By Lucy Osborne
Trigger warning; graphic descriptions of domestic abuse and mentions of suicide
Victoria Derbyshire has been a well-established family name for decades, however her unlikely exposure in ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’ has boosted an ever-growing support of younger demographics. Victoria Derbyshire has utilised her prominent position at the BBC to curate her experience of breast cancer and domestic abuse to aid fellow survivors. As an aspiring journalist myself, Victoria Derbyshire holds all the qualities of what I deem to be a phenomenal journalist (and consequently Wonder Woman); she is pragmatic and scarily intelligent whilst still maintaining a soft compassion that allows her to tackle such challenging topics.
The BBC has come under fire numerous times over recent years for pedalling the historical Eton boy persona across their channels, ensuring only the most privileged of upbringings are a qualification for working there. This is where Victoria Derbyshire’s refreshing upbringing in Lancashire comes as a welcome change. Studying at Bury Grammar School she is a stark contrast to the southern hub of the BBC. There is still however, a horrific disparity within the representation of ethnic minorities and diversity across the company. It was revealed that two-thirds of its stars earning more than £150,000 were male, where women are often paid less than their male counterparts for the same role. Victoria Derbyshire was instrumental in producing and signing an open letter, demanding the BBC fix the decades long wage gap amongst other prominent BBC presenters, Emily Maitlis and Fiona Bruce. Upon doing research for this article, it was clear Derbyshire is outwardly supportive of closing the wage gap; however tabloids like ‘The Daily Mail’ have used this as an opportunity to manipulate Derbyshire’s words to create clickbait headlines such as “Derbyshire insists on BBC pay gap” by cunningly cropping the headline for a google search; this completely juxtaposes what Derbyshire has been advocating for. Not only does this discredit her in terms of feminist beliefs, it also undermines the vulnerable and sensitive journalism she has bravely produced, using her own experiences to aid others.
2020 was a nightmarish year for everyone, however for victims of domestic abuse being physically trapped with their abusers, Victoria Derbyshire commented on the “terror” this instils. During her childhood and adolescence, both her and her mother suffered years of abuse at the hands of her father. In a documentary for BBC Panorama, Derbyshire revisited her family home (where the abuse was instigated). Despite decades having passed, the fear and emotion on her face were terrifying, as if not a day had passed. It serves as a stark reminder that whilst presenters can appear glamorous and perfect on screen, they too have their own demons. She recalls sprinting to the police station a mile down the road as her father locked her mother in a bedroom, “scared he was going to kill her”. This ordeal would be incredibly traumatic for an adult, let alone a young teenager. Thankfully, Derbyshire’s parents divorced when she was 16, enabling her to be safe from the abuse; however thousands are not as lucky as her.
In an article for the BBC, Derbyshire chillingly states “the pandemic was used by abusers as a form of control”. Within the documentary, women in a safehouse revealed they would be dead if they hadn’t been saved by the charity ‘Solace’ – dead either by their abuser or suicide. One woman recounted how her abuser said: “Let the games begin, you’re in for a rough ride” as Boris Johnson was announcing the first lockdown. It sounds like a sickening dystopian novel, yet for millions of people this is an everyday reality.
Whilst starring on ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’, Victoria Derbyshire spoke startlingly candidly about her breast cancer, and the harsh realities of treatment. Throughout her chemotherapy, she bravely recorded video diaries attempting to de-stigmatise the illness and raise awareness for checking your breasts. They have amassed over 13 million views. She revealed to co-star Jessica Plummer, “all I was thinking was I’m going to die. Seriously, I’m going to die”; emphasising the importance of checking your breasts and noting any abnormality. Victoria’s honesty should not be deemed as scaremongering, but more as a warning story to be vigilant, in a bid to try and catch the cancer earlier and be more treatable. After surviving an arduous treatment process, Derbyshire wrote a book - Dear Cancer, Love Victoria - documenting her entire process from diagnosis to treatment; with the objective of helping support other women going through the same treatment.
BBC Panorama discovered that during the first two months of lockdown, the police were called for help about domestic abuse every thirty seconds. Whilst damaging, COVID-19 will one day be curbed; domestic abuse, however, is not something that a vaccine can cure. It is another pandemic that threatens to endanger our world for decades to come if the government continues to provide inadequate support. Whilst it is incredible for survivors like Victoria Derbyshire to raise awareness and aid victims, more has to be done from authorities.
It is evident from Derbyshire’s powerfully emotive articles and documentaries that she is an incredible journalist. I wish, however, that more journalists would follow in her footsteps and make journalism that actually helps people, rather than blagging fat-phobic headlines. In an age of fast news, Derbyshire’s careful and thoughtful words clearly strike a chord with so many women; which is simultaneously comforting and terrifying.