My brush with Russell Brand was some years ago now. And let’s be clear: what happened to me was – although humiliating and still distressing – only a trivial footnote in the story which is now unfolding.
In fact, I’d rather forget about the Saturday night in November 2007 when Brand devoted a decent chunk of his BBC Radio 2 show to me.
However, I am writing about it for the first time as it demonstrates clearly that ‘Sachsgate’, which followed about a year later was not an isolated incident. Anyone could have – and should have – seen it coming.
You’ll remember Sachsgate. Andrew Sachs, who played Manuel in Fawlty Towers, was prank-called at home three times by Brand and Jonathan Ross in October 2008 and the two men left a series of messages for him.
These revolved around exposing a brief fling which Brand had enjoyed with Sachs’ granddaughter Georgina Baillie. In one of them Brand rhymed ‘menstrual’ with ‘consensual.’ He joked that he wanted to marry her. Ross blurted out: ‘He f***ed your granddaughter!’
I’d rather forget about the Saturday night in November 2007 when Brand (pictured leaving the Troubabour Wembley Park theatre on Saturday) devoted a decent chunk of his BBC Radio 2 show to me
I am writing about it for the first time as it demonstrates clearly that ‘Sachsgate’, which followed about a year later was not an isolated incident. Pictured: Brand and Jonathan Ross
I am writing about it for the first time as it demonstrates clearly that ‘Sachsgate’, which followed about a year later was not an isolated incident. Anyone could have – and should have – seen it coming. Pictured: Brand and Ross singing an apology to Andrew Sachs
It was ghastly harassment, wrapped in misogyny. Sachs, who died in 2016, said in 2014 that the cruelty of it would haunt him forever. No thought was given to the effect which the mens’ humour might have on the lives of either Sachs or his granddaughter; it caused immense distress.
Brand quit his show, and the controller of Radio 2 also had to go. Lesley Douglas had been told what he was planning to do and had sent the word ‘Yes’ from her Blackberry, assenting to its broadcast.
Mark Thompson, then the director-general of the BBC, called the events ‘a gross lapse of taste by the performers and the production team.’
Few would disagree. However, 11 months earlier, Brand (whom Douglas had touted as ‘the future of Radio’) made a series of base, mostly sexually charged attacks on me. They were not dissimilar.
My family name was rendered as ‘Noshoff’ – a grotesque reference to oral sex. He threatened to read out my home address on air. He told the listeners to this Saturday night BBC show, falsely, that I wanted to give him oral sex.
It was spiteful, it was juvenile, it was misogynistic. It was vintage Russell Brand. And it was given the OK by his bosses at the Beeb.
These days we would call what he did an invitation to a ‘pile on.’ I hope that now I wouldn’t be considered fair game.
Sachsgate revolved around exposing a brief fling which Brand had enjoyed with Sachs’ granddaughter Georgina Baillie (pictured)
Andrew Sachs, who played Manuel in Fawlty Towers, was prank-called at home three times by Brand and Jonathan Ross in October 2008 and the two men left a series of messages for him
A friend working for the BBC was the one to alert me. She warned me not to pick up any calls on my mobile phone as he wanted to prank me in a pre-record for the show (exactly as he later did to Andrew Sachs.)
Today, the name and mobile number of his agent and best friend Nik Linnen, is still written down in my contacts book in a shaky hand. I think I remember that he called me and I didn’t answer – but jotted down the digits.
My transgression had been to write a long and not-very-flattering profile of Brand, pegged to the release of his ‘Booky Wook.’ This tome – the first of two autobiographies written before he was 35 – had just been serialised over three days by the Guardian (where else?) and Brand was everywhere doing interviews to promote it.
Brand was particularly annoyed that we had knocked on the door of his mother’s home in Essex and asked her about a passage of the book in which he said he had been abused by a neighbour who was giving him after-school tuition.
I’d also described the book’s contents as ‘incredibly sordid’ which, given the anecdotes about prostitutes and orgies it contained was hardly unfair.
I’d added: ‘His loveless sexual encounters are generally described as ‘a sexy adventure’. His home is a ‘snug suburban barracks’. But these literary flourishes fail to disguise the fact that this behaviour is horribly depressing and blackly misogynistic.’
In the light of allegations over the past few days, I’d say I got it right.
My family name was rendered by Brand as ‘Noshoff’ – a grotesque reference to oral sex. He threatened to read out my home address on air
What the listeners who enjoyed his section on me – and kept that whole misogynistic ‘Noshoff’ name going in chat rooms and on social media for years – didn’t know was at the time I was both freshly bereaved and a new mother.
My son Charlie had died aged 14 months of leukaemia in February 2006. It is probably not possible to explain to anyone, aside from another bereaved parent, what those years felt like. The loss was, and still is, immense. In January 2007 I was blessed with another son. In November 2007 I was struggling.
A friend at Radio Two who worked with Brand interceded when she heard of what he had planned for me. She told him that perhaps he shouldn’t go quite so far, in the circumstances. New mum, bereaved mum and all.
Of course it didn’t put him off. Nobody at the Beeb thought to say a word. I had to suck up the humiliation.
I dislike people who whinge, and I generally have a thick skin. In fact some of my favourite stories from my career involve the terrible things which famous people have said to me. Generally, they are very funny.
Marco Pierre White calls me the ‘Grand High Witch’. Nigella said I was ‘a dingbat’ after I mentioned that some segments on her cookery shows were made with actors posing as her friends. Roger Moore called me something I am unable to repeat in print – in that wonderful voice of his – when I asked him about the breakdown of his marriage. Poor Noel Edmonds squealed: ‘I can feel your hatchet in my back!’
But to this day, thinking about Russell Brand calling me Noshoff on Radio 2 makes me want to cry.
Ironically at this time there were various listener petitions aimed at his boss, Lesley Douglas, chiding her for hiring celebrities like Brand and George Lamb and Dermot O’Leary to present radio shows. The serious music fans didn’t like it.
A BBC official said that they would ‘not tolerate’ listeners being ‘rude or offensive’ about our presenters.
But those who were the butt of their jokes? Well, we were always fair game.
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