Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

In her late teens, Jillian Lauren was snapping up luxurious evening gowns and lingerie on shopping sprees at Chanel and Louis Vuitton. She was driven to shops by private chauffeurs and escorted inside by hired security guards; the shop girls scrambled to get her whatever she desired. Her evenings involved wildly elaborate parties, complete with bottomless bottles of expensive champagne and endless heaps of caviar.

What sounds like an episode of MTV’s “My Super Sweet 16” was Lauren’s life at age 18, only she wasn’t so much the guest of honour as she was the high-priced entertainment. Back in the early ‘90s, the young New York University drop-out was a harem girl of Prince Jefri Bolkiah, the brother of the Sultan of Brunei. Lauren, now a wife and mother, is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir, Some Girls: My Life in a Harem, about her experience as a high-class prostitute.

So how did a young girl from Jersey end up half-way around the world in a palace vying for the attention of a playboy Prince with two-dozen other call girls? A series of rebellious choices, most likely fueled in part by a troubled childhood, saw Lauren go from college student to part-time stripper to live-in working girl within a year. At first she thought she was going to Singapore for a two-week stint as company to a wealthy businessman, but when the plane landed in Brunei she was told otherwise. While she admits she was taken by surprise she also says she had the choice to leave. Lauren stayed six months before going back to New York City only to return for another six month period a short time later.

While some may hear her story and think Lauren was misled by those who brought her to Brunei, she takes full responsibility for her decision to stay.

“I was never hoodwinked by anyone and I walked into the situation in Brunei with my eyes wide open. In fact, I think that the people who led me into that line of work were pretty forthright and respectful. Probably more so than most women who enter the sex industry at a young age,” says Lauren. “At the same time, I sometimes look back and bemoan my lack of role models. However, I was so headstrong and independent that even if someone had been around to talk sense to me, I probably would have done exactly the opposite.”

What attracted her to Brunei at first was the promise of something better, a fantasy life beyond her wildest comprehension. The willful teen was all about taking chances and seeing where life would take her. She’d had enough of the mundane, often suffocating suburban life of her childhood and was struggling to find her place at university in New York. The unknown, with all its possibilities, was more appealing at the time.

“I had absolutely no idea where I was heading. I was running entirely on the boldness of youth and my utter ignorance of consequences. If you had told me where my life would lead when I was first traveling to my dorm at New York University at the age of 16, I wouldn’t have believed you in a million years,” says the author.

Where Lauren found herself after arriving in the desert country was a richly appointed palace with a large house staff and a constant party atmosphere. The girls slept in their own private rooms, ordered whatever they desired from the palace kitchen and had full access to a state-of-the-art gym. In the evenings they’d dress up for parties – the guest list was always comprised of the Prince’s well-heeled friends – that started at 11 p.m. and didn’t wind down until dawn. The sex part didn’t even come into play until two weeks into her journey when the Prince, who selected whatever girl he wanted for an hour or for the night, chose her. This open selection process encouraged an often bloodthirsty nature among the girls; there was a sense of power that came with being the Prince’s favorite, though once attained keeping that intangible title was an entirely different effort. Not exactly Pretty Woman, not that prostitution ever is, says Lauren.

“In Some Girls, I’m pretty clear about where I stand on [that movie]. I say that the part about not kissing tricks is true and the rest is an insulting crock.  It’s the absolute worst manifestation of the Cinderella story – presented with no sense of consciousness or irony,” says Lauren. “There is no attempt at all made to deconstruct the myth, to make it relevant in some way to the complexity of modern relationships and power dynamics. What is the message, really? That we’re whores until we’re validated by a rich man, at which point we transform magically into princesses?”

The experience eventually led Lauren to a better understanding of herself, and while she says she would never go back to that life she’s clear that she doesn’t regret what it did for her emotional and spiritual growth. After leaving Brunei she went to college, struggled with drug addiction and worked a series of odd jobs before working her way through the past (a process that started only after she started “loving and trusting” herself) into the life she knows today. Lauren is now a successful author and journalist living in Los Angeles with musician husband Scott Shriner (bassist for Weezer). They are doting parents to son Tariku, who they adopted two-and-a-half years ago in Ethiopia. She credits her experience in part to helping her be a better wife and mother.

