1. What is your favourite word? Octogenarian.
2. What’s your least favourite word? No.
3. What’s your favourite colour? Green.
4. What colour or material would be suitable to describe you as a person? Green velvet.
5. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? Kindness.
6. What turns you off? Cruelty.
7. What is your favourite curse word? Cunt.
8. What sound or noise do you love? Cats purring.
9. What sound or noise do you hate? Chalk on a board. That is quite boring – anything scratchy.
10. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? I would like to be a marine biologist.
11. What profession would you not like to do? A warlord. Partially because it’s hard work. In films when something explodes they never look at it they just walk off. I couldn’t do that bit I would have to look. That’s the worst bit.
12. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? Everyone’s here come on in.
Thank you Bernadette for your time and many inspiring thoughts!
Where and how will you be living in twenty years from now?
I would like to still be where I am right now, or I live on my own with my dog on a really remote island. I don’t know I can’t really explain that.
If I left London it would be something quite extreme like living on my own on a rock with a seagull and a dog and a fishing rod. I can’t imagine living in the suburb.
Or in space maybe if that was an option.
Do you feel more British, European or more citizen of the world?
World. That’s different. I used to feel more English.
Not British? No, but only because I’ve got lots of Scottish friends. I really don’t like nationalism and flag-waving at all. And also I am a bit of a mongrel myself. The way that I think of the world I’d rather be part of the world, seems healthier.We first saw Bernadette in a white rabbit costume at a story telling evening organised by her collective The White Rabbit.
What’s a miracle you’ve encountered recently?
Ok, well I think the kind of thing that make many think of a miracle in a beautiful way, a couple of days ago when Ireland voted yes for gay marriage and the first image I saw was rainbows all over Dublin and I remember thinking “Wow if the vote had gone no, then the Church would have said look God has put that there and I just thought it was really nice that a rainbow was there on that day of gay marriage.”
And miracle is quite a strong word.
Britain and the EU to stay or to go?
OH wow — to stay. Having said that I’m quite interested in the conversation that is going to happen because I got friends that feel strongly both ways. So I feel like I need to kind of find out and listen a bit more. Right now I’d stay. I don’t know why. I have not found a convincing reason to go.
What’s your convincing reason to stay?
It is a kind of a silly emotional reason that I would like to feel connected to Europe. It feels sensible in a business way because there are things in place that will not be improved by leaving, and just feels like it’s better being part of a family of nations rather than being on our own. Also it feels sometimes like being against it it’s just some sort of colonial hangover of being Great Britain. I’d rather be in a family really.
We first saw Bernadette in a white rabbit costume at a story telling evening organised by her collective The White Rabbit.
What do you love about London?
I like that you can walk down the street and you can hear dozens of different languages and you can buy dozens of different foods and you can see people of all different shapes and sizes. You can walk on a street and see a seven feet transvestite, next to a sort of nun and a suited city person. I like the variety and that you can get sort of lost in that. I don’t think either one of them would turn a head and that’s what I like.
And also it’s full of stories, amazing stories from all over the world and ventures. It’s rich of history. Every time you walk down the street anywhere you walk. I mean it’s true for the world. Obviously the world is as old everywhere, but in London you feel like you are treading on the bones on the pottery and the houses and the foundations and the secrets and the letters and the tears and the blood and the sweat of all those thousands and thousands of Londoners that have been here before you. That’s good walking.
What do you dislike about London?
The pollution. I’ve got really bad asthma.
I did another big project called “Coat Tales” and I asked people to donate people coats to people in need in London but I also asked them to write a tale or story of that coat.
So it wasn’t just donating a coat to a charity in a regular way, they were writing the person that they would’ve thought that’d get it, with a story of the tale of the coat. That was really beautiful.
The thing you have to do is try to be courageous and be that yourself. Whatever change you want to see, you have to do it yourself.
The garment on the wall has been given to Bernadette Russell by a friend, it is a very old piece and has it’s stories too. We met the artist, performer and writer at one of the White Rabbit shows in London.
All of my work is about trying to provide the opportunity for people to share their stories.
I have done a project called “lost property office”. And I interviewed about 1,000 people in the end about what they have lost. But not things like a shoe, but things like lost sense of humour, like lost virginity, lost temper. And they would tell me their story and I would write them down and attached it to an object that represented the thing that they have lost and opened a big museum of things that people have lost and people came in and shared the stories about things they had lost and they were funny and sad. I recorded them and there were lots of people talking. And as people came in and heard each others stories they started talking to each other. We first saw Bernadette Russell in a white rabbit costume at the Alice in Wonderland themed story telling night organised by The White Rabbit collective.
Is there a need in community that you would like to see politicians address? Absolutely.
How would you go about doing so?
I think people dislike each other and go to war with each other and hate each other and fight because they don’t know each other’s stories. First of all I think kindness is the most important in the world. But a very close second to that I think that stories are very important thing. Because if you hear somebody’s story. For example if somebody pushes past you in the bus and is really fed up with you, you think that person is an idiot — why are you rude to me in the morning — and you’ve made your decision about that person. But if you knew their story, if you knew the reason that they are cross you wouldn’t make that judgement.
