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There was a feminist outcry when the band used a tied-up model to promote their 1976 album. Is rocknroll more enlightened now?

Even by the standards of 1970s rocknroll, it was in bad taste: a billboard on Sunset Boulevard of a bruised and bound woman sitting on a gatefold cover of a new Rolling Stones album that proclaimed: Im Black and Blue from the Rolling Stones and I love it.

The 1976 advert triggered an outcry: Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW) wrote in the newsletter Breakthrough that the ad campaign exploits and sensationalises violence against a woman for the purpose of increased record sales and contributes to the myth that women like to be beaten, and condones a permissive attitude towards the brutalisation of women.

The controversial advert for the Rolling Stones Black and Blue album from 1976, featuring the model Anita Russell. Photograph: Atlantic Records

Five women connected with the group armed with buckets of fire-engine-red paint, according to the magazine Mother Jones defaced the hoarding, writing This is a crime against women. The bands label, Atlantic Records, pulled the campaign. The band apologised. By way of an explanation, Mick Jagger said hed applied the simulated bruises himself.

I didnt mind at all, in fact I was happy for the work, model Anita Russell told the Observer last week on the 44th anniversary of the albums release and the impending reissue of much of the bands later back catalogue, remastered at Abbey Road using a technique for extracting more sound from the original mastering tapes. Black and Blue is one of 10 albums being reissued and, not surprisingly, it will not be accompanied by the original ad campaign.

Russell recalls that she hadnt expected to get the booking. At a casting with Jagger and photographer Ara Gallant in New York, Russell passed the part-African-American model Pat Cleveland on the stairs and felt sure shed get it. Mick told me I was too pretty, so I smeared my makeup and said, See, Im not so pretty. Then he told me to put my arms up and told me to make a face like Im growling.

Days later, Russell, Jagger, Keith Richards and Gallant got together to make the picture. I knew about Im black and blue from the Rolling Stones, and I knew that the bruises meant Id been beaten and tied. But I wasnt a model who could only pose and look pretty, and I wasnt insulted because I knew it was tongue-in-cheek, she says.

Russell, who is now an equestrian and author, recalls that the musicians were charming and polite. Im an actress-model, so it seemed like fun, she adds. I never thought of it in a negative way. Jagger asked her out. She demurred. I didnt want to get passed around from star to star, but I thought he was cuter than in his photographs.

But the ad came out just as French Vogue published a Helmut Newton picture of a woman wearing a bridle and saddle, amplifying the controversy. Russell played along with the outrage: she posed for a National Lampoon magazine cover imagining Jagger tied up, with Russell looking on, laughing.

Close to half a century on, the billboard ad stands as a turning point. WAVAW organised a boycott of Warner, Elektra and Atlantic Records lasting three years, which was only lifted after Warner Communications agreed to let the group implement a sensitivity training programme for advertising executives at the entertainment giant. There was a riposte a year later when the punk band X-Ray Spex released Oh Bondage Up Yours!.

Evelyn McDonnell, author of Women Who Rock: Bessie to Beyonce. Girl Groups to Riot Grrrl theorises that the campaign brought some attention to the album but ultimately overshadowed it. It certainly didnt let the music speak for itself, and the controversy doesnt age well.

While Andrea Dworkin and Women Against Violence might have seemed like radical fringe feminism then, that reaction is mainstream now. A record company just wouldnt allow it nowadays. It would becancel culture, McDonnell says.

The Rolling Stones album cover for their 1976 Black and Blue album.

She points out notwithstanding the fact that women, too, have played extensively with the iconography of bondage and fetishism, from the Plasmatics Wendy O Williams to Shakira throwing off her ropes during Februarys Super Bowl half-time show that equality, real or symbolic, wasnt always forthcoming in the business.

Its better than it was. There are certainly a lot of amazing women artists and theyre more acknowledged in the industry, she says, but its certainly not perfect or equitable.

Its great that Anita Russell felt she had agency in what she was doing, but for women walking down Sunset who might have been in abusive relationships, or were trying to get ahead in the music industry, that billboard might have felt like a reality.

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The long read: Times of upheaval are always times of radical change. Some believe the pandemic is a once-in-a-generation chance to remake society and build a better future. Others fear it may only make existing injustices worse

Everything feels new, unbelievable, overwhelming. At the same time, it feels as if weve walked into an old recurring dream. In a way, we have. Weve seen it before, on TV and in blockbusters. We knew roughly what it would be like, and somehow this makes the encounter not less strange, but more so.

Every day brings news of developments that, as recently as February, would have felt impossible the work of years, not mere days. We refresh the news not because of a civic sense that following the news is important, but because so much may have happened since the last refresh. These developments are coming so fast that its hard to remember just how radical they are.

Cast your mind back a few weeks and imagine someone telling you the following: within a month, schools will be closed. Almost all public gatherings will be cancelled. Hundreds of millions of people around the world will be out of work. Governments will be throwing together some of the largest economic stimulus packages in history. In certain places, landlords will not be collecting rent, or banks collecting mortgage payments, and the homeless will be allowed to stay in hotels free of charge. Experiments will be underway in the direct government provision of basic income. Large swathes of the world will be collaborating with various degrees of coercion and nudging on a shared project of keeping at least two metres between each other whenever possible. Would you have believed what you were hearing?

Its not just the size and speed of what is happening thats dizzying. Its the fact that we have grown accustomed to hearing that democracies are incapable of making big moves like this quickly, or at all. But here we are. Any glance at history reveals that crises and disasters have continually set the stage for change, often for the better. The global flu epidemic of 1918 helped create national health services in many European countries. The twinned crises of the Great Depression and the second world war set the stage for the modern welfare state.

But crises can also send societies down darker paths. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, government surveillance of citizens exploded, while George W Bush launched new wars that stretched into indefinite occupations. (As I write this, the US militarys current attempt at reducing its troop presence in Afghanistan, 19 years after the invasion, is being slowed by coronavirus-related complications.) Another recent crisis, the 2008 financial crash, was resolved in a way that meant banks and financial institutions were restored to pre-crash normality, at great public cost, while government spending on public services across the world was slashed.

Because crises shape history, there are hundreds of thinkers who have devoted their lives to studying how they unfold. This work what we might call the field of crisis studies charts how, whenever crisis visits a given community, the fundamental reality of that community is laid bare. Who has more and who has less. Where the power lies. What people treasure and what they fear. In such moments, whatever is broken in society gets revealed for just how broken it is, often in the form of haunting little images or stories. In recent weeks, the news has furnished us with countless examples. Airlines are flying large numbers of empty or near-empty flights for the sole purpose of protecting their slots on prime sky routes. There have been reports of French police fining homeless people for being outside during the lockdown. Prisoners in New York state are getting paid less than a dollar hour to bottle hand sanitiser that they themselves are not allowed to use (because it contains alcohol), in a prison where they are not given free soap, but must buy it in an on-site shop.

But disasters and emergencies do not just throw light on the world as it is. They also rip open the fabric of normality. Through the hole that opens up, we glimpse possibilities of other worlds. Some thinkers who study disasters focus more on all that might go wrong. Others are more optimistic, framing crises not just in terms of what is lost but also what might be gained. Every disaster is different, of course, and its never just one or the other: loss and gain always coexist. Only in hindsight will the contours of the new world were entering become clear.

The pessimistic view is that a crisis makes bad things worse. People who study disasters and especially pandemics know all too well their tendency to inflame xenophobia and racial scapegoating. When the Black Death came to Europe in the 14th century, cities and towns shut themselves to outsiders and assaulted, banished and killed undesirable community members, most often Jews. In 1858, a mob in New York City broke into a quarantine hospital for immigrants on Staten Island, demanded that everyone leave and then burned the hospital down, fearful that it was putting people outside at risk of yellow fever. Wikipedia now has a page collating examples from more than 35 countries of xenophobia and racism related to the 2019-20 coronavirus pandemic: they range from taunts to outright assault.

