Comedian Angela Barnes tells Craig Meighan about 10 things that changed her life...

1 My school drama department

I GREW up in Kent where they still have the 11-Plus system and I went to an all-girls grammar school. A state school, but it was selective.

I felt quite out of my depth there really because although I was quite bright, it was a lot of very middle-class kids that went there and I wasn’t really from a family that was middle class. I always had trouble with confidence and fitting in but because it was a nice school, we had this incredible drama department.

I had these brilliant teachers who I’m still in touch with. It was the first place that really gave me the confidence to stand up and perform. I wasn’t the best at it, I couldn’t sing – still can’t sing for toffee – but when I did my GCSEs, I did drama and I got an A.

Then when I was choosing my A levels, I remember we had to go and talk to the teachers about what we wanted to do and I decided I wanted to do theatre.

I thought the teacher would say no because I wasn’t one of the louder, more popular girls that tended to do the drama but I’ll never forget going to her desk and saying I’d really like to do theatre A Level and she said, “Oh, good. I was hoping you would”. And it just gave me this huge boost of confidence.

That boost of confidence really stuck with me and I think if I hadn’t had that, if I hadn’t gone to that school and been in that drama department with those teachers, I don’t think I’d be doing what I do now.

2 Linda smith

I GREW up listening to Radio 4 with my family. It was always on in the house.

But when I was growing up, it was just Oxbridge men really and the only women’s voices you heard in radio comedy were playing the maid or the wife or the strumpet. They never were in charge and they’d never had agency. I first became aware of Linda Smith at some point in the 1990s. There was this voice on the news quiz on Radio 4 that sounded like people I knew because she was from Kent. She was not from a posh family. She didn’t go to Oxbridge. She was the first person who made me go, “oh, people like you are allowed to do this as well. You don’t have to have been in Footlights”.

I first started doing stand-up much later – I was in my 30s when I started. When you start to get a little bit of recognition, or you start to do TV and radio and you get interviews like this, and people ask you who your influences are I always say Linda Smith because of that moment.

She sadly passed away in 2006. She had ovarian cancer. But about 10 years ago, I was filming something and I got a phone call out of nowhere, a number I didn’t recognise and it was Linda Smith’s partner Warren Lakin.

He phoned me up out of the blue just to say, “I kept seeing your name come up in interviews, that you keep mentioning Linda, and it really matters a lot to me that you keep her name alive, you know, and that you talk about her. So I got your phone number and I just wanted to say thank you”.

I’ve become over these last 10 years really good friends with Warren. And even though I never got to meet or work with Linda, I feel really close to her and her legacy.

3 Losing my dad

LOSING a parent obviously changes your life. It’s a point where your life divides in two. There’s everything that happened before that and everything that happens after.

My dad died in 2008. He was only 60, so not very old. He died very suddenly. Had a heart attack. I was always a big comedy fan and my dad was as well. We would watch comedy together, we would go to live comedy together. And he always used to say to me: “Why don’t you have a go? Why don’t you try it?”

After he died, it made me realise life is short. He was 60 when he died. That’s only 14 years older than I am now.

So after he died I started thinking about it more and more about what I really wanted from life and what would make me happy. And so, the year after he died, I did a stand-up comedy course. So those two things together really were two points where my life changed, where I suddenly stepped onto this new path.

4 The Jill Edwards stand-up comedy course

THERE’S lots of debate about whether you can teach stand-up comedy. I think you can certainly teach people skills that are useful, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will be a good stand-up comic.

Jill Edwards, whose course I did at Komedia in Brighton, runs that course twice a year and has done for many years. If it made everyone a successful comic, there’d be thousands of people doing stand-up now but I do think that it’s a safe way to start out if you’re not sure how to start. What her course gave me was a safe space to see if I could do it, to have a go and learn some tools, learn the anatomy of what a joke is, you know, what makes a joke funny.

I suppose you can’t be Picasso till you’ve learned how to use a paintbrush, right? Jill Edward’s stand-up comedy course was a big turning point for me.

5 Winning the BBC New Comedy Award in 2011

I ONLY really started properly gigging on the open mic circuit in 2010. So it was a year and a half down the line.

The BBC have their annual New Comedy Awards, and they hadn’t had them for a few years, they stopped doing it for a bit. In 2011, they brought it back. So there was a big fanfare. It was on Radio 2.

I wasn’t going to enter it because I didn’t think I was ready or good enough. And then one night I did an open spot at the Up the Creek Comedy Club in Greenwich. And it was a competition. So at the end of the night, the audience vote on who their favourite act was and they voted for me.

