How RuPaul brought drag to the masses

No T, no shade, no pink lemonade – RuPaul is slaying it right now! If you’re not familiar with this fernacular, it basically means Ru is killing it, no joke. RuPaul’s Drag Race has always had a cult following, but now it has entered the main stream. The irreverent show is in its ninth season, and recently won the MTV Movie & TV Award for Best Reality Show. 8 years after it was first launched by the eponymous RuPaul, the Queen of Drag Queens, the show is still growing it’s following and viewing figures are on the up.

The tv show, is essentially America’s Next Top Model meets Project Runway with a hint of The X Factor, exculsively for drag queens. The contestants compete is various challenges: photoshoots, acting, sewing their own outfits, and each episode culminates in all the Queens putting on their faces and frocks and sissying that walk down the runway in front of a panel of judges who assess their looks and how they did in the challenge before the bottom two lip sync for their life to a gay anthem.

RuPaul is looking for the queen with the most charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent (a cheeky acrostic) to be America’s next drag superstar. The show is fun, silly, not afraid to poke fun at itself, which is perhaps why it’s more popular now than ever. In a time of hate, uncertainty and sometimes misery, drag is all about having fun, laughing, creativity and most importantly, celebrating yourself.

  

The show had humble beginnings on Logo TV – the gay network in he US – with RuPaul as he tried to bring drag to the mainstream. He was a pop star in the 90s and the epitome of kooky cool, hanging out with everyone from the B52s (he starred in their Love Shack music video) to Nirvana to Naomi Campbell. Much of the show is built around Ru Paul’s music and style, with the catwalk parade segment of the show being called ‘Sissy that walk’ after his song, and the elimination of the bottom two candidates being revealed by declaring “Shanté you stay” to the safe contestant and “Sashé away” toolset of the challenge, referencing his song ‘Supermodel’.

The following is amazing, it’s become a cult favourite and the most talked about TV show on Social media. The show also has a mass of celebrity followers and has a killer roster of guests judges, from old school icons like Paula Abdul, La Toya Jackson and Debbie Harris, to the new it-girls like GiGi Hadid, Khloe Kardashian and Ariana Grande. This season saw Lady GaGa take to the panel for the premiere episode, where she entered the work room in one of her most decadent outfits, caked in make-up and wearing sunglasses. It wasn’t until she took off the glasses that the people in the room realised she wasn’t just another contestant and was in fact GaGa, an idol for many people in the room, and LGBT people everywhere.

But while the show is frivolous and run, it also has some important messages. One of RuPaul’s catchphrases is, “if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love anybody else?!” The saying consistently gets an amen from everyone in the room. And it’s true – RuPaul has become something of a therapist as he gets contestants to open up as many of them have struggled in one way or another – from being bullied at school or outcast by religious families who didn’t accept their sexuality, to men who have been beaten up for being drag queens or lost loved ones to AIDS. Underneath all the hair and makeup, there are real people with real problems. But the show helps them to open up and talk about it. It’s an important message not just for LGBT communities, but for everyone. Self worth is so important.

The show can get catty, and one element of being a drag queen is being able to throw shade – witty insults. But as RuPaul points out, it’s easy to be a bitch, but you have to be clever to throw shade. After the girls are done insulting each other, there is real camaraderie that you don’t often see in other reality show competions. Yes, there is the occasional showgirl who wouldn’t hesitate to push a frenemy down the stairs, but there’s a real community that develops in the work room where they create their outfits and paint their faces. 

And the show isn’t afraid to get political either. One of the competitions in previous seasons saw the queens adopt politician personas and run for America’s Drag Presient as they spoke out about what mattered to them – more money on AIDS care and less money on wars – albeit with a tongue in cheek approach. 

RuPaul himself has even spoken out about how “we need America’s next drag queen now more than ever”. Under Trump, drag is being used as a form of political expression, even on SNL as The Atlantic highlighted in their article “Why Drag is the Ultimate Retort to Trump,” with Melissa McCarthy’s portrayal of Sean Spicer. And Trump himself is often compared to a drag queen thanks to his “technicolor tan, bouffant hair, love of insults, and exaggerated display of masculinity.” As a Drag Race contestant said of Trump, “Girl, look how orange you f*cking look, girl!” – an insult from one queen to another on a previous season.

The show has become such a success in recent years, and the political and social climate has helped that. While RuPaul may have been a pop star with the song Covergirl back in the early 90s, he was still seen as a fad to many (some people don’t recognise charisma, uniqueness nerve and talent when they see it). And while there isn’t a drag queen topping the charts at the moment (Conchita Wurst back a few years ago came close) more pop stars are celebrating drag by including queens in their performances – Miley Cyrus had several drag queens perform with her on her last tour and is a big fan of the show – she was in the audience of the season 7 finale. And now Katy a Perry is following suit after her recent SNL performance.

Some of the contestants themselves have become (minor) celebrities in their own rights, and it’s no surprise with their vibrant personalities and costumes. There’s Bianca Del Rio, season 6 winner – an insult comedian with quick wit who throws shade like a pro and always has flawless outfits and signature catch phrase, “Not today Satan!”

  

Sharon Needles, winner of season 4, is the alternative drag queen – more into goth and gore than the usual glamorous pageant look – but this, paired with her self deprecating humour makes her like a modern day Elvira. 

  

After Sharon won Season 4, her (now ex) partner Alaska took part in season 5 and went on to become a runner up and a fan favourite thanks to her whimsical nature and ability to turn a rubbish bag into a glamourous gown – literally; that was a challenge that she won, turning dumpster findings into couture.

  

My personal favourite is season 6 finalist Adore Delano – the former American Idol semi-finalist (he competed as Danny before taking up drag). She’s a fun time party girl, who was not as polished as other girls, but always turned it out on the runway, and (obviously) has a killer set of pipes, and pins, and despite only being 23 had no problem holding her own in a season of strong queens.

  

There’s too many spectacular queens to mention, really. Even their names are hilarious, some tongue-in-cheek faves include Farrah Moan, MiMi Imfurst, Ginger Minj and my favourite name – Penny Tration – shame her performance wasn’t as spectacular as her moniker. 
Drag will never be entirely mainstream, but will always have a cult following. The important part is that people accept it. Take comic books nerds – they will always be the butt of jokes, but they have a strong community with their own conventions and some people deem them to be cool, albeit in a quirky way – comic book-based films now regularly top the box office, yet the hard core Star Trek nerds are still sometimes pariahs. 

Drag also has its on conventions – notably RuPaul’s Drag Con in New York, and Drag World UK coming to London Kensington Olympia this Summer, but I feel we may be waiting a while longer for a box office smash. But to be fair, drag queens always do their best work live – part of their charm is the off the cuff retorts, jokes and insults thrown at audiences, and his still works on Drag Race when they have a panel and other queens to interact with, it loses its impact when scripted. But business is booming in drag bars from Brooklyn to Soho and pop stars never turn down a chance to take the stage at G-A-Y to perform their latest hit. Just yesterday I saw a man walking down the street wearing a Bianca Del Rio t-shirt.

With Drag Race about to start filming its 10th season, it shows no signs of slowing down. It’s a cult juggernaut and I can’t wait to see what next series brings. If you haven’t had the pleasure of watching the show before, it’s available on demand on Netflix and is binge worth, feel good, trash TV – go check it out.

13 Reasons Why: Netflix’s most controversial series yet

It’s the show everyone is talking about; whether it’s praise or criticism, 13 Reasons Why is blowing up online as people chime in on the Netflix teen drama that centres around the suicide of a teenage girl.

For those of you that don’t know about the series, it is set at an American high school in the aftermath of a pupil’s suicide. Hannah Baker killed herself after months of bullying and left behind recordings on 13 cassette tapes (well, 7 cassettes, 13 sides) one for each person who she blames for her demise.

The story, based on the best selling novel by Jay Asher, is told through flashbacks from the point of view of nerdy, but likeable nice guy Clay as he listens to the tape and hears Hannah tell her unfortunate story of what led her down such a dark path. It’s especially hard for Clay as he had harboured a crush on Hannah, even loved her, but never had the courage to tell her before she killed herself.

It’s a dark premise and while it has been praised by critics, it has equally been criticised by schools and mental health groups who feel that it glamourises self harm and suicide. The show, produced by Selena Gomez, has been defended by its cast and crew as a realistic look at mental health.

Gomez told AP: ‘We stayed very true to the book and that’s initially what Jay Asher created, was a beautifully tragic, complicated yet suspenseful story, and I think that’s what we wanted to do.
‘We wanted to do it justice and, yeah, [the backlash is] going to come no matter what. It’s not an easy subject to talk about, but I’m very fortunate with how it’s doing and I’m overwhelmed, very proud of it.’

Mental health is a big talking point at the moment, especially in the UK with Princes William and Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge fronting the #OkaytoSay campaign with the help of Lady GaGa, and Heads Together being selected as the lead charity for this year’s London Marathon. Some people say that anything that gets people talking about mental health is a good thing, so a series like this that highlights the most extreme outcome of depression brought on by bullying could help some people.

However, some schools and mental health groups, notably Australia’s National Youth Mental Health Foundation, have petitioned against the series urged parents not sensor it or to talk to their children about the issues covered in the programme, should they choose to watch it.

The series starts with a text card issuing a warning of the potentially upsetting scenes to come and there are further warnings at the openings of later episodes in the series that are particularly unsettling – scenes of rape and sexual assault as well as a graphic suicide scene where Hannah slits her wrists in the bath. But Netflix has now taken steps to add additional warnings and provide helpline numbers following criticism that some scenes could act as triggers for people with self harm tendencies or depression.

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Suicide scenes are generally not shown on film or television for fears it could be a trigger or give vulnerable people ideas. However, the show’s writer Nic Sheff defended the decision to show Hannah’s final moments. Sheff has a history of depression himself and has publicly spoken about his own suicide attempt, which is one of the reasons why he felt so strongly about including the suicide scene in 13 Reasons Why.

“It overwhelmingly seems to me that the most irresponsible thing we could’ve done would have been not to show the death at all. When it comes to suicide… Facing these issues head-on – talking about them, being open about them – will always be our best defense against losing another life,” he said.

