THE FACE presents, as a partner to new Sky original I Hate Suzie, a podcast series. My Public Me – A User’s Guide is a four-episode discussion of the issues raised in the Sky show.
In part three, host Chanté Joseph is joined by Miquita Oliver. The TV presenter and radio personality shot to fame in 2001 as co-host, alongside Simon Amstell, of Channel 4’s Popworld: a gig she landed when she was just 15 – while she was still, notionally at least, in full-time education.
“Being famous wasn’t even in my head,” she tells Chanté. “It was: how do I do both these things?” Living at the time with her “auntie” Neneh Cherry and five cousins, Miquita would film in the morning, interview Usher, come home, have lunch “and then go to school”.
No wonder she was wrestling, even then, with the identity crises that would later engulf Suzie Pickles. As Miquita puts it, “I did have a lot of different identities at school, which helped me become a presenter in my head.”
Equally, like Suzie – who also burst into the limelight aged 15 – the subsequent years were, to put it mildly, somewhat helter-skelter. Whereas Suzie pivoted from teen pop stardom into acting in a cult sci-fi drama, Miquita swung into a second presenting gig, on T4, and a high-profile Radio 1 show.
Recalling how Popworld became a sensation at a time when terrestrial telly ruled the ratings, she says the show took off after she and Amstell took control of their own scripts. The result: a sharper, funnier music show. “It was just about telling the truth, not about being aggy. And Girls Aloud weren’t good, I’m sorry!”
But as a well-known fixture on the London pop and party scene, how did she maintain a private life, even in a time before social media became the all-consuming monster that so bedevils Suzie in IHS? “I don’t think any of it was private,” Miquita replies. “And then a lot of my friends became famous – Lily [Allen] became the biggest pop star in the world. That’s when things became hectic. Then it was just mental – paparazzi famous.”
She points out how her little cousin Mabel, Neneh’s daughter, is now a very well-known pop star of the kind Miquita would have interviewed on Popworld 20 years ago – albeit one suffering less of the constant aggravation and static of the paps. “I remember you’d leave places with Lily and there would just be a circle of light following you down the road.”
These days, though, in IHS and IRL, there are online gossip pages of the kind that drag Suzie mercilessly, leading Billie Piper’s character to spin out, lash out and break down. Miquita can “big time” relate: when she and her friends were a fixture in the tabloids, it massively impacted on her mental health. “When I was 26, I was running on empty and I started really messing up at work. I started slipping – and I think it’s because I knew I was about to go bankrupt. So I think I was like: ‘Right, I might as well just go mental.’ I missed a Backstreet Boys interview in Madrid and it was not OK. Actually, that scarred me for life.”
Her downfall was in part precipitated by a Suzie-esque – if not a Suzie-scale – slip-up: calling fellow BBC DJ Fearne Cotton a “devil woman” in an interview with NME. Now, she reflects, “that was disrespectful, really unprofessional, just stupid, and it had repercussions.” She was fired from Radio 1 and ultimately ended up in deep trouble. “I lost everything… No work, no money… God, it was hard!” she laughs.
The problem was that – as Suzie finds to her cost in co-creators Billie Piper and Lucy Prebble’s fantastic Sky original series – you can’t slip up and slip off. You’re still in the limelight, albeit now for different, darker reasons.
“You are going through some really hardcore shit – and everyone still knows who you are, everywhere you go. I found that really, really hard,” admits Miquita in a wide-ranging and candid conversation in which nothing is off the table.
“Being famous with everything is one thing. But being famous with nothing – no, that is too hard.”
And then, a new thought: “Who actually am I? Because if I’m not ‘Miquita Oliver’, I have to reconfigure and re-evaluate what’s important to me, and who I was – without any of it. And you have to go deep for that stuff. And it takes long.”
It is, again, that identity thing. Who is Miquita? Who is Suzie?
“It’s hard to be ‘Miquita Oliver’ and only doing voiceovers and all your friends are working on telly – Grimmy’s doing great, Alexa’s doing this… That was really tough for me, to feel like my peers, because of the decisions they’d made, were not only working but flying!”
But after 10 years of therapy, Miquita Oliver is fighting back, proving that you can triumph over mistakes. Suzie, are you listening? Everyone else, you should be too, to this brilliantly honest discussion of the damage that can occur when private trauma battles public profile. Welcome back, Miquita, it’s great to hear from you.