I've never had a head for politics. Sure I have a view like most people, though as a rule I generally keep my opinions to myself. However, I am happy to speak up for equality and equity; that everyone be treated as an equal with fairness and impartiality by everyone else, regardless of race, colour, status or sexual orientation. We still have a long way to go before this truly becomes a reality, but it seems universally agreed that our pathway towards this utopia is through educating people to overcome their fears, doubts, misunderstandings and peer pressure. A daunting task indeed. Most of us often have to rely on film and television to lead the way, but they don't always get it right.
This was weighing heavily on my mind recently, as I took a tube to the costume fitting for my role in a new British television commercial. I was to play a transgender lady in a mainstream awareness campaign about to be launched by the Alzheimer's Society. Having played trans, female and drag in film and television before, I was confident of my experience but wary of how I would be asked to represent the trans community. Would they be expecting me to play female or pantomime drag? Stepping from Goodge Street station into the bright sunlight of Tottenham Court Road, my only certainty was that the commercial's director would be BAFTA winner and Academy Award nominee Daniel Barber. You may know his vengeful thriller Harry Brown starring Michael Caine. I was at least confident he would listen to my point of view.
Television commercials have featured trans ladies before, but often as the butt of jokes. It's all too easy for uneducated or unscrupulous writers to blur the rather wide line between transgenderism and drag for a cheap laugh. The now infamous Paddy Power ad, which asked us to question "reality" at the Cheltenham Races Ladies Day was pulled by the Advertising Standards Authority for being offensive. A New Zealand tampon company and IKEA have also been taken to task. Though we were all emotionally moved by the 2016 Danish electronics commercial, where the gruff looking father shows his understanding by buying his trans daughter hair straighteners for Christmas. We love you, Denmark!
Mr Barber very quickly put my mind at ease, explaining that this was to be a serious commercial featuring real people. We love you too, Alzheimer's Society! Arriving on set in West London for filming, people were very lovely and careful in how they addressed me at first, a little unsure whether I was straight, gay or trans, despite my jeans and sweatshirt. Of course, I didn't mind what they thought and things soon relaxed. The marvellously talented makeup and costume crew were very keen to discuss the male and female transgender world and I was happy to speak about my friends and experiences. As I finished my first day on set, I was introduced to Kathryn Quinton, head of marketing for the society. I had an opportunity to explain how honoured I was to be representing the trans community in such a forward-thinking concept. Kathryn confirmed that terrible diseases such as Alzheimer's and dementia do not distinguish between race, colour, status or sexual orientation and that the campaign was intended to remind people of this. Wrapping the following evening, the society's marketing executive Nick Mullinar was able to reiterate.
I won't tell you what happens in the ad, I want it to be a surprise. I can say it launches in the UK very soon. There's an old showbiz saying: "It doesn't matter what they say, as long as they're talking about you". I'm not sure I agree with this, but I know people will talk and not all of it will be positive. You may remember not long ago, the puritan Christian group One Million Moms famously kicked up an ill-educated fuss when they mistook female Muay Thai boxing champion Fatima Pinto as trans in a television advertisement for H&M. I've told the Alzheimer's Society that I'm full of admiration for their pushing the envelope. And I've told my agent to be ready for a million or so deranged letters… or hopefully less, if we've helped a few more people find the path to utopia.