Having watched it myself, I can tell you that the fateful scene is difficult watching – Hannah’s death is slow and painful, not at all romanticised. And it’s not just the suicide that’s uncomfortable viewing – SPOILER ALERT – Hannah sees her best friend get raped after Jessica passes out drunk in a bedroom at a house party and Hannah herself later gets raped by the same boy in a hot tub, despite telling him no and trying to fight him off. It’s not pleasant, and even more upsetting is when her mother discovers Hannah dead in the bath, clinging to her lifeless body and telling her she’s going to be ok. It’s heartbreaking to watch.

Like many Netflix series, all 13 one hour episodes have been released at once so viewers can indulge in binge viewing if they wish. This move by the streaming service has also been criticised as some believe that people may watch the series back to back without taking a step away from the intense storyline to process their emotions, which could prove dangerous for people suffering with depression.

Controversies aside, the series has been very well received by critics. IndieWire described the series as compelling viewing: “You won’t want to stop watching this show. But at times, you’ll wish you could look away.”

The New York Observer praised it’s nuances of teenage angst and the emotional roller coaster the 13 unwitting teens are taken on: “the toughest part of 13 Reasons Why – watching everyone, and yes, I mean everyone, really struggle to not feel as though everything is being kicked out from under them on a continual basis. But, what this says about how fragile people feel, all the time, is incredibly realistic. It’s yet another level to this story; one that’s all too real.”

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The young cast all put in solid performances, particularly newcomer Katherine Langford who plays Hannah so well and goes beyond being a stereotypical angsty teenager and delivers a heartfelt portrayal of someone who loses all hope and self confidence, lonely in a crowd. No doubt her performance will be recognised come awards season. Dylan Minette also delivers a strong performance as we see Hannah and the world of Westmont through his eyes. The rose tinted specs he wares for Hannah mean that both he and Hannah are unreliable narrators, but Minette plays him as aimiable and believable. There’s an air of Logan Lerman about him , and I hope Minette goes on to achieve a similar level of success in interesting and varied roles. 

Controversial as the series may be, the additional warnings Netflix has put in place may prove beneficial and the fact that the series has prompted people to openly talk about suicide and depression is good thing. Mental Health should not be a taboo subject. It’s okay to say.

The Danish Girl: film review

Upon leaving the cinema having just watched The Danish Girl, I stood to the side of the door while I waited for my sister and couldn’t help but listen to the comments of people leaving the screening:”I didn’t realise it was based on a true story.”

“His costumes were fantastic.”

“He is so beautiful.”

“It was too weird for me.”

“A very powerful film.”

A mixed bag of responses to say the least. When the credits rolled, I had a tear in my eye. I have to agree with the last comment: it was a very moving film that I am sure will leave an impact on most people, even if the subject matter doesn’t resonate with everyone and may prove “too weird” for some.
I thought the film was far from weird. It was tragic. The story centres on a happily married couple in 1920s Copenhagen, who are both talented artists: Einar (Eddie Redmayne) is celebrated for his stunning landscapes, lauded by critics to be “in the top one” of Danish artists, and his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) who paints beautiful portraits, but struggles to sell her work as she is told she hasn’t found the right subject, yet.

 

The film’s pivotal moment is when Gerda is painting a portrait of her friend, Ulla the ballerina and encourages her husband to help her out by posing for her as Ulla. Einar trys on stockings, shoes and holds a dress to his body to let it drape over his legs. At this moment, Redmayne portrays a mix of elation, fear and excitement as he caresses the fabric of the women’s clothing. At this point Ulla (the beautiful Amber Heard) walks in clasping a bunch of lilies, and declares it the perfect name for Einar’s alter ego: Lily.

 

The picturesque cinematography in the film drops hints of Lily’s presence within Einar in the early scenes of the film: Einar’s longing glances at his wife’s clothes and form, trips to the state ballet’s costume cupboard where he brushes his hands through the wardrobes and peers down at Ulla through the tutus hung from the ceiling like clouds suspended in the sky. The whole staging is beautiful, as are the characters.

 

Alicia Vikander stood out as Gerda. She encourages Einar to embrace Lily, although at first she merely thinks of it as a game. As she sees her husband slip away and Lily come to the fore, you can see her struggle with her conflicting feelings: she still loves her husband, but she wants him to be happy, even if that means he is now a she, and essentially no longer her husband.

 

Einar said that Gerda made him beautiful, but she remarks that he has always been beautiful: which is true. Eddie Redmayne is exceptionally good looking, but not handsome in a rugged manner: he is definitely pretty. He fully embraces both the role of confused Einar and plays Lily as a coy, yet determined woman who is finding her feet in the world and embarks on a quest to free herself of the body that has become her prison. Redmayne plays Lily so well, that towards the end of the film, I forgot that it was a man under the red lipstick, sweeps of eyeliner and elegantly flowing dresses.

 

The Danish Girl is essentially a love story. The story that plays out between Einar and Gerda is truly touching. Gerda’s dedication to Einar and to Lily is remarkable. You could argue that Lily is like ‘the other woman’ who comes into their relationship in attempts to tear the two apart. When Gerda finds out that Lily kissed another man, it is clear that she is more upset that her husband cheated on her, regardless of the sex of whom he kissed. As the film progresses and Gerda tells Lily, “I want to see my husband.” It is truly heartbreaking.

