Shappi Khorsandi: laughing in the face of taboos

The comedian, 46, on the ‘embarrassing’ topics – from lack of bladder control to money – that she refuses to be silent about. Hear, hear!
Heathcliff O'Malley Photography

Money: During a performance in Galway, I once revealed I’d done I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! [in 2017] for the money and the compere asked how much I made but I refused to say. Afterwards, I privately revealed the fee to him and he said, ‘Shappi, if you’d said that out loud, the audience would have been so happy for you!’ In British culture, we never want to appear boastful, so discussing money is a huge no-no, unless – of course – we’re moaning about financial struggle. Let’s reverse the trend. It’s OK to be proud of our achievements, to afford nice things after we’ve worked hard. We must big ourselves up more and – this is especially so for women – value our self-worth, not undersell your work and be paid what we’re worth.

Visible panty lines (VPL): I came of age in the 90s, when fluorescent, lacy G-strings were the rage. These tiddly, butt-flossing undies were responsible for profound nether-region cruelty – and for what? To avoid the so-called ‘dreaded’ VPL! Fortunately, a time comes in life when something clicks and caring what other people think of your attire no longer matters. I’ve been there since having kids and now have a glorious newfound respect for my private parts. So these days I’m all about big, up-to-my-belly-button, wrap-around Bridget Jones-style pants, and to hell with fretting about a bulging side seam. Life’s really too short to get your knickers in a twist.

Urinary incontinence: We’ve all read the story of Sleeping Beauty, who snoozed for 100 years. Perhaps she had a catheter, but there were certainly no issues with soiled underpants or bed sores. It’s time we changed the perception that beautiful women are all plucked, soft and non-secreting. It’s a myth! I nearly wet myself in Sainsbury’s yesterday. because in the last couple of years my bladder will suddenly go from empty to full. There I was in the dairy aisle, taking my mind to a happy place and furiously clenching before waddling to the door and dashing for home. I know it’s not just me – almost half of the UK population are living with some form of urinary incontinence, but what’s shocking is 54% haven’t told their partner and 25% haven’t told anyone at all! There’s truly nothing wrong with saying to our other halves, ‘when I laugh, a little bit of wee comes out, so can you not be quite so funny over breakfast?’ It’s time we changed the script.

Ageing: I’ve got a poster in my living room from my first Edinburgh show when I was 32. I was probably at my best aesthetically, sitting on a suitcase in a size eight dress. I’m so glad I’ve got the picture but I’m so much happier now I’m older. I’m a size 12, I care less about what people think and have confidence that comes only from life experience. Ageing is not a decline. One of my friends was always the girl that all the boys fancied but no longer feels she has that currency, so spends all her time in the gym trying to remain thin. I don’t feel that pressure because I was always the one who made boys laugh before they went off with my mate! Today, in my forties, I get my confidence from other places – how I make social connections, my work and not being afraid to roll with the times. I’ve never dismissed cultural or social change by saying, ‘it’s not my day’. Today is my day and tomorrow will be my day. So I’ve given TikTok a shot. My verdict? It’s a bit of a time-eater and that’s what shrinks when you get older – time. Even in isolation, I don’t have a spare 48 hours to throw at mastering Little Mix-esque choreography. Neither can I give days over to hangovers. Your twenties go on forever (I was in mine for about forty years!) I spent about two seconds in my thirties and I’m now roaring towards fifty, owning every laughter line on my face and feeling relieved to have made it this far!

Female sexuality: I have zero-time for bad sex. When I was younger, I put up with sex that wasn’t fun or satisfying and I didn’t know how to communicate what I wanted or needed. Now, at 46, I’m so upfront and it’s incredible how that changes relationships. When I was married, my ex-husband and I never discussed the sex we were having and now, with any new partner, I’m so comfortable to vocalise what I want, which men find refreshing. When you’re a single, older woman you tend to go out with younger guys because they’re the ones who aren’t married and aren’t wanting to date 30-year-olds and, unlike men of my generation, they’re a lot more open, which is so refreshing. Once upon a time, it was frowned upon for a girl to even ask a boy out. When I was younger, girls had to stand around looking as pretty as possible and our personalities didn’t count for toffee – rules I didn’t understand. I’ve always been a really open person so hearing, ‘you mustn’t call him back’ confused me. I’d think ‘if that’s going to scare him off, he’s not right for me’. Now women can be so much more upfront about liking sex, wanting it, asking for it, looking for it and are able to say, ‘this is temporary’. I recently met a guy on Tinder and from the start I made it absolutely clear I wasn’t interested in a romantic relationship. I’ve got two children with a lot on my plate and don’t have the time. Frankly, the words ‘slut’ or ‘slag’ mean nothing to me. I just hope this generation doesn’t have such a high-horse morality. I was having quite a nice time with someone before lockdown, and when all this ends, I feel I’d love to have a proper romance. I’ve not fallen in love with anybody since I got divorced. I want the world to prove to me that it can happen more than once in my lifetime.

Shappi is helping Boots Staydry take the taboo out of female incontinence and launch the UK’s driest discreet underwear* Staydry Discreet.


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