Judith Kerr: I like drinking dregs of whisky from the night before

The author of The Tiger Who Came To Tea on guilty pleasures, escaping Nazi Germany and wanting to be famous

Born in Berlin, Kerr, 95, fled the Nazis in 1933 and settled in England at the age of 12. She studied at the Central School of Art and Design and worked as a BBC scriptwriter. In 1968 she published her first picture book, The Tiger Who Came To Tea. Her other titles include When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and the Mog series. She discusses her new book, The Curse Of The School Rabbit, at Hay festival on 1 June. She is a widow, has two children and lives in London.

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When were you happiest?
When I received my scholarship to art school in 1945.

What is your greatest fear?
Not being able to work.

Which living person do you most admire, and why?
No one I can think of, but lots of people no longer living.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Getting anxious.

What makes you unhappy?
Two things: being lonely and doing bad work.

Who would play you in the film of your life?
Helen Mirren. She could play anyone.

What is your most unappealing habit?
I sniff a bit.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea

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Which book changed your life?
The Tiger Who Came To Tea. It was something that I had never expected. It was a bedtime story I made up for my daughter.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Drinking dregs of the whisky from the night before.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
My father, Alfred Kerr, and my husband, Tom, because they never knew each other.

What do you owe your parents?
My father was prescient enough to know that we had to get out of Germany. All his friends thought he was mad but my mother said, He wants me to do this and I am going to. We got to Zurich the day before the elections that brought Hitler to power.

To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why?
My parents. We didnt realise how absolutely desperate they were when we left Germany, because my father couldnt earn anything. A letter turned up fairly recently in which he said, Weve been through a terrible time because Julia [my mother] never stopped talking about suicide and not just for herself, but to take the children with her.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My husband, Tom, and my work.

What is the worst job youve done?
Secretary to a lawyer. I was sacked after a week.

What has been your biggest disappointment?
Not having longer legs.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?
Nothing, really, because it was all interesting.

What keeps you awake at night?

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
To be grateful.

Tell us a secret
I find it difficult to draw. I rub out far more than I draw.

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