Voices

I was groped at the Baftas... such behaviour is not new

Same old story – a young woman is harassed by a powerful man
(Bafta/Marc Hoberman)

I’ve never met Noel Clarke but I have met men who have behaved in the way Clarke is accused of behaving. My story is “small” – or at least, I’ve framed it that way in the years since it happened. 

I was a fledgling national newspaper reporter, new to the industry in London, made giddy by being in close proximity to stars I’d admired for years and never dreamed of meeting face-to-face. Being asked to cover the Baftas was a particularly gilded dream: surrounded by the best British and international contributors to film, it was a golden year; the year that I got groped on the red carpet. 

Because that’s what happened, you see. Take one excited, young, female journalist, keen to do a good job, and thrust her into the middle of a room filled with (mostly) powerful men, many of whom are treated – and so expect to be treated – like gods, and what you get next is entirely, sadly predictable. 

I shyly asked for a photograph with one of the UK’s most recognisable TV stars – and while standing there next to him, felt his hand slide down to grasp me firmly around the bottom.  It’s no surprise that the resulting snapshot shows me with a frozen grin – I’d imagine it looks a little like the facial expression of a deer caught in headlights, moments before impact. 

But what made it worse were the words that preceded this experience: he asked me who I worked for, while the person was setting up the camera, and then groped me. To him, the fact that I worked for a popular tabloid was “fair game”. He even said, “Oh, in that case” before he grabbed me, like I’d handed over my right to be treated with dignity; like I ceased to exist as a person and became – in his eyes – just another piece of meat. 

What happened to me was ‘small’, but it was entirely wrong. And that’s why my heart aches for the 20 women who have come forward to talk 

I can’t watch the show he’s famous for, now, though at times it feels like I’m the only one who doesn’t. Every time I see his smile, I feel sick. 

What happened to me was “small”, but it was entirely wrong. And that’s why my heart aches for the 20 women who have come forward to talk about the way they say they were allegedly treated by Noel Clarke – another older, more successful, powerful man, who (if the allegations are true) could be said to have acted like some kind of God; with impunity, with entitlement, without care. They have accused the Doctor Who and Viewpoint actor of sexual harassment, verbal abuse and bullying.

One of his accusers, Gina Powell, who worked for Clarke as a producer on Brotherhood, has alleged that the 45-year-old actor would brag to her about owning sexually explicit pictures and videos of actresses he’d filmed covertly during naked auditions – including Jahannah James, who appeared in Brotherhood. 

Powell has also accused Clarke of exposing himself to her in a car in LA; and of groping her when they were alone in a lift, telling her he had got “what he was owed”.

According to The Guardian, which broke the story, Clarke’s lawyers strongly deny all the allegations against him, including Powell’s account, instead accusing her of being “flirtatious and suggestive toward him”. 

That’s often the rub, isn’t it? We have all seen the “she was asking for it” defence, the: “she wanted it”, “she was looking at me”,  “she was drunk”, “she didn’t say no”.

Bafta reportedly knew about the allegations 13 days before presenting Clarke with his award for Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema, although the organisation said it wasn’t provided with any evidence that would allow it to investigate. That makes the story all the more shocking to me, but woefully unsurprising.

What these kinds of incidents can be boiled down to is a simple dynamic of younger woman meets older (or more powerful) man. The rest, as we’ve seen so many times, is history. It’s time to rewrite it.