Tag Archives: bulimia

Why Juliette Burton thinks she is going to explode while performing on stage

Juliette Burton taking a selfie at the weekend

Juliette Burton doing a selfie in a dressing room this weekend

 

Can this woman be turned into a man? (Photograph by Helena G Anderson)

Can this woman be turned into a man? (Photograph by Helena G Anderson)

Four days ago, I posted a blog chat with performer Juliette Burton and, at the bottom put … TO BE CONTINUED…

This was rather scuppered by my iPhone throwing a wobbly and losing the recording of our chat but now, through the wonderful free help of Apple, the recording has re-appeared.

So today I was going to post the second part of our chat about her new show Look At Me and about the two performances of her current When I Grow Up show at Leicester Square Theatre this Tuesday and Wednesday before she tours it in Australia February-May.

But then I woke up this morning to an e-mail from Juliette sent at 1.20am.

She prepares her shows in depth.

Last year at the Edinburgh Fringe, When I Grow Up involved – in addition to the show itself – a pop record, a pop video, a performance at the T In The Park rock festival, pre-filming of show inserts and interviews, YouTube clips and much else.

This year, Look At Me will involve another pop song, another pop video, more extensive pre-filming, YouTube clips and (read my last blog for details) nudity, prosthetics and Juliette being turned into a man and wearing the hijab in an Ann Summers shop.

So the e-mail from her this morning came as no surprise:

Juliette being made up for her photoshoot yesterday

Juliette’s 11-hour photoshoot yesterday (Photograph by Helena G Anderson)

I did an 11 HOUR photoshoot today (Sunday) – an incredible stop motion project that will show not only the transformation of a “normal woman” from “normal” to “glam” with hair, make up, clothing, lighting, stance, confidence and Photoshop but also the transformation of a “normal” room into a photo studio and telling the story of the whole team of people behind it all.

We also filmed a behind-the-scenes documentary about the day… which proved to be eventful.

The photoshoot in the large, cold west wing of a stately home suddenly came to a halt when the power all cut out. We had 2 photographers, 2 make up artists and a cameraman all there with me with heaps of equipment and no other day to do it before we leave for Australia…

We were told the power wouldn’t be back on until “teatime” (which turned out to be 6.00pm). This was at around midday after 3 hours of prep and rehearsals already.

We had NO heating whatsoever and I was sat still for around 7 hours straight… I was blue. We couldn’t even boil a kettle for a cup of tea!

I’m amazed we did it. But the end pics look so glamorous.

We began at 9.30am. We finished at 8.30pm. I am still up (1.20am). I have a 5.00am start, ready for two shows and two Q&As, one evening meeting and then, on Tuesday and Wednesday, the full-on London performances.

Of such things are Edinburgh Fringe shows made.

The second half of the chat I had with Juliette was going to be this:

“I’ve already got the Powerpoint show being designed for the Edinburgh Fringe show,” she told me.

Look at Me,” I said, “is about the extent to which people are treated according to their external appearance. At various times, you were a size 4 from anorexia and a size 20 from compulsive overeating. Are you doing this new show because you yourself changed from a more full-bodied person to a svelte swan-like person yourself? Is it some form of catharsis?”

Can this woman be turned into a man?

The current shape of things for Juliette (Photograph by Helena G Anderson)

“Well,” said Juliette, “I guess the experience of being that ill and that thin with anorexia… The way people reacted to me was very different from the way people reacted to me when I was very overweight… I’m interested in the idea of whether that was because of their preconceptions of the way I looked or because of the way I felt about myself inside.

“One of the main reasons I’m doing this show is because of my last Edinburgh Fringe show When I Grow Up. Every time I perform When I Grow Up, some people come up to me afterwards and open up about their own mental health experiences, but some others will say Oh, how long has it been since you’ve recovered? and I would like to be able to stand on stage and say: Actually, I still struggle every day with eating disorders, but I don’t let them win any more. I put up a bigger fight.

“When I’m standing on stage and I’m really, really stressed, my body dysmorphic disorder kicks in really badly. Sometimes I’ll be standing on stage doing a really uplifting part of the show and I will be saying how wonderful life is, but this minx on my shoulder – this body dysmorphic disorder – is telling me: Can you feel how fat you are getting?… Your legs are inflating. Your arms are inflating. Your dress is about to burst off because you are so fat. 

Juliette at BBC Scotland last week

Juliette at BBC Scotland last week. Now she is off to Australia.

