Emma Freud’s relishing her new role in Southwold
PUBLISHED: 10:33 08 April 2014 | UPDATED: 10:33 08 April 2014
Emma Freud is patron of the new Southwold Arts Festival. She tells Pat Parker why she was so keen to get involved, her support for Suffolk’s arts scene and her admiration for Mary Berry
This summer sees the first ever Southwold Arts Festival, with an exciting programme of events including musical performances, art exhibitions, plays, poetry, conversation – and cakes.
Some of the many highlights include a talk by political journalist Andrew Marr and a performance by the internationally-renowned Operababes, as well as classical music, jazz and folk music. Writer and broadcaster Janet Gershlick will perform, and there will be a musical review celebrating the life of Noel Coward, featuring former Anglia Television presenter Helen McDermott. Poet George Szirtes will present Poems, Invention and Conversation, while Oonagh Segrave-Daly will offer Kipling and Cakes. There will be a concert by classical violinist Tasmin Little, while the finale concert will be hosted by Digby Fairweather’s Half Dozen, with blues singer Val Wiseman.
The eight-day event kicks off on Saturday, June 28, with a street party in the High Street, featuring circus performers, musicians, local food and drink and even a choir competition.
Emma Freud has agreed to be patron of the event, and will officially open the festival at noon. I asked her why she had>>
>> agreed to take on the role.
“Are you kidding? It’s a total honour!” replies the broadcaster, who shares a home in nearby Walberswick with partner Richard Curtis and their four children. “Southwold is my favourite town in Britain, and its first Arts Festival is a cause for national celebration. I’m thrilled it’s happening, and so delighted to be part of it. What a town – first we had Latitude, then the Two Magpies Bakery, and now this. Amazing!”
She thinks the festival will be enjoyed by the entire community. “The events are really inclusive – it’s not catering to just one type of person,” she says. “I’m hoping there’s something that will appeal to everyone. There’s crime fiction, opera, a production of Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein, a talk by Andrew Marr, a movie at the enchanting Electric Picture Palace – even cake! It’s covered every base. I’m adoring reading Sophie Hannah at the moment, so it’s particularly good news that she’s coming.”
Sophie, along with Nicci French, Andrew Martin and other novelists, is taking part in the Slaughter in Southwold Crime Writers Festival on June 20 and 21, at Reydon Village Hall.
The Freuds have long played an active role in the Southwold arts scene. Emma’s mother Jill founded the Suffolk Summer Theatres at Southwold and later at Aldeburgh 30 years ago, and is still closely involved. Emma is enormously proud of what she has achieved. “My mother is the most remarkable woman,” she says. “She’s run those two theatres my entire adult life, programming, performing – and cleaning the loos as well! She is the most active octogenarian I have ever come across. I dream of ending up having put as much spirit, love and care into the arts as she has.”
In addition to the Southwold Arts Festival, Emma has also recently become patron to the Norwich Film Festival and the Ipswich theatre company, Red Rose Chain. “I love this county and feel very loyal to it,” she says, “and the arts world in East Anglia is dynamic and diverse. It seems amazing and exciting to me to be in a position where I can help anything along – and I couldn’t be prouder of the projects and companies I support.”
The Freuds’ close connection to Walberswick dates back generations. Emma’s father, Clement, the former politician, writer and wit who died five years ago, loved to spend time there. Sir Clement Freud was the grandson of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, and brother of the renowned artist Lucian, whose daughter Esther also has a home in Walberswick.
“My father and his family left Germany during the rise of Hitler in the early 1930s, and settled in London and Walberswick,” explains Emma. “He spent every holiday there as a child in their house by the village green, and when he married my mum in the 1950s, they bought a house in the village themselves. So I spent every holiday there as a child – four months of every year – and now I do the same with my children. It’s the place in the world where I’m happiest. It also means that Richard has written most of his films gazing out to Southwold Lighthouse on one side, and the North Sea on the other!”
Emma has worked as script editor on some of Richard’s best-loved films, including Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill. The couple divide their time between Suffolk and Notting Hill – the blue door of Hugh Grant’s home in the film actually belonged to their former house.
In 2012, Emma was awarded an OBE for her work with Comic Relief, the charity co-founded by Richard Curtis and Lenny Henry back in 1985. So far, there have been 13 Red Nose Days, held on alternate years to Sport Relief. “Hopefully, by next year Comic Relief will have raised a total of one billion pounds for projects in the UK and Africa,” says Emma. “I couldn’t be prouder of the work we do there. We went to South Africa in February and saw some of the projects supported by Comic Relief and they were inspiring – such tiny amounts of cash enabling whole communities to get themselves on to their feet in the most brilliant and long-lasting ways.”
Emma has been involved in the charity since 1990. “There isn’t a backstage job I haven’t done,” she continues. “But my proudest moment was encouraging the six mobile phone operators to drop all the charges for a charity text donation, so that the full amount of a £5 text donation could be used on our projects. It took about 200 emails and three months’ of discussions, but in the end, all six agreed and, incredibly generously, they now apply those terms to many UK charities. They’re my six favourite CEOs in the country!”
It has been Sport Relief’s turn to fund-raise this year, and Emma did her bit by taking part in the Great Sport Relief Bake Off in January, competing against Michael Ball, Victoria Pendleton and Jamelia. Despite several mishaps, she won, but she was more thrilled by the chance to meet her idol, Mary Berry.
“My entire life had basically been building up to that day,” she enthuses. “Just being in the Bake Off tent felt like a privilege, and to be within touching distance of Mary Berry was amazing. All I wanted to do was pat her, and they had to ask me to stop following her around. Sadly, I burnt the tent carpet, and Mary choked on my (disgusting) bacon brownies – but we got over that and she is still talking to me. In fact she recently came to my house and gave me a cooking lesson in my own kitchen. It was the greatest afternoon of my life.”
As a keen amateur cook, Emma loves the high-quality ingredients available in the county. “Suffolk produce is astonishing,” she says, and reels off a whole list of local delights. “There’s the fish at the Southwold Smokehouse, the ham at Emmetts in Peasenhall, the vegetables at the Middleton Farm Shop, the sourdough bread at The Two Magpies Bakery in Southwold, the cheeses at Snape Farmers’ Market...It’s a beautiful, fertile county filled with skilled suppliers of brilliant ingredients and artisan foods. You can’t be a bad cook in Suffolk.”