- 07 Apr 21
Not content with being a radio and TV A-Lister, Laura Whitmore has now added ‘author’ to her list of achievements. Heroes, zeroes, social media, press intrusion, imposter syndrome, celebrity hobnobbing and impending motherhood are all discussed as she talks to Stuart Clark.
MTV Europe VJ, Survival Of The Fittest and Love Island presenter, Celebrity Juice team captain, Eurovision Song Contest co-commentator, Strictly Come Dancing contestant, and BBC Radio Five Live Saturday morning pilot of the airwaves.
Those are some of the things that Laura Whitmore didn’t expect to become when she was growing up in 1990s Bray.
Another is the author of No One Can Change Your Life Except For You: How To Be The Hero Of Your Own Life, the 35-year-old’s first book, which is equal parts memoir, reflection on celebrity and self-help manual.
If that sounds like an exercise in inflating one’s self-worth, it’s not. Laura is quick to point out the imperfections in her life, and the advice is dispensed in a pal-sy way that never strays into preaching.
In case you’re wondering, yes, the title is lifted from the Wilson Phillips song, ‘Hold On’, which she chain-listened to as a kid and, no, the lightning bolt on the cover isn’t a nod to David Bowie – although Laura’s rather chuffed about its unwitting resemblance to his Alladin Sane warpaint.
Along with the aforementioned Carnie and Wendy Wilson and Chynna Phillips, the young Loreto Secondary School-attending Ms. Whitmore derived inspiration from Dolores O’Riordan, Alanis Morissette, Stevie Nicks, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, her “fiercely independent” mum Carmel, Snickers-loving nanny May and “feminist father” Sean, who separated from Carmel when Laura was three but remained close by.
“I wanted to start the book by talking about the women in my life and how my mum has devoted a good part of hers to giving me the opportunities that she didn’t have growing up,” Laura reflects. “Mum has always said to me, ‘If you’re given a platform use it for good’, which is something I try to live by although everybody has their fuck-ups. I talk about my Dad as well, because he’s a huge role model and has this feisty daughter who said, ‘I know you want me to study business but I’m off to London now, bye-bye!’
“I keep being asked whether it’s a memoir or an autobiography and I’m like, ‘Neither really, although, yeah, there are anecdotes about my life.’ It’s not just for females. There are little bits in the book which are, ‘Attention men reading this; here’s a little something I want to say to ya!’”
I challenge any of you gentlemen out there to read the bit on Mansplaining and at the end say, “I’ve never done that.” There will soon be a new addition to the Whitmore clan, with Laura due to give birth any day now to a baby girl. Which you’ll know all about if you read the tabloids. Sharing nappy-changing duties will be, her writer, comedian and Twitch streamer husband, Iain Stirling.
“I really enjoyed the first six months of the pregnancy before it became obvious,” she tells me. “We saw what happened last month with Natalie Portman. They posted a picture of her because she might be pregnant – which she wasn’t. Emma Stone was followed around because she hadn’t announced her pregnancy. Why does she need to announce it?”
Caleb Followill told Hot Press that the Kings Of Leon came off the road a few years ago and said, “Okay, let’s make babies!” Asked whether her happy event was similarly planned, Laura laughs and says, “No, it just kind of happened. It was probably spending more time at home during lockdown! I wrote the book before knowing I was pregnant and now I’ve got it being published and the kid arriving the same month. So that’s how good my planning was!”
AN INVASION OF PRIVACY
While hoping that it fucks right off with itself as quickly as possible, Laura has experienced an upside to being pregnant during a pandemic.
“My doctor said to me, ‘A lot of women find it hard because people want to touch your bump, but they can’t during Covid,’” she smiles. “I’ve been doing my radio show from home and Iain’s stand-up tour was postponed, so he’s been at home during the evenings, which is nice.”
Has she been missing the odd glass of something cheeky?
“Not really, no, I drank enough for everybody during the first lockdown. I was saying to someone the other day, ‘When you’re a kid you believe in Santa Claus and babies coming from tummies. As you get older, you’re like, ‘How ridiculous that I believed in Santa’ – but having a baby is something that remains a mystery until you go through it yourself’. It was only when you could see the bump that reality set in for me. People definitely treat you differently when you’re pregnant. I’ve worked on a few shoots where they were worried I was going to fall over at any time. I had to reassure everybody that, ‘No, I’ve been like this for a few months now and I’m fine’.”
