Cervical screening rates in the UK have fallen off a cliff


Smear testing at 20 year low

Cervical screening take ups in the UK are at a 20-year low, with Brighton and Hove having the weakest rates in the south-east. This year marks the 10th anniversary of Jade Goody’s death, and this month promoted Cervical Cancer Prevention Week from Monday 21 January to Sunday 27 January 2019.

Dear Miss Taylor, we are writing to invite you to make an appointment for NHS cervical screening.’ I add ‘call doctors’ to that day’s to-do list and dutifully tap the consultation date into my phone’s calendar.

A month on, I awkwardly lay back – legs akimbo – prattling on about the weather, as my cervix is checked for abnormal cells with what looks like a Wetherspoons cocktail stirrer. Just a week prior to my appointment, it’s been reported that only 71.4 per cent of GP-registered smear test invitees in the UK are attending screenings.

To be clear, cervical screening is not a test for cancer. It’s to detect cell changes and highlight irregularities which could prevent cervical cancer at a possible later stage. These nasty rogue-cowboy cells that medical professionals are searching for can hang out on the insides of people who are rich, poor, black, white or purple. Even regularly chugging kale juice whilst doing sunrise yogalates and having absolutely no symptoms won’t keep you out of the danger zone.

At 24 and the glowing picture-of-health, my friend Milly* was emotionally crushed to receive abnormal results from her first smear test. She nearly strangled herself with worry over ‘what could have been’ if the potentially rabid cells weren’t caught at such an early stage. Afterwards, Milly went for a cervical biopsy (colposcopy) and then laser therapy to remove the pre-cancerous cells. Although uncomfortable and a bit of an inconvenience, the jolting experience hasn’t deterred her from future appointments. “It’s done the absolute opposite,” she said. “I’m very aware of the difference it can make. I’d never miss it. Because as horrible and invasive the treatment was, I can bet that treating cervical cancer would be a million times worse.”

Chillingly, cervical cancer is the most common cancer for women under 35. It’s diagnosed in more than 3,200 UK patients each year and annually claims 900 of those lives according to 2018 NHS statistics.

People aged 25-29 years old are the worst group for going to smear test appointments. With one out of three in this bracket having skipped screening services, it’s the equivalent of half the complete Sugababes line-up not getting checked out at all.

But why are the cervical screening rates dropping year on year? What is it that’s stopping people from facing the swab and a speculum for a few seconds if it could slash the odds of saving their life from cervical cancer further down the line?

“I think sadly it’s education. I think people don’t understand the severity of contracting cervical cancer,” sighs Wendy, the motherly practice nurse who administered my test.

It’s very easy for an immensely privileged white woman like me to not be phased by smear screening. The gynaecological stars have been aligned in my favour since day dot. From growing up in a predominantly female household; to attending an all-girls school, which meant that hiking tights up to your armpits whilst loudly debating the merits of tampons versus pads before lessons were simply regular Tuesday chatter.

Wendy points out that reproductive health is still very much a taboo issue with some in the Asian communities and can be a shameful topic to talk about even to family or friends. “It should be taught in schools and explained – because nowadays lots of the girls have the HPV vaccine – so at that time it would be a really good way of getting the message across,” she says.

Wendy adds: “I also think discussing it [cervical screening] amongst peers as well would be encouraging. And having accessibility to later appointment times which we actually have in Horley. We’re open until 8 o’clock on a Monday so we do have evening smears.”

I ran a casual poll on my Instagram stories to gauge if those following me on the internet are going to cervical screenings. Surprisingly, 18 per cent of respondents replied ‘Yes’ when asked ‘Have you ever chosen not to have a smear test even if you’ve been invited?’. The reason that cropped up the most as to why friends, and friends of friends, didn’t go to a test was finding convenient slices of time.

“Hard to make appointments during appropriate times,” said one. “Shamefully too busy.” messaged another. “Keep meaning to go – and I still fully intend to.” “Results are only offered via mail (no online/text) which is difficult while transient.” Echoing Wendy’s sentiment about being able to actually get a favourable slot seems to be a blocker for even the smallish group of people I surveyed.

So far, flexible access to appointments and education on the importance and awareness of the role smear testing plays in vital cancer prevention are two kinks that need to be ironed out. But the ugliest head to this health-Hydra in tackling the not-so-sexy stuff about our sexy parts are psychological concerns.

Results from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust charity indicates a third to half of the 2000 people with a cervix they questioned shows embarrassment about their bodies as to why they aren’t taking up tests.

“I’ve had three children and still find it embarrassing to go get it done! Postponed mine at least once before going for it,” pinged a chat bubble from Sally* in her late twenties. When asked about why she was initially hesitant Sally said “I think it’s the whole ‘Had a baby. It looks weird down there/it’s changed’ since having the boys.”

Wendy vigorously nods when I read out the statistic on embarrassment: “I think there can be a potential mental barrier. But you hear people that are always happy to give the horrendous times when they’ve had a bad appointment or any sort of examination. And they can be quite negative and embellish it. Whereas people very rarely go ‘Oh it wasn’t that bad’. So again talking amongst peers, going online, having a Google – there are lots of things on YouTube you can look at. You can always bring people with you, a friend, a chaperone. It’s always been open in allowing that.”

However, as well-meaning as it for many to smudge their lipstick, snap a selfie and Boudica-cry “Have no fear, go get a smear!” it’s not always that straight forward. For survivors of sexual assault and medical or genital trauma (perhaps suffering the lot), the thought of trusting even a kindly Wendy-type within the current standard screening set-up can be completely outside the very realms of possibility. This means some people have not been checked out for decades. The reliving of past terror and distress has not routinely been part of the “You-Go-Girl!” cervical-health marketing campaigns so far, and as a collective, survivors have often been glossed over in discussions on moving the needle forward.

In my lifetime, this is the second conversation ripple I can recall about cervical cancer in the public consciousness. The first was Big Brother alumni and an original by-product of reality TV stardom, Jade Goody who died a decade ago this March at 27 years old, my age. Whether or not you liked her, it was impossible not to be touched by Jade’s heart-wrenching war with terminal cervical cancer. The haunting Hello! magazine images of Jade bald and beaming in a wedding dress, taken a mere month before she passed, served as a bleak reminder of how any life can be snatched away on the flip of a coin.  

Dubbed the ‘Jade Goody Effect’, her cancer played out in public prompted an extra 500,000 people turning up to get swabbed that year. Wendy said that after Jade died, her practice saw an influx of approximately 4,600 patients for cervical screening over a couple of months, now she says it has almost halved.

There is an inkling of positive light at the end of this grim tale, as piercing bright waves of celebrity noise are starting to bring smear testing back to the forefront again with help from Rebekah Vardy and Michelle Keegan. In November 2018 both posted photos and vlogs on their social media channels sharing their most recent dalliance with the cocktail stirrer. Pearl-clutching trolls aside, the response reminded followers to schedule in their own examinations. The narrative of experiences around screenings has broadened too, with Jo’s Cancer Trust inclusively addressing [warning: link to piecehow to approach smear tests after sexual violence and growing awareness for organisations such as the MyBodyBackProject.

From a civilian level, the best way to fight this beast is to attend screening consultations if you are able and know what the cervical cancer symptoms are. Other avenues are to research and read about every aspect of the issue. Donate to specialist clinics for abuse survivors, trans people, non-binary, cervical cancer-fighting charities, or fundraise. Offer to go with someone who is feeling wobbly at the thought of a swab. Most importantly, talk bravely and openly about smear testing with friends, family and loved ones – you never know, you may save a life.


*Names have been changed to protect identities.

Cervical screening rates in the UK have fallen off a cliff

List, list, list

monica-gellar-quotes-4📸 via

I’m a compulsive list maker.


Nothing extraordinary or exceptional about that.

I think in lists and tangent lists and come across as so obsessively organised to the point that the nickname ‘Monica’ teasingly replaces ‘Emma’ whenever I whip out my latest Google Doc or notebook of scribbles to check off around certain friends.

I write a daily ‘to do’ list and occasionally stick to it.

I write lists of overarching life-admin, the kind of jobs or errands that are a little more abstract and set on a blurry future timeline (must find a desk and chair on Gumtree or Freecycle; would like to get a plant for the bedroom).

The memo app on my phone is clogged with food shopping lists for elaborate recipes that I’ll never make, sight-seeing lists written for hypothetical holidays, lists of blog post ideas, magazine pitches, names of my fictional future children and / or pets, interview questions, lofty goals of achievement and my most brat-like of all – the Christmas & Birthdays present list for those inquiring what to lavish upon me at certain points during the year. (Certainly a hangover from childhood where whole afternoons were spent with a fresh Argos catalogue in my lap and a pen poised for circling, flipping between the toy and jewellery sections. I was quite precocious in my tastes.)

