International Women’s Day: Stars share their words of wisdom, from Kristin Scott Thomas and Tayari Jones to Ella Eyre and Kathy Burke

Getty/Netflix/Island Records
Getty/Netflix/Island Records

In the age of #MeToo, women in the arts are being listened to and celebrated like never before. They are making art that changes the world, fighting for the female gaze, and holding powerful men to account.

But there’s still a long way to go. This year’s Oscars were widely criticised for snubbing female directors such as Greta Gerwig and Marielle Heller, and the lack of nominations for women at the Brit Awards was branded an “absolute disgrace”.

France’s Cesar Awards, meanwhile, made headlines after convicted sex offender Roman Polanski was named Best Director. His win prompted walkouts with actor Adèle Haenel shouting “shame!” as she left the ceremony.

And just last month, Harvey Weinstein was convicted of rape, but many of his victims were left disappointed that he was acquitted of the most serious charges made against him.

In 2020, International Women’s Day is more important than ever, and encourages us to applaud the women in our lives and strive for more progress.

To mark the day, we spoke to women in the arts who inspired us, from actors Kristin Scott Thomas and Kathy Burke and musicians Ella Eyre and Anna Calvi, to authors Tayari Jones and Sophie Mackintosh.

What’s the most satisfying challenge you have overcome?

“Seeing my first, unpublished novel rejected by over 40 publishers, but writing another one anyway” – Sophie Mackintosh, author of Blue Ticket and The Water Cure, which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2018

“Childbirth” – Priyanga Burford, star of Press and The Thick of It

“Being a black female debut author” – Candice Carty-Williams, writer of Queenie

“I used to walk into a room full of people. I would find it intimidating, I was shy. But now, whilst this remains challenging, I have more trust in myself and have found the tools to face this head on” – Kristin Scott Thomas, star of Military Wives, in cinemas now

Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Kristin Scott Thomas in ‘Fleabag’ (BBC)
Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Kristin Scott Thomas in ‘Fleabag’ (BBC)

What changes do you want to see in your industry?

“I want to see more voices represented. We need to represent our society, not just a tiny fraction of it. I also want to see more family friendly hours so people can have a life at the same time as being good at their jobs. They shouldn’t be mutually exclusive” – Daisy Haggard, star of Breeders out on Sky1 on 12 March

“I would like it to be kinder, fairer and the catering to be better. Aaaand it should be an industry standard that I am paid minimum 1 mil per day” – Natasia Demetriou, star of What We Do in the Shadows and Stath Lets Flats

“Bigger and more frequent deals for diverse voices, less underestimating readers’ desire for ‘difficult’ books, better support for authors at all stages of their careers, and greater visibility for small presses – Sophie Mackintosh

“Equal opportunities. The scale is still tipped the other way. Women are not paid equally and it still baffles me that it’s like this in 2020” – Twinnie, whose album Hollywood Gypsy is out on 17 April

“More LGBTQ+ artists breaking into the mainstream in music and therefore acting as representation for younger queer kids” – Arlo Parks, whose new single “Eugene” is out now

Aminatta Forna’s ‘The Memory of Love’ was shortlisted for the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction (Getty)
Aminatta Forna’s ‘The Memory of Love’ was shortlisted for the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction (Getty)

“I wish people would stop telling novelists what we can and can’t write. There was a time women writers (when they could get published) were told to stick to the domestic. Women fought hard to write about themes traditionally reserved for men, in my case war. But once again we have people insisting we writers stay in our lane, be it race, sex or sexuality. Fiction is an imaginative art. Accept that – even if you don’t like what’s written – or stick to reading non-fiction” – Aminatta Forna, author of Happiness

“Comparisons. As a young female artist in the UK, I find that the industry tends to compare me with other female artists just because it’s easier to do that than hold us all in different ways. That’s quite frustrating. Particularly when I feel like we’re all doing things so differently” – Mahalia, whose album Love and Compromise is out now

“Supporting and believing in women further, prioritising quality over quantity and culturally impactful artists over something trendy and cheap. More understanding of the health of artists – from people in the industry and fans” – Lynn Gunn from PVRIS, whose new album Use Me is out on 1 May

