Women of the world who inspire and lead
Caitlin Moran - 29th July 2020
Journalist, author & broadcaster
Just when we thought journalist and author Caitlin Moran couldn’t possibly hit us with more humour, honesty and female empowerment, she goes and releases a film AND a new book. Bang!
With her trademark Dr Martens, huge hair and heavy eyeliner, Caitlin’s life story is extraordinary. Born in 1975 and raised in working-class Wolverhampton, she’s the eldest of eight children. Describing her family as the ‘only hippies in Wolverhampton’ she was home-educated with her siblings from the age of 11. Her first taste of writing success was at just 13, when she won an essay contest called ‘Why I Like Books’. By age 15, she scooped the Observer’s Young Reporter of the Year award and soon after published her first novel The Chronicles of Narmo. She was convinced that she’d make millions from her novel and help her family out of poverty. Sadly not. But then a writer for the Times told her that she could make money immediately by becoming a journalist, and she’s been writing for the broadsheet ever since. That was back in 1992!
In her excellent column in the Times magazine on a Saturday, she’s covered teenage body image, the class system, abortion, the menopause, diets, and too many other women’s issues to mention. Every single feature is full to the brim with truth and underlying odes to women. Caitlin is the writer we’ve always needed. She shines a light on topics previously undiscussed in detail, such as periods and masturbation. And she’s dedicated to writing about the reality of poverty, just as she experienced in childhood. She’s honest about her own social mobility and about how her privileged present life in affluent north London is not the ‘normal, baseline experience’ that she fears most of her community believe. And so she gives life to the ‘people who don’t get written about – the weird kids, the joy, the council estates.’ Her 2013 sitcom Raised by Wolves – written alongside her sister Caroline – was a wonderfully warm and sympathetic portrayal of working-class life.
And now Caitlin’s first film is out there. Adapted by the writer herself from her semi-autobiographical novel How to be a Girl, it’s set in 1993 and tells the tale of a ‘fat, bright, funny’ working class Wolverhampton teenager and her escape to London to become a rock music critic. Starring the brilliant Beanie Feldstein (of Ladybird fame) as lead character Johanna Morrigan (teenage Caitlin), How to Build a Girl is an empowering, coming-of-age story. Johanna is an ambitious, irrepressible soul who’s bursting with energy and creativity. Citing her heroes as the Bronte sisters and Sylvia Plath, she tires of the ‘cool crowd’ and the book-throwing bullies at school. So she lands a job on a gritty weekly music magazine in 90s London. The entertainment press was in its Britpop and hedonism heyday back then, and Johanna throws herself into the male-dominated scene by re-inventing herself as ‘Dolly Wilde’. We’ll leave you to watch what happens next. It’s fantastic. Oh and look out for Emma Thompson who has a cameo role. Along with Lily Allen, Gemma Arterton and Mel and Sue!
So back to books. Her bestseller status kicked off in 2011 in her must-read How to be a Woman. It’s a gloriously warm and funny memoir that made women’s rights and gender equality more accessible than ever before. She tapped into the common untruth that feminists are radical ‘man-haters’ and focuses on the movement as one of personal freedom and choice.
And then came her second novel, Moranthology with all its super-smart social commentary. How to Build a Girl was next, followed by Moranifesto, which is dubbed as ‘the polite revolution for making the world a better place’. How to be Famous was her fifth book and sequel to How to be a Girl. It’s raucous and hilarious, whilst tackling sexism, reinvention and body image. If you’re a child of the 1990s, you will LOVE this book! And you’ll love Caitlin Moran for bringing it to us.
So now we’re just waiting for her new book, More Than a Woman, to hit the shops. Again autobiographical, but now featuring ageing parents, teenage daughters and a larger bottom, she
answers those midlife questions: ‘Why isn’t there such a thing as a Mum Bod?’ And ‘why has wine turned against me?’ We cannot wait. It’s out in September. Caitlin has truly taught us that anything is possible. To land a column on a national newspaper aged just 17, with very little formal education and from incredibly humble roots, she’s a symbol of female tenacity – especially for our teenage girls. We heart her!
Beyoncé - 22nd July 2020
Singer, producer, campaigner, independent women and actress
All hail Queen Bey! One of our favourite artists of all time, Beyoncé is a bold symbol of strength and sisterhood. We first found her when she was lead-singing for all-girl group Destiny’s Child. Belting out inspiring, tough tunes like Survivor and Bootylicious we loved everything the band stood for. And oh, how we longed to bust those dance-moves! We’ve all tried, right??