Then there are lists of books I want (quietly sitting on Amazon that one), clothes I’m on the hunt for to replace all the bits I’ve sold or given away (desperately seeking jeans), thoughtfully curated Spotify playlists to accompany every mood or occasion and rankings of the handsomest of famous faces on my personal The List (Ryan Reynolds has consecutively held the top spot for almost 10 years. Congratulations to you Mr Reynolds 😉.)

It’s inherently human to make a list. Even as far back as 3200BC, ancient Egyptians studiously jotted stuff down to refer back to at a later date (Letters of Note has a beautiful list detailing the excuses made by absentee workmen as to why they couldn’t turn up for a job “suffering with his eye” / “drinking with Khonsu”). Science confirms that our brains go wild for snackable bites over large lumps of information, and is there anything more devastatingly pleasing than to see a neatly stacked tower of bullet points conquered by the smug ticks of a ballpoint.

In a roundabout way (and I’m really reaching here), lists are kind of like real-life wishes we can grant to ourselves.

The wish of remembrance when running errands and dashing around the supermarket trying recall what you’ve run out of at home.

The wish of order and control as we try to grasp life by its shoulder and insist it ‘just slows down for one moment please’ while we attempt to catch up.

The wish of creation from wispy ideas that you kind of can’t quite make out in your mind yet, but hey, it might be good one day so best scribble it down…

Story idea: A  woman who is being haunted by the ghost of Queen Elizabeth I. But Queen Elizabeth I ghost is secretly a recently dead actor playing a role who happened to snuff it in full costume. Capers ensue.‘ Copyrighted to Emma Taylor 2018, all rights reserved by the way –  I don’t care if it’s a bag of fanciful shite.

Here’s my latest listicle brain dump.

1 /  Ryan Reynolds

ryan reynolds

📸 via

2 / Transcribe next ’10-Minute Chat’ interview
Edit ’10-Minute Chat’ interview
Pick out and create interview copy quotes
Get interview approved
Publish ’10-Minute Chat’ interview
Pester friends and family to read interview

3 / Read backlog of Domestic Sluttery emails.
(Now I’m quite possessive of my inbox; regularly culling sub-par newsletters and unsubscribing to dull-as-dishwater brand-spam. But if you like food, achingly beautiful things, art, books, sparkling women of history you won’t have been taught about at school AND the best of the sales all wrapped up in a wittily-worded bow then subscribe here.)email 1

email 2

📸 Screenshots from Domestic Sluttery

4 / Finish ‘Stand Up Drinks Party’ sketch. DAISY MARSH WILL YOU CALL ME.

5 /  Buy a swimsuit. This is my top contender.

weekday swimsuit

📸 £25 from Weekday 

Can my wardrobe handle yet another piece of polka dot print? No. Can I afford to splash out on a swimsuit when my money would be better spent on practical things like petrol and phone bills? No. Am I seduced by the fact it’s made of recycled polyamide and polyester, created from PET bottles, production waste and abandoned fish nets? … Pass me my purse.

6 /  Go for a wild swim before summer comes to an end.
Wear new cossie.

7 / My late naughties laptop is currently being held together by a decade of keyboard crumbs, tape and critical life-support from having to be constantly plugged into a socket. Entirely defeating the object of its purpose, but a testament to the longevity Samsung’s computer engineers have built I suppose.

Anyway, I’ve saved for a new one.

This laptop?                                Or this laptop?

8 / Wash car.
Check tyre pressure (Google ‘how to’????).

9 / Rediscovered my love for Robyn (of Dancing On My Own fame), add Call Your Girlfriend to the shared Spotify playlist with pal of the same name.


📸 via

10 / Start / Procrastinate / Write / Delete / Re-write / Wallow in self-doubt / And submit x2 article drafts before deadline. Repeat process when notes on draft come back.

11 / Pick up bananas.

12 / In my one-day forever house that will be filled with kitschy art, antique lampshades and vintage tiling, I’m going to have a library. Even if it’s a cupboard-nook underneath some stairs or a cosy corner next to a window; so I can glance at patches of sky and greenery when I look up from whatever world I’ve jumped into.

If I win the lottery then I’ll spring for something more like this.

dream library

📸 via

You’ll find me swooshing along some shelves on a ladder Bedknobs and Broomsticks-style

13 / And I shall be wearing this bougie coat of dreams whilst swooshing / holing up behind my secret bookcase lair.


📸 via Net-a-Porter

14 / Go through accounts drawer and reorder paperwork folder ….zzzZZZZzzz

15 / To watch:

The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 finale (I know, I know. Massively behind.)
Sharp Objects
Vanity Fair (Intrigued to see if this serialised version can capture super-schemer Becky Sharp better than Reese Witherspoon’s sadly boring 2004 film portrayal.)
The Bold Type
Killing Eve (September can’t come soon enough.)

16 / Remember to start saving postage stamps for donation from now on. The RNIB and Macmillan accept used stamps which they can turn into vital funds. Would love to know if there are more charities who do this.

17 / With friends getting engaged, planning weddings and recently married, a lot of chat has been about idyllic post-wedding getaways and once-in-a-lifetime-type trips. I’ve jokingly jotted down my own money-no-object dreamy honeymoon shortlist.

You know.

Just for shits ‘n gigs.

Like any other normal person not even close to legally tying themselves to someone else.


Ok, I just like listing out fantasy holidays.

banff mozambique

📸 Banff, Mozambique

Cook Islands orkney

📸 The Cook Islands, Orkney


📸 The Scilly Isles

patagonia singapore

📸 PatagoniaSingapore

18 / 5pm Go for a run.
5.45pm Reward self for run with Iced Gems.

19 / Behold, the Perfect Winter Boot. Am imagining them paired with a miniskirt and the thickest of woolly tights that sports the toastiest of wind-bracing gussets.

black h&m chelsea boot

📸 via H&M £49.99

20 / Nap*

*Avoid thinking about my shaky life choices and diminishing career direction.

List, list, list

How to Win at Pompeii


📸 Andy Holmes via Unsplash

Even at 9am, the Mediterranean sun aggressively splits through the sky and I’ve long since whipped off the thin jumper I wore over my cotton playsuit as protection against the early morning and heavily air-conditioned flight from LGW.

Standing sticky from a full-body application of sun cream liberally applied in the loos of baggage reclaim, D and I wait as part of a crowd hanging by Napoli Airport bus stop to take us into the city centre.

As the anticipated bus pulls to a standstill, the impatient congregation swarm like bees around a honeypot. Slipping to the front of the hive, we buy our tickets and collect the obligatory expected sigh from the driver as he sorted out €16.48 in change from our fresh and flat tourist-twenty.

We plant ourselves midway down the body of the carriage, the suitcase we’re sharing rocks and bashes against our bare legs with every bumbling jolt of movement as the scruffy city of Naples races past the windows.

‘Piazza di’ Garibaldi’ a cool robotic voice comes through the speakers.

The doors retract open and passengers stream out as D and I haul our suitcase onto the blazing pavement. A pungent smelly mix of exhaust fumes and hot rubbish sliced through with urine causes a harmonised nose wrinkle from us both. We can see our next port of transport – Napoli Centrale train station – in the distance, down and across the road from where we disembarked.

The streets pulse with locals going about their regular Thursday morning. I march forward, weaving in and out the parade of people, D clasps the handle of the suitcase and rolls behind me.

Employing tag-team efforts we manoeuvre the case down escalators and steps, self-assured in following the light blue line, per Sorrento. Underground, the warm maze of strip-lights, linear colours, and discoloured tiles zap our confidence almost immediately. There were no further light blue lines to follow. Craning our necks, twisting on tip-toes and flitting around corners just to see if there ‘might be a sign over here’ D and I give up willing a marker for Pompeii or Sorrento to appear from nothing and gabble our trouble to a non-English speaking station official. He relays correct directions to where we needed to be in bellowing Italian and exaggerated hand gestures.

Copying back to ourselves the sequenced flicks of the wrist and pointing of fingers, our feet took directions to the automatic gates guarding the train platforms dressed in the per Sorrento baby-blue stripes putting us back on track.

Behind our triumph, another pocket of swarming travellers hum and buzz and shout in chaotic lines outside three ticket windows. A different station official guides D and I to the smallest of the queues. ‘Pompeii Scavi?’ I say slow and loud in uncertain ignorance attempting a native pronunciation. The bored man behind the glass says nothing but beckons for money to be pushed through the bowl at the base of the pane. I have no idea how much the tickets cost, nor did we have the time to sit and work it out. Bibbing ourselves through the gates and glancing down more stairs at the platform, D breathes out a low and drawn out ‘Oh shit’.

