Grange Hill at the White House



I got the earth-shattering scoop that a 16-year-old drama kid from London didn’t in fact smoke a joint at the White House (the kind of scoop a journalist can only dream of getting in their lifetime). But the best thing about this story was I got to speak to Zammo and Ro-laaand from Grange Hill. My 8-year-old self would have been thrilled (like the time I got to interview Sinitta a few years ago).

Imran Amed

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My interview with the inspiring, driven Imran Amed, founder and editor-in-chief of the Business of Fashion. He infiltrated – and became hugely influential – an industry that is elitist and insular, basically through hard work, talent and not caring that he didn’t “belong”.

(Photograph on the Guardian’s website by the brilliant Sarah Lee)

Kate Bornstein, 21 February

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To London, where I hung around while Kate Bornstein – writer, trans activist, former sex worker, ships mate and Scientologist – was being interviewed on Woman’s Hour. Then we spent a brilliant hour (brilliant for me, at least) over a pot of tea talking about her amazing life. Here is my interview.

A few bits that didn’t make it in:

“I’m a socialist and anarchist.”

On being an older woman and dealing with the good and bad of invisibility: “When you’re a trans person, visibly trans, you’re always watching over your shoulder. Now I walk through the world and I look like a little old lady. People don’t pay that much attention to older people, especially older women. I do everything I can not to make myself invisible. But until that point, walking out of the house always carried with it fear.”

“So many of transgender activists beat themselves up really hard for not doing enough and they are terrific people but they are echoing 70s and 80s feminists in that there are no jokes. There is very little sense of humour in the trans world now. It’s all about finding your authentic self and that’s great feeling, but I think a better feeling is fun.”

“We all break rules of gender, we all feel stifled to some degree by what we’re told: ‘you can’t do because real men shouldn’t’; ‘You can’t do that because little girls shouldn’t’. To that extent people are trans, not necessarily transgender.”

Megan Hine, adventurer

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I spoke to the brilliant survival expert and adventurer Megan Hine, who works as a consultant on Bear Grylls’ shows, as well as leading her own expeditions. You can read it at the Guardian, but there were a few bits there wasn’t room for so I’m posting them here:

On keeping mentally alert: “In survival we talk about the rule of threes – you can go for three minutes without air, three days without water and three weeks without food. One I like to add in is three seconds without thinking can get you killed. I’m at fault at that at times as well, when you’re really tired and all you want to do is sit down and go to sleep it’s so easy to switch off, and that’s when accidents happen.”

On fear: “If I’m working with a team and something is happening to the team or is about to happen to the team then I instantly go into that guiding mode. When I’m on my own and pushing my own limits, sometimes I do feel fear. Even when I abseil, no matter how many thousands of times I do it, I still have that initial feeling, when I lean back, of wondering if it will hold. Fear is part of your survival instinct. Without it, we’d die.”

On the importance of reconnecting with nature: “We’ve taken ourselves away from nature. I think this adventure scene that’s taking off, I think this is where that comes from – that need to reconnect with nature and rediscover ourselves. In the outdoors, you do and you have to because you have to rely on yourself. We used to live in tribal systems, and I think we’ve lost communities. We’re very segregated now and in constant competition with other people, even when you’re working as part of a team. It’s very hard to feel supported. There is so much pressure put on kids in school, there is lack of creativity and initiative. I’ve seen this on youth expeditions that I’ve worked on. You give them the responsibility of the budget of sorting out food or accommodation and it’s the first time they’ve ever been given any responsibility. Another problem is risk management. We take away things like playing conkers, running around, and how are children going to understand risk if we don’t let them experiment?”


I wrote about private military contractors

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Miraculously I found a former private military contractor (or “mercenary” to some) who lives quite near me so I was able to meet him in person, despite the short deadline. He was fascinating to talk to, and said some things he asked not to be in this piece, because they’re things his family and many of his friends don’t know about. I’m not about to repeat them here, but it just reminded me how much we don’t know about the people closest to us. Anyway, I tried to persuade him to write a book.