What an appalling role model: Tulisa's autobiography sends a depressing message to her fans, says LIZ JONES
21:27 GMT, 28 September 2012
Good role model Tulisa Contostavlos has written an autobiography about her troubled upbringing
Just 24 years old, and having made her name with a band most Britons have never heard of, Tulisa Contostavlos has suddenly positioned herself as the face of Saturday night TV.
Installed by Simon Cowell as a judge on ITV’s X Factor, she is now a role model for millions of young girls who slavishly follow the show — many of whom are still at primary school but who watch the programme with their families every week.
Now, Tulisa has capitalised on this sudden rise in her profile by writing an autobiography about her troubled upbringing in North London. And it is enough to make any sane parent’s hair stand on end.
When I read it this week, the first thing that struck me was the price: 20. Do the girls who are the target audience for this book really have that kind of money
Then there was the photograph on the cover: she is depicted as having the unformed face of a toddler. This is deliberate, of course: no tattoo, no nose stud, no joint hanging from that innocent rosebud mouth (in the book, she talks of regularly smoking cannabis). Just over-large blue eyes, like a doll.
The image is seductive, certainly. And dangerous. Just like her story. So why is it such a bad thing to print, at her grand old age, the autobiography of a pop star
Aren’t we supposed to feel sorry for a young woman who, as she reveals so graphically, was brought up by a mother with mental health problems, was bullied at school, drugged and date raped at 16, was a member of a gang, but overcame it all to find success, despite having no qualifications at all
Unfortunately, the impressionable young women who will lap up the book, Honest, will not see it for the improbable, chance-in-a-million story it is. Nor will they be able to read between the lines and see into the future (viz, that success rarely lasts, that money does not always bring happiness).
The book is dangerous because young women will believe the exact same thing could happen to them — that one day they could be presenting The X Factor, too. Because most young women from Tulisa’s background — indeed, from any background — do not get to have books ghosted for them.
In her memoir, she writes about almost losing her virginity aged 12, saved only by the fact that she was so drunk she vomited on her assailant. It finally happens when she is 14, and with an older boy named Jono, who is her drug dealer, no less — at a bed and breakfast in North London.
The face of Saturday night TV: Tulisa stars as one of the judges on ITV's hit reality show The X Factor
‘He didn’t ask if I was ready to take that step or if I was OK with what was happening, he just went ahead and undressed me and we had sex. Afterwards, I felt slightly numb, knowing I had just lost my virginity. Was that it’ (For good measure, she adds that at the time she was ‘on and off’ with another boy as well.)
There is no self-awareness or responsibility in that account: no mention of birth control, no fear that she might be pregnant, or infected with an STD.
I looked hard and nowhere in the book is the word ‘condom’ used. This is because her account has no thought for the girl who might read it and think, OK, this is normal to let this happen. There are no consequences, only stardom.
Tulisa writes, too, about self-harming, from the age of 14 until she was 17, and the high it gave her: ‘When I first cut my arm with the scissors, there was a part of me that enjoyed it . . . the sharp pain felt kind of good . . . I started slashing madly at my wrists, causing the blood to pour rather than seep.’
She says herself the idea to harm herself only came when she met another young girl whose wrists were bandaged. Tulisa says she also suffered from a compulsion — called dermatillomania (skin picking) — which meant she would use tweezers, clippers and her own fingernails to cause ‘catastrophe on my face, leaving gaping, weeping holes that must have looked horrendous’.
But rather than also write that such self-harm never works, that you can ruin your skin for ever more (surely the only deterrent young girls care about, and another reason her airbrushed cover is so duplicitous), she finishes: ‘I was lucky, my skin always healed quickly without too much scarring.’
Honest: Tulisa at a book-signing (left) for her autobiography (pictured right) which talks of underage sex, handbag snatching, drugs and gang violence
For all her persona of being a tomboy, and ‘in control’, Tulisa’s relationship with men is stuck in the Victorian era: she put up with violence, but could never for one second exist without a man, even after she has suffered grievously at a man’s hand.
The most horrifying section of the book is the description of the date rape. She describes how, when she was 16, she went to a rave with a group of local boys. They were all ‘mates’. One boy slipped a drug into her drink.
‘I was dizzy, could hardly stand up . . . I remember waking up, in the back of a cab. I blacked out again. When I came round, I was in a bedroom, my so-called friend was on top of me, having sex with me. I couldn’t even move, let alone get up or speak.’
Next morning, she woke up in this lout’s bedroom, and his mum was standing over her, with a cup of tea. She says she was ‘embarrassed and ashamed’. She never spoke about it, or told the police. ‘I’d like to see someone try that with me now!’ she concludes.
Yet she continued to date wildly unsuitable, domineering men, who metaphorically rape her in other ways, such as the release of the infamous sex tape by an ex-boyfriend called Justin Edwards — a DJ, of course — in March of this year.
