If you have ever listened to BBC Radio 1 or danced in your living room watching Glastonbury TV coverage with a bottle of wine, Gemma Cairney is a name and face and VOICE you’ll instantly recognise.
I’ve followed Gemma adoringly online and on my TV box for years, immediately uplifted by her energy, positive vibes and sheer enjoyment of the work she does. I met her properly for the first time a few years ago at Edinburgh Fringe Festival – I review shows every year for my blog and she had produced a show with her best friend Brigitte Aphrodite called My Beautiful Black Dog. It was the best show I saw that year and it stays with me even as I write this now. I sobbed throughout the show but I also left covered in glitter and feeling uplifted – not many shows can do that. In December last year she co-hosted the BBC Music Awards in December alongside Claudia Winkleman and Fearne Cotton and wore a fantastic gold velvet one piece. She is one of those people who walks into a room and lights it up.
Gemma also co-hosts BBC Radio 1’s The Surgery with Dr Radha, helping people through their problems, and she won a Sony Award for her powerful documentary Bruising about abusive teenage relationships. She talks a lot of serious topics, and does it in a way that feels inclusive and big-sisterly.
So it’s no surprise that her debut book Open: A Toolkit for How Magic and Messed Up Life Can Be ties into this theme of helping young people. The book does exactly that: it covers so much ground that I wish I’d had it when I was 14. It’s a book you’ll read but then also buy more copies for the young people in your life. It’s a great big giant hug, in a book. It features a huge diverse range of voices and experts and allows you to read and learn about things from so many different perspectives. Sex education has never been so poor, the Internet can gives us false interpretations and asking questions can be difficult – so Gemma’s book is an important antidote to the crazy online world.
I was invited to Margate by Gemma alongside some amazing women; vlogger and author Hannah Witton, author Louise O’Neill and BBC 1Xtra DJ Jamz Supernova. We headed to Margate from London for two days of solid OPEN adventure and cruised around on Gemma’s bus called Dandelion. We sat on a panel hosted by Gemma and located at the Turner Contemporary gallery in Margate. The theme of the panel was mainly around careers and growing up. We spoke about bullying, body image, feeling insecure, friendships, finding yourself, writing, creativity, standing out, anxiety and so so much more. The audience was a range of ages from young Girl Guides to grandparents.
We had an amazing dinner at a small seafood restaurant called Hantverk & Found. We had our own table at the bottom of the restaurant with the perfect dinner party vibes. We had good deep chats all round and I left Margate the next day feeling incredibly inspired by all the work Gemma is doing. I met some amazing new feminists with big hearts in a vibrant sea-side town, what’s not to love?
And the message of all this, for me? Is to get out there and spread your message. Gemma put her message on the side of a BIG YELLOW BUS. We can all do our bit to put our energy out there into the world.
Thank you for what you do, Gemma.