 

Tom Hooper has followed up Les Miserables and The King’s Speech with an equally moving film, yet again drawing on themes of determination for his characters to achieve an ultimate dream or goal. The film is beautifully shot, excellently written and superbly acted. No doubt Redmayne will be in the running for Best Actor at the Oscars after last year’s win for The Theory of Everything, but I think Alicia Vikander is one to watch. Depending on who else is in the running for Best Actress, a performance as moving as this will at least get her an Oscar nomination, having already won Hollywood Breakthrough Actress of the Year and receiving nominations at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards.
I would definitely recommend a trip to the cinema to see this tragic love story.

Why nostalgia was the way forward in Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens 

JJ Abrams had a big weight of responsibility resting on his shoulders when he accepted the position at the helm of the new Star Wars film. George Lucas had left very large boots to fill. Although, the enormity the boots came from the much-loved original trilogy, the boots were slightly muddied by the prequel trilogy. Fans feared another Jar Jar Binks shaped mishap. (Don’t worry, we leave the boot metaphor there!)

But the fears turned out to be unfounded. The Force Awakens has been the most successful Star Wars cinematic realease so far, not to mention the box office records it has smashed all around the world, having taken over $1.16 billion so far, making it one of the top 10 highest grossing films of all time. 

When the casting of the new film was announced, fans were delighted to see that as well as a pool of fresh new talent, including Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Adam Driver, the old threesome of Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher was also returning. This was a good sign: the new film was obviously going to hark back to the original trilogy that came before it.

Months later, the posters and trailers revealed that Han, Leia and also Chewy would have more than just cameo parts, although there was no sign of Luke: which lead to much theorising about the Jedi’s whereabouts and moral compass. Particularly when Abrams commented that Luke’s absence from both the trailer and the official poster was intentional. God forbid the valiant Luke had been turned to the Dark Side like his father?
  
No spoilers here, don’t worry: just reflection on why references to events in films that came before was the best thing Abrams could have done: not only continuing the story arc of the original characters that so many fell in love with, but seeping the film with references to its predecessors: the Millennium Falcon for one. and even Admiral Akbar made an appearance.
Even the story structure an features are recognisable as A New Hope 2.0: there’s a bigger and badder Death Star, BB8 is essentially the new R2D2, Rey; the poor scavenger with unknown parents who gets launched into a great adventure (a feisty female Luke), and the villain Kylo Ren admits himself that he is modelled on Darth Vader: mask and all.

The Force Awakens is essentially this generation’s A New Hope. I remember when I was young being so excited for my dad to take me to the cinema to see Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and my dad remembers going to see A New Hope when he was at university, and thinking it was so good that he dragged his parents to come see it with him for a second time. When I went to see Episode VII, I saw parents taking their children to see the film, wearing t-shirts and clutching branded popcorn buckets.

I read an interview with Abrams that said that he remembered the original Star Wars series as films that fathers would take their sons to see, but he wanted his Star Wars to be a film that mothers would take their daughters to see, which I love. He even went so far to call it a ‘feminist Star Wars‘ thanks to the punchy heroine Rey, who I also love. Daisy Ridley is so expressive in the role: every emotion is etched on her face throughout the film.

Abrams also said of his new heroine that it was intentional that the audience did not know her last name, and the same is true of Finn. It is a Star Wars trope that key characters are related. Even people who have never seen Star Wars know the ‘I am your father line’. As the Star Wars legacy continues, it will be interesting to see if any of the original trilogies’ blood lies will do too…

  
I loved the new duo of Rey and Finn, who teamed up to help BB8 and the Resistance, but the best duo of the film were Chewy and Han, who made quite the comedic double act. The film was littered with jokes, which felt like ‘in jokes’ for fans who could get the references to the original films, but of course the majority of the cinema was ‘in’ on the joke.

The film was a wonderful way to relaunch the Star Wars franchise and to look back to A New Hope and the films that followed it though rose tinted glasses, but not in a gratuitous way. Abrams certainly filled Lucas’s boots (sorry, one more metaphor!) and I can’t wait to see what he has in store for Episode VIII.
 

Sheeran vs Smith vs Ezra

Over the last few years, the music scene has been saturated with female singers: Adele, Ellie Goulding, Emilie Sandé and Rihanna to name a few. But 2014 has seen the male artists begin to claw their way back into the charts.

With the exception of Barbadian Rihanna, all the females listed above have been winners of the Brits Critics Choice Award, an award that originated in 2008 (first received by Adele) given by the industry to an artist whose star is on the rise. Until Tom Odell in 2013, this award had exclusively been presented to female singers.

But 2014’s male recipient Sam Smith has taken the industry by storm, winning over critics and the public alike with his dulcet tones that cover a range of both notes and emotion. He has now had a number one album in the UK, and also broken the US and broken a Grammy record by debuting at the awards with six nominations, including Best Newcomer and Artist of the Year.

In fact, the Brit boys are currently doing the UK proud overseas. Ed Sheeran has trod the path for Smith, with his second album X selling over three million copies worldwide and gathering a fistful of nominations at the Grammys. While his debut album + did do well, X’s reception has been phenomenal, laying the way for his 2014/2015 stadium tour, including selling out Madison Square Garden in New York.

