Jacqueline Wilson: ‘Tracy Beaker opened up the world for me — before that I’d holiday in Clacton’
Jul 09, 2023
Jacqueline Wilson, 77, is one the UK’s most successful writers of children’s literature, having sold 40 million copies since her debut in 1969. Several of her 100-plus titles have been made into TV series, including Tracy Beaker and Hetty Feather. She has a daughter, Emma, from her marriage to Millar Wilson, but has been in a relationship with Trish, a retired bookshop manager, for almost 20 years. They live in East Sussex.
Being a council estate kid, my only chance of going abroad was on a school trip. I’ve been back to Bruges many times and it’s one of my favourite cities but, sadly, all that beauty and culture was wasted on me and a bunch of giggling teenage schoolgirls. Galleries, museums and wonderful food? The only things we were interested in were visiting the boys in the hostel up the road and buying chips from the little van in the market square.
That was as glamorous as my holidays got for many years. As a family, we only ever went to Clacton-on-Sea, staying at the same hotel for the same week every summer. My parents were both teetotal and chose that particular establishment because it wasn’t licensed. It did have entertainment though. This man — we called him Uncle Will, I think — would finish with his signature tune, The Music Man, every night and everybody would have to get up and pretend to play a different instrument. The finale was everyone doing a conga out into the street. Heaven knows what would have happened if there had been a licensed bar!
Looking back, I wonder if I was subconsciously biding my time, waiting for the day when writing stories would take me to all those exotic places I’d heard about. After I had success with Tracy Beaker in the early 1990s, the world finally began to open up. In those days, authors actually went on tour to places such as America, Australia and New Zealand.
After I separated from my husband, I had some fabulous holidays with my daughter, Emma, but I was also determined to show everyone that I could travel without friends or family. Instead of a cruise, I decided to take the train all the way down the west coast of North America, starting in Vancouver, then down through San Francisco and finishing up in San Diego. I’m not the most confident traveller, so I thought that if I was with a tour group someone would notice if I went missing and ask: “What happened to the funny little woman with the jewellery?”
Ah, my jewellery. Every time I went abroad, I had to take it all off. Sometimes, I had a ring on every finger, plus bangles and necklaces . . . all sorts of bits and bobs. I’m sure they thought I was a smuggler.
This year, Trish and I are taking the dogs to Norfolk. We’re staying in the grounds of a stately home, but we’re in the holiday cottage bit, the servants’ quarters. Not very exciting, I know, but I’ve unfortunately got a lot of boring health problems now, so I can’t travel abroad like I used to. America is out of the question because I can’t get health insurance.
I do miss seeing the world. I remember going to Venice for the first time in the 1980s, before it became so popular. You could just stroll in and out of museums; you didn’t have to book ahead or stand in a queue for six hours. Venice is a magical city, but it can be a bit tricky for someone with a terrible sense of direction. Like me! I would say, “I’m just going to that bookshop on the corner” and no one would see me for the rest of the day. Once or twice, I didn’t even find the bookshop.
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The last time I was there, one of those giant cruise ships came into the lagoon and it seemed like the city was being invaded. I remember thinking that if things carried on like that, the city was going to sink. Far too many people for such a small place. Then, it dawned on me: “I’m one of those tourists. I’m part of the problem.” I guess I wanted it to be like it was when I first saw it; not so hectic.
The most expensive place I’ve ever stayed in is probably the Constance Prince Maurice resort in Mauritius. We were met at the plane, taken by limo to the hotel and had a chauffeur-driven buggy to our chalet. It was the kind of place where you have conversations with the housekeeper about what kind of pillow you’d prefer and what time you’d like your afternoon champagne cocktail. There were even people who swept the beach for us, removing any stray grass or seaweed in case it spoilt our view.
Would I stay somewhere like that if I was picking up the bill? Probably not; I’d feel guilty spending all that money. I have to admit that Trish and I were taken there because I was the judge for a literary prize. The awards were given out by Tilda Swinton and I found myself chatting to her one morning at breakfast. For a brief moment, I looked around and wondered if I was dreaming. Such luxury and so many famous people. How did a little girl from the council estate in Kingston upon Thames end up here?
The Best Sleepover in the World by Jacqueline Wilson (Penguin, £14.99) is out now. To order a copy go to timesbookshop.co.uk or call 020 3176 2935. Free UK standard P&P on online orders over £25. Special discount available for Times+ members
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