Posted on May 27 2015
Photo: Alexis Dubus
Juliette is a woman of many talents ~ award-winning actress, comedienne, writer, performer, presenter and ex-BBC broadcast journalist. She also fights for what she believes in and isn't afraid to take on the old boys' club, as she did recently when she publicly debated Protein World on their questionable social media conduct. Here's her story:
Bardega: Juliette, tell us a little about your background and what first got into comedy as a career path?
Burton: I wanted to be a writer and actor from a really early age (and a princess and a pop star and a Muppet... (see my show 'When I Grow Up' and see me actually realise all those childhood dreams!) but as I got older, the pressures of growing up got to me and I fell very ill.
I was sectioned for anorexia and struggled with all kinds of eating disorders going from size 4 to size 20 in just 6 months. I was suicidal with depression and all this meant I missed out on the teenage years; years of limitless fun and adventure.I even missed my exams.
I eventually went on to study journalism, getting in to university on the strength of my written application. I then worked for the BBC and IPC Media for a few years and then when the recession hit and I couldn't find any more work in journalism, I decided to give my childhood dreams of writing and acting a go - which, inevitably for me, lead me to comedy. By then I'd discovered that to talk about the darker parts of my life, I needed to make people laugh because then they'd be less afraid, more accepting. So I started combining my love of journalism and reporting real life events with my love of comedy and now I'm the world's only docu-comedian!
Bardega: What part of your career are you most proud of and why?
Burton: I’d love to reel off a list of things; and I am really over the moon to have received such great reviews and sell out shows. But the most rewarding thing really is when I meet someone who has been deeply touched by seeing something I've done - whether on stage or screen or in my writing. Someone who has been to a dark place, feels like the biggest weirdo, the most isolated and alone and suddenly realises that they're not! They're one of many beautiful weirdos out there - just like me! Feeling lost, scared and like they don't belong; and in that experience they do belong, with other weirdos like me.
The whole point of doing what I do is to help others feel less alone - that's the aim. So I'm thrilled when I learn that intention has succeeded. However, I think I am still working towards a day when I am truly proud of my career as a whole. I haven't achieved everything I want to yet and until I do, I'm not going to rest on my laurels. So watch this space!
Bardega: What has been the biggest obstacle you have faced and how did you overcome it?
Burton: There have been and continue to be many obstacles - because if you're gonna dream big then you have to work hard to achieve those dreams.
As cheesy as it sounds, my instinct is to say my biggest obstacle is myself; whether that is my own self doubt, my own fear of failure, my own fear of success even... I put obstacles in my way that are only real because I want them to be. How did I overcome it? I still have to overcome it every day - often turning to others for help. Not being alone in any problem is a strong tool I feel. Also learning to observe myself and my behaviour, my thoughts and how I choose to react. Once I can observe what I'm doing as an impartial bystander then I can choose to behave differently. I can really choose to direct my life in the way I want to go. That's the incredible thing; we can, all of us literally wake up each day and decide "what kind of person do I want to be today?" then go out there and be it! Kind? Passionate? Focused? Great! Do it. Don't let anything get in your way, least of all yourself.
Bardega: We have to ask you about the controversial Protein World campaign; What made you take a stand against it and how have you dealt with the attention this has brought you?
Burton: I took a stand against the beach body ready adverts because, like millions of women, and men, out there, I am tired of this advertising technique of heavy handedness and bullying us into buying a product. However, it started with the posters and moved very quickly for me onto something far greater: respect.
My history of body image issues, eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder lead to me creating a show about appearances and how much they affect who we are - a show called 'Look At Me' which is on tour now; a docu-comedy exploring whether changing who we are on the outside can change who we are inside. I did so much research for this - months and months of research into perception, body image, fashion, the very notion of beauty, physical disability, facade and masks we all wear. I felt confident to state that this bright yellow advert "adds to the external voices telling young girls they're not good enough as they are" - surely that is the marketing technique used by so many advertisers? Yes, but this one was just particularly blatant and it is a part of a dull ache of noise we all have to withstand the barrage of every day. However, the story flared up due to the company's conduct.
When the company and CEO started conducting themselves so disrespectfully online and then encouraging trolling behaviour; calling people fatties and mocking my mental health problems on a public forum, I was beyond shocked. This, for me, was when it became about so much more than just the posters - I don't want to live in a society where that sort of bullying behaviour is encouraged. For more details about the whole episode, I would encourage anyone to read my article for the BBC or Standard Issue.
How did I cope with the attention? I coped with the negative attention of trolls and haters online by reaching out for support. I asked friends for advice as to how to cope psychologically with the abuse. I also cope by making it a rule, a life rule really that existed way beyond all this, to never be disrespectful myself. Other people are in charge of their behaviour and conduct - if they want to be rude or hurtful or abusive then that is their choice. I want to always treat others with the respect I believe we all deserve. So even if someone was slinging awful accusations at me about being a 'crazy harpy' I would do all I could to believe they simply lacked understanding, were worthy of my sympathy, wanted to put others down to make themselves feel bigger and so on.
The positive attention I received has been overwhelming and I'm so grateful. It is very hard to explain just how vital each and every message of support has been to read - even now I still get cruel messages and the lovely ones keep me believing in humanity, that there are like-minded people out there who dream of a world where we're all treated with equal levels of respect no matter what. The support kept me believing in what is, to put it simply, my purpose in life.
I have also used the abusive messages to inspire me to create new work. Creativity and laughter can move things forwards far quicker and easier than cruelty and abuse, I think.
Bardega: You seem to be a very busy woman, what can we expect to see from you in the future?
Burton: I’m currently touring Look At Me which I'll be performing in Brighton 28th May, London 17th and 18th June and Edinburgh 16-21 August. I’m performing that elsewhere in the coming months too. Hopefully a tour is happening in Autumn as well.
I also host Happy Hour, the monthly new material night at The Canvas I'm currently writing 3 new shows - all part of The Dreamer Series for the next few years (www.julietteburton.co.uk/shows/dreamer-series)
And I'm starring in SuperMum which was released on May 23 2015 - a comedy short film by Lisa Gifford. It relies on the public vote to win the award it is up for so do watch it online and vote!
I'm also working on some other very exciting things which I'm frustrated to say I can't talk about right now! That's so unspecified and annoying isn't it?! Let's just say there are dreams I have been working towards for years which are finally coming to fruition that I hope will mean I will reach a wider audience with a message of hope and positivity.
Bardega: Finally, what advice, if any, would you offer a younger Juliette?
Burton: Don’t give up and don't be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes and imperfections make you stronger, more beautiful, wiser. Don't be scared of how weird you are; embrace your weirdness! Don't waste a single second of your life not taking those chances of a lifetime because you're scared you're not good enough. You ARE good enough and worthy of an amazing life. And above all; be kind. To everyone. And yourself.