Breakfast TV: Why are female presenters so glam at 6:30am?

From the Daily Mail

From the Daily Mail

I was asked to write a piece for the Guardian G2 Shortcuts. Hope you enjoy…

Once upon a time, if a conversation arose about breakfast glamour, it would probably have been concerned with shiny high-class toasters. But something has happened to breakfast TV over the past few years, it’s gone sexy. So sexy, in fact, that Clare Balding said in an interview with the Mail on Sunday last weekend, that the female presenters look “as though they are going to a cocktail party.”

While most of us are still wiping the lip cheese from our mouths at 6:30am, presenters such as Good Morning Britain’s Susanna Reid are already glossy and preened. Even at this ungodly hour, they manage to bring us the news in killer heels and dresses as tight fitting as a lace wetsuit. More controversially, the trend for plunging necklines is revealing a bit more tattie than most people are ready for prior to their morning caffeine hit. Especially when the only growths you were looking for were the ones concerning the war in Syria.

“Why do you have to do that?” Balding said, pointing out that women should be judged by their talent, not their appearance. “Why would it be wrong to sit there in trousers? Why don’t they wear a dressing gown, present the show in their pyjamas once a week, maybe every Friday?”

And she’s right, the worth of female breakfast TV presenters – who, after all, are just doing their jobs, not running for Miss England – is assessed far more on looks than their male counterparts. A few weeks ago, Australian TV anchor Karl Stefanovic admitted to wearing the same blue ­suit for a year in order to make a point about the way his female colleagues are unfairly judged. He came up with the idea after hearing that co-presenter, Lisa Wilkinson, had been sent a letter by a viewer telling her to “get some style”. But predictably, no-one noticed despite the fact that blue, like, isn’t even his colour.

In the eighties, our wake up call came from Anne Diamond in an array of high-necked blouses and garish jumpers. In the nineties, it was a floppy haired Kirsty Walk. Today’s presenters might look as though they’re about to be whisked off to an impossibly classy soiree (not a single Ferrero Rocher in sight), and it may not be progressive, but with women in the media now under such close scrutiny, it’s understandable.

In the interview, Balding also talked of how she’s uncomfortable wearing “a skirt or dress because it is difficult to look good sitting down… I want to feel like nothing is going to distract from the job I am doing.” But until things do change, it’s likely that even pyjama-Friday would be a glamour-fest.

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I wrote a piece for the Independent about vegan and veggie stereotypes

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I wrote a piece for Independent Voices – although I didn’t choose the old Secret Cinema selfie – about the tired stereotypes surrounding vegans and vegetarians. I’ve been a veggie for most of my life for non-moral reasons (I hate it), but as I get older I start to see more and more sense in abstaining from meat. It turned out to be a popular topic, it got a lot of shares on social media. A few people got in touch via Twitter and I even got an email from PETA offering me some statistics in case I want to write about it again. Which was a bit of a surprise, considering.You can read the sleek and fancy one here, or my orig below. 

Like 3% percent of the UK population, I’m a smelly, tie-dye wearing lentil-muncher; an underweight, pallid weakling; a patchouli-scented carnivore-hater. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t eat meat. It’s no secret that, with the world’s population expected to surpass 9 billion by 2050, we all need to reduce our meat intake, yet ridicule of vegetarians and vegans is still par for the course.

Much like the old breast or thigh quandary, abstaining from meat, and perhaps dairy consumption too, is an entirely personal preference. It doesn’t directly affect the health of those around you in the way that, for example, smoking can, yet it’s sometimes treated with a similar level of hostility. Last week, the co-owner of an Australian burger bar, Mark Clews, came under fire for mocking a vegan diner who was “wearing a tie-dye t-shirt”, labelling her “single minded” and “Nazi like” on the restaurant’s Facebook page. In an exercise in customer relations that Ryanair would have been proud of, his comment went on to say that veganism “was inspired by some tragic childhood event, or a divorce, or a car accident or some crap” before securing his seat as Vegan Basher General by adding: “They lack physical strength because of zero red meat in their diet!”