Having seen Sheeran perform at London’s O2, it is quite a spectacle – being able to fill an arena with just one man’s voice, an acoustic guitar and a loop pedal with a minimal backing track takes great stage presence. His tours must be cheap in comparison to the likes of showgirls Katy Perry and Lady GaGa – no backing singers or band, no dancers or pyrotechnics – just some lights changing colour to set the mood for each song.

I also had the pleasure of seeing one of Britain’s up-and-coming male pop acts perform live – George Ezra. I have a definite soft spot for Ezra, with his deep, soulful crooning in a folksy manner and a blonde baby face that doesn’t match his low, manly voice.

While, like Sheeran and Smith, Ezra’s debut album has gone to number one in the UK, he is still finding his feet here and is yet to crack the US, though his 2015 American tour may change that. But really, Ezra has a way to go before he can compete with the likes of Sheeran – Ezra may have sold out his UK tour, but Brixton Academy is no patch on Madison Square Garden.

In a year when the likes of Sheeran and Smith weren’t storming the charts, Ezra may have had a shot at the Brit Award for Best Male. But alas, the competition will be tough in this category this year. He is also likely to be up against 2012 winner Ben Howard, who made a great comeback with his second album this year.

Perhaps Ezra could succeed in the Best Newcomer category? Unfortunately, I don’t think he will triumph here either, as Sam Smith had not entered the charts as a solo artist this time last year, though we had heard his vocal talents on Disclosure’s Latch. And then there’s another British male who’s creating some industry buzz – Hozier, whose single Take Me To Church has been overplayed on most radio stations – but is still loved by many – and debut album is just as hauntingly beautiful.

The British music industry is truly alive and well, and it’s nice to see that it’s not just reality television manufactured acts like One Direction representing the UK on the world music scene. Although, credit to those boys, they work hard for their millions and adoring fan girls.

Good luck to Sheeran, Smith and Ezra – it will be interesting to see who comes out on top the other side of awards season, especially on their home turf at the Brit Awards.

What makes an idol?

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The word idol is overused in today’s society: Pop Idol, fashion idol, Instagram idol – all linked with pop culture. It used to be that an idol was defined as someone you look up to and admire.

Some religions ban worshiping idols because they believe that it distracts from God – you are worshipping the idea of God, not God himself. It’s much the same in today’s culture; people confuse fame for idols, often thanks to shows like American Idol or The X Factor.

So I got thinking about who my idols are and why. The three people I have chosen all possess qualities I admire; strong work ethics, with careers and success I would like to emulate. They are also caring people with families who have given back to charity after their success.

1. Fearne Cotton
fearne-cottonI have always looked up to Fearne Cotton, ever since I watched her on Saturday morning television from a young age. Back then I just thought she was cool, and as I grew older, I began to wish I had her job, then I admired her for it. I have since followed her career up to being the leading female presenter on BBC Radio One and one of the go-to presenters for BBC television.

She is my idol because she has worked hard from an early age to get where she is. She could easily have been a flash in the pan, a child star of days gone by, but she has staying power because she has a good work ethic and has gained respect from the industry. And that in itself is a hard thing to do. I have so much admiration for anyone at any level in the media industry; people think it’s easy and glamorous, but speaking from experience, I can tell you it is not: it is ruthless and hard.

Not content with just being a leading presenter, she has also launched her own fashion, makeup and interior lines. She has become Terry Wogan’s right hand woman on Children In Need, as well as the face of CoppaFeel – a breast cancer charity which encourages women to check their breasts for lumps. And she has a beautiful family since marrying Jesse Wood, practically rock ‘n’ roll royalty as he is Ronnie Wood’s son, which is so apt for Fearne. She also has her gorgeous son Rex, as well as being a great stepmother to Jesse’s children from his first marriage. Most importantly, she doesn’t take herself too seriously; and I love her for it.

2. Caitlin Moran

caitlin-moran---credit-adam-lawrenceCaitlin Moran is the journalist I want to be – she speaks her mind and doesn’t give a damn about what other people think. She sticks up for what she believes in and writes honestly about her own experiences while being relatable, funny and insightful about the world around her.

I dipped in and out of her columns and loved her style, it was something I longed to emulate, along with her success – she has been named Columnist and Journalist of the Year by several institutions. Her Twitter is always so on point as well. Her reaction to the video for Lily Allen’s feminist anthem Hard Out Here was perfect and she tackled the trolls with gusto.

But I really put her up on a pedestal after reading her book How to be a Woman, an insightful look at how the media portrays women and what it means to be a feminist today, interspersed with her own stories of growing up and coming to terms with her own womanhood. Not only did the book make me laugh, it taught me a lot, developing my own feminist views, and it inspired me to continue writing myself.

If I could write half as candidly, comically and successfully as Caitlin, I would be a very happy woman.

3. David McMullan
You may not be so familiar with this name, unless you live in Gerrards Cross, where he is a pillar of the community. David is a successful businessman, does great work for charity and is a wonderful family man. He is also my Grandad.

He regales me with stories of his life, which has varied from growing up in troubled Belfast, to moving to Australia to work for Beechams and then travelling the world as head of international sales for the pharmaceutical giant before settling in England. In his entrepreneurial wisdom, he helped sports pundit David Coleman develop a company to provide filming of football matches and chaired start-up companies, including the Queen’s Award for Enterprise-winning hospital services company, Cableflow.

