Nicola Barry

Category Archives: Women

Joan Rivers


The wonderful Joan Rivers who died yesterday.

I am so sorry and sad to hear of the death of Joan Rivers. As a journalist, so often, you are forced to listen to people who imagine they and their lives are enthralling when they are not. But Joan Rivers was fascinating: outrageous beyond belief and wonderful to interview. We had the strangest of conversations, not so much a case of what she said but where she said it. Joan was sitting in her New York bathroom, which, she said, she used as an office. The apartment used to be a ballroom but now it is a beautiful home overlooking Central Park. In many respects Joan was whatever you wanted her to be: a comedienne first and foremost, but also an award-winning television talk-show host, a best-selling author, a jewellery designer, a business guru, and a real family woman. She absolutely adored her daughter, Melissa and grandson, Edgar Cooper.


When we spoke, Joan was heading for Scotland to give an annual farewell tour. She said she loved “the Scaats”, as she called us, and, above all, she loved Edinburgh, especially the Castle. In real life Ms Rivers had the gruff, husky New York voice which came to define her. Her words were punctuated every so often with snorts, usually at her own jokes. She was extremely funny, but endearingly so.  When I asked her about her reputation for being one of the hardest working women in the world, she quipped, “Yeah, if you don’t count the hooker on the corner.” Doesn’t she ever feel exhausted? “Gaad, no,” she rasped, “We’re all pals on the tour bus. We make a point of visiting historical sights or of having a great lunch. It’s so much fun. Last time we visited the home of the Brontes. Fascinating, and had lunch in an adorable English country pub.”


This delightfully dotty woman was born to Russian immigrants, in Brooklyn, “on June 8.  If you need the year, go find it yourself,” she famously added, probably with her trademark smirk. She was direct to the point of being rude, but you just knew by the humorous undercurrent that she wasn’t being nasty. Her age was and wasn’t a sensitive subject. Unlike many Hollywood stars, she didn’t lie about it.  A frequent and unapologetic user of cosmetic surgery, Joan became a popular guest on the series, Nip/Tuck. In one episode, she asked the doctors to let her see how she would have looked without all the surgery. When they showed her on a computer, she all but threw up. When we talked, Joan was preparing to leave for the UK to appear on the Jonathan Ross show and to make one more episode of Nip/Tuck. “I have always told the truth about my surgery,” she said. “It really annoys me when women lie about it. I’ve watched so many female actresses of my age grow steadily younger. They always swear they haven’t had surgery. For God’s sake, everyone has Botox. Even my dog has Botox.” When I asked her what she thought of women, she said, “On their own, they are wonderful. I love them. But the minute you bring a man into the equation, a lot of women can be treacherous.” She could have any man she wanted, surely? “Oh yeah, right,” she scoffed, letting out a vintage Joan guffaw. She has had her fair share of men, devoted ones at that. At 21, Joan married the owner of a big department store and the marriage lasted six months. “Six months longer than it should have done,” she mumbled. Her second marriage was to Edgar Rosenberg. It lasted 22 years and he was her manager. After Edgar, there was millionaire Orin Lehman but that, too, ended after nine years. One of the world’s funniest women, she has had her fair share of tragedies, most notably the suicide of Edgar, her second husband. “Edgar and I had agreed on a trial separation,” Joan explained. “Three years later, he took his own life. He just wasn’t coping.” These days, Joan lectures all over the world on suicide prevention and survival. When I told her a high number of young people took their own lives in this country, she said the States had the same problem. “Why?” she said. “Do you know someone once said that suicide was a permanent solution to a temporary problem? And that is exactly right. People who feel so bad need help to realise that things do get better. If only I had known how ill Edgar was, I might have been able to help him give life and living a chance.  The trouble with suicide is that the aftermath is never over. The guilt. I still feel it. Families and friends are left reeling when someone takes their own life. I will never know what Edgar’s suicide did to our daughter, Melissa, but it was bad. I know that much.” She and her daughter were close. They spoke every day. She also adored her grandson, Edgar Cooper. “I am the granny from hell,” she confessed. “I’m the one who always lets him have dessert first. I just figure it’s what a granny is supposed to do.”


