MICHELLE BROMLEY: ‘What’s the point of you?’, Russell Brand sneered in front of my MTV colleagues – after I’d said no to a date
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It’s been many years since I learned exactly what sort of person Russell Brand really is.
I was a naive 20-year-old intern at MTV then, in the early days of Brand’s career, and I thought I might have been the only one he reduced to tears.
Now I know I wasn’t – by far. And I can say for certain that not only were TV executives aware of his emotionally abusive behaviour from the start, but they condoned and even celebrated it.
I’d started my internship, at MTV’s production studios in Camden, in March 2001. It was exciting, but I was also terrified. There was nothing sophisticated or confident about me – I was young and green, without any experience of the television industry. I’d shake in meetings, but thought I’d impress my bosses by working hard.
MTV was at the height of its influence and Brand, then 25, was the channel’s rising star. He had been ‘discovered’ on the stand-up comedy circuit and brought on board as a video journalist, performing pranks and celebrity interviews.
It’s been many years since I learned exactly what sort of person Russell Brand really is. I was a naive 20-year-old intern at MTV then
In 2001 MTV was at the height of its influence and Brand, then 25, was the channel’s rising star
He would saunter around the office some days, and seemed quite sweet. But I’d heard claims that he was sleeping with lots of girls and was using hard drugs.
I even heard he’d been banned from using MTV’s private hire taxi firm for allegedly taking drugs in the back seat.
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But the channel’s execs didn’t seem too concerned. After all, he was their hot new talent.
We’d been filming a segment with former Boyzone singer Stephen Gately one day when Brand wandered over and fixed his gaze on me. ‘Hi Michelle, how are you?’ he said, looking me up and down as if sizing me up for his pleasure.
‘I think you’re really pretty,’ he continued. ‘You look like Sade [the English-Nigerian singer].’ It was a lazy comparison, even offensive, given that I’m mixed race. We don’t even look alike.
Then he asked me out to dinner. I knew what that meant – he was asking me to sleep with him.
I declined, as politely as I could, stumbling a bit over my words. I had a boyfriend, but even if I hadn’t I knew his reputation. If I’m honest, I wouldn’t have known how to deal with him.
Undeterred, he asked if I was free later in the week, or for drinks. Again, I tactfully turned him down.
He was noticeably colder towards me over the next couple of weeks. Then, one Friday night in June, we’d all gone to a Camden pub, Henry J Beans.
Brand was standing at the bar with a group including Sumi Connock, now a BBC executive producer who works on Strictly Come Dancing, and James Longman, who produced James Corden’s The Late Late Show.
With them, incongruously, was a homeless drug-addict friend of Brand’s, someone he’d met outside the pub and who was holding a blanket that smelled of urine.
I’d just ordered a rum and coke when Brand rounded on me. ‘Look at you,’ he sneered, his voice brimming with scorn. ‘You’ve got no personality. You’ve got nothing to say. You just smile in meetings.’
Brand would saunter around the office some days, and seemed quite sweet. But I’d heard claims that he was sleeping with lots of girls and was using hard drugs
I was frozen with shock. Colleagues just laughed, or turned away and pretended it hadn’t happened.
Some had standing and influence yet chose to say nothing. I was an intern, barely paid enough to cover my rent.
It speaks volumes that the only person who had enough decency to confront Brand was his homeless friend. ‘You can’t speak to her like that,’ he said.
But Brand carried on. ‘Even now you can’t say anything, can you? All you do is smile.’
The whole group was staring as he delivered his final insult: ‘What’s the point of you?’
I felt drained. I put my drink down and left in floods of tears. I remember ringing my dad, hysterical, unable to breathe. I felt worthless, the office laughing stock.
Brand had exposed my insecurities to humiliate me – and all because I’d dared to turn down his sexual advances.
Of course, I know that this moment doesn’t compare to the experiences of other women who claim Brand sexually abused them, claims he denies.
But it changed me. It came on top of the generally toxic, boys’ club mentality at MTV which reduced me and other interns to shreds. My self-esteem plummeted. And, in the end, I needed therapy because I lost all confidence to speak in public.
It marked me for years. But for Brand and everyone else at MTV, I expect it barely registered. In fact, I know it didn’t because I bumped into Russell one day after I’d left, coming out of Topshop on Oxford Street.
‘Oh, hi Michelle,’ he said, breezily. ‘Do you want to come for a quick drink with me?’
I looked at him, astonished. He’d traumatised me, but there was no sign that he even remembered, let alone cared.
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