'It's basically still s*** to be disabled', comedian Rosie Jones on why cerebral palsy won’t hold her back

COMEDIAN, presenter and author Rosie Jones, 31, on why cerebral palsy won’t hold her back.

Last year, on a night out with a group of eight friends, I made a special request to one who was about to order from the bar – could I have my espresso martini in a tumbler? I absolutely love martinis, but because of my disability, I can’t hold a martini glass as the stem is too thin. When she returned from the bar, she was carrying eight espresso martinis on a tray – and all eight were in tumblers. 

I asked: “What have you done? I just meant mine,” and she replied: “Rosie, if you’re having that glass, we’re all having that glass.” It might sound silly, but I cried. It was stupid to get emotional about a bloody martini, but she made it so I wasn’t the odd one out.

I have cerebral palsy, but I find that quite an annoying term. It literally means “brain damage”. Mine affects my speech and my walking, and when I write something it looks like a Victorian ghost child has done it. But apart from being a little bit slow, it’s not affected me in the slightest. I can’t wear heels – but even if I was able-bodied, I’m a dungarees and Dr Martens girl until I die. And living in London means I don’t need to drive.

But even though I grew up being very confident, I just  assumed that when I got older, if I was lucky, I’d get a job in a shop and live with my mum and dad, and they would drive me to work every day. I never saw a disabled person achieving greatness, and I feel that if I’d seen [disabled] characters in books or on the television, it would have allowed me to dream bigger. 

Over the past 18 months, I’ve done a lot, but honestly, I don’t know how! I presented my TV show Trip Hazard on Channel 4, I went out to Tokyo for the Paralympics coverage in the summer, and my children’s book The Amazing Edie Eckhart was released. 

I think the book is the thing I’m most proud of. When I was four years old I said I wanted to write children’s books, so the fact that I’ve achieved that dream is unbelievable. The main character Edie is an 11-year-old girl who’s amazing, ambitious, stubborn, funny, loves sausage rolls and Marvel movies – and has cerebral palsy, like me.

The book is about her starting secondary school and all the joy and problems and heartbreak that goes along with that, on top of being disabled. It’s just Edie working out where she belongs in the world. That’s an ongoing process for me, too.

I’m trying not to apologise for everything. A few years ago, I realised that whenever I fell over, the first thing I would say was: “I’m sorry”. I did not give a s**t about myself, my knees or anything – my worry was making people feel uncomfortable or sorry for me. Whenever something happened because of my disability, for example in a bar, I’d say: “Sorry, could you please put my martini in a tumbler” – but why am I apologising for something I can’t actually help? 

When I appeared on Question Time in October, I had to deal with all sorts of ableist abuse. Recently, I tweeted I was lesbian and pro trans, and now there’s a new set of people ready to abuse me and hate me, but I think dealing with negativity comes down to self-belief. I like who I am, I’m proud of what I’m doing and I believe what I say to be true. For every abuser, there’s 10, 20 or 30 supporters. 

My job, first and foremost, is that of a comedian. People pay me to tell jokes, but because of that job I’ve now got a following and a platform, and I’ve become aware that I can use that platform for good. Because right now, with the government and in the world, it’s still basically s**t to be disabled. As well as that, it’s quite s**t to be queer and it’s still quite s**t even to be a woman. So if I get the opportunity to make change, I’ll take it. 

  • The Amazing Edie Eckhart by Rosie Jones (£6.99, Hodder Children’s Books) is out now. 

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