Jane Fallon’s new novel Queen Bee features a nice woman with unruly hair who likes to dress in denim and trainers. Right now I am looking at Jane who is a nice woman with unruly hair pinned into a straining top knot, who happens to be wearing denim and trainers and I am thinking to myself, hmmm, interesting.
In addition, fictional heroine Laura finds herself living in a posh street full of fabulously rich people with huge houses, complete with Moroccan-inspired bedrooms, yoga studios and vast kitchens with bronze splashbacks and marble countertops.
When Laura is not worrying about her cheap leggings and ill-fitting hoodie, the swirly patterns of the marble and the casual attitude to wealth make her feel sick.
When she is not fretting about how to pay her bills or arrange childcare, she boggles at the framed ‘artistic’ photographs of the botoxed trophy wives that seem to hang on every greige wall in every dream home.
Jane Fallon, 59, (pictured) who lives in a £10.8 million mansion in Hampstead with Ricky Gervais, reflects on their 38 year relationship
‘The narcissism of these people,’ she tuts, ‘knows no bounds.’
Should we Sherlock onwards and consider it a coincidence that Fallon herself recently moved into a posh street full of fabulously rich people with huge houses?
She and her partner the comedian Ricky Gervais moved into a £10.8 million mansion in Hampstead, North London two years ago; a plush leafy enclave popular with millionaires and stars. Jane is not as discomfited as Laura by such a gilded environment, even though like her she was not born to this world of swimming pools, electric gates and cellared wines.
‘But I worked in television for so long I was used to rubbing shoulders with celebrities and rich people,’ she says. ‘So moving here didn’t faze me particularly, although we did feel a bit like The Beverly Hillbillies at first.’
Shortly after they moved in, Ricky posed in his underpants on the steps and posted the image on social media. ‘Chillin’ in the garden,’ he wrote. While Jane, I like to think, was prowling around the neighbours’ kitchens, being appalled by their marble.
One big personal downside of the pandemic is that she could no longer hang out in the local coffee shops, eavesdropping on cashmere-clad women and ferreting away any juicy conversational nuggets to use in her best-selling novels.
‘I could teach a masterclass on why Louboutins are better than Jimmy Choos,’ says one character in Queen Bee. Jane herself doesn’t actually know if this is true or not, for she is more at home talking about her Asics trainers. ‘These are very good for running in,’ she says, extending a tiny foot.
Modest and even shy, Fallon could never be the kind of attention grabbing, oxygen-sucking queen bee who is one of the central characters in her novel.
Jane (pictured, with Ricky Gervais) said that she’s not into expensive stuff and is continuing to shop on the High Street
‘No I am more of a drone, a worker bee,’ she says and also describes herself as ‘an introvert’. She likes going out to dinner as half of a couple rather than one of a crowd and it seems clear that she takes comfort in the capacious shadows cast by Gervais’s huge personality.
She is also the kind of admirable soul who wears her wealth and accomplishments lightly. ‘I’m not trying to sound saintly but I’m just not into expensive stuff. Things like diamonds don’t interest me. I’m High Street and I’m staying High Street,’ she says, property portfolio excluded, of course.
‘I think there is a big difference about spending if you become successful later in life. You know who you are before you have money, especially if you earned that money yourself.’
‘You know, I always used to buy myself a little present when I had a book out but I haven’t even done that for the last three books.’
Jane! There must be something nice you would like.
‘I’ve got my eye on a metal sculpture of a penguin holding a fish.’
‘It’s hard to explain why I love it.’
‘There is just something about the expression on the fish’s face.’
Jane (pictured) said marriage has never particularly interested her and she hasn’t had a desire to have children
Today, in her Mint Velvet T-shirt and Toast dungarees, Jane is dressed rather like a toddler — although she bought the dungarees simply to prove that she could still wear them at the age of 59.
This is in much the same spirit that she does regular cartwheels on her lawn; to prove that she can still do them, too. Her life is full of challenges, including her penguin yearnings and her boyfriend.
‘The worst thing about lockdown has been the noise he makes,’ she sighs. ‘He is so noisy, even when he is working.’ Fallon and Gervais have been together for a remarkable 38 years, although they have never married nor had children. ‘It is not that I am anti-marriage. It is just that it has never particularly interested me,’ she says today.
Everyone asks them about not having a family. It is a constant source of fascination for others, one that the couple seem to bear with good grace, despite the intrusion.
Gervais was even questioned about it on the Ellen DeGeneres television show in America, where he said: ‘There’s loads of reasons why I don’t have kids. The world is overpopulated. No one’s sitting around going: “Oh Rick is not having kids, we’re going to run out.” ’ He added that it was also too much responsibility. Jane feels much the same way.
‘Having children had always been something I didn’t feel like I wanted to do. I just never thought that I would be a good mother. I see people who are good at being parents and I don’t know how they do it. How can they be so relaxed?
‘I am too much of a worrier. I’d be running after them going across the road. I’d stifle the life out of them. In fact, I think I’d be a terrible mother. I didn’t even want to let my cat to go out.’
Yet she appeared to have a change of heart four years ago, writing a newspaper article in which she seemed to be mourning the fact that she would never be a grandmother; wondering if her decision not to be a parent was a disastrous oversight.
Jane and Ricky Gervais (pictured) who met at university, spent years surviving on not much more than beans and rice
‘No! That was tongue-in-cheek and everyone took it seriously,’ she says. ‘I have never regretted not having children. I think it is awesome that some people do have them, but I can’t get over the saying that once you are a parent, you’re only ever as happy as your unhappiest child.