“Like everybody else, I want to see more women on festival line-ups. Not only because we deserve equal opportunities to share music with those audiences, but because there are so many phenomenal female performers out there that those audiences deserve to discover” – Ella Eyre, whose single “New Me” is out now

Ella Eyre performing at the Roundhouse in 2018 (Rex)
Ella Eyre performing at the Roundhouse in 2018 (Rex)

“I want to see more female producers and I want Instagram to get a good therapist” – Delilah Montagu, whose album Temptation is out now

“I want to see more women. More! More! More! Of every colour, creed, shape and size. I have said it before and I will say it again, unless the plot demands the character do a party trick with his penis, then I see no reason why that character can’t be a woman” – Sinead Keenan, star of Little Boy Blue and Being Human

What makes you happy?

“Eating, sunlight” – Sophie Mackintosh

“Writing, singing, dancing, playing live, being creative, hanging out with my family and friends. FOOD” – Twinnie​

“Japanese food, the Beach Boys, messy birthday parties, FaceTiming loved ones” – Arlo Parks

Tanya Reynolds and Patricia Allison (right) in ‘Sex Education’ (Netflix)
Tanya Reynolds and Patricia Allison (right) in ‘Sex Education’ (Netflix)

“Finding the rogue pure chocolate one in a packet of Revels” – Priyanga Burford​

“My default state is melancholy. But I like it when women tell me that Queenie made them feel less lonely” – Candice Carty-Williams​

“Fresh air” – Tanya Reynolds, star of Sex Education and Emma

(From left) Jessie Ware, Mahalia, Laura Whitmore and Ella Eyre attend last month’s Central Saint Martin’s MA show at London Fashion Week (PA)
(From left) Jessie Ware, Mahalia, Laura Whitmore and Ella Eyre attend last month’s Central Saint Martin’s MA show at London Fashion Week (PA)

What makes you angry?

“Racism” – Kathy Burke, comedian and actor of French and Saunders fame

“Ignorance, sexism, racism, climate change deniers” – Daisy Haggard

“Constipation” – Natasia Demetriou​

“Ignorance, violence, arrogance and being interrupted” – Arlo Parks

“Cruelty and stupidity. Social media has done a lot to unmask the awfulness of some people. Maybe we should be grateful. After all, they were always there” – Aminatta Forna​

“All the -isms. Racism, Sexism, Ageism, Homophobia, Xenophobia. Bigotry in general” – Tayari Jones, the winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2019 for her novel An American Marriage

Natasia Demetriou in California in 2020 (Getty)
Natasia Demetriou in California in 2020 (Getty)

“People who refuse to dance themselves and then stand at the edge of the dance floor judging all the people who are dancing... miserable gits...” – Priyanga Burford​

“Self-service check out counters” – Ella Eyre

“Injustice. Not much else makes me actively angry. Apart from people getting on the Tube before the other passengers have stepped off” – Candice Carty-Williams​

When was the last time you cried?

“Over the passing of my mate Michael” – Daisy May Cooper, creator and star of BBC mockumentary This Country

“Talking with a mutual friend about the glorious Roger Lloyd Pack. They were happy memory tears. He was a unique human being and I miss him” – Kathy Burke

“In the shower a few days ago, but I quite enjoyed it. There’s really something about a cathartic shower-cry” – Sophie Mackintosh

“When Divina de Campo (RuPaul’s Drag Race UK finalist) talks about being in school as a kid with Section 28 and how hard it was with bullying to be a gay kid in Britain” – Fiona Campbell, BBC3 controller

Winner of Female in a Comedy for ‘This Country’ at the 2018 Baftas, Daisy May Cooper (Getty)
Winner of Female in a Comedy for ‘This Country’ at the 2018 Baftas, Daisy May Cooper (Getty)

“Oh I cry a lot. And laugh even more” – Daisy Haggard

“This morning” – Rosie Price, author of What Red Was

“When I came across a picture of 14-year-old George Stinney being prepared for his execution in South Carolina in 1944” – Aminatta Forna​

“Yesterday because I felt sad for no reason” – Delilah Montagu​

Mahalia attends the Warner Music Group pre-Grammy party in 2020 (Getty)
Mahalia attends the Warner Music Group pre-Grammy party in 2020 (Getty)