Below us is a sea of people. Crammed, sweaty, tinned sardines all expectantly waiting. Hoicking the suitcase down a flight of stairs in efficient synchronicity, we meet the fringes of our next battle. Again I lead, threading through the masses, stopping every third or fourth step to check on D and see if she wants to swap. She’s fine.

I secure us a spot on the platform with a little breathing room, eyeing the old display board hanging above us which displayed Sorrento ‘It’s the next one’ I say.

A tall girl steps through the mobs surrounding us. Wearing a white broderie anglaise midi-dress, she stood out as a gulp of sartorial oxygen amongst the denim shorts and rhinestone belly tops favoured by the gaggles of Italian teenagers that makes up large portions of the crowd. ‘Excuse me’ she says in a soft lilted accent of America’s deep south. ‘Does the next train from here go to Sorrento?’ D and I stare at her for a silent beat, momentarily transfixed by how strikingly beautiful she is amongst the drab dinge of the platform. I first notice her skin; Disney-princess pale and impossibly clear, save for a constellation of freckles scattered across her nose and cheeks. Her face is sweetly cherubic; the likes only usually seen perfectly preserved hanging in a museum bought to life by expert glowy brush strokes of Renaissance masters. Dark auburn-red hair tied into a long bouncy ponytail swishes behind her as she talks. ‘Yeah, we think so’ D smiles.

The Tall Girl smiles back and continues picking her way down the horde, pure white and red flash against the dull muted mass of other travellers. An approaching train whooshes more clammy sour air into the platform hall as I watch The Tall Girl disappear, thinking she looks too clean to be taking a grimy train from Naples on what appeared to be her own.

‘No Sorrento’ a woman calls above the rumble of the train as she shakes her head in conversation with another woman. My ears prick, breaking the spell gazing after The Tall Girl and turn my attention to the two ladies in front of me. ‘No Sorrento’, she shouts and shakes her head again.

Fuck. I panic we’ve just lead a woman travelling by herself to an impending doom of Taken-style proportions or worse. I consider battling through the crowds to get to her but they’re too dense to push through. An incoherent mumble comes from the platform speakers, barely audible above the noise from below. Maybe that was something about this train not being for Sorrento?

I really hope so, as I can’t see The Tall Girl in the now thinned out pack of people left over from the departing train.

Five minutes later, another vacuum of rotten wind charges into the platform hall. This is the train to Sorrento. The carriage is heavy with humidity and sweat and people. D and I cram ourselves and our case into a far corner, next to the doors on the opposite side from where we get on. We are both firmly stuck under separate pairs of damp male armpits.

To escape the unpleasant view at my eye level, I twist my head towards the back of the car. White and red immediately pulls my interest – there she is. The Tall Girl was safely on the right train and sat in a seat facing away from me. The back of her gleaming dress and shiny hair, a beacon once more in a sea of drab. ‘Oh thank God’. I nudge D and point her out in relief.

The journey rattles through 13 stations before Pompeii. The pressure of passengers taking up the car slowly drains away with each stop. The armpits are gone too and we can both breathe a little better.

‘Pompeii Scavi’ is melodically announced over the tannoy.

Back into the searing sun and cleaner air, a steady current of people file down to the platform exit of Pompeii Scavi towards shouting and the brightly coloured umbrellas of local tour guides.

‘The queue to get into Pompeii is at a two-hour wait, if you come with me you’ll go straight in’

‘English-speaking tour of Pompeii starting in 10 minutes’

‘ Unless you’re with my tour, you will be waiting nearly three hours to get into Pompeii’

Turning to each other, D and I figure the tour-touts at the station were exaggerating wait times to pressgang visitors into their groups. We want the freedom to roam the site without restrictions of having to traipse off after a group and we also weren’t overly keen shelling out a possible €15+ on top of the €15 admission fee – protecting the holiday’s prosecco budget where we could was naturally the main factor in this decision.

From researching the logistics of this excursion in the weeks leading up to the holiday, I home in on signs for the station’s luggage room to offload our suitcase. Paying €3 for the whole day, the case is safely stored and we sail by the still bellowing tour guides prowling the concourse.

The clamourous guides weren’t lying.

The what-seemed-like-miles of people forming a snaking line equated to definite two-hour wait. D and I join the end of the queue, clinging to slivers of hope and optimism that it looks worse than it actually is. That somehow, miraculously, the line would magically go down quickly and we wouldn’t fry from standing around nearly 35degree of direct sunlight.

Wilting in the heat in less than 10 minutes we reluctantly start googling ‘Pompeii fast track tickets’ and ‘Pompeii official tour guides’, conceding to let our precious booze budget take a hit. Scrolling through the mass of information D holds up her hand and says ‘ It says here that the best time to queue up for tickets is at 9am or 1pm. There’s another comment here on TripAdvisor from someone saying the exact thing too. ‘Wait until 1.30pm.’ What do you think?’

It’s just coming up to midday. My tummy speaks in response, signalling it was finished digesting the chocolate croissant from the 5am Pret stop this morning.

‘We could risk it? Go have lunch and wait to see if the line does go down.’ I jerk my head in the direction of a roadside restaurant sitting under an orange grove capitalising on the perpetual flow of sight-seers. The queue hadn’t as much as crept half a step forward since we become part of the tourism traffic.

D nods.

Moving from the line much to the loud delight of the people behind us who gain an advancement of less than a foot towards the far-far-away ticket office (just calm down Karen, you’ve still got a long way to go). We scuttle out of Pompeii’s gates to a welcome round of ‘Ciao Bellas’ and icy Aperol spritz’s at the restaurant opposite. Our table is outside under a shady canopy. Overly-ripe oranges and vines dangling above us scent and absorb the dry Italian heat; as we have a direct view of the queue it makes an absolute dream set-up to people-watch those milling around Pompeii’s entrance.

A basket of squidgy warm bread and a ceramic pot of olives is plonked down next to us after ordering mains. D and I ‘salute‘ our goblets of Aperol and finally catch up with each other’s life news and plans from the last two weeks in explicitly minute detail; occasionally breaking from the flow of chat to tear through chunks of focaccia drowned in vinegary oil.

Wheel-sized plates arrive sometime later, and as we tuck into griddle pan vegetables with strips of melting mozzarella, D glances up at the queue ‘Still looks busy’ she says slowly chewing on a mouthful. ‘We’ve still got 40 minutes until 1.30pm. If not, we’ll just join the line again and chalk this move up to a delicious mistake’ I shrug in reply.

Feeling incredibly full and lazy from the heat and spritzes, we draw out the last dregs of our drinks. Another pause in the conversation causes us both to check out the line. But there’s nothing to look at because all of the hundreds, if not thousands, of people, have gone.

The entrance looks like a ghost town.

No shouty-guides, no screaming children, no impatient fellow tourists ready to elbow you out of the way and not one group leader waving a flag-topped stick up in the air within sight.

‘Ahh I love the internet’ D smiles with satisfaction ‘I guess we’ve just won Pompeii’ she says clinking her glass with mine.


1/ If you have bulky luggage with you, stick it in the luggage check at Pompeii Scavi train station. The lockers are guarded all day and cost €3. A small price to pay for an afternoon to be blissfully bag-free.

2/ Suncream, sunglasses, sunhats and natural fibre clothing (cotton = your best friend) are VITAL if you are visiting in the summer. Not only can Italy get hotter than Satan’s balls, there’s little to zero shade protection once through the ticketed gate.

3/ Take a water bottle with you. They have refilling stations (from taps that look like they’re well acquainted with a garden hose or two. But hey, beggars most certainly can’t be choosers) all over the site that are free to use.

4/ Go either at the crack of dawn (8.30am if you’re interested as to what I class as dawn) or wait until after 1.30pm to get your tickets. Any time between those two points will have you misspending precious hours standing in line having to listen to Cindy from Arizona complain about the lack of Starbucks on the Amalfi Coast (I mean come on Cindy get a bloody grip, you’re in coffee-mad Italy for fuck’s sake.)

5/ Pompeii is a city don’t forget, so it is bloody massive. You won’t be able to see everything even if you spent a full day there. Plan what you definitely want to visit (the replica Roman villas are cool, the museum is supposed to be fantastic, the brothel with Roman erotica painted on the walls is a highlight as was the amphitheatre) and hit those first. That leaves you time to potter through the streets and come across something unexpected as a bonus. Mary Beard is an authority on Pompeii and her ‘what to do’ article is invaluably helpful.

6/ Like I said, even though it’s a ruin, it’s still a city. Comfy flat shoes are not-negotiable. Those tottering around on the very old, very cobbled and very uneven streets in heels may have great insta-pics but are essentially morons. Don’t be that person.