Joan began her comedy career by doing the rounds of sleazy agents, tawdry clubs and hostile audiences. “Custer did better at Little Big Horn,” she said. In 1965, a booking on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson finally turned her dream into a reality. Four months later, Joan met and married producer Edgar Rosenberg, and on January 10, 1968 their daughter Melissa was born. That year, Joan got one of the first syndicated talk shows on daytime TV. Subsequent guest hosting on Carson and appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show rapidly earned her an international reputation. In 1983, Joan became the permanent guest host on The Tonight Show and her star rose meteorically. She sold out concerts at New York’s Carnegie Hall, comedy albums, two best-selling books. Then, for some reason, she hit a rocky patch but managed to claw her way back up the greasy pole, proof of the gutsy woman she is, until she got her own syndicated daytime talk show in 1989 and won an Emmy and a much prized star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I asked her about her friendship with Prince Charles and Camilla. Joan was one of four Americans to attend their wedding. “I have never seen such a happy wedding party,” she said. “Usually, at weddings, there’s always somebody moaning. But theirs was glorious. I think the British public will end up loving Camilla the same way they did the Queen Mum.”


But that’s too serious for Joan Rivers. Back to business, does she have a funniest sketch?  “You always think your latest joke is your funniest,” she said. “We’ve been working on something for Jonathan Ross, about how incredibly stupid Americans are. For example, when you British had the London bombings, the police were out there straight away, tracking down the perpetrators. Yet, here we are, STILL looking for Osama Bin Laden. It’s unbelievable.” How about 9/11? Was she there? I could actually hear her shudder. “It changed the face of New York,” she replied. “It was so weird to see all these people coming out of the subways with white all over their faces. I remember,” she said quietly, “we went, immediately, to donate blood, but there was no need, because everybody was dead.” A grim silence. The question is was Joan Rivers as outrageous in real life as her stage persona suggested? Did she crack jokes about vibrators to people she met at a bus-stop? “With my close friends, yes, I probably am outrageous,” she agreed. “But the less I know someone, the more reserved I tend to be.” She and her daughter have become feared for their performance on the red carpet at major award shows like the Emmies. The scathing comments they make on the live pre-show, to some of the world’s top celebrities have sent viewing figures through the roof. Joan memorably told Bjork her dress made her look like a swan and Lara Flynn Boyle that hers resembled a tutu. “The Red Carpet is just a bit of fun,” Joan said. “Melissa and I are never going to upset real stars like Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts. The people who lack self confidence, they may get upset sometimes. But, honey, you can’t please everybody.”

I can hardly believe this really is her final farewell.








Margo MacDonald

Margo MacDonald 1943-2014

The death of Margo MacDonald today will affect every Scot of a certain age. Whatever you thought of her controversial views, we will always remember her as the blonde bombshell of Scottish politics. When she stormed to victory in the astonishing Govan by-election in 1970, she was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise boring political landscape – a force to be reckoned with. Having plied her trade as an MSP at the Scottish Parliament, there are those who have continued to refer to her as the blonde bombshell, if a bit older and a hell of a lot wiser. Margo had Parkinson’s Disease – something we have known for a few years now. She campaigned for the law to be changed to allow her to end her life if the disease became too painful and debilitating – to the extent where she might become a burden on the family she adored. It was typical Margo. The fact that she suffered from Parkinson’s is not the point. The point is that she always took her experience, whether good or bad, and used it to articulate for those whose voice was neither as loud nor as clear as her own. Margo was not asking just for herself but for everyone in unbearable pain. Assisted suicide or euthanasia means hastening the death of a person with a terminal illness. The term comes from the Greek word for ‘easy death’. As far as I am concerned, the vicious debate over euthanasia is galling to say the least – because it is about playing with words. For example, saying a doctor is playing God or committing murder is distorting the truth to a ridiculous degree. Such terms make a mockery of the truth which is allowing death to occur for nothing other than compassionate reasons. People should be allowed to die with dignity and that there is no one better to decide when the pain becomes too much than the person themselves. It would shock you to know that thousands of people out there want to die. They want to end it all because they have some disease or disability which means they themselves are unable to end their lives in a dignified manner. To spell it out, they cannot commit suicide. Maybe paralysis prevents them from reaching for the bottle, who knows? They may be in agonising pain and they may be incapable of functioning in any dignified human fashion. All they can do is see the future unfolding – with a lot more suffering, deterioration and humiliation.