And that experience when I’m performing is very real to me. I would love to be able to address it, but also to be able to open it out and be able to make it accessible to other people. Because everybody has a relationship with their outward appearance. I’m sure you do, John. How do you feel about how you look?”

“I’m too old,” I replied. “There came a sudden point when I would see my reflection in a shop window and would think That isn’t me. That’s some seedy, overweight bank manager. Now, when I’m shaving or whatever and catch my eyes in the bathroom mirror, I think: Those are not my eyes. Now I am some seedy old ex-bank manager bloke wandering around with eyes that are not even mine.”

That is the thing about blogs, isn’t it?

It is just all Me, Me, Me…

There is a video on YouTube promoting Juliette’s new show Look At Me.

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Why performer Juliette Burton will dress as a Muslim woman, go naked and become a man with a very ‘big package’

Juliette Burton

Juliette Burton will cover up and strip off

Next Tuesday and Wednesday, Juliette Burton is performing her 2013 Edinburgh Fringe show When I Grow Up show at the Leicester Square Theatre in London and then she is immediately going off to tour Australia with it.

This morning she told me: “I just found out yesterday that I’m getting funding from the Arts Council towards the cost of research and development on my next show Look at Me.”

“Because?” I asked.

“Because it’s all about body diversity, body confidence and the celebration of difference. It questions whether who we appear to be is who we are and whether we can change who we are on the inside by changing who we seem to be on the outside.”

“For When I Grow Up,” I said, “you pre-shot lots of video inserts and interviews with various people.”

“Yes,” said Juliette. “And that’s what the funding is going towards on the new show this year: things like prosthetics.”

“So this year, for Look at Me…?” I asked.

“I will be dressing more and more provocatively,” explained Juliette, “to see – if a woman does dress provocatively – if she is going to get unwanted attention from men.”

“You read what Kate Copstick said in that controversial chat show I had at the Edinburgh Fringe last August?” I said.

“I think some interesting points were made,” Juliette said carefully.

“Some people,” I said, “thought Copstick said women were ‘asking for it’ if they dress provocatively…”

Juliette stalked Prince Harry this week

For her When I Grow Up show, Juliette tried to marry Prince Harry by stalking him: she failed

“That’s what I’m finding out,” said Juliette. “But, to counteract that – to see if there is any substance to that – for another part of the show, I’m going to be wearing the hijab.

“I’ve been working with the Muslim Women’s Association of Edinburgh to make sure I do that in a sensitive and informed way, rather than in an Islamophobic way.”

“What are you going to do?” I asked. “Just wander around the streets?”

“With all of these appearances,” said Juliette, “I’m going to be spending some time in context – somewhere you might expect to see someone dressing in that way – and then somewhere it might appear to be a bit strange. So you might find it strange to see a woman wearing a hijab in an Ann Summers shop.”

I laughed.

“But why is that strange?” Juliette shot back. “Women wearing the hijab have every right to be in an Ann Summers shop.”

“My eternally-un-named friend has a burka,” I said, trying to be helpful.

“I’ve already got one,” replied Juliette.

“But, as well as the hijab in your show…” I prompted.

“There are prosthetics,” said Juliette. “I will become a man. Not only dress as a man. The prosthetics will turn me into a man with facial hair and, I hope, a big ‘package’.”

“A big package???” I asked.

Can this woman be turned into a man?

Can this woman be turned into a man?

“Well,” said Juliette, “I don’t quite know how, but I’ve got a very talented prosthetics make-up artist called Sarah Jane.

“I would like to find out what it’s like to be a man and whether men really are more empowered or maybe actually it’s really scary being a man. I have no idea. I need a mentor, John. You can teach me how to be a man.”

“More like a grandfather,” I said ruefully.

“That’s the next thing in the show,” said Juliette. “Age. I’m going to age into a much older version of myself using prosthetics. A lot of women of 60+ who I’ve spoken to in interviews for the show have told me they felt when they hit 40 they suddenly became invisible and that only increased as they got older. I’m a bit scared I might end up looking like my mum but, then, why would I be scared by that? My mum’s gorgeous. It’s just that thing of you never expect to turn into your mother.”

“It would be more frightening if I turned into my mother,” I suggested.

“Then, after the ageing process,” continued Juliette, “I will be revisiting my obese self. All the rest are interesting and fun and different, but I am quite nervous about this one. When I became obese, it was because of Compulsive Overeating Disorder – having been anorexic and then also experiencing bulimia. I was a size 4 from anorexia and then a size 20 from compulsive overeating.”

