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Hayward Gallery


What three words would you use to describe what troubled you during your adolescence?

Performance, standards, and comparison.

When you were younger was there ever a point where you looked forward to school?


Yeah, school wasn't hell. I looked forward to friends, I looked forward to English, I looked forward to showing off...


What do you mean?


I used to be an athlete. I mean … I was the best. (Chuckles) I'm not going to deny that. I got all the acclaim for my physical abilities - I think I was really put on a pedestal. Being in a primarily black environment, being able to run gave me a lot of clout. I was part of the gifted and talented group, like, I did well. So yeah, it benefitted me and I could take pride and joy from that part of school. 


It sounds like you were quite popular.


No, I wasn't popular.


Were you liked?


Fairly. I would never say I was “popular” though. I was only popular with the shy people who wouldn't have been approached by others. But by the popular kids: no. I remember being the best athlete in P.E. and still being picked last by them. I think by the end of school, I was liked by who I wanted to be liked by - but that took a lot of time. It was easier to make friends outside of school, because I think there's this massive web in school that you get caught between. Everyone has this connection and that connection.


What does the word "standards" mean to you?


It's living up to everyone's expectations, and trying to impress everyone. The different standards that my family, school and I had for myself affected the way I acted. Judgement moulded me, and even though I was being myself, I was bent in a way that served other people as well.


Would you say there was more pressure from your family than most other people would have from theirs?


Yep. Yep...


Did your parents pressure you to change your personality as well as how successful you were?


This is cry territory by the way. I would say so, yeah. The expectations that were projected onto me required me to lose part of who I am. I always felt that in different places I was a different person because at home, I had to reach the standards my parents had for me. I had to live up to them - rather than be relaxed and comfortable in myself. In that sense, I felt very torn between spaces. Having to perform to them in one instance, and act differently in another.


When did you feel most torn?


Between 15 and 17. Funnily enough that's when I had my first boyfriend. It was long-distance, and I needed it because it was so safe and boring. It was protective and an escape.


So the long-distance was like a safety-net?


Yep. Because I could call him at any point and he had no idea what was going on in my actual day-to-day experience. He only knew what I was telling him. It's just always having someone on your side - which I didn't feel like I had in my day-to-day. When I boil it down, I think I always used guys to my benefit. Regardless of my actual relationship with them, I needed them at some point and they were accessible. I was attractive, and it was comforting to know that you're in complete control and that they're not going to abandon you because they've never had someone like you before. There was a power imbalance because they were less attractive. I thought that I could manipulate men to my own needs I guess. I've always viewed people as necessary for whatever time they serve in your life. But it was because I was so sad at school and at home, that I needed a backup.


People can be so expendable when you're finding out who you are.


There's this constant shift when you're changing and everyone around you is changing - there isn't going to be consistency in people.


At this point in the interview we stopped the recording and chatted. We agreed that although we'd discussed enough to make a decent publication, our discussion so far had been a bit superficial. I felt like I hadn't done this person justice up to this point. We agreed to continue the recording and finish the interview in a much more honest and intense way.


What was the worst day of your life as a teenager?


Umm... I don't know. I don't think I could pinpoint that because I see my life as seasons which all sort of blurred into one. I feel like there would be days when I wouldn't want to be alive, but that was probably quite consistent with that time. Of course things have upset me, but I feel like it's never boiled down to one day. 


Perhaps I could rephrase it slightly. What's a day or timespan that you would want everyone on the planet to experience how you were feeling, but also wouldn't wish on your worst enemy?


Oh God, I have a day. Yeah. Yeah. I have a day. 


I told you that I did athletics. This was around when I was 17, and I'd won the 100m that day. I left the track; everything was great. I was with the team - most of which consisted of guys. And one of them I would flirt with. We got back to the station near my house. We were talking, and he missed 3 trains because of it. He said "Come to this park where I write in my purple book." I got on a train with him then we walked to the park, and went to a bench. I'm... pretty sure I was assaulted. I used to have to get the train that went past the station he left me at, everyday to get to college after that. It took me so long to not feel... something. To not feel pain; to not feel fear; to not feel anxiety when I would look out the window as the train went by. It just took me back to the moment of being left there, abandoned there. Feeling horrible. Thinking something so much better would come from that interaction. Having so much trust. I think that trust was broken that day. It changed my perspective on everything, but it took me a while to realise what had happened. 


To what extent do you think you've healed from that now?


I'm sad talking about it - but significantly. I cut him off, but 6 months later after that had happened, he supposedly revealed a video of me to people in school. This was a rumour, I never saw the video. It was so weird, he was in my class up until I was 18. But... I still liked him. Part of me still liked him. I hated him, but part of me was drawn to his charisma. I couldn't deny it, regardless of what had happened. Some point last year I heard that he was trying to contact me. I said no. I thought: ‘It's been years. You have no influence on my life. I'm not going to let you have any influence on my life.’ He was crawling back, begging me to let him into my life so that he could have an ounce more of power and control, because he had it back then. And from that day I've felt such a release - he couldn't hurt me anymore, there was no element of control. Then I stopped having graphic visions. I mourn my younger self for being so trusting. And I feel sad for her because she was so intrigued by people who were detrimental. But she's gone.


Finally, what would be the soundtrack to your childhood?

 

Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now - The Smiths


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