7/ There is one restaurant within the actual city walls but it is dank, clammy and served sad looking food. Either eat before you go or have lunch in one of the restaurants that circle the site. Yes, they are a bit expensive but what tourist-traps aren’t. The one D and I went to gave us a lot for our money and it was nice being under the oranges as it made the air smell like Tropicana juice.

8/ Don’t go in with a tour guide if you like doing things at your own pace. The groups are large and people have said it was a waste of money because they couldn’t hear the guide unless they became their literal shadow.

9/ Do a little research on what actually went down at Pompeii before you go. Yes a volcano erupted, thousands died blah blah blah but the story of Pompeii itself; what it was like as a city, who it’s people were, what did life look like there, why did people ignore the rumbling Vesuvius to stay and what happened in the aftermath of it’s defining tragedy is so so so so fascinating if you’re into history and cultural anthropology. Mary Beard also has a book that covers all this and is an excellent resource to swot up with (the audio version of this book is wonderful if you’re not a big reader).

10/ If you don’t have a lot of time to wander, consider going to Herculaneum (accessible by train from Naples). It tends to be much much quieter, more compact, better preserved and you’ll still get your fix of horror struck skeletons realising they are about to perish in the volcanic pyroclastic flow… get your cameras ready!

How to Win at Pompeii

10-Minute Chat:​ Actor





If you could go back and ‘do it all again’, what path would you take?

Would you be an artist? A teacher? A mechanic? Or pay more attention in science classes and go on to study medicine? Even as young adults in our mid-twenties (babies forchristsake) the feeling of ‘you’re now too old to start something new’ gets shoved down throats on a daily basis. That if you’re not on track to reach dizzying heights of career success before you’re 30, well then just quietly dismantle those ambitions now my dear. Articles profiling the latest wünderkid in fashion / politics / business / tech, roundup ‘ones to watch’ lists of bright P.Y.Ts and tidbits of information your mum casually passes on over a cuppa about ‘Jane’s son is deputy head of his department now. And he’s only 25’ feed this societal narrative that if you’re going to seriously pursue something, you should’ve started chasing it straight from the womb.

Sticking two fingers up at that boring rhetoric at the grand old age of 21, Daisy Marsh halted on the conventional school-uni-work-death road and shifted her life course towards fulfilling her dream in becoming a professional actor. She took a giant scary leap back into education three years ago to learn her craft and hasn’t stopped since.

‘ I’ve always known that I wanted to work in theatre, but I think I was slightly confused maybe as to what it was I wanted to do. I thought I wanted to do backstage. I wrote letters to all the theatres in London – I had an Excel spreadsheet of everyone I’d applied to and all the contact I’ve had with them – asking to do some kind of work experience as a stage manager. I thought that seemed fun.

Interview with actress Daisy Marsh

Daisy got her break when a theatre gave her the chance to learn the ropes of stage managing a production. But the realisation she wanted to be working in the spotlight, rather than the wings, hit three shows in..

‘ The director (Carl Heap) in the rehearsal room got all the production team involved the warming up exercises. I just wanted to carry on doing that instead of actually going out and getting props. Sometimes I had to read in for people and I loved it so much. But I thought I was too old, I thought I was too late.

I started talking very tentatively to the actors and questioning them ‘how did you get into it?’ and ‘do you think it’s too late for me?’ because I was 21 (which of course now seems silly to think that’s too old). And they said no, absolutely not, it’s never too late to go for it and you should absolutely do it. I probably thought about it, solidified it and then built up the courage to tell people that I wanted to do that through the next two shows I did there.’

Set on course to approach acting seriously as a profession and with a big old pinch of ‘fuck it, why not’, Daisy packed in the stage manager’s job, moved to Battersea, started working in a London pub and applied for drama school.

She didn’t get in.

Undeterred, she continued the rest of the year auditioning and learning as much as she could about acting. That tenacity paid off as in 2013 the Oxford School of Drama accepted her onto their foundation course.

‘When I got in somewhere, that sealed it for me. I was doing lots of amateur stuff and writing a bit, but no one in the profession had ever said ‘Oh you could probably do that’. When the Oxford School of Drama said ‘ You can come on our foundation course we don’t think you’re completely shit, maybe you could be a bit better and we’ll teach you.’ It was cemented even further when I got there and I fucking loooooovvvveed it. I could not get enough information, even now I can’t learn enough.’

And it’s that thirst for learning, improving and mastering the delicate art of acting that’s driving her ambitions rather than the trappings of fame (although Daisy notes her initial thoughts on acting were ‘it would quite nice to be famous and not work in an office’ – um, hands up who’s had that fantasy?!).d quote 2


‘ I can see the places that I want to get to and I can see other actors doing it. There’s a great actor called Rory Kinnear, he has this certain style; very uncomplicated, direct, natural, simplistic style. I know that this is the style that I want to aspire to…I want to act in a similar way to Rory Kinnear but I can’t get there yet. I’m always asking what do I need to do to change it and I work really hard. It’s interesting to me that no matter how hard I work – that’s not it. I need to change my approach to everything. How people think, how people react to things and how when it works it can be so powerful. It can really affect people, I find that so fascinating. What makes someone watch someone else go through something and they, in turn, feel an emotion and find that entertaining. Some people go and see things twice or over and over again. What are you going back for? Because that film makes you feel an emotion, it’s an addictive thing where you want to feel that emotion over and over again. That concept is so so cool, getting people to come along with you in a situation – I want to be able to do that. ‘

One of her perceived biggest challenges is what those nearest and dearest to you will think once your secret dreams are brought to life by being spoken out loud.

‘ People were generally great. It’s so funny how you think people are going to react a certain way, I was so nervous about telling people – because in my head it was so ridiculous that I was going to go back to education but not only that, that I was going to go and do acting.’

Expecting to be talked down from the ledge, Daisy found her parent’s reaction even more surprising.  

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‘ I had just gone through three years of university and I expected them to blow up, telling me not to be ridiculous, you’ve got this degree, you’ve got to use it. I was so worried about telling them, I felt it would be embarrassing saying it to them because it’s seen as ‘not a real career’ when everyone around you is getting real-life adult jobs… But mum was like, well you’ll have to look it up and research and get information about it. They were so supportive. They were almost a bit like ‘we always knew you would do this, it was just a matter of when’.

And like 99.9% of us who fling ourselves out there trying to follow our dreams, moving away to Oxford, resetting the clock and going back to school for Daisy was utterly terrifying. So scary in fact that nearly four years down the line still is prone to ‘what am I doing wobbles’, especially when friends are excelling with ‘normal’ jobs and money to buy cars and clothes.

And what about the acting industry itself? A year ago Daisy was terrified at taking a wallop at *the* hardest career to crack above all else, but close relationships with peers who are freshly graduated and trying to make it inspire her and kind of ease the worries. As well as the realistic professional development that the school drills into its pupils.

‘ Our school isn’t very big or well-known compared to RADA or LAMDA or anywhere, but the professional development that our school drills into us is ‘you’re not going to get overnight success’ the realistic possibility of that happening is so unbelievably small. And you’ve just got work really really hard and be as good as you can be. Obviously, it’s going to be hard, it’s going to come in waves all the time. Maybe you’ll get an audition, maybe you’ll get like 20 auditions and you get three call-back, and then you might get one job out of that which could last a day or it might last 18 months. I know loads of people who’ve had parts in plays at the National, one of the most prestigious you can get probably and they haven’t worked for a year after that and then have got something. It’s a marathon rather than a sprint. Something our school keeps telling us – in 5 years a quarter of the class won’t be working in the industry any more and then 10 years, ¾ quarters and then there will only be 5 of us doing any kind of acting work at all. And that’s going to be true of any drama school class that comes out. I know that I have to be honest with myself and even though I’ve made this commitment and I’m loving it, doesn’t mean that in 10 years I could really be sick of it and go be a fucking yoga instructor or something.’

I asked her to expand on what she thought her safety net career option would be if she fell out of love with acting.


‘I think everyone should have ideas of other careers to try. I think it’s so silly to think that I’m going to do this one thing for the rest of my life and that’s all I’m going to do. That just shuts you down to so many things. I want to do loads of stuff. And doing this has made me remember that I really like psychology for instance. We have a teacher at school who takes a movement class called Feldenkrais and I’m finding that concept really interesting as it’s about how you move, your awareness of your body and how you present yourself to other people – I could talk about it for ages.’

We spoke at length on who she admires within her industry, who inspires her  

‘ I admire Rory Kinnear, and the people who’ve come out of my school who work very hard. There’s a woman called Faye Castelow who’s now in the RSC. There’s Simon McBurney who founded and runs a theatre company called ‘Complicite’ and it’s completely unlike anything else that anyone has ever done. Just everyday people who make their own way in it, who work really really hard and go for it.’

Her schedule at drama school varies day to day but starts the same with getting a bus up to the school on a little remote Oxfordshire farm. Her first class is always a warm-up which the students run through only working on themselves, doing yoga and warming up their voices for the day ahead.

Subjects range from practising resonance and sound connection in voice class, applied movement and project work – e.g. Shakespeare in Film and how you would adapt a play like Macbeth for film compared to a stage production. Daisy delves into the minutiae of explaining the release of emotion can be a little smaller and more subtle on film which is interesting when looking in to the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth plotting murder and that they’d be played totally differently on stage.

As well as growing as an actor, she’s surprised to have discovered more of a ‘fight’ than ‘flight’ instinct.

‘I thought I was much more of a flight person, but actually, I’m beginning to be more of a fighter. I think I’m believing more that I deserve to be here. In everyday circumstances, even now you’re asking me stuff and I’ve got a million different thoughts and I think ‘Does she really want to know that’

Me: Answer is yes, yes I want to know everything!

‘But that’s my own inhibition, not knowing if I’m mumbling on a bit, am I swearing? Am I not swearing enough? Do I seem quite cool if I swear? I don’t know! My brain’s going at a million miles a second and just now very recently being able to put that voice aside. That’s literally only happened in the last six months. Being able to be completely yourself unapologetically and not really worry about what’s going on in other people’s heads. Because as long as you’re nice to everyone I don’t see any problem with really being yourself.’

Me: Is it an age thing?

‘Oh yeah absolutely. Do you think you’ve noticed a difference?’

Me: As soon I hit mid-twenties I felt very unaccomplished. Like ‘I’m 25, Taylor Swift had a whole empire by the age of 19 and what the hell have I ever done? I’ve done nothing.’ It was one of the big pushes quitting my ‘safe’ job and moving abroad and now I’m back, focusing more on writing… I don’t care if anybody laughs at me for trying to do this because I feel like I would want to read this, so someone else will as well.

And what about the future of theatre? Daisy makes it clear theatre is the medium she wants to end up in, but with platforms like Netflix and YouTube churning quality content for free the impact on the theatre-world could be significant.

More and more it’s changing with the times and making shows more accessible. The RSC has past productions available to watch online, The National Theatre and the Royal Opera run a lot of live screenings of their shows to be watched in the cinema or over the internet. However, she firmly believes that traditional theatre will always be relevant.


‘There’s a thrill… and I don’t think you could ever deny that when you go into a theatre, whether it be musical or a serious play. The adrenaline that you get from just being present – you’re with them. You’re moving through it. You’re connected to them if they’re good. You feel things, and when the lights go down and there’s an atmosphere. You just can’t beat it. I think it’s really special.’

Daisy and I have been friends for roughly 16 years and always felt free to chat about anything under the sun together. A couple of times when we’ve been down the pub she’s mentioned the importance to stick to a certain weight, but has never (as far as I can tell) found it to be all-consuming like so many actors before her. I ask how she combats those pressures and has she honestly found herself succumbing to a less than ‘normal’  relationship with food and her body.

‘I have always been fine in that regard. It’s so easy to go down that dark path and I thank my lucky stars that I have dodged that bullet. Because ohmygod it must be horrendous to battle. I think connected to acting, it is really easy to think like that. I look a certain way, I know that when I walk into a room, it’s a hard business and people are going to be looking for someone to cast against a particular type or aesthetic. I’m a little bit older too, so I have to think about that. The only thing that I’ve changed is moisturising regularly now.’

Thankfully her school is hyper-aware, looking for any hint that a student could be slipping into unhealthy habits. Daisy goes on to describe how family-oriented and protective the school is, giving pupils 3 or 4 private meetings with senior staff members and the principal to check in with how they are feeling and getting on.

Daisy is keen to keep her repertoire versatile, she wants to do lots of things and embrace changing her mind. When she first started, she wanted to do period dramas ‘Like 1940s type dramas, middle-class people going through issues etc. And now I like completely off-the-wall movement stuff.’ she laughs.

‘ Acting is addictive. When you get it right, it’s fucking mental. There are times when I do things and then think ‘Fuck I really became a different person there’. I felt completely different, completely mentally and physically free – and, ohmygod, it’s like surfing. I don’t surf but I imagine it’s like surfing – you catch a wave and you’re riding this wave, you feel unstoppable and you’re in the moment completely. It’s incredible. And then when someone else recognises that in your performance and comes up to say ‘Shit man that was really cool.’ That feeling…There’s always so much more to learn. You’re trying to learn how to change yourself essentially. That’s so difficult to grab hold of, that it’s addictive to try and get hold of it. There’s always something to chase after. There will never be a day where I feel like I know everything about acting.’

It’s abundantly clear that following the love of the job for Daisy holds more value than chasing the cash. But she acknowledges how privileged she is with supportive parents and means to always have a roof over her head. And to be brutally honest, her personal circumstances are a factor in allowing Daisy the opportunity to follow what she wants to do in this rocky profession.


Would she have done any of it differently though? ‘I don’t regret going to uni, or regret the path that I’ve been on. Uni was three of the best years ever of my life. I had so much fun. I did lots of naughty things that I shouldn’t have done and learned from. If I hadn’t of gone to uni, I wouldn’t be the person I am doing this and I wouldn’t of had all the life experiences I’ve had. Depends what kind of person you are. Some people want to do the school-uni-job-kids-then die. Some people don’t. I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other. I think people are different and are presented with different opportunities and everyone learns from whatever comes along in their life. Any time I doubt it, and feel bummed that everyone else has a ‘proper job’ I think ‘you could honestly die tomorrow’. If I died tonight (touch wood) at least I can look back and think ‘Fucking hell, at least I’ve made a really good fucking go of it.’ I’ve got great friends, career isn’t everything, I’ve got a wonderful family, I’ll fall in love one day and there’s so many special things in life that aren’t tied into a job. I know people who are chasing money but have sacrificed so much happiness. They are miserable, even though they have a lovely car, flat, money to spend but no friends because money is all they’ve chased – it’s hollow. At that stage it is a hollow existence. I’m really poor, and it doesn’t bother me at all. Sometimes I buy toothpaste and I think ‘I don’t know if I can afford toothpaste.’ Which sounds pathetic but at least I can call you and laugh about it, it’s funny.’

Our conversation is rounded off talking about advice to our younger selves, how would Daisy address herself at 18-years-old. ‘Don’t listen to any negativity, because it’s such a waste of time. Be honest with yourself and then fight for it. Say ‘I want to do this, I want this, I’m not happy with this’. No one else is going to get you out of the situation, you’re in control, be in control and everything is going to be ok. Everyone else can shut the fuck up and you’re going to be just fine…. And always be nice to people!’

Well, who the fuck wants to peak at 30?

Daisy is performing her graduate show, ‘Conditionally’ at the Soho Theatre this week. Buy tickets here.


Interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

10-Minute Chat:​ Actor

How to Cope with Homesickness

how to cope with homesickness

📷 www.glamour.com

tap your heels together three times


“I’m fine! Everything’s really great. I’m having THE BEST time”

How often have you spun out that similar line of utter bollocks into a message?

Whether you’re away uni, moved to a new town for work or joined the expat club somewhere completely alien to everything you’re used to, glossing over the negative spots of a new adventure and jazzing up the reality is a universal practice of humans around the globe.

So why do we do it?

Firstly, social media blah blah blah (yeah you’ve heard this one before) – even if you think you’re above the non-subtle humble-brag #soblessed posts of people living enviable lives on the internet, there’s that secret thrill of showing off where you are and what you’re doing to those who are watching you back home. Especially if those ‘likes’ start stacking up on a smattering of your pretty pictures that have been painstakingly retouched by two photo editing apps.

Another reason I think we shine only the brightest, most positive light on our lives is to ease the worry of the ones we’ve left behind. ‘Yes, I’m eating’ ‘No, I’m not hiding in my room’ ‘Of course I’m being social, I went out last night’, you want to reassure your friends and family that you are safe and well and flourishing in a foreign domain miles away from their watchful love and care.

And then there’s the final motivation as to why we plaster on a mega-watt smile and spout happy-worded rubbish – to drown out the whispering inner voice murmuring in response ‘That’s not true, you’re sad and feel lonely. You’re homesick and you have been for a while now.”

Even if you’ve amassed a good group of pals in your new territory and are able to see and do a bunch of amazing things, the sense of missing sneaks its way in and haunts the background of everyday life. Even more so once the shiny novelty of the place wears off. The lack of familiarity from your old world seems kind of jarring.