In a totally rational world, you might assume that an international pandemic would lead to greater internationalism, says the historian Mike Davis, a renowned American chronicler of the disasters incubated by globalisation. For Davis, who wrote a book about the threat of avian flu in 2005, pandemics are a perfect example of the kind of crises to which global capitalism (with its constant movement of people and goods) is particularly vulnerable, but that the capitalist mindset (with its inability to think in terms beyond profit) cannot address. In a rational world, we would be ramping up production of basic essential supplies test kits, masks, respirators not only for our own use, but for poorer countries, too. Because its all one battle. But its not necessarily a rational world. So there could be a lot of demonisation and calls for isolation. Which will mean more deaths and more suffering worldwide.

In the US, President Trump has tried hard to brand the new coronavirus as inherently Chinese, and to use the pandemic as a pretext for tightening borders and accepting fewer asylum seekers. Republican officials, thinktanks and media outlets have claimed or implied that Covid-19 is a man-made Chinese bioweapon. Some Chinese officials, in turn, have pushed the conspiracy theory that the outbreak came to China by way of American soldiers. In Europe, the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbn, recently announced: We are fighting a two-front war: one front is called migration, and the other one belongs to the coronavirus. There is a logical connection between the two, as both spread with movement.

Illustration: Nathalie Lees/The Guardian

When youre fighting a war, you want to know as much about the enemy as possible. But its easy, in the rush of crisis, to put in place surveillance tools without thinking about the long-term harm they might do. The scholar Shoshana Zuboff, the author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, reminded me that, prior to 9/11, the US government had been in the process of developing serious regulations designed to give web users real choice about how their personal information was and wasnt used. In the course of a few days, Zuboff says, the concern shifted from How do we regulate these companies that are violating privacy norms and rights to How do we nurture and protect these companies so they can collect data for us?

For governments looking to monitor their citizens even more closely, and companies looking to get rich by doing the same, it would be hard to imagine a more perfect crisis than a global pandemic. In China today, drones search for people without facemasks; when they are found, the drones built-in speakers broadcast scoldings from police. Germany, Austria, Italy and Belgium are all using data anonymised, for now from major telecommunications companies to track peoples movement. In Israel, the national security agency is now allowed to access infected individuals phone records. South Korea sends texts to the public identifying potentially infected individuals and sharing information about where theyve been.

Not all surveillance is inherently malign, and new tech tools very well might end up playing a role in fighting the virus, but Zuboff worries that these emergency measures will become permanent, so enmeshed in daily life that we forget their original purpose. Lockdowns have made many of us, sitting at home glued to our computers and phones, more dependent than ever on big tech companies. Many of these same companies are actively pitching themselves to government as a vital part of the solution. It is worth asking what they stand to gain. People have a hard time remembering privacy rights when theyre trying to deal with something like a pandemic, says Vasuki Shastry, a Chatham House fellow who studies the interplay of technology and democracy. Once a system gets scaled up, it can be very difficult to scale it back down. And then maybe it takes on other uses.

The prime ministers of both Israel and Hungary have effectively been given the power to rule by decree, without interference from courts or legislature. The UKs recently rolled-out coronavirus bill gives police and immigration officers the authority in place for the next two years to arrest and detain people suspected of carrying the virus, so that they can be tested. The US Department of Justice has, since the outbreak began, filed a request with Congress for a new rule that would allow judges to suspend courtroom proceedings in emergencies, creating the possibility of people being jailed without ever being able to formally object. Those of us who follow the police know how this goes, said Kevin Blowe of Netpol, a UK group focused on protest rights. These powers get put in place, and it sounds reasonable enough at the time and then very quickly theyre applied for other purposes that have nothing to do with democracy and nothing to do with public safety.