Laura was thrilled last year to be invited on to the Late Late Show, but less delighted with how her allotted ten minutes kicked off.
“I love the Late Late, it’s iconic,” she resumes. “They really bring the country together with things like The Toy Show, but when I was on it for the first time as a guest I got asked about pictures of me at The Brit Awards. ‘Uh, apparently you were showing side-boob’. I’m from Bray, I’ve got this really cool job, I’m working my ass off and that’s the first question? Or the picture of Niall Horan at my house. Why is that the narrative? I’m very aware that at the time I just shrugged it off, but that’s the type of questioning you get as a female in the industry.”
Being asked sexualised questions clearly contributed to the mental health difficulties Britney Spears experienced.
“I found the Framing Britney Spears documentary really uncomfortable, but also compelling,” Laura reflects. “I remember her being asked those questions in interviews, usually by older men. She was just a kid at the time.”
As with the Amy Winehouse documentary before it, Framing Britney Spears left me thinking, ‘Why the fuck didn’t anyone look after her properly?’
“I remember seeing Amy around the place everywhere when I was living in Camden,” Laura recalls. “Well, you’d see the swarm of photographers and her somewhere inside it. You could look at those pictures and think, ‘Oh, a woman with bloodied shoes falling around the place’ or you could see an amazingly talented but sensitive woman trying to go about her day with all these men around’. People now are saying, ‘Britney Spears is a multi-millionaire – even though she doesn’t have access to her money – she’s doing what she loves. If you want this, you have to put up with that’. No, you shouldn’t have to put up with that shit.”
Niall Breslin told us that Laura and the rest of the London Murphia used to check in with Niall Horan during the height of the One Direction craziness to see if he was okay – which he sometimes wasn’t.
“Niall’s a lovely fella and a massive Eagles fan,” she says. “Never assume you know what’s going on in someone else’s head. I don’t know what’s going on in my own head half the time! Some of these big stars believe the hype, but others really don’t. One of the things I talk about in the book is imposter syndrome. You’ve musicians and actors projecting this confident persona who are really unsure of themselves and find fame difficult.”
Laura has also had to contend with paparazzi parked outside her home, one of whom did not like it when she returned the compliment by taking a photo of him and sticking it on Twitter.
“No, he didn’t,” she says. “Iain was like, ‘Don’t start!’ but I wanted to take control back. I spotted this guy but normally you don’t know they’re there until a photo appears in the paper. People say, ‘You’ve asked for this’ and I’m like, ‘If I’m at an event or walking the red carpet, fine. But this is me going to the corner shop, putting the bins out and going for a walk while I’m pregnant during lockdown’. You don’t want to be followed and, besides that, where I live is residential and it’s embarrassing. My neighbour is a teacher, you know what I mean? It’s an invasion of privacy – and the law has to be changed.”
With our chat taking place just a few days before her anniversary, Laura’s people have requested that out of respect to her friend’s family we don’t ask any questions about Caroline Flack. Which is entirely reasonable. She does reflect on Flack’s passing in the book, though.
“When Caroline took her own life, I remember thinking back over what she’d had to put up with,” Laura writes. “All the comments I had seen online, and savage headlines sprawled across the papers. Caroline always seemed like nothing bothered her. She was feisty and strong-willed. I had been jealous that she was able to not let it all get to her, whereas I knew in a similar situation I would have crumbled. But it did get to her.”
I’VE TURNED DOWN A LOT OF WORK
No One Can Change Your Life Except For You reveals that Laura nearly had a murky girl band past. Does recorded evidence exist?
“God, I hope not,” she winces. “Speaking of the Late Late Show, when I was 18 I took part in a modelling competition they had on it. I didn’t win but I got taken on by the agency. I got told off during a Vodafone shoot for talking too much! They sent me off for this acting job, which I didn’t realise until I got there was actually the Dublin audition for this girl band that Channel 4 or E4 were putting together. I can’t remember what they were called but they supported Girls Aloud on tour. It was the night after the DCU Grad Ball, so I was very hung-over and not in any fit state to sing. Well, I’m never in any fit state to sing. I’m awful. Somehow I managed to make the final eight, but not the final four, which was a lucky escape for everybody.”
