It’s hard enough interviewing celebrities who are sitting still, but it’s a sublime practitioner who makes something special out of a fleeting red carpet encounter, something Edith Bowman does time after time.
Laughing, she acknowledges that most reporters resort to a perfunctory, “What are you wearing?” “But I love doing those red carpets,” she says with unfeigned delight. “It’s one of my favourite things. My whole thing is chatting to people, and I love the challenge of those environments – and the junkets, too: Right. Stopwatches on. You’ve got six minutes! I like trying to strike up a conversation with someone, as opposed to having a list of questions. That’s me in my little world. I forget other people are there, or watching.”
And sure enough, our time together produced a torrent of words. As we speak, Bowman’s expressive hands move constantly. Bobbed blonde hair frames elfin features, and her tiny self is engulfed by the chair in the lobby of Glasgow’s Radisson Blu. If I hadn’t noticed her stroke what appeared to be a rugby ball under her jumper, I’d have no idea she was pregnant, though I don’t immediately ask, and it’s a wee while before she tells me she’s due to deliver her second son in March – mainly because there’s so much other ground to cover.
Two of Bowman’s biggest passions are music and films. Tomorrow she hosts the Scottish Bafta awards, and today marks the début of The Adam and Edith Show, running every Saturday until Christmas on BBC’s 6 Music. It teams Bowman with Adam Buxton, of Adam and Joe fame, and promises to be a showcase for alternative music, served up with plenty of high-spirited hijinks. Bowman will still be doing her regular Radio 1 Review show, plus her twice-a-year Radio Scotland programme devoted “to the lost art of buying and listening to an entire album”.
She’s full of praise for Scotland’s film-makers. “I think this country has an in-bred creativity. The whole film and TV industry in Scotland is drawing more attention. Look at the big films that come to film here, like Skyfall, and the opening sequence of Batman. The scenery is an obvious draw, but in terms of the craftspeople working behind the scenes, that is on the up, in terms of worldwide cinema.”
Seeing the industry close up has deepened her appreciation for the hard work of getting a movie into production, never mind the actual filming, and she’s not immune to hero worship. It seems that the reason there’s a seat free next to Adam is because Joe Cornish is off doing movies. “He helped write Tintin, and worked with Spielberg!” Well if that’s the trajectory for all of Adam’s partners, I joke. Bouncing in her chair, she says, “It would be amazing to sit and watch a film with Steven Spielberg and talk about it afterwards!”
This new gig is both exciting and scary. “I’m nervous, and it’s a really nice feeling. I love when new work makes you feel like you’re starting out again. I think this is a very healthy place to be. I’ve worked with a co-presenter before, but this is a new person, someone I’ve known for years, but don’t know that well. I’m dreaming about it every night. That’s got to be a good thing.”
She’s pretty sure her first cinema outing while growing up in Anstruther was to see The Fox and Hound, but doubt enters the equation when she mentions spaghetti – which is definitely featured in Lady and the Tramp. “I watch so many Disney films with my son, Rudy, that they all merge,” she giggles. “I know I saw Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and was absolutely blown away by it. It’s the scope of things when you’re small – that massive room and that massive sound. There’s something to be said about making sure you put time aside to see certain films in that environment. See Batman at Imax, for instance – that’s what the film-makers made it for. It’s the way they were intended to be seen.”
Rudy is a movie fan, though she frets that she and her partner Tom Smith (of the band Editors) might have goofed there. “He’s four-and-a-half, and I worry sometimes that we introduced him to the medium too young. Am I a bad parent that he’s seen so many films already? I sometimes hear parents say, ‘No, my child can’t go to the cinema because it’s too loud, it’s too this, too that.’ But we have the best time. He’s obsessed with Star Wars. Do you know, we checked before we showed him, but they’re all U films! I was like, ‘Really?!’ What about when Skywalker comes back with Obi-Wan and his aunt and uncle are smouldering corpses? And Darth Vader cutting off Luke’s hand? But Rudy loves that. He’s a proper boy. The thing he doesn’t like is smoochy stuff. He hides behind the sofa.”
When it comes to television, Bowman and Smith are pretty selective on Rudy’s behalf, but she heartily endorses Cbeebies. “The stuff Rudy’s learned from watching Octonauts is bonkers. He’s like a mini-David Attenborough.”
And what does she prefer? “I don’t watch that much telly. I love Downton Abbey – I’m obsessed with it. But sometimes I want to slap them. I like quite a lot of American stuff. I’m coming to television as a viewer, and as someone who’d like to do more telly, but there’s nothing really out there that I would like to do if I was given a chance.”
She had a great time making Evo Music Rooms for Channel Four, and has other production deals in the works, but says that TV commissioners are frightened. “No one takes any risks with live music at the minute, which is a shame, because there’s so much great music out there. I loved that show because it gave me an opportunity to sit and talk to an artist for about 45 minutes – which is such a luxury. So I’m trying to devise my own projects, and ideas for things that I wouldn’t necessarily host. I want to re-establish a film show. It doesn’t have to be: here’s the trailer, here’s the clip of the actor doing an interview. Be more creative, more interactive and relevant. We do that with my Radio 1 Review show. It’s about playing new music and about being a community, discussing things.”
Does the Queen of Cool have any guilty musical pleasures? It turns out she knows all the words to a wealth of Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Frank Sinatra hits, not to mention a concert’s worth of country tunes thanks to growing up in her parents’ hotel and hearing them playing in the background.