“I cried recently watching Judy, what a tragic life. It made me cry when she no longer had the strength to perform” – Georgia, whose album Seeking Thrills is out now

“Yesterday I listened to “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel and cried for about 10 minutes. It doesn’t take a lot to set me off, though” – Candice Carty-Williams​

“At JFK airport a few days ago after spending a very special week with one of my dearest friends who is seriously ill. The security guard asked me to take my trainers off and I burst into tears. I think he was a bit taken aback” – Elizabeth Day, the host of the How To Fail podcast and book of the same name

“Yesterday when I saw Portrait of a Lady on Fire. It is divine in every way and there is a moment that made me bawl” – Tanya Reynolds

“I woke up crying from a dream a few nights ago where I was marooned on an island and a tiger was stalking me” – Anna Calvi​​

Anna Calvi (Maisie Cousins)
Anna Calvi (Maisie Cousins)

Who is the woman who has most inspired you in your life?

“I’m going to say my godmother, Professor Heidi Mirza. Because of her, I knew what feminism was before I could even speak” – Candice Carty-Williams

“My mum, she taught me how being kind is the most important quality to have” – Daisy May Cooper

“Actress and film director Mia Zetterling is the woman who has most inspired me. I was fortunate enough to have her as my very first director. She took me under her wing and horse-whispered all the right advice about how I could make a success of myself as a woman in our industry” – Kathy Burke

“One of the earliest women who inspired me was French actress Jeanne Moreau because she was different from any other actress, she was a beautiful woman without the usual feminine appeals. She was different, she was an intellectual, she was fiercely independent. I loved her in Jules & Jim which I watched very young, I listened to her records a lot too. Nina Simone was also a big role model for me. The way she would command her piano and her audience onstage was mesmerising. There is no one like her” – Jehnny Beth, whose album To Love is To Live is out 8 May

“My mother. I didn’t realise it until I wrote a piece about a trip we took together last year. She was born into a conservative Scottish family. She wrote her own script for the life she wanted and as a result I grew up assuming every choice was mine to make” – Aminatta Forna​​

Kathy Burke (Ian Gavan/Getty)
Kathy Burke (Ian Gavan/Getty)

“My mum, not just because she is sitting with me now but her strength and the fact that she has never cared what anyone else thinks has always been an example to me. Along with her stunning poetry” – Delilah Montagu​

“My manager Jeannette Lee is so inspiring, and the women who work in the management company. My mum is incredibly inspiring, she has overcome so many challenges in her life and to see her do that and still be strong and individual has been the most incredible thing to witness. She would hate me mentioning her, but she deserves it, she has been such a supportive force in my career, I really could not do it without her. I would also mention Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, Karen Carpenter & Missy Elliot have been the soundtrack to my development as a human being” – Georgia

What would you tell your 16-year-old self?

“Grow your bloody hair! I had a skinhead and looked like a t**t” – Kathy Burke

“Just F it – you have to believe in your path – it will work out fine but keep working bloody hard, be nice to everyone you meet, you are lucky to be here” – Fiona Campbell

“That Wonderbra doesn’t make your boobs look bigger, it makes it look like you have one boob in the middle of your chest with a bum crack in it” – Natasia Demetriou

“When life kicks in, kick back” – Jehnny Beth

“One day people will listen to you and it will feel better than you ever imagined” – Arlo Parks

“The coursework element of your Food Technology GCSE is not as important as you think it is, but it’s also fine if you really want to try” – Rosie Price

Jehhny Beth (Getty)
Jehhny Beth (Getty)

“If I had to give myself a word of warning I would say, don’t take other people at their word so much. It has taken me a long time to accept just how much people dissemble. A little financial planning might not be the worst idea, either” – Aminatta Forna

“Stop stressing in school so much. It turns out, you’re not gonna go to college, lol. Also that hair 100% does NOT look good on you or anyone, please save yourself now and just don’t do it” – Lynn Gunn

“You’re an absolute corker, and don’t you forget it!” – Priyanga Burford​

“I know that fitting in seems like the most important thing in the world but when you leave school, all you’ll want to do is stand out. So be yourself, and you’ll thank yourself for it later” – L Devine, whose album Boring People is out now

“Love yourself, know yourself, trust yourself” – Mahalia​

“You have done nothing wrong and you are beautiful” – Delilah Montagu​

“You’ll feel amazing when you’re 40” – Elizabeth Day

Priyanga Burford (Rex)
Priyanga Burford (Rex)

“Speak up, stop making yourself feel small, and stop worrying about how a boy might feel about you and consider how you actually feel about boys. Your feelings are valid, young lady” – Tanya Reynolds

“I would tell myself that no, I’m not the only queer person in the world, and I will eventually meet someone I love, and who loves me back” – Anna Calvi​

“Look! You’re actually doing it!” – Georgia

What is your biggest indulgence?

