Katie Jarvis meets a happy girl with a mixed up mind

She’s vi­va­cious, full of life and burst­ing with things to say… and yet there’s some­thing in­ef­fa­bly in­trigu­ing about her, too. Katie Jarvis meets with the de­light­fully oxy­moronic Bryony Gor­don

Cotswold Life - - NEWS - Katie Jarvis spoke to Bryony Gor­don at this year’s Chel­tenham Sci­ence Fes­ti­val: chel­tenham­fes­ti­vals.com

‘You have done E, right?’ asks James.

My pained si­lence tells them all they need to know.

‘Just give it a go,’ says James, as if it’s an oys­ter or an olive. (I never had ei­ther un­til I was twenty-four, now there’s proof of how ut­terly un­pre­pared for life I am.) ‘If you don’t like it, you don’t ever have to do it again.’

The Wrong Knick­ers, A decade of chaos, by Bryony Gor­don

[In The Wrong Knick­ers] I wrote about the time a man tried to use Lur­pak as a sex­ual lu­bri­cant. I wrote about hook­ing up with some­one in a sex­ual health clinic. I wrote about catch­ing nits from a bar­man and hav­ing an af­fair with a mar­ried man and flash­ing my boobs in a pub. But de­spite all this ex­ces­sive hon­esty, I did not write about my pe­ri­ods of de­pres­sion, my bat­tle with ob­ses­sive com­pul­sive dis­or­der (OCD), or my years with bu­limia… I couldn’t. I was too ashamed, too fright­ened…

Mad Girl, A Happy Life With A Mixed-up Mind, by Bryony Gor­don “

The Times?” I ex­claim in mock hor­ror, star­ing at the pa­per I’ve been un­think­ingly read­ing while wait­ing for Bryony Gor­don. (Rookie er­ror. Should have bought the Tele­graph.) “Can’t stand the Times!”

“It’s fine!” she says, all warmth and hugs over for­mal hand­shakes. “My hus­band writes for the Times. Be­tween us, we cover all broad­sheet bases be­gin­ning with a ‘tuh’.”

“Oh, yes!” I say, twig­ging. Harry Wil­son. The Times’s City edi­tor. Writes grown-up stuff about the global econ­omy.

Harry, whom she ac­knowl­edges in both her star­tling mem­oirs: “You are not my happy end­ing. You are my happy be­gin­ning,” she writes of him in The Wrong Knick­ers. And, more sim­ply, “You are ev­ery­thing,” in Mad Girl.

Harry; and Edie, their four-yearold daugh­ter. She’s cur­rently do­ing phon­ics with Edie, hence the ‘tuh’.

“I went on a boot-camp-thing a few months ago in Ibiza. All of us [jour­nal­ists] were in a van, head­ing for the beach, and I saw a horse and went, ‘Look, ev­ery­one! A horsey!’ And they all were like, ‘What the hell?”

She laughs the de­li­cious throaty laugh of some­one who looks un­fin­ished with­out a cig­a­rette in one hand and a drink in the other.

“I’ve given up al­co­hol but re­placed it with cof­fee, which I never had be­fore. I asked for a ‘Flat white – large,’ the other day. Didn’t know they only do one size. There were all these Yummy Mum­mies lis­ten­ing be­hind me…

“I’m al­lowed the odd cig­a­rette, though.”

Two min­utes into the con­ver­sa­tion and I’m fas­ci­nated; mes­merised. Bryony Gor­don is star­tlingly at­trac­tive – I don’t just mean lu­mi­nous eyes and blond locks. (In per­son, you can well be­lieve the scene in The Wrong Knick­ers where she’s asked out by a fel­low Tele­graph worker she bumps into in a sex­ual health clinic. “You were by far the most beau­ti­ful girl in the room,” he emails later. (And, by def­i­ni­tion, this has to be a room full of at least pass­ably-at­trac­tive peo­ple.))

She’s at­trac­tive be­cause she’s vi­va­cious. Full of life. Burst­ing with things to say.

And there’s some­thing in­ef­fa­bly in­trigu­ing about her, too. Oxy­moronic. She’s friendly and in­ti­mate the sec­ond we meet. “I’ll talk into this,” she says, help­fully pick­ing up my voice recorder, in know­ing fel­low-journo-mode.

Yes, she’s gen­uinely lovely. But you also un­der­stand, in your heart of hearts, that you’ll never truly get to know any­one who gives so much so quickly.

Peo­ple who of­fer you in­ti­mate de­tails about them­selves are still putting up a smoke­screen. (Such a blind­ingly in­ti­mate smoke­screen that you never think to look through it.)

When Bryony Gor­don – Daily Tele­graph 30-some­thing colum­nist – wrote her book The Wrong Knick­ers in 2013, she threw ev­ery­thing at it. In­clud­ing vast amounts of un­der­wear. It’s a very funny book.

