Then Lucy met her heroes
A preview screening, a civil rights story, and some badass disabled women
Hello, happy Tuesday.
It’s been an extremely emotional week for me. Mostly in a good way. Let me try to explain.
Last Tuesday, I attended the BBC’s preview screening of Then Barbara Met Alan, its new primetime dramatisation of the 1990s fight for disability rights.
It was such an overwhelming experience. I’d seen the show already because I’d reviewed it for the Guardian, but watching it again in a room full of disabled people was really moving. Disabled people are constantly having to fight for our rights, and every one of us in that room had felt the pain of exclusion and discrimination. But we also know, thanks to those who came before us, that our voices can have immense power. Seeing those two truths of disability told with authenticity was immeasurably comforting and validating. And knowing that the real Barbara and Alan - the couple who led the charge and changed the law - were in the audience with us made it a truly special moment.
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So many disabled people, myself included, grow up without a sense of our history. I can remember being at school and learning about the Race Relations Act and the Equal Pay Act and wondering why we never learned about the Disability Discrimination Act. I never even heard Barbara and Alan’s names.
You might think that the limits of the early naughties school curriculum don't really matter, but the lack of a history for myself had deep effects. I didn’t know that the things that had happened to me happened to other people, too. I didn’t know that there were lots of people fighting for better or that they already had my back. I had no idea that I belonged in a long line of people, to a culture, to a history. Now I do know, and that is so powerful. And knowing that maybe some disabled kids will watch Then Barbara Met Alan and have some of that at their fingertips meant I spent the night with a lump in my throat.
Speaking to Barbara after the show was a once-in-a-lifetime moment. She was kind - I couldn’t quite believe when she said she liked my review - brilliant, still the punk matriarch of this movement. It was hard not to get emotional thinking about everything she's done and how much she gave to the fight. What a thing to sit alongside her for a few moments of that wonderful night, and to hear her rally us “young ones” (her term) to start a new era in the quest for civil rights.
The show is on iPlayer now and it’s a landmark in British TV. You should know this story. Please, please watch it.
The night was overwhelming for another reason: the sheer volume of fantastic disabled women in attendance. Sure, there were some pretty cool blokes about the place, but the women stole the show. I spied activist-cum-lawmaker Baroness Campbell and actress/force of nature Sinead Burke and basked a little in their presence.
And I was so, so happy to finally meet Ruth Madeley and Sophie Morgan. Both of these brill women got in touch with me after my little dating agency fiasco. Their support meant so much in that crappy situation and it’s been so lovely to get to know them a little in the intervening time. The pandemic had stopped us getting together before but last week we were finally all in the same place.
I’m lucky to know many wheelchair-using women online, but I rarely meet them in the concrete world, so meeting Sophie and Ruth was simply a delight, an uncommon chance to feel like I was one of a tribe. That they are both fun and fierce made it all the more special, and their acceptance of me was remarkable on an evening that not so long ago would have seemed unbelievable. It was brilliant to be able to celebrate the frankly incredible stuff they have both achieved recently (they have since both been on the One Show and all over the papers). Later in the week, I also met Sam Renke (at Sophie’s book launch! Whose life is this?!), and again there was the instant understanding you only get from people who really know what being a disabled woman is like.
Not only did I grow up without a history, I also grew up without role models or people to look up to. As a child I felt this absence acutely; the only visible disabled people, extremely capable Paralympians, seemed no more relevant than their Olympic counterparts. As I got older, though, I realised that I could perhaps model success for myself. What I couldn't do was teach myself how to navigate life's tricky parts, nor could I reassure myself that things were going to be ok. In those fretful and anxious teenage years, what I needed most was someone to show that I would be fine. So when Sophie wrapped me in a ginormous hug on Tuesday last week, my fifteen year old self finally got what she’d needed all those years ago.
Neither Sophie, Ruth nor Sam are inspirational because they are disabled. But they are inspirational to me because they are such strong examples of disabled women living lives full of fun, opportunities and success. Sitting with them all, I had a sense of how wide the possibilities are (thanks for those, Barbara), and also had a vague sense that if they decided to they could quite feasibly take over the world. It felt pretty amazing to be there and be part of it.
So thanks, ladies, for being badass. I am so glad that the universe decided it could just about cope with us all being in the same room. It turns out I couldn't though, because when I got back in the taxi at the end of the night, I shed, for the first time in years, some proper happy tears.
See you next week,
A little bit of housekeeping
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