In a 2008 report on the legal aspects of pandemic response, prompted by the increase in pandemic flu outbreaks, a team of historians and medical ethicists assembled by the American Civil Liberties Union bemoaned a common tendency resurgent, in their view, since 9/11 for government to address public health problems using mindsets more appropriate to tracking down criminals. This suspicious mindset, they argued, ended up most affecting racial minorities and the poor. Tactics like these can make fighting the disease harder, by driving a hard wedge of distrust between government and citizens. As the report put it: People, rather than the disease, become the enemy.

Theres another school of thought that looks at crisis and sees glimmers of possibility. For thinkers in this camp, the example of the 2008 financial crash looms large. But where, from their view, 2008 led to defeat with the broad public giving up a great deal while a small few profited Covid-19 might open the door to political progress.

I think were just so different to how we were before we saw the aftermath of the 2008 crash, said the American writer Rebecca Solnit, one of todays most eloquent investigators of crises and their implications. Ideas that used to be seen as leftwing seem more reasonable to more people. Theres room for change that there wasnt beforehand. Its an opening.

The argument, in its simplest form, is this: Covid-19 has revealed the political status quo to be broken. Long before anyone had heard of the new coronavirus, people died of diseases we knew how to prevent and treat. People lived precarious lives in societies awash with wealth. Experts told us about catastrophic threats on the horizon, including pandemics, and we did next to nothing to prepare for them. At the same time, the drastic measures governments have taken in recent weeks testify to just how much power the state does have the extent of what government can accomplish (and quickly!) when it realises it must act boldly or risk being seen as fundamentally illegitimate. As Pankaj Mishra recently wrote: It has taken a disaster for the state to assume its original responsibility to protect citizens.

For years, in mainstream politics the conventional line on everything from healthcare to basic living expenses such as housing has been that even if the world has its problems, expansive government intervention is not a feasible solution. Instead, we have been told that what works best are marketplace solutions, which give large roles to corporations motivated not by outdated notions like the public good but by a desire to make a profit. But then the virus started spreading, governments spent trillions in days even going so far as to write cheques directly to citizens and suddenly the question of what was feasible felt different.

From this perspective, the task today is not to fight the virus in order to return to business as usual, because business as usual was already a disaster. The goal, instead, is to fight the virus and in doing so transform business as usual into something more humane and secure.

In her 2009 book, A Paradise Built in Hell, Solnit used case studies of disasters including the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, the 2001 terror attacks and Hurricane Katrina to argue that emergencies arent just moments when bad things get worse, or when people inevitably become more scared, suspicious and self-centred. Instead she foregrounded the ways in which disasters opened up human reserves of improvisation, solidarity and resolve, pockets of purpose and joy, even in the midst of loss and pain. The book was not a call to celebrate disaster but to pay attention to the possibilities it might contain, and how it might shake us loose from old ways. In Solnits telling, official disaster responses had a tendency to muck things up by treating people as part of the problem to be managed, not an invaluable part of the solution.

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Sometimes this mismanagement is a result of mere incompetence other times it is more sinister. In her 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine, the Canadian writer Naomi Klein laid out a dark account of crisis politics. In Kleins view, there is always Disaster 1 the earthquake, the storm, the military conflict, the economic slump and Disaster 2 the bad things that people with power subsequently get up to, such as ramming through extreme economic reforms or gobbling up post-crisis opportunities for self-enrichment, while the rest of us are too dazed to notice. (In fact, Klein argued, these people sometimes engineer Disaster 1 to get the process started.)

Unlike Solnits book, The Shock Doctrine doesnt have much to say about the resilience of everyday people when everything goes horribly wrong. (Indeed, Solnit directly criticised Klein for this omission.) But the two books fit together like puzzle pieces. Both address crisis not in terms of what inevitably or naturally happens as they unfold, but in terms of choices that people make along the way. And both were well-timed to contribute to the political conversations taking shape in the rubble of the financial crash.

