What Would Debbie Do?

When I was young, people would often ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up.

In my head there were two options. I wanted to be either Felicity Kendal or Debbie Harry.

Throughout my childhood these two women spoke to me and, though I wasn’t entirely sure what they were saying, I wanted to speak the same language.

I watched The Good Life avidly, not because I had any interest in degradation, misery and squalor in Surbiton but because I was utterly transfixed by Barbara Good.

Felicity Kendal played her in denim dungarees and shirts with outsized collars which served to make her tiny frame look tinier still. She was sexy in a girl-next-door way, but the twinkle in her eyes always suggested that if you got into her garden shed, she’d show you how to use a dibber for sure.

Debbie Harry wore her sexuality much more blatantly. She always looked as though she’d just fallen out of  a bed to which she would shortly be returning. With her razor cheek bones and dip-dye hair she was beyond cool. As for her smoky eyes and full mouthed pout, well, it wasn’t difficult to imagine how that shower-based ‘finest hour’ she sang about might have been spent.

I wanted so much to be like them.

I bought dungarees but try as I might, I couldn’t look cute, or sexy or even like I had an attractive competency with poultry. I just looked like I was set to start an apprenticeship at Kwik Fit.

Similarly, when I put on the Blondie-inspired leather skirt, I looked like I should be on special offer at DFS.

Life is cruel.

The girl crush is very much a thing these days and looking back, I’ve never not had one. I suspect I am not alone. I’ve always been looking for a girl I can relate to who can show me how to style out womanhood.

At school, that girl was an upper sixth former coincidentally called Felicity. I was a round-faced twelve year old and she was a dark haired goddess in fine knits.

She was at our boarding school because she lived somewhere on continental Europe. I thought I would die from the glamour of her existence.

Just as Debbie Harry was working ombre hair ahead of her time, so my Felicity was brandishing square tipped fingernails before they became the shape du jour. I remember them painted deep maroon to match the plum shades in which she painted her generous lips.

Truth to tell, she wasn’t the most popular girl in the sixth form; she set herself apart, wandering the school with a slightly detached air which I interpreted as other-worldly.

I was able to study Felicity at close quarters. In doing so, I developed what has become a life-long love of luxury knitwear drenched in expensive perfume. I vowed that I too would be well groomed and aromatic.

In Executive Youth my girl crushes are many and varied but every bit as important in determining how I comport myself.

‘What Would Emilia Wear?’ is my default position when it comes to style. The Emilia in question is the vulpine one. Emilia Fox – every bit as casually sexy and magnetic as my original crushes.

I watch her playing Dr Nikki Alexander in Silent Witness not because I want to learn how to detect cause of death from a slice of decomposing liver, but because I’m trying to work out if her top is from Mint Velvet.

My spend in Mint Velvet has gone up from £0 to £Bloody Loads in a bid to achieve Dr Nikki’s sensual glamour.

I notice that all the women I aspire to be like are intelligent and unafraid of speaking their minds.  Emilia Fox is an Oxford graduate, as is another of my faves, Martha Kearney.

Martha is just one of a clutch of women on Radio 4 I am drawn to.

I have written before about the fantasy I have of hanging out in the changing rooms at Top Shop with Martha, Winifred Robinson and Fi Glover but I want to make it clear that while we’re trying on the outfits, we’re debating post-Keynesian inflation theory, international land deals and contemporary feminism.

Later we join Mariella Frostrup for cocktails in All Bar One to discuss whether Scandi Noir actually started with the Moomins. 

Mariella reads lots of books and smells of mischief.

Lo, I have another crush.


You may also like


  1. I wonder if Slap and Tickle have anything to do with your Felicity crush. She was certainly one of my favourites although I had quite a long list – almost a mental catalogue. I liked Debbie too but she was nowhere near the top 10. Beauty – and sexiness – are not how you look to yourself, they are how other people see you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *