Identity Interview

Charlie King: Things Just Get Better

We have the absolute pleasure of announcing that Charlie King, from the ITV2 hit series ‘The Only Way is Essex’ is the latest Ditch the Label ambassador. Charlie will now be working closely with us, helping us to spread our message and cause across the UK.

We thought there’d be no better way of starting our relationship than with an official Ditch the Label interview. We spoke with Charlie about our charity, being bullied as a child, growing up, homophobia, mental health and life under the media spotlight. Charlie also gives his top tips to anybody who is currently being bullied or going through a difficult time.

Ditch the Label: Hi Charlie, thanks for coming today, it’s great to finally meet you!
Charlie King: Not at all. I think that it’s absolutely great what Ditch the Label is doing and what you stand for. I think Ditch the Label is a crucial organisation for people who are still trying to figure out who they are or to those who are bullied because of attitudes towards their differences.

Ditch the Label: Thanks Charlie, it’s great to have you involved. So growing up, were you ever bullied?
Charlie King: Yeah I was. It was mainly verbal and emotional bullying but I occasionally experienced physical bullying. I have always been very much an individual and as a kid, I tended to keep myself to myself, which in a way made me an easy target. I was quite vulnerable and found that once one bully had bullied me, word would spread and it just continued from that really. My best friend at school was also gay and it was almost like I became “guilty by association” and I did experience homophobia at the time. I stood by my friend no matter what and in fact, he’s still a great friend now.

Ditch the Label: So how did you deal with the bullying when it was going on?
Charlie King: Well I have always just embraced myself as being an individual. I always knew I was different and I stayed true to who I was. I reported the bullying and had a lot of involvement from my parents and school.

Ditch the Label: As an adult, do you ever experience bullying or prejudice?
Charlie King: Well part of being on TV means that I’m out there for public opinions and it becomes very easy to be judged.  Social media can be quite cruel as people can say the most profound things without any real consequences. You learn quickly to become thick skinned to it and to remember it’s just a keyboard warrior. My attitude in life is ‘ I have affected your life, I won’t let you affect mine.’ It’s always important to report anything that you find upsetting and to talk about it with somebody you trust.

Ditch the Label: From watching a lot of the regional reality TV programs, we’ve often found that people on the shows tend to usually exhibit very similar characteristics. How do you feel about that and how do you feel Essex is portrayed in the media?
Charlie King: What people have to remember is that reality shows are all about entertainment, homing in on a small group of people within a huge diverse community. Remember not to take it too seriously! I think the reputation of Essex is quite glam and sometimes a little vacuous. In actual fact, Essex is one of the wealthiest counties in the UK and actually is known for being home to some of our most successful businessmen and women, musicians and sport stars. Like everywhere; it takes all sorts of characters to make a community.

Ditch the Label: Have you ever felt pressured into trying to fit into that stereotype? Or into changing part of who you are?
Charlie King: Well from the show, people followed me on a journey. Part of it was about putting myself into different situations to see if I liked it or not. There were bits I liked and bits I disliked. I do think it’s important to be proud of who you are and where you come from. If you’re from a council estate and getting the micky taken out of it, it really isn’t important. Life can change at any time. Circumstances change; I know rich people who now live in small houses with no money… that stuff just isn’t important. It’s more important to focus on yourself and what YOU want out of life. Sure others can influence us and that’s important in growth. But focus on you and I believe you can achieve whatever it is you want.

Ditch the Label: There has always been speculation about your sexuality with the media trying to put you into a definitive box; how have you felt about that?
Charlie King: Well I can understand that some people feel the need to label someone but as far as I’m concerned, I’m just a soul really. A free spirit. Love is love and people can box me if they want to, it really doesn’t matter; I just get on with it. We’re all here for different reasons and on different journeys. It fascinates me how many people need to know if you are one way or the other or even both. I have to say though, the majority of people like my view on life and understand this is my own personal take on things. I’m just open to life.

Ditch the Label: What kind of advice would you give to any young people who are currently trying to figure out their sexuality and who are feeling pressured into labelling it?
Charlie King: Well I’m a great believer in not putting yourself under any sort of pressure, growing up is hard enough without any added pressure. If you are in touch with your emotions and feelings the best thing to do is embrace the person you are and let nature take its course. If you’re feeling confused, talk to somebody about it. There are so many places, like Ditch the Label, who you can get advice from. You may just be curious!

Ditch the Label: At times you have received criticism for having interests that are not particularly mainstream – have you ever felt pressured into trying to change those interests? How did you overcome it?
Charlie King: It takes strength to stay true to who you are and what you like. Individuality is really important. Only you know what makes you happy then it’s up to you to set that free. I do believe in always pushing yourself to try things, even if you end up not liking something; you tried it and you can take from that what you will. This life is all about trial and error, learning and experiencing as much as you can.

Ditch the Label: What advice would you give to anyone out there with different interests, who are being bullied or treated unfairly because of attitudes towards them?
Charlie King: In life, you will not please everyone, not everyone will like you or even understand you. I truly believe there are many like-minded people out there who do share similar interests. The best thing to do is not be influenced by the negativity of others. Just be proud if who you are, your likes and interests. If these people are worth having in your life then they will accept that.

Ditch the Label: 1 in 4 people experience a mental health issue at some point during their lives and we know that you have had experiences with depression. Do you feel that there is a stigma attached to mental health issues?
Charlie King: People don’t always know the facts and so people can judge without actually knowing the full details. People shouldn’t get frightened or be made to feel like they are odd because of it. To anybody who is currently experiencing a mental health issue and unsure as to what to do – speak up about it. I’m a firm believer that a problem shared is a problem halved. Find somebody who is equipped to help; it could be Ditch the Label, The Samaritans or another organisation. Ultimately, millions of other people are going through exactly what you are going through. You are not alone and once spoken about, things JUST GET BETTER.

Ditch the Label: What kind of advice would you give to somebody who is currently being bullied?
Charlie King: It’s so important to be vocal about bullying and to not bottle it up. Don’t ever internalize it, tell somebody – a friend, family member, teacher, Ditch the Label, whoever. Help is out there, you just need to make the right steps. It does take a lot to embrace who you are and at times, I have reached out to seek help; there’s nothing wrong with doing that. It is also important to remember that often, bullies themselves are usually the most unhappy, insecure individuals and are crying out for attention. If anything, bullies need a lot of help too. Remember that YOU are strong and YOU are special.