These stereotypes are all too familiar. They would take pride of place in a round of defensive omnivore bingo alongside ‘but don’t you miss bacon?’ and ‘I don’t trust anyone who lives off rabbit food’. But the supposedly archetypal militant, sickly, non-meat-eater is just a caricature. Like most stereotyping, it’s part of a defence mechanism that protects a person’s – or in this case, meat-eater’s – belief system from being challenged and attempts to project a superior place in society. But recent decades have seen the meat consumption of rich countries increase, sending grain prices and obesity levels spiralling, causing widespread deforestation and adding unnecessary pressure to already strained resources. We have reached the point where beliefs need to be challenged.

Organisations such as PETA are no help in the matter. Their recent London ‘die in’ – which saw naked protesters lie on the floor of Trafalgar Square in a blood-smeared jumble in order to promote veganism – did little to highlight the important health and environmental issues connected to meat consumption, and everything to confirm suspicions that meat-free also means sanity-free. So although I’m not full-vegan, I’d like to address a few of these myths. I have voluntarily forgone the consumption of dead flesh for the best part of my life and eat little dairy.

For starters, while I was probably still supping from tippy-cups the last time I allowed a chunk of red meat to pass my lips, my physical strength is enough that I ran the London marathon this year (although it’s perhaps best if we don’t discuss run-times). I don’t hate carnivores, in fact, my boyfriend is a one and is free to practice that as he chooses – my home is not the scene of a fascist dictatorship. Not with regards to meat, anyway. I rarely eat lentils, have never, ever worn tie-dye and often cook Sunday roasts for my carne-loving friends. Perhaps, most shockingly, I can’t stand Morrissey. You see, veggies really are just normal people.

Until now, I’ve not preached to anyone about eating meat either. My choice not to eat it was born not from a tragic childhood event, but a genuine dislike of the stuff (yes, even bacon). But this month is World Vegan Month and what better way to celebrate than by trying to go without consuming animal products for just one day? You won’t turn into a hippy, I promise.

I wrote a piece for the Guardian about vaginas (well, feminine hygiene products)

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I wrote a piece for the lovely Guardian women’s blog about some of the more ridiculous things women have been convinced to do to themselves in the name of fanny-improvement. As always, you can read the original here, or my original below. 

Ever worried that your vagina doesn’t smell like soft fruit? Me neither. Yet last week, in a spectacularly unpopular attempt at foof-commodification, two Silicon Valley startup bros unveiled plans for a new probiotic supplement that enables women to biohack their nether regions, leaving them smelling of peaches. While the product’s official use is as an anti-microbial, the scent serving as an indicator that it is working effectively to protect against problems such as yeast infections, it’s an uncomfortable proposition that has caused outrage online. Especially as the pair’s other fragrant collaboration is a probiotic that makes pet dung smell like bananas.

“All your smells are not human. They’re produced by the creatures that live on you,” said Austen Heinz, CEO of Cambrian Genomics who plans to make Sweet Peach Probiotic using DNA laser printing technology. Adding: “We think it’s a fundamental human right to… personalise it.”

Science has long been misappropriated in order to sell products, particularly those aimed at women. Some products have used vagina-guilt to sell totally unrelated products: “We all perspire up to 2 to 3 pints a day, scientists say,” claims one 1920s advert for Lux soap flakes. “Undies absorb odour. You don’t notice it, but others do.”

Other products however, have adopted more of what you might call a full cuntal assault – if eau-de-peche sounds a little fanciful, then how about smelling like toilet water, literally? During the first half of the 20th century douching – or the rinsing out of the vaginal cavity – was a popular method of treating infection, deodorising and even used as a contraceptive (though it is not generally recommended by medical professionals now as it can upset the sensitive bacterial balance of the genitals). The most popular douche brand in the US was Lysol, an antiseptic disinfectant advertised both as a household germicide for use in toilet bowls and a feminine hygiene product. Until 1953 it also contained cresol, a toxic methylphenol that can cause inflammation to the skin and burning. According to motherjones.com, use of the product killed 5 people and resulted in 193 cases of poisoning before 1911. Yet, it was still marketed as safe, employing aggressive ad campaigns that implied that, without it, women were doomed to a life of loneliness with a distant husband. One poster entitled “Love-quiz… For married folks only”, shows a forlorn wife whose man is about to walk out of the door, and reads: “Why does she spend her evenings alone?” before finishing with a solemn warning: “Always use Lysol.”