“The real lessons for me were learned as I looked back and reflected. I was able to discover a different level of compassion for both myself and for the other people who shared my story. I looked at pictures of myself from that time and I said, What was so wrong with me? Why did I hate myself so much? I was beautiful. I was hopeful. I was brave. I was adorable. I can see it now clear as day, but I couldn’t see it then. The story is about struggling to love yourself and learning to forgive yourself. I can’t think of a lesson that I use more as a mother, wife and friend than forgiveness.”

Some Girls: My Life in a Harem is available at Amazon UK. Lauren’s second book, Pretty, will be released in August. Learn more at her website: http://www.jillianlauren.com/

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Patrick Holford’s appearance on the Late Late on Friday was televised to the nation as a gospel proclamation: come see my magic works and repent, oh ye of little scientific understanding. I presumed that this would be the part of the show where RTE trot out someone to allow the audience to snigger at their conspiracy theories or visions. Not so with Mr Holford, who was introduced as a world leading nutritionist.
Lets start with the title and work our way downward, Patrick Holford, or, to give him his proper title, ‘pill salesman’, has no qualifications. He has built a business on selling supplements to anyone that will buy them. He is not a medical practitioner, scientist, researcher or expert for a number of reasons.

1: Qualifications from a recognized third level institution :0
Most people agree that qualifications from recognized institutions are a prerequisite to taking medical advice from somebody. The letters after your G.P.’s name denote years of study and examination, something Mr Holford has conveniently sidestepped.

2: His peer reviewed publications : 0
Part of being a scientist is putting your findings out there within the scientific community for peer review. This involves having every minute aspect of your findings interrogated, criticised and if necessary; rejected. It’s a soul destroying process, and why would anyone willingly submit to it? The reason scientists do this is to protect the public, to produce work based on the best evidence available and to advance understanding.

3: Nutritionist is not a protected title; in other words, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. I can call myself one and recommend daily snickers and bottles of Lucozade to beat the winter blues. My next bestseller will be ‘The Barbarians Nutrition Bible’, brought to you by Creme Eggs.

4: His ‘honorary diploma’ was awarded to him by The Board of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, which is an educational trust that HE founded in 1984. The same as if I opened ‘The Barbarian Center for Barbarian studies’  and awarded myself a PhD from it. That’s Doctor Barbarian to you.

Moving swiftly on, his first contention that women have less serotonin than men and thus are far more susceptible to depression. That’s quite a statement there Patrick, so let’s see what you left out?
What he fails to mention is that serotonin –which he refers to as the ‘happy’ chemical’  – is also serotonin the ‘aggression’ chemical. So yes, we have less of that particular chemical than our larger male counterparts, evolution has yet to catch up on the need for greater amounts of serotonin in males. But to claim that this is why women present with greater rates of depression ignores the under-diagnosis of male sufferers, it ignores the greater pressures and burdens on women in society and it ignores the social aspects of women’s as opposed to men’s lives. Outside of the fact that the serotonin hypothesis of depression is but a part of the neurochemical reasons for depression and correlation should not be read as causation. There are other chemicals at play in the depression etiology, but Patrick did not feel like talking about those.

Why would he say this? As stated earlier, Patrick Holford is a pill salesman, carefully targeting the audience at home, in particular the ladies. They might be sitting there on a Friday night patiently awaiting the next ‘cure’, ready to go out shopping for it on Saturday. By appealing to women with half truths he reached his market, EPIC WIN for Patrick, 100 points off the bat, uncontested by the host. At this stage I was having a full John McEnroe freak out, hollering ‘you cannot be serious maaaaaannnnn’ at the TV. Holford was allowed ride roughshod all over Ryan, his facts, cherry picked from obscure sources, citing trials but failing to mention participants, full findings or financial backing involved. For, as Mr. Holford loves to points out, there are forces at play in big pharma, forces that want to manipulate the facts to suit themselves, but that’s not the way science works. The slow but steady erosion of confidence in science continues unabated, with the portrayal of massive organisations working to keep you hooked, unhappy and dependent. As opposed to ‘Alternative Pharma’ with such constraints. No one mentions how the humble supplement is now a multimillion pound industry in its own right.

The problem with manufacturing medicine is all the damn procedures! Peer reviewed publications in general science are open to criticism and stringent testing and retesting before they can be marketed to the general public. If you want to manufacture a supplement it’s much simpler:  all you need is one small link between two things, causal or correlation-we don’t care. Bang them in a bottle, stick the ould ‘may help’ claim before any claims, and bob’s your uncle.

