WHEN Emily Atack watched her new, self-penned sketch show, she shocked herself.
“I kind of had an out-of-body experience and said: ‘Ooh, she’s a potty mouth, isn’t she!?’ I can’t actually believe how rude I am.”
Emily Atack says her DMs are ‘really dark’ and full of sexual harassmentCredit: Mark Hayman
It’s true that The Emily Atack Show, which kicks off on ITV2 this week, probably isn’t the kinda thing you’d want to settle down on the sofa to watch with your nan.
With Emily’s no-holds-barred skits on sex, one-night stands and dating disasters, interlaced with clips from her unashamedly frank stand-up routine, wholesome family viewing it certainly ain’t.
But Emily, 30, says this is real life, it’s the sort of stuff she laughs about with her mates (“farts and willies – I always revert back to silliness”) and she hopes to help break down some of the barriers when it comes to women talking openly about sex.
“I want to scream from the rooftops that girls can talk about this s**t as well! It doesn’t make us disgusting or slags – it is part of life.
“Men are allowed to talk about it until they’re blue in the face, and they get legendary status the more they do.”
Nevertheless, Emily recently found herself worrying over whether she should tone down her natural naughtiness after becoming concerned it was attracting the sexual harassment she faces on a daily basis, mostly via direct messages.
The Emily Atack Show kicks off on ITV2 this weekCredit: Mark Hayman
Anonymous predatory men using fake accounts regularly send her “d**k pics” and videos of themselves masturbating and it had started to “chip away” at her to the point where she was blaming herself.
“I was questioning everything and ringing the producer of my show saying maybe we needed to take certain bits out that were ‘too much.’ I was talking to my sister about whether I should start putting a different version of myself out there, stop talking as much about sex and change how I dress.
“I have big boobs and sometimes my cleavage is on show and so I was questioning all of these things… was I asking for it? I was blaming myself.
“And then I thought: no. Because it’s not difficult not to be a disgusting pervert, is it? When I go out with a short skirt on does that mean I am asking to be raped? Why can’t a stranger control himself to not send me a video of him w**king? If he can’t control that then that is on him and he has serious problems.”
She worries that the generation of girls behind her will become so desensitised to sleazy, unsolicited photos coming via their social media messages that it ends up as a normal occurrence, and just another thing women accept they have to put up with.
“The reason why I’m speaking about it is because I had accepted this was my reality. I’m a young woman who lives by herself and having men constantly sexually harass you in that way makes you feel so isolated.
Emily Atack says online sexual harassment is a ‘blind spot’ but ‘very real and very dangerous’Credit: Mark Hayman
“We know that public trolling is out of control, but this is something else. It’s a blind spot, real under-the-radar stuff.
“My DMs are really dark. It takes some guy using a fake account five seconds to upload a picture or a video, but it ruins my entire day – and I can’t get the image of that disgusting man and his horrible penis out of my mind. That is a penis I haven’t asked to see, but I’ve had no choice, and that’s completely wrong.”
If a man exposed himself to her on the street, Emily says she wouldn’t hesitate to report him. And yet she hasn’t been to the police.
“Weirdly, it never even crossed my mind. I’m not slagging the police off, but I have a feeling if I called them it wouldn’t go anywhere. For some reason, there’s something about this sort of harassment that feels intangible, like it doesn’t exist. But it’s very real and very dangerous.
“This is happening every single day. If I was flashed at every time I went outside the house, it would destroy my life, it would be awful. But it has become a thing that it is happening to me every day via messages and it’s something I have completely built a tolerance to, which is really sad.”
Conversation with Emily comes easily – she’s down to earth, candid and naturally funny. She knows exactly who she is and where she’s headed. But she’s not always been quite so assured, and it was only after finally accepting a place on I’m A Celebrity! two years ago (after previously turning the show down), that she started to get herself together.
Despite a promising start to her career in 2008 with her role as Charlotte on The Inbetweeners, job offers had stalled and she has spoken in the past of going through something of a quarter-life crisis.