For me, it came in waves. Sometimes I was so busy, doing one thing after another to focus on, that the heavier thoughts my mind chewed over were forgotten. Other times, I’d be tip-tapping away at my computer when all of a sudden I was crushed with the weight of isolation and how much I missed home and everything / everyone my UK life came with.

 📷 www.giphy.com

I suffered from homesickness baaadddly my first winter away.

Sour feelings took over my mental driver’s seat, Mad-Max-ing me into unhappy oblivion and shooting off lightning bolts of angry resentment as I watched those around me having fun so easily. Why couldn’t I just be that confidently relaxed in these new surroundings? Why am I squirrelled away in my flat yet again???

Retreating into myself more and more, I suspect it was a way to cope with the out-of-my-depth emotions that kept swelling up and down the walls of my head. I presented a shell of a person to everyone else; calm, practised and ‘fine’ on the surface.

The worst knock was when my best friend and mum came out to visit me within two weeks of each other during the January and February of 2017.  As soothing as it was to have them there with me, these two intense links from home were placed in my hands and then had to slip away seven days later.

And it tasted bitter.

The flavour of homesickness is like the nail varnish that’s designed to stop you biting them because it’s a basically a hit of rotting acid.

I figure you have two options when battling with homesickness, either pack it in and go home. No one who’s truly got your back will think any less of you. It’s always braver to make a bold move if you think its right for you. Especially if your homesickness is so debilitating that you start showing other symptoms of being unwell.*


Cope and crack on.

When the clouds parted and sunshine came through again, I’d get on with a handful of the below things to stretch out feeling better.

/ Keep connections going back home.

Yes, it requires planning and effort to arrange Skype dates, having 234 Whatsapp conversations on the go and setting phone calendar reminders to ring people. It sometimes feels like an exercise of diary snap, finding a time you’re both free to schedule a call, but ohmygod it’s so worth it. You don’t realise how much you’re holding in until you’re talking the ear off a close friend. But try not cling to communication too hard though as it could swing the other way and set you back.

/ Cook

I’m not a Nigella-esque spoon-licking effortless goddess when it comes to whipping up a meal. But I like the therapeutic ritual of cooking; assembling ingredients into something that’s comforting, warm and nourishing. Even if it’s a dollop of fluffy eggs on butter-drenched toast, I get a satisfied glowy kick out of this basic form of self-care and feeding my body to fight another day. So treat yourself as you would a loved one going through a rough time and in need of a bit of food-based love. Bowls of cheesy pasta, aromatic noodles, casseroles and soups are a good place to start in giving yourself a big old hug.cooking to cope with homesickness

📷 Buzzfeed.com

‘Like the lightest, most fluttering caress in the mouth’ – Queen Nigella 

/ Shift your attitude

Easier said than done, I know.

I come across peppy and upbeat, but my inner monologue is naturally pessimistic. I have to work hard to set my thoughts and views on the world as positive. Putting myself in a ‘victim’ mindset was something I kept slipping into; that I was the only one feeling low, I was the only one struggling. Bollocks to that. Everyone rides on crappy feelings sometimes, they just handle it differently. Put on some music and dance around your room regularly, it gets your endorphins going and brushes away the gloom.

/ Step out of that comfort zone

If your relocation has frightened the shit out of you, even the smallest challenge will be magnified in your eyes. Guess what, moving to a place where you don’t have a familiar support network around is already pretty fucking fearless, so keep that ball rolling. For me, it was small achievements like learning to comfortably drive on the other side of the road (not just any roads, snowy mountain roads), skiing a run that made me nervous and pushing back against my default introverted setting by talking to people I didn’t know that well a bit more. Each time I’d do what I was scared of doing, another little brick was added to my wall of confidence. A total cliché but I promise you’ll be surprised at how many more things you think you can do, compared to what you can actually do.

/ Tourist in your own town

tourist in your own town

📷 By me                                   Red Bull Hangar 7 Museum

Chances are, you’ve moved to wherever you are now for a reason. Whether it’s for work, to experience a new culture or because you simply wanted to be beside the sea. I’d wager there also might be a handful or more of cool sights and activities that you wouldn’t get to see or do back home. Yeah, you might be living in Barcelona but have you actually gone out and actually seen Barcelona? Make a list of every tourist attraction you can reach and like to go do. If you’ve got local friends, explain you want to go visit X, Y and Z to discover what all the fuss is about. They’d most likely fall over themselves to give you a mountain of tips on what times are best to go or look out for, and maybe even insist on accompanying you for a couple of days out. Getting to know a place really well – tourist traps and all – will reinforce why you’re there and makes you feel less like a stranger in the area.

/ Treat yourself 

In my experience, it’s easier to be mean to yourself than being nice when you’re in a fragile state. Again, approach your care as if you were your best friend. Would say to them half the things you say to yourself? I’m guessing not. You’d be supportive and think of ways to raise spirits rather than beat them over the head with nasty taunts. So spoil yourself a bit. It doesn’t have to be a big extravagance. A new £2 nail varnish, a bottle of wine, a favourite takeaway – or just some fresh bedsheets and an early night. A little self-directed TLC goes a looooonnnggg way in repairing stressed nerves and feeling looked after.

/ Deepen the connections to those around you 

A big part of homesickness is feeling lonely. Becoming friends with a bunch of new people may not come naturally to you. It certainly doesn’t to a hardcore introvert like me. I lucked out in Austria and was adopted straight away by a set of friends who were inclusive and sympathetic when I wasn’t 100%. But that doesn’t mean I sat back on my laurels and waited for them to come to me. As excruciating as it is when you’re not socially confident (hello my tribe!), you must push yourself to make an effort with people. 9 times out of 10, you’ll end up having fun rather than regretting it and becoming an awkward part of the wallpaper.

/ Home comforts 

Turn your home space into a set up that’s more comfortable for you. If that means buying pillowcases, plants and fairy lights to feather your nest then so be it. Making your new digs familiar will give back the control you’re probably missing. Plus you may be experiencing homesickness because your new city or country or isn’t feeling like home yet. Mementoes like photographs or a bed throw that you get to see every day from your previous home will help cosy up your place too and transform it into a sanctuary you enjoy relaxing in.


I cannot say that any of these will help your homesickness. And it’s something that won’t disappear overnight.

I was carrying it around with me even when I went back to Austria this year; I think I’m just one of those people who feel it really hard. But when the sadness seeped in this season, I was able to recognise it and try to do something about minimising the yucky despair that plunged me into mind-mist the first time around.

I still cried, but not nearly as much. I also had a total blast. So that’s sort of proof it works.

how to cope with homesickness

📷 By me                                                          😍


*Physical manifestations of homesickness can be constant or frequent crying, difficulty sleeping, and changes in appetite, to nausea, dizziness and headaches. If you are showing any of these signs as well please please please go see a doctor.

How to Cope with Homesickness

10-Minute Chat:​ Intelligence Officer

’10-Minute Chat’ is a series of interviews talking with extraordinary ‘normal’ people navigating interesting careers, living remarkable lives and following their passions.


10 minute chat intelligence officer

📷 www.pixabay.com

M is a dazzling young woman working in intelligence. Her job is to scrutinise and assist in the operational apprehension of individual crooks as well as international crime gangs.

She cut her investigative teeth within the police force for 3 years and is the closest person to a real-life spy that I’ll ever know about.

We met for coffee a few months ago to chat about her career so far and what working in British intelligence is like. Obviously, her name has been changed and she could only be vague with details for security reasons (so cool).

Initially, M didn’t even think about breaking into the world of intelligence and like most people, found herself Googling ‘interesting jobs’ in a bid to find work after finishing up at uni (she studied history).

*There’s a pause while she swallows a mouthful of teacake*

‘  It was my mum who saw a job with the police, and I thought this sounds really cool. I went for an interview, got that, smashed that, and then spent a few years there. 

M went in as an Intelligence Researcher for the police. But the opportunity to develop her career within this role was limited.  The next rung on that ladder was Intelligence Analyst – a highly covetable and often rare role within her industry, as the skills that are taught are so valuable. She decided that the only way she was going to move forward in her career was switching organisations.

M starts from the beginning and goes through what type of person you need to be to work in intelligence.

‘ You’ll have to look at lots of information and be able to pick out really key points about someone to determine what kind of person they are and why they might commit the types of crimes they commit. You need understand trends in their behaviour or in the pieces of data in front of you…You have to keep looking at small details as though they are going to be a clue to something bigger and thinking about details in two ways. It’s quite a skill and it’s taken me a long while to learn.

When I first started, I’d do a task, hand the results in, do another task, hand the results in and then do another task. People would say ‘But what does that tell you? What does it show you? What recommendations can you make from that?’ And I’d be like ‘Oh. I don’t know.’ So you have to train yourself to think ‘Why is this, this? 

intelligence officer

‘So is it like profiling?’ I asked, picturing the dozens of American crime shows I’ve binged on over the years.

No. That kind of training is only specifically for profilers. In my role, you can’t say for definite, anything about anyone but you can give recommendations to give other officers a steer on where to go. As an intelligence officer, you can give them [Editor’s note: as in people on the frontline of fighting crime] an idea on who someone is and the best way to go about preventing them from committing a crime.’

Surprisingly, M paints a picture of how heavily female-dominated the intelligence industry is. She gesticulates wildly, reckoning it’s because women are naturally inquisitive and have the inclination to want to find out everything about someone, like insta-stalking an ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend for example. [Editors note: 100% both sexes do this- maybe girls are more honest about it?]

‘ If you’re a snooper (like me) you’ll be absorbed looking in and at other people’s lives… I love looking into people’s lives. Being given one little bit of detail and then at the end of a day or two I’ve built up a whole picture of someone’s life. That’s really interesting.

In my old job in our office, it was probably 85% women. In my job now, it’s a much smaller office, there’s two men there and six or seven women. The same kind of percentage. ‘

On the reverse, the operational side of crime-fighting is predominantly male she said. I go for a well-trodden question, ‘What about sexism? Have you experienced it within this world?’

I haven’t come across any. Anyone who comes into my office doesn’t automatically go to the men to ask a question. They might do a bit more at the moment as the men that are there have been there longer and know more.

But I don’t think it’s a question of I’m not being asked because I’m a woman. If you’re used to working in a more female environment that intelligence kind of has, you wouldn’t think twice about going to a woman to ask a question. The issue is more your capability in helping the investigation or not. I’m sure there’s been some but I haven’t come across any. ‘

M quote 2

And as for role models in her industry M looks up to the head of her organisation.

‘ I’ve not met her personally but I’ve seen her talk. She’s really good at commanding a room and seeming like she really cares about what she’s doing. She’s passionate and she’s driven to implement the changes she’s put forward.

She’s a good talker. She comes across as confident. But not like a woman trying too hard to be taken seriously, she’s taken seriously because you respect her. She’s friendly and is approachable. That’s the kind of person I’d want to be if I was in a position of responsibility. ‘

M lights up talking me through her day to day tasks and that the changing nature of her work is always interesting. Her hands are animated again explaining that one minute she could be working on a sexual assault, the next it could be a burglary or drugs; she claims she rarely has a dull day with not much to do.

I work a standard 8-4, but due to the dynamic nature of the work, I am expected to be flexible.

I might go in at 8am and expect to be leaving at 4pm but then they need me and I’ll be staying until 2am the following morning.

You do get paid overtime for it which helps, as it can be pretty tiring at the end of the day, concentrating for long periods of time.

Your well being is monitored though so you don’t end up overdoing it. If you’re struggling they’ll tell you to stop or ask if are you ok to do an overnight and it’s fine if you’re not, you don’t have to. ‘

I enquire what a ‘good day’ and a ‘bad day’ looks like for her. She replies that they are actually one of the same – the worst days are the most exciting and leave her feeling fulfilled having helped defuse a potentially dangerous situation.  

It can get really hectic. You could have a firearms incident for example. It gets very high pressure. Potentially, you’re helping to save someone’s life which is going to have bad consequences if it goes wrong. Those kinds of days (which doesn’t happen very often) get intense and even though it’s not solely down to you, your effort does make a huge difference. That’s quite a full on day. ‘

‘And what about mistakes, have you made any?’ I pry, realising as soon as I’ve asked, that even if she had ballsed-up she wouldn’t tell me anyway. M is completely honest though.

M quote 3

Not any like big mistakes. I don’t really make that many mistakes! Haha. I obviously get little things wrong occasionally but I can’t think of anything I’ve done where I’ve thought oh my god, you shouldn’t have done that, that’s caused a problem.

The pressure and consequences of making a mistake are huge compared to your ‘normal office job’. You’re dealing with safety and people’s lives, you don’t want to have a big slip up because of the big consequences, it can be a little bit stressful.

Good to know the nation’s security is in safe hands.

And what if M wasn’t doing what she was doing. What if she could swap jobs with anyone in the world.

In the world?

In the world

I’d be a professional tennis player. I’d be Serena Williams. I’ve always really enjoyed tennis and I’d love to up my game and have the confidence that they have to do what they do. I don’t feel like I’d ever had that enough confidence to push myself to do something like that. ‘

I push for her to expand on what she means by not having enough confidence. As battling baddies, every day takes having a lot of confidence in your abilities from where I’m sitting.

Because if you’re going to be on the world stage you have to develop a really thick skin and ignore everyone making their comments and opinions about you all the time and I’d read all those awful comments that people say ‘Oh she’s not doing very well at the moment’ ‘Oh she’s looking a bit fat’ I wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning reading those. ‘

Shaking my fist here at you Daily Mail comments section.

From what she’s told me so far, it appears the love of her job is a massive motivator. This kind of priority shift is something that is more likely to be found within the millennial generation. I put this thought to her and she comes back with a conflicted answer that she wouldn’t completely sacrifice happiness for a job. However, she explains that if it came down to it between a job that she loved but didn’t pay very much and a job that was OK but paid more, she would pick the latter to feel more financially secure.

If I had a partner and wasn’t on my own, then maybe I would think differently as they would be there with a level of support. As a single woman living in Surrey, I feel like you have to make concessions. But perhaps for a lot of people, it’s not as important. ‘

My fascination with her job leads me to ask what the impact of doing what she does has her on her mental health. From my narrow perspective, being a civilian who is living in almost blissful ignorance is being exposed to the darker side of humanity a hard place to come back from every day for the people in M’s position.

‘ When I first started I was a little paranoid as you are exposed to a new world of crime – especially things like burglaries that are quite prevalent. But after a while, you become more realistic about it and it just kind of just went away. I think if you worked on something like child exploitation the chances of mental taxation would be far greater but you just have to make sure you look after your health.  

…You don’t really see anything too horrific too often. It definitely makes me feel more aware but in a way, it also makes me feel better.

M quote 4

Looking back at her younger self M talks about her first job at a local sports shop where crippling shyness almost got her fired. She’s regularly made comments in this interview about her lack of confidence but realises how far she’s actually come.  

I just couldn’t speak to any of the customers. I felt so out of my comfort zone. I had never been trained to speak to people on a professional level.

I wasn’t a blagger. Management then got me on the phone for a spell talking to customers and that helped massively. I suppose it’s kind of the same from when I started my police job. I’ve improved since then and I’ll go on to improve at this job. ‘

‘And if you could give your 18 year-old-self career advice now, what would you say to her?’ I ask.

Be more confident in interviews. In the police when interviewing people for jobs, I was amazed at how many people undersell themselves. So I would say be more ballsy to achieve what you want. I think being more assertive and confident is not a bad thing. If you think there’s a better way to do something then say it.  One of my problems is I’m too scared of confrontation to make myself noticed.  

I know myself quite well and I’m never going to be a top, top, top achiever. I just have too much anxiety think about things too much and worry about things too much that I could never lead something or get to the high positions of the women I’ve admired.’

But M says her confidence and anxiety is something she’s constantly working on. Her tips include giving herself regular pep talks, reminding herself that she is smart, capable and successful at a lot of things.

‘ … Plus my lavender oil helps a lot!  ’

You go girl.


Interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

10-Minute Chat:​ Intelligence Officer

Top of the Pods



best podcasts

Podcasts are multiplying like rabbits. Everywhere you turn another magazine, social influencer or man and his microphone are churning out a shiny new podcast every other day.

If you’re baffled by what a podcast is, it’s essentially a radio programme that you can download and playback whenever you fancy. Podcasts are savers of boredom when you have a long shitty commute, when you’re at work doing a less than thrilling task, going for a sweaty run or when you’re faced with a stack of life admin to plough through… zzzzzzzz

Just stick on a podcast.

‘B-bu-but what about music?!’ I hear you cry. Yeah, well obviously listen to music if you want to listen to music, however, podcasts bring forth another audio option to your life. That’s all. It’s like watching TV in your head in some cases.

And there are so many. Whatever your interest, you can absolutely guarantee there’ll be a podcast out there catering to whatever floats your boat. Just pop a quick search into Good Old Google and be on your merry way.

I tend to listen to them on my phone (but feel free to plug in on desktops or tablets) and currently using the ‘Podcast Addict’ app but am also hearing good things about the ‘Acast’ app too.