But more recently we’ve been celebrating Beyoncé for her political voice in the Black Lives Matter movement. Her devout stance on equality – for both women and the black community worldwide – is heart-felt and impactful. This week she released a film trailer for her new visual album Black is King. Produced by Beyoncé and filmed in Africa, Belgium, LA, New York and London, the video is dedicated to black resilience and culture. Described as ‘the voyage of black families’ and ‘a tale about a young king’s transcendent journey through betrayal, love and self-identity’ the one-minute movie leaves you a little breathless. It’s beautiful.
Beyoncé’s support for BLM is currently soaring, as she’s taken on the fight against police brutality towards black people. But looking back at some of her stand-out live performances over the past decade, she’s been shouting out for equality for all along. There was her sensational 2016 Superbowl show, throughout which she fiercely paid tribute to black figures of the past and present, before 100 million viewers.
Now remembered as Beychella, Beyoncé’s phenomenal set at the Coachella festival in 2018 made music history. The first black woman to ever headline the event, she rocked the world with the most powerfully poignant salute to black culture. It had everything. The New York Times said: ‘It was rich with history, potently political and visually grand. Uproarious, rowdy and lush. A gobsmacking marvel of choreography and musical direction’. And Michelle Obama was quick to praise her: ‘Girl you’ve done it again. Constantly raising the bar for us all and doing it flawlessly’. Beyoncé’s documentary, Homecoming, chronicles her whole Coachella performance and is definitely worth a watch. And we recommend cranking up her older music for a kitchen disco! We’d forgotten just how awesome tracks like Crazy in Love and Single Ladies are. Like in so many of her songs, female empowerment and independence flood her lyrics. She’s been a powerhouse of a solo artist since 2003, releasing six studio albums and 49 singles.
We can’t NOT talk about how mesmerisingly beautiful the mum-of-three is and we love her honesty about the work she must put in to achieve that perfectly toned hourglass body. But beauty has never been her focus. Or indeed something she is most proud of. It’s her growth as a woman.
In her life story for Vogue, she said: ‘I’m not happy if I’m not improving, evolving, moving forward, inspiring, teaching and learning. My mother taught me the importance not just of being seen but seeing myself. As the mother of two girls, it’s important to me that they see themselves as CEOs, as bosses, and that they can write the script for their own lives – that they can speak their minds and they have no ceiling.
‘I’ve been through hell and back, and I’m grateful for every scar. I have experienced betrayals and heartbreak in many forms. I look at the woman I was in my 20s and I see a young lady growing in confidence but intent on pleasing everyone around her. I now feel so much more beautiful, so much sexier, so much more interesting. And so much more powerful.’
And that’s EXACTLY how we think of Beyoncé – as power personified. Going back to her live shows, If you’ve ever had the pleasure of being there (one TGIOF member was utterly transfixed by her at Glastonbury 2011) you feel the full force of her – not only as a mind-blowing performer – but as a warrior. And she fires that strength right through the crowds, and you’re left feeling more empowered and energised as a woman than you’ve ever been!
So, in her very own words: ‘Who Run the World?! GIRLS!’ Sing it! Oh, and run to it, if you need some encouragement to get out there and move.
We’ll leave you with this line from her new Black is King film: ‘You can’t wear a crown with your head down’. Love!
Denise Welch - 15th July 2020
TV personality, author & actress
Denise Welch is undeniably a national treasure with that north-eastern warmth and stella TV career, having starred in some of our favourite soaps such as Coronation Street, Soldier Soldier and Waterloo Road. And not to mention her honest, funny presence on the Loose Women panel. But it’s her tireless dedication to supporting those suffering from depression that has made her one of our Women Who Inspire.
As Denise’s TV career was taking off, she was secretly suffering from post natal depression to such an extreme that she was at times suicidal. Hiding away her heartbreak while pulling pints on set at the Rovers Return, Denise turned to alcohol to cope.
Now eight years sober, she’s spoken frankly and admirably about her 31-year battle with clinical depression, inspiring others to talk openly about their own mental health. Denise personifies her illness in her new book ‘The Unwelcome Visitor: Depression and How I Survive It’. This is one to read.
In her book, Denise delves into the depths of her depression with detailed descriptions of how her illness manifests itself. She talks about the misconception that depression makes you feel sad, when the true devastation of the illness lies within feeling absolutely nothing. She said in an interview recently: ‘You long to feel something. Anything. Five days after the birth of my son, the colour drained from my whole life and everything turned black.’
It was this post-natal episode that sparked a further three decades of recurrent depressive episodes. Denise describes how her own mental illness is endogenous, rather than reactive. It can engulf her without warning. At any time.
But Denise’s book is not about defeating her depression. It’s about how she lives with it and how she’s developed a happy life around her episodes. What we really love about her book is just how it bursts with hope and survival. She offers achievable tips for fellow sufferers of depression, such as how to tackle those mornings when a low-level hum of anxiety threatens to creep to the surface and destroy your day. Simple techniques that people just really need to hear, like ‘get up, get the kettle on and just keep moving’. Denise is passionate about reassuring anyone with mental illness to never feel alone. And that it’s not your fault. It’s these candid conversations that we celebrate here at TGIOF.
The support and comfort that Denise has given to loved ones of depression sufferers is also applaudable. They can often be the forgotten ones who feel lost, bereft and utterly helpless. To read such an honest account of the real bones of mental illness is so, so valuable. Now, more than ever, people need to hear that ‘everything will be OK’. And the fact that Denise’s book is already in the Sunday Times Best Seller list is testimony to just that.
She said: ‘Though we have come a long way, this crippling, debilitating and often terminal illness is still shockingly misunderstood. This is my story that you have asked me to tell. Those who suffer from depression will understand and those who don’t will hopefully learn how to.’
Mary Berry - 8th July 2020
TV personality, Queen of baking & author.
The UK’s beloved Mary Berry. She’s like a hug of culinary comfort. And if anyone else has been finding solace in good food throughout lockdown, well you might just be as excited as us about Mary’s new cookery show, Simple Comforts.
The six-part series follows the Queen-of-all-the-cooks as she celebrates the best of heart-warming food, with fuss-free recipes that promise to warm the cockles and lift the spirits. Is there anything we could want more right now? Nope! The BBC said of its upcoming show: ‘Now more than ever, home cooking is central to daily life and Mary’s take on comfort food is exactly what we all need.’ And it really is. We’ve been finding that very comfort in cooking and meal-planning to be so integral to our control of what is ultimately an uncontrollable situation. It’s given us daily structure and small pleasures.
So Mary Berry’s attitude to food is brilliant. She once said, when asked how she stays so slim: ‘I walk and I play tennis, but mainly I watch what I eat. I eat all the things that I love, including cake. But it’s all about the size of the slice!’ True story Mary. With so much conflicting advice on calories, carbs and fat, along with copious fad diets being flung in our faces, it’s reassuring to have such a legendary foodie who keeps it real. Simple, she says. Cook the food you adore and eat the things that make you feel warm inside. Just not too much!
However, Mary’s life has been far from simple. She contracted polio as a 13-year-old, which left her with a twisted spine, weaker left hand and a thinner left arm. She cites the horrific three-month separation from her parents, in a glass isolation room as ‘toughening her up’. She’s retained that strength of character, and this – combined with that signature warmth – is just one of the many reasons that we respect her infinitely.
And there’s even more respect going out to Mary for making her would-be husband wait before she decided to say ‘I do’. Doting Paul proposed three times before Mary finally said yes and the couple wed back in 1966. She looked wonderful in her £5 wedding dress and she OBVIOUSLY baked her own cake. They had three children but experienced utter tragedy when their middle child William died in a car accident, aged just 19. Mary truly believes that the resilience she gathered as a child, gave her the strength to survive the trauma.
And now at age 85, Mary is positively thriving. She’s written close to 90 cookery books, many of which have remained classics since her first publication in 1970. She’s sold 6.5 million copies worldwide, covering culinary topics ranging from Aga cooking to freezer cuisine and, of course, baking.
Her passion for food was fuelled by a trip to that gastronomic heaven that is France. Twelve-year-old Mary was entranced by the charcuterie and fresh herbs and cheeses. Eight years later, a fiercely independent Mary moved to London and shared a flat with four other girls. She bagged a job developing recipes for the Dutch Dairy Board and persuaded her boss to send her to the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu cookery school in Paris. Living in a grubby youth hostel, with only enough Francs to afford a baguette for dinner, her big break was just around the corner. She started writing recipes for (ahem) Housewife magazine, eventually becoming editor of Ideal Home. Her TV debut came in 1973 on The Good Afternoon Show with Judith Chalmers. Fast forward four decades and she officially became one of our favourite Girls on Fire. A national treasure of the truest kind. Her humour and style on The Great British Bake Off – ‘soggy bottoms’ and those insanely jazzy jackets of hers – made us love her just as much as we love cake. And that’s A LOT! There’s just something about Mary.
So we’ll leave you with our favourite Mary Berry fact.. She’s a raver! At age 71, the Queen of Cakes could be found in Ibiza super-club Pacha! She said: ‘It was like a rabbit warren; lots of little rooms and in every room there were bars, there were strange drinks, there were people smoking or sitting on the floor.
