BOOK FESTIVAL – Sue Perkins on travelling as a gay woman and her blunders filming in the far East


SUE Perkins talked enthusiastically about her experience bumbling through Asia, laughing along with crowds at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Tuesday (20thAug).

She also revealed that there were countries she would love to visit but wouldn’t feel safe travelling in as a gay woman.

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Perkins was at the EIBF to promote the paperback release of her bestselling book East of Croydon: Blunderings Through India and South East Asia.

Her book explains what happened behind the scenes of the filming of the BBC programme The Mekong River with Sue Perkins, and tries to carry out an environmental narrative for the show with added occasional foolishness which Perkins created off script.

The 49 year-old said she was either laughing so much she was about to vomit or crying so hard she was about to vomit and really just talks a lot of “s***e”.

Speaking to the Book Fest crowd, she said: “It’s an age thing – there are places I would love to go to but wouldn’t as it is not safe for me as a gay woman, Perkins said.

“I would love to go to Saudi, Iran and Irag and ask difficult questions. But, as I’m older I have more responsibilities.

“At one stage I would have done it. It was a very cavalier thing, I actually jumped 30 feet of a cliff without looking once and broke my coccyx.”

The broadcaster was easily distracted from her tales of her trip to the far east by the moving screen behind her, and also by the brilliant signing from Jo Ross.

Every time sue Perkins said the words “spatchcock Tarantula” Jo Ross would carry out a rather funny signing of the word, which her to deliberately repeating the word just to see the sign again.

“Spatchcock Tarantula” was one of the wonderful concoctions the presenter had to try during her travels.

Perkins regaled us with her tales of teaching the Kreung women in Cambodia very basic English and catching dengue fever and shared her observations and concerns.

The television presenter pointed out the Kreung tribe needed a translator who could interpret the language. However, they needed three just to get to English. Perkins had to deal with the situation without one and had to grunt her way in an attempt to communicate. 

She explained how she ended up teaching them the basics to get by in the UK without this translator – how to count from one to 10, “boobs” and “fud” in reference to the female genitalia. Before, adding quite baffled: “You now know the basics to get by in England.”

She said: “Thousands of words popped into my mind as I was trying to think of the appropriate word for 9pm television on BBC One.”

Perkins was actually violently ill after filming a sequence with a tribe that involved eating unsanitised food. Raw pork was part of a tribal ceremony that involved Perkins drinking liquid from a straw through a pig’s intestine drowned in ethanol.

She said she was saddened to see the introduction of 4G data networks to these cultures that are innocent. 

These remote communities do not have the issues of violence, sexual assault or rape.

Perkins said: “With 4G comes pornography and this changes everything, bringing in these problems these remote communities do not have and I find that very painful.

“It raises questions about traveling, are we preserving culture or is it really for the tourists? I have no pictures of my travels. 

“The first thing we like to do when we go abroad is to take pictures of these areas. How pretty poverty looks when you don’t have to live it. Let’s not romanticise it.”

She explained that the most important thing we can do is little things as she realised if it was easy to deal with the problems it would have been dealt with years ago.

She said: “When you see thousands of kids roaming the streets in India, you can’t do anything on a macro level.

“It’s a problem created by centuries of stuff that a westerner can’t fully inhabit or understand. I can play chase. But I’m ineffectual beyond that.”

The final note of the night ends with Perkins repeating the word “Spatchcock tarantula” for her own amusement after considering the places she’d liked to go but won’t.

Sue Perkins book the East of Croydonis now available to buy in paperback.