Margo was trying to tell us something. And when someone as tough as Margo McDonald is reduced to asking for a merciful end to her worsening pain sometime in the future, it galls me that anybody in their right mind could think of saying no. She insisted that no legal sanctions be visited on anybody who might assist her in the act of dying. Those who support legalizing assisted suicide claim that we all have a moral right to choose. Opponents argue that society has a moral duty to protect and preserve all life. The religious say God gave us life and God, therefore, is the only one who has the right to take it away. Some people also believe that legalising assisted suicide would violate the rights of others. For example, doctors and nurses might find themselves “compromised” – having to cooperate with a patient’s suicide. In some cases, very few, there must be a fine line between euthanasia and murder. I’m talking about the unscrupulous few who, through resentment, love, whatever, would kill a relative for the wrong reasons and against that person’s free will but such rogues are few and far between. We need controls to ensure that doesn’t happen. That doesn’t mean we couldn’t have sensible legislation in place, with medical and psychiatric provisos making absolutely sure assistance will only be given to those who have reached the end of their tether. By that, I mean people whose lives are so wretched they have to carry on in misery, knowing there is nothing they can do about it. I am sure that is what Margo McDonald envisaged. What we forget is that euthanasia goes on all the time. The fact is that doctors are used to making life-and-death decisions. In some respects, euthanasia is one of this country’s best kept secrets, the ultimate act of love that dare not speak its name; only as far as the medical profession is concerned, though. Mere human beings like us, who are not doctors, have no such options available. We are supposed to stand back and watch while our loved ones die in agony. In this country, an individual who helps another person to die will face legal consequences. Yet, every single day decisions are made about people’s lives such as: should we treat this patient with expensive life-saving drugs? Should that patient with learning disabilities be resuscitated if he or she suffers a heart attack? Is this old man worth treating, or should food and water be withdrawn because he is so near the end anyway? Yes, it goes on, but very quietly. In Parliament, The Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill (ADTI, which covers England and Wales) was blocked in the House of Lords, but Lord Joffe, the sponsor of the Bill, has said he is committed to bringing it back before Parliament. In Scotland, MSP Jeremy Purvis’ (Now Baron Purvis of Tweed) Physician Assisted Suicide Bill never garnered enough support in Parliament. Both Bills propose allowing assisted dying for mentally competent, terminally ill adults at their own request, providing they meet certain safeguards. We must acknowledge that the law in relation to assisted dying as it stands is terrible – because it drives the practice underground. There is evidence that assisted dying takes place now, without regulation or safeguards. Every year we hear of more and more people going to Switzerland for an assisted death.


It would be far better, far safer, for terminally ill people to have the option of a safe, legal, medically assisted death here. We do not choose to be born but I believe we should respect a person’s desire – if they are sick and in unbearable pain – to die if that is what they choose. Our own Margo MacDonald has gone with all the majestic dignity she possessed in life.


Breast cancer awareness

Breast Cancer Awareness Ad: heaven forbid we see actual BREASTS!

For God’s sake, what next?

breast cancer awareness : early signs

Early signs of breast cancer.

In Scotland, an innovative, hard-hitting breast cancer awareness campaign on TV has actually managed to cause offence and now has to be shown after the 9pm watershed.

The ad shows actress Elaine C Smith holding up a series of photos of women’s breasts to highlight the risks of cancer.

No, hang on, I forgot to say these are not young and pert breasts like, say, those of the Duchess of Cambridge or glamour models who grace Page Three. These are more average breasts; those of real women with Elaine C Smith’s face above each pic.

She lost her mother to breast cancer and has done this commercial because she cares. She was quoted as saying, “Maybe it’s time we knew what the signs of breast cancer are, what to look for. If it saves one life, I don’t care who I offend.”

The first time I saw the ad, I admit I did a double take, thinking what the hell was that? I am so unused to seeing ‘real’ naked women that I got a shock. Of course, that is what makes this campaign so brilliant.

I find the fact that people are objecting to women’s real, imperfect breasts offensive beyond belief.