‘The noise was amazing and of course the boys couldn’t stand it. They went outside and waited for us on the stairs and all the girls hung together inside. We didn’t want to miss a trick!’
Alicia Keyes - 1st July 2020
Singer, song-writer, actress, film-producing philanthropist and author.
Alicia Keys is one of those artists who writes and sings from the depths of her soul. And never more so than in her new track ‘Perfect Way to Die’. She performed it live at the BET Awards (Black Entertainment Television – you can watch it here) recently and it was one of the most poignant moments in music we’ve ever seen. Our love for the singing, song-writing, acting, film-producing philanthropist and author has peaked. It’s dedicated to the Black Lives Matter movement and it’s heart-wrenchingly good. Alicia spoke of the power of music and the horrific reality of police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. She said: ‘Whether it’s spiritual or the blues, jazz, or hip-hop, music has always been the voice of the Black experience. It speaks to our resilience, our resistance, and even in the messiest of circumstances we find melody.’
Alicia wrote Perfect Way to Die with the deaths of Michael Brown and Sandra Bland in mind, but her performance at the BET Awards paid tribute to many others who have since tragically lost their lives, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
The 39-year-old New Yorker started playing the piano aged seven and later excelled in music at a prestigious performing arts school in the city. She was raised by her mother, who often worked three jobs to fund her daughter’s music lessons and indeed to survive. They lived a tough life in a very tough neighbourhood. Alicia says her success is all down to her mum: ‘Thank you for all the Sundays you played Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington on vinyl. Thank you for all the nights you worked overtime to make the ends and beginnings meet. Thank you for teaching me about womanhood and everything in between’.
By age 12, Alicia was composing her owns songs before being snapped up by a record label at just 15 years old. She went on to release her debut album ‘Songs in A Minor’ in 2001, which went platinum five times over and earned her five Grammys. If you haven’t listened to that album in years – like us – we strongly advise digging it out and cranking it up. We remember being floored by her spine-tingling vocal range when we first heard it. Such a stunning record.
Ten Grammys and five studio albums later, Alicia has also appeared in four films, produced a Broadway show, directed a movie and executive-produced a further film. Her catalogue of accomplishments is quite frankly mind-blowing. And one of her latest successes is her New York Time’s best-selling autobiography ‘More Myself’, which we are LOVING! Part narrative documentary, the book delves into her complex relationship with her father, the people-pleasing nature that characterised her early career, the loss of privacy surrounding her romantic relationships and the oppressive expectations of female perfection.
Indeed, Alicia took a stand against this very expectation of women by going make-up-free in 2016. She said: ‘It felt really empowering and really freeing. Because we put so many limitations on ourselves and think we put limitations on each other. Society puts limitations on us. And in a lot of ways, I’m sick of it. Over it, to be honest. It would be so amazing to just embrace each other how we are. I think the most important thing is you do what feels good for you.’
This is the key theme throughout her book, and it’s liberating. She struggled with self-acceptance for most of her life and finding fame at such a young age left her scared to show who she really was, for fear of rejection. Alicia talks about the journey she had to endure to finally find the strength that now defines her.
Top tip: check out the fabulous Fearne Cotton’s recent podcast with Alicia about her book. It’s a fascinating insight into her life-story and has some heart-warming moments of sisterhood between the pair. It’s a lovely listen.
Now onto Alicia’s activism. Although she’s a hero to us with her attitudes, accolades, and talent, it’s her ardent philanthropy that really makes us idolise her in 2020. She’s a FIERCE fighter for justice and equality. After Donald’s Trump inauguration in 2017, she helped lead the Women’s March in Washington. Her address to the crowd was simply sublime: ‘Let us continue to honour all that is beautiful about being feminine. We are mothers. We are caregivers. We are artists. We are activists. We are entrepreneurs, doctors, leaders of industry and technology. Our potential is unlimited. We rise!’
A couple of years prior to this, Alicia launched a movement – We Are Here – to bolster the global community to encourage respect and equality. Her aim is to ensure vulnerable people are heard and treated with dignity through a host of funded initiatives with international non-profit organisations.
The artist is also the co-founder of Keep a Child Alive (KCA), a charity that partners with grass-roots organisations to combat the physical, social, and economic impact of HIV on children, their families and their communities in Africa and India.
So basically, Alicia Keys is what the world needs right now. And she’s everything we want to be. We’re so grateful to women like her who use their platform to yell about such important issues on our behalf. And she’s a brilliant role model for our growing girls with her strength, talent and determination. She’s just so damn cool. So let’s put on one of our favourite Alicia tracks, ‘This Girl is on Fire’! We are NOT biased over here at TGIOF Towers!
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