“Maybe it will be cathartic and give you closure,” I suggested.

“Maybe,” said Juliette. “I would love to be able to find some comfort in it. I will have an obese costume to wear. The whole point of the show is If I’m changing my appearance this dramatically, can I really still remain myself?

Starkers starters with a prophetic message

Members of the London Naked Bike Ride

“And then, finally, I will be going nude in two different ways, because I’m not sure which one will make it into the show. I’ve had a couple of meetings with the organiser of the London Naked Bike Ride…”

“Was he naked?” I asked.

“Interestingly,” said Juliette, “he wasn’t. He wore a bowler hat, a waistcoat, shirt, tie, jacket, trousers and overcoat. He was very very clothed.”

“It sounds,” I said, “like you may have dropped through a rip in the fabric of time into 1958.”

“And then,” said Juliette, ignoring me, “the other way I’ll be having a nude experience to see whether it makes a difference will be working with Mat Fraser. He has said I can perform at his Sleaze club night and he’s suggested I try to put together a performance routine where it’s maybe something about stripping away layers: a burlesque performance that’s less about sex and more about body confidence.”

“You could use prosthetics and take your face off, like in Mission Impossible,” I suggested.

“I’m thinking of maybe using the obese costume,” explained Juliette, “but, instead of stripping it away, I will maybe put it on and be sexy within it. Or maybe changing from a man into a woman by taking off the prosthetics. I’m hoping to get a couple of burlesque tutors and Mat says he’ll teach me ‘nudity comfort’.

“Everyone I’ve talked to for the show has these incredibly beautiful stories and experiences within them that you just cannot tell from first appearances.

Juliette filming with Adam Pearson

Juliette Burton filming with Adam Pearson for Look At Me

“There’s a guy called Adam Pearson who has neurofibromatosis, a condition where his nerve-endings continue to grow, so he is facially – for want of a better word – deformed. But he is an incredible guy. He is passionate, very funny. He’s actually starring in a film with Scarlett Johansson soon. Everyone is incredible.

“I interviewed Leo Gormley, who has horrific burns he received when he was 14 and in an awful petrol fire. But he escaped and it’s amazing his body recovered from that. We need to honour our bodies more for what they CAN do and not for their imperfections.

“I’ve also interviewed people who look completely ‘regulation’ – I don’t like the word ‘normal’ any more – but they may have a hidden illness.

“So I’ve spoken to two men currently battling cancer. To look at them, you can’t tell at all. One has a body which, because of the treatment, is being overwhelmed with oestrogen hormones which is changing his body in ways he never expected. Another girl looks beautiful, gorgeous, healthy and well but she has cystic fibrosis and is terminally ill and coughs up blood.

Juliette photographed looking in a mirror - What is real?

A photograph of Juliette photographed looking into a mirror – Which is real?

“She and I both, for different reasons, hate it when people say Oh, you look well. It’s hard when people project something onto you – not vomit but an idea – an idea of something they want you to be. Oh, you look like you’re having fun!… Well, don’t assume anything about anybody. Maybe ask them how they are feeling, rather than project onto them – again, not vomit. Unless you’re very drunk.”

“And all this filming, highly-edited,” I said, “will be in the show.”

“And I’ll be posting videos on YouTube in the run-up to the Edinburgh Fringe.”

“And,” I said, “like last year there will be a song and a music video?”

“Yes,” said Juliette. “We’ve written the song already, It’s very catchy.”

“I don’t doubt it,” I said.

… CONTINUED HERE … AND JULIETTE EXPLAINS MORE ABOUT HER NEW SHOW ON YOUTUBE

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The British comedian who battled anorexia and was sectioned under the Mental Health Act – and what God said

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Juliette Burton in London yesterday

Juliette Burton in London yesterday

“Someone recently told me,” I said to comedian/actress Juliette Burton yesterday, “about a 26-year-old female comedian who was turned down by two major agents because she was too old. They wanted younger, inexperienced comedians who could be moulded by them. My reaction was: What does an 18 year-old know about except homework and things they’ve read in books?

“Most comedians I’ve met,” agreed Juliette, “need to have experienced the extremities of the experiences of life to have a slightly different take on things. I think anyone who’s been through some darkness in their lives… the only way you can come out the other side is to find comedy in some way. You have to have darkness to appreciate the light.

