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Judi Spiers

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October blog
October 18th, 2012

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read!”

So said the late great Groucho Marx. Well he’d have loved this years Appledore Book Festival now in its sixth year. Founded in October 2006 by a committee led by local children?s author Nick Arnold, who became Festival Director, it came about because of the threatened closure of Appledore library and the determined campaign to keep it open. In November 2006 the Library was saved from closure although the community became responsible for the running costs of the community-owned library building.

Today the Appledore Book Festival is a charity with a mission to spread a love of reading and learning in North Devon whilst focusing publicity on the charming village of Appledore. Nick passed on the baton last year to Brenda Daly who did a fine job assembling some of the countries best known authors including Penny Junor, Ruth Rendell, Rosie Boycott, Paul Torday and Martin Bell who along with yours truly is a Patron.

E-books might be all the rage with certain individuals and for certain books (you know the ones I mean? Come on be honest 50 Shades of Grey) but I can tell you the paper and ink bound editions were alive and well and selling hand over fist this year. I was more than thrilled to be asked to interview/chat with three of this years visiting authors and their books couldn’t have been more different.

First there was Fiona Phillips, ex GMTV presenter whose account of losing her mother and father to Alzheimers within a year of each other really pulled us all up. Fiona Phillips up at 3.30 each morning very blonde and very perky she was one of the first to report on the OJ Simpson case, she announced the death of Princess Diana and chatted like an old friend to Four PMs – Gordon Brown even invited her to join his government. Very easy to have watched her and assumed she had a cosseted privelidged life. Behind the scenes she was making a weekly 10 hour journey to Wales with two small children and battling with the authorities over her parents care.. and the press who wanted to publish pictures of her father ravaged by the disease.

Before I Forget is a moving sometimes harrowing tale and plenty queued to buy it and share their stories with Fiona afterwards.

Next I was in conversation with John Gordon Sinclair. John shot to fame as a gangly 18 year old in Bill Forsyth’s Gregory’s Girl and got a Bafta nomination for his performance. Later in his career he picked up a Lawrence Olivier Award for his first musical in the West End She Loves Me which was the last time I had seen him close up. I can tell you it was a big surprise to see him sporting a serious buzz cut which apparently had caused his children to ask him on several occasions if he was in a bad mood – it just frightened me. Apparently it was all for a part in a film shot in Cornwall, WWZ, in which he played opposite Brad Pitt as a navy seal. To be honest it really suited his latest role in life as the author of a gritty thriller Seventy Times Seven about a contract killer seeking grim retribution for his brother’s murder. If this book doesn?t make it to tv or film I’ll have a buzz cut myself – it’s cracking and there’s a sequel to follow. John has actually turned down a part at the Rsc and a David Mamet play to finish writing it. As you can imagine his agent is thrilled ..I believe the words”better be good” were muttered.

I rounded off the evening in Appledore with Only Fools and Horses Boycie – actor John Challis – who has written two volumes of his autobiography Being Boycie and Boycie and Beyond. His effect on a packed St Mary’s Church as he walked down the isle to join me on stage was incredible. The place fair erupted when he broke into Boycies machine gun cackle ..and I thought at one stage I was going to have to perform a Heimlich Manoevre on one elderly lady whose peppermint went down the wrong way when he proclaimed loudly “Marlene!”

The late John Sullivan who wrote Only Fools once told him he had created a monster that had got out of the cage and John tells some amazing stories about living with his alter ego. There is a particularly hysterical one about a bloke in a pub asking him to go up behind his wife and speak some of the lines from a favorite episode. Apparently the women was so excited she jumped up fainted and knocked herself out on the table and was rushed to hospital ..and all this on her wedding night!

September blog
September 18th, 2012

During my career in television I have taken part in endless quiz and game shows ..shows like Give Us A Clue, Celebrity Squares, You Bet, Blankety Blank and Noel Edmond’s House Party and I loved every minute of them. I have often been asked if I would ever take part in I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! The answer has always been the same:

“When hell freezes over!” Well it has been a little chilly recently and if not exactly filming in the jungle I have had a similar experience – a family wedding in Sicily. Oh boy think CGMOH meets Best Little Exotic Marigold Hotel meets Armageddon! I love my family fiercely but en masse … well you can have too much of a good thing.

The drama began at the airport where we were due to pick up three cars and travel in convoy the one and a half hour journey from Catania Airport to Modica. I had been warned by someone who knows the area really well to ignore the maps and follow the main coast road, but no – my family knew better..satnavs. Well we’d lost one couple before we’d left the car park but with that good old Spiers pioneering spirit we ploughed on. I thought Mexico City was like Whacky Races but the Sicilians they are something else. I’d have sworn every car that pulled in behind us was trying to get something out of my boot and that every motorbike had got his braces caught on our wing mirrors. I hate satnavs at the best of times..and this wasn’t one of them and to make matters worse we had that really “posh bird”with the dodgiest Italian accent ever. I think Christopher Columbus must have drawn up the maps and instead of the main route we ended up going across the spine of the country climbing alarmingly and descending round hairpin bends and of course the inevitable happened – we ended up in a farmyard in the middle of nowhere.

As the only Italian speaker in the group (when I say Italian speaker I did it for O’ Level “molti anni fa” – that’s many years ago) and when it comes to ordering food or a return train ticket to Rome I’m your girl but rural Sicily miles from anywhere was a challenge. The trouble is my pronunciation is pretty good and with a few well-chosen phrases people think I’m fluent (and what’s more alarming so do I) and they rattle on like gattling guns. Also I don’t listen to directions in England so it was never going to be easy.

Sure enough the tongue rolling and the growling began accompanied by much arm waving and of course I nodded sagely eventually returning to the car with a blank look and the vaguest of ideas as to where we were headed. I can’t relive it any more it was bad enough the first time but needless to say we eventually got there.

My heart rose on reaching our hotel (a Palazzo no less all arranged and sorted by my nephew) only to plummet on hearing the words,

“You are in the annex Signora.”

Here we go I thought, a dodgy add-on in a totally inappropriate style with the whiff of a damp shower curtain as soon as you enter. Sure enough we crossed the street (this I’ll admit is a first) and turned into a dark alley with broken paving stones. Now here’s a thing in the whole time we were in Modica I never saw a dog and only the tail of one cat disappearing down a side street!? But what did I step in as I negotiated my wheely bag further and further into the Stygian gloom? Spirits soared unexpectedly as we turned into a beautiful courtyard where tables were being laid for dinner and we were shown into a an exquisite room with an all singing all dancing en-suite bathroom – not a shower curtain in sight.

The next day, refreshed, we headed off for the civil ceremony held in the stunningly grand Town Hall in a hall that looked like it was set up for a United Nations conference complete with individual microphones in front of each seat and the walls were groaning with paintings of some poor soul’s ancestors – the Borgia’s I think. The service was conducted by the mayor who obviously had a train to catch and the desk had a floral tribute which looked like it had been borrowed from a coffin and which, for some reason, my sister insisted we take with us when we left. Oh and the caretaker and friends stood gossiping and smoking cigarettes at the door throughout it was unreal and we all cried and laughed … in the wrong places!

In complete contrast the evening ceremony held in the garden of a beautiful hotel was magical. My nephew and his stunning bride whispered their vows with all of us straining to hear whilst four angelic bridesmaids and an impeccably behaved pageboy stood in attendance as the sun set over ancient Modica and the candle bedecked grounds began to glow. Oh I’m welling up again. The alfresco dinner was followed by the speeches praising and taking the mickey out of my nephew in equal measure and then came the “surprise” entertainment. With Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’ bursting out over the speakers five fully grown men (guests no less) bursting out of gold lurex jumpsuits and sporting blue wigs strutted their stuff in best Glee style. The look on the bride’s father’s face (a former Spitfire pilot) will stay with me forever!

Five days I will always remember – but its’ a definite ‘NO’ to Hell’s Kitchen!

