I began my PR career in the film industry, all very head turning and glamorous and I eventually ended up working in television at the BBC for 12 (long) years. That’s over 20 years in the entertainment business.
As a young woman you just got used to the unwanted attention of sexually inclined predators. It was never pleasant and you just had to get good at batting them away. Having chosen a career in being professionally nice to people, it was easy for even the most unattractive and well past it old man to assume that a smile from a pretty girl was nothing short of encouragement. I always made it clear that it wasn’t and I can’t think of any occasion when I couldn’t say a definite no.
I know it’s not the same as being in a situation where you are physically attacked by someone, especially if you have gone to see them to further your career and their idea of furthering your career turns out to be more than giving you a chance to show off your acting talent. Sexual predators in any industry are not new but in truth neither is the giving of sexual favours to advance your career.
And now the problem has been exposed everywhere, in the film industry, fashion, Parliament and let’s not forget the corporate world. There is a feeding frenzy, not only in the media but everywhere you look.
Many years ago I went to a book launch from Virgin Books, run by my pal who also ran Virgin Films, at Kensington Roof Gardens which had just been transformed by Richard Branson and it was not yet open to the public. Branson offered to show me round the fabulous flamingo inhabited gardens and I thought it was enchanting.
As we got to where the gardens overlooked Kensington High Street the not so polite knight lunged at me to give me a kiss. I resisted and beat a hasty retreat but didn’t see it then, or now, as ‘sexual harassment’ and don’t intend to jump on any Branson victim bandwagon. He was a cocky opportunist who clearly thought himself more attractive, irresistible and powerful than he actually was. I knew he wasn’t after me for my charm wit and personality and I was equally and most definitely not fascinated by his.
From a PR perspective I’d find it impossible to advise anyone who is currently caught in the firestorm of being accused of sexual harassment. How on earth do you rescue a reputation that has been so indelibly tarnished? I can’t see a way back for Harvey Weinstein but then America is the home for redemption. Once his court cases are over and he’s either imprisoned or just disgraced, he will no longer have a queue of studio heads, actresses – and actors- who want to work with him. Those who fawned over him, even after his alleged harassment (you know who you are ladies) might one day decide that his film making/marketing genius is worth it for their precious careers, which is why so many of them kept quiet in the first place.
I find the silence around Weinstein’s vile behaviour as reprehensible as the silence around the late paedophile Jimmy Savile. Too many people knew too many things and yet, to save their own careers, they kept quiet. If this sexual harassment avalanche teaches us nothing else, I just hope it reminds us to hold our values higher than we hold our careers. Without the former the latter is meaningless anyway.