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“I didn’t really expect to talk about it, but when you’re on a reality TV show you do open up a lot more, because it’s just a pressure cooker of emotions and personalities,” she says now, as we talk over the phone.
She’s glad she did though, as it’s enabled her to show others you can beat these things. It took hitting “rock bottom” and being warned she’d be “dead by 30” if she didn’t stop, for The Vivienne to start turning things around – but she did. She got clean, found love with David Ludford (they’re now married), and of course became the UK’s first Drag Race winner.
She still gets at least 30 messages a day on Instagram, “saying, ‘You inspired me to get clean,’ or, ‘Your story really inspired me’. I love being able to help people with that,” adds the performance artist, now 28.
“I also get messages off dads who have just discovered their son really loves Drag Race and they think maybe they’re gay, [saying] ‘I’ve tried everything to try and help him along, what can I do?’ When I reply, I’ll usually say something like, ‘You’re doing everything right. They’re young, they’ll find their people, they’ll find their tribe, they’ll find out who they are – as long as you are there to love and support them, you’re doing everything right’.”
Today, The Vivienne is talking about another element of this journey: personal finances problems. It’s another often taboo topic but the impact can be huge, affecting everything from day-to-day living costs to mental health, with long-term ramifications too.
She’s teamed up with Experian on a campaign encouraging people to be ‘money positive’ – she knows first-hand how quickly things can spiral, and how much harder it is when no one talks about it. A recent report by Experian found 57% of us think we should be encouraging more open discussions about financial health, and 58% believe society needs to be less judgemental about people’s financial situations.
After leaving school at 16 and moving from North Wales to Liverpool, The Vivienne says like lots of people, she was unprepared for the realities of financial independence. “I didn’t really get any training, you know, I wasn’t taught anything about all that at school. You know you’re going to have bills to deal with, [but] I always looked at it like, ‘Oh look, this flat is £400 a month, I can afford that’ – I kind of forgot there was council tax on top of that, water bills, electricity, wifi, your phone, all these bills. And I wasn’t really prepared for the repercussions that would come if you didn’t pay all those bills.”
‘I used to lose sleep over money worries’
One of those repercussions was constant anxiety. “It’s horrible. I think money worries have one of the biggest effects on people’s mental health. You kind of know that what you’re doing isn’t great, but if you’re not in a position to deal with it, or having those conversations… I used to lose sleep over it. I’d be scared if there was a knock at the door. I wasn’t educated on how to deal with those things.”
There were practical repercussions too, as mounting unpaid bills had dented her credit score. A reality check came when she tried to take out a new phone contract, but after an hour chatting with the sales assistant and filling out the forms, was refused when she failed the credit score check.
“It was a hard lesson. I’m only now really getting in a good financial position, because I’ve learned about all that stuff. My dream now is me and David want to buy a house, so getting my finances in order] has been really important, to make sure I can set up for a mortgage in the future.”
Experian’s ‘money positivity’ campaign marks the launch of the new Experian Boost, a free service that could instantly increase people’s credit score. The service takes into consideration regular payments you might be making for things like Netflix and Spotify subscriptions, as well as savings accounts and council tax bills – so the service could help build your credit score, and potentially give lenders a clearer idea of how you manage your money.
It helps simplify something that can often seem daunting (it can all be done via your phone and your credit score can’t go down when you sign up), as well as providing additional ways people can improve their financial prospects.
John Bird spoke to The Vivienne before taking part in Drag Race back in 2018:
For The Vivienne, being ‘money positive’ means lots of things – including talking and taking positive action, rather than “brushing things under the carpet”. She says she wishes she’d known sooner that there are solutions out there, like payment plans to help you pay off mounting debts. And as someone who knows the value of speaking up about hidden issues, she’s glad to be part of the conversation.
“Another reason I wanted to get on board with this campaign was so I could really have open and honest conversations about what kind of mess I got into, and maybe share some knowledge with younger people, and older people who may still not be super educated on personal finances.
“There is such a social stigma around [money problems], but maybe if I’d talked more about it back then, I would have been in a much better mental state about it. But I was so scared to talk about it.
“I think when you do have those conversations, you can kind of go, ‘Oh right, so there are solutions out there, there is a way I can get myself out of this’. It’s a great feeling, and it puts you in such a better position for your financial future.”
Experian Boost is a free new service that can help people boost their credit score through sharing more information on some of their regular payments, such as Netflix, Spotify and council tax. Visit experian.co.uk/consumer/experian-boost.html
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