Discover more from Nerina Pallot
Lost in Showbiz, a Pop Bitch Speaks
Hello Dear Reader
Life has afforded me the gifts of both relative obscurity and contentment, and an impressive capacity for denial. Moreover - like some of you perhaps - in order to survive the last few years I’ve had to get less worked up over current affairs and, to a certain extent, stick my head in the sand just to make it through the day. It’s been working really well, until it didn’t.
I was not planning to add my twopence worth to the latest cause celebre until an article in The Guardian this morning near tipped me over the edge. And so, if you’ll forgive this departure from my usual service, there’s something I’d like to talk about.
I shall go back to regaling you with tales about cats and bin collections and gigs soon, I promise.
This one time, the assault happened at 30,000 feet. Sitting in a row all by myself on a half empty commercial flight, watching a movie and from out of nowhere this guy walks up the aisle, sits down beside me and when I neglect to engage him in conversation, calls me a stuck up bitch and proceeds to put his hands around my throat. So sparsely peopled is this plane that nobody notices. I raise my hand frantically; try to get words out but none come because you cannot speak when someone is trying to strangle you. I look for the call button and by the time I have pressed it and the steward finally arrives there is the ghost of hands around my throat but he knows something has happened because I am close to tears and he barks at the guy to go back to his seat. The steward tells me to get my stuff and moves me to the next cabin. He asks me what happened and I tell him, incredulous. He asks me if I want to report it. No, I tell him, nobody was watching, nobody came to help me while it was happening. Maybe the guy was drunk. Or high. Who knows. I just want to go home. I just want this plane to finally land and to go home and never think about it again.
Please just let me go home.
I go home, but I think about it again and again for a while. It is so strange and surreal an experience and I am so embarrassed by it that I only admit what happened to me to my boyfriend a few days later. He is furious with me for not reporting it, which doesn’t help either. I tell the story every now and then just to make sense of it actually happening but I turn it into a dark joke, like, hey, wanna get an upgrade? Let some random guy on the plane try to strangle you!
It is over twenty years ago since that happened, and it is still my word against his.
But when I remember that event, I wonder: if that was what he would do in plain sight what was he capable of behind closed doors? I should have reported it. I am sorry I did not. But I really did just want to get home and pretend it had never happened.
It’s embarrassing to write about this now, if I’m honest. So inured have I become as an older woman to a lifetime of this stuff, that I regularly vacillate between Jesus that was grim why did he have to do that, was I asking for it and whatever, you’re having a lovely life now, Babes, get over it, life goes on.
Both things can be true at the same time, I think.
Six hundred years ago, Chaucer’s Wife of Bath decreed that what women really want is sovereignty over their lives; over their own bodies. I have never been able to disagree with this. Sovereignty. Agency. Mistresses of our own fates. The generation before me - who weren’t allowed bank accounts or mortgages without a male relative to guarantee them - knew what it was to live without this. They wanted better for their daughters.
Their daughters, unfortunately, know that in 2023 rape and indecent assaults only have a one per cent chance of conviction.
ONE PER CENT.
I am thinking about this conviction rate today because over the weekend Channel 4 aired an episode of their show Dispatches. Unbeknownst to me, a very short clip of me being interviewed by Russell Brand was used. Evidently, while I was eating my dinner on Saturday night, everyone I know was watching it. ‘FYI You’re in an exposé!’ are not texts one hopes to receive in the middle of pudding.
Having watched it now, I am both sad and disturbed. I am also pissed off that I had no say in this clip being included. As I suspected, it was used as part of a montage to show how we women were powerless in the face of Brand’s industrial strength lechery. I cannot speak for the others in these clips, but I genuinely thought he might be mentally unwell. I also thought he was ferociously articulate - cunning, although not clever - and this ferocious articulacy was a novelty in a Britain that still preferred it to come from posh boys and not some East End chancer who looked like he had woken up in a skip. I could not for the life of me, however, work him out, but my instinct told me he was dead behind the eyes and not to hang around at the end of the show.
I can’t bear looking at those clips because I look like a rabbit in the headlights. The truth is, I was not cut out for pop stardom and my brief taste of it meant I looked like a rabbit in the headlights all the time for the best part of two years. The culture of unspeakable meanness during the 00s - I’m looking at you Popworld and Never Mind the Buzzcocks - was never going to help even the most robust personalities’ mental health. And if you were a woman, you were doubly fucked. As ‘the talent’ you were expected to endure whatever invective might be hurled your way because any publicity is better than no publicity your PR would tell you. Social media was in its infancy and so your only recourse if you had work to promote was to accept a dance with the devil that is legacy media. Back then, only one of the main newspapers was edited by a woman, that woman being the execrable Rebekah Brooks. We didn’t stand a chance.
It was at first amusing to watch commentators this week revising their histories; how cute that they are sorry now. But as they have fallen over themselves to burnish halos they left in a cupboard for the entire period 2000-2023, the hypocrisy is breathtaking; the sound of arses being covered deafening. The very culture from which they distance themselves now is one which they were entirely complicit in creating.
The kind of culture that ushered Amy Winehouse into an early grave.
The kind of culture that decided that if Brand did not exist they would have to invent him, and invent him they did.
Any sensible person might see Brand for what he was: a cipher, in a long line of ciphers from Keith Richards to Johnny Depp to Pete Doherty - a voraciously male fantasy of an unreconstructed sex pirate who all the boys wanted to be. When I try to think of a female equivalent, I am found wanting. There is none: to be desirable women need almost always be passive. Passive but willing. Childlike yet whorish. I could go on.
To some degree or another, all of us drawn to the limelight are screwed up. No well adjusted individual would decide that fame - which so often just becomes notoriety - is the grand prize of life. It would seem like insanity, because to want it is insanity. Largely, I believe, it is born of a lack of self-esteem and a rabid need for approval.
We should pity these celebrities, not fête them.
But fête them we do. We demand characters. We want to bask in their aura. And if you were a sixteen year old girl and one of them turned their full beam focus upon you, imagine what your nascent personality would feel. The power of the person who everybody in the room is looking at, making you the only person in the room they are looking at, might render anybody powerless. Even fully grown adults can lack good judgment in such circumstances.
Still, I have a question and I keep turning it over and over in my mind. If we know that rates of conviction are atrocious, but not surprising given that instead of saving us from rapists some police officers are instead raping us and sometimes murdering us, why would the journalists involved in the joint Times and Dispatches investigation - all women I believe - go public now, and probably jeopardise any chance of a trial? Did they decide that because conviction rates are so appalling, trial by media was better than no trial at all? Did they offer these incredibly brave women counselling? Did they offer to pay for serious lawyers so they have any credible chance of taking this to court?
Of course, it pays to remember that The Times is owned by the same company that had a dead child’s voicemail hacked, so all this is probably wishful thinking on my part.
From time to time, I get requests to discuss toxicity in the entertainment industry with journalists, so that they can take my words and put them in a piece and do with them as they see fit. I’ve had some of these in the last few days. At the risk of burning bridges, I would say to all of these folk in the media - this is on you too. The commissioners, the producers, the pluggers, the hacks, the directors, the managers, the star struck handlers and downtrodden assistants pathetically grateful to be fame adjacent: they all played a part, they have all at some point turned a blind eye.
And so maybe trial by media is fitting.
You create your monsters, you clear up your mess.