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Saturday, 17 November 2018
NEWSREADER Cathy Newman says political discourse has been eroded by social media.
Speaking on the final day of this year’s Henley Literary Festival, the Channel 4 News presenter told a packed Kenton Theatre about her own experiences of online abuse.
Newman, 44, was targeted by supporters of Jordan Peterson following a heated interview with the professor of psychology in January.
She received attacks and threats online, prompting Prof Peterson himself to intervene and call for an end to the abuse.
But Newman said that such attacks were becoming increasingly common among politicians and public figures, especially women.
She said: “When you are a female MP it’s so easy to get trolled. Death threats are as easy as the press of a button. Political discourse has been eroded by social media.
“I don’t look at a lot of it, I think you get used to it and develop a rhino hide. There comes a point where you can’t be bothered to put up with it.
“After the interview with Jordan Peterson his followers piled in. There were threats to behead me and my home address was put out online. I felt like I was being publicly eviscerated.
“I refused to get off Twitter. It feels like an attempt to silence women and I refused to let it derail me.”
Newman said she had taught her two daughters not to be scared to use social media but to keep some things private.
She was being interviewed by former Olympic rowing champion Dame Katherine Grainger about her first book, Bloody Brilliant Women, which documents dozens of remarkable women from the last 100 years in Britain.
They include engineer and motorbike racer Beatrice Shilling, IVF pioneer Anne McLaren and Dorothy Lawrence, a journalist who dressed as a male soldier to document the First World War from the front line.
Newman said she was inspired to write the book after realising how underrepresented women are in other history books.
She said: “I got to page 50 of this big tome and realised that the only women who had popped up were the Queen and Mother Teresa.
“Having decided there was not a lot of women in history books and wanting to fix that, I decided I’d peg it from 1918, when women got the vote, to the present day.”
The title was inspired by Conservative politician Ken Clarke’s description of Theresa May as a “bloody difficult woman” during her party leadership bid in 2016.
Newman said: “A lot of bloody difficult women are bloody brilliant women.”
She said she was surprised to discover that women’s rights through history had been cyclical rather than a march of progress.
She said: “In the year 800 women had more rights than in 1800. They owned property and businesses. It shocked me how much more we have to do to achieve some sort of equality.”
This had been demonstrated by the Me Too movement against sexual abuse and harassment.
Newman said: “When I delivered the manuscript, Me Too was taking off and it felt like the clock couldn’t be turned back. I feel less optimistic now. I think we are in the middle of a backlash against Me Too and I’ve felt that myself on Twitter.”
She cited the controversy surrounding new US Supreme Court judge Brett Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual abuse as an example of how the Me Too discourse had been set back.
Kavanaugh was sworn in last week despite facing accusations from Christine Blasey Ford that he attacked her as a teenager. He was later supported by President Trump, who mocked Blasey Ford’s testimony. Newman said: “You hear the President of the United States describing women who call themselves survivors of sexual abuse as paid complainers. With Christine Blasey Ford, her evidence seems so credible and yet he (Kavanaugh) has prevailed.”
TV and radio presenter Fearne Cotton appeared at a “bring your own baby” event at the festival on Friday.
Scores of women attended the event at Phyllis Court Club, where she was discussing her new children’s book Hungry Babies with journalist Bryony Gordon.
The pair discussed motherhood, social media, mental health, families and their perfect Friday night, with both confessing it would end with a good night’s sleep.
Cotton, 37, spoke about her family life with husband Jesse Wood, son of Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood, their children Rex and Honey and her stepchildren Arthur and Lola. She said Wood senior was great with her children.
“He is vibrant, fun and full on,” she said. “He has got a jukebox and he plays them music. He is a great, fun person to be around.”
Cotton spoke about her fears when she quit Radio 1 in 2015 after almost 10 years to focus on her TV career and motherhood.
“I made a lot of changes when I was pregnant with my second kid,” she said. “I left Radio 1, which was utterly terrifying, but I could not keep driving in during rush hour, spending all day in town and feeling horrible about it. It was killing me.
“Some of my friends went back to the City and their big jobs and they felt they could do that. But for me personally, I felt anxious about it.”
Cotton said she was now able to focus on her family and choose to do work she enjoyed.
“I feel vastly different about work than I used to,” she said. “I used to be obsessed and want to work all the time. Now I’ve got to a place where I can work in the place which feels right. I don’t have to do things which don’t interest me.
