My brick of a book has been out for nearly 6 weeks and I ain’t stopping yet.
I know that young people, the future generation, are sometimes feeling overwhelmed. Feeling swamped by conflicting information when it comes to how to look, how to feel, how to describe feelings, how scary the future is, how much it relies on grades. All that – and that it’d be fair to say it’s not helped by the swell of confusing politics – it can leave us all breathless. BUT! It’s all in my brick of a book. I researched endlessly, worked closely with an imagination-igniting illustrator and publishing house to write and build a comprehensive guide to help navigate some of this thick soup called life. So, I ain’t gonna stop talking about it. Open: the book is my love letter to life, which despite finding it scary sometimes, I believe is pretty magical after all and I sure believe in love.
With all that in mind, since it’s launched…
I have toured the country as far as our marketing budget would take us. We started with popping corks in London, and Mel C came to the launch party (which personally was my DREAM COME TRUE). Honestly, if you’d told me that I would write a book that’d be yellow and look like a sunflower, and that a Spice Girl would come to the launch party of it to congratulate me and tell me that she thinks ‘it’s pretty good!’ when I was 12 years old, I would’ve fainted.
Then Team OPEN threw a load of hola hoops on the astro turf on the top of the yellow open top bus and flung our favourite books on and wodges of pamphlets, leaflets and zines from the many charities, organisations and contributors featured in the book itself to have aboard the lower deck too. We loaded our polaroid cameras with film and headed out on the open road. It was exhilarating, ridiculous, hilarious, beautiful and FUN. We went to Margate, London’s Women of The World Festival, Hull’s Women of The World Festival, visited schools in Yorkshire, Blackburn, Glasgow, Salford & Wolverhampton, popped by a bookshop for a signing in Nottingham and generally had the best chats with young people in each and every place. We laughed, we cried, we talked about everything from heartbreak to grief to planting trees. We sung to our favourite tunes and swapped playlists, we recorded chat and discussions for the Open podcasts. I will never forget those ten days ever. I learnt so much from everyone I met and I thank Team Open, because it was a real team effort. Driving around in a bus that goes no more than 35mph wrapped in blankets (cos it’s pretty cold up north, apparently) was knackering but truly, truly amazing.
A special and humble thank you to Marriott Hotels who, fed and watered us, when we bone achingly tired and provided us with the comfiest of beds, the smiliest of staff and even the odd jacuzzi to dip into! It kept us calm and untied staying in the Marriott in York, Manchester & Glasgow along the way and it kept us amused to turn up to gorgeous hotels on Dandelion, all bright an OTT.
You can order a copy of Open from your chosen retailer here; www.openthebook.xyz
I’ve complied some OPEN FAQs that have come up since launch:
As usual, slower than a moseying tortoise, a liccle burst of words, an update from my busy mind and hopeful heart on what I’m personally most thankful for from this dizzying year of lots of gutting & confusing world news.
…the book I wrote… and no I’m not going to stop banging on about (as you can see from previous posts..)
I did it, it wasn’t in my imagination, I wrote something that’s printed in hardback (the publishers, unexpectedly sent me one – of which there are only currently four of – from the printers a few days before Christmas!) . It all makes me feel a little giddy and sick. Open spans many subjects, from pain searing loss and hearbreak to the joys of empowering yourself politically & creatively, race, wanderlust, a reflection and study on body image….
A few months ago my mum found an old page from an independent newspaper called ‘Diaspora’ which was once published and put together by two of her progressive and brilliant friends in the early 90’s. I remember sitting there one whole afternoon as they put together the paper, discussing ideas for content – I sat quietly with a pen and paper and secretly squirrelled my own ‘imaginary page’. Aged 9, I felt like I had some stuff I wanted to say. I wanted it to be fun but serious too. So I sat there in the corner of the room – whilst the grown ups talked ‘big stuff’ and planned out my ‘dream page’. I thought about how it should include different things – I got my little sister to draw some artwork, I penned my own comic strip, designed a word puzzle and wrote up the main piece – which was about the racist bullying I’d experienced at an activities camp I’d gone to and found very affecting. When the grown ups saw what I was up to, they decided to print it in the actual newspaper! I had forgotten all about my page in ‘Diaspora’ until recently, when my mum sent me a scan of the page. Here’s a little segment.
