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My Cultural Life: Cerys Matthews

The much-loved musician and broadcaster tells us what she's listening to, watching and more

cerys matthews
Dean Chalkley

As frontwoman of indie outfit Catatonia, Cerys Matthews was at the forefront of 1990s Welsh cultural renaissance Cool Cymru. Now a beloved broadcaster on BBC Radio 2 and 6 Music, she’s a staple of the summer festival circuit as both presenter and performer, and was awarded an MBE for services to music in 2014.

That same year, Matthews co-founded wild craft, food and music weekend The Good Life Experience – ‘a festival for curious types like me’– and has since penned Where the Wild Cooks Go (Penguin, £25), a collection of recipes, cocktails, music and poems that delves into the folklore of fruit and vegetables. ‘It’s like a history of the world through the prism of tomatoes.’ Here, she shares her, typically eclectic, cultural influences…

Growing up in Wales, in the heart of a minority culture, makes you realise early on that there’s more than one way to skin a cat. I try to throw the net as wide as I can when looking for great recordings, regardless of origin and language.

musician allen toussaint in london in 1974
Michael Putland

I’m currently listening to guitarist and singer Snooks Eaglin – his voice is like velvet. One of my career highlights was interviewing New Orleans musician and performer Allen Toussaint (right) just before he died. He told me stories of being in a band with Snooks when they were teenagers and the image of these brilliant musicians, young and carefree, will stay with me forever.

It’s impossible to pick out a favourite guest from my 6 Music show – it’s the smorgasbord of people that I enjoy best. One minute I’ll be chatting to Stephen Fry about Greek myths or astronaut Helen Sharman about being the first Briton in space, then we might enjoy poetry with Michael Rosen and a chat with one of the engineers behind The Shard, Roma Agrawal. I like to think of the show as the Sunday papers in radio form.

My favourite film has to be Blades of Glory with Will Ferrell and Jon Heder. It’s just so silly – I love it.

My most memorable travel adventure was trekking to the Everest base camp in Nepal last year with my two sons. The terrain changes, the plants change, the weather changes on a sixpence, and then you see your first glimpse of the elusive Everest – unbelievable. The Nepalese and Sherpa culture is beautiful. I totally recommend doing it – it is doable, we saw an 81-year-old walking the trails.

khumbu icefall from everest base camp in nepal
Peter Barritt | Robert Harding

A recent cultural highlight was a trip to see our 3.2 million-year-old ancestor, ‘Lucy’, at the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa. During my stay, we ate great vegetarian and vegan food, drank tej – local honey wine – and visited the cultural hub Fendika on a Friday night for some of the best live music I’ve seen.

le rêve by pablo picasso
Le Rêve by Pablo Picasso

If I won the lottery, I’d buy a Picasso for my house – Le Rêve would be nice – and a massive indoor hammock in which to lie and look at it.

My favourite quote is from Confucius: ‘It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop.’

I’m looking forward to the end of this most peculiar chapter, but thus far it’s been okay. We’ve been trying to do those slow things at home – sowing seeds, reading, cooking to Spotify playlists and just spending time with each other.

This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration July 2020

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