PUBLISHED: 19:54 30 September 2019 | UPDATED: 19:54 30 September 2019

Kate Fox has a voice that spans poetry and politics, giving both some punch

Katie Fox, who is heavily involved in the Peoples PowerhouseKatie Fox, who is heavily involved in the Peoples Powerhouse

‘I’m the messiah of the north!’ Kate Fox proclaims. She’s kidding of course but there’s a small part of me that believes her. We’re sitting over cookies and coffee in ‘the most beautiful Waterstones in the country’ in her home town of Bradford, discussing who could possibly lead the country through its current, shall we say, situation. After ten minutes of quiet, impassioned rhetoric about creativity, northernness and socioeconomics, I am ready to throw my hat in the ring and become her campaign manager. The standup poet, writer and broadcaster who once read palms on a holiday camp, has just made a compelling case for a northern resistance movement. And I’m all in.

It’s Fox’s razor-sharp intellect delivered in gentle tones that make her such a compelling presence. A regular on the Radio 3 programme The Verb, alongside Ian McMillan, she’s been poet in residence on the Great North Run, had a residency at Glastonbury and is currently touring her show Where There’s Muck There’s Bras, which celebrates the unsung heroines of the north. These include Hilda James, who introduced the front crawl to the UK, and Lilian Bader, one of the first black women in the RAF.

The venue is poignant. It was here (and via the Bradford Festival), as a teenager that Fox would discover poetry and world music and ‘so many things that are important to me now.’ She now lives in North Yorkshire but her love of the city is evident. ‘Bradford is SO multicultural, but it has so many more challenges and so much less resource than the south, but it’s really a beautiful city.”

This sense of pride in the North is evident in Fox, who has a PhD in class, gender and Northern English regional identity in stand-up performance. It’s fair to say it is one of her pet subjects. ‘I am fighting on two fronts’, she says, ‘on the one hand I really want to say and assert that I am a northern poet. I’m aware that Northern is what you become if you are from the north and you are not in the North – you’re probably in the South. But actually if you’re in the North, you’re more likely to identify as being from Yorkshire, and so on.’ However, she says, ‘I wish there was a true sense of a pan-Northern identity and it’s only by coming together as a North which has a certain cultural set of heritages, stigmas and genuine concrete socio economic challenges that there’s any chance of battling them.’ One of the problems, she says, is that the big cities such as Manchester, ‘hoover up Northernness’, a Northernness that doesn’t take into account, particularly places like the North East.’

So much aquacity (new word)
Saltburn &
Sandsend swimming
Double dipping
Eating sea creatures.
Reading about pond swimmers.
Being among bathers. #mildswimming

— DrKateFox (@katefoxwriter)

Fox is heavily involved in the People’s Powerhouse, a movement for shaping the debate around the Northern Powerhouse to ensure that people and communities stay at the heart of the Powerhouse plans. ‘I don’t normally get involved with movements’, Fox says, ‘but I like what they’re doing, which is trying to take the focus away from Northern cities and saying, ‘Actually there are lots of towns and amazing initiatives.’ It’s only by joining these together can they recognise some of the common challenges – transport being a key one. These are things we should be tackling together. Fox says she would even go so far as to say that regional identity and class should be protected characteristics: ‘We need to recognise the power of local links and perhaps forge our own links with Europe.’

Late to poetry, Fox studied communication and media studies at university: ‘I wanted to be a newsreader or actor or Prime Minister. Acting felt too insecure and I was on my own and I didn’t have anywhere to live or any contacts so journalism it was.’ She worked on the university radio station and did comedy sketch shows.

After university Fox went to work for Radio Leicester. ‘I remember being told off on my first day for asking really basic questions.’ It was here she got into making creative radio packages – ‘I’d just make really daft things and go off and report on things.’ However, she wasn’t being paid very much and she was living in a bedsit and it all got a ‘bit precarious’ so she applied for a job with Airtours working in an all-inclusive resort in Tunisia. ‘It was awful and I lasted two months and left but stayed and read tourists’ palms instead,’ she laughs. Thanks to a career development loan, Fox did a radio journalism course (the course tutor nearly told her her voice would always be an issue). Now this voice can be heard regularly on BBC Radio 3 and presenting Pick of The Week on Radio 4.

She’s recently used her voice to publicise (if ‘casually dropping it into conversation’ constitutes publicising) the fact that she’s been diagnosed as autistic. She’d been aware of it for years but only received a diagnosis while doing her PhD. She’s keen to talk about it now because, she says, the current perception of what autistic means is out of whack: ‘People say, ‘You are not like my idea of autism’. They don’t say ‘Oh perhaps my idea of autism is wrong’.’

Fox says she feels she should talk about her autism but, adds, ‘First I had to know I could get sufficient work either despite or because of it, to make up for the work I will not get. And that’s a cost-benefit in my head, especially as my main tools – though I say it myself – are warmth and empathy.’ But, she can’t not talk about it, ‘So I’m going to do a show about Dr Who and the history of autism activism but I hope I will do it just at the point where I will have done enough other stuff that it’s not all I’ve done.’ u

Where There’s Muck There’s Bras is currently on tour