/ The High Low

the high low podcast

One of the first podcasts I got into was produced by The Sunday Times Style section. Presented by all-round superstar journalists Pandora Sykes and Dolly Alderton, their pleasing-to-say portmanteau ‘The PanDolly’ podcast was like listening to a couple of pals at Friday night drinks. This year they’ve struck out on their own with a new show ‘The High Low’ and carried over their wonderful blend of serious news topics, zeitgeisty themes, social commentary and along with plenty of personal anecdotes and heaps of laughs. Inspired by Vanity Fair’s editor Tina Brown’s perspective that life is best lived with a mix of highbrow and lowbrow culture (the podcast is poetically billed as ‘from the trivial to the political’); expect to hear Pandora and Dolly’s thoughts on the latest books they’re reading, what low or highbrow thing they’ve done that week, discussions on world news / Kendal Jenner’s Snapchat / work / politics / memes and answering phenomenal listener questions. They’ve also recently added a new segment into the mix where once a month an author is brought in for an interview, which so far (Renie Eddo-Lodge, Elizabeth Day, Rosie Wilby – just the three at this point) has been an absolutely cracking addition.

Safe to say I’m a HA-UUUGGE fan of the show and both of them as individuals. I feel like we could be friends. There. I’ve once again publicly outed myself as a soppy sycophant for this wonderful double act.


Episode: A Deep-Dive Into The Fall Of Hollywood’s Ultimate Sex Predator, Harvey Weinstein

Episode: Theresa May in Vogue and the Role of Fashion in Politics


/ No  Such Thing as A Fish

no such thing as a fish podcast

The researcher elves from the hit BBC show QI crowd round a microphone to share an interesting fact they’ve learned that week. Each fact is as weird and wonderful as the one before it. Everything under the sun is talked about from science to the arts, bugs, fascinating people, words, unique places, unbelievable true events and other gems of quirky pub-fodder trivia. This podcast is perfect for general knowledge nerds who like information served with a side of clever humour. Caution whilst listening at work: brace for the sniggers, as jokes here come thick, fast and funny so the risk of snort-laughing out loud to your open plan office is exceptionally high.


Episode: No Such Thing As Stare-Boxing

Episode: No Such Thing As Constantly Awake Beauty 


/ Ctrl, Alt, Dlt

ctrl alt delete podcast

If ever there was a podcast-Olympics for featuring cool, bright people, who are doing interesting things with their lives, then Emma Gannon’s Ctrl Alt Dlt would be wearing the equivalent to Michael Phelps’s crown. Emma has interviewed Michelle Kennedy, Sali Hughes, Grace Victory, Seth Godwin, Tanya Burr, Otegha Uwagba, Anna Whitehouse a.k.a Mother Pukka, I could go on but I’d list about another 90 odd names. Emma’s nosey-nature questions guests about their work, life, money, the struggles of making things successful and keeping pace with the ever-changing digital landscape. It’s inspirational as hell listening to how these guys have taken risks, found inner grit, determination and battled against the odds. This podcast offers up a lot of real-life insights as well into the entrepreneurial world so if you’re that way inclined, give this one a whirl.


Episode: #58 Sophie Kinsella

Episode: #40 Laura Bates  ⬅️  should be compulsory listening for everyone


/ The Debrief Podcast

the debrief podcast

First off I’m going to point out how glorious Stevie & Tessa’s voices are. Stevie regularly slips into hilarious comedy accents and Tessa has a slightly clipped tone which lends itself perfectly to the funny arcs of conversation on the show each week. They’re both just lovely to listen to. The Debrief podcast follows a ‘How to’ theme, where the duo talk through useful, sensible, grown-up life stuff but with heaps of silly humour injected into the dialogue. They have covered How To Be A Morning Person, How To Kick-Ass At Work, How To Do Things That Scare You; basically they’re shedding light on some simple but life-improving nuggets through research, qualified expert advice and personal tips they’ve deposited into their own Bank of Adulting.


Episode: Domestic hacks so you never have to ‘get a man in’ 

Episode: How to look after the environment  ⬅️  A total eye-opener. EVERYONE LISTEN AND STOP USING PLASTIC STRAWS IMMEDIATELY


/ Lore

lore podcast

Following a fascination with all things horror, I stumbled on the Lore podcast and have been indulging my compulsion for something a bit creepy ever since. Adam Mahnke delivers twisted dark stories based on local legends, forgotten myths, old wives tales and original fairy-fables before the coating of child-friendly gloss was slapped on. Adam’s flat narrating voice and accompanying atmospheric music creates a weirdly unsettling, yet alluring combination which rips you from the bright warmth of reality to the most disturbing corners of folklore.





/ 4pm at Fashionista

4pm at fashionista

Hello, my name is Emma and I’m addicted to fashion.

Although you’d hardly guess from my uniform of scruffy hair, one-size-too-big fraying TopShop jeans and T-shirts older than most YouTube stars.

Go ahead and raise those eyebrows, but I’m utterly in love with the business, industry and artistry that’s at its core.

Although I work in travel, I’ve devoured the fashion news/trade sites every damn day for years and Fashionista.com is one of my faves. Their podcast (although sometimes posted sporadically)  is an unfiltered version of the smart sartorial pieces and opinions that are voiced on the site. They’ve talked about the recent game of designer musical chairs which left the fashion world chasing its tail, the Rei Kawakubo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art – with accompanying Met Gala and the outrage that it left behind – and have covered in depth the desert thirst from insta-influencers and brands milking the authenticity out of cultural events like Coachella. If fashion is your passion (yeah I went there), then do yourself a favour and hit subscribe.


Episode: Jumping Off the Chanel Cliff

Episode: Career Week Edition, or, How We’re (Barely) Making It in Fashion


/ Stuff Mom Never Told You

stuff mom never told you podcast

I could listen to original hosts Cristen & Caroline talk for hours. Their intelligence is cut with the sharpest of wit as they dissect painstakingly researched topics relating to things like race, feminism, stereotyping, history, relationships, pop-culture, modern anthropology and subjects that make you go ‘Hmm, yes. Why is that like this?’. Plus they’re another duo with the most enchanting sounding voices. After a few months break,  Stuff Mom Never Told You has had a revamp complete with a new set of presenters (😊), Bridget and Emilie who are continuing to pay homage to the show’s essence. It’s still excellent but has a slightly different feel. I suggest delving into the back-catalogue first before listening to more recent episodes.


Episode: When America sterilized women of color

Episode: Why do women wear diamond engagement rings?The phrase ‘Betrothal Tag’ is how I’m going to refer to bridal bling from now on


/ Desert Island Discs

desert island discs radio 4 podcasts

The granddaddy of all podcasts in my humble opinion. The premise is a notable figure being sent away to a hypothetical desert island, and can only bring along eight treasured tracks to keep them company. Writers, designers, actors, poets, doctors, entrepreneurs, singers, comedians, artists, politicians and celebrities have their lives unfurled before them, vulnerable and raw.

Currently steered by Kirsty Young, her steadily calm and direct questioning is enough to gently thaw out the coldest of guests. They discuss career failures and triumphs, love and heartbreak, family and friends, personal demons and future dreams all in the context of their eight favourite pieces of music (or sounds in some rare cases). The Desert Island Discs archives stretch back 70 years – a whole lifetime’s worth of listening to work through.


Episode: David Nott, vascular and war surgeonMoved me to snotty tears

Episode: Kylie Minogue, popstar – One of her discs is her now ex-beau Joshua Sasse reading out the sweetly-sexy poem As I look Up by Dominic Sasse


BONUS   –     / Alice Isn’t Dead 

Alice isn't dead

Since writing the above eight I’ve fallen down a new podcast rabbit-hole.

Just a few episodes in has me hooked and frantically downloading the next, and then the next, and then the next part of this story.  Alice Isn’t Dead is a fictional tale following the narrative of a female trucker who is searching America’s heartlands for her wife she once presumed dead – all told through her rig radio. It’s gorgeously creepy, paints a compelling atmospheric story and has the same sinister undercurrents of a Stephen King novel. It certainly begs the question, who the fuck is Alice?

Categorically, 100% do not listen to this podcast alone, at night or both. Even listening in the bright lights of a busy office, a serious case of the heebie-jeebies gets the best of me.





These are also on my roster –

Badass Women’s Hour, (the actual BBC R4) Women’s Hour, The Guilty Feminist (OBSESSED- got carried away with a word-blurb so thought it safer to include here), Criminal, Reveal, Sword & Scale, Deliciously Stella, This American Life, Serial , RISK!, The Moth, Mother Pukka, Get It Off Your Breasts, My Dad Wrote A Porno

Let me know if you have any must-listen podcasts 🎧

Top of the Pods