While companies are unlikely to get away with claiming that a lack of internal bleaching will render a woman forever alone in the 21st century, we’re still not free of unnecessary vag-products. My New Pink Button, for example, the feminine dye for graying vulvas that comes in four shades and brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘having the painters in’.

Following the backlash and subsequent withdrawal of funding from some Cambrian Genomics investors, Heinz admitted his pitch had been incorrect. Pitching partner Gilad Gome – who had spoken before of hacking microbiome to make vaginas “smell like roses and taste like diet cola” – was in fact not involved in the project and the founder of Sweet Peach Probiotics was actually previously unmentioned “ultrafeminist”, Audrey Hutchinson. The importance of scent in the product, she said, was grossly exaggerated and it really was intended for the much more useful task of curing thrush.

Yet until now, who’d considered that personalising fanny-cologne was even a possibility? It seems as far-fetched and pointless as wishing for tomato-flavored eyeballs. But it could well be a hint as to what to expect from feminine hygiene in the future – a healthy dose of biotech.

I wrote about EastEnders and comebacks for the Guardian

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I wrote a piece for the Guardian on a topic of GREAT importance: EastEnders. I’ve been getting a bit peeved with the heavy flow of characters making a comeback recently, especially as the new(ish) Carter family are simply wonderful, and more than enough for me. So I wrote a short little thingy for the TV and Radio blog. You can read it here, or my full version below.

Last week, EastEnders gave us the somewhat inevitable slick-haired and black-clad second coming of Nasty Nick Cotton. And just when you thought that was enough soap resurrection to be going on with for a while, the latest round in the EastEnders comeback extravaganza was revealed with a whopping four characters set to be raised from the dead for this year’s Children in Need special. All before you’ve even had a chance to perfect your best oak-tinged ‘hello Ma’.

The sketch will see Ian Beale knocked unconscious. Oh sorry, that’s not the good bit – and later he is confronted by the ghosts of mum Kathy Mitchell, aunty Pat Evans (although whether her voluminous taste in earrings has been allowed to continue in the afterlife is yet to be confirmed), ex-wife Cindy and daughter Lucy, whose murder earlier this year is still to be solved in one of the most achingly drawn out storylines in TV history. But after a slew of recent comebacks, EastEnders is becoming more like a tedious Facebook meme than a soap – ‘like’ if you remember Kathy getting beaten up by Phil!

Since Dominic Treadwell-Collins – DTC to fans of the show – took over the reigns as executive producer of EastEnders in late summer last year, the tally of returning characters has racked up more notches than Max Branning’s bedpost in an attempt to boost flagging ratings. So many, I simply haven’t got the word space, or patience, to mention them all. Along with Dot Cotton’s dastardly son, recent revivals have included: Womanizing David Wicks, Stacey Slater, broody – and no doubt less of a hit with female viewers following the hard-hitting Linda Carter rape scene – Dean Wicks, wet-flannel Sonia Fowler, Ben Mitchell with yet another new face – as actor Harry Reid took over the role – and even a brief surprise appearance from Peggy. With Martin Fowler’s return looming and rumours that frankly dull Charlie Slater, last seen in December last year, is to make another appearance, this extended trip down memory lane is becoming boring.

“It’s good to have one foot in the past while looking to the future,” said Treadwell-Collins in an interview with Radio Times earlier this year. “My idea is to make the show feel fresh with the Carters, but also a bit nostalgic by bringing back characters we love.”

And surprisingly to anyone who anyone who sat through the frustrating rehash of the Phil-Mitchell-gets-shot-and-sadly-survives storyline, he also said that “EastEnders has got to shake up the audience. We don’t want to do cover versions of greatest hits. EastEnders has to sing new songs…”

However, the episode, which saw Shirley shooting Phil in a jealous rage after he married Sharon, did bring in 7.13m viewers. It’s a long chalk from the 17m it received the first time round in 2001, but after ratings slumped to less than five million last summer – lower than Corrie and Emmerdale – he must be doing something right. Nasty Nick’s return has further boosted the show’s audiences, too, but how many characters can one show bring back? Will we be seeing a wet-tongued return from Wellard soon, or a surprise home visit from Doctor Legg?

Too much nostalgia can turn to indulgence, and indulgence inevitably leads to flabby storylines and before you know it, we’re going to need a forklift truck to get this thing up and running again. With the run up to the 30th anniversary in February under way, it’s easy to see why Treadwell-Collins is keen to relive some of the soap’s history, and who could be so mean as to deny the show a little whimsy for a good cause? But once the Children in Need festivities are over, enough with the comebacks – this girl’s had enough.

On boredom and why creatives need it

Yesterday saw the publication of the first column from Lekeisha Goedluck, the talented new IdeasTap columnist who beat 570 hopefuls to win the coveted 3-month long paid placement. I was one of those hopefuls and here was my entry, it didn’t make it to the shortlist. It didn’t even make it to the longlist, but I thought I’d share it anyway. I hope you enjoy it more than the judges did!

P.S. IdeasTap is an arts charity sponsored by Sky that aims to help young creatives get their careers started. They often have some really interesting workshops, paid writing and arts briefs and helpful articles in their magazine. If you’re not aware of them, you should have a look. 

Two Cleaning Women, Degas

Two Cleaning Women, Degas

It’s summer and I’ll admit it, I’m bored. I’m the freshly graduated, thin-on-the-ground freelancing chairman of the bored – rich in time, low on money and available friends. While it feels like everyone’s off at festivals or throwing acid-bright powder all over themselves, I’m sitting at home doing, well, nothing much. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret: boredom is a creative’s best friend and we should all consider spending a bit more time enduring it.

Of course, ennui is one of our least favourite moods. Its lexicon is one of ever greater negative extremes: it drives us to ‘tears’, to ‘stick forks in our eyes’, to ‘die’ of boredom and a recent study in the US found that it really can drive us to hurt ourselves. Psychologists placed 42 study subjects alone in a room and asked them to do nothing but sit and think for 15 minutes. In front of them was a button they knew would administer a mild, but painful, electrical shock if pressed – just under half pushed it anyway. In fact, one maverick, seemingly terrified by his own company, went for it 190 times. That’s roughly once every 5 seconds.

In the real world, most of us resort to Netflix or mojitos or teh interwebs to distract ourselves from the clawing agony of tedium. However, this headspace we seem so eager to avoid is, according to Peter Toohey, author of Boredom: A Lively History, the precondition to creativity. Doing nothing, or filling time with ‘mindless’ menial tasks, allows the mind time to meander through the liminal subconscious and mine it for creative gold, making interesting connections or tying up loose plot lines. That’s why eureka moments so often occur at the strangest times – Picasso for example, like Archimedes, often found inspiration while bathing.

Graham Linehan – creator of Black Books and the IT Crowd – called boredom an “essential part of writing.” And Søren Rasted, frontman of saccharine Scandipop act Aqua – whose late-nineties hit, Barbie Girl, is still, somehow, the biggest selling single of all time in Scandinavia – credits his best songs to placing himself in a “bubble” of nothing, a creative environment free from distractions.

Author Neil Gaiman would agree, too. Last year, he announced he’d be taking a temporary sabbatical from Twitter in order to concentrate on his writing. In a press release he said: “ … The best way to come up with ideas is to get really bored.” Watching his daughter’s school plays, he admitted, without books or social media for entertainment, freed up enough brain space that he was able to piece together both of his guest episodes of Doctor Who (2011 & 2013). A little harsh, however it seems that, despite what your mother used to say, interesting people do get bored. Deliberately, even.