Minute effects based on the interaction of cells in petrie dishes are lauded as proof of the efficacy of drugs. None more disturbing than Mr. Holford’s marketing of Vitamin C as a cure for AIDS in Africa. Ah yes, Tubs, you forgot to ask him about that, forgot to mention that inconvenient fact.

For facts have very little to do with Mr. Holford’s business. For a man who claims to be interested in improving the lives of people, of making people happy, could you really ignore that this man was recommending that people avoid using tried and tested drugs for the treatment of AIDS?.

I leafed through one of the few remaining copies of Holford’s book in the local bookshop Saturday evening, with chapters about how medicine is out to get you and how his pills will cure you. While a small minority of people will achieve placebo effects from Holford’s claims, the majority will not. Yet more will be negatively biased towards medicinal treatments for depression. Don’t get me wrong, I’m just as favorable as the next person to proper help and supports as well as environmental and social interventions to aid depression recovery. I am not, however, about to throw the baby out with the bath water; your G.P. is not there to dispense items which they know don’t work.

I only wish that our esteemed Late Late show host could find time in his busy schedule to read the background check on his guests and ask hard questions. One can only hope that a scientist turns up with Tubs next week to redress the balance. Learning a little about science can save you a fortune, it can save you from false promises and it always strives to save lives. I heartily recommend Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science; it’s a tenner you won’t waste, as it will pay for itself 100 times over when you find yourself reaching for the next ‘magic diet pill’ or ‘collagen rich cream’.

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Actress Ruth Negga was born in Ethiopia and grew up between Limerick and London.  Having trained at the Samuel Beckett Centre in Trinity College, she got her first major break in 2005, when she was cast in Neil Jordan’s Breakfast On Pluto. Since then, she has maintained a steady career in theatre, film and television – already, in 2010, she has starred in the BBC series Five Daughters and the Irish film Trafficked. From September, she will be appearing in the role of Ophelia in the National Theatre’s production of Hamlet.  She recently starred in RTE’s four-part drama Love/Hate.

What was the first record you ever bought?
Nirvana, Heart-Shaped box (with the Marigold b-side where Dave Grohl sings).

What’s your favourite smell?
The smell of summer rain on its way and the smell of the person I’m in love with. Preferably a mix of the two.

Have you ever had a nickname?
Tooters, Roo… all my “weak” passwords, which I’ll now have to change.

What is your favourite room in your house?
My bedroom at around 5pm last Saturday when the evening light hit.

What are your guilty pleasures?
Real pleasures shouldn’t be guilty. I read that somewhere. Wish I could get it into my head. I’m always feeling guilty about something or other. OK, ALL of Paul Rudd’s films.

What would people be surprised to know about you?
I know for a fact that people are sick of bloody actors banging on about being shy, but it is true for a lot of us. I am obsessed with the idea that the most important thing about someone is that which you don’t know. I read that somewhere too. I’m looking forward to having an idea or thought of my own.

Who is your closest female friend?
I have three and strangely enough they don’t really know one another: Pippa, Lou and Nadia.

Do you have any tattoos or piercings?
Neither. For now.

Where would you most like to live?
Kilshannig, Co. Kerry

Who was your first kiss?
When I was 6 or 7, with a lovely boy called Aaron. Think I could be totally making that up, though. I do that quite a lot with memories.

What’s the most unusual question you’ve ever been asked?
Haven’t yet. Quite interested to see what’s ahead.

What’s the best present you’ve ever received?
An early edition of The Third Policeman. It was from my mother.

What is your favourite word?
Too many to mention, although I’m a natural Mrs. Malaprop so I probably wouldn’t know what it meant anyway.

Who was your first love?
I had an almighty crush on a boy with initials D.C. when I was 8. Makes me get butterflies even now. He had absolutely no interest whatsoever.

If you weren’t doing what you do, what might you have become?
An artist, I think. Or mad. Or less mad, probably. Who knows?

Is there a book you’ve bought several times as a gift for someone?
Yes: The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories by Tim Burton. Whom I keep mentioning in interviews in the vain hope of getting a job off him.

What happens after we die?
“The Undiscover’d Country”. Where there’s lots of sleep and beautiful dreaming.

What female historical figure do you admire most?
The courageous, good ones who never make it into the books.

Sum yourself up in three words:
Bewildered. Headstrong. Loquacious.

