BOOK REVIEW: Amazing Disgrace by Grace Campbell

This debut book from Grace Campbell has changed my life, to be honest. I didn’t know I needed it, or that I’d relate to it so much, but Amazing Disgrace has made me really reflect on the normalised shame I feel most days of my life and has helped me to question why it is that I feel it in the first place.

Amazing Disgrace is a candid, humorous and introspective reflection on Grace Campbell’s personal experiences of shame, with chapters drawing upon the big guns like romantic conquests, rejection, sexual assault and mental health. Sounds serious, but also expect gags about fanny farts, avoiding potential Tories at house parties and being a bodyguard for her dad when she was a kid. In between her anecdotes, there’s witty observations observed of a culture we women buy into as part of an unspoken social contract when we’re toddlers. I can honestly say I hadn’t thought too deeply about it until Campbell started pulling out examples left, right and centre. I was floored. I mean, when you think about it, shame is indoctrinated into little girls’ heads across pretty much all cultures and it taints, very toxically, the way they grow up to value themselves and value other women.

I now see shame as this dirty little secret, which is bequeathed from one female generation to another. We don’t choose to carry it, in fact, most of the time we don’t even know we are carrying it, because it’s so inherently coded into our behaviour and our attitudes. But why? Who decides what is shameful? (*coughs* THE PATRIARCHY *coughs again*). And why are we still pandering, sacrificing our own pleasure and sanity in the process, to keep these shame police happy in 2021?

These are the questions asked by Grace Campbell, who has a charming voice and a very unique story to tell as the daughter of infamous “spin-doctor” Alastair Campbell. This woman is unashamedly herself from the outset: sex-positive, political, intelligent, hilarious and surprisingly very vulnerable, opening up about the kind of experiences we all have as young women, but very often fail to articulate. An example of this is when she looks back at a history of accepting shitty behaviour from men and throws down some hard truths, before asking us readers to hold up a mirror and face our truths, too:

“Mostly I was ashamed that I didn’t back myself more, that I didn’t know this wasn’t acceptable. But the truth is, I was in a bad place and I didn’t rate myself enough to say no to just a bit of attention. That’s what happens when we don’t rate ourselves highly- we self-destruct. You’ve done that, too, right? For my sanity, I hope your answer is yes.”

p. 20.

This book has made me resurrect my journal and, honestly, when I deliver my comprehensive write-up on the revelations I’ve had during this pandemic in my next session, it will be my therapist’s wet dream come to life.

For that, I thank Ms Campbell.

There are also a few other things I thank her for, things that I absolutely loved in this cutely illustrated lil’ book that I will definitely be passing onto friends:

I love her celebration of female friendship groups and how they can provide the same sort of value, if not more, to our sense of self than romantic relationships. I totes relate to this and have genuinely wondered on many occasions how I would still be standing were it not for the lovely interventions of my fab friends when I’m up shit’s creek or about to make a very bad life decision at a house party full of strangers that don’t have my best interests at heart. I love her ability to talk about how messy anxiety and depression can be, and how utterly normal it is to consider medication for such ailments. Again, I can’t commend her enough for using her platform to bring awareness as to how common these illnesses really are and how important it is to try whatever it is that works for you, in order to recover.

What I admire the most about Grace Campbell is that there’s no hiding behind a performance for her readers: her life is her literal material and she delves into it with a bravery that has me shook. There’s no attempts of beating around the bush or ignoring the elephant in the room: Amazing Disgrace literally reads like a very personal journal with no censorship or conformity, in order to try and seem palatable to a universal audience. I love Grace Campbell’s frankness about people. There’s frequent jabs at the stiff upper lips of Etonians, middle-aged white men oblivious to their privilege and stale conquests who make you feel like shit for a bit, but serve their ultimate purpose when you’re going through a glow-up, as a solid reminder of what not to settle for.

On the surface of it, I shouldn’t relate to Grace Campbell at all. I’m a brown 26 year-old girl living in Bradford and my dad is nowhere near as influential (thank god?!) as her father. I assumed I wouldn’t relate to her shenanigans on account of the fact she’s white and has grown up with privileges I couldn’t dream of ever having. She proved my judgmental British-born, Bangladeshi blooded ass completely and utterly wrong.

Most people will likely judge Grace for her relation to her father, as I unfairly did, but it’s refreshing and real empowering to see that she actually isn’t afraid of calling out anybody or anything. She isn’t living in the shadows, adhering to the strict protocol of appearing dignified and poised to perfection 24/7. She’s in her own limelight, talking about really difficult stuff, making the world her stage and being very brave in doing so. Thank fuck for that, or else she’d be denying us her fabulous Instagram stories and advice on “Politicians as lovers”.

Grace doesn’t hide her disdain for anybody, especially a certain Mr Tony Blair. I would say, actually, that she celebrates it. She remarks, at the beginning of the first chapter, “So, Tony Blair stole the thunder of my birth.” (p. 23) and then goes onto highlight every instance of this disgraced PM’s attempts to derail her childhood. This is how she begins her depiction of an entire childhood lost to media scrutiny and fears about the welfare of her family, as paparazzi took up residence outside their home and delivered their barrage of heated opinions on the Iraq war. After reading this, I felt like a right dickhead. It is so easy to write off somebody else’s experiences due to them appearing to have more privileges than you, but I’d never thought about what she had in relation to what it cost her. Things like her right to privacy or her relationships with her parents, which were inevitably strained by the bucktoothed allure of Blair.

