Tracey Thorn: My snotty teenage self would probably think I’d turned out to be a bit domestic

Tracey Thorn lived in Hatfield and dreamt of Hampstead - Edward Bishop
Tracey Thorn lived in Hatfield and dreamt of Hampstead - Edward Bishop

We asked the 56-year-old writer and author what her younger self would make of her today...

The only dream I remember expressing as a teenager was telling my parents I wanted to marry a poet and live in Hampstead. God knows where that came from, as I’d never even been there. But that is kind of my life now.

I see a clear divide between my early childhood and my teens. As a pre-teen, I was very content in my cosy, suburban world in Hertfordshire. I could walk to the shops and school. I rode my bike.

At 15, I started getting into music. I didn’t fit the mould of a conventionally pretty girl and that’s why punk was such a relief, because you could put on black lipstick and fishnets and it was about being interesting and edgy.

I had a sense there was a bigger world out there; that the people and ideas that surrounded me in suburbia weren’t the whole story. That’s when I started going to gigs, and behaving in a way that my parents found a bit difficult. I started my first band, then started writing songs, and then formed the Marine Girls.

Both of my parents had left school at 15 and then the war came. Dad joined the Air Force and Mum worked as a secretary. After the war, Dad studied for his accountancy exams at night school and pulled himself up to get a white-collar job.

Tracey Thorn as a little girl
Tracey Thorn as a little girl

In the Seventies, there weren’t massive aspirations for girls. My parents were keen for me to get married and have kids. Even while I was doing my A-levels I was encouraged to do a Pitman typing course. But I was the first in my family to go to university and they were very proud of that.

Hull University was an escape. For me, a northern windswept city was a really glamorous and exciting place to go because it was so different from my suburban southern town. Meeting Ben [Watt, Thorn’s husband and collaborator in Everything but the Girl] on day one was one of those chance meetings. We were signed to the same indie label back in London but had never met. Being away from home meant we bonded very quickly.

When I first wrote about our career I described it as having this zig-zaggy graph shape. The classic upward curve and then, inevitably, you have a decline, which we did in the late Eighties when we ran out of steam a bit. It was then punctuated with Ben getting very ill [with an autoimmune disorder] and having a hit single with Missing.

Working together was brilliant when everything was going well because you’re sharing all these experiences with someone you love, but when something went wrong then it could be difficult. One of the reasons we’ve been quite resistant to pressure to work together again is because we both realise we were lucky to get away with it for as long as we did.

I never thought I wanted kids but when my sister had hers I fell in love with them and realised there was something in me that wanted that. Ben and I were working and travelling a lot though, and it wasn’t until my mid-30s that I got around to it. And then it took over my life completely. I retreated from work for quite a few years to raise the kids [twin daughters and a son].

Tracey Thorn and her partner Ben Watt in Everything But The Girl - Credit: Peter Noble
Tracey Thorn and her partner Ben Watt in Everything But The Girl Credit: Peter Noble

Then I started to wonder: “What if that’s it?” That’s what made me write my first book, Bedsit Disco Queen. The old Tracey came back to life. I realised I could be creative without sacrificing time with the kids.

Now this feels like Act Three of my life. As I’ve got older, my life has got richer. I’ve got my children, my relationship still works well and I’ve got lots of interesting work. I know I’m incredibly lucky, so I can’t sit here and bemoan the fact that my back is quite stiff in the morning nowadays.

My snotty teenage self would probably be a bit snide and think I’d turned out to be a bit domestic. At 16, I was very judgmental about anyone I thought was living a boring life. But I’m living the life that the young me wanted; I’ve just added in some things, like being a mum, that have turned out to be much better than she ever thought they would be.

Another Planet: A Teenager in Suburbia by Tracey Thorn (Canongate) is available for £11.99 plus p&p from