How to make your own rules: Michelle Visage's favourite celebrity rule-breakers on forging their own path
Do you ever feel like society’s ‘rules’ don't work for you? Are some rules made to be broken? Michelle Visage has been exploring these things with the guests on her Radio 2 podcast Rule Breakers.
The iconic broadcaster and Drag Race judge goes deep with some of her favourite celebrity rule breakers to find out how they got to where they are today and hear stories that inspire us to do things differently.
From her soulmate RuPaul to Hollywood actress-turned-entrepreneur Cameron Diaz, singer Jessie J to comedian and author Dawn French, Michelle has always gravitated towards people who forge their own path in life. Here her brilliant guests share some of the things they’ve had to learn the hard way, to help us all get out there and write our own rules…
Cameron Diaz: ‘Start validating yourself’
In a rare and deeply honest chat with Michelle, Cameron Diaz discussed everything from quitting Hollywood to finding love, motherhood and ageing – not to mention making headlines worldwide for admitting she rarely washes her face!
“I am absolutely a victim to all of the societal objectifications and exploitations that women are subjected to," Cameron told Michelle. "I have bought into all of them myself at certain times. It's hard not to… and I think that's one of the biggest things [since giving up acting], the last eight years, girl… I’m like, wild! I’m like a wild animal, I’m a beast! And I don't care. Literally the last thing I think about on a daily basis, like maybe not at all, is what I look like.”
Cameron also shared some golden life advice about being true to yourself: “When you're young, life is so painful, because you're looking for validation from the outside world. As you get older you realise, it's not about the external validation. It's about the truth within yourself and who you are.
“That's a journey… but if you start validating yourself in your youth, if you start to honour who you are from the inside, you'll be ahead of the game. It’s not about looking for the [rule] that has to be broken, it's about honouring the thing that you have to do for you to feel whole. Your own sense of self, that's how you break the rules.”
Alan Carr: ‘Find something you love’
Comedian and presenter Alan was working in a call centre when he started doing regular stand-up, but he says the secret is to: “Find something you love. And then you will break all the rules, because it will feed you. It will nourish you, or make you go, ‘this is the right path, I love life!’.
“When I started out, my dad was disappointed that I wasn't a footballer," Alan told Michelle. "He would have loved to see me at Wembley and all that. But as he's got older, he's mellowed, and he's so proud of me. And you know why he wanted that? He said to me once, ‘Alan, when you're in a football team, you have 10 friends, and I just wanted you to have those 10 friends.’
“I did the Royal Variety Performance last year, I had the best night ever. I was on the stage and I looked over, my dad was crying. He was so proud. I just felt like [we’d gone] full circle. Because for that night, the Royal Albert Hall was probably my Wembley. And of course, that was the moment when he said, ‘Oh, Alan's not going to be lonely.’’
RuPaul: ‘Give yourself permission’
Now probably the world’s most famous drag queen, RuPaul and Michelle have been firm friends, confidants and co-workers for decades, gracing first the clubs of New York together in the 80s and now our living rooms on Drag Race. Ru credits his success with being able to ‘silence the noise’ and shared some wise words on how to tune into your own intuition.
“It goes back to giving yourself permission, I mean really giving yourself permission. Finding those places in your consciousness that are blocks or that block the energy, you know? I’ve met so many people who, their biggest challenge is their own perception of themselves.
“I think everybody has the ability and the intuitive powers to read the room, read another person. But I think most people are too invested in the matrix, into the story they tell themselves, to be able to hear that intuitive voice.”
So how do we tune in? Ru tells Michelle: “You clear a space for it. You find it in stillness, you find it in putting your phone away, you find it in meditation... It's there. It's so covered up with static, but it's available to everyone.”
Marc Jacobs: ‘You need to show up’
“There's no recipe, really, for success… And there is no guarantee of anything. But you've got a much better shot if you get up and get out and show up, right?” fashion designer Marc Jacobs told Michelle on his episode of Rule Breakers.
“You can't teach people courage. I'm still afraid after 30 years of having fashion shows. I'm scared to death people won't like it… that we won't finish, that it won't be right. But you know what? Egg in my face, no egg in my face… I still do it.”
Marc says he’s also discovered that ‘owning your truth’, be it on social media or just in everyday life, goes a long way.
“I learned a while back, because of my drug addiction and alcohol problems, and with my recent hair transplants that like, you can't hurt me if I tell my truth before you do it. [That moment] from [the film] Eight Mile with Eminem, it’s like ‘you can't say nothing, because I've already said it’. And I love that, I love that mic drop moment of like, ‘you’ve got nothing on me’.”
Dawn French: ‘Make sure you are in the room’
“I'm not sure I am a rule breaker, I think I’m more of a ‘live inside the rules and see how you can just push the edges a little bit’,” Dawn told Michelle, as she shared her advice to all the rule breakers in training out there.
“Make friends with the people on the inside and push from the inside out. That's a little bit how I've lived. It was very potent for Jennifer [Saunders] and I when we first had our own show at the BBC and we suddenly realized when it came to the editing of the show, that's where the power was. And we decided that we would be in the edit. No one said you couldn't, but no one ever invited you.
