A car calls at Jack Monroe’s home in Southend to take her to the photoshoot at noon. Nobody appears to be in. The driver rings the bell and calls her mobile. Nothing. 12.30pm. More ringing, more calling. Still nothing. 1pm. Her agent tries her. Then her publisher, then her former girlfriend. Still nothing. 1.30pm. We call off the shoot, and the car leaves. Everybody is beginning to panic. Where is she?
At 2pm, Monroe wakes up and looks at her phone. She sees all the missed calls – and the time. Now it’s her turn to panic. She calls her agent, apologises like crazy, and makes her own way to London. Two hours later, she’s lying in a bath of pennies for the photoshoot, still apologising. “Every single one of those people trying to get in touch with me thought I’d relapsed. My AA sponsor came round and tried to get me up, but I just couldn’t wake. The first thing I did was ring my sponsor and say, ‘I promise to God I haven’t relapsed.’”
She tells me she woke at 6.15am, got dressed, pottered around, let the dog out, fed the cat, did all the routine things. Then she sat on her bed to put her boots on, and the next thing she remembers is waking up at 2pm. I ask why she is so exhausted. “I’ve just been overdoing it recently. Everybody’s been saying, ‘You need to slow down.’”
There is a big difference today though, she insists. “Two years ago if I’d sat down on my bed and fallen asleep and woken up hours later, I would have just gone, fuck it, got a bottle of whisky and emerged a month later.” She’s talking 19 to the dozen. How did she feel when she saw the time? “I cried. I just cried my eyes out. I thought everyone was going to be really angry. I couldn’t stop crying the whole way. The cab driver must have thought I was running away from home.”
Set design: Lisa Engel at Propped Up. Hair and makeup: Alice Theobald @Arlingtonartists using Morgan’s Pomade and Guerlain. Photograph: Pål Hansen/The Guardian
Monroe is the anti-poverty campaigner and food writer who kept herself going by making the most of her pennies. She showed us how to survive in the age of austerity by being frugal in the extreme – making meals for 30p, and reusing every leftover. But I’m about to find out that it wasn’t as straightforward as that.
Today, few people divide the public like Jack Monroe. For many, she is a heroic anti-poverty campaigner, as evidenced by her recent awards. In October, she won the 2022 Food Hero at the Observer Food Monthly Awards, and a couple of weeks ago she was named The Grocer’s Hero of the Year. Both publications praised the way that Monroe has highlighted the fact that food inflation …….