Interview | Very British Problems – A very British interview
Very British Problems is a Twitter phenomenon. Created by journalist Rob Temple, the social networking account artfully summarises the plagues of our tea-drinking brethren in a witty 140 character snapshot. Since its creation in 2013, Very British Problems has accumulated more than 650,000 followers. Keen to know more about the name behind the account, LSi chatted to Rob about the delights of public speaking, how umbrellas are the perfect aid for going incognito and the definitive answer to a perfect cup of tea.
How did you come up with the idea of Very British Problems?
I was bored. It was the end of 2012 and I felt like nothing of note had happened that year, so decided I’d do four things in 2013: write a book, start a Twitter feed and get it to 1,000 followers, run 50 miles in one go and propose to my girlfriend. I wrote a regular column for the magazine I worked for about awkward everyday happenings so I thought I’d keep the same theme and a friend suggested the British angle, though I think you could easily rename the feed ‘Very Awkward Human Problems’. Not quite as catchy though. After a month it had over 100,000 followers and I was contacted by a literary agent in London, asking if I wanted to make it into a book.
What makes a Briton British? Do you find the British mentality helps or hinders us in day to day life?
I’d probably say it’s mostly to do with language. The constant double-meanings (“I’m fine” meaning “you better leave me alone I’m about to explode” whereas “I’m chuffed” means “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been”). Everyone is different, the Twitter jokes are related more to the sort of Brit you see portrayed in the films, a funny stereotype. The exaggerated politeness and stiff upper lip even if you’ve just lost a leg sort of thing.
You have recently released a book of the same name as your Twitter. What did your book allow you to do that Twitter didn’t?
More! For a start there’s 250 completely book-exclusive tweet entries as well as 200 of the best from @SoVeryBritish, beautifully illustrated by Andrew Wightman. And there are more in-depth chapters. It’s 288 pages so to just have tweet-style entries would get awfully tiring; it was nice to make it into more of a proper book so it sits handsomely in your living room bookcase as well as in your toilet.
What has been your most popular tweet to date?
Probably the ones to do with haircuts. Or the ones to do with tea. Or trains. I remember when it was just starting to get cold again after the lovely summer we had and I tweeted “feeling secretly excited to be wearing jumpers again”. I think that got about 5,000 retweets in an hour. I don’t tend to look back at them though in case I see spelling mistakes.
What is your most commonly suffered British problem? If you had to pick, what British problem do you find the most superfluous?
Mine is probably “The horror: Before we start I’d like us to go round the table and say a bit about ourselves”. Anything to do with public speaking. I work from home these days but after a decade in an office I had to deal with that a few times. I remember my first day at uni in Nottingham, I was in a room full of fellow English students and we all had to go around one by one and say a bit about our home towns and what they were like. I mean, what’s the point? It’s just sadistic. Especially when you’re from Peterborough. “Well, it’s got a train station and a Boots…” Ridiculous.
Your Twitter account will have opened numerous doors for you. What has been your most bizarre celebrity experience to date?
I’ve been delighted to see some famous twitter followers say nice things about the feed. Jennifer Saunders said it was very funny – I’m a big fan so that was lovely. Tom Hiddleston said it was his favourite feed in ShortList, which was nice. I love that Richard Herring is following. I’d say I’ve actually ‘met’ more celebrities during my day job as a journalist. Everyone from Justin Timberlake in Las Vegas to Frankie Boyle, Stephen Fry, Alan Sugar… I’ve interviewed all sorts really.
Is Very British Problems something that only Brits can understand? What would you say are the three things non-Brits should know about British culture?
Very British Problems is for everyone. If you’re human you will relate to it. Three things? Um… 1. The debate about milk or water first will never be resolved. 2. Don’t talk on the tube. 3. Push in to a queue and you will get stared at to death.