He is now in his 80s and despite retiring several years ago, he keeps active by being the chairman of an employment charity, he has volunteered there for 20 years, helping people with their job hunt. He has also been involved with St Tiggywinkles animal charity, is secretary of our church, has been captain of his local golf club and generally helps out where he can.

I look up to my Grandad because he has always been a hard worker, showing me that if you put time and effort into what you do, you will reap the benefits. His charity work is also admirable, teaching me the importance of giving back. I want to emulate his success so I can make him proud and hopefully one day my grandchildren will look up to me, too.

Can Victoria’s Secret be feminist?

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This week saw the Victoria’s Secret Angels return to the catwalk for their annual show. This is now not so much a catwalk event, but a highlight of the fashion and social calendar, with fireworks and A list pop stars accompanying the Angels as they strut their stuff wearing, well, not very much.

Some would argue that these women being paraded in their underwear for the world to ogle is anti-feminist. The likes of Cara Delevingne, Doutzen Kroes and Alessandra Ambrosio being turned into sex objects as they parade about van minuscule knickers with giant angel wings strapped to their backs.

This year, one reporter from The Independent was even banned from asking the models any questions about their own feminist views. Despite this being a show made up nearly entirely of women (lucky Ed Sheeran) and marketing underwear for women, there is still an air of anti-feminism about the whole thing. It’s because sex is involved.

The lingerie is inherently sexy, as are the gorgeous ladies wearing it. But sex sells. That’s why the show has got so big – it’s decadent, sexy and smouldering. As is much of the underwear, but most of it – jewel encrusted bras aside, is affordable. It’s a bedroom fantasy that is attainable.

And what’s wrong with that? Women should be allowed to feel sexy, whether it’s on the bedroom, or under their clothes just to give them a secret boost, maybe literally in a push-up bra, when walking down the street. Being a feminist shouldn’t be synonymous with Granny wearing Doc Martins and Granny pants. Women can still be feminists in killer heels and sexy lingerie.

jourdan dunnSome argue that while the underwear is attainable, looking like the Angels who model it is not. But these girls work hard. Victoria’s Secret models do not just starve themselves, they are all put on rigorous exercise routines. While we can’t all look like Miranda Kerr, I think it’s healthy to show that exercising and eating healthily can give you a good figure.

Having said that, British model Jourdan Dunn was looking particularly thin this year, but it was noticeable next to the more athletic figures of the likes of Adriana Lima, which proves that these girls, while thin, are in fact healthy. Too often is it assumed that because a girl is thin, she has starved herself. But that’s another issue altogether.

These girls are flirty and fun, and the catwalk show is just that. This year saw the likes of Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift singing musical accompaniment for the Angels as they walked. Swift herself is a self-proclaimed feminist. She has spoken put before about how many young girls are afraid to call themselves feminists because it has become seen as a negative thing, related to being disgruntles and angry, much like the point Emma Watson raised in her He For She speech at the UN earlier this year.

Taylor Swift is currently the biggest female pop star on the planet. And while she indulged in wearing a skimpy number for the Victoria’s Secrets show to enter into the spirit of things alongside her friend Karlie Kloss, she tends to keep her clothes on while she performs, unlike many other strumpet signers in the charts today.

Well then, why is it ok for ttaylor karliehe models to take their clothes off and not the pop stars I hear you ask? Because the models’ job is to sell and display underwear, which is pretty hard to do with your clothes on. A pop star’s job is to sell music; you don’t need to take your clothes off to do that. But this brings us back to that point that has resonated throughout the last century of culture: sex sells.

But what’s wrong with feeling sexy anyway. It can be very empowering. You can still be a feminist while you wear sexy underwear. Yes, feel free to pull on  a pair of Bridget Jones knickers every now and then, but there’s nothing wrong with wanting equal gender rights while wearing a push up bra and pretty pants.

5 best films about friends dating

We are so often told from he silver screen, that girls and guys cannot be best friends because sex gets in the way.

Cue a rom-com about just that. New film Love, Rosie sees lifelong friends Rosie (Lily Collins) and Alex (Sam Claflin) fight their urges as they date other people, but still have to most fun together, yet insist they’re just friends.

We all know how it will probably end, but it’s fun to go along for the ride….

5. No Strings Attached

Director: Ivan Reitman | Starring: Ashton Kutcher & Natalie Portman

noo strings attachedAfter Natalie Portman performed her Oscar-winning role in the gritty Black Swan, she opted for far lighter, fluffier content on her next outing.

Rather than a couple meeting, making friends and deciding not to go down the dating route< <classic friends dating film formula>, No Strings Attached follows life-long friends Emma (Portman) and Adam (Kutcher) who initiate a “no strings” rule after they end up having sex once and, actually, quite enjoying it.

There are predictably, lots of smutty jokes as the two try to maintain their friendship, have great sex and not fall in love. But I don’t quite buy the connection between Portman and Kutcher. It’s an enjoyable, trashy rom-com with a good dollop of cringe thrown in for good measure.

