TV & Movies

The hate you endured would have destroyed me, Jesy…you are so brave to quit, says Ulrika Jonsson

DEAREST Jesy, I don't know you. We have never met. But, of course, I know of you.

I’m a fan of Little Mix and know you as one who, like me, has faced some challenges with mental health — that is what I feel has connected us.

It has been painful to witness your battles but I can’t lie, I have sought some comfort from them because it has shown me, and the world, how perfectly human you are.

Now you have announced you are leaving your close friends from Little Mix — the band which was all you’d ever dreamed of and had made you so very happy.

Your fans will have to make do without you on stage and your decision will hopefully force some introspection among all of us, in and out of the spotlight.

I have to confess, I was humbled by your decision to leave the group.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve banged my head against the car window while belting out Little Mix songs in my car — feeling the girl power, sisterhood, romance and heartbreak in one fell swoop.

I wanted it to go on. It does really feel like you are still at the start of your journey. Perhaps you are.

But you are also at the start of a new journey of self-care and mindfulness and that’s a journey worth ten million Top Ten hits.

It’s the most important journey of our lives but many of us do not have the courage to go on it.

I watched, with my daughter Bo, your documentary about how social media has profoundly affected your life.

"I was in tears for much of it and all Bo kept saying was: “I just want to give her a hug.” And that’s what we all wanted to do.

Speaking as someone who has been on the hamster wheel of fame from the age of 19, I identified with a lot of the points you raised.

The confident, sassy kid from Dagenham who had so longed for and dreamt of stardom all but disappeared with the onset of popularity and prominence.

Once you have been seen by the world and the spotlight has sought you out time and time again, it is incredibly hard to hold on to who you once were.

I was a bow-legged tomboy from a somewhat dreary housing estate in the suburbs of Stockholm and always knew, always felt, that performing coursed through my veins.

I didn’t know what or how or when — but unhappy and happy moments of my life were always punctuated by performances and dramatisations.

You were a barmaid from Essex who knew you belonged on stage, on The X Factor. Your visualisation of it became a reality and you thought that was it — you’d made it.

But sadly other people had other, very malicious ideas. To hurt and insult you for no reason.

The presence of social media in your life shaped you these past few years.

The vile trolls whose cruelty shocked me and clearly knows no bounds began to break you down.

You could not escape their spite and meanness and you became consumed by it. You believed their words over the words of those who loved and cared for you — because that’s what happens.

We are more likely to remember the negative than the positive, and that’s how it was for me.

I will be eternally grateful for the opportunities that came my way, which allowed me to build a successful career out of telling people about the weather or entertaining them.

I made good those chances and moments and worked incredibly hard, just as I imagine you did.

We are more likely to remember the negative than the positive.

I grafted, surrendered myself to the process, because that was the deal — you give of yourself and put yourself in the hands of others.

You love the adulation, the massive highs from success and what appears to be validation — from other people because, in my case, validation had not come in my childhood.

I sought it out, bathed in the light and glow of my hard work and danced to the tune of other people’s expectations.

But I struggled. Behind closed doors I found life very, very hard. I loved the notoriety because I felt it connected me with people.

It made me feel worthy and valued, however ridiculous that might sound to me now.

I got such a thrill from my successes, perhaps because it felt like they didn’t belong to me, that I didn’t deserve them.

How could the goofy girl from Sollentuna be hosting Eurovision in front of millions, from so many countries? It was a dream.

The nightmare was how I was unable to deal with the fame and handing myself over to members of the public, journalists and friends of friends for scrutiny.

I always understood that was the deal — there is no such thing as a free lunch. I happily gave of myself, thrived on my personal honesty and self-effacement and diffidence.

Of course, not everyone was going to love me and not all of the time, and criticism hit me hard.

Being called blonde or dumb — or both — being told by some that I didn’t belong in this country, being criticised for my personal life, being called a slut and a slag.

Those words stuck. And stung. Very badly. I couldn’t escape the feeling they were talking about someone else, but it meant the determined yet already lacking in confidence Ulrika began to question everything.

There were moments when my personal life was fraying and other times when it was utterly falling apart and I felt completely incapable of making a decision that was truly my own.

I was advised by others. I felt expectation weighing heavily on my shoulders and knew my mind was going truly mad.

Just like you, Jesy, who found there were days you just couldn’t turn up for work because the criticism or bullying on social media was affecting you so badly.

I had days when walking out of my front door would fill me with nausea and self-loathing.

The joy of the hamster wheel had begun to wane — and let’s not forget, there was no social media in the days when I rose to fame.

When I reflect on that time, some 34 years ago, when I think back to when nasty letters would arrive from cruel members of the public or I would believe words in print about me, I know for sure now that if social media had been added to the mix, my mind would not have sustained it.

I would not be here today if I’d had to endure cyberbullying and trolling. Like you have.

I listened in disbelief to the cruel words sent towards you in your ­documentary and I wept. I’m too thin-skinned for that sort of stuff, which is why you won’t find me on Twitter — I can just about cope with Instagram.

Like you, I would most likely also have turned a deaf ear to those telling me nice things because it’s the negative that lingers and remains.

I remember thinking to myself some years ago: I’m not strong enough for this life. I really felt, at times, that my mental health was at breaking point.

But then along would come another wave of success or achievement, or a crumb of personal happiness, and I would soldier on because self-pity is not an option.

I admire you, Jesy, so very, very much for taking the decision you have. For understanding a healthy mind is far more important than all the fame and glory.

You need to know there aren’t many people who would have the strength of character to do what you have done. I hope you know that.

There’s a list as long as your arms and legs and mine put together of wannabes and Z-list slebs out there who will do anything for fame.

They are so fame-hungry they would eat their own grandmother and are happy to forego their mental health, all in the name of stardom and recognition.

I admire you, Jesy, so very, very much for taking the decision you have.

I’m so pleased that I watched your documentary with my daughter.

She has a sister, Martha, who is 16, and no matter how confident and strident they are at home, and appear to the outside world, I wonder how resilient they are in the face of social media.

I fear for them daily. We can all understand we shouldn’t accept cyberbullying or bullying of any sort. But it doesn’t stop it hurting, causing damage and wreaking havoc with our emotions and state of mind.

I took a step back a few years ago. I found it hard to fathom what my place in the sleb world was.

I worried for my mental health. I needed to get back in touch with whatever it was that was good for me and that was not always what other people wanted.

I hope you, too, Jesy, have the opportunity to take some well-earned time off, to reassess, regroup and hopefully relaunch.

We’re not done with hearing your beautiful voice and seeing your gorgeous face. But only if you’re ready to share them. Lots of love, Ulrika x

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