Last week I watched "My Mum and Me" the inspirational documentary featuring Tulisa Contostavlos and exploring the challenges faced by young carers. She not only traced her own experience of growing up caring for a mother with schizoaffective disorder but introduced us to other young people in similar circumstances. It certainly struck a chord with me, having grown up with a bi-polar father and having a sister with schizoaffective/bi-polar disorder, I am only too aware of the impact living with someone with a mental health condition has on the whole family. For me, even at 14, it was terrifying when my father had his first "episode", but it only really hit me how terrible it was for my mum when at 18, stationed in Germany, I was sent home to care for the family since my mum had also had a breakdown, having been totally stressed out by watching for the signs of my dad becoming ill. She was always a buffer for all of us children, but even then, I know it had a negative impact on our schooling and sense of security. How can you concentrate on your studies when your father is seriously ill, behaving in a way that is at best unsettling and at worst terrifying? So how much more unsettling and terryfing must if have been for Tulisa, on her own, no father or brothers and sisters for support, being the only one having to deal with her mother's terrifying illness from 11 years old? No wonder it impacted on more than just her schooling!
So re-reading Nadine Dorries' self-righteous hypocritical rant against Tulisa becoming an X Factor judge has, I am afraid, initiated a right royal rant of my own! If Nadine was in any position whatsoever to pass judgement on anyone else, even then, what she says is cruel, self serving and ignorant. Her basic, flawed logic is apparently based on her view that no one deserves as second chance........oh, unless your name is Cameron or Coulson of course. So to take her argument to its logical conclusion, Cameron, who in his youth, despite coming from a privileged background, allegedly took drugs and smashed up places, really should never have been allowed to become an MP, let alone Prime Minister?
So this apparent paragon of virtue who pontificates on everyone else without allowing them the right to reply, thinks she can stand in judgement on a young woman who has taken on huge caring responsibilities at an early age, has had mental health issues to deal with herself and still managed to turn her life around? The most ridiculous comment in her blog claims "And for anyone who is even getting near to thinking it's ok, because she has turned her life around and what she is doing is showing teenagers that it's ok to behave badly, because they can turn it around too, let's get real shall we?" Who on earth would make that argument? No-one would argue it's OK to behave badly - but surely those who have been able to turn their lives around should be applauded? Where I do agree with Nadine is that not every young person can become a superstar, but whether we like it or not, many do look to the stars for their role models. What they also need are role models closer to home - sadly with the cuts to the voluntary and local authority youth provision many of those opportunities are being lost. And I haven't seen Nadine argue once against the swingeing cuts Central Beds have made to their Youth and Connexions services who for many young people would have offered just the kind of role models they need.
So, my message to Nadine is please, for once, start putting your money where your mouth is. If you really care about young people, demonstrate it by recognising the support they need and deserve. You clearly care deeply for children before they are born, if only that care and concern extended beyond the womb! I hope you will watch Tulisa's story with just a little compassion and perhaps think twice before judging her, or calling others "nutters" (something you also called me) without a modicum of understanding about the challenges many of our young people face. And I trust having watched it you may have the good grace to apologise.
And to Tulisa I would say thank you. Thank you for being so honest, for admitting to not only what you have done wrong in your life but also for speaking openly about what it is like to grow up caring for a parent with a mental health condition. Thank you for the genuine care and understanding you showed for other young carers and for drawing our attention to a group of young people who so often get ignored because they are not on the streets causing a problem, but dealing with fear, anxiety and isolation on their own. I think you are a fantastic role model and I am delighted that you are using that position to make a real difference to the lives of other young people.