So far this summer, tedium has given me the chance to mull over ideas so that I could finally make a good go of entering a certain online magazine’s columnist competition. And for that, if nothing else, it has to be something worth enduring.

I wrote a piece for Vice about body modification

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I’ve been really interested in body aesthetics for a while, particularly people with extreme ideas about looks. In fact, my MA dissertation focused on relationships between the body and nature. Anyway, I wrote a piece for Vice about body modification and a body modification artist whose home-cum-studio I visited, witnessing some pretty gory procedures.

Read it online here, or check out my original and unedited version (plus some extra pictures) below.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to change their body in some way. The term ‘natural beauty’ is a joke – who really lives as nature intended: a walking tangle of oil and hair? Thanks to vanity and social pressures, modern humans are slaves to their looks. Besides cats, we spend more time preening than perhaps any other animal. And what’s it all for? To look thinner, browner, bustier, poutier, more ripped? We try desperately to fit a body ideal defined, in part, by the media, but it’s like trying to fit a human-shaped peg into a Kim Kardashian-shaped hole.

Samppa Von Cyborg changes people’s bodies for a living – he splits tongues in two, removes nipples, implants things under the skin and scars elaborate patterns onto it. He’s a body modification artist, a leader in a growing subculture with a very different concept of body ideals. For fans, a strong stomach and a high pain threshold are essential. This is an underground world of home surgery and human polymorphs that operates in the crack between legislation, a world where the aesthetics of the body are seen as something more personal.

Horned and tattooed lady

Ex-lawyer known now as Vampire Lady: click on picture for more

The cultural origins of body modification go back millennia. It’s an ancient practice found in tribes all over the world, from the lip plates of Ethiopia’s Suri tribe to the neck rings of Burma’s Padaung. But while globalisation is slowly suffocating many of the old tribal traditions, the modern Western scene is beginning to flourish. For one of its most famous prescribers, Dennis Avner AKA Stalking Cat, ‘mods’ became a way of life and even a career. With the help of cheek implants, whisker implants, full body tattoos, lip bifurcation, nose flattening, removable claws and even a mechanical tail, Avner exaggerated his features beyond all recognition, reinventing himself as his Native American spirit guide, a tiger. But his enjoyment was short lived – he took his own life in 2012.

“The human body is dying,” Von Cyborg, told me, lighting a cigarette. I visited his warehouse conversion-cum-studio in east London where he sees his clients. He’s the walking embodiment of his art, his face laced with tattoos and piercings, metal-tipped teeth and a bifurcated tongue: it’s been split in two down the middle, leaving it forked like a snake’s, both sides able to move independently of each other. He demonstrated by sticking them out and curling them around each other. His arms are ribbed with spine-like lumps from the silicone implants he has buried under his skin. They’re known as subdermal implants and they’re one of his signature mods – coming in other varying shapes, from stars to skulls.

Star shaped lumps in the back of a pair of hands

Thanks to russfoxx.com for this image

“It’s not natural to sit at a computer or go to the gym,” he said, engulfed in smoke. “Evolution is going downhill. First we got stronger and healthier, now it’s going the opposite way.

“In the future people will have arms amputated voluntarily because they can get a better arm. People want better capability, a robotic arm would be more accurate, have more power and a million other uses. The technology exists and they’re using it already for the medical industry.”

The body modification scene is made up of subscenes, some like to experiment with cybernetics while others prefer to focus on fetish or spiritual rituals. There are Transhumanists influenced by Nietzsche and Modern Primitives inspired by tribal anthropology. Biohackers who believe in using technology to enhance the human form and Body Hacktivists who believe in avante garde experimentation with it. But their common goal is to rediscover the body, to use it again as a tool rather than just a fashion accessory. Von Cyborg is a Biohacker: he believes that one day the human form will integrate with technology, changing the ways we use our body.

“I’m working on many kinds of functional implants,” he told me. “And big companies are starting to get these ideas too – a mobile inside your body or even a kind of telepathic communication using a brain implant.

“Sony, Nokia and Philips are already getting patents for implants. They know it’s not going to happen any time soon, not for maybe even twenty years, but they’re already working on it. This is the direction body modification is going.”

Universities offer the funding he needs to develop his ideas and in return he provides them with research papers. He seems an unlikely character to save lives, but he’s currently working on LED implants for a number of health issues – pulse meters that flash LEDs through the skin could serve as early warning devices for people with heart complaints, and others that run off blood sugar which could help diabetics. His self-taught knowledge of the body’s healing process, of its limits, is impressive. As is his exhaustive research into potential power sources for his implants – kinetic energy, wireless charging, micro batteries. But sitting around a grubby reclaimed coffee table, it’s hard to connect the man to his work.

Stitching the earlobe

Samppa at work repairing stretched flesh tunnels

Two depressed scars run down Von Cyborg’s scalp where he’d once had two rows of inch-long metal spikes, a sort of titanium Mohawk. But not all mods last forever, and as his skin had shifted and lumped over time, he’d asked a friend to cut the implants out, taking large chunks of his scalp with them. His first client of the day was interested in a corrective procedure too, what seems to be the bread-and-butter side of the business. James, a young lad from Manchester, had arranged to get his flesh tunnels closed. They were boring, he said, “now everyone has them.”

James took a seat on a repurposed dentist chair in the centre of the room, a surgical lamp pointing down at him. The studio was open plan and doubled up as Von Cyborg’s London home – he spends most of the year doing residencies at various studios around the world. A metal trolley was laid out with implements – scalpels, scissors, swabs – and there were sterilisation units stacked up against the walls, metal boxes that look like microwaves with extra twizzles and knobs.

Sterilisation Units

Cleanliness is very important

It was a strange, David Lynch sort of scene: his girlfriend was doing laundry, a flatmate was making a carrot cake in a kitchenette at the back and, a few metres away, we were about to perform surgery, injecting James’ ears with a local anaesthetic, which is currently the only illegal part of performing these consensual procedures.

Over the next few hours the smell of baking permeated the room and at the same time, much of James’ earlobes were cut away. Chunks of flesh were discarded, left sitting on the metal trolley like lumps of human chewing gum, and new lobes were stitched from whatever skin was left. There was little blood due to the anaesthetic so it didn’t look real, like his ear was a rubbery prop from a horror film. But the end result was almost unbelievable; it was so neat and professional. The stitches were tiny and the wrinkly, dangly stretched lobes James had arrived with had become normal again, if a bit red and quite small.

A lump of flesh dismembered from an earlobe

Eeew… James’ earlobe

Body modification is, of course, controversial. In most countries – the UK included – it’s neither legal nor illegal. Some people criticise it for glamorising self-harm and fetishising the body. There is an undeniable link with sexual deviance – one of the projects Von Cyborg is most animated about is a vibrating genital implant, a sort of internal sex toy. At its most extreme, people are willing to bind their waist for an exaggerated hourglass figure, inspired by 50s pin-ups, permanently reshaping their own bone structure and risking harm to their organs. Some alter their genitals in various unfathomable ways, often to fulfil sexual fantasies – self-castration, FGM, splitting the penis open, otherwise known as subincision. It’s a fringe culture that is demonised by those who don’t understand, despite surging popularity. But are subdermal implants really any stranger than breast implants?

“We’re getting more and more professional,” said Von Cyborg. “People like me almost have the skill of a plastic surgeon, but without the mainstream qualifications. We’re capable of things that doctors can only dream about.

“I see a lot of people who hate themselves or their bodies. Body art can actually help them learn to love their bodies because it helps them look at them differently. If someone has a fat belly but on this belly they have, for example, a tattoo of a beautiful piece of art, the fat will loose the meaning.”