Another reason I related so much to the book was that there’s a self-awareness that runs throughout the chapters, acknowledging the intersectionality of women and their experiences, the common grounds and the vast differences across socioeconomic backgrounds, racial identities, sexualities and beyond. As a brown female reader who is so used to reading the entitled perspectives of predominantly white men and women, who can’t really see outside of their own experiences, it’s been so wonderful to actually read a sincere voice who is reaching out to “other” readers and is capable of identifying, flat-out, why it’s so important to check yourself in today’s climate:

“Just because I know there are people out there with more privilege than me doesn’t mean I don’t have to acknowledge the power structures that I’ve benefited from… Checking your privilege is a good first step, but saying that isn’t enough. We can all do more to dismantle white supremacy.”

p. 63.

By the end of the book, I felt like I could have been Grace’s best mate if I’d just happened to live across the road from her or gone to her secondary school (also attended by Dua Lipa and Campbell won’t let you forget it). She’s the same age as me, of a liberal ideology (she hates Tories as much as I do, OMG!), a massive feminist and she’s gone through alarmingly similar situations with regards to having mental breakdowns whilst abroad and being sexually assaulted/treated like a Kleenex by far too many members of the Dickheads Club. On top of that, she’s at a point in her life where she just doesn’t give a shit anymore about playing up to other people’s expectations at the expense of her mental health. We love to see it.

I am a self-professed alcoholic bookworm who has spent a substantial period of her life falling into very similar traps as Grace Campbell. I am only now beginning to realise how futile it is, trying to impress everybody (especially when they’re not worth my fantastic drunken renditions of Whitney Houston) and I genuinely feel a relief at having accidentally found an ally through the pages of her debut book. This is an open invitation to Grace Campbell, which will undoubtedly be rebuffed (I don’t blame her, in retrospect, this is reading as a little bit stalker-ish but I’ve come so far so I can’t turn back), but when you’re up North for your comedy tour (definitely will be buying tickets), please let me buy you a cocktail and tell you how awesome you are? That is all, j’adore.

You can buy Amazing Disgrace here.

And you should most definitely check out her Insta for daily fabulousness, you will not regret:

Churchill is not my hero (part 2)

I’m Bangladeshi and I didn’t even know Bangladesh had two major famines until literally 2 years ago, and that was because I accidentally found a video of Shashi Tharoor talking about the issue. I’m a self-professed simpleton. I barely know anything apart from the regurgitated and filtered curriculum taught at school. I barely know anything about my native culture. It’s embarrassing.

I did this to myself, by rejecting my brownness as a kid so that I’d fit in. Obviously you can’t take your skin off, but you can reject your identity for sure. I refused to speak Bangla, hated dressing in saris and avoided any cultural/religious events like COVID-19. My childhood was basically Anita & Me, with me being the brown kid who just wants to be her best mate, the white girl from a completely different walk of life.

I’m a different person now. I’ve taken an active interest in my roots and asked questions, which has led to me hearing stories of civil unrest, family members seeing strangers shot before their eyes, whole villages uprooting and fleeing to India, as well as accounts of adapting to British life, following immigration in the years after.

It’s astounding.

Did you know that my grandad was a qualified teacher, and a pretty damned good one, in Bangladesh? Because I didn’t know exactly how esteemed he was in this role or how much of an impact he had on his many students, until his funeral. My grandad, as far as I’d known as a kid, was a labourer in a carpet factory in Bradford. He had a beautiful brain on his shoulders but that didn’t matter because his qualification counted for nothing in Britain. So he worked in an environment that probably involved few brain cells, and worked his ass off to give his children a great life in a country that, up until the fifties, didn’t even allow brown people to own their own properties.

You conform to fit in and you’re embraced more if you’ve got a “whiter” personality. I’ve been called either “paki” by dimwits or a “coconut” my whole fucking life, always being a classic Asian from afar and an exceptional token for racists who say I don’t “count” as one of the stereotypical Asians they have a problem with. What the fuck does that even mean? I’m stumped, man. I really am.

I don’t hate anybody. I just want more awareness of HISTORICAL FACT and more consideration of VALID HUMAN EXPERIENCES/FEELINGS. “Historical amnesia” is 100% a thing and I really believe that if people looked at the past with less tunnel vision and embraced the “other” with less fear/hostility, the world would be so much nicer.

As a young kid, as far as I was aware, Britain had practically reformed the rest of the world and turned helpless brutes into the pillars of civilised organisations. As an adult, I’m learning that brutality is on my doorstep and rich cultural civilisations were destroyed by colonialism. Lives were undervalued then, just as they are now. So let’s just wake up, smell the coffee and change shit for reals so that this same conversation doesn’t need to be had in another 100 years’ time.

My future dogs and children will not be growing up to think cultural erasure, racism or just being an asshole in general is acceptable🐶👶🏽🤷🏾‍♀️

EDIT: Actually, there were still issues with “coloured people” buying houses in 1968. Nikesh Shukla, a wicked writer you should read, said in his interview with The Independent that, “My uncle Mahesh is a source of strength for me: in 1968 he tried to buy a house in Huddersfield but they had a policy not to sell to “coloured people”. He’s the first person to have brought a case of racial discrimination under the Race Relations Act.”.