A whole 21 years later, I’ve done the same in 340 pages, written my most effecting experiences both fun and serious and asked people who’s brains I find extraordinary to come aboard, ‘open up’ about their lives, complex journeys from the difficult and dark to sparklingly fantastical – like the interview with a professional hula hooper in the careers section.
I’m proud of it. I’m scared because I care lots about it. But I do believe that it’s important to open up and always have.
BRING ON 2017.
See ya on the other side..
In the meantime, help me spread the word..
#TeamOpen .. www.openthebook.xyz – for the vid.
+ you can preorder here, it’ll drop through your letterbox just as Spring is about kick in.
I’m frankly EXCITED.
Let’s do THIS, with words and togetherness.
I am experimenting. Charged by the want to counterbalance the crappy things in this world I am on a mission to build the best book I can. I say build because it is feeling like more than writing, I am collating, interviewing, studying, outpouring, collaborating with an artist (illustrator Aurealia Lange) and my team at the publishers. By heck, it’s HARD. HARD to write a book about the WHOLE of life. I didn’t pick a simple subject did I? But with my heart aching for all the sad truths that consume the news thick and fast, like the recent survey as part of the annual Children’s Society Report – finding that among 10 to 15-year-old girls, the charity’s report says 14% are unhappy with their lives as a whole, and 34% with their appearance. Full report here., handle with care though. It has the potential to break your heart.
& SO.. I’m hammering away, typing, feeling and talking. Trying to create a resource of tips, joy and realness that will be available for everyone in hardback form. Some pages to leaf through.. & BREATHE.
In the meantime, I am experimenting with different platforms, inviting you all on board to join the journey of ‘OPEN’ whilst it’s simmering. I have for the first time in my career started a public Facebook page, where I’ll put links to some radio shows and things that make me happy (with the hope that they do you, too) from time to time. I’ve also created a Pinterest profile (WHICH I’m becoming addicted too fast), with a #TeamOpen board, where we’ll be dropping hints and posting little swoony clues to all things Open THE BOOK. if you like the sound of all this, please jump aboard, like, follow.. all that OH & tell your friends too.
OVER N OUT.
When I was little, before the days of the internet being in every household (can you EVEN imagine!?) I used to rifle through the Yellow Pages, (for those that don’t know it was a GIGANTIC, doorstop of a directory) and circle all the companies and establishments that I would need to fulfil my dreams. I would often leaf through pages of ‘Publishers’ and work out the ones that seemed right for me. I knew I wanted to write, my idea wasn’t clear cut, but I knew I had lots of words bubbling inside.
Fast forward to now, having looked into too many eyes of panic, having experienced call after call on The Surgery from people feeling alone. Having been in a relationship with someone, as a teenager, who I was besotted with but used to smack my head against the wall. Having felt sick and desperate to the pit of my stomach; to turn off the consistently damaging realms of imagery prompting an unhealthy view of our bodies; having built up a network of some of the wisest, most experienced and clever experts in their field and phenomenally brilliant and defiant organisations, I feel ready. My idea is crystal clear. My dream, to write is becoming reality. Pan Macmillan are publishing OPEN: A Toolkit to How Magic and Messed Up Life Can Be.
I have NEVER felt like I need and want to do something more than #OPENtheBook . It feels freeing and amazing to announce this news.
It will be filled with beautiful imagery. I’m ecstatic to be working alongside Aurelia Lange, who’s illustrations are simply perfect for the project.
OPEN is for everyone, it is for book lovers and non-readers – alike, anyone who has ever loved or sometimes feels confused by life or alone in anxiety. Open is part testimonial and love letter to life, part resource. You do not have to read it cover to cover, you may be experiencing something for the first time and just need to head to a specific chapter covering it. Open will be in audio form, there will be free and accesible podcasts. Open will hit the OPEN road next year with a tour of workshops and guest speakers on the #OPENTour.
Please be part of the journey, come aboard #TeamOpen.
