Thursday, 26 November 2009

Sophie's Choice

Sophie's Choice..

On the 11th August 2007, 20 year-old Sophie Lancaster and her boyfriend Robert Maltby were kicked, stamped on and left unconscious - for nothing more than looking different. Sophie later died from her injuries.

Illamasqua is a cosmetics brand that prides itself on promoting the right to experiment and self-express through the way you look. It is also committed to changing attitudes towards subcultures.

In tribute to Sophie, Illamasqua has commissioned "Dark Angel" - a short film by award-winning French Director, Fursy Teyssier. It is a haunting rendition of Sophie's story, featuring the music of iconic British band, Portishead.

The aim of the film is to raise awareness of The Sophie Lancaster Foundation and generate £500,000 to help educate young people about tolerance. Since Sophie's death, the foundation has been working with behavioural experts Huthwaite International, to put together an interactive youth workshop that does just that.

But this essential education programme can only be delivered with YOUR help.

Please, please show your support and watch the film - it's embedded below.
We're hoping to reach over 1,000,000 hits, so forward the links below and help us spread the message. If you have your own website, blog, Facebook, MySpace or You Tube page, or a Twitter profile, please display a link to the film. For added impact, download a specifically designed web banner from Illamasqua's website - the link is copied below.

As well as being available to view online, the film will also be running on MTV from the 26th November (today) - Sophie's birthday.

Stand up for Sophie - act now and buy an Illamasqua S.O.P.H.I.E. pencil and wrist band. Or make a donation. £3 from each S.O.P.H.I.E. pencil purchased and all proceeds from the wrist band sales go directly to the foundation.

Together, we'll help to stamp out prejudice, hatred and intolerance everywhere.

This cause is especially close to my heart. As a mixed race and gay man, I suffered immense cruelty throughout my youth and adolescence. Having moved from Oman in the Middle East to rural Newcastle at the age of 5 in the mid 80's, it took me a long time to gain the acceptance of other children in my town. I was called a Paki (even though I'm in fact half Scottish and half Ethiopian). I was beaten up and it was a long while before other children would allow me to play with them. Things took a turn for the worse when I was sent to Croftinloan, a Scottish boarding school in the tiny town of Pitlochry, Perthshire at the age of 9. I recall my first day at that school as if it were only yesterday. On my first night, another boy in my dormitory called me a nigger and told me to go back home to my own country. I tried in vain to explain that the United Kingdom was my country - I was a British citizen after all.

Things went from bad to worse - my entire school experience was about as close to living hell as you could get. Croftinloan had a tradition of celebrating Bonfire Night. Kids would take turns to stand up by the bonfire and tell jokes to the rest of the school who remained seated on the ground. A series of children stood up and told hideous jokes about Ethiopians. Favoured jokes included "what do you call two Ethiopians in a body bag? - A KitKat" and "how do you get a thousand Ethiopians to jump off a cliff? - throw a can of baked beans over it". I was horrified by these jokes. These kids knew that my mother was Ethiopian and yet they relished the opportunity to humiliate me in front of the entire school and all the teachers. I remember complaining to my headmaster about the jokes and I'll never forget the way he callously explained that it would be no different if I were fat or had red hair. I was mortified by the injustice of it all. In my mind it wasn't right - these jibes hurt me so badly and they definitely wouldn't have been appropriate if aimed at people with red hair or weight issues for that matter.

You'd have thought that after a while, the jibes would have subsided - but they carried on at Loretto, my boarding school in Musselburgh, East Lothian. Every single day of my three years at that school included some form of hatred and harassment. I can say hand on heart, there wasn't a day where I didn't have to suffer at least one pupil calling me a puff, gay boy, faggot, nigger, wog or bender. I recall one particularly gruesome incident involving the most popular girl in my year group, a girl called Lucy Holt (who incidentally is now a successful model and actress on the books of Models 1). Lucy and I shared a few classes and in one French class, she thought it would be hilarious to stand on a table in the middle of a French lesson, in front of my entire class, and lead a shouted rendition of "he's gay, he's bent, his arse is up for rent, he's Ian Brown". I ran out of the class in tears and not one person considered coming after me to see if I was ok.

Other incidents included students shouting SNP at me - it was considered cool to support the Scottish National Party. On another occasion, a star player in the school's rugby team cornered me with a mob of boys, got me in a head lock and wrestled me to the ground. I told the school's headmaster about it and I'll never forget the incident because my headmaster said to me "what would you like us to do?" I felt so alone, so totally helpless. How wrong is society when a defenceless pupil is beaten up and then is asked "what do you want us to do about it?" by the headmaster of his own school?

Needless to say, I left that school after my GCSE's. I'll never forget a stream of kids coming up to me on my last day and asking "why are you leaving?". These were the same children who had called me names each and every day of my school life and who had moved up along the benches of tables in our dining hall so that I couldn't sit with them. I remember more than once, having to sit at an empty table that could seat roughly 12 students in a dining hall filled with approximately 1000 children and teachers, simply because my peers didn't consider me good enough to sit with them. No-one ever batted an eyelid. Not the teachers, nor the students. To make matters worse, I'd then have to endure them coming up to me after the meal and asking "why were you sitting by yourself Ian?".

The same pattern of bullying and abuse continued at Dulwich College in London, which I attended for my A-Levels. I ended up having to study from home in my final year because I was so scared of going to school. I ended up not sitting some of my A-Levels - the kids had basically succeeded in destroying not only my self confidence but also my education. The headmaster at Dulwich had wanted me to study English Literature at Cambridge. I had the potential to do so but any hope of an academic future had been destroyed by my tormentors.

I developed anorexia and bulimia as a direct result of my experiences - and later dabbled in drugs as a means of escaping my emotional pain. I have had to fight tooth and nail to reclaim my career potential and indeed my self worth. It's been a long, bumpy road. But with the help of my closest friends, my family and my fiancee, I'm now a happy young man who is flourishing in every respect. I am enjoying success in my life and it's all the more dear to me because there was such a long period when all I ever wanted was to die.

So now you've heard a little bit about my own personal story - I urge each and every one of you to do your bit to support Sophie's cause.

To find out more, please visit

Follow the Sophie Lancaster Foundation on Twitter for daily updates on the Charity's work at

The S.O.P.H.I.E. pencil is priced at £12, the S.O.P.H.I.E. wrist band is priced at £2 and both can be purchased online via Illamasqua's website:


  1. You do wonder what those people must think of themselves now... do they look back in disgust and anger at the way they acted or do they feel nothing? It's an interesting look in to how society deals with any one who is not the "same as them" and Sophie's case is also a symbol for the injustices that are committed on a daily basis.

    Thank you for sharing your story, Ian.

  2. I am so very sorry reading and listening this article. I am heartened to read after what appears to be years of struggling your are finally reaping the rewards of your hard work. I can speak from experience, Loretto has not changed pupils are still judgemental and cruel. The 2009 Headboy bullied a student from Hong Kong - he also plays rugby. The boy left Loretto.There is a heirachy amongst pupils and the new Headmaster has created an elitism amongst pupils and he has appointed a Deputy Head who is a bully and loves screaming and shouting at boys mainly until he reduces them to tears. Then he just looks stupid with a big red face shaking. Good Luck with your future. xx.