At first Tulisa thinks such a tape impossible, and then, she remembers: ‘I recalled having a terrible hangover after a drunken night with Justin. I remembered him . . . filming me [performing a sex act] because he thought it was funny, and me yelling at him to stop.’
But still she plays the victim, unable to see a pattern. She was drunk aged 12; four years later, at that rave, she was drinking again, which indirectly led to her being date raped. If she does not learn from her behaviour, then how will her readers
On stage in The X Factor, she is all about control: the strong, raised salute with her right arm which reveals the tattoo that reads: ‘The female boss.’
But she has never once stopped dating men who leach from her, or been part of a drive to stop young women from binge-drinking. Indeed, her book is a wildly retro, pre-feminist portrayal of what it is to be a woman now.
It’s interesting, too, to see how soon after becoming famous she abandoned the tomboy outfits for the retro, man-pleasing Hollywood-style glamour she invests in now, all Veronica Lake blonde quiff and pillarbox red mouth. She’s turned herself into a walking Barbie doll, her past seemingly erased.
I had wondered why Simon Cowell chose this girl to be a judge on his talent show, given her paucity of a track record in the public eye — a few hit singles, a couple of tours; her music never made it in the U.S. — but now I can see exactly why.
She is like a worm on the end of a fishing line, a mirror held up to all those other girls out there who believe they are, or are going to be, stars just because they have a tan and fake eyelashes.
There is a big difference between a cautionary tale and the one Tulisa’s book presents, which will encourage her fans to believe that no matter how much you drink, or play truant, you will be ferried around in a limo wearing an expensive dress before lounging by a pool.
The problem is that too many young women, including Tulisa, have developed a sense of entitlement, however limited their talent or willingness to work hard, let alone get out of bed early.
Take what Tulisa says in her book about when her band, N-Dubz, started to make it: ‘We had fought so long for success.’ The woman was barely 18! This new brand of pop is so much worse than the Spice Girls, who at least had solidarity, wore sugary pink and laughed, whereas in this book Tulisa sees other young women as rivals to be fought.
Rise to stardom: Tulisa started out as a member of N-Dubz. She says they 'fought so long for success'
The amount of girl-gang violence is graphic and vile: so many times Tulisa is beaten up or attacked with broken bottles, but her solution is never to stay at home and practise her so-called music, but to become ever tougher, to fight back.
She recalls one night when her gang of girls — as the only white member she was known as ‘Whitey’ — fought with a rival crowd. One of her allies, ‘one of the hardest bitches I’ve ever met’, removed one of her Timberland boots and starts hitting a girl in the face with it.
‘When the girl was crying and bleeding on the floor, the girl from our gang started screaming at her: You f*****g b*****d! Look! You’ve got blood all over my new boots.’
When they were not fighting, they were stealing, both from men they mixed with and from women in ‘the richer areas of London, like Hampstead or Swiss Cottage’. Tulisa recalls how they would snatch handbags while she would be ‘the lookout, or the one who hid the bag once it had been stolen’. She admits to feeling guilt afterwards, but explains her actions away by saying: ‘I felt safe with these girls . . . I didn’t want to give that up, even though it meant committing crime.’
Who do I blame for all this I don’t blame Tulisa’s parents — her musician father left home when she was nine. The only commendable part of the book is how it explores what it is like to be the child of someone with mental illness.
OK, so do I blame singers such as Rihanna and Tulisa for the effect they have on their young fans, making them believe they have to be pretty, and sexualised, and aggressive and confident and mouthy
No, I don’t. I blame the record industry for not caring about neither their ‘artists’ nor their fans. They care only about money.
Tulisa poses with members of Little Mix who she coached during the last series of The X Factor. Liz Jones says Tulisa only communicated with her singers via email
I’d have got these record labels and radio stations to have helped foot the bill for the damage done during last year’s riots.
there is one line in the book that really made me laugh: ‘I find it
easy to get on with people on the whole.’ I met Tulisa, once. I was with
the X Factor contestants she was mentoring in the make-up room
backstage during the semi-final of last year’s series.
About two hours before the live show, Tulisa turned up in a tracksuit, an entourage of young men in her wake. She came in the room, blanked me, said ‘Hi!’ to her protegees, and then promptly disappeared into her dressing room. She even watched the dress rehearsal via the flatscreen TV in her room (I wonder that she could see it past all the flowers), and only communicated with her singers via email.
Why wasn’t she telling them what this book fails to do: ‘You know it could all be over in minutes, this fame stuff.
‘Are you sitting A-levels What I need most as a singer is not lash extensions, but a degree in accountancy. Trust no one, least of all a man . . . and, above all, don’t drink and take drugs: they will destroy you.’
Perhaps if she had done that, I’d have a little more respect for her.