Jameela Jamil On Fame, Porn And Why Men Need To Change

The former Radio 1 and T4 darling is reinventing herself as a serious journalist and campaigner. As she promotes new disability awareness project Why Not People?, Esquire's Sam Parker gets her views on fame, pornography and why men still aren't 'opening up' enough

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“Men are like these vessels that are about to burst."

Jameela Jamil is sat in a central London restaurant eating gluten-free bread because she has allergies, wearing a voluminous purple dress (“like something from Sesame Street” she muses as she arrives) that rustles when she gets animated – which is often – talking to me about male suicide.

"Most of my friends are male. And I’ve known some of them to literally go through mental breakdowns and still not talk about how they feel. Except to me. My shoulders are sodden with the tears of men...”

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At this point in our conversation, I try unsuccessfully to fish an ice cube out of a tub using a spoon so I can add it to my mineral water.

“Just finger the ice. Finger it!” she breaks off to instruct me. “I fingered mine!”

This is what conversation with the 29-year-old TV presenter, DJ and model – that should read 'former’ TV presenter, DJ and model, but more on that later – is like: passionate, rude, always very funny, full of unexpected twists and turns.

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Her life has been a little like that, too. Following a car accident when she was 17, Jamil was unable to walk for years and, by her own admission, was unattractive and unpopular as a teenager.

Then, aged 22, she auditioned for a job as a T4 presenter, got it, and became an overnight staple of Saturday morning TV. In 2012 she became the first solo female presenter of the Radio 1 Chart Show, gained 200,000 listeners, won a host of awards and – unlike many T4 alumni who struggle once they fly the nest – looked set for a long and successful career in British showbiz.

Until, at the end of 2014, she decided to pack it all in.

“I had a breast cancer scare, and had to have a massive operation in which I lost a large chunk of my bosoms,” she explains.

“Although I had what can only be described as an arse up there anyway, so it’s fine.”

The experience, nevertheless, prompted her to reevaluate life.

“It was scary, thinking about how different things could have been. The day I got the all clear, I quit the Chart Show and booked a one way ticket out of England.”

Jamil is now based in LA, which sounds like a fairly typical attempt to ‘break America’. Except it isn’t, not really. She is slowly building a new career as a writer, but also travelling the world unrecognised, doing what she wanted to do before T4 happened.

“I am having a gap year at 29, OK? If you’re going to keep pushing, it’s a fucking gap year," she jokes. "I never had one. At 22 I was going to travel the world teaching English. I had a ticket to Brazil. Then I got offered a job, and six years flew by. I don’t remember where my twenties went.”

Like her fellow T4 graduate Rick Edwards – who is currently trying to convince the youth of Britain to vote – Jamil is slowly trying to associate herself with more meaningful activities than interviewing Johnny Depp (which she doesn't consider a career highlight) or playing John McEnroe in an exhibition match at Wimbledon (which she does).

Today’s interview has been granted to help promote Why Not People?, a company she has set up to challenge perceptions of disabled people via a series of high profile concerts involving Coldplay, Sam Smith and James Blake among others. At the same time, she is writing magazine columns and blogging regularly on topics like parenthood, debt and pornography.

"I’m not against porn as a whole – I think it has a great purpose in the world,” she tells me when I bring up the latter. "But people in today’s porn don’t look like they are having fun.”

"The men are very serious and angry with the women, and the women are more than happy to accommodate all that rage – including the fire extinguishers and midgets and whatever else is being stuffed up them – and it all just looks like a lot of work, doesn't it? Sex is silly and fun and yet you don’t see so much as a smirk in those videos.”

In 2014 she made a BBC 4 documentary called 'Porn: What's The Harm?' which examined how the deluge of internet filth is affecting young boys.

“Impotence is the highest among under-25s that it has ever been”, she argues, “because porn keeps raising the bar of expectation.”

“As a species we’re built to become immune to things. So if you’re being bombarded with dildos and double-enders and gimp masks, you start to become numb to it. No longer will a nice shag – in the missionary position, or even hanging out the back of a wonderful woman – be enough to satisfy you.

“Personally, I’ve never really been that kinky” she adds, “Because I don’t want to have to do a clean up job after sex. I don’t want to have to lay down cling film before a shag. Too much work.”

This mix of humour and slightly disarming candour is how Jamil approaches serious topics in her writing, whether it’s young people and porn, disability or female body image – a topic she has spoken out about recently to much acclaim. It’s a winning formula: she has that rare gift of being able to replicate her real life charm on the page. 

Even still, giving up a hugely popular radio show to do something as unglamorous as writing is a huge risk. What if it all goes wrong? What if, like so many beautiful young people to pass through our TV screens in their early twenties, we forget all about her?

“I never banked on this life,” she shrugs.

“I never planned to be famous. I never planned to be a TV presenter. So I’ll be alright. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll go back to school and train to be therapist or a councilor or something. As long as I am laughing at whatever job I do, I’ll be happy.”

They all say something like that, of course. But with Jamil, you suspect she’s being honest. It’s very much her style.

Jameela Jamil is the founder of Why Not People?, the first members club of its kind, created for people living with a disability. Why Not People? hosts exclusive and accessible live music events and membership is available for on the website.

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