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Scarlett Curtis: ‘I’d shut myself off from everyone’

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Media captionScarlett Curtis reveals celebrities’ mental health tips

The promotional campaign for Scarlett Curtis’s last book didn’t quite go according to plan.

The launch of the writer and activist’s 2018 collection of essays, Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (and Other Lies), saw a pop-up display assembled in Topshop’s flagship store in London’s Oxford Street.

But, just 20 minutes after it had opened, it was dismantled. Sir Philip Green, the chairman of the chain’s parent company Arcadia personally ordered the removal of the exhibition when he saw it.

“That was just such a big reminder that I do live in a very nice feminist bubble,” Curtis tells BBC News, “where people talk about their mental health all the time, and it’s really great, and I don’t mind living there, but it was a good reminder that these things are still quite controversial.”

Curtis later received an apology from Topshop and the company donated £25,000 to the UN charity Girl Up.

A year on, Curtis is back with a new book – It’s Not OK to Feel Blue (and Other Lies). It tackles the subject of mental health conditions – particularly anxiety and depression, which Curtis has experienced herself.

Fearne Cotton, Emma Thompson, Davina McCall, Naomi Campbell and many other high-profile figures have each contributed a short chapter, essay or poem to the book.

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Lena Dunham, Simon Amstell and Reggie Yates have all contributed to the book

But the 24-year-old makes a clear distinction between mental illness itself, and the shame surrounding it. She argues the latter is a significant problem which could be easily avoided with better understanding in society.

“By the time I was 19 I’d shut myself off from everyone in my life,” she explains. “I felt so ashamed of what I was going through.

“I’d barely talked to my family about it, I had no friends, I was out of school, I was completely socially isolated. And while a lot of that was the mental illness itself, most of that was the shame. I felt like the only depictions I’d seen of mental illness before were people who’d had it define their lives, and that was who they were and they were in hospital forever and could never work, so I felt like that was me immediately.

“And I think the second I started talking about this, I suddenly started getting all these messages from people saying ‘I’m going through this too’… to me that’s what this book is doing.

Some of the contributors in the book offer practical advice for keeping the mind healthy.

Emma Thompson’s tips include taking a cold shower for the uplifting effect it gives the body, as well as avoiding staying up all night watching Netflix documentaries about serial killers. Davina McCall’s advice includes being willing to let people see your emotional vulnerability, while equally not being afraid to cut out toxic people from your life.

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Miranda Hart writes about how she started to realise she was an introvert and how it contributed to her anxiety and chronic fatigue. “Some introverts are loud at times and love to perform (hello!) and we aren’t always shy,” she writes.

“But there are so many things about being an introvert that are HUGE light-bulb moments of ‘Oh, THAT’s why I hate big groups of people and must only socialise in small, quieter ways.’ ‘Oh, THAT’s why I need to be alone so much to regain my energy.’ ‘Oh, THAT’s why I hate open-plan offices.'”

However, critics argue that the more young people are aware of conditions such as anxiety and depression, the more they are likely to assume they have them – when in fact they may be experiencing the normalities of being young and insecure.

“Frequently the public is told that youngsters are suffering from an epidemic of panic, depression and suicidal thoughts,” wrote Charlotte Gill in The Spectator. “We live in a correctional culture which leads us to believe that anything uncomfortable must automatically be wrong and seen to by a doctor.”

“There are lots of people that do suffer from mental illness and they must be taken seriously and they must get treatment and speak to friends, family and where necessary speak to medical experts,” said Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain.

“But it seems to me a lot of people in this modern era now are being led into the thought process that every part of life’s travails – the normal rough and tumble of life – now has to be categorised as mental illness, and I don’t think that is helpful either.”

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Curtis says the “shame” surrounding mental health could be easily avoided

Curtis argues that this strand of opinion only strengthens her case that better understanding of mental health is needed.

“From a scientific point of view, we are so early in this journey,” she says, pointing out that anxiety was only recognised as diagnosable disorder in 1980. “When we look at stats on anxiety and say people are more anxious than before, we don’t know that – it’s just that people are talking about it more. Actually, when you look through any piece of literature or art or film, you can see that these issues have been going on forever.

