Thursday 19 July 2018

‘If I go home and feel upset, vulnerable and violated that’s not okay’ – Laura Whitmore

Presenter and actor will be talking harassment, #MeToo, and more at Body and Soul Festival this weekend

Laura Whitmore
Laura Whitmore
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

Laura Whitmore has revealed that both men and women have contacted her to share their experiences of sexual harassment after she opened up about her own #MeToo moments in a recent Hot Press article.

The 33 year old presenter and actor detailed several incidents from her life including having her ass slapped in a local club when she was 16 to being groped in a club by a stranger last year to being papped emerging from cab with the resulting photograph, in which her underwear was visible, published in the media.

“It wasn’t me jumping on the bandwagon or trying to have a go at people, I just wanted to be honest and frank, and the reaction [to the article] was completely overwhelming,” she tells Independent.ie.

“I was nervous sending it off because then it’s out there and you don’t know how people will react but I had so many DMs from men and women telling me their own experiences, and that was quite a lot to take in, and trying to reply to all of them so they would know I had read them. 

“There were men as well - it’s not just a female thing.  It was lovely, really, really lovely, and overwhelming.”

Laura, who hails originally from Bray but lives in London, has always been coy about her private life, but felt compelled to write the piece and include her experiences because she had just “had enough” of the everyday sexism to which women are subjected.

“That mentality just drives me up the wall,” she says, “I just had enough and that’s kind of what spurred me on to write that piece.  I wrote it for myself.  It was cathartic to get it off my chest.  I do that with a lot of things.  I took a day away from it.  My mum read it and a few of my mates read it.”

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Laura Whitmore

She says she really wanted to do it in the “right way” because, “Sometimes something will piss you off and you rant about it, but I took my time to do it in the most intellectual and coherent way I could possibly do it.”

When it went to print she was skiing in Austria and declined invites to appear on TV to discuss the issues within.  It’s only now, two months later, as the UK heads toward passing a law to make 'upskirting' illegal, that she feels armed to talk. 

Just prior to our chat Laura appeared on Lorraine on ITV to talk about the aforementioned experience with the photographer who snapped her emerging from a taxi outside her house.  She said she because of that experience she is on her guard and gets out of taxis “down on my knees almost” because she doesn’t want them to “get a picture of my pants."

Like most women, Laura says she has always simply just put up with the status quo.

“I was just taking it,” she says.  “I’d get things written about me and think, ‘Oh, everyone gets that’.  Holly Willoughby has talked about it, Davina McCall has talked about it, right up to Hollywood actresses, but then I thought, ‘No, it’s not okay just because it happens to everyone’.

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Laura Whitmore at the launch of the Diet Coke Because I Can series held at Yamamori

“You think it’s not a big deal but it is a big deal if it’s a big deal to me.  If I go home and feel upset and vulnerable and violated that’s not okay.  I’m not having a go at men.  Everybody loves men.  I have some great men in my life.  Really, it’s about supporting each other, knowing when to stand up for yourself, and being respectful of each other.”

The Because I Am A Girl ambassador says she now feels she has “a responsibility to support women as much as possible”.  In that vein she is heading to Body and Soul festival this weekend where she’ll join Today FM’s Nadine O’Regan for Songs in the Key on the Wonderlust stage, to talk about music, her career, role models, living in the public eye, and #MeToo.

“With Body & Soul I can chat about it in a safe environment,” she says.  “It’s a really great situation and the atmosphere will be like everyone here is in it together.”

Given the number of column inches she has generated over the course of her decade-long career, not all regarding her career, she also takes issue with how women are written about in the media. 

“She’s a human rights lawyer but she was being referred to as George Clooney’s wife or girlfriend," says Laura.  "It happens more with women than men.  We’re defined by who we go out with and what we’re wearing rather than our careers.  But there’s a massive shift going on now.”

A quick scan of Google news’ top stories on Laura Whitmore reveal that eight of the first ten stories revolve around her relationship with comedian and Love Island narrator Iain Stirling.  The same search for Iain throws up seven stories on his job before three on his relationship.

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Laura Whitmore and Iain Sterling. Picture: Instagram

“I’d like to think that soon it will be vice versa – if you search his name it will be coming up as my boyfriend!” she laughs.

She references The Guardian’s coverage of Amal and George’s arrival at the Royal Wedding during  which they tweeted, “International human rights lawyer Amal Clooney arrived wearing a bright Stella McCartney yellow dress, with her husband alongside.”

“It doesn’t happen that way as much and when it does everybody makes such a big deal,” says Laura.

Having graduated with a BA in Journalism from DCU, Laura beat off thousands of hopefuls to land her first major gig presenting for MTV News, a role which she fulfilled for seven years before she decided to move on to pastures new in 2015. 

“I’ve been very lucky working non-stop for ten years but I just wanted to try new things.  MTV were incredible and occasionally I still work with them, but you just want to challenge yourself a bit,” she says.

“It was all a bit of a whirlwind and you take stock and think ‘I’ve done this, what do I want to do?’  I’ve got one life so I keep telling myself to try new things and to take opportunities when they’re there or make opportunities.”

In 2016 Laura also departed I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! Now! and signed up for Strictly Come Dancing, which literally ended in tears.

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Strictly Come Dancing 2016

Laura was paired with dance partner Giovanni Pernice who had recently split romantically from his previous dance partner, Georgia May Foote.  Speculation about romance between Laura and Giovanni was completely unfounded and Laura later revealed that she cried every day on the show.

Following that experience she took a break from TV, “I took last year off from TV and did a play for six months and went back and studied [Shakespeare at RADA] and did a few other projects on the side.”

The play was Not Dead Enough, in which she played a mortician, and received rave reviews for her performance.  Before she embarked on her presenting career she had appeared in several stage productions, so she was simply flexing a dormant muscle.

Bill Ward and Laura Whitmore star in Not Dead Enough by Peter James. Photo by Helen Maybanks 089.jpg

“It’s quite nice to do things that are away [from London],” she says, “I spent six months with a small group of ten people, doing theatre on stage every night, eight shows a week, and I never missed a day.  There’s a really great discipline to that.  I really wanted to challenge myself and for me theatre is everything in the world.  It doesn’t pay the bills as well as TV but I was very lucky to be able to take the time away.”

Earlier this year she returned to TV to host Survival of the Fittest for ITV, but she bristles at the idea of abandoning presenting for acting.

“It’s this thing as well, people love putting you in a box.  Who are you? What are you?  Put you in the box – that’s who you are.  But I’ve never been one to kind of follow the path people tell me to follow.  I think you have to do what’s right for you,” she says.

Laura Whitmore will be in conversation with Nadine O'Regan for Songs in the Key of Life on the Wonderlust stage at Body & Soul on Sunday June 24 from 5pm to 6pm.

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