It be­gins with the in­fa­mous Lur­pak in­ci­dent. On the plus side, Josh is not only good-look­ing but at­tended both Ox­ford and Prince­ton. On the mi­nus side, when he whis­pers hotly into her ear, “I think we should use this!” what he ac­tu­ally brings out is a pack of salted but­ter to help “smooth things”. Bryony es­capes by claim­ing lac­tose in­tol­er­ance, and leaves wear­ing a pair of size 8, pink, silky, Agent Provo­ca­teur knick­ers that Josh throws at her in his dash to get her to leave. They’re not even hers.

“This is my first-ever one-night-stand. And these are the wrong knick­ers.” And this is only the foreword. If you think things are go­ing to get bet­ter for Bryony, then don’t read Chap­ter Four, where a ‘rea­son­ably suc­cess­ful au­thor’ talks to her about a book called Don­key Oatey, be­fore re­mov­ing a wrap of co­caine from his jeans and ask­ing, “Do you mind if I do a line off your tits.” (She agrees so as not to spoil the mood.)

Or Chap­ter Five, where she’s forced to re­late, for the en­ter­tain­ment of party-go­ers, be­ing dumped by Rus­sell Brand. His per­sis­tent tex­ting stopped so sud­denly, she thought he might have died. “…a cou­ple of days later, I opened the Sun and saw him hold­ing hands with Kate Moss.” Or, in­deed, most of the other chap­ters. But the most fas­ci­nat­ing thing about this sear­ingly hon­est book is that it’s not com­pletely hon­est.

Last year, Bryony Gor­don’s Mad Girl – A Happy Life with a Mixed-up Mind – came out. And she came out, too.

Came out as a girl who’s had some pretty se­ri­ous men­tal health is­sues. Alope­cia, bu­limia, drug de­pen­dency.

Mad Girl is The Wrong Knick­ers with OCD.

Sud­denly, in­stead of be­ing an em­blem of a fun life of hang­overs and bed-hop­ping, The Wrong Knick­ers be­came a metaphor. A metaphor for a mind garbed in fash­ion­able high-street cloth­ing – so far, so nor­mal – but with dis­tress­ingly ill-fit­ting un­der­wear hid­den sev­eral lay­ers be­neath.

Yes, all that she’d re­lated was true. She’d been brought up in a lov­ing, mid­dle-class house­hold; and she did land a fab­u­lous job at the Tele­graph, in which she was flown to LA to in­ter­view celebs such as Justin Tim­ber­lake. And, yes, she did visit an Ira­nian den­tist, who ex­tracted one of her teeth.

But what The Wrong Knick­ers ex­punged was the in­eluctable pro­gres­sion of men­tal ill­ness that in­ex­pli­ca­bly be­gan when Bryony, aged 12, woke from a dream con­vinced she was dy­ing of AIDS. “I was so scared of blood on my hands that I be­gan to wash them as of­ten as pos­si­ble, the irony be­ing that they soon started to crack and bleed.”

As she got older, drink and drugs be­came her prop: she thought noth­ing of re­view­ing the pa­pers on Sky News, still drunk from the night be­fore. Of keep­ing wraps of coke in her bra, along with a card and a rolled up note so she didn’t look sus­pi­cious ev­ery time she vis­ited the of­fice loo.

She failed to men­tion, in her amus­ing den­tal visit, that her teeth

were fall­ing out not be­cause of sugar but be­cause of bu­limia. That she be­lieved, in her OCD night­mare, she had killed some­one or might mo­lest a child.

“Isn’t it in­ter­est­ing,” I say to Bryony Gor­don, “that it’s eas­ier to write about…”

“A man snort­ing co­caine off your breasts than it is men­tal ill­ness?” she in­ter­rupts. Ex­actly. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” she says. “When I wrote The Wrong Knick­ers four years ago, I didn’t feel I could write about any of the stuff I write about in Mad Girl. So it was like: Hey! I’ve a fun life.

“But I think any­one who read it slightly sus­pected that there was other stuff go­ing on.”

It was funny – or not funny, de­pend­ing on how you view it – she says. But there she was, hav­ing the time of her life. The Wrong Knick­ers was in the best­seller chart. “I was mar­ried. I had a child. We owned a flat in Clapham. We’d go on hol­i­day to the Cotswolds. I was like, oh my god, my life is per­fect and I’ve cured my­self of all my men­tal ill­ness! And then, about six months later, I had a break­down. And that was the first time I wrote about my OCD.”

What both books have in com­mon is the way so many peo­ple re­late to them.