In an attempt to offer some distraction to some of the angst and confusion that the shoutier side of the internet and ‘News’ in particular have been causing lately. I felt the urge to offer up another type of ‘News’ on the ‘News’ section of here. Cos who decides what is categorised as NEWS anyway? That and a continued quest to plainly biggup cracking stuff. . So here ya go, a rabbit hole, more sparkly..
Glastonbury. Oh Glastonbury. (One of my life’s genuine loves) This year, it was a hardcore one. I say that, for the obvious reasons of it being colossul (Glastonbury is as big as the town Bath), gloriously loud in sound, colour and mission to bring people together with art, performance and a fierce love of music.. All that.. and that it landed on the weekend of the result, of potentially one of the most effecting votes our generation will see, here in the UK was revealed. There was that, and that the Prime Minister unexpectiedly resigned. The air hung unashamedly maddening in it’s physcotic continuous weather changes that made the ground sloshy, muddy and sinking. The air hung with an energy of bigness. BIG WOW’s ensued for Adele’s melting vocals, BIG determination to get from one place to the next when you had to move with such precision to not cover yourself in cold muddy water (that there was no warmth to dry if you did) or slip onto your face in the sludge you secretly fear may have poo in it. BIG imagination sparks, and sensory experience – like when I filmed at midnight from a tiny bar filled with dancing skeletons and got Mexican tradition-inspired ‘Day Of The Dead’ facepaint whilst lying in a coffin. BIG eyes filled with tears for the moment Roger Sanchez (one of the founders of the House Music scene in the 80s and 90s) paid tribute to the victims of the recent Orlando massacre in a speech whilst behind the decks in Glastonbury’s most celebratory, cool all night, gay disco – NYC Downlow. Before dropping the heaviest and most unifying dj set, the power of the music lifting every soul strong enough to be truly who they are inside. A BIG puppet of David Bowie towered over me one point whilst it’s creator, an artist, told me how she’d wept whilst wearing it all weekend as no one had ever thanked her for art until now. It was an unforgettable and starkly poignant weekend. A reminder that there’s always an alternative, a reminder that music heals, a reminder that when we are kind to each other and help one another out of the mud that it’s more powerful than anything.
All that BIGNESS, and most importantly, it’s BIG FUN, it’s fun is it’s root, that’s why I love Glastonbury, all of it’s seriousness told and explored through such massive fun. I love getting dressed at Glastonbury for this reason. I always have done. Finally I’ll be in a place where everyone’s skin is shining and glittery like a fish, race is irrelevant when all skin is glittery. I’ll be in a place where everyone is wearing every rainbow, big trouser, cape mish mash of costume & brilliance. If it was my choice, we’d all dress like we were going to Glastonbury – all of the time. It makes me happy to see people dancing in colours and garments of wildness, expressing EXACTLY who they are and how they’re heart and mind is feeling from what they’ve got on to protect them from the cold.
I want to biggup some of the independent designers that helped keep me happy and dancing in garments of wildness this weekend. Plus lots of people asked where it was all from;
Nell Miller who created this prawn shirt! Prawns are my favourite thing to eat. Go seek her designs for more prawn clothes goodness and sushi bomber jackets. Yes you did read that right – SUSHI BOMBER JACKETS.
Lou Taylor whose golden palm & pyramid design I wore in one ear one of the days ( side note: I am pretty much having a love affair with most of her jewellery designs atm – she illustrates delightful things like plants and Elizabeth Taylor’s eye make up and makes it into jewellery).
Thank you to Bobs for painting my face.
Little M clothing ! who made me this Prince earring which I wore in the other ear (I don’t even need to say why I love this.. But I will say, that Little M not only sells these on her Etsy site, but Pat Butcher ones and giant golden hoops with pom poms too).
Shopfloorwhore ! who I’ve intensely loved forever and made this fluorescent pink ruffle shirt and the pink disco choker, I received lots of excitable comments about.
Olive and frank, an up and coming start up label, based in the Wirral in the North of England, making BIG, badass and bold statements to emblazon chests everywhere with. I loved them, so much when I discovered them the other day, that I ordered a couple for my Glasto-Sisters. Lauren & Clara, I embarrassingly treat Glastonbury as a type of Christmas ceremony and use it as an opportunity to buy pressies for my favourite mates there.