Despite being a strong, independent woman, Emily admits she wants to find loveCredit: Mark Hayman
But finishing I’m A Celebrity! as the universally loved runner-up, having utterly endeared herself to the viewers as well as making TV bigwigs sit up and take notice, opened up a whole new world of opportunity as well as restoring the faith in herself that she’d lost.
“That show changed my life. I can’t talk about it without welling up. I just can’t believe how perfectly timed everything was. I’d doubted myself for so many years, I thought I was weak,” she says.
“I went in there as a lost person, heartbroken over the end of a relationship [with model Jack Vacher] and I didn’t know who I was any more. I felt a bit like a toddler lost in a supermarket.
“I feel like that in life sometimes – I’m a bit here, there and everywhere and I don’t always know what the right decisions are – but the jungle allowed me to process all of those things and to find my route.
“After that it was like a domino effect, you do one good thing and that gives you the confidence to do the next thing. It’s all been a part of growing up and finding a confidence I thought had gone.”
Emily thinks part of her appeal was the curveball she threw at people’s preconceptions – viewers expected her to be one thing and were surprised to discover she wasn’t at all.
Emily finished I’m A Celeb as the universally loved runner-upCredit: Shutterstock Editorial
“I’d been the pin-up girl from The Inbetweeners, which was great but wasn’t going to last forever. You know, things start sagging a bit! So I went in there and everybody thought I was going to be the bikini girl standing in the shower.
“I mean, I f**king wish! And when they saw I wasn’t and that I’m actually lumpy and bumpy and very normal, people were surprised.
“I know people look at me and put me in a box – if you’ve posed in lads’ mags in your pants, you get pigeon-holed. But I know I am a good person, I know I’m not a d**khead, so I knew I would do all right in that sense. I just didn’t have a clue how life-changing it would be.”
If I’m A Celebrity! taught her she was fine on her own, lockdown reinforced that. But she admits she still feels better when in a relationship.
“The fact is, I don’t want to be on my own. I put this persona out there that I’m happy being single and I’m a strong, independent woman and I am all of those things and I will always fly the flag for single women… but the reality is I’m quite a needy person and I don’t want to be by myself!
“Although this last year has at least proved that I can get through it. The more struggles life throws at me, the more I surprise myself with how I cope, and being OK on my own is one of them.”
After playing Charlotte on The Inbetweeners, job offers stalled for Emily until her stint on I’m A CelebCredit: Channel 4
She adds: “Having a period of time by yourself is important, you find out who you are, whereas in the past I have always been in relationships and used that as an emotional crutch and I lost my own identity. In the past I’ve lived for other people.”
She insists she’s officially single, although she was papped kissing 21-year-old model Charlie Edwards in the street last month.
“I’m definitely not in a committed relationship right now,” she says, suddenly uncharacteristically coy.
“I’m keeping my options open and I’m enjoying myself. Put it this way, I’m definitely making up for lockdown. I’m having fun and there are some really lovely guys out there.”
Like Charlie, for instance?
“Hmm, what I’ve learned in this industry is that if you go on one date with someone then he’s labelled as your boyfriend and that brings pressure because suddenly you have to have ‘that’ conversation.
Emily insists she’s single despite being papped kissing 21-year-old model Charlie Edwards in the street last monthCredit: The Sun/News Licensing
“A few months ago I went on a date with someone and we had a really nice time but we were pictured together and it was in the paper and he completely freaked out.
“It was a massive moment for me realising that whoever I’m seen in public with, it might have an effect on their life, so I have to be careful.
“But I don’t want to sit in and keep things secret, I’m not like that. I see myself as a very normal person so I want to date in restaurants and pubs and have a kiss in the street. But I can only do those things if the other person is comfortable with it.”
And with the added risk that they might end up in one of her stand-up routines, of course… Emily grimaces, recalling one filming session when her parents, comic actress Kate Robbins and musician Keith Atack, were in the audience and she (very deliberately) told a particularly, ahem, revealing story.