“But I’m a real sucker for any kind of cheese,” she admits. “You can’t be too precious about music. If I’m in a bar and Beyonce’s Crazy in Love comes on, I am doing that licking the thumb move. I obviously can’t do the dance, but in my sick, warped head I can. And musicals! Oh my god, I loved Annie. I played the dog, Sandy, when I was at school, and got told off for singing. Again, I grew up with all that. My mum was in an amateur dramatic society. One of my first memories is of her getting killed every night on stage, as Nancy in Oliver! She was in loads of that stuff and we always had musicals on in the house.”
Bowman is extremely close to her parents, and refers to her mum often – possibly because they’re peas in a pod. Eleanor was one of seven sisters – all with names beginning with E. She was engaged at 16, married at 19, and three months later, pregnant with Edith, who was born with health problems.
“I had loads of crazy crap going on when I was a kid,” she says. “I was epileptic. When I was six months, I stopped breathing and my granddad had to run down the stairs with me upside down, so someone could give me the kiss of life. This was the start of the epilepsy, they think. And for a 19-year-old girl to have this happen to her child! There’s no chance I could have done it.”
Her mother grew up in the hotel and was expected to work there from an early age. She continued running it with Edith’s dad. Bowman marvels, “My mum and dad, from the time they were married 40 years ago, have lived and worked together. That character, and the strength in that relationship – my mum is an incredibly strong person, but sometimes she can be too strong.”
When Eleanor was treated for breast cancer, Bowman recalls, she held the family together. “We were crumbling around her, and she was the strong one throughout. But after that, the reality hit her, and we were able to support her.”
Funny, because whenever she’s interviewed, Eleanor talks about her daughter’s strength and character, and inability to take things easy, even after being diagnosed with a heart murmur in her twenties. It intrigues me that they’re so similar, but have struck out in different directions.
“There was probably a time – it’s like that film, Sliding Doors, where fate steps in and changes your direction. I don’t know what the event was in my life, but I could have easily stayed in Anstruther and been working in the hotel, with five kids. But I made that step out. I think it’s got to do with your environment, and what you really push yourself to do.
“My mum would never change anything in her life, but if you gave her something in her past that she could do now, she’d want to act. It’s not that she gave anything up, but that she didn’t pursue it. Maybe that’s the bit of her that I took on. I did that gradual thing of creeping away from the nest and seeing what was out there and whether I could cope.”
Surely the best parents encourage their children to venture forth? “Definitely. It was the same with my younger brother, Alex. He played for Scotland under-18s, and there was a time where he could have done that, but he said, it’s not for me. He went to Edinburgh and did sport science. I hadn’t been in London long, and when he was about to graduate, I said, ‘I’ve got some friends who work at Sky Sports, let me see if I can introduce you.’ He said, ‘I don’t want to come to London. I want to stay in Anstruther.’ I had to get my head around why he wanted to stay in that little village.”
Her parents have since sold the hotel and moved to another part of town so they’re not staring at it every day, and worrying how the new owners are faring. When they visit her in London, Bowman tries hard to spoil them. “But I’ll come home and find out my dad’s done the ironing! I tell mum to put her feet up, and she says, ‘Will you please just let me be your mum? I need to be needed.’”
Earlier, she said that Rudy’s a proper little boy. Does she think about what it means to raise an enlightened man? “Not yet. I’ve got another one on the way, by the way. We gave Rudy the chance to decide whether we found out what sex it was. Last week we had a pretty full-on scan and when we found out it was a boy, his little face – he was so cute, he almost high-punched the air.
“But going back to your question, I’ve never really thought about it, which is funny, because we have some really intense conversations. Especially with this,” she points to her bump. “Not how did it get there, but how it feeds and what size it is. He asked how it breathes. Tom’s mum and dad are science teachers, so that’s probably where he gets his inquisitiveness from. Rudy is surrounded by strong women – me, my mum, Tom’s mum and sister, and my girlfriends. But there are always things, and I don’t know if he’s overheard people say them. He’ll say, ‘That’s a girl’s programme,’ and I ask, ‘What makes it a girl’s programme?’ Just throwing the questions back at him so I can try and understand his rationale. Not allowing him to fall for stereotypes, I guess. But Tom and I haven’t sat down and gone, ‘Right, we need to make sure that he’s aware of this.’ It’s kind of whatever comes up.”
What doesn’t come up, she tells me, is the seven-year-age difference – Bowman’s older – between herself and Tom. “We’ve been together eight years and it’s never been an issue, through good times and bad. I feel like there are parts of my life that are a bit of a blur, but in the last five or six years, I’ve finally been able to focus on what I want to achieve and who I want to be.”
If anything, she wanted to be Zoe Ball. “She’s not that much older than me, but she was out there working. She had a good time, partied like the best of them, but she’s really good at what she does and has the talent to back it up.”
With that Bowman lets rip about reality television “stars” whose greatest talent is an ability to fall knickerless out of nightclubs. Exasperated, she wonders, “Who are these people and can we get rid of them please? It doesn’t do anything for promoting strong female characters and making women think of themselves in a good way.”
At this point in her life, she says, “I want to know more about stuff. I went back to college just before I had Rudy, and did a one-night-a-week photography course, to correct all my bad habits. I have this constant need to feed my brain. I want to learn about new things.”
• The Adam and Edith show begins today on BBC 6 Music, from 10am-1pm, and is broadcast every Saturday morning until Christmas. The British Academy Scotland Awards 2012 will be presented tomorrow evening, at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Glasgow.