My contact with Russell Brand goes back a few years now. And let’s be clear: What happened to me was – while humiliating and still painful – just an insignificant footnote in the story that is currently unfolding.
In fact, I prefer to forget the Saturday evening in November 2007 when Brand devoted a good part of his BBC Radio 2 show to me.
However, I am writing about this for the first time because it clearly demonstrates that “Sachsgate”, which followed about a year later, was not an isolated incident. Anyone could have – and should have – seen it coming.
You will remember Sachsgate. Andrew Sachs, who played Manuel in Fawlty Towers, was stopped at home three times by Brand and Jonathan Ross in October 2008 and the two men left him a series of messages.
These revolved around the revelation of a brief affair that Brand had had with Sachs’ granddaughter, Georgina Baillie. In one, Brand rhymed “menstrual” with “consensual.” He joked that he wanted to marry her. Ross blurted out, “He fucked your granddaughter!”
I prefer to forget the Saturday evening in November 2007 when Brand (pictured leaving the Troubabour Wembley Park theater on Saturday) devoted a good part of his BBC Radio 2 show to me.
I am writing about this for the first time because it clearly demonstrates that “Sachsgate,” which followed about a year later, was not an isolated incident. Pictured: Brand and Jonathan Ross
It was appalling harassment, shrouded in misogyny. Sachs, who died in 2016, said in 2014 that the cruelty of the situation would haunt him forever. No thought was given to the effect that men’s humor might have on the lives of Sachs or his granddaughter; this caused immense distress.
Brand left his show and the controller of Radio 2 also had to leave. Lesley Douglas had been informed of what he was planning to do and sent the word “Yes” from her Blackberry, approving its release.
Mark Thompson, then director-general of the BBC, called the events “a gross error of taste on the part of the artists and production team”.
Few would disagree. However, 11 months earlier, Brand (whom Douglas had touted as “the future of radio”) made a series of base attacks on me, most of them sexually charged. They were no different.
My last name was rendered “Noshoff” – a grotesque reference to oral sex. He threatened to read my home address out loud. He falsely told listeners of this Saturday night BBC show that I wanted to give him oral sex.
It was mean, it was juvenile, it was misogynistic. It was a vintage Russell Brand. And his bosses at the Beeb gave him the green light.
Nowadays we would call what he did an invitation to “pile on.” I hope now I wouldn’t be considered fair game.
It was a friend working for the BBC who alerted me. She warned me not to answer any calls on my cell phone because he wanted to prank me in a pre-recording of the show (exactly like he later did with Andrew Sachs.)
Today, the name and cell number of his agent and best friend Nik Linnen are still written in my contact book with a trembling hand. I think I remember him calling me and I didn’t answer, but I wrote down the numbers.
My transgression had been to write a long and not very flattering profile of Brand, linked to the release of his “Booky Wook”. This volume – the first of two autobiographies written before the age of 35 – had just been serialized over three days by the Guardian (where else?) and Brand was doing interviews everywhere to promote it.
Brand was particularly annoyed when we knocked on the door of his mother’s house in Essex and asked him about a passage in the book in which he said he was abused by a neighbor who tutored him after school. school.
I also called the book’s contents “incredibly sordid,” which, given the anecdotes about prostitutes and orgies it contained, was hardly unfair.
I added: “His loveless sexual encounters are generally described as ‘a sexy adventure.’ His home is a “comfortable suburban barracks.” But these literary flourishes fail to disguise the fact that this behavior is horribly depressing and deeply misogynistic.
In light of the allegations of recent days, I would say that I am right.
Brand rendered my last name as “Noshoff” – a grotesque reference to oral sex. He threatened to read my home address on the air
What listeners who enjoyed his section about me – and who kept that misogynistic name “Noshoff” in chat rooms and on social media for years – didn’t know was when I I was both newly bereaved and a new mother.
My son Charlie died of leukemia at 14 months old in February 2006. It’s probably not possible to explain to anyone other than another bereaved parent what those years were like. The loss was and still is immense. In January 2007, I was blessed with another son. In November 2007, I was in trouble.
A friend from Radio Two who worked with Brand intervened when she heard about what he had planned for me. She told him that maybe he shouldn’t go that far, given the circumstances. New mom, bereaved mom and all.
Of course, that didn’t put him off. No one at the Beeb thought to say a word. I had to endure the humiliation.
I don’t like people who complain and I generally have thick skin. In fact, some of my favorite stories from my career involve terrible things famous people have said to me. In general, they are very funny.
Marco Pierre White calls me the “Great Witch”. Nigella said I was a “dingbat” after I mentioned that some segments of her cooking shows were made with actors pretending to be her friends. Roger Moore called me something I am incapable of repeating in print – in his wonderful voice – when I asked him about the breakdown of his marriage. Poor Noel Edmonds shouted, “I can feel your ax in my back!”
But even today, thinking about Russell Brand calling me Noshoff on Radio 2 makes me want to cry.
Ironically, around this time there were various listener petitions to his boss, Lesley Douglas, criticizing her for hiring celebrities like Brand, George Lamb and Dermot O’Leary to present radio shows. Serious music fans didn’t like it.
A BBC executive said they “would not tolerate” listeners being “rude or offensive” towards our presenters.
But those who were the butt of their jokes? Well, we’ve always been honest.