Al Gordon meets Ruby Wax, as she continues tirelessly with her campaign to raise awareness of mental health issues
The rumours about an Absolutely Fabulous movie were confirmed at the end of last year but, as with all these things, you have to take it with a proverbial pinch until the evidence starts mounting up... which it does as soon as you share a coffee with Ruby Wax.
Thank heavens for loud Americans!
Meeting Ruby – intending to discuss her excellent work with mental health awareness website Black Dog Tribe – we’re treated instead to all the (assumed secret) ins and outs of the latest Jennifer Saunders creation, and its ‘big screen’ outing.
“The film is coming,” Ruby says with obvious excitement. “It’s definitely happening – well, at least, I hope so, otherwise the last few weeks would have been a waste of time! I’m working on it, Jennifer’s full steam ahead. I’d say it could be out early next year if we’re lucky.”
Despite the 58-year-old’s propensity to spill the proverbial beans, other details about the movie remain sketchy at best, with Saunders suggesting she’d enjoy seeing what Eddie and Patsy get up to on the French Riviera. Ruby, unfortunately, isn’t giving anything away on that front. “I can’t say what’s going to happen," she says, "but it’ll be good. You guys know we do good work. And there are more episodes to come over the summer. Well they’re actually on over the Olympics as they tie up with the Games, so that’s when you’ll see them.”
The American Anglo adoptee has been conspicuously missing off our small screens for the past couple years since appearing on the BBC’s Comic Relief Does The Apprentice in 2009. As well as touring with her one woman play, Losing It, which chronicles her lifelong battle with depression, Ruby has been engaged in her studies in Cognitive Therapy at Oxford’s Kellogg College. It’s a feat that even the broadcaster and presenter herself can’t believe she’s achieved.
“Me, at Oxford!” she screams, as only she can. “That’s not really something I ever planned to happen! You ask anyone who knew me growing up…out of all the things they could predict for me, that would be pretty far off the mark. The only thing I’m disappointed with is the fact that my university is so new. Kellogg is wonderful but I wanted the cloisters and steeples. I wanted the history… but I can at least see it from the window of my classroom. That will do!”
While advancing to a higher cerebral plain, there’s a polite symmetry with her Black Dog Tribe project. Ruby has, for a long time now, been an outspoken advocate for mental health issues. The new resource takes the form of an extensive online community forum which invites sufferers of depression and its associated illnesses to share experiences and gather confidence. A safe place of this type is something that’s been needed for years, and Ruby confesses that she’s still shocked over the lack of social understanding of the diseases.
“It used to be gays who were discriminated against. These days the law isn’t on the side of people with mental illness. You can be fired because of having depression, or an OCD. It’s just ridiculous. It’s a disease; a disease of the brain, and one so many people still don’t know about.
Her bewilderment is quite understandable. “It’s like diabetes or cancer, but some people believe you have the capacity to make it up. Who would do that? You wouldn’t tell someone suffering from schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s to snap out of it.” She pauses. “So we’re going to borrow the costumes from the gays and have our own mental health pride parade.”
She describes the project as “like a Facebook for sufferers of mental health. They’re care givers. It’s somewhere where we can all get together and discuss the issues that affect us. People with depression are always so sidelined in life; we need somewhere to vent our frustration.” Black Dog Tribe is that place.