Review: Gale is Dead

Part of the ‘Man Alive’ series on BBC iPlayer

Man alive - Gale is deadI hadn’t heard of this series before but it gives you more than one issue to ponder. There’s the subject of the particular episode and then layering on top of that is the 1960s/70s perspective of said subject.

Fundamentally, however, some things never change. People without love and purpose lose out. Some lose their lives. Gale did.

Gale Parsons’ mother gave her up when she was just six years old. What followed was a never ending state of transience and loneliness as Gale was moved from home, to mental health institution, to approved school, to borstal, to prison and to the streets.

At every single turn her desires were quashed. Which eventually quashed her desire for life. Finding heroin and barbiturates was not satisfying a desire to take drugs, it was satisfying a desire to disappear.

The desires we see glimmers of are told through Mrs David – a teacher from an early school and the only person Gale ever connected with. These desires involve working on a farm, working in a school with children and above all, being loved.

Finding heroin and barbiturates was not satisfying a desire to take drugs, it was satisfying a desire to disappear.

But you had to earn your right to ambition and happiness in the world that Gale grew up in. She told Mrs David she wanted to take part in farm work where she was living, but she hadn’t earned the right so she had to work in the kitchens. She realised as borstal and drugs launched themselves into her life that she would probably never be able to work with children, and every tiny scrap of happiness – including a few shillings’ worth of sweets, a teenage girl’s magazines and even letters – were monitored, controlled and confiscated. Mrs David was told to send soap, not sweets.

I’m lucky to have been brought up in a family home, so it’s hard to really understand the impact of growing up in Gale’s circumstances. I imagine that children receive a very different kind of support today. But one thing must surely remain a constant – the need for love, and the need for purpose. Two things discussed during a workshop I attended last year facilitated by Camerados founder, Maff Potts, that every single human being needs.

This film takes you through Gale’s short life as she desperately seeks both. Eventually, she loses all hope and rejects the love she is shown, and herself, and embarks on a path of destruction.

A truly heartbreaking story that needs to be watched.

It’s not a party lifestyle that drives stars to self-medication, it’s the pressure to carry on regardless

The media has reported that Ant McPartlin is undergoing treatment for depression and addiction issues. He’s certainly not the first celebrity to have fallen foul of self-medication. But why do stars head down this path, when surely they have access to the best doctors and treatment programmes in existence?

Think about it this way. You’ve bought a ticket to see, let’s say, Madonna (disclaimer – the next three paragraphs are entirely fictional – as far as I know). You’ve spent about £60 on the ticket, £150 on transport and £100 on accommodation. The venue holds around 50,000. It’s a sell out. On tickets alone you’re looking at costs of £3m. But then Madonna gets food poisoning. She can’t perform. Luckily, she has an understudy who is just as successful, let’s say, Kylie Minogue. So the show can go on.

Wrong. That might happen in my day job. The bosses might bring in a temp or a freelancer or share the workload out. But when you’re a celebrity, it’s you, specifically, that the people want. It’s you, or nothing. You paid for Into the Groove not I Should Be So Lucky (showing my age here I know).

So Madonna might be puking her guts up but she’s feeling the pressure to perform. Nobody can step in for her. She’s necking Imodium, anti-nausea pills and paracetamol like there’s no tomorrow. She simply must perform. But if she keeps this up, her body won’t function especially well without those pills, and this is where the problems start.

Now I don’t know the full ins and outs of Ant McPartlin’s illness. Only what’s reported in the media. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the pressure to keep going for the sake of his employers, his fans, his partner, his family, his reputation, even, didn’t play some kind of role in his troubles.

Yes, it’s an assumption. And no, I’m not suggesting that his employer, partner, family, fans put the pressure on. But if you know people are depending on you, applying that pressure yourself really isn’t terribly far-fetched.

PillsDepression can be a chronic illness that takes time to recover from, but often stars do not have that luxury. I’ve had five weeks off work for anxiety, I’ve known people forced to take six months off for depression or stress. But can celebrities do the same? Or do they have to hit rock bottom before they feel justified to do so? My guess is it’s more often than not the latter. So if you’re depressed and anxious and you feel you need to get through just one more show, what would you do? Take a valium perhaps? I know somebody very well who saw a doctor through an employer (in entertainment) due to depression and anxiety. The doctor they saw (not in the UK) was literally throwing pills at them left right and centre. It got them on the stage, it got them through their struggles in the short-term, but it created a longer term problem.

So when we look at stars and their ‘wild’ or ‘intoxicated’ behaviour, can we always assume it’s a reckless act? That’s it’s somebody living a celebrity lifestyle, having access to whatever they want, whenever they want? Or should we consider that sometimes, this kind of recklessness is born of hard graft and the pressure to keep going at all costs? Luckily, the media and public response to Ant McPartlin appears to have been wholly supportive. And that is absolutely the right response to have. But Ant and Dec had already established themselves as a wholesome, family act. What about people like Amy Winehouse, who tackled the demons of mental illness from a young age? Who exploded onto our radar as a bit of a ‘wild child’.

I watched the documentary, Amy. Friends talked of her being bundled into a taxi unconscious through intoxication and flown to another country to perform on stage. Maybe if she felt she could have stopped just for long enough to recover, she’d have stood a better chance?

The problems are very similar. It’s just that we, the public, didn’t know Amy for long before her downfall and, tragically, her death. We had much longer to get to know that Ant McPartlin is a good guy and we therefore see his illness as precisely that, an illness.

The response is good. We all wish him well. But in future, let’s remember this empathy we hold for Ant McPartlin and extend it to others in need of support too.

Follow me on Twitter @lucy_nichol78

It REALLY couldn’t happen to a nicer…Comedian

a_tozerheadshot1Remember that duvet cover from the 80s with the sad clown? That clown was Pierrot. He might have made people laugh but, inside, he was hiding a terrible pain. A pain caused by his unrequited love for Columbine, who, as far as I can tell, had the hots for Harlequin.

Pierrot wasn’t really born in the 80s; he was actually appearing in French and Italian pantomimes hundreds of years back. The sad clown. A mask hiding an unrequited love….

I recently read a book about somebody else who makes people laugh and lives with an unrequited love. An unrequited love for alcohol.

Amber Tozer is a US comedian and writer, and she will tell you now, no matter what she invested in her relationship with alcohol, she got nothing back. Zero. Nada. Because, in fact, alcohol had the hots for destruction…

Click here to read the full article on Standard Issue

Celebrities speaking out can make a real difference in mental health

As published in the i Newspaper – 21st January 2017

When people speak out about cancer or heart disease following news of a celebrity’s struggle with the conditions, we don’t accuse them of trying to make the illnesses “trendy”.
However, those who speak out about mental health are sometimes criticised for that very reason, as two comments from social media show:
“Mental health disorders are not something to brag about. Please stop trying to make mental illness trendy”;
“Having mental health issues is now trendy, the new victim fad.”

But those of us with mental health problems, and the ambassadors who try to prompt conversations about mental health, don’t just “try it on” for the sake of the latest campaign. In fact, long before celebrities signed up as mental health ambassadors, many were unwillingly “outed” by the media, with headlines boasting “sensational” photos of them breaking down in public.

Read the full article here