“Scented candles and ghost hunting equipment” – Daisy May Cooper

“Napping” – Sophie Mackintosh

“Crisps and taxis – and Deliveroo think I’m a ‘business’, embarrassingly” – Daisy Haggard

“Farting” – Natasia Demetriou​

“Jammie Dodgers and a cup a tea to dip them in. I actively avoid the biscuit aisle now because I have absolutely no restraint when it comes to finishing a whole packet in one go” – Ella Eyre

“Genuinely, books” – Candice Carty-Williams​

Daisy Haggard (Getty)
Daisy Haggard (Getty)

What are you watching, listening to, and reading at the moment?

“I’m reading Saving Missy by Beth Morrey. It’s a beautifully written novel about the loneliness and subsequent saving of an elderly woman in north London. I’m watching series three of This Country by the genius Cooper siblings and the second series of Home by the gorgeous Rufus Jones” – Kathy Burke

Succession [on HBO] / Masseduction by St Vincent / Real Life by Brandon Taylor” – Sophie Mackintosh

“Watching the brilliant Unbelievable on Netflix, a true story about two female detectives who join together after a series of sexual assaults are left unsolved. I found it devastating and empowering and just brilliant” – Daisy Haggard

“I am watching a lot of life hack videos because I just bought a glue gun and learning that you can melt a bag of toy soldiers into the form of a bowl and spray paint it gold is invaluable” – Natasia Demetriou​

“I’m listening to a lot of Sega Bodega, Prince and the Meters. I’m reading Anna Karenina by Tolstoy at the moment and recently started binge-watching all the Studio Ghibli movies” – Arlo Parks

Sophie Mackintosh (Sophie Davidson)
Sophie Mackintosh (Sophie Davidson)

“I am listening to a lot of Lizzo, on repeat. The world is not always an easy place to be, and there are certain songs that can take you to a place of hopefulness, or at least to the possibility of hope. I also just listened to an amazing interview with Rebecca Solnit where she talks about the ways that different extremes of gender violence feed off one another – the power of subtler, more pernicious examples of gender violence, or simply violence as a threat, lies in the knowledge and fear of its most extreme expression. This is why the narrative of people ‘overcoming’ experiences of sexual violence can be misleading – there’s no way of moving on if you are still living with violence as a possibility. I think it’s really vital to acknowledge this. Crucially, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have hope that we can change things” – Rosie Price

“I just finished watching I Am Not Okay With This on Netflix. It was really fun, I love anything about teen angst. And I’ve been relistening to a lot of my favourite albums from my childhood – this week, it’s Gwen Stefani’s Love. Angel. Music. Baby” – L Devine

“I just watched Love is Blind on Netflix which absolutely blew my mind. The concept is pure chaos from start to finish and I finished it in 48 hours” – Ella Eyre

“I am OBSESSED with the Dear Joan and Jericha podcast. I am listening to it on repeat because I’ve finished it all but I can’t get enough of it. And I’m reading Orlando by Virginia Wolfe” – Tanya Reynolds

“I’m watching Love Is Blind on Netflix (and anyone who isn’t is missing out). I’m finally getting around to reading Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo and it’s brilliant” – Elizabeth Day

“I’m reading The Outsider by Albert Camus, listening to Mina, and the last film I watched was The Lighthouse directed by Robert Eggers” – Anna Calvi

Read more

Kesha: ‘You’re either hot, smart or classy. F*** you, I’m all of it’

Céline Sciamma: ‘Ninety per cent of what we look at is the male gaze’

Emma Mackey: ‘I’d rather be remembered as a feminist than an a***hole’