Cancer is the scourge of this age; a cruel, vicious illness which eats people away from the inside. It can take hold quickly or slowly, depending on how fast the disease decides to spread. Look around your office or factory, look at people on the train or bus home and you can bet that many of them will have been touched by cancer, directly or indirectly.

It is not all black though. Progress in the care of people who have cancer has been astonishing to say the least and advances are being made all the time to ease pain and slow down the speed with which the illness spreads.

Some forms of cancer turn robust, athletic human beings into living skeletons who would not have been out of place in Auschwitz or Dachau.

That is why charities beg for money for research. Awareness-raising adverts such as Elaine’s should be seen by everyone, by people young and old. It beggars belief that no one bothers to ban Page Three girls yet idiots clamber to relegate such a brilliant campaign into the twilight hours.

Some of you will remember Clare Short, the MP who campaigned for years to ban Page Three girls; a woman who must have known her Bill outlawing the models would be bound to fail yet she always has an answer, a way of dealing with her critics. When she received a rowdy reception from some Conservative MPs, Clare Short said very loudly: “If you mention breasts, 50 Tory MPs all giggle and fall over.”

Clare referred to Page Three as pornography – because it parades perfectly shaped, or, rather, re-constructed, women in front of men, a million miles from the normal female form. Pornography sells images of a manufactured “ideal”.

The row over this breast cancer advert proves that pornography debases women – simply because it refuses to sanction the female form as it really is. And, surviving after breast cancer is not always as easy as it sounds. There must always be a niggling doubt. You need to know a few years have passed before you dare believe you are really going to survive.

Uncertainty is created by malignant cells. These tend to lead a chaotic life, a bit like hooligans causing trouble at a football match. Nobody knows whether they will just sit there thinking about being hooligans or totally run riot, trying to create devastation wherever they go.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so, please, don’t look the other way when you see real breasts on TV highlighting this never-ending battle.

Neither look the other way when you see the pink ribbons and collection tins. Never assume it won’t happen to you. That’s not the point. Cash, and plenty of it, is what matters here. The more money there is in the pot, the more optimistic we can all feel.

 Photo: Creative commons

Article focus: breast cancer awareness


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Boxing Above Her Weight

Nicola Adams’ Gold a win for gender equality in traditionally ‘male’ sports

EVERYONE seems to have an opinion on whether women should be allowed to box. The arguments in the past against it have been that women tend to be unstable and, oh God, they menstruate. And our brains are so small, aren’t they?

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 06:  Nicola Adams (Bl...

LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 06: Nicola Adams (Blue) of Great Britain competes against Stoyka Petrova of Bulgaria (Red) during the Women’s Fly (51kg) Boxing Quarterfinals on Day 10 of the London 2012 Olympic Games.(Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

The first female Olympic gold champion, Nicola Adams, has much to be proud of. She began boxing at 12 when women were barred from the sport.

Rather like digging the roads, boxing has always been a male occupation. Until 2009, it was banned by the British Board of Boxing Control.

The notion of the fairer sex knocking each other’s blocks off offends some people’s idea of what woman is about. She shouldn’t be boxing, she should be at home producing babies, cooking and cleaning.

Although women can now box competitively, a lot of people – men mainly – claim it isn’t real boxing.

You know, women in the ring would be far too busy holding their hands up in the air, preventing their nail varnish from chipping or trying hard not to smudge their lipstick. Fine if they happen to be 18 stone bruisers with legs like tree trunks. But girl boxers who look normal, like Nicola, that’s not quite right, say the self-appointed experts. There are two camps in the women and boxing arena. One camp contains the dirty old men who like perving young women in skimpy underwear hitting each other. The second one is for those who disapprove; who react with disgust and alarm.

The truth behind all the ‘concern’ over women boxing is the same as it is in women’s football. Women don’t box, play footie, as well as men. End of story. Why don’t they just say so instead of dressing up their arguments so they resemble concern over women’s safety?

The point is women can use skills in the ring which don’t require vast amounts of brawn.

Thanks to women like Nicola Adams, sport can be brought into line with equal opportunities, meaning that women are never barred from competing because of their gender.

Equality is not about women pretending to be big, hairy blokes and digging up the roads.

Equality is about women having the choice to do these things if that is what they want to do.


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