“I would rather be less successful or seen as less successful — I want to do projects which mean a lot to me.”
Cotton read from her book and after answering questions from the audience she stayed to sign copies and pose for pictures.
Journalist Lauren Booth talked about her conversion to Islam when she spoke at the festival on Friday.
She discussed her collection of memoirs, Finding Peace in the Holy Land, as she was interviewed by Al Senter at the town hall.
Booth, 51, said that when she was working in Iran in 2010 she initially felt that Muslims were a “different tribe” before she experienced a spiritual, and physical, awakening in a mosque. She said: “I fell asleep and woke up believing. I started respecting the people I was with and spending time with people under grave oppression.
“They would say ‘have my last penny’ and I was thinking ‘why aren’t you kidnapping me? You know I’m the sister-in-law of Tony Blair’.”
Booth said she had experienced some resistance from her family, with her mother calling her an “extremist” and even joking that “your friends” were responsible for possible terrorist attacks in this country.
She said: “It has been a difficult journey but it’s coming to an end now. She has her world view and it doesn’t mix with this but she loves me enough to accept me as I am.”
Booth read extracts from the book and answered questions from the audience.
When asked about Mr Blair’s appointment as envoy to the Middle East, she called it “the biggest slap in the face in the modern world”.
Former England football player and manager Kevin Keegan spoke at Phyllis Court Club to promote his book My Life in Football.
He represented Scunthorpe, Liverpool, Hamburg, Southampton and NewcastleUnited during a glittering playing career and managed Newcastle, Fulham and Manchester City.
Keegan 67, said he initially wanted to be a goalkeeper but was told to play outfield by a teacher at school as he couldn’t reach the crossbar.
He said early games in reserve teams were tough, as he was playing against miners who would ask him “how quick can you limp?”
He was signed by Liverpool in 1971 and played under legendary manager Bill Shankly.
Keegan said: “He was the first man, apart from my dad, who really believed in me.”
He spent six years at Anfield before moving to Hamburg, where he won the Ballon D’Or for the best player in the world two years in a row.
He returned to England with Newcastle in 1982 at the behest of his wife Jean, despite eyeing a move to Juventus in Italy. By this time he was England captain, but this was about to change following a meeting with national team boss Bobby Robson.
Keegan recalled: “I knew when I went to Newcastle, dropping down a division, this could be the end. After my first game, when I scored, I was told he wanted to talk to me. I thought this was it but he said he would see me in two weeks’ time. Then he announced the squad and I wasn’t in it.”
After retiring in 1985, Keegan’s first managerial job was at Newcastle seven years later. He then spent time at Fulham, Manchester City and England, where he infamously resigned on-air after a defeat to Germany, before returning to the Magpies in 2008 under new owner Mike Ashley.
Despite the club finishing 12th, Keegan quit after just eight months.
Keegan said Trevor Brooking was his best England team-mate, while John Toshack was his favourite at Liverpool.
Children’s author Judith Kerr spoke to Ian Craig about her career at Phyllis Court Club on Saturday.
The 95-year-old was preceded on stage by her most famous creation, The Tiger Who Came to Tea, who had photogaphs taken with children ahead of the talk.
Kerr, who was born in Germany and fled with her family just before the Nazis came to power, lived in Switzerland and France before settling in Britain.
She trained as an illustrator and began writing stories after meeting her husband Nigel Kneale and having her children, Tacy and Matthew, who is now a novelist himself.
Kerr said: “Meeting my husband was probably the luckiest thing that happened to me, apart from escaping Hitler!
“I had Tacy, who liked stories, so I made one up about a tiger which she loved. I used to tell her lots of stories but she only liked one. She would say, ‘talk the tiger’.”
Kerr also wrote the Mog series, based on the family cat, culminating in Goodbye Mog, which tells the story of the cat’s death.
She said: “She would always sit on my lap if I was writing about her! I thought I would do one about a pet dying because they always do in the end and it’s horrible.”
Kerr illustrated her own books and said she preferred that to the actual writing. She wrote My Henry soon after the death of her husband, whom she called Tom.
She said: “When you are on your own you become an old lady and there are is awful lot of us about! When you are one you see that’s not all there is. We’ve had a long and sometimes exciting life.”
Kerr’s latest book is Mummy Time, which follows the adventures of a young child while his mother is distracted by her mobile phone.
15 October 2018
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