Why I’m estranged from my brother

People sometimes ask about my brother: ‘How’s he doing? Have you seen him lately?’

I usually deflect this by saying evasively: ‘He lives in the USA.’

It’s weird, but though I’m very open about most things, I don’t like talking about my brother. I can kind of feel the condemnation and judgement coming off the other person when I admit to being estranged from him: what kind of person doesn’t speak to her sibling?

I’m not the only one who has a difficult relationship with their brother. My wonderful friend Kia is also through with hers, as she explains in this blog.

Unlike Kia’s brother, though, mine isn’t a drug addict. Relations between us are difficult for different reasons.

When my brother was born, three-and-a-half years after me, it soon became clear that we had nothing in common. I was loud, he was quiet; I was messy, he was neat; I was creative, he was academic; I was a rebel, he was obedient; I daydreamed through lessons, he was studious.

Unlike me, he was everything my mum had ever wanted in a child, and she adored him.

I was jealous of him, and would push him over when he was learning to walk. I would suffer my father’s abuse and my classmates’ bullying at school, and take it out on him. We would argue, and I would hit him, pinch him, nick his stuff, pull his hair.

He would scream, and I remember my father holding me down and telling my brother to hit me: ‘Hit her! Be a man!’ And my brother wouldn’t want to do it.

I know that siblings often fight. The difference between us, though, was that we never played – not even when we were both happy, which was a rare occurrence in our dysfunctional household. We weren’t remotely interested in each other or in each other’s thoughts or personality.

Aged ten, I put the distance between us down to him being Capricorn and me being Cancer. Of course we were opposites! Astrology said we should be.

These days, older and wiser, I think perhaps it’s as simple as having different genes for personality – even though the answer to the question of whether there are genes for personality is complex.

Me asleep.jpg

Aged 16, when he was 12, I pulled out my brother’s internet lead because I wanted to phone a boy, and back in 1996 you couldn’t be on the phone and the internet simultaneously.

He drew his fist back and punched me in the face, giving me a huge black eye. When I told my parents, my dad laughed.

After that incident, I stopped talking to my brother, and we never really started talking again. The last time I had any contact with him was after my dad’s funeral in 2016, before he flew back to America.

It was so awkward – we had a hard job making eye contact, and we didn’t hug. We talked about our violent dad, and my brother tried to convince me that my mum wasn’t responsible for not walking away from him: ‘She’s tiny! She’s one of us.’

‘She’s not one of us,’ I said. ‘When he started hitting me, I was three-and-a-half and she was 36. That’s the same age as I am now, and I’d never countenance a man hitting my daughter.’

He said: ‘All I know is, Mum’s been the most supportive person in my life.’

I replied: ‘All I know is, Mum’s been the least supportive person in my life.’

My brother went back to the States soon afterwards.

The thing is, I don’t miss him or think about him at all. You know a conversation with someone to whom you have nothing to say? That’s us. People tell me that I should make an effort with him, but that’s only because they can’t imagine being estranged from their sibling. If they had grown up in my family, they’d understand.

There are seven billion people in the world, so why maintain contact with someone with whom relations will always be strained, just because you share the same DNA?

Me lotus

The pictures are of me.

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 37

Me: 12st 5.6lbs (total loss in 37 days: 8.6lbs)

Must and will do better.

John: 14st 5.5lbs (total loss in 37 days: 2lbs)

That makes two of us!

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon. 

Rewards start from just $1 a month, which is 85p in real money and gets you access to my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but EVEN BETTER!

 

 

 

What it’s really like appearing on the radio

After I blogged about what it’s like doing live telly, lovely Twitter follower @mrjacktanner asked if doing live radio is different:

So here’s the answer: in my view, doing live radio is far easier than doing live telly, because no one can see you. You could literally be scratching your arse throughout the whole segment and no one would know. Of course, as it’s live, there’s always the chance that you’ll inadvertently say something stupid, which can give rise to nerves.

If I’m at the end of a phone line or alone in a separate studio (and not actually in the studio with the presenter), I generally get around this fear by writing down exactly what I’m going to say – or, at least, having a few pages of notes in front of me, because you can never predict exactly what questions you’re going to be asked. If I’m in the studio with the presenter, then I don’t take in the notes – I just prepare and rehearse beforehand and hope what I’m saying makes sense.