‘People ask me if I am worried that when I am old there will be no one to look after me, but that is no reason to have kids either. There is no guarantee that they’ll look after you, anyway. They might hate you!’
She feels that she was incredibly lucky that Ricky felt the same way. ‘Otherwise it might have been tricky.’
Their story is a fairytale itself. She supported Gervais financially and emotionally when he was an aspiring pop star back in the 1980s. Both from working class backgrounds, they met at university in London and lived above a brothel in King’s Cross, surviving for years on not much more than beans and rice.
Jane was the sole earner, making £40 a week at a theatrical agency, learning to be a script editor. She walked to and from work to save money and shopped for sell-by bargains in the local Safeway.
They were too poor to afford the constant feed of 50p coins needed to keep the heating going, and froze every winter. Look at them now, with their Hampstead spread, their £3 million riverside weekend home in Marlow (complete with tennis court) and a couple of apartments in New York.
Jane (pictured) said she knew Ricky was the one for her from the start of their relationship, but she didn’t go into it thinking they would still be knocking around together 30-odd years later
Look at these two ordinary people who have powered though to the top on talent alone. Were they just a couple of crazy kids with a big dream?
‘We had no plan — no,’ says Jane. ‘I always had a bee in my bonnet about wanting to have a good career. Ricky wanted to do well, too.’ Did being poor put pressure on their relationship?
‘No. We always felt that we were in it together. And that somehow we would get out of it, somehow work our way out of it. I knew Ricky was the one for me and I absolutely adored him right from the start, but I didn’t go into our relationship thinking that we would still be knocking around together 30-odd years later. That’s too frightening.’
Today Fallon is the best-selling author of ten chick noir novels and the award-winning television producer behind shows such as This Life, Teachers and 20 Things To Do Before You’re 30.
Gervais is Britain’s most successful comedian, a taboo-breaking performer whose edgy awards show presentations have upset almost everyone in Hollywood. Does Jane worry about the reactions to some of his more challenging jokes?
‘I would worry about it if I thought it would get to him, but he’s very secure,’ she says. ‘He is not bothered by things that people say to him or about him.
‘If I thought it was somehow affecting him it would be a problem, but it isn’t.’
Gervais has also made his name by writing, directing and starring in hit television series such as The Office, Extras and After Life.
The latter is the saga of a man grieving for the love of his life — she dies! — and was inspired by his enduring love for Jane.
Jane (pictured, with Ricky Gervais) explained that they share everything and have organised their wills
‘What does losing everything mean? My answer is losing your life partner,’ he has said. ‘I’d rather be nowhere with her than somewhere without her, ’ is another of his sentiments.
He would be the first to admit that he is embarrassingly dependent upon Jane, usually unable to work the television remote comtrol or locate the teabags when she is not there; perhaps it is he who is the missing child in their happy relationship?
Certainly, while Fallon and Gervais pool all their earnings (‘we are like an old married couple’), she is the one who looks after the details, got their wills organised and takes care of business.
‘We share everything, but I can’t leave the details to someone else. I like to be in control of things. If you’re used to not having any money, you need to know where everything is.’
The daughter of shopkeepers — she keeps her parents’ old wooden till in her study — she was always ‘good at looking at what there was and seeing how I could make it last.’
The couple spent lockdown in Hampstead, erecting a badminton court on the lawn, going for walks on the heath and working out in their gym.
Jane (pictured) said being the plus one of a more famous partner, is fine for two minutes but when it goes on for hours it can be a bit annoying
For the first time in her life, insomniac Jane slept through every night and tried growing vegetables by day, without much success. ‘If I had to survive on my own produce, I’d be done for,’ she says. Her haul to date comprises two tiny tomatoes, a misshapen leek, plus a baby lettuce sprouted from seed and grown on a window ledge.
‘Don’t tell me you are going to eat Lionel, you’ve known him since he was a leaf!’ Ricky cried one lunchtime. So she kept the lettuce as ‘a companion’ instead.
She did make a salad with her tragic tomatoes and I note she dressed it with the same dressing that Laura uses in Queen Bee; oil and vinegar mixed with soy sauce, honey and lime.
‘It’s my go to,’ she says.
Jane is remarkably sanguine about being the plus one of a more famous partner. Usually the lesser star throbs with gassy resentment, but in this instance Fallon is even understanding about those who would trample over her to get to spend five minutes with Gervais.
‘It’s like you’re not there sometimes. But I think that often people get tunnel vision when they see a famous person. It’s fine for two minutes but if it goes on for hours it can be a bit annoying.’
Jane (pictured) revealed a perfect night involves watching Netflix with a bottle of wine with her partner Ricky Gervais
They seem to live quietly and modestly in their grand homes. Gervais is an excellent gift giver who haunts antique markets and quirky shops to find ‘odd little things’ that she might like, while supplying her with a list of gifts that he would like.
‘Oh it’s always things like a titanium suit of armour and a hover board, things that don’t actually exist,’ she laughs.
A perfect night is the pair of them on the sofa by 6pm, watching Netflix with a bottle of wine, two episodes only — they never binge — and in bed by 11pm.
The recent death of their 17-year-old Siamese cat Ollie, originally a gift from Jonathan Ross, was devastating.
‘She was a very particular little thing. She was so obsessed with us and so devoted,’ says Jane. ‘For all those years I was never in a room alone, not once, she always followed me in.’
Perhaps it is time for some new pets in their Hampstead idyll?
‘Oh yes. I am going to absolutely fill this house and garden with animals,’ says she who is not quite queen bee. ‘I am going to be that woman.’
Queen Bee by Jane Fallon is published by Penguin and out now (£8.99).