We meet Lauren Harries on London’s South Bank. She’s striking to look at: wobbling as she walks after years of crippling Scoliosis to her spine. It’s like watching a china doll rock towards you. Lauren is here to launch her debut single, I Am A Woman. It’s an attempt for her to be seen the way she’s long wanted to be – as a serious artist.
‘Serious’ is probably the last word you’d associate with Lauren. The former Wogan wonderkid has become better known for irrational media appearances: shouting “Eh! Eh! Eh!” at Phillip Schofield on This Morning and claiming to have bedded Russell Brand – something he denies.
But it isn’t the bizarre outbursts we’re here to talk about. Lauren says she wants to be the new Bette Midler, her hero, with the release of her first single.
“I look up to Elaine Paige, I’d love to do Cats, that would be lovely, but obviously to sing like that you have to work at it, sing every day.
“For this I had to learn all the words and the tune, then I had to sing the tune and also I had to sing it the right way. It took me about a month to get the words right.”
The result is a Pet Shops Boysesque debut – though she denies knowing who the Pet Shop Boys are – with a profoundly personal message to the lyrics.
“I’ve done some things that would make your toes curl,” she sings. “Call me a car crash, call me a fool.” And many do. In fact, Lauren had decades of excruciating bullying.
“We used to have bricks through the windows and death threats,” she recalls. “People would call me ‘tranny!’ through the window then drive off. It would be horrendous. One time I was in the park and I was in a circle of people, all transgender-phobic, who were trying to beat me up. My brother rescued me because thankfully I had a phone to ring. All I was doing
was walking my dog.
“I was attacked outside my house: beaten with my own shoe 40 times over my face. I ended up on the floor with a cracked jaw. Mum didn’t realise I was outside until five minutes later and by then I was unconscious. After that, I had to have surgery because a lump was removed from my brain from what happened. It took about two years for me to recover. You think it’s your fault when this happens, that you’d done something wrong.”
Her high-profile gender reassignment hadn’t gone down well on the council estate that neighbours the Harries’ family home, where they all still live. Lauren didn’t begin puberty until 18 or 19 – a subject of bullying while a teenager – and a very rapid, overdue pubescence hit her hard.
Though a child star, then as James Harries, nature wasn’t being kind. Two suicide attempts ensued. “I saved up all the tablets for one night. We were watching House Sitter on the TV and I was laughing, apparently, and I took a load of beta-blockers. I woke up and I couldn’t be sick. Mum didn’t know what was wrong with me. I thought I’d just sleep and die, but that wasn’t really what happens. I had to have the coal drip – they put coal in your stomach – on two occasions.”
Before realising she was trans, Lauren attempted to live as a gay man. “I went out to a gay club when I was about 18,” she remembers. “This boy said to me, ‘let’s have sex.’ But I couldn’t. It made me realise I couldn’t live as a man. It would’ve been a lot easier to be a gay man.
“Obviously I found men attractive, but I wanted them to see me as Teri Hatcher in Superman, not as Bob the Brush.”
Transitioning took more than two years and cost the Harries family £25,000. They were broke, having received just £50 per
Wogan appearance, while Lauren was housebound, reliant on antidepressants and a 22-yearold virgin.
To pay for the costly private surgery, the family sought the help of Max Clifford, PR guru behind some of the biggest tabloid stories. Including his own, when he was found guilty of eight counts of indecent assault last year.
“He was horrible,” Lauren recounts. “He was a very demanding man. He’d shout at me and tell me off. And then he’d say ‘I don’t want to work with you anymore’ straight after the surgery story. All we got was a couple of grand towards more surgery and Max Clifford got the rest.
“I didn’t want to be around him.
I was getting changed one time to go to my next shoot and he wanted to come in and I said, ‘No!’ He was shouting at me, trying to get in but I was getting changed. I wouldn’t let him in until I was changed.
“He’s not got much empathy. Certainly not for my situation. He’s a very impatient man.”
Lauren’s confidence had always been low. She admits being addicted to TV, saying: “Being on television was the gratification I needed.” But men had always been more of a challenge than fame.
“I was told I couldn’t have sex for quite a while after surgery. And I was a virgin.” At this point, Lauren starts singing Like a Virgin to herself.
Eventually she started going to bars, with post-op appearances on This Morning giving her a boost.
“I went to a bar and saw a beautiful looking man. He must have been in his 30s and I was a lot younger. He had a wife, but she left. He took me back home from the pub. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into.”
At this point Lauren stops. “I’m going really deep. This is hard to talk about,” she says, her eyes glistening.
“We were at my place in Putney, and before too long he went too far. I said, ‘I’d rather you’d stop now,’ but he wouldn’t. There was so much blood on the mattress I had to burn it. I had to have more surgery to recover from that. It was because he was so rough and I had to have my vagina completely re-done. There was a blockage from what he’d done. And he’d just left me there, completely alone. It felt a bit like hell.
“The smell has stuck with me. If I smell that, I remember it all. You feel so used and abused. You feel out of control. You’ve messed up your body after all that work. All that work and a man has messed it up.”
It took another two years for her body to recover. But a lifetime to get over the abuse; she has now been celibate for seven years.
It’s easy to judge Lauren Harries: she is at best an eccentric, at worst completely delusional. But when you’ve known a lifetime of abuse, unfairness and bullying, is there really anything so wrong with a little invention? We’ve probably all been guilty of it sometimes.
Lauren might look weak, but not many people could be ridiculed in the papers as a child, assaulted as a teenager and change gender as an adult: then walk down the streets of Cardiff, head held high. Really, Lauren Harries is as strong as they come.
I Am A Woman is out now, @laurenharries