Described as “your passport for saner living”, Ruby Wax’s upcoming show at The Lowry accompanies her best-selling book ‘A Mindfulness Guide to the Frazzled’. JLife’s Evangeline Spachis chats to the much-loved comedian and writer.
Just before I spoke to Ruby Wax, the American-born comedian and actress turned mental health campaigner had written a moving piece on The Huffington Post website about the recent passing of her close friend, Alan Rickman. Speaking candidly (as she always has) about their meeting at The Royal Shakespeare Company and their life-long friendship through illness and personal struggles, a quick ‘thank you’ for a beautiful tribute was in order, and it was clear that his passing had moved her quite deeply, much like the rest of the world.
Of course, all this occurred slap-bang in the middle of her tour for her last best-selling book ‘Sane New World’ which runs until the end of February. Ruby will be visiting The Lowry in April to accompany her next book ‘A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled’. The word ‘mindfulness’ is everywhere at the moment, and after gaining a Masters in mindfulness-based cognitive herapy from the University of Oxford, Ruby has made it her mission to raise awareness about mental health issues and how to find stillness and relaxation in a fast-moving world. As her new book explains: “500 years ago no-one died of stress: we invented this concept and now we let it rule us”.
The new tour will be a forum, giving the opportunity for discussion about the ideas and topics raised in Ruby’s writing, working like “a ‘conversation-starter’ feeling” with the audience. As Ruby explained: “Frazzled is a tour of your mind and learning how to pull the breaks when you need to pull the breaks, and how to navigate the 21st century, that kind of stuff.”
“It’s a lot of audience participation. I’m simply not reading from the book, it is a theatre show just like Sane New World was. It’s more casual and more conversational and if they (the audience) want to talk they can talk so it’s really more like my living room!”
As part of her Sane New World tour, Ruby has also set up a ‘walk-in clinic’ for anyone to pop in and talk to her in the West End. Offering “open arms”, it is something she will be setting up across the UK.
“People will have a space to speak out, and it’s not just for mentally-ill people. We don’t have a place to kind of express frustration or if a family member is suffering. It’s a place to go. It’s 21st century problems and not just mental illness really. There’s so much isolation and very little community so these walk-ins are kind of a substitute.”
Ruby’s high profile has helped transform how we talk about and tackle mental health issues. Combating the taboo with her usual flair and sincerity, she has really been a breath of fresh air in the debate. Being open about her own past experiences, keeping a blog about her occasional instances of “falling down the rabbit hole”, and inviting her many Twitter followers to ‘#AskRuby’ about anything at all, her ‘career-change’ resulted in being awarded with an OBE for her services to mental health last year. “Well it’s really the best thing you can get!” said Ruby. “It just shows that hard work stuff pays off in this region and that they are finally taking it seriously!”
With that in mind, the UK government recently assigned £600 million to be used on the improvement of mental health services, and Ruby rejoiced in the news. “They did commit the money and it’s not my responsibility to say where it goes, but I hope it goes to the right places. You always wonder with every donation about whether it’s going to trickle down. I’m not greedy, but they made a commitment and that’s fantastic!”
To many, Ruby Wax is primarily known as a flame-haired and out-spoken comedian, acerbically witty and bold, and famous for her probing celebrity interviews. Speaking to Ruby, it’s obvious that this side of her is a combination of her natural talent, her personal experiences and upbringing, for better or worse. Raised in Chicago by Austrian Jewish parents, consciously or unconsciously, her heritage runs through her. “Clearly it’s a Jewish sense of humour. I don’t consider it, but it clearly comes across. I don’t do it on purpose; it just comes with the package!”
Finally, I couldn’t resist asking Ruby about her work on the new Absolutely Fabulous film. Having worked as the script editor for the entirety of the television series, Ruby developed a close working relationship with Jennifer Saunders after their first project together, Girls On Top, which also featured Dawn French and Tracey Ullman. Asking if she would be making another memorable cameo in the AbFab universe, she replied “Oh no, it’s all already done. I just helped to write it once again!” Fabulous!
The Sunday Times bestseller ‘A Mindfulness Guide to the Frazzled’ is out now. Ruby Wax brings ‘Frazzled’ to the West Yorkshire Playhouse on Sunday 17th April. Visit Wyp.org.uk for more details.