Thu, Dec 15, 2011
By: Linnéa Mitchell | Photo: Alan Strutt
From secretary to weather girl, TV host, Big Brother winner and now author, Ulrika Jonsson has certainly led a colourful life, and the never-satisfied media have tirelessly fed our appetite for more gossip.
Whether it is good or bad, we all have a strong opinion about the beautiful blonde television personality. The latest addition to her multifaceted career is her first novel The Importance of Being Myrtle. Scan Magazine caught up with Britain’s most famous Swede and discovered a whole new side of her.
Finding the right words
I bet I am not the only reader who set down The Importance of Being Myrtle feeling a bit quizzical. How did this story about Myrtle, a 58-year-old grey, flat and, frankly, boring woman, who suddenly loses her husband to a heart attack, come about from a woman whose life is quite the opposite of boring? Jonsson giggles at the question and goes on to explain that about six years ago she spoke to a lady who had just lost her husband. “I remember walking away thinking: gosh, what do you do if you are at that age having to start all over again somehow, when you have expected life to be pretty much what it is until the end,” says Jonsson. This turned out to be the seed that grew (after some spicy seasoning) into the story of Myrtle, who lives in a loveless marriage dictated by her psychologically oppressive husband Austin, and who suddenly has to take charge of her life for the very first time. But I am still puzzled as to how she can relate to a woman like Myrtle when her own life has been far from quiet and suppressed. “I think a lot of women can identify with Myrtle. I feel I can somehow identify with her in the way that I’ve been in relationships, although not as extreme, where the man finds it hard to accept a woman who thinks for herself, decides for herself, who has her own ideas and thoughts and who is colourful,” says Jonsson. Writing has always been part of Jonsson’s life. Ulrika started when her father brought a typewriter home from work and has since used it as her outlet and her method of escapism. “I love writing, and I love the English language. So it felt right. It wasn’t part of a plan to expand the brand Ulrika Jonsson. It came from the heart.”
From “teaterapa” to TV host
Born in Sweden in 1967, Jonsson lived alone with her father until she joined her mother in England when she was 12. As a child she was described by her aunt as a “teaterapa” (theatre monkey, person who wants to perform) and had some aspirations of becoming an actress after finishing school. Her mother was less enthusiastic and sent Jonsson to secretarial school in her gap year before she intended to take up a place at Goldsmith’s College, University of London. Having started off as a secretary, she shortly landed her first job in TV, presenting the weather on TV-am as well as on Swedish TV3. Jonsson never had time to even consider university. Her natural charisma and energy led to several jobs in front of the camera, hosting one prime-time TV show after another, including Gladiator, The National Lottery, Eurovision Song Contest, Miss World and Shooting Stars. Adding reality shows such as Come Dine with Me and Dancing on Ice to the list, before winning Celebrity Big Brother in 2009, she has pretty much covered the entire spectrum of what you can achieve in an entertainment television career.
The private life
But what has spiced up her celebrity status that little bit extra is her private life, whether it is for dating fellow Swede and England’s football captain at the time, Sven-Göran Eriksson, or for marrying the bachelor Lance Gerrard-Wright from the dating show Mr Right that she hosted. And it is mainly due to her “Mr Rights” – three of them now if you count her marriages – that she has been the target of many media-moans. “The attention is something I’ve never really understood. The press feels that if you are famous you must be an egotist and therefore we shall punish you by criticising you and following you everywhere,” says Jonsson. A journalist once dressed up as a doctor to get hold of her medical journals whilst she was in hospital after her daughter was born with a heart defect. She is also involved in the phone-hacking scandal inquiry with News of the World. It does not take a genius to work out it must have been pretty frustrating, yet 23 years later, she is still here.
“You have to be able to find a way to go on,” says Jonsson. “I’ve felt very helpless, and I don’t think that I’m a strong or brave person at all… but if you have two, four or even six little eyes that are looking up at you and asking ‘ok mummy, what’s next?’ then you really have to dig deep and have, according to my favourite Swedish expression, ‘is i magen’ (ice in the stomach). I think it’s a calm and quiet strength that I’ve got that comes forward when it’s needed most.” For example when writing, I’m guessing, as she had to write half of the novel standing up or lying down due to a chronic back condition she has battled with during the last four years.
So does she want to work as an author full time or will we see more of her on telly? “I’d love to write more, and I’ve already started thinking about the next book,” says Jonsson and explains further that she enjoyed taking a step back from TV, but that she has no plans to give it up completely. “After all I have four children to feed,” she laughs. “During these 23 years, I haven’t always known what’s going to happen next. I’ve never had a grand plan. My career has given me so many opportunities to do so many different things, and every job has been to improve myself or stretch myself. Either I’m brave or stupid, but I’ve always wanted to do things that are a bit different. I’m not scared of that. I don’t live for my critics. I don’t think ‘oh I shouldn’t write a book because then I might get criticised’, but because I want to. Then, afterwards, I have to say, I might go ‘ouch’. But I think it’s so important that… well, we only live once, and we have one chance to take care of the opportunities we get.”
Despite living most of her life in England, Jonsson is still close to her roots. “I feel one hundred per cent Swedish. There’s no question about that. I have never wanted to change my passport, nationality or anything. So I’m very Swedish. Apart from my terrible grammar,” she says, in perfect Swedish.