Lau­ren Har­ries

GT (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS BEN­JAMIN BUT­TER­WORTH IMAGES HE­LEN SOLOMON / JON POUNT­NEY

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.

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I Am A Woman is out now, @lau­ren­har­ries

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