Top 3 Glasto sets to watch and enjoy..
1 – French dreamboat Christine & The Queens, being brilliant & grooving beyond reckon.
2 – Earth Wind & Fire bringing BIG funk.
3 – The Very Best mixing Malawian sounds with the biggest, joyous electronic, guitar blended party.
& there we go. BIGGUP complete.
HAPPY SUNDAY SPARKLY-HEADZ.
It’s been too long since I updated this floating online ‘Gem-Ship’. So much news, just been too busy doing it rather than writing it up on a ‘NEWS’ section of a website, I’m never feeling flash enough to make it a priority. Yet BLIMEY, there have been some wonderful and some quite life changing work things I wish I shouted from rooftops more about at the time. Since I last updated, I’ve travelled to Sierra Leone, presented my first awards ceremony, made a radio programme out of having dinner with Grace Jones for 6Music and Radio 2, made my debut on BBC World Service and since went on to travel to Chile and Iceland to make a documentary for them, experimented with hosting public Sleepovers, co-produced some theatre at Edinburgh Festival, co-produced some podcast series, became Artist In Residence at the Southbank Centre (click on any activity above to find out more about it) AND there is SO MUCH MORE TO COME.
I’ll be bopping about Worthy Farm next week at Glastonbury for some telly bits for BBC 2. Sticking a finger up to the guy who called me a ‘rambling gerbil’ in a broadsheet review of the TV coverage last year.
I will also be covering Jonathan Ross on the BBC Radio 2 Arts Show for the month of August, cos WHY NOT? Expect the show’s usual non pretentious discussion on the arts in general and an eccelctic yet super fun mix of music.I can’t flipping wait.
Another radio documentary, about Caribbean Music, will land on BBC 6Music later this summer. Look out for ‘Island Sounds’.
But the thing, I want to tell the world about most, is embargoed for a bit. The glorious secret..It is burning up in my tummy, like a catherine wheel, I’m so excited. I’m currently alone, holed up working on it in a 70s Greek hotel room, it’s quite strange. Strange enough for me to take weird, lone ranger selfies. I will be sure to announce it soon.
News updates over the past week have, like so many of us rendered me swollen with a desperate sadness and loneliness at points. Though I feel charged with love for good people and inspired by the rallying of togetherness and kindness by so many.
Stick together, be who you are, love, life is precious.
OVER N OUT.
It’s my 7th year at the BBC, it’s been insane. Only one of those years I have done a normal timed, afternoon show. I started on 1Xtra doing the breakfast show with Trevor Nelson, a scraggly and naughty 23 year old, then had a love affair with afternoons on my first solo show, got moved to Radio 1 Weekend Breakfast, then… Bom bom bom.. Early Breakfast. The ULTIMATE test, it has seen me physically drag my bones out of bed at 3am Monday to Friday over the past year. All the while I have tried to kick doors down, scared myself s***less, by trying other things like making documentaries, that have made my heartache and pitch projects to other networks & organisations. It’s been scary, EXHAUSTING (17 hour work days and multiple trips too and from Hackney to town for the daily meetings versus sleep war) tired tears have fallen but it’s also been wonderful.. I never could’ve imagined some of the things I’ve ended up doing in the past seven years, some of people that I’ve worked with. And right now it seems more worth it than ever. Cos I have just been given the role of presenting Radio 1’s Surgery on Wednesday nights, with a social action role for the station, basically more docs and campaign focus. I will miss my twilight hour friends, all those that go bump in the night, the country’s early morning heroes, who make my jaw drop with their steeliness and night shifting. But happy to be handing the early breakfast reigns to the delectable, warm as pie super gal Adele Roberts. What makes me most ecstatic, is that I will have the time and energy to work on the things I care about the most, social action and the young people who love Radio 1. This is a dream come true.
AND, I’ve started my own production company too, it’s called Boom Shakalaka of course…. We are making things to watch, hear and experience from theatre, organising banging parties to video content and podcasts in a big ole natty, firework collaborative style.
I’m SO HAPPY. Let’s bring on the summer of love. Which I get the feeling, this one could be? What about you? firstname.lastname@example.org
“Whoooooooooo made that?” I asked, pawing at stylist Alexis Knox’s shiny, iridescent, t shirt when she came on the show, way back when I was on the Weekend Breakfast.
