British TV personality and former child star talks love, stardom and veganism
Child prodigy turned international sex symbol Lauren Harries has delighted the British public for over three decades, beaming onto the nation’s best-loved shows, from introducing boyfriends on This Morning, to ‘doing dishes’ on Celebrity Big Brother. Having now traded in her trademark blonde curls for long brunet tendrils, she’s settled into life in Cardiff. Between art classes and trips to the salon, she’s currently shopping around for a ghost-writer for her memoirs. In the run-up to her upcoming performance at The Glory, we decided to grab a decadent glass of bubbly and sat down for an intimate chat on Valentine’s day.
Hey there Lauren, been up to much this weekend?
I’ve just received a card from my ex-boyfriend because it’s our anniversary today… ex anniversary. “I wish our song had never ended, thinking of you today. Much Love”. I wish it had come from someone else but never mind.
Oh dear… Right, so you shot to stardom very early on as a child genius. What’s your memory of those years?
Well, I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently because I’m working on my book. When I first did my appearance with Terry Wogan I had no idea it was such a big show. There weren’t any rules for children on TV then, there were only three stations. There are thousands of different kinds of porcelains in Britain, thousands. On the day they’d marked everything so I couldn’t tell what the china was, so they were trying to catch me out. I had to guess the items, and I got through it. It was a lot of pressure for a 10-year-old.
Then I remember seeing you on the Oprah Show…
Yeah, then they caught up with me recently on Skype. I was on the show when she was with Stedman, she wasn’t a lesbian then, it hadn’t come out then. I remember she wore green, and she had a ladder in her tights and I told her “I think you should change tights”. It was all about money on that show I remember, they’d ask how much is that antique worth. All about money. Money, money, money. That’s America for you. She had to ring up and apologise because the show was so bad, the way they put it together. She said “I must apologise because we should’ve organised it better. Do you want to come on my boat?” and speak to Stedman. I should’ve gone. You can’t go back, you can’t go back.
Then I went to New York to be on Joan Rivers, she was tiny! Absolutely Tiny. I got on with most people, but there are few… Frank Skinner and I never really hit it off. The ‘90s came in, and it was a completely different kind of television. There were more channels so they liked to harp on the negative. Frank Skinner said “If you were my child, I’d get your bottom and give you a good old slap.” and Jeff Goldblum said, “How dare you speak to someone like that on television?” Then I went on the stage with Frank Skinner, and there were pictures of him everywhere, on the toilets and everywhere.
Then the ‘00s rolled in and you had this entirely different career as an advocate for trans rights. Must have been a complete change.
Yes, I think that was why I was put on the planet really. For trans awareness, acceptance and equality. I want the transgender community to be just as accepted as the gay community. In some ways it is, and some ways it’s not. Because now there are so many gay couples having children, things have changed, now we just need that extra push. We need to see more transgender people on television. There shouldn’t be a stigma. When they do it now, it’s because they just want to say that they’ve done it. They don’t go into the actual medical side which of course is what people are interested in.
So it’s been nearly 20 years since you’ve transitioned, what was it like coming out back then with very few famous trans people?
Well, there were. There was April Ashley, there were the sixties performers, there were books and I read those. But was it like? It was the yellow pages, there was no money. I just had this impulsion to be who I am today. Things are changing now, but they need to change quicker.
Where have you seen the biggest change in attitudes towards trans people?
Well, I suppose seeing Caitlyn Jenner on the front cover of Vanity Fair, that helps. I think men, from their perspective, when I started being seen out with men in pictures I don’t think it dawned on them that transgender people had relationships before then. That opened men’s mind to the prospect.
Oh, do you think? Then you had a second wind in your celebrity when you entered the Big Brother house?
Well, I worked with Celebrity Big Brother: Bit on the Side for six years. That’s when I sang with Pete Burns, ‘Spin Me Round’, and they had a phone in to get people into the house. After that I went back and studied my art, then a year later they said you’re actually going in. I didn’t believe them at first, I told my mother and then after that things progressed very quickly.
There are so many hilarious moments from your time in the house. Famously you sang about ‘Doing Dishes’, do you remember that at all?
Yeah! With Courtney wasn’t it? I remember. Well, she was my personal hairdresser as well. There was always a song to make out of anything and it happened to be the dishes at the time.
Pictures of you seem to be all over the internet, how do you find that?
It’s a compliment! And it’s an inspiration for other people. I’ve had people on Instagram say that I’m the person who gave them the courage to carry on with transitioning. If I had a person to look up to 21 years ago, it would’ve helped me. Obviously, I researched and looked into it, but there was no-one current at the time. I went on TV to raise the money for my surgery.
You’re a singer now! What made you want to get into music?
I’ve always liked to sing, though everyone said I couldn’t sing. What I really wanted to do was sing the first transgender song about a boy who turned into a girl. That’s what started me singing, my first song ‘I am a Woman’. Of course, I then did ‘All Dressed Up’ which was what I sang in the Big Brother House. But it’s very difficult to make money with music, you’ve got to enjoy writing and performing music to eventually get that money from it. Nowadays they can download anything from anywhere. Not vinyl anymore. It’s nice that people like my music.
I hear you’ve become a devout vegan. How come?
Well, first of all, you look much better on it. Your skin is much better. You don’t age as much with being vegan. Health-wise it’s better for you. I can’t eat anything with a face. I have cats and I just think of eating my own cat when I think about eating meat. If you want eternal life, which I think it helps with, or if you want to turn back the clock, become vegan. I grow my own vegetables so I know that they’re organic.
Interesting. So since it’s Valentine’s day, let’s talk love life. You introduced two different boyfriends to the public in 2017.
I’m a glutton for punishment, but at the time I believed everything I said.
What do you look for in a man?
Confidence. Both my boyfriends were very different, Connor was tall and Bruce was small. It’s all to do with personality. But also dark hair and blue eyes. Maybe Brad Pitt when he was younger.
So your upcoming night at The Glory. What can we look forward to?
My three songs. Sexy dancing. My song ‘Upado’ is a sexy dance song, so it’ll just be Lauren strutting her stuff on the stage, singing people’s favourite songs of mine. The audience always joins in. You might catch me singing happy birthday to dear Colin, you know, like Marilyn? I come alive on stage. I put everything I can into my performances. Watch the space.
Privates on Parade with Lauren Harries! is at The Glory, 281 Kingsland Road, E2 8AS on Saturday the 23rd of February. Pub doors to open at 5 pm. Free before 10 pm, £6 after.
Words by Ifan Llewelyn