And finally… What are you anti? What are you pro?
This is a school essay question that I have nightmares about where I’m wearing my pyjamas – if I’m lucky! I’ll be brief: anti mean people; pro the nice ones.

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When film-maker Maya Derrington’s Pyjama Girls opened this year’s Stranger Than Fiction documentary festival in Dublin, it played to a sold-out theatre. The tender-hearted observational doc about two young teens feeling their way through life in the flats of the inner city has been brought back for a week’s run at the Irish Film Institute from August 20-26.
Derrington co-founded Still Films, which produced Pyjama Girls and the IFTA-nominated Seaview. She moved to Dublin from London in 1997 and has worked with Tyrone Productions and Blueprint Pictures, as well as co-founding Cow’s Lane Fashion and Design Market. She lives with her partner Julien and two-year-old daughter Sylvie.

What’s the first record you ever bought?
My mother took me to Virgin in the centre of Bristol to buy Specials by The Specials in 1979 for my ninth birthday. It was like entering a completely new world, populated by towering two tone teens. It scared me but, God, I liked it.

What’s your favourite smell?
Rain on concrete in summer.

Have you ever had a nickname?
Yes, a very twee family one which I won’t repeat here, then various twists on Maya and Derrington over the years – Dezza, Derro, My, Madge: all equally hideous and unglamorous. Very embarassingly, I tried to instigate a nickname when I started at secondary school – Ziggy – because of my then-obsession with David Bowie. It never took.

What is your favourite room in your house?
My daughter’s bedroom. It’s the smallest room in our flat but it gets the evening sun and has a lovely calm to it. We transformed it into an edit suite for Pyjama Girls and I spent weeks on end locked away there with my colleague Paul Rowley, who edited the film.

What are your guilty pleasures?
Eastenders and Natasha’s Living Food raw cacao tart – the former calms my brain and the latter makes me nicely manic.

What would people be surprised to know about you?
That I’m a local history nerd. Or maybe I’m underestimating my obvious nerdishness.

Who is your closest female friend?
That’s difficult as I am lucky to have about ten really close female friends, but it’s my sister Tara who I turn to about everything, big or small. The poor woman spends about a quarter of her life on the phone to me.

Do you have any tattoos or piercings?
Two piercings in one ear and one in the other, done in a dodgy gold bullion shop in Peckham. I was 22 at the time but my mother was still heartbroken.

Where would you most like to live?
Here in Dublin, in Lisbon, Berlin or Little Venice in London, or maybe Bristol or Cork or Barcelona or Paris or Marseille. Not in the country though, the quiet makes me nervous.

Who was your first kiss and where did it happen?
I’d better not say as I didn’t like him and I broke away to join my friends, laughing with disgust. It was in Bristol in the ’80s and I was a mean teen.

What’s the most unusual question you’ve ever been asked?
For my hand in marriage by my partner, Julien. I never imagined that would happen to me somehow.

What’s the best Christmas present you’ve ever received?
My daughter.

What is your favourite word?
I can’t decide. Succour, trilby, garage, diplodocus? I’ll think of twenty more tomorrow.

Who was your first love?
My friend Joe, who I knew since I was a baby and who I wanted to marry and live with in the wendy house in the school playground.

If you weren’t doing what you do, what might you have become?
I worked in publishing for two years but somehow found myself stuck in the publicity department. I was a hopeless publicist, couldn’t remember the names of any literary editors and had no sense at all of what publicity was about. This week I read that Liz Calder, the brilliant co-founder of Bloomsbury, where I worked, had started out in publicity too, before going on to head up the fiction department. Why didn’t someone tell me that at the time?

Is there a book you’ve bought several times as a gift for someone?
The Cloudspotter’s Guide.

What happens after we die?
After my granny died I dreamt that she told me “don’t be sad, Maya, I’m young again now” and was blissfully relaxed, floating in lovely nothingness with her parents and brothers. My other grandmother told me she could see her birth family waiting for her when she was dying. I hope we are reconnected with all the love we’ve ever given or been given.

What female historical figure do you admire most?
I read a lot of biographies of women and I tend to sympathise with all of the subjects, despite their failings. Through reading about them, I’ve come to love Jean Rhys, Maeve Brennan, Phyllis Pearsall, Muriel Spark, Frida Kahlo and Vanessa Bell, to name a few. But I really adore Charlotte Bronte and Mary Shelley, for their literary and emotional brilliance and for their steadfastness despite all they endured.

