The Naked truth behind Shazia Mirza’s new show, at Colchester Arts Centre, March 1
Fresh from being ravaged by hunger and sand-flies on Channel 4’s Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls, Shazia Mirza returns with a show about lies and truth - or are they the same thing these days?
“The reason it’s called With Love From San Tropez is I’ve got some material about how I was on a normal French beach last summer and then it turned into a nudist beach. It all seemed very normal and then a few days later in France they banned the burka. So it’s alright for women to be stark raving naked but it wasn’t alright for women to cover up on a beach which I thought was very strange.
“It’s about censorship... there is a lot of censorship now; Trump censors journalists, bans people from coming into America, bans the burka. I don’t think there’s as much freedom of speech or freedom that we fought so hard for anywhere,” says Shazia, whose critically acclaimed 2016 show The Kardashians Made Me Do It explored politically correct liberalism, the intrusion of ISIS into young British lives and Jihadi brides.
Brexit, she adds, was fuelled by fear of the unknown.
“It’s a fear of the other but a lot of that fear isn’t true and it seems people would rather believe lies, because there’s some kind of comfort in that. There are people who hate the other so they need to find a reason to justify that. Even though it’s fake news they just think that, like Trump, if they keep repeating it people will start believing it.”
Shazia, who’d never been on a nudist beach before and hadn’t planned on being on one this time either, found it very surprising. Her fellow British holidaymakers maintained their reserve.
“There’s a lot of naked people about and there’s a lot of British trying to look at the naked people from the corner of their eye while reading the paper. They don’t want other people to see they were looking. They were also the most covered-up. They all had a cardigan in their bags just in case. Even if they’re on a hot French beach they’re prepared for the rain.”
St Tropez was more relaxing than Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls, which looked horrific.
“It was 10 times worse than what it looked. You see an edited version which is made palatable for viewers, they can’t show how awful how it is because I think there’d be too many complaints from the public and nobody would want to go on the show, it was awful,” says Shazia, who’d already turned the show down twice before.
Looking at footage she still didn’t think it was for her but spoke to previous participants Josie Long and Dr Dawn Harper.
“They both said to me ‘it’s absolutely awful, it’s the worst thing I’ve ever done in my life but it will change your life. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and you have to do it’.”
She survived to the end, saying it was a matter of mind over matter; mental strength over physical strength.
“I realised how mentally strong I am and if I’m in a situation I’ll be able to survive. I feel I can do anything because I’ve done that. You realise you can do a lot of things by yourself, but in a survival situation at the end of the day you will always need other people; the island is a metaphor for life really.
“The battles between men and women, the struggle of survival, the mundanness of how to get through life. When it goes dark very early there’s nothing to do and you lie awake at night thinking about your life - what you’ve achieved, what you’re going to change. That’s very difficult, to be alone with your thoughts at night for such long periods of time with people you don’t know.
“You will always need other people and that’s what we realised on the island, in the end we needed each other. Everybody in life is on their phone, on their own. This new generation really doesn’t know how to communicate with people and they’re always on the internet, people rarely talk... you need to hear other people’s stories and other people’s point of view.”
• Hear Shazia’s stories at Colchester Arts Centre, March 1 and The Junction, Cambridge, May 5