“So, it's always worth - with kindness - saying, ‘Hey, could we be there?’ Always look around to see where you can have the input that matters the most, and just say, ‘Okay, how can I be a bit more involved with this part of what we do?’ Ask, and then if someone says ‘no’, you ask a little bit stronger, until you are in the room making the changes yourself.”
Dawn admits she has rarely lacked confidence in her own abilities though.
“I hope that doesn't sound arrogant. I put this down to my dad especially, and my mum, raising me to believe that I was capable of stuff. And especially as a little fat girl that my body, none of this, should stop me from imagining that I deserve love from the best people. I deserve decency and respect. And it was my duty to be kind to other people in exactly the same way… You know, I have doubts… But I've never for a second thought that I don't deserve my place.”
Jessie J: ‘We could all do with some more empathy’
“I think the advice that I've started to give people is that, honestly, the most important thing is just to be yourself. Literally just ‘be yourself’. Like, wear what you want, say what you want, write what you want, sing what you want… just be yourself, as opposed to trying to be anything else,” Jessie J told Michelle in a heartfelt and honest interview about doing things her way.
The singer and former judge on The Voice shared her thoughts on the media, her career and her experience of miscarriage last year, and told us why she thinks we should stop judging ourselves – and other people – so harshly.
“We could all do with some more sympathy and some more empathy. We're in this together. And that's the energy this world needs right now. If the last few years has shown us anything, it’s that it really doesn't matter. If you love someone, find them and tell them! Like, just squash the stupid stuff.”
Tan France: ‘The space you’re in now isn’t the space you will always be in’
"Running away shouldn't always be seen as a negative. It can actually open you up and give you freedom like you've never understood before, and protect you,” says Yorkshire-born Tan France, who shot to fame as the fashion expert on Netflix’s huge makeover show, Queer Eye, having set up home in the US.
"The advice I would give is to understand that the place geographically that you're in right now, doesn't need to be the place you're in permanently. And the space you're in mentally right now isn't the space you will always be in,” Tan told Michelle.
“You have the right to dictate your future. It doesn't matter what community you're raised in. This boy from the 80s could be raised in a strict Muslim household and become one of the faces of the queer Brown community globally. That should never have happened to somebody like me. It can happen to you. You can live a happy, normal life.”
Alok: ‘Everyone’s going through something’
“I never saw myself as breaking rules, because I didn't believe in the rules to begin with,” writer, activist and comedian Alok Vaid-Menon told Michelle during their chat. BUT they say binning the old-fashioned belief that we shouldn’t talk about our mental health in public has had a huge impact on their life.
“Speaking openly about mental health is so important. I operate from the premise that everyone is going through something, even if they seem powerful and strong and competent. We're all haunted by so many things. And what I've found in my career, and in my life, is that the more publicly vulnerable I am, the more space I create, the more permission I give to other people to be honest.
“When we're honest with each other about how hard it is to be alive, I think that's when we default to compassion. I feel like so much of the reason we shame and are so cruel to each other is because we assume that one another is doing well. But that's just not the truth. Everyone's going through something.”
Billy Porter: ‘You are the blueprint for your life… Do it, be it!’
Award-winning actor, singer, writer, director and red-carpet rule-breaker Billy Porter has embodied some truly iconic roles on stage and screen, from Lola in Kinky Boots on Broadway to Pray Tell in Ryan Murphy’s ballroom drama Pose – a role that would become “a proxy for my own healing” when it came to sharing his HIV status with the world.
He is self-assured about being “one of a kind” and tells Michelle: “When there's nobody like you, you are the blueprint. You have to draw it yourself. When you are a trailblazer, one must understand that, so that you can make the proper choices and step into it… Do it! Be it!”
Billy credits one of his favourite trailblazers and rule breakers with having a big impact on the path he’s followed.
“I remember watching Oprah. She came on the first day of the season and she said, “So, I've made some decisions, and I've made some changes. And I'm not going to be doing that shop talk stuff anymore. I am now doing: 'live your best life'. The only reason she transcended being a talk show host to changing the entire culture is because she was able to go, ‘There's a calling on my life that is beyond this. And I have to step into the fullness of it by pushing out the noise.’ The last few years, I have really, truly been able to find that space for myself.”
Dita Von Teese: ‘You can take something away from every experience’
Mistakes are for learning from, according to Dita Von Teese, the model and dancer-turned-businesswoman who has reinvented burlesque and is not a fan of wasting time with regrets.
“All of these things people challenge you on, you learn from, right? All the mistakes, or the things people might put on you... You can take something away from every experience, whatever it is.
“I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Yeah, I have regrets. But then I go, ‘Oh, but if you hadn't experienced that, you wouldn't have done this’, you know? Even the things like, ‘I wish I'd never met that person’. But that person made me do this, that person, you know, lit a fire under you.
“So I always try to find the good. No matter what terrible thing happens, you can find something good in it.”
You can listen to the first 10 episodes of Michelle Visage’s Rule Breakers right now on BBC Sounds and Michelle will be back with more brilliant and inspiring guests in August. Her brand new Friday night show will be serving up music to make you feel good from 15th July on Radio 2.