WITH a kaleidoscopic wardrobe and the bubbling energy of a shaken cola bottle, Gemma Cairney is someone you can’t fail to notice. Particularly if you live in one of the UK towns where she’s recently pulled up on a canary-yellow double-decker, promoting her new book, Open.
‘So, I had a bus dream,’ she laughs, over tea and cake in a bookshop café. ‘I sold my flat in London and I bought a bus. But I didn’t sell it just to buy a bus, I need to clarify…’
Cairney (who now lives in Margate, Kent, and co-presents Radio 1’s youth advice show The Surgery with Dr Radha Modgil) created Open mainly as a toolkit for teenagers, but it’s a great read whatever age you are.
Mixing down-to-earth guidance about everything from periods to body image alongside Cairney’s personal stories about a past toxic relationship and more, it’s informative, touching and inspiring. I wish it had been around when I was at school, at an age when myself and Cairney, 31, both lusted after Tammy Girl clothes and worshipped the Spice World film, but gleaned most of our info about sex and growing up from Judy Bloom.
‘It’s a chunk of a book right?’ she says, eyes shining. ‘I didn’t expect to give birth to such a big baby.’
Open is laced throughout with a sense of humour, but Cairney created it with true passion.
‘I had all this stuff inside me like a sort of storm,’ she says. ‘One of the biggest surges of emotion was the desire tell my younger, tempestuous self that it’s OK to feel all those feelings, it’s OK to make mistakes… and it spiralled into this resource.
‘It’s the way I see the world, in its beauty and bleakness, and I don’t think there is an age limit. We’re always going to ask questions.’
Yet with camera phones and social media, there’s no doubt young girls today are facing pressures women like Cairney (who is currently steering her bus towards workshops at schools all over the country) never had.
‘I’m really cautious of not being a doom-monger, because the younger generation are extraordinary,’ she says. ‘For their boundless energy, their inquisitive brains and the way they care. But when I asked them what they thought about themselves, they didn’t seem to think much of themselves at all. That juxtaposition broke my heart.’
Whether she’s making award-winning documentaries or hosting her club night, by her own admission Cairney’s energy is ‘pretty rampant’. How can we hope to emulate it?
‘I’m moved and driven by things I care about, whether that’s my production company, organising a party or working out when I can next jump in the sea.’
At its heart, Open wants to encourage all of us to be ourselves; simultaneously the simplest and the most difficult concept ever.
‘I’ve been trying for nearly 32 years to be less of everything that I am [ie, loud and expressive], and it’s really tough,’ says Cairney. ‘At one point, you just have to stop. And you know what? It could be really fun.’
Open: A Toolkit For How Magic And Messed Up Life Can Be (Pan MacMillan) is out now.
For details of Gemma’s tour, visit openthebook.xyz