Watch: Author Giovanna Fletcher reflects on her childhood bullying ordeal
“[It was] lots of name calling, pushing, being pushed into rose bushes,” the mum-of-three tells Kate Thornton on Yahoo UK podcast White Wine Question Time. "A low point for me was having to go to the school nurse that she could pick rose thorns out my butt. That was pretty bad. But just just not very nice behaviour, which, as a nine year old, all I wanted was for people to like me."
Understandably, Fletcher has mixed feelings when reflecting on that time. "[It wasn't a] very happy child kind of school life wise, but I love my brother, my sister, like everything was just us outside playing," she recalls. "And I love that. And I do think although the bullying was awful, and we did move as a result of it, I would not be sad, gee, that you had to move.
"So we moved and then I went to a normal secondary school where we lived and that was all lovely," Fletcher, now 37, adds.
The bullying led to a "huge desire and need" for people to like Fletcher, she admits. "I wanted them to approve of what I was and who I am, I guess. And I think part of growing up and part of having kids certainly is realising that you're never going to please everyone. And that's fine."
Bullying is an issue experienced by nearly a third of children every year. Fortunately, for Fletcher, back then, her parents took some of the actions recommended today by the Anti-Bullying Alliance.
First, they listened to her. “Reassure [your child] that coming to you was the right thing to do,” advises the Anti-Bullying Alliance. It advises parents to ask children to record events to share with school – and not to retaliate. This can cause them to be “hurt even further” and “labelled as the problem”.
It also recommends parents encourage their children “to get involved in activities that build confidence and self-esteem, and help them to form friendships outside of school.”
In Fletcher’s case, her family’s decision to let her move schools changed her life. The inner creativity she says she developed while alone at school playtimes, flourished through a new interest in drama. It was, she revealed, “a whole other world, a whole other side to me.”
At age 13, Fletcher applied to the Sylvia Young Theatre School by herself, and won a coveted place. She made new friends with students who shared her “joint love” of drama, including future husband Tom Fletcher, whom she met on her first day. “It was just wonderful in that way," she tells Thornton.
And since then, she’s been unstoppable.
Today, Sir Kenneth Branagh still speaks about the unflappable brilliance Fletcher demonstrated as a young theatre understudy, stepping on stage at a few seconds’ notice to act opposite him and Tom Hiddleston when co-star Andrea Riseborough fell ill.
Fletcher is also a best-selling author, refusing to allow her early belief that only “people who go to Oxford” can be writers, to stop her dream. Unfazed by 11 publisher rejections, she persisted until Penguin offered her a two-book deal.
Today, she has published 12 books, many of them number ones. The popularity of one, Happy Mum, Happy Baby, led to her highly successful podcast of the same name. Its most famous guest was Kate, Princess of Wales.
It is a testament to Fletcher’s warmth and relatability that she persuaded a member of the Royal Family to share such frank feelings about motherhood. In January, 2022, the Princess of Wales came on the podcast and discussed holding Prince George for the first time (“amazing, amazing”), parental guilt, and her desire to raise happy children.
“Would I want them to remember me trying to do maths and spelling homework,” she told Fletcher. “Or that we’ve tried to cook sausages on a bonfire but it didn’t work as it’s too wet?”
Fletcher may have decided not to let bullying define her, but she never underestimates the lifelong effect it can have on survivors.
Many years later, an unexpected encounter with the younger sister of her school bully, who “looked exactly like her” left her reeling. “I could just feel the anxiety,” she told Thornton. “We feel like we're over it – and then all of a sudden, bam, you're back there.”
Her decision to harness the positives of an unhappy childhood experience – her creativity and her drive – is what enamours Fletcher to her fans. In 2020, her resilience, humour and warmth saw her crowned her winner of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here.
Eating “squirrel” and “fisheye”, and getting maggots in her ears might have phased many, but not her. “It was the best experience ever!” she jokes.
The bullies might have shaped Fletcher’s life, but it’s clear they didn’t win.