4. What If

Director: Michael Dowse | Starring: Daniel Radcliffe & Zoe Kazan

what if2014’s What If saw Daniel Radcliffe continuing to try to shake off his Harry Potter label, with this being the first time he played a romantic lead.

For those who may not have seen Radcliffe in Equus, this certainly shed any doubts that he could do sexy. And He and Kazan have great chemistry.

Wallace (Radcliffe), a medical-school dropout has no luck dating and decides to give up the game for a while (much like my friend who is currently having a man break by doing No-men-ber). But, typically, he then meets Chantry. She has a live-in boyfriend, but she and Wallace become firm friends. Then, shock, Radcliffe’s sex appeal gets in the way.

Speaking of his sex appeal, check out this clip of what he said about people considering him sexy now: it’s the best answer ever and is why I think he is an amazing person <fan girl moment>.

3. 13 Going on 30

Director: Gary Winick | Starring: Jennifer Garner & Mark Ruffalo

13 going on 30.While friends who date is not the main theme to this body swap/time hop film, it does play an integral part.

When 13-year-old geeky girl Jenna (Garner) wishes she was grown up, she wakes up to find herself a fabulous 30-year-old magazine editor with the world at her feet. While she is dating some appealing men, her 13-year-old mind still lusts after her childhood friend Matt (Ruffalo).

It turns out that Jenna ditched Matt in her teen years as he wasn’t ‘cool’ enough. But it turns out there are a lot of idiots out there, so maybe it is best (sometimes) to date a friend who you know you get on with and isn’t a chauvinistic bastard.

The film is fun, frivolous and feel-good. And with a nice underlying message for all the teen girls who may watch it and lust after the Sex and the City lifestyle portrayed on screen in Jenna’s thirties.

2. Friends with Benefits

Director: Will Gluck | Starring: Justin Timberlake & Mila Kunis

friends with benefitsOne of my personal favourite rom-coms, that actually has some decent ‘com’, Friends with Benefits sees design exec Dylan (Timberlake) move from independent studios in LA to a big time magazine in New York after being headhunted by Jamie (Kunis).

There is definite chemistry between the two, who have both just broken up with crazy exes (a great turn from Emma Stone) and as Dylan doesn’t know anyone in NYC, he and Jamie become firm friends.

Then one night, they both realise they have an itch that needs scratching. So they lay down some rules and swear on a Bible (app) that they will have sex but not get romantically involved. Shenanigans ensue…  

1. When Harry Met Sally

Director: Nora Ephron | Starring: Meg Ryan & Billy Crystal

harry met sallyThe mother of all friends-falling-in-love films, When Harry Met Sally is often referenced in situations when people say you can’t be best friends with a member of the opposite sex, because sex gets in the way.

Written and directed by the brilliant Nora Ephron (Husbands and Wives, You’ve Got Mail) it is an intelligent and witty chick flick that has stood the test of time, and made a star out of a then relatively unknown Meg Ryan.

The great screenplay sees Harry and Sally meet at university and follows their lives until a decade later when they reflect upon their dating history. The script sparkles with wit and the heat between Ryan and Crystal is sizzling.

Of course, the film is also famous for that scene in the diner where Sally fakes an orgasm. “I’ll have what she’s having” remarks an old woman as Meg screams and groans while banning the table and running her hands through her hair. Yes. Yes. Yes!

Cats are taking over the [cultural] world

kittens

Cats. Cats are everywhere. Britain has always been a country that prides itself on its love of animals, but at the moments, cats seem to have got the cream.

There was an online feline renaissance in 2012 with the emergence of memes such as Grumpy Cat (Meme of the Year 2013 at the Webbys) and countless YouTube videos proving cats are funnier than dogs.

But why are cats so on trend?

They have now snuck into other areas of culture. Feline fashion is so ‘in’ right now. Kitten camisoles are literally the cats pyjamas. Vogue despaired last year when cats were clawing their way into fashion, but they have clung on. Just yesterday, I saw a woman in the train wearing a black midi skirt (very on trend) with a cat face print. Vogue would not have been impressed.

While kitties haven’t strictly breached pop music, the biggest pop singer on the scene right now, Taylor Swift, has always endorsed cats; on her shoes, cat ears on her headbands, taking about them in her interviews and smattering her Instagram with pictures of her own cats, including an adorable Scottish Fold. <awww>. In fact, in February, the Telegraph reported that cat photos are more popular than selfies.

Buzzfeed has cottoned onto this: cats = hits. Cats are now often used as click bait (hey, it got you here)… An article entitled ‘The 25 Most Awkward Cat Sleeping Positions’ was read more than 3.5 million times on BuzzFeed. Did you know you can even subscribe to a Buzzfeed Cats newsletter?

So being a crazy cat lady isn’t actually a bad thing these days.

Here are my top 6 favourite cat things….

Grumpy Cat

grumpy catss

Even though he’s a grump, everyone loves this cat. A bit like those who suffer from resting bitch face, he can’t help that he looks this way. There are now countless memes of him. He even has his own merchandise,  book and cartoon series.

 

Cat ear headbands

girls cat earsThey used to only be suitable for children or Halloween parties. But now celebrities like (previously mentioned cat lady) Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande are wearing cute cat ears as a fashion statement. Do you like mine?

 

Cuddling cats video

 

If you haven’t seen this video already, you’re missing out on some serious cuteness!

Sex kitten

sex kittens

There is definitely something quite sexy about the feline characteristics, hence the term sex kitten. Meow…. Maybe we could add some of those cat ears to complete the look?

 

Cat emojis (Catmojis)

catmojiAside from the see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil monkeys, cats are the only Apple emoji that have a range of expressions, so clearly they are the best. Personally I love the lusty cat with hearts in his eyes.

 

 

My own cat

tinkerbellsThis is Tink. We stole her from the neighbours and she prefers it at ours anyway. (Don’t worry, the neighbours are cool with this, they have three other cats) She is now microchipped to our house so only she can get in the cat flap because we started getting loads of random cats showing up in the house. Either we have some sort of cat homing beacon or Tink has told the neighbourhood  cats that we’re suckers who will give cats free board and lodging.

Now here’s keyboard cat to play us off…

John Lewis: Single shaming at Christmas

monty penguin nl

You know that festive time of year is fast approaching when the Christmas adverts start appearing on television.

This week, the highly anticipated John Lewis advert was released. The department store now has something of a reputation to uphold when it comes to Christmas adverts. It’s very clever marketing ploys over the last year usually involve a scene that tugs at the heart strings, musically backed by a British singer covering a classic weepy song.

This year is no different with the introduction of a Monty the Penguin a (very realistic) CGI pal for a little boy. Tom Odell sings along to Paul McCartney as the boy and his friend build Lego models, share fish fingers and go sledging. But of course, there’s a tear-inducing twist to the story…

We’ve had a little boy trembling in anticipation, not to receive presents, but to give them to his parents, while Slow Moving Millie crooned to Morrissey; Ellie Goulding covering Elton John while people wrap and hide presents for their loved ones; and last year went down the animated route with a hare giving a bear an alarm clock for Christmas so he could wake up from hibernation and join in the celebrations.

It turns out Monty the Penguin cannot enjoy Christmas because he is lonely. Yes, he has his human friend, but he wants a lady penguin to love.

So (spoiler alert) on Christmas morning, the boy takes Monty downstairs and he has bought Monty a female friend. The penguin sits in an unwrapped box as the two rub beaks and coo at each other. Meanwhile, the boy’s mum is standing in the doorway, looking proud and emotional. We then see the scene through her eyes and it turns out Monty is not a real penguin, but a well-loved, rather dirty soft toy. The boy has bought a new toy and is now playing with both of them with a big smile on his face. Meanwhile, Tom Odell croons “it’s reeeaalll love” in the background.

I cried. At my desk. In the office. How embarrassing.

It really is very cute. John Lewis are now going all out with the penguin marketing, selling lots of penguin memorabilia so you too can own your very own Monty. There is even a Monty the Penguin Twitter account. This is where the marketing gets very clever.

Monty keeps talking about how he needs a girlfriend and is following lots of dating Websites from his account.

“So here’s the plan. Get a girlfriend for #Christmas. Plenty of time… What?!? Only 49 days? Better get a waddle on.”

Now while this is is all very cute, I am finding myself single at Christmas for the first time since I was 16. I, like Monty, am now feeling the pressure to find that special someone to enjoy the festive season with. It feels like the media is shaming single people.

I thought that Christmas was a time to spend with family and friends but apparently not: we need that certain special someone to lavish our affections/John Lewis goods on.

Even while listening to Radio One, Scott Mills held an interview with One Direction in which he asked if any of them had ever had a girlfriend just for the winter. “Not intentionally” seemed to be the answer.

Subsequently, a discussion began about how it was great to be footloose and fancy free in the summer, but when the winter nights draw in, it’s nice to have someone to snuggle with on the sofa while you’re watching Strictly on a Saturday night. It seems this is not a new trend; guys like to find a winter girlfriend, or girls like to find a (slightly more catchy) festive fella.

Yes, there is noting wrong with being single at Christmas, but as Chris Stark on Radio One put it, it’s nice to have someone to do things with at Christmas, like go to Winter Wonderland and go ice skating. What about those of us who don’t have a certain someone to share it with?

So it seems the media and marketing world thinks we should be happily coupled up for Christmas, and if we’re not, we should get looking. Monty can be our mascot: he is even counting down the days until Christmas on his Twitter profile, just to really make you feel the pressure.

Personally, I’m going to take Tom Odell’s approach and wait for real love, rather than enter into penguin trafficking, as cute as the advert is. Someone pass the tissues…

PS: rather than spending up to £95 on a penguin toy from John Lewis, why not adopt a real life penguin? Charities allow you to do this for around £20 and you get to protect a wild penguin and you get a cuddly toy as a thank you anyway: win win.

PPS: My friend told me this amazing anecdote:

“While discussing the John Lewis ad, my mum then tells me BRILLIANT story of her friend who took her son to the zoo when he was nine and he got lost. They found him, took him home and put him in the bath. They came back to check on him and there was a penguin in the bath with him which he’d smuggled home in his rucksack!”

“A REAL penguin?!” I asked.

“YES. They rang the zoo, their answer “oh don’t worry this isn’t the first time this has happened.” Quick, let’s go to the zoo and get a Monty of our own before they up their security due to penguin demand!