“For me, at the really dark times in my life, I discovered Monty Python and other things like The Muppets and Richard Curtis’ The Vicar of Dibley.”

On Saturday, I saw a preview of Juliette’s happy, life-enhancing Edinburgh Fringe show When I Grow Up in Stowmarket, Suffolk. Tonight, she performs the first of three previews at the Brighton Fringe.

Yesterday, I chatted to her as she passed through London on her way to Brighton.

“So you were sectioned under the Mental Health Act,” I said.

“Yes,” said Juliette. “I’d been in and out of clinics most of my teenage years. The first time I was sent to a clinic, I went in voluntarily… but, when I say voluntarily, it was because my parents wanted me to and I was very young. I was fifteen – my GCSE year. And then the next time I went into a clinic I was sectioned under the Mental Health Act, which was involuntary. They turned up in an ambulance and took me away.”

“I went into a mental home when I had just newly turned eighteen,” I told Juliette. “They seemed to think it was a bad idea that I had tried to commit suicide. So going into a mental home was suggested as a good idea. I had taken an overdose, which was a silly idea because I had always been very bad at chemistry in school… What did they say was wrong with you?”

“They said I was a month away from dying,” Juliette told me. “It was anorexia… To be sectioned, you have to have five people who agree you are ‘a danger unto yourself or others’. And I was a danger unto myself.”

“I’ve seen your show,” I said. “You’re a danger unto others.”

“In a positive way,” Juliette laughed, “ I hope I’m dangerously fun now!… But my mother had to agree to me being sectioned. Definitely my doctor and then some other medical people and people close to me. Then, after a couple of weeks in that clinic, I had a psychotic episode.”

“What’s a psychotic episode?” I asked.

“I’m sure you know,” said Juliette. “but it’s kind of similar to schizophrenia and it can vary for different people. For me, it wasn’t brought about by drugs or induced in any other way, it was just down to the mental and physical stress that my body was under.

“I personally feel that I was so underweight and the stress of going into hospital and losing all control over my life and the stress of that… basically my mind decided to give up and I went off into various different experiences mentally, so I wasn’t really aware I was in the place I was in.”

“You were hallucinating?” I asked.

“It was… Yes…” said Juliette. “It’s really tricky, because the people I’ve met who have had similar experiences… It’s so… It’s difficult because obviously your body is present in that room in the hospital, but mentally you are elsewhere. It’s a bit philosophical, but who’s to say what’s actually going on? I had experiences of seeing things that weren’t there.”

“Such as?” I asked.

“Such as I saw God,” said Juliette. “And the Devil. And I saw angels.”

“What did God look like?” I asked.

Juliette was surrounded by white light

Juliette: a bright white light from God surrounded her

“I say I saw God because language is really limited,” explained Juliette. “Mentally, the way I processed it was I saw God. What I actually experienced was an intensely bright white light enveloping me, 360 degrees around me, and an overwhelming feeling of being unconditionally loved, like I’d been searching for all my life. Being completely safe and completely held. And I was aware of a figure but not aware of a face or anything distinct.

“I’m not saying this actually happened. It could be medically explained with chemicals. But my experience was that I remember asking God what the meaning of life was. And I remember being very disappointed with his answer, because I was expecting something deep and meaningful… I only got two words back – BE NICE – but, then, I think that is what all the major religions boil down to. And it’s the best moral code to live by.”

“I remember,” I said, “in the 1960s or 1970s someone took an LSD trip and saw God and realised what the meaning of life was, but he couldn’t remember what it was when he came down from his trip. So he decided next time he’d have a notepad and pen near him. He took another trip, saw God and again realised the meaning of life and wrote it down. When he came down again, he looked at the notepad and he had written: The smell of methylated spirits permeates the air…. What was the Devil like?”

“That appeared to me in shadows,” said Juliette. “I was aware I was in the room I was actually in but, in the shadows, there was some menacing form that was coming to get me… There was a time during that psychotic episode when I felt I was God. I thought I was in charge of the world. There was also a time when I thought that everyone in the hospital was talking about me, so that was more paranoia than anything.”

“Sounds more like what most performers hope for at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said.

“I was hearing voices,” continued Juliette, “telling me what to do. And that was also part of the psychosis. It only lasted three weeks, but I had an amazing adventure…”

“Definitely like the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said.

“I thought I was time travelling,” said Juliette. “I went back to the Victorian age, I was a little girl and I was aware of a father not being there and I was crying. Then I was in another time when women ruled the world. I could see very bright flowers and it was lush and green and I was a High Priestess and I remember lots of people turning to me for advice, which was lovely. Then another part of it was when I saw aliens, which was exciting.”