“Mary Benson” she replied. That was enough for me, I haven’t looked back since. I ordered some equally glistening t shirts, one with shiny hearts for boobs, another with cascading holographic rain droplets. I went out on the town with with an initialled ‘MB’ bag, well cos, you know, I was in love.
This was all a couple of summers ago. MB hadn’t graduated from studying Womenswear at Westminster Uni. Arriving in her underground studio was like arriving in a 70s but at the same time futuristic bipolar dream. Heaven. I commissioned her to make me one of her bombers jackets. It melted the minds of friends at Glastonbury. Mary’s magnificence dazzled on.
It got to the point where I HAD to introduce her to my other fashion true love, or it wouldn’t have felt right. So we got on the bus down the road to see Terry De Havilland, turns out Mary was already a huge fan (Terry is my favorite shoe maker in the history of time.. So much so, I made a documentary about him for 6 Music’s Sound of Style season). They expectantly fell in love too..
Now, a bonafide budding fashion supremo and graduate, Mary, just showed her collection as part of Fashion East during the recent London fashwan week. Fashion East is where the likes of Gareth Pugh, Henry Holland and Simone Rocha all first showed. Basically a BIG DEAL. AND Terry and Mary collaborated on the shoes for the collection. Swooooon. Below are called the Drippy Candle shoes. I’m so excited by them it’s hard to write.
Fast forward to a couple of Wednesday’s ago, I realised I’d left it too late to get an outfit for the Brits. I bought a pouffey skirt from Coast (as they seemed to have the biggest puff ball I could find) and top from the H&M basics section and rang Mary in a blind panic and a sun flowery idea. Thinking there wasn’t a hope in hell she’d answer so soon after fashion week.
She answered! She drew some up onetime. We picked the colors for the vinyl.
24 hours later the magician had created this.
I LOVE you Mary B & thank you to Alexis for wearing that T-shirt that day.
p.s Enter Mary World here.
WOW = Women Of the World.
The WOW festival at the Southbank Centre takes place next weekend and I’m excited. It’s in it’s 5th year and I remember plodding down there 4 years ago on the request of a PR enquiry, I’d been asked to take a megaphone, stand on top of an open top bus and talk about what it feels to be a woman. I had no idea why I’d been asked to be honest, I had nothing planned, it was International Woman’s Day and I didn’t even really know why it existed. Whilst there, I started to think about what separated us from the boys, the lingering feelings of confusion about some of the things we are faced with everyday. In one afternoon my gut pretty much identified that some of those feelings was this thing I was to become a student of.. Feminism. I’ve patched my way around it since, will post a list of further reading next week. I have found my self in some nutty situations whilst exploring this new found land, including sitting in the private library of original feminist frontier Germaine Greer and picking her relentless brain on the subject. Long story.
Right. Anyway. I wanted to do some research on what it’s like out there for WOMEN OF THE FUTURE, teenagers across the country. In my job, I so often hear ‘young people are..’ ‘young people feel..’ ‘young people need..’ bandied around, I felt like it had a been a while since I’d actually checked in. Since I’d had a good chat with young people. So, we started with girls, between the ages of 12 to 16. Ahead of next weeks WOW festival, we took a camera to different schools and did exactly that.. Chatted. What we found out rocked us.. Please watch the video.
Yes, we were upset, by some of our discoveries, but the research was documented because I’m keen to think about how we can create positive change. I’ll be holding a panel chat about exactly this next Saturday morning (7th March) at WOW. Please come. Please bring, boys and dads, cos it’s not just for women, bring teachers, teens and high powered execs who make big decisions, bring EVERYONE? Ya can get a ticket here.
Worth a try aint it?
OH and please share the film and let us know what you think.
I went on Mastermind. It was horrifically scary and I turned to mush during the General knowledge round, convinced I was going to wet myself on ‘the’ black chair with the spotlight on me. BUT, I am proud of doing an all round ‘okay’ on my specialist subject.. Spice Girls.
Someone lovely, called Emerson Souza put it up on Youtube.