Sum yourself up in three words:
I am Maya. Almost a palindrome.

And finally… What are you anti? What are you pro?
I’m a vegetarian and an accidental continuum parent. Down with cruelty, up with love!

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Benedicta Attoh

Benedicta Attoh came to Ireland in 2000 when Nigeria’s democracy was still in its infancy. It was a year that saw bitter religious bloodletting in Kaduna in February, riots between Muslims and Christians across the North throughout the summer and by autumn: the outlawing of all tribal malitia groups by an increasingly unstable government. She arrived in Ireland with her family, a Degree in Education and some dreams about making a difference. Ten years on she is a winner of the Vodafone World of Differenceaward − enabling her to work with Plan Ireland − focussing on issues affecting children and girls in the developing world. The World of Difference programme funds outstanding individuals to work with a chosen charity for a year, providing a salary (up to €40,000) plus expenses. Benedicta kindly agreed to answer some questions:

Inequality in Ireland, where do you see it most and how can it be highlighted?
There’s inequality in every society, the main reason being a lack of understanding and fear. Difference is another major reason for inequality; we see this most clearly with discrimination against black people, travellers, gays and lesbians, people living with disabilities, young people, women and elderly citizens.
What does the west have to offer?
The west has a lot to offer in terms of opportunities. This is largely due to the crises of leadership in the global south where many migrants come from. However, being a stranger is a difficult enough experience, where people have to leave loved ones behind, leave familiar territory and venture into the unknown to look for better opportunities. Some ethnic Irish people (not all, I hate to generalise!) believe immigrants get it “easy” in Ireland. How is that possible when in reality they suffer from racism, lack of access to education and employment? In this time of economic crisis, they are also accused of taking Irish jobs, etc. People in the asylum process live on €19 per week for adults and €9 for per child. In some cases, people stay stuck in the asylum process for up to eight years. You have to be in a desperate situation in the first place to put yourself through an experience like that.
The whole issue of misogyny and the power of Islam in Nigeria is salient, what about the treatment of women, particularly Christian women as minorities in the north? Does female circumcision still exist there?
Nigeria is a very diverse country and religion is one of the pillars of diversity. Unfortunately, this has also been a source of conflict in some parts of Nigeria, particularly in the North. It is well-known that an individual’s act or mistake can easily trigger a religious crisis, which in turn can lead to killing and maiming of minorities, particularly women and children. This is regrettable and hard to take in as it continues to have a negative impact on Nigerians politically, socially, economically…and at local, national and international levels. Female circumcision still occurs in some cultures although the Government and civil society organisations are working extremely hard to eradicate the practice. 
Witchcraft and allegations levelled at women and children are very hard to grasp. How can these issues be dealt with?
Casting “witches” and “wizards” from frightened innocents is absurd and should be punishable. A lot of these children can’t even spell or understand the phenomenon. In my view these practices are about publicity and making some quick money. Perpetrators must be dealt with − they should face the law.
There is a perception of Nigerians in Ireland and elsewhere…that they could be part of a big con-artist programme, while in fact a lot of Nigerians are highly educated and love the west…what can be done to rid this type of stereotyping?
This is so sad, one size does not fit all. People must be treated with respect and dignity. Irish people must reflect on their own experience of immigration: on the name calling and isolation, particularly in Britain. The ‘oppressed’ does not have to become the ‘oppressor’.
Ireland has a poor record on racism in recent times, yet Irish people have lived in every corner of the planet as emigrants themselves. What can we do to dilute this type of ignorance?
Awareness raising, education and enforcement. Racism should not be tolerated at all as it destroys individuals, their families and communities. It is crucial to continue to raise awareness in schools and local communities about the dangers of racism but legislation must also be introduced (and used) to punish perpetrators of racism.
What will your work with Plan Ireland entail?
My role will involve visiting schools, women’s groups, female politicians and local communities to speak and raise awareness about the issues affecting girls in developing countries and what people can do to help in ireland. At the end of the 12-month period, I hope to have a committee of influential women who will continue to drive the “Because I am A Girl ” agenda. I will also help implement a development education strategy for Plan Ireland.
Magic wand, ‘one’ thing (big or small): what and why?
Become a baby all over again. Why? They have no cares in the world!
June Caldwell

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