“And they looked like…?” I asked.

“Again, it’s the limitations of language,” said Juliette. “I saw blackness and there was a red laser and it was trying to communicate with me and I understood that to mean that an alien communicated with me. But all of that sounds completely mad and it was over ten years ago…”

“When I was in the mental home,” I said, “they gave me happy drugs. Did they drug you every night?”

“Every day when they could get me to take them.”

“Did they not force you?” I asked.

“I think they must have had to sometimes. But I wasn’t fully aware of what was happening.”

“They gave me drugs,” I said. “The drugs made me feel happy without wanting to be happy.”

“I was put on Prozac when I was sixteen,” said Juliette. “It was really too heavy for me. I felt like a zombie. Yes, you don’t have any major lows; but you also don’t have any highs whatsoever. So what’s the point of being alive if that’s all there is?

“Lots of the anti-anxiety medication that I’ve been given over the years I’ve found actually made me more anxious. The drugs I had at the time I was having the psychosis I think did bring me back down to earth but there were a few weeks where, although I knew who I was and where I was, the paranoia was still strong.

“I remember once being out in Marks & Spencer’s in Chelmsford and I suddenly had an attack where it was like picking up on frequencies and thinking everything everyone was saying was about me and about what I was doing and they were judging me.”

“The Edinburgh Fringe again,” I said.

VanillaSky_poster_Wikipedia

Never watch if having a psychotic attack

“Never watch the movie Vanilla Sky if you are in the middle of a psychotic episode,” advised Juliette, “On one of my weekends out of the clinic when I was past the worst of it but not quite fully grounded, I was allowed back to my parents and we watched Vanilla Sky, which really screwed me up and set me two steps back.”

“Chinese medicine,” I said, “tries to cure the cause, whereas Western medicine tries to hide the symptoms, like papering over the top of the cracks but not filling them in. Giving people drugs just papers over the cracks, doesn’t it? So have you just papered over the cracks?”

“I’m not on any medication at the moment,” said Juliette. “I think the NHS has improved a lot but, for me, the answer is almost never medication. You have to deal with the root cause which, for me, is anxiety and being able to accept the things I can’t change.

“When I was fifteen, I was under-eating, at seventeen, I was very under-eating. At nineteen, something changed. Within three months of my 19th birthday, I doubled my body weight and, within six months, I’d gone from a size 4 to a size 20.”

“What are you now?” I asked.

“I’m a size 8 so, if anyone would like to send me any dresses, particularly any French Connection dresses…

“Back then, it went from food being, in my mind, something I wasn’t allowed to touch to being something I over-indulged in. And that was all about control. Anorexia for me was about trying to retain control. And the compulsive over-eating was about me trying to avoid taking responsibility for life by losing control.”

“How old were you when you were sectioned?” I asked.

“I was seventeen. I spent my eighteenth birthday in the clinic.”

“And with you, why was your anxiety all about eating disorders?” I asked.

“Food is one of the few things in your life,” explained Juliette, “that you can have total autonomy over. For a long time, I used food as a solution – because, if you focus on the details of life, then you avoid the bigger picture. For me, at that time, I wasn’t ready to deal with the bigger picture. Over-eating and under-eating are just flip sides of the same coin. Different symptoms of the same core problem. All the psychological problems I’ve had have stemmed from anxiety.”

“And yet your show When I Grow Up” I said. “is jolly and enthusiastic and life-celebrating.”

Juliette Burton: happy and positive

Juliette Burton: happy & positive show

“Well,” said Juliette, “I hope it’s a positive, fun, uplifting show about me trying to be all the things I wanted to be when I was a child. So, in the last year, I’ve gone off and tried to be all the things I wanted to be when I was a kid – ballerina, baker, princess, pop star, artist, farmer and Muppet.

“I would really love people to see the show and feel positive. A lot of the stuff I’ve just spoken to you about is really dark and I have spent a long time turning into who I am now, but who I am now is somebody who desperately wants to make other people feel happy and connected and not alone. The only way I feel I can do that is though comedy and storytelling and taking people on a little escapist journey and come out the other side feeling Wow! I feel better about life.

“And people will go out with a smile on their face,” I said.

“Did you go out with a smile on your face, John?” asked Juliette.

“I did.”

“Awesome,” said Juliette.

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