Stitched up ear

Several hours later, the finished product

According to the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, more than 50,000 cosmetic surgery procedures were performed in the UK last year. It’s a figure that grows each year, with breast augmentation and eyelid surgery among the most popular services. Surgery is fast becoming a normal, socially acceptable, way to maintain your looks. Yet we’ve all seen the pictures of those that take it too far: the indestructible, almost unrecognisable, faces of stars like Joan Rivers (RIP) and Mickey Rourke. Some may call people with heavy mods strange, or shocking – I’ve even heard them described as ‘monsters’ – but social norms aside, their look is no more bizarre than your average TOWIE star. The fact is, humans love to play with their looks – it’s just not natural for us to be ‘natural’.

I wrote about Labyrinth for the Guardian


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It’s finally happened. After years of wishing for it, willing it with enough might to rupture a few organs, and countless unrequited ideas pitches (despite already working for them as a subeditor), I’ve written a piece for the Guardian. I’d always promised myself that if it ever did happen, I wouldn’t read the comments after seeing so many scathing remarks on there. But actually everyone was really nice which made me feel pretty smugface. 

You can read the piece online here, or I’ve published the raw, unedited version below. 

Why I’d like to be … Jennifer Connolly in Labyrinth

I can’t remember the first time I saw Jim Henson’s magical animatronic adventure, Labyrinth. I was not quite two when it was released in 1986, but my parents are massive David Bowie fans so it’s not surprising I was introduced to it fairly early on. I was hooked immediately, and watched our VHS copy – complete with adverts, having been recorded off the telly – so many times it eventually warped and then snapped.

I would shut all the doors to the living room of our small London flat leaving my parents trapped in their bedroom, put the film on and act out each scene from memory as it played, pausing only to shout “don’t come in” as my parents inevitably tried to get out.

I was, of course, pretending to be Jennifer Connolly’s Sarah, the imaginative, if immature, teen who is struggling to adjust to life with her father’s new family and to her sisterly responsibilities to new baby, Toby.

Like my child self, Sarah is somewhat of a fantasist – she escapes the tedium of US suburbia by retreating to her books, reciting passages from her favourite, The Labyrinth: “Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the goblin city to take back the child that you have stolen.”

However, when she accidentally calls upon the story’s cruel Goblin King, Jareth – played by Bowie – to take Toby away, she’s forced to embark on an expedition through a seemingly nonsensical labyrinth to rescue her half-brother from the castle beyond the goblin city.

But this isn’t just a story about fiction becoming a reality, or goblins and Bowie’s impressive trouser-bulge, for Sarah, this is a journey into womanhood. As she passes through the labyrinth, she learns to cast aside the oft-repeated cry of “it’s not fair” and instead to tackle its deadly challenges and baffling riddles through logic, friendship and bravery – she is growing up.

She befriends various bizarre creatures and this motley crew – Hoggle: a particularly ugly dwarf, Ludo: a slightly dim, giant fur monster and Sir Didymus: a heroic fox-terrier knight who rides an old English sheepdog – provided me with company while watching as an only child, but as a teenager it was Sarah’s ability to make sense of a world that didn’t make sense that drew me to her. Burgeoning new sexual desires had sent my head spinning and my body was quickly changing. People suddenly treated me differently, men looked at me differently and London was opening up as an overwhelming city in a way it never had before. I was scared and confused, but Sarah’s perseverance in the labyrinth gave me courage, and still inspires me to keep going when things get tough.

It’s this cusp between childhood and adulthood, between hedonism and maturity that Jennifer Connolly – 15 at the time of shooting – captures so beautifully. She is confident and good looking, yet not as overtly sexual as women are so often betrayed on screen – a much stronger female role model than many available even today. However, the sexual tension between Sarah and the controlling Jareth is hard to ignore, despite Labyrinth being considered a children’s film. When she finally reaches the castle he begs her: “Just fear me. Love me. Do as I say and I will be your slave.” But Sarah resists his attempts to seduce her. She has learnt that she’s in control – that she’s now responsible for her own destiny.

“My kingdom is great. You have no power over me,” she replies, remembering the words from her book and Jareth’s kingdom dissolves. It’s a line I often repeat to myself when dealing with real-life goblins.