I think sharing stories could stop wars, change the world and could make people love each other instead of hating each other.
And reading a story from a novelist from another country could mean that you may better understand them.In a smaller way with social media they are stories as well and we have a responsibility to the stories that we tell. You can think blindly on facebook “Oh I hate so and so or he’s an idiot”. I don’t think you should put that story out there — it’s negative.
I think everyone is a storyteller and your responsibility as a human being is to make it a good one. Your moral responsibility is that it is one that puts love into the world.
Was there a turning point in life where a switch happened?
When I was really shy and about five, my teacher was choosing the school nativity play. And I remember crossing my fingers thinking I never get picked, and I didn’t get picked because I was ridiculously shy. And then she picked me to play the donkey. I know a lot of people wouldn’t be pleased with that because it isn’t a major role, but I was really pleased. I got coconut shells it was brilliant. And then the next year I was Mary. And everyone really liked me as a donkey and as Mary. I was funny, I didn’t think I was funny, but I was probably inappropriately funny as Mary. And I was thinking this was the life for me. And my next role was Nancy in a school production of Oliver.We first met Bernadette when she was from head to toe a white rabbit reading stories inspired by Alice in Wonderland at the Toynbee Studios. A lovely evening organised by The White Rabbit Collective.
Was there a person that inspired you originally to go into theatre, drama or writing?
I think I’m much more influenced by writers and books. I’m influenced by theatre in a generic way I mean I love it. I love the grubby glitter of it. It’s glamorous but down at heel sort of thing even if it’s most glamorous.
Do you feel like you are filling a gap with the projects you do?
That’s a really interesting question. I think, I realised, I guess 8 years ago that I didn’t want to do theatre even though I love theatre, I wasn’t interested in writing and performing plays. I’m more interested in theatricality and I didn’t particularly solely wanted to write novels, but I love literature. So I was trying to invent something that combined all of those things. So hopefully that is a gap. It feels quite satisfying to me to marry those things.
Bernadette Russell has done various projects in the past combining literature, performing arts, talks, exhibitions, reading nights…
Do you feel like your dreams link into your short stories in one way or another?
Yeah I’m doing it quite deliberately now so they are inspired by a fragment that somebody said to me and then I got interested in the idea of writing short stories based on somebody else’s dream. Even if that dream is kind of dull about the launderette. So I use that as a subconscious kind of inspiration. Like a little scrap of something bigger.
But did that originally start with you and your own dreams?
Yes it started with my own dream because I kind of wanted to make sense of the house dream I’m having and I did actually and various other things that have come through my dreams I’ve written about it.
But now I’m more interested in other people’s dreams. I think it’s a generous thing if you let someone use your dreams for material for use of something. It’s quite an interesting exchange for something.
We first saw Bernadette Russell in a white rabbit costume at the Alice in Wonderland themed story telling night organised by The White Rabbit collective.
Are you good at remembering your own dreams?
I’d say no. 50% of the time I don’t remember. It got better and it does work as people say when you keep a notebook beside your bed and you write it as soon as you wake up it kind of improves your memory. But I do have two recurring dreams since over 15 years. One is ridiculously scary although it doesn’t sound scary. I have to fight these demonic gigantic oranges, that’s one. And the other one is; I go home and my home is really changed and it becomes absolutely enormous and is full of rooms including a massive, massive garden at the end and I have to hang out in my house and it’s huge and massive and scary. I have them often.
We first met Bernadette when she was from head to toe a white rabbit reading stories inspired by Alice in Wonderland at the Toynbee Studios. A lovely evening organised by The White Rabbit Collective.
You’ve told us a little bit about your project, which you’re doing right now. What is the story behind BED?
It had a couple of inspiration points. One was a fantastic short story by Truman Capote called “Master Misery”, set in New York about a guy who buys people’s dreams, and it is normally off of people who have nothing left to sell who are quite desperate. It is kind of a love story, but it is also —yeah— a very melancholic love story.
And it’s also about my interest in sleep and the way it feels. A lot of people, particularly in London and cities more generally, in my experience don’t sleep really well, or not at all, and their sleep is disturbed, or they are anxious, or have insomnia, and I am interested in that and how that effects dreams.
I had very bad insomnia for a long time, but I don’t have it anymore. That’s why I’m interested in dreams and if they mean anything, as well as the connection between stories and dreams, and dreams of stories.
It combines my love of stories, talking to people and my love of being in bed. (laughing).We first saw Bernadette in a white rabbit costume at a story telling evening organised by her collective The White Rabbit.
Alice: “How long is forever? – White Rabbit: Sometimes, just one second.” (Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll)Welcome to the world of the white rabbit also known as Bernadette Russell, who will take you on a winding magical trail of stories, filled with “Curiouser and curiouser!” (Lewis Carroll) characters and events.
What is your full name?
Bernadette Helen Russell.
Who are you?
I am a writer, performer and a collector of stories.