Laura’s never infiltrated the top 10, but she knows lots of people who have…
“One of my best friends from home is Laura Cowley whose little sister Karen is in Wyvern Lingo. Obviously Karen is doing her own thing now, but she did that duet with Hozier on his first album. I knew about Andrew through her and his manager, Caroline, who’s a very good friend of mine. Dara Ó Briain’s from there too, so we’ve got our own Bray Murphia going on!”
Laura is very honest in the book about the sex – or lack thereof – she’s had at various points in her life, the takeout being that unlike squash, golf or five-a-side it’s not a competitive sport that you have to do more often or be better at than your mates.
“I tried to be as honest as I could because this is one of the few occasions where I get to control the narrative. What I think and why I’m saying it is there now in black and white. If things get misconstrued in the future, there’s a record.”
Pages 213-15 of No One Can Change Your Life Except For You… feature a potted 1916 and all that Irish history guide for the hard of learning Brexit brigade, plus the final word on that interview.
“I have had a huge backlash for talking to a British Army soldier – a twenty-three-year-old female who I admire – about working in a male-dominated sphere,” she writes. “I have friends who are doctors and nurses in the army, but that doesn’t mean I accept the atrocities the British Army has inflicted on many countries in the past.”
Today, she notes: “It’s very easy as an Irish person to come over here and say, ‘You stupid English people’. There is that mentality sometimes. One of my good friends was like, ‘So, is your baby going to have an English accent?’ I’m hoping my child isn’t going to be judged by their accent.”
It wasn’t the first time Laura was accused of colluding with the enemy.
“I covered the Eurovision for the BBC with Terry Wogan and Graham Norton and got a lot of abuse for it,” she explains. “Messages like: ‘You’re not Irish anymore’. I was like, ‘I’m employed by the BBC not RTÉ!’ There are lots of things worth getting upset about in life, but not the Eurovision!”
In the section titled I Don’t Fit Into Your Box, Laura hits the CAPS lock to declare: “Can you be on the cover of FHM and speak and write about feminism? YES YOU FUCKING CAN.” I’d have gone for some additional !!!!!!!s at the end of the sentence but it’s a point well made in the book.
When staring out of FHM or any other magazine cover, does Laura have an airbrushing policy?
“I remember doing a campaign and saying, ‘Lads, it’s a lovely face… but it’s not my face. Can you put mine back, please?” she reveals. “I haven’t asked for airbrushing or anything like that. Young people have these Apps to fix photos, which is kind of scary. I feel really lucky that when I started out social media wasn’t the massive thing it is now. I kind of got into my groove before people could judge me on Twitter.”
Beyoncé has been criticised for promoting unrealistic beauty standards – rarely has someone looked so pristine under those lights – by vetting her live concert photos.
“It’s not Beyoncé’s job to raise other people’s children,” Laura disagrees. “It’s my job to teach them about what you see being real or not. She’s a brilliant musician and activist but she’s also a person. She can issue what she wants. There’s an element of consent and control to that, which is fine because a lot of women in the industry don’t get consent over the pictures that are taken of them. So I wouldn’t knock Beyoncé for that at all.”
Asked what she thinks of Kim and Khloe Kardashian promoting QuickTrim Diet Pills, Laura shoots back: “I wasn’t impressed by that. Those dieting tablets are horrific and shouldn’t be sold. Every job I’ve done I’ll stand by because I’ve done it for a reason. I’ve turned down a lot of work with brands – sometimes for a lot of money – because it didn’t feel right for me. I’ve had clothing brands come up to me and say, ‘Oh, we’d love you to do a collection’ and I’ll go, ‘Can you send me the sustainability process, the factory you use…’ They’ll be like, ‘Here’s double the offer’, but I’m thinking, ‘But you haven’t replied to this. Damn, I wish I could do that but I can’t’. I have an audience my age but because of shows like Love Island I also have a younger audience that I have to be aware of.”