“When I wrote The Wrong Knick­ers, I thought: If one girl reads this and feels like less of a screw-up, then that’s great. Be­cause I spent the whole of my 20s and early 30s

‘I thought that Alien, as in Ri­d­ley Scott, would come through the ceil­ing. I slept un­der the at­tic, and I was con­vinced of that un­til I was about 14’

think­ing, ‘God, I re­ally want a boyfriend! I feel bad about want­ing a boyfriend be­cause I’m let­ting down the sis­ter­hood. And, oh! Isn’t ev­ery­one else per­fect! And they’re all get­ting mar­ried.’”

Mad Girl also spoke to peo­ple, of course. Other peo­ple.

There are de­trac­tors. There are those, such as Giles Coren, who feel we’ve reached Peak Bonkers. Who feel that the celebrity men­tal-ill­ness mar­ket is so over­crowded that Gwyneth Pal­trow has be­come the new nor­mal.

But, ac­tu­ally, many of us non­fa­mous folk have been there, too.

And – do you know what? – it’s lib­er­at­ing to ad­mit to spells of mad­ness. Such as my own teenage break­down, which might seem funny now but was des­per­ately de­bil­i­tat­ing at the time.

“I was con­vinced, for about three years, that I would spon­ta­neously hu­man com­bust,” I tell Bryony Gor­don. “That doesn’t sound weird to me.” “It was the era of glit­ter tights but I couldn’t wear them in case a spark ig­nited me.” She doesn’t bat an eye­lid. “That was prob­a­bly sen­si­ble,” she says. “I used to have a lit­tle bell next to my bed in case there was a fire so that I could warn peo­ple. And then – when I was 12 or 13 and old enough to know aliens don’t re­ally ex­ist - I thought that Alien, as in Ri­d­ley Scott, would come through the ceil­ing. I slept un­der the at­tic, and I was con­vinced of that un­til I was about 14. “So I to­tally get that.” It’s not just me. Thou­sands of or­di­nary peo­ple have wel­comed the in­sane, tragic, some­times hi­lar­i­ous rev­e­la­tions in Mad Girl.

“I was at Chel­tenham Spa sta­tion just now when a girl came up to me, gave me a mas­sive hug and was like, ‘I love your book; I lis­ten to your pod­casts’. And that hap­pens quite a lot. It’s re­ally weird be­cause I’m like, ‘Me? I’m a bit of a sham­bles’.”

And then there are those pod­casts at bry­onys­mad­world.tele­graph.co.uk - where she talks to said-celebri­ties about their men­tal health strug­gles. Spice Girl Mel C on her eat­ing dis­or­ders and de­pres­sion. Dame Stephanie Shirley on sui­ci­dal thoughts.

And, of course, Bryony’s most head­line-catch­ing of them all: Prince Harry, back in April.

All she had to ask him was, “How are you re­ally?” for him to re­ply, “You know what, I’ve spent most of my life say­ing I’m fine.” Be­fore ex­plain­ing that he’s not. That he’d en­dured two years of to­tal chaos, in his late 20s, while try­ing to come to terms with the death of his mother. Had they re­hearsed the in­ter­view? “No, we hadn’t done any­thing. I didn’t know what he was go­ing to say. I’d met them all a few times – Wil­liam, Cather­ine and Harry – and got on with them. Not friends as such; but there was an easy ban­ter.

“They knew about the stuff I was do­ing with Men­tal Health Mates [fo­rums for peo­ple to talk freely about their men­tal health strug­gles] and so I thought, ‘I’m go­ing to try my luck and see if I can get an in­ter­view with one of them’.”

The idea of a podcast came to her be­cause it seemed a much more in­ti­mate, easy way of chat­ting; fewer bar­ri­ers than in a tra­di­tional news­pa­per piece.

“And Harry said yes. But I thought he’d talk very obliquely about men­tal health.”

What did she make of the re­ac­tion to the in­ter­view?

“There’s a lot of peo­ple that have said ‘Eurgh! We don’t want to hear our roy­als emot­ing. Their thing is to keep com­po­sure; to keep a stiff up­per lip.’ And I’m like, well, maybe it was when the big­gest killer of young men in this coun­try was the Nazis. But cur­rently the big­gest killer of young men in this coun­try is sui­cide.”

The podcast has proved so pop­u­lar that a sec­ond se­ries is on the way.

“I’m not do­ing it to get head­lines. We put it out on a Sun­day night be­cause – although de­pres­sion hits any time of the week – Sun­days and Mon­days are full of trep­i­da­tion. So you can lis­ten and feel geed up. There’s no sad mu­sic. It’s like a big, warm hug.”

Talk is im­por­tant, yes. But what does Bryony Gor­don want to change? Ac­tu­ally change. What sort of world would she like for four-year-old Edie, by the time she hits 20? There’s no hes­i­ta­tion in her an­swer. “I want her to be able to come to me and say - as she would if she felt sick and needed a day off school – ‘Mum, I’ve got this thing in my head that doesn’t feel quite right.’ That’s all I want. That there is no dif­fer­ence be­tween men­tal and phys­i­cal health.”

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