I was searching for something on my computer today and stumbled across massed files of celebrity interviews I did in 2007, with names including Lenny Henry, Mary Portas, Lorraine Kelly, wildlife presenter and elephant expert Saba Douglas-Hamilton, Nick Knowles, actor Tim Pigott-Smith and singer Lynsey de Paul, among others.
So I dipped into the recording with the late Lynsey de P, partly because it was unusual in that (a) it took place at her immaculate London home and (b) my partner Mary was with me on the day. I joined the interview at a juicy moment, when Lynsey was giving a blood-curdling account of her housekeeper being attacked by intruders at the front door and how she came to her aid, all tying in with a self-defence DVD for women which is still available on eBay.
The interview was published in the Daily Record – Scotland’s Daily Mirror – and I’ve just found it gets a mention in one of her Wikipedia entries and even in her entry on IMDB, the Internet Movie Database. It sill makes for a good read I reckon, although I say it myself. See what you think. This is the copy exactly as it was submitted:
PS: Since writing this, Lynsey’s former agent Russell Hawkins @hawkins-russ has been touch to say how much he enjoyed seeing the piece, after spotting my tweeted link, and how much he misses Lynsey. The reach of social media never ceases to amaze me…
We’re standing in the immaculate, elegantly furnished lounge of Lynsey de Paul’s handsome Victorian villa in Hampstead, west London. Lynsey has turned her back on me and I’m clutching a hank of her long blonde hair in my clenched fist. It was something she said.
Well, she did say ‘Stand behind me and grab my hair,” which I duly did. And instead of pulling away, Lynsey clasped my fist to her scalp and spun around, leaving my hand awkwardly twisted.
“You hold the assailant’s hand down and turn round, and if I turned around twice it would break your wrist,” says Lynsey evenly.
It’s not quite the image we usually associate with the diminutive pop princess with the piping voice, flawless make-up, prominent beauty spot and trademark blonde locks.
But the singer and composer who had a string of sweetly sugary hits in the 70s (starting with Sugar Me and that rather brilliant ditty she co-wrote for The Fortunes, Storm in a Teacup) was running through some moves from her new self-defence DVD, Taking Control.*
The DVD shows how women with no special skills can ward off violent attacks by learning a few simple moves and changing their attitudes. It’s something she is passionate about.
“I do have a highly-developed sense of right and wrong, and it seemed to me that every time I opened the paper there was another woman or girl who had gone missing, been raped or been murdered, and it outraged me. I thought somebody should do something about this, and I decided I would look into it myself.”
And she did do something about it – 15 years ago! Lynsey had put the idea on the back burner until she was attacked herself (by a woman) and resolved to make a documentary to help women fight back.
She financed and produced her own seven-minute pilot, and within two weeks of putting the film in front of a BBC commissioning editor she had the green light for Eve Strikes Back, a one-hour film that won Lynsey a coveted Royal Television Society Award.
But that was in 1992, so why are we wrestling in her living room now? Well Lynsey followed up the BBC1 film with a video, and her DVD is basically an update of that.
“Much of it has been re-shot and we’ve added new statistics. The message is more urgent than ever with violent crime and sex crimes rising. But 70 per cent of self-defence is down to mental attitude, so we have to make women unlearn everything they know about not fighting back, being passive, not shouting out and worrying about causing embarrassment.”
Lynsey certainly betrays no self-consciousness in scenes where an unfortunate man grabs her from assorted angles and gets kicked where it counts so hard and so often by Lynsey’s dainty foot, you wonder whether he will ever father children again.
The fact that she’s wearing shoulder pads and big 90s hair may distract you for a moment, but just because these scenes date from 1992 does not mean women can afford to ignore a message which could save lives and avoid serious injuries:
“The original programme made such an impact because it turned upside-down what women had been taught up, which was ‘Do nothing,’ and it proved that you should fight back.
“In America the FBI studied 1.5 million cases of rape over 10 years and they found that women who fought back sustained the same levels of injury as women who didn’t – but they doubled their chances of escape! Being armed with that information helps a woman. And knowing how best to focus your defence helps a woman.
“But we’re not trying to turn women into Bruce Lee. We just show them the best physical techniques to get out of strangle-holds, to get out of back-chokes (where an assailant attacks from behind) and to get out of all kinds of other attacks.”
Lynsey devised her approach with ninth Dan Ju-Jitsu black belt John Steadman, who is in fact the poor guy being kicked into the next decade on her DVD. Fortunately his groin guard was state-of-the-art:
“He was extremely well–protected – he was wearing a box and a device the police wear to protect themselves against terrorists,” reassures Lynsey.
“I split his lip though, even though he was wearing a visor. I didn’t know I’d done it and he was so kind not to tell me, because I would have pulled my punches.”
Lynsey certainly doesn’t do that. She yells; she kicks; she goes for any part that’s vulnerable – eyes, chin, groin – and her approach directly contradicts perceived wisdom on fighting off someone trying to strangle you:
“Don’t address the area where he’s attacking – that’s might against might, and he’s stronger than you. But his main weapons – his arms – are in use while yours are free to attack his vulnerable areas. If you target them quickly you turn the control around.”
It’s a persuasive argument which looks even more convincing when you see Lynsey in action. And at a fighting weight of six-and-a-half stone, you realise that if little Lynsey can do it, anyone can.
The road rage attack that prompted her BBC documentary came when she was sitting in her car in traffic while driving through Trafalgar Square. A woman flung open her door without warning and started hitting her. When her assailant walked away Lynsey chased after “to show her what for,” but came off worst.
“She was much bigger than me, her adrenaline was already far higher than mine and I got my face scratched quite badly from my temple right down the side of my cheek. When I got back in the car I thought my lipstick had smudged, then I realised I was bleeding.”
Nowadays Lynsey says flight is better than fight, but sometimes you don’t have the choice, and fighting back is a better option than playing the victim:
“Men are not the enemy. Most men want to protect the women in their lives – their mothers, their wives, their daughters. It’s the violent minority who make women fearful. They’re bullies who have psychological problems.”
But challenge the bully and they are likely to look elsewhere. Lynsey got her own proof when, at her previous home, she was about to slip out of her kimono into the bath when she heard her cleaning lady open the door for an expected delivery,.
There was a loud bang. Lynsey leaned over the banister to investigate and saw “a criminal from central casting – six foot, woolly hat and bomber jacket” choking her cleaner from behind and punching her face.
“I went haring down the stairs like a manic Yorkshire terrier, screaming very unladylike phrases.
“Then he threw her down so she was spread-eagled on the floor, and he reached behind him. My heart flipped because I thought he was reaching for a weapon, but he was opening the front door, and there was a second person on the doorstep! So I thought ‘Oh my God. I’ve got two!
“But I kept coming and yelling, and my adrenaline level was about five feet higher than my head – and they ran away!”
“I rang Steadman to thank him and said ‘Why did they run?’ He said ‘Because their chances of being successful were going down and down. They knew you meant it; it was animalistic. And they would just go somewhere that was easier.”
It’s a lesson worth learning. Resolve not to be an easy victim, and you may not be a victim at all.
* Lynsey’s DVD Taking Control is available by mail order only, price £12.99 plus £2.99 p&p, from www.takingcontrol.tv