“The other thing is, if you’ve ever had a panic attack on the train, or you’ve never been able to get out of bed because you’re so depressed, the idea that you’d choose that is so ridiculous – just getting the courage to talk about these issues is the hardest thing.”

In the book, Davina McCall acknowledges it can be hard for some to understand mental illness when “we are living in the most privileged time in history”. It’s a point echoed by Morgan, who has said: “This is statistically the safest time to ever be alive, there are fewer wars, it’s the healthiest time to be alive, people are living longer, there is less poverty globally, these are things we should be bursting with positivity about.”

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Curtis acknowledges she benefitted from having a privileged background – her parents are writer Richard Curtis and broadcaster Emma Freud

But, Curtis counters: “We are talking about a young generation who are going through something very different to what Piers Morgan’s generation went through. When I was 12, I went into a history class, our teacher came in and said, ‘there’s been a financial crisis, none of you are going to get jobs’. And that has been the narrative my whole life.

“And I think we also have more access to the news, all young people have been bombarded with since they could read is that bad things are happening, unemployment rates are increasing, and added to that there’s climate change, the #MeToo movement, and maybe we do have to accept that we’re in a situation where everyday stress for young people actually might be anxiety, because it’s so intense, and maybe that is something worthy of addressing.”

Throughout her teenage years, a spine operation for scoliosis left Curtis with chronic back pain and meant she had to use a wheelchair for long periods. It meant much of her adolescence was affected by physical, as well as mental, problems.

She acknowledges that coming from a privileged background (her parents are Love Actually writer and director Richard Curtis and broadcaster Emma Freud) meant help was available to her in a way it may not be to everyone.

“I went through hell from the ages of 14 to 20, I wouldn’t have wished it on anyone. But within that, I always had access to treatment, my parents always understood what I was going through, I always had different therapists that I could be trying. So while what I went through was horrible, it was also defined by my life and my circumstances.”

In terms of her next steps, Curtis laughs, with knowing irony: “I’d quite like to take a rest and actually focus on my mental health a bit more! The one thing that’s not in the book is about my workaholism, so I would like to take a bit of a break.”

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Radio 1 DJ: ‘I’m fighting now so other women won’t have to’

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Radio 1’s Tiffany Calver says she is constantly dealing with a feeling of “anxiety that comes from just trying to do my job”.

The 25-year-old became the first female DJ to host The Rap Show on Radio 1 and 1Xtra in January 2019.

Tiffany’s spoken out on social media over comments that she says suggest women in the music industry still aren’t seen as equals and get jobs by “being groupies” or sleeping with someone in power.

She adds: “I really hope we all grow up and evolve.”

“I’m learning to be ok with the ignorance and that’s not ok. We shouldn’t be accepting it,” she wrote.

Tiffany Calver became the first woman to host the prestigious Saturday night slot when she took over from Charlie Sloth 10 months ago.

She didn’t give details of the type of criticism she had faced but claimed it had been happening for some time, which is why she decided to address the issue publicly.

“I’m getting thicker skin, promise,” she wrote. “But I saw one comment too many today and I am starting to realise that by playing things down, saying nothing, and quietly trying to prove myself more because of insecurities that my male peers will never have to think about, is helping nobody.”

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Tiffany follows in the footsteps of Tim Westwood and Charlie Sloth in hosting The Rap Show

As well as presenting The Rap Show, Tiffany Calver has also been the official tour DJ for artists including Drake and Fredo.

She added that the situation has improved.

“Things are much better than they once were. But there are still many ways in which women feel that they are not given a fair crack of the whip.”

Gender equality researcher, Dr Jill Armstrong, agrees.

“It’s tougher for women both in terms of the criticism and the barriers they face to getting into whatever career they choose to do.”

She says women often feel they have to work harder than their male counterparts in order to be accepted. But she adds that the same pre-conceptions apply when the roles are reversed, referring to male nurses and primary school teachers as examples of that.

“It’s not a men versus women thing. It’s what we all do.

