I love fashion. When I was a child, my older sister and I would spend hours waltzing around in fantastic old evening gowns with sequins and fishtails that an actress neighbour had donated for our dressing up box. Later, as a teenager, I’d scour jumble sales and charity shops for bargains. I used to find the most amazing vintage tops and dresses. My best buy, though, was a black, 1960’s astrakhan coat that I picked up for a fiver. I had it repaired and still get compliments today. I like modern fashion, too, I’m a bit of a shopaholic, but I wouldn’t pay designer prices.

Emma Burstall by Anna McCarthy

Emma Burstall by Anna McCarthy

I was very good at Latin at school and hopeless at Maths. It seems to run in the family because my mother loathed the subject and I’m afraid two of my three children have inherited the gene. I can add, subtract, divide and so on and I really don’t see why you need anything else, though I’m sure I’m missing something.

I’m into wild swimming. Show me a reasonably clean lake, river or pond on a warm day and I’ll be in it. I quite often swim in the River Thames near my home when it’s hot and I’ve never had problems, though I’m careful not to swallow the water. My happiest place, however, is the sea. I love to swim out quite far, lie on my back and gaze at the clouds. I enjoy jumping off rocks, too, and snorkelling. I once swam with wild dolphins in Kenya, which was glorious.

I’ve lived in my bit of South West London for much of my life and I know a lot of people. My kids sometimes ask if there’s anyone I don’t know, and they find it irritating when we go out because I’m constantly stopping in the street for a chat.

I credit the author Frances Hodgson Burnett with my passion for reading. The Secret Garden was the first book that totally drew me in; I couldn’t put it down.

I was in only the second year of female students at Christ’s College, Cambridge. I didn’t think much about it then but looking back, we were rather fortunate. We were vastly outnumbered by the boys and therefore rather popular!

My father was a BBC television producer/director in the Music and Arts Department. He made celebrated programmes about many famous authors including Graham Green, James Joyce and Evelyn Waugh, as well as sculptors such as Barbara Hepworth. I loved going to galleries with him because he was so interesting and knowledgeable and he opened my eyes to so many things.

I’m not very tidy. Letters, magazines, newspapers and so on tend to build up on my desk until I can stand it no longer and have to have a big clear out. I’m not proud of my drawers and cupboards either. Open them and a ton of stuff is likely to fall out, though I don’t often lose things. There’s order in the chaos.

I’m only five foot three and I’d love to be taller. The rest of my family is tall and I’ve always felt a bit short-changed. I often wear high heels to events and carry trainers with me for the journey. I don’t like having to crane my neck to see people’s faces.

I had three best friends at secondary school and I’m still close to them all. In fact one lives just up the road from me, although the others now live abroad. When we were about fourteen, we made a solemn promise to meet on the steps of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square in the year 2000 but we didn’t need to, because we’d never lost touch.