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Dolly Alderton
Photograph: Neil Cameron

Dolly Alderton interview: ‘The weird naked dancing is based on me’

The writer on her new BBC show, her love for Greta Gerwig and the perfect London day: jazz and Maccy D’s

Jess Phillips
Written by
Jess Phillips
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Dolly Alderton is probably best known for her voice. As one half of the acclaimed and now ex-podcast ‘The High Low’, alongside her best pal Pandora Sykes, her wheezy cackle and anecdotes about dating, friendship, fiction and feminism led to her unofficial christening as a kind of millennial Helen Fielding. Now the Londoner has adapted her own 2018 memoir, ‘Everything I Know About Love’, into a TV series to bring a similarly relatable lens to the growing pains of your twenties, female friendship, fuck-ups and hook-ups – all set in Camden in the 2010s. Suffering the after-effects of a friends-and-family screening the night before and nursing a slipped disc, she shared its story – and her dream London day. 

How would you describe ‘Everything I Know About Love’?
‘It’s the story of two best female friends who move to London with two other best friends in a house share in 2012. It’s a romantic comedy about female friendship, a coming-of-age story and a raucous girl gang show.’

Was it scarier writing the book or putting it on screen?
‘They were scary in different ways: I’d never written a book before and it felt exposing to write about my personal life, but I didn’t have much of a following back then and I didn’t think people would be reading it. I was more worried about my mum and my ex-boyfriends! The TV show is scary because it’s on a larger scale and you don’t want to let down people who enjoyed the book. But it’s less exposing because it’s semi-fictional.’

Everything I Know About Love
Photograph: BBC / Universal International Studios LtdNell (Marli Siu), Maggie (Emma Appleton), Birdy (Bel Powley) and Amara (Aliyah Odoffin) in ‘Everything I Know About Love’

How much of the book has made it to the screen?
‘The relationship between two best female friends is there, and the hedonistic Camden-in-2012 specificness of it, the nostalgia of millennials growing up and the flashbacks to growing up in suburban north London in the Noughties. And what it is to be a young, wild female.’

How much of you is in Maggie, the main character?
‘Maggie is different from me – she’s a very heightened version of me. But there is a scene where she does drunk, naked dancing on her own after a night out; she looks so strange that my friends joked I must have done a dancing masterclass for her. My stage directions were what I’ve always thought when I catch myself dancing in the mirror: “She dances like a drunken jellyfish.”’  

Do you have a favourite movie about female friendship?
‘“Frances Ha” with Greta Gerwig. It’s a story of female friendship that’s told like a romantic comedy, like a Billy Wilder film or like Diane Keaton in “Manhattan”. It’s in black and white and there’s not a [false note] in the script. I love it.’

Making this show got me higher than any recreational experience of my life

Do you have ambitions to do more TV? Plans to conquer Hollywood? 
‘Yes, all of it. Dreams rather than plans at the moment. I’d like to carry on making TV and I’d love to make a film. I’ve written every day since I was a teenager and I thought I’d reached the ceiling of creativity but it was like entering this whole new universe of creativity that I didn’t know existed. It got me higher than any recreational experience of my life.’

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from heartbreak?
‘Great question. I think it’s important to remember that to be heartbroken is a privilege as it means you have loved someone in their entirety and someone has loved you. But the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that you get through it. People lose the love of their life that they’ve been with from 16 until their nineties and they find a way to heal. To quote “Hannah and Her Sisters” – and I use this quote too much – the heart is a very resilient muscle. Even when it feels impossible to heal from it, you will.’

What was the last TV show you binged?
‘“Heartstopper” [on Netflix] when I was sick last month. It really, really captured my heart. It taught me so much about the skill of simplicity as a writer and how you can tell an archetypal story in a compelling way: the hot guy with a heart of gold who sees something in the shy outsider. They made it about two young men, which added a new layer.’

Everything I Know About Love
Photograph: BBC / Universal International Studios LtdBirdy (Bel Powley) and Maggie (Emma Appleton)

What would be your perfect day in London?
‘I’d walk to the Hampstead Ladies’ Pond, do ten laps and then have a hot, naked shower with the other naked ladies. Then go to The Wolseley for eggs royale and on to the National Portrait Gallery, which is my favourite museum in London. It’s all going to be about food… I’d go to Brick Lane and get a bagel. Oh, and do you know what I did last night when I was super-drunk? I got a rickshaw, and it was so fun [laughs]. So I’d get a rickshaw to an outdoor cinema to watch a film about London like “Mary Poppins”. Then to Ronnie Scott’s for jazz and an Islington pub garden to drink too much until closing time. Then I’d get a Filet-O-Fish on the way home.’

No room for a trip to Rowans?
‘I grew up in the suburbs [in Stanmore] and I had to actually hang out in a real Rowans every weekend of my life, so I don’t really want to go back there. It’s too recent a memory for me. I want to go to an adult place. I want an arancini ball on a wooden block.’

‘Everything I Know About Love’ is on BBC One and iPlayer on Jun 7.

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