Last night, in a basement in central London, four exceptionally talented women shared a stage to talk about how they’ve changed the world. While they all were all reluctant to say they actually had (oh, how women are so good at self-deprecation), in their own and different ways they were making a huge difference, in their lives and others.
The #DifferenceMaker event, in partnership with Clinique, was hosted by The Pool’s very own Lauren Laverne. Joining Lauren was double Olympic champion Victoria Pendleton, journalist and author Bryony Gordon, activist and YA bestseller Juno Dawson and poet Hollie McNish. And, despite being very different women, with very different achievements, a common theme quickly emerged: courage.
“I love the word, so I’m just going to keep saying it. Courage. Courage. Courage!” said Victoria Pendleton, when talking about her decision to start training to be a jockey. “My trainer said he’d never met anyone with such balls. I think he meant courage.” The courage of all the panelists was inspiring, from Bryony Gordon's decision “to make a song and dance out of having depression” via her column, her new book, Mad Girl, and her walking club, Mental Health Mates, to Juno Dawson’s decision to transition and live as a woman, and Hollie McNish eventually summoning enough courage, after years, to enter a poetry cafe and read out loud a poem for the very first time.
And they all wanted their courage to inspire others. Hollie McNish’s collection, Nobody Told Me, chronicles the hardships and highs of being a new mum. Speaking to Lauren, Hollie said how she’d been watching mums push buggies on their own in the park before the event. “I wish I had a T-shirt that said, ‘On your own with the baby today? Come and talk to me.’” Juno’s many books, fiction and non-fiction, aim to help young people deal with navigating life. She told the room, “We are all transitioning, in our own ways”, and Bryony pointed out that one in four of us will experience mental-health problems. So where does all this courage come from? “Everyone has courage,” said Victoria. “In a way, I think it’s something you trip over. People just need to tap into it.”
There were tears, wine, Clinique goody bags, canapés and a lot of home truths. At least two of the panellists picked a man up in a STI clinic and there was a surprising confession from Bryony: her baby was conceived, partly, thanks to Victoria: “I was covering you when you won gold at the Olympics and I went home and was so excited by the whole thing we had sex.”
The questions from the audience were decidedly topical: one reader wished Hollie’s poem, Mathematics, about immigration, had been used by the Remain campaign; another asked the panel what advice they’d give Theresa May. Alongside courage, the other character trait the difference makers most definitely had was a strong opinion.
Humble, funny, brave and inspiring, the panel proved just how much difference women can make when they trip over their courage or finally summon the courage to enter a poetry cafe. And they demonstrated how their work is so essential: Juno, a vital role model for a new generation; Bryony, a beacon for those suffering with mental health; Hollie, an honest friend to new mums; and Victoria, a modern-day superhero, who believes we’re all superheroes, too. “I’m a warrior, not a worrier,” she told the room. And, after an evening with those women, there’s no reason why that can’t be true of all of us.
All pictures by Gavin Day
For more from our Difference Makers, buy their books here: