Jackie Weaver, 63, is the engagingly improbable internet star who found herself on a fast track to fame when a Zoom meeting of the Handforth parish council meeting, which she was overseeing, went viral. Her calm banishment of troublesome and shouty men, along with her humour, has won many admirers. She is employed by the Cheshire Association of Local Councils and has just written a self-help book, You Do Have the Authority Here!. She is married with three grown-up sons.
Has sudden fame changed the way you lead your life?
Absolutely not – I’m just busier. I still do my day job – it’s really important to me.
You remained astonishingly calm during the council meeting, but what was going on in your head as the men ranted, swore and laughed at you?
I wasn’t really processing it because the more important thing was the strategy of how we were going to get the meeting to work. The chairman and the two gentlemen had been blocking these meetings for some time. At one point, Alan’s iPad – as we will refer to him – said: “Fuck off.” I was shocked to hear him say that out loud. I do remember reacting to that.
Banishment on Zoom is brought about simply by pressing a button. How would you have handled these men in a non-Zoom meeting?
If it had been a physical meeting, I’d have made sure our police and community support officer was there. I knew that, historically, “Alan’s iPad” had literally got violent with people. We would have resolved to remove the men – with police help if necessary.
Why do people in meetings end up such sticklers for boring, time-wasting details?
Many of us – I count myself in this – like to think life is fair. If it is fair, it means there must be a set of rules. As soon as you feel someone is not following the rules, that triggers something. For some it becomes an obsession. Someone will complain about a council not following rules. Very often, this is historical and you can’t put anything right historically. But I’ll give them a good listening to and ask: “What is it you want? Do you want to move this issue forward, or just want someone to acknowledge that you are right and they are wrong?”
Has there been any reaction to your celeb status in Handforth from the culprits in the meeting?
I got a number of emails from “Alan’s iPad” but ignored them.
Your sense of humour has proved crucial?
Humour gives me thinking space. The other thing I use it for is when I’m training parish councillors. It’s a very dull subject – you have to keep them awake.
What do you find most difficult in other people?
People who overlay their opinions on to you… I suppose what I’m saying is people who don’t listen to me.
You write of the difficult relationship with your Scottish mother – why was she so hard on you?
Back in 1957, she had to get married. I was born early in 1958 – work it out. There would have been heartsearching, pain, challenge. That set up our relationship. From the beginning, I was always resented. My dad [a manager at a steelworks] was the thinker, Mum was the doer. I could run rings round Mum with words. She just used her hand and anything in it – I was quite a good sprinter until I was about 15 [laughs]. My dad was an honourable man who led by example. That’s what I’d like to be.
Your book is good on advice about difficult people. What do you do with people who talk too much?
People who talk a lot do it, I suspect, because they do not feel heard. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You have to be honest with yourself: are you listening to them? Put away that computer or newspaper and listen. Do that a few times, then walk away.
How often do people succeed in getting a rise out of you?
I don’t do angry – I do frustrated. Do not underestimate how averse I am to conflict. Harmony, that’s what we need…
You mention running a slimming club, and write about your lifelong struggle with your weight. To what extent is that struggle about control of your life (or lack of it)?
It’s almost entirely about control. You have to find a way of making yourself feel a little better. Food is a socially acceptable quick fix – probably better to have another biscuit than another drink. When people say it’s easy to lose weight, I agree. But here’s the difficulty: what are you going to replace the food with? Most of us don’t make provision for that. Imagine you’ve just found new love – you don’t need the food because you’ve a substitute for it.
So you need something of consuming interest for the biscuit tin to lose its appeal?
Yes – so you’re not having to soothe yourself.
Are you still at the mercy of tyrannical diets?
Hell, no [laughs]…
My hunch is that you find the idea of retirement uninviting?
I made a plan but did not stick to it. I took a degree in counselling, which I thought could be a new career in retirement. I qualified and did a two-year secondment to a local hospice and thoroughly enjoyed it, but realised I did not want to work as a counsellor. I see myself as insular but felt that if I set up in practice on my own, a lot would be going out and nothing coming back in – apart from money. Where was I going to be filled up again? The skills I learned I’ve found incredibly useful in the day job. I went on and did a course in mediation too.
Why do you celebrate being ordinary in your book?
I believe strongly in the concept of society. And society is not about individuals, it’s about commonality. Stop working at being different – the important thing is living a life you’re happy with, not to live an exceptional life.
• You Do Have the Authority Here! by Jackie Weaver is published by Constable (£12.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply