She has a demanding 16-month-old son plus two cats and a massive dog to feed, is due to attend a meeting followed by a business dinner and is set to fly to London at five in the morning for a day's filming for a TV documentary. It's a schedule fraught enough to floor any working mother, let alone a pint-sized one who is four months' pregnant. Yet 36-year-old Vanessa Collingridge refuses to crumble. In fact she's bubbling with energy and talks passionately about the subject that, just at the moment, is closest to her heart.
Boudica, the angry warrior queen who rose up against the Romans and almost ran them out of Britain in 60/61AD, has been Collingridge's heroine since childhood – and not just because they both have red hair. The Oxford geography graduate and television reporter, who first appeared as a weather girl on BBC Scotland in the early 1990s, has long admired the rebel leader's determination to challenge the status quo, and is visibly thrilled at having become the first British author to have written a non-academic account of the ancient Briton's life.
Collingridge has spent the past two years scouring the classical Latin and Greek accounts of Boudica's story by Caesar, Tacitus and Cassius Dio. But she has fleshed out the bare, and often one-sided, facts with information gleaned from recent archaeological finds and by placing Boudica in the context of other powerful women in ancient British and Roman history. First off, Boadicea is the wrong spelling: "Boud", the Celtic word for "victory", is the proper root.
"The few books that are available are written by men, and they ignore the sexual dynamic that is so fundamental to the whole story of Boudica," she says. "It is this dynamic that propels the politics, the outcome, the myth and the legend that has lasted for 2000 years.
"When I was at school I identified with Boudica's feistiness and she became my personal mascot. The other girls could have their blonde-haired Barbies, but I had my kick-ass carrot-top Queen."
The flame-haired Collingridge identifies with the sense of "otherness" surrounding Boudica. Her older four siblings and both parents all have the bright red hair of the Celtic race – her mother's family is from Scourie, Sutherland, and her father is half-Irish. Growing up in a small village in rural England, she remembers being acutely aware of how conspicuous the family were, and of being mercilessly teased at school.
Wretched though it was, the persecution Collingridge experienced was nothing compared with what the Iceni queen Boudica endured from the moment her husband, King Prasatagus, died in 60AD.
The Iceni tribe's domain covered what is today's Norfolk, north Suffolk and north-east Cambridgeshire. They had submitted to Claudius after his invasion of Britain in 43AD and Prasatagus had been a "client king" of the Romans. This meant he was allowed to keep his kingdom as long as he maintained a pro-Roman stance and paid his dues to his conquerers. In his will he left half of his estate to the Roman Emperor, Nero, and half to his two daughters.
But the patriarchal Romans were having none of it. Boudica was flogged and her daughters raped. Collingridge refers to this act as "the outrage against Boudica" and you can see her empathetic indignance shining out brightly in her eyes.
"Rome wanted to put Boudica in her place. It was bully-boy tactics," she says. "They were saying, 'women are scum, we don't respect your politics, your monarchical role and certainly not your daughters' right to inherit a treaty we made with your husband'."
Can we be sure Boudica had red hair? The only existing physical description is by Cassius Dio, who died in 235AD – 175 years after Boudica's final battle. In Colllingridge's own translation from his Greek text, he describes her as "very tall, in her demeanour most terrifying, in the glint of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; a great mound of the tawniest hair fell to her hips".
"Tawny" has been interpreted through the ages as "red" and Collingridge contends that while this description makes for great drama, it also exposes the stereotypes and myths that abounded in the writings of the time.