The grand-niece of Scott of the Antarctic was never going to settle for a quiet life. Jaine Blackman meets adventurous Janie Hampton
To say Janie Hampton has an interesting life is something of an understatement.
The author of 15 books has been a child model, taken her family on a four-year African odyssey, was the first Arts Council sponsored writer-in-residence in a pub (The Marsh Harrier in Oxford), has been a Tesco Mum of the Year finalist for her fundraising work in Malawi, chatted with the Queen, acted as an extra in a BBC drama based on her account of the 1948 Olympics... the list goes on.
And there are plenty more escapades planned.
“I can’t wait until the grandchildren are old enough and I can take them on adventures,” says Janie, 61, at her home in East Oxford.
The house and garden she shares with husband of 42 years Charles are just as interesting as the woman herself. Everywhere you look are quirky objects and artifacts. And they all have a story to tell.
On the kitchen table (a former table she rescued from the rubble when building works were being done at a nearby church) sits the Tower of Eggle - a contraption she recently created from a chocolate box and pheasant feathers, during a “blissful” two week writing sojourn in a cottage in Devon.
The tower will help her know which of her eggs – she has bantams and Indian runner ducks in her garden – are the freshest. So add inventor to the list of achievements.
Or maybe even milliner – as one of her grandchildren pointed out, it’s nice enough to wear.
“Some people find it a bit overwhelming,” she says of her home’s eclectic decor. “One man can in, looked around, paused and said ‘nice cooker’,” Janie says with a chuckle.
The cooker, nice as it is, is one of the few unadorned surface in her home. She has a knack of making even white goods interesting. Across the dishwasher and kitchen units are maps with significant family events highlighted.
“Oh, that’s me in the North Norfolk News when I was 14 and I swam in the North Sea on January 1 for a bet,” she says of one stuck-on photo.
With her adventurous spirit, it’s perhaps unsurprising that her great-uncle was Captain RL Scott, best known as Scott of the Antarctic.
But her “favourite ancestor” is her great-great-great-grandfather, slavery abolitionist Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, who famously said: “With ordinary talents and great perseverance, all things are attainable.”
It’s something Janie strongly believes in.
On discovering that in her family “almost every generation back to the 16th century had a book in the Bodliean”; rather than concluding writing is in her genes she thinks it is more down to being aware of what you can achieve. “I was brought up to the sound of the typewriter,” says Janie. Her mother Verily Anderson wrote “anything and everything” fitting in her work writing books and articles in the early morning, evenings and around school times to support her family after being left a widow with five children aged three to 15. The family moved to the Bayswater studio of Verily’s aunt Kathleen, the sculptor and widow of Captain “When things got really tough she threw a party [for publishers and editors] and something usually came out of it; she’d get a commission,” says Janie.
“I learned at 10 or 11 how to make one bottle of wine go round 40 people. We made a punch with tea and oranges.”
During that time Janie added to the family finances by modelling for Homes and Gardens for the then princely sum of four-an-a-half guineas and hour.
In 1965, Verily’s friend, the actor and writer Joyce Grenfell (“she was a secret philanthropist”) bought the family a house in Norfolk. Verily later remarried with Grenfell as maid of honour and Sir John Betjeman as best man. She died in 2010 aged 95, the day after finishing writing her final book. (Janie wrote a lovely obituary for her mother for The Independent which can be read online).
One of Janie’s biggest adventures was when she and Charles took their children to Africa in 1980, where they travelled across the continent by canoe, bus, river boat and steam train. For one 50-mile stretch in the Eastern Congo they had to walk. “I can remember my eldest daughter, then 11, saying ‘Why can’t I be like an ordinary girl and do ballet?’ But now they are absolutely thrilled they had this adventure.”
While in Zimbabwe she edited a magazine for health workers, was an agony aunt, the women’s editor of The Manica Post and completed an OU degree in Human Sciences.
Janie’s children are Daisy, 41, a special needs teacher in Exeter; Orlando, 39, who works for the NHS in Nottingham; Pamela, 36, a social worker in Bristol and Joseph, 35, of Oxford, an engineer who designs satellites. She also has six grandchildren, all under seven.
Daisy has clearly long-forgiven her mother for those missed dance classes and was the one who nominated her for Tesco Mum of the Year for her work raising more than £1m towards a mobile clinic in Malawi.
Janie founded the Chauncy Maples charity in 2009 to renovate Africa’s oldest motor ship and bring care to remote villages for the first time. It was also through her charitable work she was invited to the Commonwealth Reception in Buckingham Palace, last October where she chatted with the Queen.
She is currently working on a book about Chauncy Maples, the Oxford clergyman who sailed to Africa and set up clinics and schools, who the boat was named for when it was originally launched in 1901.
Previous books include works on Joyce Grenfell, How The Girl Guides Won The War, and Rationing And Revelry, about the coronation in 1953. A BBC TV drama Bert & Dickie, starring Sam Hoare and Dr Who’s Matt Smith was based on her book The Austerity Olympics and Janie appeared as an extra in the crowd cheering the British oarsmen in Henley-on Thames.
She was also a founder-member of Writers in Oxford. “Writing can be a lonely job and the society has been bringing together authors for over 20 years,” she says. “We meet in pubs around Oxford and cheer each other up.”
As well as her writing, Janie gives talks with songs, has spoken at most literary festivals in England, and was appointed Olympics correspondent by The Oldie.
“My philosophy is to keep doing interesting things,” says Janie.
Those grandchildren are likely to be in for quite an adventure.