There’s not really much in the way of rigmarole when it comes to doing radio – you enter the studio quietly, making sure your phone is on silent, sit down at the desk, put your bag underneath it, put the headphones on and come close to the mic. Make sure you have some water nearby in case you have a coughing fit. If it’s before the show or the adverts are on or some music, the presenter will greet you; if not and they’re talking, they’ll just nod and smile at you. Your view of them can be blocked by monitors or mics, but you should be able to wheel your chair around for a better view.

I’ve done lots of radio in my pants on the end of a phone line (LBC in particular have lots of phone-in guests) and have also done radio in a studio by myself. It’s much more fun and glamorous when you’re in the studio with the presenter though. The last time was a couple of weeks ago on BBC Asian Network with Mobeen, talking about my experiences of cyberflashing and what we can do about it. It was the hottest day of the year and the New Broadcasting House studio was air-conditioned, which was very pleasant indeed!

DSC_1185.jpg

Generally, radio is a lot more low-stakes because of the lack of visuals and the lack of budgets. At my level, you rarely get paid for radio appearances, and nor do you get taxis. (It’s ironic that the more successful you are and the more money you have, the more you get!). During the Atheist Bus Campaign, I was asked to appear on a popular radio station halfway across town, and a celebrity friend suggested I ask the producer for a taxi. So I did, and was met with the coldly-asked question: ‘Do you have mobility issues?’ That put me in my place!

Another time, I was asked to do a few drafts of a page-long radio script and then come into a central London studio and read it out – so a day’s work, in effect. The princely sum I received? £66!

At the same time, radio can be a lot of fun. One of my favourite memories is appearing on Talk Radio’s The Ian Collins Show back in summer 2009, which basically entailed two hours of on-air flirting with Ian. I managed to relax, and the result was lots of witty repartee. We actually met up a few weeks after that, but by then I was dating Lily’s dad (though she was only a twinkle in his eye at that stage).

I was also interviewed about the Atheist Bus Campaign by George Galloway on Talk Radio in 2009. He was quite nice, despite not hiding the fact that he was a believer, and finished the interview by saying in his Scottish lilt, ‘Ariane, I hope you see the light very soon!’. I was going to make a quip about there being a lamp post outside, but I didn’t.

My most starry radio appearance was on Radio 4’s Loose Ends last October, where I promoted Talk Yourself Better. The show was presented by the wonderful Arthur Smith and Clive Anderson, both of whom I managed to convince to be in my next book, How to Live to 100. As a telling sign of a great show, there were pastries galore in the green room!

Elodie

I was on that episode of Loose Ends with lovely Hollywood actress Andrea Riseborough (who starred in the brilliant but terrifying Black Mirror episode ‘Crocodile’) as well as Northern Irish actor Colin Morgan and US million-selling author Michael Connelly – and music from British rapper Kojey Radical. It’s fair to say I was definitely the smallest fish in that pond! We all sat around the table together (except for Kojey, who was performing) and went for pizza afterwards, and Andrea emailed me a free download link to her new film Nancy. You can listen to the show here.

Lastly: in early 2009, I got to make radio history by giving Radio 4’s first atheist ‘Thought for the Afternoon’ on the iPM programme. It was considered such a big deal that it got its own Guardian news story, though they did describe the Atheist Bus Campaign as ‘controversial’. What is the world coming to when ‘There’s probably no God’ is seen as controversial in the UK, where at least 52% of the population is non-religious?!

You can hear my Thought for the Afternoon below. (They describe the campaign as controversial too, but then R4 are more old school.)

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

DAY 31

Me: 12st 5.4lbs (total loss in 31 days: 8.8lbs)

It’s really frustrating to have dieted really hard the previous day, eating nothing but protein, veg and fruit, and still be the same weight. Hopefully I’ll see a change on the scales soon.

John: 14st 3.75lbs (total loss in 31 days: 3.75lbs)

I have put a filter on so John’s fungal toenails (and political leanings) aren’t so obvious!

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon. 

Rewards start from just $1 a month, which is 85p in real money and gets you access to my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but EVEN BETTER!

The time I nearly got into S Club 7

As a teenager, I was desperate to be a pop star. I couldn’t sing very well, but that never stopped the Spice Girls, right? So I wrote songs, and practised singing them (and cringed at the sound of my own voice. These days it’s a lot better and stronger though, so practice does pay off).

I spent my late teens scanning the ‘Auditions’ pages of the newspaper The Stage, hoping to spot the advert that would lead to my big break. A lot of the ads I circled were searching for singers for pop groups. And thanks to an ad placed in 1998 when I was 18, I almost succeeded in getting into a famous pop group: S Club 7.

The advert in question was for ‘singers and presenters’, and was an open casting call for boys and girls aged 15-19 at Pineapple Studios in Covent Garden, Central London. So I dolled myself up and turned up at Pineapple to find half the teenage world already there.

teeth

[Me. Nice teeth, shame about the earrings.]

There were literally hundreds of equally glammed-up girls and spruced-up boys queuing in line. Eventually, a woman from the production company came out of the main hall.

‘We’re not going to be able to audition everyone, as there are so many of you,’ she said, ‘so if I point at you, you’re to come into the hall, and if I don’t, then apologies and thank you for your time.’

She started pointing at teenagers – and, to my delight, she pointed at me. I walked into the hall gleefully.

We all sat on the floor in a group in front of a tall blonde woman, who explained that her production company were putting together a TV show featuring a girl-and-boy pop group. She went round the hall and asked us each to sing something. My mind went blank, so I sang ‘Happy Birthday’!

img_2479

[I’ve only just realised that my vest says ‘Jesus’.]

Then I remember being asked to interview a beautiful mixed race girl. I asked her a question about her love life, and she said ‘That’d be telling,’ and I replied ‘Yes it would, so tell me!’ The blonde woman seemed to like that, and smiled approvingly.

I hadn’t brought along a CV or photo (not that I’d have had much to put on a CV at that age, other than winning Miss Harrow!) so the blonde woman gave me her card and asked me to post my photo and CV to her. I remember her saying ‘And do post them, as this is going to be big.’ The name on her card was Heather Alexander, and she was from 19 Management – which I realised excitedly was Simon Fuller’s production company (he managed the Spice Girls).

I posted the CV and photo off ASAP, and got a call soon after from the blonde lady for a ‘recall’ – also to take place at Pineapple Studios. I turned up and there was a short queue of pretty girls who all looked similar to me: dark hair, dark eyes, and tanned, beige or olive skin.

I had to do a piece to camera and say who I admired most in the world. I remember saying something about Duran Duran, which they probably didn’t expect from someone my age. Then I’d prepared a song, ‘Fever’ (I was singing jazz standards throughout my teens and playing the piano too, though I sang a cappella during the recall). I think in retrospect they would have preferred a chart pop song.

img_2477

[Me, making friends with a fence.]

They thanked me, and I never heard back. I guess I wasn’t exactly what they were looking for after all. Soon after that, I started dating a much older guy called Simon (not Simon Fuller) who was the band Shed Seven’s manager. The Sheds were signed to Polydor, and when I told Simon about the audition, he said ‘Ah, that must have been for S Club 7.’ ‘Who?’ I asked. ‘They’re the new pop group Simon (Fuller) has put together,’ he explained.

The next year, S Club 7 hit number 1 in the charts with their debut single ‘Bring It All Back’, which was released on Polydor, and I felt extremely wistful and envious. I realised that I and all the other dark-haired olive-skinned girls at the second audition must have been in the running for Tina’s place in the band.

Bring It All Back[S Club 7’s first single ‘Bring It All Back’. Tina is in the red.]

A couple of years later, I received another call from 19 Management about possibly being in S Club Juniors (later called S Club 8) and travelled down to Battersea to meet the team. However, I think they’d forgotten how old I was, and decided I was too long in the tooth at the advanced age of 20!

So I never got to be in S Club anything. My life could have been so different – but would it have been better? Probably not, especially as I had rarely thrived in groups of kids. Plus I’d never have created the Atheist Bus Campaign, and nor would I have had my wonderful daughter.

Lily and Mummy

[Me and the Lilster, back when she was six and had cut her own fringe.]

Years after the auditions, in March 2010, I’d get to perform an original song I’d written (below) with Tim Minchin at the Simon Singh benefit at London’s Cambridge Theatre. (Simon was being sued by the British Chiropractic Association for saying in a Guardian column that chiropractic was bogus, so the benefit was a celebrity fundraiser to support him.) The entire thousand-strong crowd sang the chorus along with me – so I got a little taste of what it felt like to be a pop star then – and it felt awesome.

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 16

Me: 12st 9.6lbs (total loss in 16 days: 4.6lbs)

Oh God. It was all going so well, and then I got my period and binged on chocolate. Forgive me.

John: 14st 4.5lbs (total loss in 16 days: 3lbs)

John chooses this moment to narrow the gap.

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Ricky Steer, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon.

Rewards start from just $1 a month, which is 85p in real money and gets you access to my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but EVEN BETTER!

The affair and the coded diary

When I was 16 years old, I had an affair. That makes it sound torrid and sexy, like Jeremy Irons and Juliet Binoche in Damage, when in fact it was anything but.

I had just been kicked out of school, and had been dating my boyfriend W for a year and a half. He was gentle and funny and kind, a super-smart straight-A student with blond hair, a huge toothy smile and a warm, tanned body. I wrote in my little black pocket diary when we met about how much I looked forward to seeing him and how happy he made me.

We met through another boy at his school. Our first date was on 5th November 1995, when I was 15, and we went to see Clueless at the cinema in Harrow. After that, we sat on a bench in the cold sunlight, and he asked if I had a boyfriend. I didn’t, so he kissed me. To this day, I miss his kisses.

On our second date, I remember straddling him on his bed at his parents’ house. He was shaking with nerves, and said ‘I have to leave soon, as I have a dentist’s appointment.’ I asked if he minded going to the dentist, to which he said no. I deadpanned, ‘Good, because I think you’ve done enough trembling for one day!’

(Very early in my journalistic career, I wrote the story of our relationship for a newspaperThough everything I wrote was true, I left the affair out, because I was too ashamed to include it.)

W was so sweet, but he was only a year older than me, and immature in the way 17-year-old boys can be. I mentioned before that he said that, if a genie were to grant him a wish, he would wish for my tits to be bigger. He also bought every issue of FHM and Loaded to ogle the women, and used to get porn magazines (Playboy and Penthouse) out from under his bed after we made love, and compare me unfavourably to the female porn stars.

Regularly, at least once a week, he would tell me he fancied other women, despite my explosive anger each time he did. The word ‘jealous’ doesn’t encompass how I felt. It was jealousy bordering on insanity. I remember showing him my school photo from my year group, and him singling a girl out and saying ‘She’s the best-looking girl in your year.’ He really didn’t understand the effect his insensitivity had on me. It was so important to me to be thought of as desirable, as I had been friendless for so many years when I was ugly.

The affair was with T, a man ten years my senior. I was so ridiculously infatuated with him, possibly because he was older, and also because he was a fan of my favourite band, Duran Duran. He knew the band personally, always went backstage at their concerts, and kept £30,000 worth of DD memorabilia in the flat he shared in Ealing.

I knew T wasn’t besotted with me in the way I was with him. But in my stupid muddle-headed teenage way, I figured it was my right to have an affair with him, because my boyfriend kept making me seethe with jealousy.

The affair didn’t last long. On one occasion, I remember T putting U2’s Pop on the stereo before we slept together. The track ‘Do You Feel Loved?’ came on, and T murmured into my mouth, ‘It’s such an important question’ – which is ironic, as he didn’t love me at all, and in retrospect, was just using me for sex.

Ariane at 18
[Me, aged 18, a couple of years after the affair.]

Each time I saw T meant 100 times more to me (at the time, at least) than it did to him. After each tryst, I’d write about it in my tiny diary. But I decided to write in code, in case W read it, though he hadn’t in the past. I was such an idiot that I made the code super-easy to crack: I wrote the first half of the alphabet above the second half, and then swapped in the letters. So the word THE was GUR, and the word AND was NAQ. Not exactly Bletchley Park-standard.

Eventually, T got bored of our affair and started avoiding my phone calls. I was devastated. I still remember the last time I saw him: I turned up at his workplace, and he was horrified. I remember him marching me outside, and telling me, ‘You’re crowding me! Stop crowding me.’ The moment he turned to walk back to work, I burst into huge noisy sobs, my shoulders shaking. Several passersby stopped to see if I was OK, and one gave me a tissue.

