Please hold your applause

On GMB, regrets, and definitely not hating the NHS

I am eternally grateful for the fact that when I enter a room, people do not applaud.

At one point, this was not a given.

On Twitter people cackled over the idea of terrifying me with a single clap. In group chats, jokes were made about whether the sound of one hand clapping was me sobbing in fear.

This is not because I have a phobia of applause, but because I went on Good Morning Britain to take part in a debate about whether clapping should be banned - or, more accurately, I went on with the intention of taking part in a debate over whether a particular university should be allowed to ban clapping from a specific venue, but as everything from the questions to the title of the clip shared online made clear, this was not actually the argument I had.

Instead, the title of the segment was ‘should we ban clapping?’. I was up against Andrew Doyle, the ‘comedian’ who created Titania McGrath, but I have zero memory of what his argument was (I assume something about pandering to the woke brigade?).

As the debate went out on TV, I started getting a flurry of tweets and follows, but that was nothing compared to what happened when Good Morning Britain tweeted out a clip from the conversation, writing: ‘Should clapping be banned? @EllenCScott says theatres should swap clapping for ‘jazz hands’ to be more ‘inclusive’ to those with anxiety or sensitivity to loud sounds. What do you think? #GMB’.

As of today, there are 15.4k responses to that tweet, plus 19,900 quote tweets that add to the clip with commentary such as ‘fuck off Ellen’ and ‘My nan fought in WW2 for a woman to go on television and say we shouldn’t clap our hands ... Jesus Christ’.

I was then bombarded with DMs, tweets, even a few emails, the majority of which were what I anticipated - calling me an idiot, a cunt, a snowflake, saying I was medically insane, and so on - but some that did make me slightly terrified to get the bus home in case someone recognised my face and made good on their threat to kick my cat to death, stab me, or punch me in the face then applaud.

Now and again, I’m asked if I regret doing GMB. My answer is no, for a few key reasons: I thought it was funny, I still think it’s funny, I still think my opinion was correct, and I got paid £250 for about five minutes of on-air time.

Are there some things I wish I had done differently, though? Absolutely.

For one thing, I wish I could have made some of my more killer points, which I had prepped but felt drop out of my head the minute I was in front of studio lights.

I’ll make them here, just for my own satisfaction:

  • No one was trying to ban clapping, this was just a university asking if people would avoid clapping in one specific scenario and situation

  • We can all understand rules of appropriate behaviour and do as different establishments see fit. For example - I would have addressed Susanna Reid directly as I delivered this line, it would have been really great, honest - I absolutely love to swear, but the people of Good Morning Britain and general broadcasting rules request that I do not swear right now, because it would offend some people. I don’t find swearing offensive, but I can respect that request and your right to have these rules.

  • Related to that, that rule doesn’t mean swearing is ‘banned’, I’m free to go home and swear. I just can’t do it at this specific time in this specific place. It’s the same with clapping. If you love clapping that much, you can go ahead and do it… just not at this specific performance.

  • I really have nothing against clapping, but I think if it’s bothering someone else, it’s really no skin off my back to just… not smash my hands together? Is clapping really that vital?

I wish I didn’t have such a wobbly head when I speak, an issue that has come up over and over again when I am filmed for things.

I wish my upper lip didn’t have that slight sheen of sweat.

I also wish that I somehow could have foreseen that clapping would, five months later, become a symbol of appreciation for the NHS’s treatment of a deadly pandemic.

That was an unexpected twist.

After the initial pure, unbridled hatred died down (and there was a lot of it, from major football players, from now-disgraced comedians, from Piers Morgan, of course, from thousands and thousands of people who earnestly told me I was a waste of oxygen), there was a sudden resurgence as Clap For Carers became a thing and my anti-clapping stance became especially egregious.

How dare I disrespect the NHS by banning clapping months before we decided clapping was a better way to thank the NHS than actual funding? Disgusting! Reprehensible! This woman is a symbol of everything that’s wrong with the world!

Thankfully, it was just a few tweets and messages this time around, and I say a silent prayer that no one with a massive following reuploaded the video out of context to pretend I spat on the NHS flag/rainbow.

But even now, well over a year on, I still get tweets from people just discovering the clip and deciding they MUST tell me I am absolutely mad, to which I say yes, I’m mentally ill, but that has nothing to do with my decision to go on TV and talk about the cultural significance of applause.

I still don’t regret it. I still find it very funny that there are people who hate me with such a passion, but will still admit I’m ‘quite attractive’.

What’s not so funny is the idea that someone else could agree to do a debate like this, lured in by some extra cash and the reassurance that they’re totally in the right, have a catchy tagline attached to their name along with a means of contacting them directly, and get such vitriol that they fear for their wellbeing.

I did the GMB clapping debate when I was in a severe depression dip and contemplating suicide. It is very, very lucky that, while I definitely internalised some of the comments and messages about how stupid I was, the suggestions that I should kill myself didn’t tip me over the edge into action.

Not everyone will be so lucky.

I don’t want to get into the whole #BeKind movement or make some kind of powerful speech about how toxic the internet can become.

For one thing, I’d like to note that the response I received for being an idiot on TV was much less than the abuse people I know, particularly women of colour, have received for just… doing their job and being smart and not at all inflammatory. My experience is tame by comparison, which is ridiculous, because I absolutely did make myself look and sound like an idiot and deserve backlash far more than a writer whose crime is writing about race.

But we probably do need to have a conversation about these sorts of ‘debates’, from how they’re set up to how we handle the intensity of the fury that happens as a result. A day or so after the show, I had a call from GMB ‘checking in’ to see if I was okay. I said I was fine. That was that. Maybe there should have been another check-in later on, or maybe one of their presenters shouldn’t have been allowed to publicly call me a ‘cretinous snowflake’, or maybe they should have anticipated the reaction and not tagged me in the tweet so I saw every comment as it rolled in.

I really don’t know. It’s easy to say the internet is a scary place or Twitter allows abuse and pin it on that, but I often wonder if a bigger part of the problem is that a lot of people just don’t care. Even if you publicly acknowledge ‘hey, this is getting a bit much for me’, they’ll keep kicking and other people will clap them along.

What will it take for people to genuinely #BeKind-er? Seeing suicide in part as a result of the nastiness isn’t enough, no matter how high profile the victim. Personal appeals sometimes make a difference - often when I actually respond to messages saying I should be shot out of the canon, the sender seems taken aback and quickly changes their tune to say I’m ‘actually alright’ and they hope I’m well, but often they don’t, and there’s always the risk that your declaration of vulnerability will just be screenshotted and held up as a triumph.

I hope that we do move forward to be a more caring society, where we can recognise when things are perhaps being taken too far, where we can ask ourselves what the impact of our quick @s could be and temper them slightly.

I hope we can recognise when someone isn’t handling this okay, when they’re not finding it funny anymore, when they’re not clapping, but drowning.

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