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 two, host Chanté Joseph is joined by Yrsa Daley-Ward. Born in Lancashire to a Jamaican mother and Nigerian father, in early adulthood Yrsa was a model and actor working first in the UK, then in South Africa. While in Cape Town she began writing and performing poetry.
Gaining a following as an “Instagram poet” (she has 178,000 followers), she self-published her first anthology, Bone, in 2014. In 2019 her memoir The Terrible (Penguin) won the PEN/Ackerley Prize for “a literary biography of excellence”. This year she co-wrote Beyoncé’s Black Is King musical film/visual album.
In a brilliantly illuminating conversation on the theme of mental health and how it’s perceived in the public and private spheres – challenges that the TV show’s Suzie Pickles (Billie Piper) knows only too well – Yrsa discusses writing poems about the “state of the mind”. Art, she says, “is the easiest way to talk about” such issues.
She also applauds social media “for bringing poetry from… people who are marginalised to the surface. Then there’s the flipside – people will come for you!” she says with a laugh, a real-life echo of the online mob who, in I Hate Suzie, descend on Piper’s character after the contents of her phone is hacked.
The message for both Suzie and Yrsa is clear: no matter how many IG followers you have, or how popular your TV show about “Nazi zombies”, neither will ably protect your sanity when the glare of public judgement is upon you.
Then, via her work as a model, Yrsa also knows the pressure of looking a certain way to help her career. “I was convinced I had to alter myself to fit the mould,” she admits.
Chanté can relate. “As a woman, I often feel like I need to prove myself,” our host replies, “at the expense of my own mental health. It doesn’t matter if I’m wilted or tired or overworked – I need to deliver on something. Because people have a stereotype of women who look like me – and now I need to not only deliver but over-deliver.”
These are challenges of which Suzie has been all too aware throughout her working life, starting as she did as a child star. Now, in her mid-thirties, must she accept that “aging Disney Princess”, with the emphasis on “aging”, is the best she can hope for?
Above all else, though, two sentiments are consistent in Yrsa’s powerfully honest writing. Firstly, “I approach situations from a place of love.” Secondly, “there really isn’t a boundary in the work.”
In the pages of The Terrible, she adds, “everything is out there” – an impulse and drive she shares with Piper and her equally boundary-pushing I Hate Suzie co-creator Lucy Prebble.