Bel Mooney has been the nation's shoulder to cry on for more than a decade. We chatted to the wisdom-giving wonder woman...
Hello Bel! Tell us about your column.My advice column appears every Saturday in the Daily Mail, over two pages, with a potential readership of around six million. It consists of two letters, a very personal side column called “And Finally”, which readers love, and a top quotation – a thought for the week. I choose very carefully to be uplifting and/or thought-provoking.
How long have you been an agony aunt?I began with The Times in 2005, and moved to the Mail two years later, so 12 years in all.
And how old are you?I turned 70 last October – which is an important event. I celebrated another step in the accumulation of life experience and, I hope, wisdom!
Does an agony aunt need qualifications?I regard my whole life story as “qualification” enough – having experienced bereavement; family problems in childhood and then later too; nursing a sick child; acute disappointments in my career, marital difficulties ending in divorce; and rebuilding and re-marriage and reinvention. Having said that, I also did a short couples counselling course with the Tavistock Institute, and greatly enjoyed five day-courses with the excellent Human Givens organisation, focusing on issues relevant to my column. A third factor is my deep love of literature. All the books, poems and plays I have read I count as “training”, since the whole human spirit is there.
How did you become an agony aunt?Sandra Parsons, then features editor at The Times, suddenly had a lightbulb moment – that I could write a very personal, “literary” and wide-ranging advice column. I was unsure at first, but quickly realised this is my vocation.
Do you take your work home with you?I work at home, so it’s always here. But I used to find the invisible presence of so much unhappiness under my roof disconcerting and sometimes depressing.
Do you get letters from women and men?More women than men – although I do get very interesting letters from men, and love to use them.
Are some topics more difficult than others?Not really. I do notice that other advice columnists tend to shy away from bereavement, but that is one of my chosen subjects. Many years ago, I received an award from Cruse Bereavement Care for writing about the subject. The problems I find most upsetting concern toxic family problems and grandparents not allowed to see their grandchildren. As a grandmother, I can’t bear to read of their sorrow.
Do men and women ask different questions?No, they don’t. Unhappy relationships and bad marriages abound, although more men complain about not getting enough sex. To be frank, that’s not a subject I enjoy very much – because what can you say? Bereavement, loss and the point of life itself – those have no gender.
Do you get any trends in subjects?In my 12 years, the subjects have been constant – and there’s been no increase in problems in relationships due to porn addiction, which I find rather surprising.
Finally, Bel, what have you learned about human relationships?So much! My postbag brings proof of petty conflict, but also proof of the saving power of human love.