As Brits prepare for a deluge of social invitations now that lockdown restrictions are beginning to lift, Virgin Media have teamed up with the wonderful Tom Read Wilson, to help those of us who have enjoyed our time alone socialise strategically, easing back into a more public way of life post-lockdown.
We spoke to Tom all about the new initiative, as well as his love for linguistics, his fantastic podcast which he has been working on throughout the lockdown and more!
What can you tell us about the new Virgin Media Virtual Assistant Service that you’re involved with?
Well, they’ve [Virgin Media] conducted this mammoth survey Dan, that has found that 25% of people are quite apprehensive about getting back into their erstwhile social lives and, a third of people have had a mild flirtation that’s grown into a full-blown love affair with ‘me time’ over the last year, many of whom have never had ‘me time’ before properly and would like to retain a little dollop of it.
So they’ve got this wonderful little scheme where they’ve amassed a team of virtual assistants who can help you retain a bit of ‘me time’ and help you sieve for the golden nuggets in your social calendar, if you like!
With the easing of lockdown restrictions what sort of tasks should we expect help with from the service?
Well, what they will do is they will help you with strategic socialising. So, you can have those lovely coffee catch-ups with friends, but if you’re really anxious to get to the opening night of a play or things that you haven’t been able to do, or been deprived of in the last year, then they can help you prioritise those particular things.
It takes a little of the burden off your shoulders; it makes it a slightly easier transition, it doesn’t just go ‘clunk!’, you know?
The theatre is definitely one of the things I have been missing the most, as I was doing reviews for Female First!
Oh my, oh you must have seen everything going then!
Well, I have amassed a whole series of polite declines which are on Virgin Media’s website, so if you put virginmedia.com/tomstricks then it has a whole list of them and one of them is about going to the theatre.
It’s about saying, “I have just got a ticket to the opening night of Twelfth Night at The Globe and I’m afraid I can’t possibly until next week!” It’s allowing yourself to enter the social sphere, piecemeal if you like.
As you mentioned, some of us have really enjoyed the slower pace of things in lockdown and some of us like our ‘me time’ now, so what advice do you have for those who want to maintain a bit of that?
Well, I think first and foremost just acknowledging that you’re allowed to and, not feeling guilty or self-flagellating for retaining that ‘me time’ because, I think a lot of people who have lived very busily and maybe somewhat altruistically have discovered ‘me time’ is a very important part of their life and, absolutely they have every right to retain it and should retain it, as well as getting out into the world. It’s not an ‘either, or’ scenario.
A lot of people have picked up new and interesting hobbies in lockdown! Have you picked up anything new?
Yes! I’ve been learning French with my Mummy! Once a week, we have a French lesson and it’s basically us shooting the breeze, or "tirer la brise” but, in French! So we just have a big old gossip and chew the fat but, the rule is we have to stay in French.
Actually, latterly it’s had a bit more of an undergirding of true academia, but most of the time it’s still just a jolly good gossip, as if we’re in a lovely Parisian café under the awning.
Last year you started your own podcast which has continued this year, so should we expect a lot more from you in that regard?
Well funnily enough, that’s been a big portion of my time during lockdown; reading these dazzling memoirs of my guests such as David Walliams, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Alan Carr, and getting “au fait” with their very singular turns of phrase and idioms and things that they’ve coined.
Very often in the comedic world, they’re liberal coiners, so we examine all of those things and look at their life through the prism of the words they’ve chosen.
I love your passion for language! You have a Word of the Day series on social media…
Yes Dan! Boy you’ve done your homework haven’t you!
“Blurb” is your word today (May 13th, 2021), correct?
Yes! Goodness me, I’m dazzled by you!
Have you always found language fascinating then?
Yes, I really have. I am the son of an English teacher and polysyllables rained down about me my entire childhood and I was fed a steady diet of the most wonderful literature as a teenager.
I always say that I never had to learn to be discerning about literature because it was sort of done for me; he was [Tom’s father who was a professor at Bradfield College] my human funnel, if you like. So I think the first time I ever read a bad book was in my mid-20s and, I knew instantly that it wasn’t terribly-good writing because of that wonderful piece of good fortune in my childhood.
You’re also very passionate about the Arts. You’ve joined the voices asking the Government to rethink their cuts to the Higher Arts education, so can you tell us a little bit about that?
Yes, I think that very sadly in times of economic hardship, the Arts - and it’s the same on the other side of the Atlantic - the Arts Council is the first thing to be cut and I think it’s short-sighted because, for every pound that is spent on a theatre ticket, three pounds is spent on neighbouring businesses.
The Arts have always lined the coffers more than any other industry and they’ve never really been paid back for it. So I think the onus is on all of us really to celebrate them and support them and, realise that they make better citizens out of all of us.
I can’t let you go of course without talking a little bit about Celebs Go Dating! We’ve had a couple of seasons in lockdown, but are you looking forward to getting back to the usual Dating Agency?
Well, I don’t know which avenue they’ll take in the next series, because I’ve only heard spectral whispers about it, so I am really as shielded from the info as you are Dan! I wish you could probe me and open the dam, but there’s sort of no dam to open!
You have such great chemistry on the show with Anna [Williamson] and Paul [Carrick Brunson], are they just a joy to work with?
Oh I love them! I love them! They are dear, dear chums and I think if they’ll have me, we’ll be for life.
Tom Read Wilson has teamed up with Virgin Media to provide a series of lockdown lifting life hacks. This includes a free Virtual Assistant Service which allows people to hand over their life admin to their own PA and the ‘polite decline generator’ – an online tool to help people wriggle out of unwanted plans. More information is available at www.virginmedia.com/tomstricks.