“When men are in a role that people normally associate with women, you get those same kinds of judgments.

“Unconscious bias is something that both women and men practice. It’s just about the attitudes we have and the way that we’ve been brought up.”

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Cambridge’s ‘Pink Floyd’ pub Flying Pig saved from demolition

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David Gilmour (right) joined Pink Floyd in 1968, when founding member Syd Barrett (in glasses) briefly remained the lead singer of the band

A city pub famous for its links with rock band Pink Floyd has been saved from demolition – after developers bowed to public pressure.

The Flying Pig in Cambridge had been under threat for more than a decade and is a popular live music venue.

Developers Pace Investments adjusted their plans for the surrounding area after almost 14,000 people signed a petition to keep the pub intact.

Landlord Matt Hatfield told the BBC: “We work hard and we love this place.”

There has been a pub on the Hills Road site since the 1840s, and original Pink Floyd member Syd Barrett is said to have met then future Floyd guitarist David Gilmour there, in the 1950s.

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There has been a pub on the site of the Flying Pig since the 1840s.

The pub – next to the Botanic Gardens and close to Cambridge station – was in line to be torn down under plans for a “mixed-use scheme”, including offices.

A public consultation in June led to a petition that raised 13,638 signatures.

Managing director of Pace Investments, Jonathan Vincent, admitted that public pressure had “played its part”.

“We’ve changed our plans, listened to what people said and we’ve now designed around it,” he said.

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Justine Hatfield has been running the Flying Pig pub with her husband Matt for 21 years

He said the rear of the building will be modernised and rebuilt, with the “bar and interior maintained and preserved.”

However, journalist and musician Nick Barraclough, who wrote a book about the Flying Pig, said developers “made a clever move” – because the changes still mean removing the landlord accommodation upstairs.

“The fact that the people who run it live upstairs is a terribly important part of it,” he said.

“No pub is just a bar. They are still going to take the heart out of the place.”

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Campaigners are fighting to prevent the Flying Pig from being swallowed up by surrounding office development

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Mr Hatfield, who has managed the pub with his wife Justine for 21 years, said the few remaining independent pubs are “part of the fabric of Cambridge”.

“The city is changing so much,” he said. “But we are part of the community here. We work hard.”

A consultation on the amended plans begins on 5 December.



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Grammys 2020: Nominee Yola’s mum thought music ‘too risky’

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As a teenager Yola had to sneak out to perform in gigs because her mother disapproved

A British musician who is tipped for four Grammys has spoken of how her mother tried to ban her from music because it was “too risky”.

Yola used to sneak out of the house she grew up in, in Portishead near Bristol, to play gigs while she was a teenager and ended up homeless in London.

Now she could win the likes of Best New Artist at the 62nd Grammys, in the US.

Yola’s mum thought music was “unacceptable” and wanted her to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer, she said.

“We grew up on the breadline, so it’s not as if music was seen as a realistic option,” she said. “The probability is always with you that it won’t go well.”

‘Literally risked everything’

“I discovered that the hard way earlier in my musical development when I wound up on the streets,” she explained.

“So it wasn’t that [my mum] was exactly wrong – it’s just that her approach was very absolute and I had to circumnavigate it with a whole lot of sneaking.”

Yola became homeless in London after using up all her finances to further her music career and struggling with stress-induced voice loss.

“It’s very validating to get something like this when you’ve literally risked everything you own,” she said.

She launched a successful career in writing and performing on pop hits, and briefly joined British band Massive Attack, before launching her solo career and becoming a breakout star in the US.

‘Already a win’

Yola, who has been solo for less than a year, has also been nominated for Best Americana Album for her debut album “Walk Through Fire” and for Best American Roots Performance and Best American Roots Song for album track “Faraway Look”.

“I had no expectation of any of this,” she continued.

“I’ve been doing loads of other things on a small label and been sessioning for years. But as for being an artist in my own right, it’s only ten months.

“So for me this is already a win as far as I’m concerned.”

The Grammy Awards will take place in Los Angeles on, 26 January 2020.



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