I was speaking to one of the organisers, and they said to me: “Have you entered the new Comedy Awards?” I said: “No, I don’t think I’m ready.” And they said, “You are ready. You’ve got five minutes. It’s good enough, I think you should enter it.” So I went home and I Googled it and I saw that the closing date was that weekend.

You had to send in a CD with your set on it and the next day I got a train to London and handed the CD into the BBC to make sure it made the deadline.

And long story short, went through the heats, went through the semis and everything and I ended up winning, which nobody expected – least of all me.

I still had a full-time day job. And at that point, it was getting quite tiring. I was sort of in my mid-30s going oh God, do I really want to schlep over the country for no money?

But winning that made me change my path again and go OK maybe this can be more than a hobby.

Maybe this can be a career.

6 Meeting my husband

MY husband and I got married in 2021. We met in 2014 and until that point, I’d been single quite a while, particularly since doing stand-up. I was travelling around the country to different places all the time keeping strange hours.

I met my husband online. And it sounds so corny, doesn’t it? But you know when you know, and straightaway, pretty much I was like like, “oh, this one’s different”.

I think I’d been in a lot of relationships where I thought you had to have drama for it to be fun. Like, you are supposed to play games and have a bit of drama, keep me on my toes. And that’s what I need.

And meeting my husband Matt was the first time I realised it could be easy, but not boring. And I didn’t realise that was a thing you could have in a relationship.

Having that solid, loving, stable base, makes all the madness of this job much more bearable.

7 My dog

I’VE never wanted children. People used to say to me I’ll change my mind but I’ve never had that biological urge to be a mother. It just didn’t come. But I’ve always wanted a dog.

So we got our little Tina Belcher, the cockapoo, named after Tina Belcher from Bob’s Burgers.

I’ve been around dogs growing up, I’d never had my own dog. And my husband was adamant that he wasn’t a dog person really.

But he’s completely besotted with her. As am I, and we sort of learned a lot about ourselves with Tina.

She is such a personality and I can’t imagine life without her.

It’s made me glad I’m not a parent because I would have been a terrible parent.

I would have been the worst sort of over-mollycoddling parent. My kids would be spoiled, awful children.

8 Crafting

I’D always been not very good at arts and crafts, like drawing, painting, anything to do with sort of fine motor skills, just not my thing at all. So I never bothered with it.

But at the beginning of the lockdown, I learned through a WhatsApp group that the comedian Bec Hill was talking about art and these little challenges she was doing. And we started doing these little exercises from the book The Artist’s Way.

I found myself trying to do things I’d never done before one of them was crafting.

One of the things that Bec taught me, which had never occurred to me at that point, which really changed my life was, it doesn’t matter what the end result is, if you’ve enjoyed the process of doing it.

That was a revelation to me.

I think one of my proudest moments is on one of the episodes of House of Games I did, I wore a pair of trousers that I’d made the day before. If you told me four years ago I could do that, I’d have laughed in your face.

9 History

I DID history GCSE at school and pretty much hated it. I never really thought about it again until I was in my early 30s. I started reading lots of history books.

I became really interested in the Cold War. So I would read loads of stuff about it and I became really interested, particularly in nuclear bunkers. But through this kind of interest, I’ve really expanded reading about the past in a way that I never thought I’d be interested in to the point that now I do a history podcast with John O’Farrell.

History is one of those topics you think is so boring, and I’ve just realised that it’s so fascinating to look back. It was a really big shock to me that that’s something that I would end up doing a podcast about and actually doing professionally. It was a turning point for me in discovering my love of history.

10 Being diagnosed with ADHD

I WAS diagnosed in 2021 at the age of 44. I was misdiagnosed for many years with persistent depressive disorder and at one point bipolar disorder. I’ve been medicated from the age of 18 with various mood stabilisers.

I got diagnosed largely through other people suggesting to me that they thought that might be what was going on. My brain is like a laptop with all the tabs open all the time and I’m forever flicking from one to the other.

It changed my life because ADHD isn’t an excuse for things, it’s a reason. There are lots of things in my life where I’d felt like a failure, where I felt like I wasn’t good enough and where I felt like I had come across as lazy or didn’t care. All of that is ADHD.

It’s allowed me to forgive myself for a lot of those failings because they weren’t my fault. I wasn’t feckless. I wasn’t lazy. I just didn’t have the vocabulary for it, and I didn’t have the knowledge.

But now I do.