Pink Ladies
February 15th, 2012

I recently opened an event at Kennaway House in Sidmouth put on by an incredible young woman Naomi Birchem.

Naomi was diagnosed with breast cancer at just 26 and after long and grueling treatment was told it was unlikely that she could ever have children. She did fall pregnant but 5 months into her pregnancy suffered terrible backache, which was put down to her condition. At home six days after giving birth to her beautiful baby son Devon she was in agonies of pain and called the paramedics who were unable to move her and the fire brigade had to take her to hospital. Not only had she contracted MRSA but she had broken her back in three places and there was a tumor on the base of her spine. When I tell you that Naomi is making a memory box for Devon and for Christmas bought him star so that he might always look up and see his mother you will guess her prognosis.

This inspirational young woman chooses to spend much of the time she has left raising money for cancer charities.

These words are how Naomi?s cancer has made her see the world.

  • The Secret Of Life Is Enjoying The Passing Of Time
  • Cherish family
  • Grow a garden
  • Love nature
  • Sing and dance
  • Know love
  • Live life to the fullest
  • Celebrate tradition
  • Go out for adventure and come home for love
  • Follow your heart
  • Life is a dream
  • Sit and think
  • Eat good food
  • Believe in you
  • Accept change
  • Be thank for the earths bounty
  • Smell the flowers
  • Be a friend
  • Think big
  • Set goals
  • Play games
  • Give
  • Be creative
  • Make the time sweet
  • Kiss and hug
  • Watch sunsets.

I was, to say the least, a little emotional as I left Kennaway House until a lovely gentleman directing traffic stopped me to ask me to attend another charity function..adding as I drove off,

?You look much better than you sound on the radio!?

Oh well a chambermaid it is.

February 15th, 2012

Loathe it and I am fed up of having the onus put on me by big, hugely successful supermarkets and stores.

What am I referring to? Carrier bags.

There is one particular nationwide store where if you buy a greetings card for a pound or a pair of knickers for ?4.50 you will be given a bag questions asked. But if you buy ?90 worth of food from their food hall you will be charged for the bags! Oh yes they will tell you the wonderful work they are doing contributing to the environment by charging you but isn?t it a little late when they have already manufactured the bags?

Apart from that, what about all the unnecessary packaging their food is wrapped in. Vacuum packed, double wrapped fish requiring a Stanley knife to release it into the wild, fruit on trays covered in clingfilm to say nothing of the cartons and tubs. We have been duped into thinking it is all our fault that plastic is engulfing the planet and that we can solve the problem by carrying our own bags and reusing them ..of course we have to be responsible but lets cure the problem at source not the symptoms. Put the onus where it belongs on the big companies who are making huge profits from us. Make them reduce their packaging or use recyclable materials or fine them!

The day after I wrote this piece I received a room diffuser from one such store through the post. The diffuser is a bottle, which comes in an 18-inch tube with a 3-inch diameter. It? was padded out in a 28-inch square box full of inflatable polythene bags! Never knowingly under packed eh?

Hollywood here I come!
February 15th, 2012

I have often dreamt of receiving an Oscar?not that they are readily handed out to local radio presenters but the other day I came a step closer!

Lynda La Plante is an old friend and many years ago she gave me a part in the Governor playing a journalist interviewing the new prison Governor played by Janet McTeer (recently nominated for an Oscar for Albert Nobbs). Lynda and I keep in touch and last year I rang her to suggest she read a fabulous new thriller about the banking crisis The Set-Up by Felix Riley. Well blow me down if she didn?t tell me during an interview the other day that she had optioned the book and met the author to discuss who knows what! Of course I demanded a part ?much as I would love to play the gorgeous 30 something detective Jenni Martinez who packs a gun and a badge and races around New York on the back of the hero, former US Secret Service Agent Mike Byrne?s motor bike, there?s not enough Vaseline or air brushing in the world that could pull that off. But maybe just maybe there?s a little part as a chambermaid.

Ready for my close up Mrs La Plante!

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