In 1987, the year in which the film Wish You Were Here? was released, I spent most of my time in a mental hospital. I was 12 years old and suffering from anorexia. For most of the summer and a good part of the autumn I was on on bed rest, intermittently awarded and denied “privileges” based on weight gained and lost. For several weeks I was denied visitors, phonecalls and reading material. Fortunately, one day I found a copy of 19 stuffed down the side of the bed. For a long time the magazine was all I had to look at, other than the carpet, the wall and the ceiling. So I read it again and again.
The feature I remember most was an interview with the actress Emily Lloyd, star of Wish You Were Here?, then aged 17. Entitled “Here’s Emily”, the piece was illustrated with a photo of Lloyd in a silly pose, arms above her head, soft stomach sticking out. She looked really different, and really cool. When asked what her biggest flaw was, she said “I’m greedy. For food, mostly”. I was impressed. I wanted to be like her, and not like me. This desire only increased a year later, when I saw the film on VHS. She was brilliant (so inspired was I that, years later, I considered announcing my first pregnancy to HR by saying “a man’s willy has entered my person and left a little visitor behind”. Obviously I didn’t. But I, um, could have).
I didn’t end up being remotely like Emily Lloyd – famous, talented – or even anything like the character Lynda – outspoken, brave, memorable. These days I could at least say that Lloyd is more like me, insofar as, by our standard measures of sanity, she doesn’t appear to measure up. But this is a vague and tenuous similarity, not that such things make any difference to the Daily Mail, who, as Rethink highlighted today, have decided to publish a piece castigating the actress for simply walking down the street while not being the person she’s apparently meant to be.
“She was once a radiant and glamorous woman” begins the article, before going on to describe how “the last two decades have been less than kind to the Bafta winning actress due to a tragic battle with depression and insomnia”. Perhaps it’s tragic by normal standards, but for the Mail, it’s actually a gift. For a paper that spends so long scrutinising successful women, searching out every single “flaw”, bullying and provoking, Lloyd presents someone who doesn’t even need that extra push towards the edge. She’s meant to be there already, what with her various mental health diagnoses. Once she seemed strong, confident and different and now, according to the Mail, she’s not. Ha. If only all other women who think they’re something special could hurry up and have a fucking breakdown too.
Of course, this misses the point. Lloyd remains a tremendous talent in a way that no one who writes for the Mail will ever be. She inspires affection in a way that no one who writes for the Mail ever can. Even if she never makes another film, she’s made at least one that’s very special. If going from those heights to walking your dog without wearing makeup constitutes “failure”, then I think most of us would like to “fail” in that way.
We’re all of us in decline – all of us getting older and uglier and more and more tired. The Daily Mail can throw this in the faces of women in particular, day after day, but it’s not the accusation the writers think it is. There is no shame in being human, and no shame in being mentally ill. I used to fear there was, back when I first read about Emily Lloyd – when I had already “failed” – but now I don’t. Up yer bum to that stupid paper and all of its pointless hate.