That night, I wrote one of my first ever songs, ‘Sweet Revenge’:

One day you’ll see me in a different light
One day when I’m long gone
In your mind but out of your sight
You’ll know that you were wrong

When I asked you to hold me
You didn’t want to know
Took my love and then told me,
‘It’s over, just let go’

And every day, you’ll spend longing
Just to hold me once again
Knowing you did the wrong thing
That’ll be sweet revenge

One day you’ll look at me a different way
One day when it’s too late
Kick yourself for causing me pain
Realise your mistake

When I needed you badly
You tore my heart in two
Cut me out once you’d had me
So now the hurt’s in you

And every night you’ll lie wondering
When the empty feeling will end

Wishing that you had loved me
That’ll be sweet revenge

Never thought that you’d use me
Believed you were for real
You never thought that you’d lose me
Now you’ll taste how I feel

And every day, you’ll spend longing
Just to hold me once again
Knowing you did the wrong thing
That’ll be sweet revenge

And every night you’ll lie wondering
When the empty feeling will end

Wishing that you had loved me
That’ll be sweet revenge

After the affair with T ended, I carried on seeing W. All was fine between us, until I picked up the phone one day and heard him crying. ‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.

‘You had sex with T!’ he sobbed. ‘I’ve read your diary and it says you slept with him several times. You described one of the times as a perfect day!’

I was appalled that I’d hurt him so much. I didn’t know what to say.

‘I can’t tell anyone but you,’ he cried, ‘and you’re the person who did it! I feel so stupid.’

‘I’m so, so sorry,’ I said. ‘It’s over. I’m never going to see him again. I wish I hadn’t done it.’

Hearing W cry was the ultimate punishment. I felt so guilty. We carried on seeing each other, and would date each other on and off until I was 22 – but the trust had gone.

I never think of T these days. I can’t understand what I saw in him.

Conversely, I often have dreams of W and wish I were with him. He’s the only one of my exes that I really miss. He’s married now with two little boys, and I wish I were his wife.

Ironically, the song ‘Sweet Revenge’ could have been written by him, about me.

Age 16 (2)[W and me, aged 17 and 16 respectively.]

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 15

Me: 12st 8.2lbs (total loss in 15 days: 6lbs)

It is fair to say I am plateauing.

John: 14st 5.5lbs (total loss in 15 days: 2lbs)

John is plateauing too.

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Ricky Steer, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon.

Rewards start from just $1 a month, which is 85p in real money and gets you access to my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but EVEN BETTER!

Sadness and a vow

Desperately sad news from my eight-year-old daughter: one of her classmates’ mums has died from a brain tumour. She was only 35 and leaves two little girls. It’s heartbreaking and I don’t know what to say to my eight-year-old. How can I explain something so frightening and inexplicable? Life is so fragile, but we tell our kids it isn’t and block out the fact ourselves, because confronting our mortality at every step would leave us in a permanent state of fear.

Lily birthday card 2

It gave me sobering pause for thought: brain tumours are completely unpreventable, a horrendous kind of lottery. Any one of us could develop one. But working on my new book on health, I’ve realised some cancers are very preventable, and one of the biggest risk factors for them is obesity. I’ve lost a stone and a half so far this year, but I’m still obese, mainly due to my lack of willpower. Why am I risking my life when my daughter is so precious to me? I’d do anything to stay alive and care for her. The thought of not being there for her is unthinkable.

Lily-teeth

So today I’m starting my diet over and making a vow to stick to it. I won’t be blogging about it much – I’ll just put my progress under each post. It’ll help me stay accountable. From now on, I’m going to follow a diet of fish and tofu, whole grains, vegetables and fruit – along with loads of exercise. This is the most horrible kind of wake-up call, but I really need to heed it.

obesity

Weight: 12st 11.4lbs (Goal: 7st 11lbs)

Waist: 36″ (Goal: 25″)

Bust: 43″ (Goal: 32″)

This post has been made possible by my Patreon supporters Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Lucy Spencer, Mark White, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of amazing rewards in addition to this credit! Please support me on Patreon.