MUM'S THE WORD; Rebecca Wilcox, the Daugher of Esther Rantzen and the Late Desmond Wilcox, Talks Exclusively to Nina Myskow about Why Her Mum Makes Her Cringe and Following Her Parents into TV
Byline: NINA MYSKOW
If you're the daughter of Esther Rantzen, it definitely helps to have a sense of humour to match your mother's. And Rebecca Wilcox certainly does.
Some months ago, Rebecca, currently a television researcher, was being screen-tested for a job in front of the camera for Channel 4's T4.
'It was hilarious,' she tells me. 'All the way through, the woman, who was being really nice to me, kept talking about Janet Street-Porter. It was, "Janet this, and Janet that."
'At the end I asked, "Janet Street-Porter?" And she said, "Yeah, your mum."
And I just shrieked, "Oh God, no! It's the other Tooth One!"' And she roars with laughter.
It somehow seems almost shocking to hear the indomitable and daunting former That's Life star referred to in those irreverent tones. But if Rebecca can't, then who can? The second daughter of Esther and legendary TV producer and documentarymaker, the late Desmond Wilcox, she is a vivacious blonde with a delicious sense of fun. A sense of fun which was sorely tested recently, when her mother appeared on Would Like to Meet, a BBC2 makeover dating show. In it, a new-look Esther was seen learning how to flirt.
Rebecca pulls a face, grins and wriggles in embarrassment. 'No one wants to know about their parents having sex,' she says. 'I sat there with a cushion to hide my face. There were bits of the show I just couldn't watch.
'And the scene where she was having lunch with my 96-year-old grandmother- I'd been there at the time, because I was helping out with filming. Mum said, "What do you think about me dating other men?" My grandmother just said, "You're too old for sex, dear."
Then she turned to me and said, "Not you, Becca. You should be having lots of it!" Oh God!' Not to mention the scene where Esther appeared naked in the bath, save for a face pack and well-placed bubbles.
'She was incredibly brave,' says Rebecca. 'I filmed that, and I was very careful with those bubbles. I showed it to her after, and she loved it. But that's her. She used to prance round the garden nude at our place in the New Forest. Not any more, of course.' And she laughs again.
'Oh dear, perhaps I shouldn't have let that out.' In fact, Rebecca, 24, who has a sister Emily, 26, and a brother Josh, 22, is fiercely protective of her mother, whom she adores.
'I've always been proud of her,' she tells me as we sit in the makeup room of a deserted studio after her photo shoot. 'But I don't tell people who I am, or gush on about her, because it's not my achievement, and it sounds like I'm boasting.
'On the other hand, I love talking about my father, because it keeps him alive for me. It probably makes people uncomfortable, me talking about my dead father, but we all do it. That's how we keep him with us.' Her beloved father Desmond, who had suffered heart problems for many years, died four years ago, aged 69. 'It was like the sun going out of our lives,' she says bleakly.
'Or like someone switched off the lights.' He and Esther had been married for 23 years, and were obviously soul mates. Which would explain Rebecca's reaction to her mother's announcement, told as an amusing anecdote over dinner, that she had suggested herself for the show. Much as when Esther had bumped into Matthew Kelly socially, and said, 'Tonight, Matthew, I'm going to be Edith Piaf!' And he'd said, 'Yes- you could.' 'And she did it,' says Rebecca. 'She lost by one vote.
I was away at uni, and she was like, "It was an audience vote. If you had been there I'd have won!"' But Would Like to Meet was an entirely different proposition. 'I said, "Oh God, no! You're still married to Dad. He wouldn't approve." But Mum made it quite clear that she wasn't so much moving on as looking for companionship.
'Which is why she was so furious when she saw the headline: "Esther looking for a replacement for Dessie". …