THAT’S WHAT FEMINISM IS
That younger audience hasn’t stopped Laura treating her 1.8 million social media followers to her thoughts on everything from fur sale bans and the extinction crisis to female empowerment and Repealing the Eighth.
“I still get horrific messages from that,” she winces. “I’ll stick up photos of me interviewing somebody, which are fun and glitzy and then draw attention to a petition or an issue like Repeal. A lot of people in the UK were oblivious to the fact that abortion was still illegal in Ireland. My mum reminds me all the time of how privileged I am to have this platform.”
Facebook recently appointed a ‘Supreme Court’ oversight board, which will have the power to overrule Mark Zuckerberg on matters relating to the platform’s content. Does that go far enough or should they be considered publishers and therefore subject to the same defamation laws as print media?
“There needs to be stricter rules in relation to anonymous comments – if you leave one, your name needs to be up there – and trolling,” she proffers. “Why are websites allowed to carry pictures of me from a few years ago being upskirted? I said nothing at the time because I didn’t want to draw people’s attention to them, but it was horrible. The tabloids get away with stuff that’s just as bad. I didn’t announce our engagement or wedding last year because it was private but someone got hold of our marriage certificate, which even I don’t have. I don’t understand how somebody who’s studied journalism and media law can think that’s okay.”
While there’s a fair bit of giving the bastards both barrels in the book, there are also lots of A-Lister tales to make you feel jealous.
“I‘ve ended up in some mad situations like P. Diddy cracking open a bottle of champagne and pouring me a glass before anyone else,” she reminisces fondly. “I was there with all the MTV crew thinking, ‘How did a girl on the Loretto Convent debating team end up in this ridiculous situation?’ Talk about imposter syndrome. Then there’s been all the travel. My first MTV job was in LA, which I’d never been to before. I got to do two months in Australia for I’m A Celebrity; was in Johannesburg for Survival Of The Fittest and then went to Cape Clear last year for Love Island. I’ve been totally blessed.”
She’s also been loving every minute of her Saturday morning show on BBC Radio 5, which has allowed Laura to systematically work her way through all the people she’s ever wanted to interview.
“The child and teenager in me will be forever grateful,” she laughs. “One of the first people I got to talk to was Alanis Morissette, who’s an absolute hero of mine. She talked about Jagged Little Pill and how in the ‘90s people saw her as this woman who was angry all the time. She went: ‘I wrote some angry songs about certain things but it doesn’t make me angry every time I sing them!’ I thought that was interesting insight. I also get to play and talk to new artists like Malaki who grew up in Dublin listening on one hand to Nas and on the other to Van Morrison. I love how you can’t define what an Irish singer or songwriter is anymore, it’s got so broad.”
Expect plenty more of where that came from with the likes of Denise Chaila, Offica and Tolu Makay also on the Whitmore radar. As fabulous as hanging with Diddy and Alanis were, Laura’s hands-down all-time favourite interviewee comes from closer to home.
“I’ve never been more nervous than I was interviewing Mary Robinson,” she admits. “When I was eight or nine in school I did a whole project about her and my mum said, ‘Will I send it over to you?’ I was like, ‘No, I’m not showing her!’ Somebody asked me for an International Women’s Day thing recently, ‘Can you pick a word often used in relation to the female gender that’s derogatory?’ and I said ‘emotional’ because I remember Mary crying on the news when she was talking about her trip to Somalia. It was spun as, ‘You’re too sensitive to grow a thick skin’ but it shows that you’ve got empathy. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed and cry. The idea of a woman who’s as strong as Mary Robinson not being afraid to show her emotions inspired me then and still does now.”
What was Laura bursting to ask her?
“I ask everyone who comes on to the show what their favourite song lyric is and she went with Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A Changin’’ – of course she, did, she’s so cool! She talked about taking her husband’s name when she got married and people saying, ‘How can you be a feminist and do that?’ I get it too: ‘Why did you pose in your underwear for a fashion shoot when you’re a feminist?’ Because it was my choice! That’s what feminism is. If you take your husband’s name, it’s your choice. We need to get rid of the old view that to be a feminist you have to not wear a bra and hate men.”
• No One Can Change Your Life Except For You by Laura Whitmore is published by Orion Spring in hardback, available to buy from Irish bookshops online.