Sunjay Kakar discusses how Billie Piper managed to overcome her struggles to become an Olivier Award winning actress.
When Billie Piper was growing up in Swindon, she had no brother and sisters to play with, but she had two mates she relied heavily on. The first was imagination and the second was make believe.
I am not sure if she dreamed big, but now she has won an Olivier Award for best actress. To put this into perspective, she has reached the same achievement as Helen Mirren.
What was shown at the Olivier Awards is that the power of imagination is infinite and needed now more than ever in theatre to help people who did not come from privileged backgrounds.
Billie Piper said she was going to put her Olivier Award for Best Actress in Yerma at the Young Vic on the breakfast table . The award was presented to her by last year’s winner Denise Gough, and actor Andrew Garfield.
Yerma also won an Olivier Award for Best Revival. The news was even celebrated in Spain by Rebecca Grant, who plays Yerma on screen as it opens as a film.
Billie Piper was born three months before Princess Diana gave birth to Prince William. She is Swindon’s very own Princess. She has been through an emotional rollercoaster. She has revealed that in her past she has had anorexia, which even went into overdrive. That must have been one of her lowest moments. This award was definitely a high point
Before the awards started, winners were asked to keep their speeches short. When Billie Piper won she dedicated it to the cast and crew at the Young Vic, and thanked her mum, and children.
Later, she said : ” It feels like the award is going to come home with me, and I feel really good about it. It means a lot because it is a rare professional moment that you rarely get in life where you feel connected to something. “
Comedian Jason Munford who presented the awards lightened the mood and atmosphere by saying that Amanda Holden who was in attendance had to act when she pretends that she likes Simon Cowell.
But there are some serious messages that need to be delivered.
Billie Piper might not have been alive to collect the Award, if she had listened to a voice inside her head when she was 16 years old.
In her book ‘ Growing Pains’ Billie Piper reveals that she wanted to kill herself. She was just sixteen. At that age she had no energy or desire to continue. She had been on the road for three gruelling weeks. She had no spirit or fight left inside her.
She wanted the whirlwhind to stop.
Her dream had come true, but she was caught up in a nightmare. She was out of control, living on other people’s schedules. She was in the United States of America. She could see the city of Chicago, but she couldn’t feel it. Then it dawned on her. She said : ” There was one way out. Kill myself. Make it stop. “
She says that Chicago was pivotal because it was the moment it all collided. She brought some pills. She held the bottle of pills in her hand. A voice in her head told her to swallow the pills.
She ignored that voice, and called her Mum and Dad. Somehow, she managed to pick up the phone and call her parents. This time her state of distress was different from previous calls.
” It was about four in the morning, but they answered, and all I could say was that I wanted to kill myself. I was incoherent and crying my eyes out, holding this bottle and wanting to neck all the pills and die,” she said.
Thankfully her parents demanded that she was brought home immediately to rest and recuperate.
The motto of the Olivier Awards was to ‘Be Inspired.’ Caro Newling, the President of the Society of London Theatre ( SOLT) urged people to speak out to those who supported them, so that they could in turn inspire others.
In keeping with this theme, you can turn to Billie Pipers own words. In her autobiography Growing Pains, she describes Julie Gardener who worked as the head of Drama in BBC Wales, where they made Doctor Who ( Billie Piper played Rose, the Doctor’s sidekick) as inspirational and one of a kind.
Another serious message is diversity in theatre. The Young Vic have no Asian or Black people on their Board. This means there is a lack of role models at Senior Levels to inspire ethnic minorities which does not seem to fit in with the motto of the Olivier Awards.
This might also be true at the Society of London Theatres which present the Olivier Awards. They put on a spectacular event at the Royal Albert Hall, but they do not collect or hold data about the race of its Board members.
Without data, it is difficult to check the progress of equal opportunities.
By Sunjay Kakar