“I have to be honest, I’m quite a free spirit and I don’t embarrass easily and if people know me they’ll know whether they want to watch my show or not. But, yeah, there is this one episode where I admit something to my mum and dad, something so mental, and it was purely to get their reaction.”
She says Kate and Keith could only cover their faces in horror.
Emily Atack says she wants audience to experience her comedy as a ‘sense of escapism’ Credit: Getty Images – Getty
“I know, I know! There’s stuff your mum and dad really don’t need to know, but the audience were screaming. I just want to give people watching a sense of escapism.
“It’s coming at a time where we all need to laugh at naughty things – there’s no reference to Covid whatsoever because I wanted people to be reminded of life and all the things we usually talk to our mates about. We will have that again, eventually.”
All the success Emily is enjoying right now (she’s also just taken over as a team captain on Celebrity Juice) feels bittersweet, coming at a time when the arts industry is on its knees with theatres and live venues shut down and events cancelled.
On the day we meet, the government’s now-infamous Rethink, Reskill, Reboot advert suggesting Fatima the ballerina might want to give up her dream of being a dancer to go into “cyber” is going viral on social media, hot on the heels of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s unwelcome advice that people working in the arts will have to “adapt” to other jobs.
Emily is, understandably, furious.
“It’s such a kick in the gut,” she says. “It’s basically saying: ‘Go and get a real job’. This is our livelihood and it’s a difficult industry to be in at the best of times so for someone to come along and say that, is so insulting.
“Entertainment is what’s kept everyone going in lockdown and so to imply it’s not a real job is b*****ks. I wish I had more of an articulate answer, but it just really p**ses me off.
Emily finds her current success bittersweet while the arts industry is on its knees during CovidCredit: Instagram
“Everyone is trying to navigate their way through this the best way they can and I hope the arts is something [the government] will realise we desperately need, because later on when we’re allowed to do normal things again, the first thing we’re all going to want to do is have a bloody good laugh. I hope and pray we get the support to come through it.”
Has it been difficult to square her own professional joy with the struggle so many of her friends and colleagues are experiencing?
“Yes, because it has been the most successful year I’ve ever had career-wise, but it’s happening in such a weird time. My heart breaks for every single person on the planet. Happiness is so limited at the moment, isn’t it?
“But I’m so lucky to be working, and that I’m healthy, and if you have those two things then that is all we can ask for right now.”
In the beauty chair with Emily
What’s your skincare routine?
Tropic Smoothing Cleanser and Vitamin Toner every day.
Make-up bag essential?
Bare Minerals Tinted Hydrating Gel Cream.
Best beauty bargain?
Maybelline False Lash Effect Mascara.
Biggest beauty splurge?
I love visiting Shane Cooper for a facial.
Top make-up hack?
Using a good lipliner that’s slightly darker than my lips for a fuller pout. I love Mac liners.
How has your relationship with make-up evolved?
I now prefer the more natural skin look, especially to show my freckles in the summer.
Probably Alicia Keys or Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.
She’s nervous about the inevitable pressure that comes with the new show, made more acute by the fact it has her name in the title, but she knows that fulfilling ambition often means taking a few risks.
“I’m terrified of it all, but I’m going through a phase in my life where I’m doing everything that scares me. And I hope I can show that you don’t have to look a certain way or talk about certain things to work in comedy. You don’t have to be a bookish Cambridge graduate and talk about politics to do stand-up and be funny. You can be a Love Island fan, wear false eyelashes and fake tan and have blonde hair extensions!
“All I’ve ever wanted is my own sketch show and to be a captain on Celebrity Juice, so this is like a joke. I need to remember this moment.”
- The Emily Atack Show starts Wednesday, 10pm, ITV2.
Hair: Dino Pereira using Kiehl’s Since 1851 Magic Elixir
Make-up: Lan Nguyen-Grealis using Becca Cosmetics
Styling: Nana Acheampong
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