Tell us a bit about what you’re up to these days
I’m a radio presenter, author and stand-up comic. You know what they say: jack of all trades, master of none!
How did you get into comedy?
When I was at the University of Southampton, there was the Laughter Lounge in The Bridge. It ran every other Tuesday. I went one week and got hooked. I used to go every fortnight, bringing increasingly bigger groups of friends.
We saw some incredible people like Jon Richardson, James Acaster, Chris Addison, and Rufus Hound. I loved it! So I thought I would give it a go. I did my first ever set at The Boiler House in Montefiore, supporting Kerry Godliman. The Comedy Society saw me and suggested I join – and that was it. That was 10 years ago now.
You’ve written a book on living with anorexia. Can you tell us a bit about the experiences that inspired you to write?
I did a show about my anorexia, which I took to Edinburgh. The show was a comedy, which surprises a lot of people. But I think that comedy is the best way to engage people because when people are laughing, they’re listening – and when they’re listening, they can learn. I wanted to use humour to make mental illness and eating disorders more accessible to people who were fortunate enough to have no experience of them.
I was lucky enough that the show won an award and then went on tour. I was approached by a publisher who asked if I wanted to make the show into a book. At first, I thought he was joking as it was the same publisher as JK Rowling, but he was serious, signed up a contract, and I had to get writing!
The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is body image. Why is it important people know about these issues?
Everyone has health. Everyone has mental health. Some people, like me, have mental illness. It’s important to try and make these issues more interesting and informative to people so that they can spot the signs of mental illness, either in themselves or others. Mental health doesn’t have to be one of those things people are reluctant to talk about. In fact, I think it should be something fun and funny, because good mental health is far from boring.
What advice would you give to anyone who’s suffering from mental health issues?
Contrary to a lot of the advice you hear, I would say it is okay not to know what to say. When I was ill, a lot of people kept on telling me to ‘just talk’. I wanted to, but I didn’t really know what I needed to say. Trying to explain what’s going on in your brain is a bit like trying to explain a colour to someone who’s blind – it’s so entwined with your experience, it’s difficult to get perspective on that to articulate what’s going on.
That’s why I think it can be useful to read other people’s experiences, watch videos, listen to podcasts, and try and make some sense of what’s happening. There’s loads of support and advice out there from mental health charities, and there is a brilliant app called the Hub of Hope, which shows you what resources are available – it’s free to download and easy to use.
What inspired you to study English and philosophy at the University of Southampton?
I was originally going to go to the University of Sheffield – the Arctic Monkeys had just formed, and I liked the idea of getting a soft Yorkshire accent. However, I came to the University of Southampton on an open day, and I was blown away. Avenue Campus was beautiful, tucked away in all the trees on the Common, with the little courtyard buzzing with conversation and excitement.
We took a walk down the leafy corridor along the Common up to Highfield, and saw the ducks milling about in the water, the stream running through the heart of everything, and the Students’ Union overlooking everything. There and then, I knew I wanted to go to the University of Southampton.
What special memories do you have of your time there?
Like everyone, I have far too many to mention. Some of the highlights would include: meeting Desmond Tutu and Tim Berners-Lee as a student ambassador; mass water fights in summer at Montefiore; being dressed up as a giraffe during campaign week for student presidents; seeing Gary Okey for the first time in The Hobbit; going to an adult jungle gym with the Philosophy Society; and everything in between.
Did your degree influence the path you took?
Absolutely! Philosophy especially. I miss it so much, and still listen to philosophy podcasts to keep abreast of ideas, thoughts and theories. The lecturers at Southampton were so good that I felt I learnt more in three years than I have since.
What ambitions do you have for the future?
I’m currently up for a new presenting job, but I can’t say much more about that (just got my fingers crossed!). I’m working on a new show that I’m taking to Edinburgh, as well as filming a BBC Three show next week. There’s a lot going on, and I’m just trying to keep up!