. Things move on.
"I have values that my parents instilled in me," Huq continues. "I always finish food on my plate because I can't bear wasting it. I'll never eat pork and yet I'm atheist, but it's ingrained in me."
She has stepped back from TV in recent years to concentrate on raising her sons – Covey, seven, and five-year-old Huxley – and on writing projects, having co-written some material with Brooker for his award-winning dark, dystopian series Black Mirror and, most recently, to work on her own children's books.
"Being a mum, I don't really want to do projects that take me abroad lots. It would have to fit in with 'mumming', and it would have to be something that's worthy," she says.
Both she and Brooker discuss each other's work. He knows everything about her writing and she knows everything about his.
"He does a lot of his thinking on a run and we'll chat post-run," Huq reveals. "But at the beginning of the concept of co-writing Black Mirror, we were living in a small two-bedroom maisonette. It was like living in a hamster cage so you had to talk about stuff."
They've been talking about Cookie! being adapted for screen, which would be another collaborative project.
"As in any partnership, you discuss things that are going on at work. And we both like to chip in with our opinions."
After a fairly whirlwind romance (they'd only been dating for nine months), Huq and Brooker married in Las Vegas nine years ago, as part of an American road trip.
"We only bought the rings on the day we got married, in the shop downstairs from the hotel. We had gone to Hatton Garden to get an engagement ring. But we are not into glitzy, big diamond rings. I'd probably lose it in 10 seconds and I wouldn't have wanted the burden of losing it in a lump of Play-Doh."
The wedding took place at night, witnessed only by the man who married them and a photographer. Next year they'll celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary.
"I love everything about Charlie. I don't think people know him. His TV persona is quite terse but he's very much a caricature. He's really warm and cuddly and he's brilliant with kids.
"Before he met me, he never wanted kids," Huq shares. "I did want kids but I didn't have to change his mind – he changed his own mind."
As for their lifestyle, she insists: "I'm not very high-maintenance. I used to say, 'I'm a very low-maintenance date', because I don't drink, so I can usually chauffeur home whoever is with me. I'm not one for fancy restaurants.
"We don't do masses of red carpet events. I don't really think of us as a showbiz couple. We are not into that scene. I don't like people fussing over me too much. I'm happy in my jogging bottoms."
Their downtime isn't glamorous, she muses.
"When the kids are in bed, I'm a home body. I'm not bothered about going out on a hot date, it's just me and him and box-set viewing on the sofa."
She says she fits her working life in between the hours of 9am and 3pm, when the children are at school.
"Writing is quite good for fitting in around 'mumming'. At first I thought I could do it all, but I couldn't fit filming away in as well. I was doing everything really badly, being a bad mum and a bad employee.
"I thought something's got to give. I've been a full-on mum for the last seven years, just doing bits and pieces that can fit in, but nothing major. To do anything more full-on, I'd have to get a nanny."
Brooker has been reported as saying that having children ruins your life in the best possible way.
"That's a good way of putting it," Huq says, smiling. "I wouldn't say having children has ruined my life in any way but I know what he means. I can relate to that sentiment."
She says motherhood has changed her, in the sense that she is always watching the clock, always in a hurry. She and Brooker share the childcare with the help of friends and family.
"In that sense, I'm a changed person – I'm quite laid-back and I've changed because I'm less likely to be able to mosey about doing nothing."
She's clearly loving family life, though.
"I don't think I've got really high expectations," Huq reasons. "As long as I'm happy, that's good. You can't want more than that."
:: Cookie And The Most Annoying Boy In The World by Konnie Huq is published by Piccadilly Press, price £10.99.