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Fans of Hollyoaks will be aware that Esther Bloom has been the victim of a sustained period of bullying that has had a devastating effect on her life. Hollyoaks and Channel 4 Education have teamed up with BeatBullying to highlight the issues involved. To mark Anti-Bullying Week which runs from 19-23 November, Jazmine Franks, who plays Esther, explains a little bit more.
Esther's been the victim of a pretty sustained bullying campaign on Hollyoaks. Explain to those who may not have seen it what's been going on.
Recently Esther's been bullied quite a lot through college and through social media sites. She's not had an easy time of it - they've played various pranks on her. At Halloween they pretended to be Silas, who's the serial killer in Hollyoaks. They dressed up as him, and it scared her that much she wet herself. Now she's known as Esther ‘Pissypants' Bloom. She kissed Maddie in Absersoch last summer, and Maddie's spread a rumour around the school saying that she's got a moustache. So when she stood to be the Peer Supporter, all the posters that were up around the school ended up having moustaches drawn on them so no-one would vote for her and that kind of thing. She's having an absolute time of it, really.
One of the ways she's suffering has been cyber-bullying on the fictional micro-blogging site, DocYou, that's been set up for the programme. What sort of things has she experienced?
Her bullies always seem to upload videos of her doing stupid things. People upload videos of her, and then loads of people start making really horrible comments underneath, telling her to have a rubbish day, and just generally not being nice. So she can't get away from it even when she goes home and logs on. They're all there making nasty comments.
Explain a bit more about DocYou, it's a site created in the programme by one of the characters, Dylan, but also exists in reality on the web for viewers to visit and see how devastating cyber-bullying can be.
Yeah. The public can't go on and comment, but they can go and look, and read what's being done to Esther. It's there as an example of how someone might be bullied on a social networking site. It will hopefully make people think twice about making nasty comments, when they can see what it's doing to someone. Because in reality, whoever's sat behind a computer screen can't see what they're doing to the person they're bullying. They can't see their face, they can't see their emotions, they can't see them break down. So I think DocYou is really good, because it shows Maddie and Sinead doing all these horrible things, but it also shows Esther's interviews, and her point of view, so shows the effects of the bullying as well. [Viewers can see this content on DocYou by visiting http://docyou.e4.com/ .]
Hollyoaks and Channel 4 Education are using the storyline as an opportunity to draw attention to the issue of bullying and funding BeatBullying Cyber Mentor training days in schools, aren't they?
Yeah. Channel 4 Education and Hollyoaks have teamed up with BeatBullying. I was lucky enough to go into a school recently to observe students being taught to be Cyber Mentors. It was great to see how serious the kids were about it, how they weren't taking it as a joke. They understood that it was an issue that needs to be sorted out, and were keen to help.
What do Cyber Mentors do?
It's a website that BeatBullying have set up where people who have been affected by bullying, or are being bullied, can go online and speak to someone confidentially, without anyone finding out, and pass on their problems. It's like a weight's been lifted, just being able to talk to someone about it - even though they can't go in and sort out the bullies, just being able to let someone know what's going on is so important. And also, if the mentor thinks it is a real problem, and there is a risk of danger there, they will pass it on to someone who is more trained, and they will take further action. I think it's brilliant. I think Esther could have done with that.
Who are BeatBullying?
They go into schools and talk to all ages, from primary to sixth form. They talk to students about bullying, and about how harsh the online world can be. They also help people with their privacy settings, and educate kids about being safe online. And they talk about bullying, and help people who are being bullied. I met a young girl who's been bullied really badly. She came to Hollyoaks and we had lunch - just to help me with my storyline, to help me get into that frame of mind of being bullied. Listening to that experience was really hard but it was amazing. She now works for BeatBullying herself, she goes round schools talking about her experiences, and shows people that you can get over it. It does stop. There is a light. And BeatBullying is that light, really. She said she would never have been able to get over it if it hadn't been for BeatBullying.
That must have been a really emotional experience for you, hearing her story.
It was awful! It was so helpful - it has helped me a lot- but it was an awful story. And her mum was there as well, and it was really interesting listening to her mum's side. Her mum said she just wanted to go in and punch them all, but you can't, because it'll make things worse.
Have you found it emotional having to play a character who's being badly bullied?
Yes! It has absolutely drained me. I'm enjoying every second of it, and I hope I'm doing it justice, I hope I'm getting the message across. But I've been told a few times by fellow cast members that when I finish on set and it's a wrap for the day, I mustn't take my job home, and should go home and do something fun. They tell me to remember that I'm Jazmine and not Esther. I do get really into it because I want to make sure I do it to the best of my ability.
Do you think it's fair to say that most of Esther's bullies are unaware of the level of distress that they're causing?
Yes, I definitely do. When we first met Esther, she was confident. She was comfortable with her sexuality, she knew she wanted to do fashion, she'd been to London on an internship with Company magazine, she was really happy with herself. I think Maddie then realised that she didn't have power over her like she did over everyone else, and started to pick away at her. But I think people always think with Esther, because they've seen such a confident side to her, that she can handle it all, and it's just a joke. Ruby and Sinead have said that a lot through the storyline. I don't think they really understand what they're doing.
That's probably the case with a lot of bullies, isn't it? They're not necessarily really malicious people, they just have no idea the damage they are causing.
Yeah, exactly. Just small comments can really hurt. Like for me on Twitter, if someone writes something, about me personally, or even if they say it about Esther, I can get upset. They don't realise what they're saying.
So do you feel, as someone with a relatively high profile, that you yourself can sometimes be the victim of bullying on social networking sites?
Definitely. More so now than ever. Everyone has an opinion, and a lot of people decide they want to voice it over Twitter. But for every bad comment, there's 20 good ones, so you just learn to carry on with your day and not get too bothered about them. But sometimes it does get to you - like if someone has a go at me about my weight or something. Like someone tweeted the other day "Just seen Jaz Franks in London. They say the camera adds 10 pounds, well in her case it takes off 30." It was basically saying I look fatter than I do on screen. So I just wrote back and said "Thank you, your mother must be so proud." She tweeted back saying "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, it was my boyfriend that wrote that." So she realised that she'd upset me, and she apologised. I don't think she'd realised what she'd done.
What kind of response have you had from viewers?
I've had an immense response on Twitter from people who've been bullied, saying how much they can relate to Esther's storyline. I had one woman come up to me when I was out one night. She came up and said "I just want to say thank you." I said "Why?" And she said "My daughter's bullied quite a lot at school, and she watched Hollyoaks the other night and said "Mum, I can stop the bullies like Esther." I broke into tears, I was out in a club and I couldn't believe it. That kind of thing makes it all worthwhile.
What advice would you give to someone who was being bullied?
Definitely tell someone. If you can't tell a parent, a guardian, a friend, if you feel really on your own, then get onto the BeatBullying website [at http://www.beatbullying.org/ ] and click on the Cyber Mentor's button. Just chat to someone who can understand and knows where you're coming from. Definitely don't keep it locked up. The longer you stay silent the worse it'll get.
Do you think it's important for Hollyoaks to tackle issues that affect young people?
Yeah, definitely. We have a youthful audience, high school students, college students, young adults - and for Hollyoaks to tackle this, and to do it so well, I'm absolutely honoured to be part of it.