Books: Sara Cox on sisterhood, working with brilliant women and getting grumpy with her husband

·6-min read
Sara Cox has just released her debut novel

Picture : Guy Levy/PA
Sara Cox has just released her debut novel Picture : Guy Levy/PA

The broadcaster talks to Hannah Stephenson about female friendship, and why it forms the heart of her debut novel.

Radio and TV presenter Sara Cox clearly loves a bit of sisterhood.

The bubbly, Bolton-born presenter is relishing working among some huge female talent at Radio 2 and is quick to praise the likes of her old mucker and fellow Nineties 'ladette' Zoe Ball, as well as broadcaster Claudia Winkleman.

She's also positive about the hierarchy at Radio 2 and the fact both her producer and the head of the station are women.

Does she find women in her industry competitive?

"I think they are competitive with themselves, but we are all pretty supportive of each other. Because of the nature of the beast at Radio 2, we are all there at different times. I won't bump into Claudia there but I will text her when she's on air on a Saturday morning."

Female friendship is a major feature in her debut novel, Thrown, about four women from the same estate who meet for a new pottery class at the local community centre - a setting inspired by her time as presenter on The Great Pottery Throwdown.

The women soon become friends as their different stories unfold: Becky, a single mother whose jailbird ex-husband turns up at her house; Jameela, whose life is in turmoil because she is childless; Sheila, whose retired husband has a surprising secret; and Louise, who seems to have a perfect life but is seeking something more.

As they are thrown together against a backdrop of the pottery class and its handsome tutor, the mutual support they show for each other through thick and thin becomes the heart of the novel, which makes for a feelgood beach read with a happy ending.

"I grew up with brilliant matriarchal characters on Coronation Street. I was brought up by a brilliant mum, then I have my nana and my sister, so I was drawn to the four characters and loved the idea of them mucking in and coming together," Cox, 47, explains.

The fictional females are all at a crossroads, frustrated with their lives.

"I don't think that reflects on me," she says, laughing. "But I've definitely had times when my career's been a little bit quieter and I've thought, 'What if...', and 'Should I have done this?', and 'Have I made the right decision?'

"Overall, I've been really lucky. I had a bit of a false start with the old marriage stakes, when my first marriage went pear-shaped, but after that luckily I'm with Ben (Cyzer, her second husband) and I'm really happy and I've a great career, but I could just see how easily the odd decision you make or life getting in the way can affect things."

Back in the Nineties, she partied hard and openly admits that her 2019 early memoir, Till The Cows Come Home - which charts her life growing up on her father Len's cattle farm surrounded by animals, before getting into media after doing some teenage modelling - is unlikely to spawn a sequel, because she doesn't remember an awful lot from those subsequent wilder years.

"The juicy bits are too juicy for consumption," she reveals, laughing. "I can't remember half of it, to be honest. I could put together a photo album from old copies of Heat magazine, so I could work out roughly what I was doing throughout the Nineties, but there would definitely be big gaps."

Cox, who lives in north London with her family, had hoped that presenting Drivetime, from 5pm to 7pm, would give her more of a work-life balance. She has three children - Lola, 17, from her first marriage, and Isaac, 14, and Renee, 12, with advertising executive Cyzer.

"But then I get offered other work that I really enjoy, so I have to work hard to say no to keep that work-life balance going. I got a horse in 2020, which forces me to take time out because I have to go out and ride, can't look at my phone and have to be in the moment. After a 30-year break, to have my own horse again is like some sort of therapy."

Female friendship is something she has valued greatly both in and outside her broadcasting career, she agrees.

"I have my best friend and soulmate, who's up north, and down here there's a group of five of us. Two of them I met through Radio 1 and the other two through my husband. Radio has always featured a lot of brilliant women and a lot of great female producers and execs. I've an all-female team - a female producer and female assistant producer - and it's a really supportive place to work."

She doesn't see much of Ball or others because of their different live show times, but remains good friends with Irish DJ Annie Mac.

"I go round and see Annie and her family and they'll come and hang out here," she says. "I try to get it together to see Grimmy (Nick Grimshaw) but he's really busy. But as a whole, I feel radio's really friendly and we all feel like part of a family."

She's been hosting Drivetime since 2019, presents the weekly BBC Two book programme Between The Covers, and is currently hosting the new eight-part series Britain's Top Takeaways, in which the country's best independent takeaways go head to head.

"I'm definitely in a golden era of my career. I go to bed thinking about it and wake up thinking about it," Cox admits.

As host of Between The Covers, she's no stranger to novels but says she's not going to read any reviews of her own book, and it certainly won't be featuring it on the show. "One of my guests mentioned it and I did the equivalent of a hedgehog rolling in a ball and just disappearing."

Her husband hasn't read her novel and didn't read her memoir, she notes, laughing. "He doesn't read a great deal. He might look at a book while we're in bed, but I don't think he wants to read a book about me or by me when he's laying next to me."

Writing the book sparked occasional tears, and she was often grumpy with Cyzer, she admits. There were creative obstacles, as she started to write it before the pandemic, but then lockdown happened.

"At that point, my youngest child was 10 and I felt like I was making 1,000 sandwiches a day because they all just needed feeding and I had no head space. I was getting up early and trying to get in a 5am chunk of writing."

She has a garden office where she writes, but says Cyzer would come in between his own meetings for little chats. "He'd come in for office banter, but when you're writing you can't dip in and out of it. You really have to lose yourself in it."

There's a second novel on the way, and Cox is hoping the same characters return in some way.

"I'd love this to be a thing, if I can," she says of writing. "It's so different to everything else I do."

Thrown by Sara Cox is published by Coronet on May 12, priced £14.99.

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