In 2008, days after Barack Obamas election, his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, famously said: You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. Todays leftists, for whom Obama mostly represents disappointment, are prone to agree. They feel that, in the wake of recent crises, they lost, and now is the time to make amends. If, facing a pandemic, we can change this much in a few weeks, then how much might we change in a year?

For anyone making this argument, the contrast between 2008 and the present crisis is striking. Compared to the opaque financial crisis, with its credit default swaps and collateralised debt obligations, the coronavirus is relatively easy to understand. It is a dozen crises tangled into one, and theyre all unfolding immediately, in ways that cannot be missed. Politicians are getting infected. Wealthy celebrities are getting infected. Your friends and relatives are getting infected. We may not quite all be in it together as always, the poor are hit worse but there is more truth to the idea than there ever was in the wake of 2008.

In this, the optimists believe, there is hope that we might begin to see the world differently. Maybe we can view our problems as shared, and society as more than just a mass of individuals competing against each other for wealth and standing. Maybe, in short, we can understand that the logic of the market should not dominate as many spheres of human existence as we currently allow it to.

More people are in a position to connect the dots, Klein said. It has to do with peoples experiences; for people of a certain age, their only experience of capitalism has been one of crisis. And they want things to be different.

That screaming buzzsaw noise in the background of this conversation is the sound of the climate crisis. If 2008 is the disaster that Klein and like-minded thinkers want to avoid repeating, climate change is the much bigger disaster they see coming that they know is already here and that they want to fight off. Indeed, in the years since publishing The Shock Doctrine, Klein has made climate change her central focus, framing it as the paradigmatic emergency that must be wrenched from the clutches of fossil-fuel profiteers and their enablers in government.

Although Covid-19 is likely the biggest global crisis since the second world war, it is still dwarfed in the long term by climate change. Yet the two problems have suggestive similarities. Both will require unusual levels of global cooperation. Both demand changes in behaviour today in the name of reducing suffering tomorrow. Both problems were long predicted with great certainty by scientists, and have been neglected by governments unable to see beyond the next fiscal quarters growth statistics. Accordingly, both will require governments to take drastic action and banish the logic of the marketplace from certain realms of human activity, while simultaneously embracing public investment. In other words, to think of this new level of state intervention as a temporary requirement is to ensure that we continue barrelling down the path to climate disaster.

Weve been trying for years to get people out of normal mode and into emergency mode, said Margaret Klein Salamon, a former psychologist who now heads the advocacy group The Climate Mobilization. What is possible politically is fundamentally different when lots of people get into emergency mode when they fundamentally accept that theres danger, and that if we want to be safe we need to do everything we can. And its been interesting to see that theory validated by the response to the coronavirus. Now the challenge is to keep emergency mode activated about climate, where the dangers are orders of magnitude greater. We cant think were going to go back to normal, because things werent normal.

The analogy between the two crises only goes so far. There is no getting around the fact that the impacts of climate change are more gradual than those of Covid-19. Most people do not feel they or their loved ones could die from the climate crisis this month, and so emergency mode is harder to activate and sustain. As Salamon pointed out to me, if we truly accepted we were in a climate emergency, then every day the news would lead with updates about which countries were reducing their emissions the fastest, and people would be clamouring to make sure their leaders were adopting the policies that worked.

Illustration: Nathalie Lees/The Guardian

But it is not unimaginable that the experience of Covid-19 could help us understand climate change differently. As the virus has reduced industrial activity and road traffic, air pollution has plummeted. In early March, the Stanford University scientist Marshall Burke used pollution data from four Chinese cities to measure changes in the level of PM2.5, a particularly harmful pollutant that attacks the heart and lungs. He estimated that, in China alone, emission reductions since the start of the pandemic had in effect saved the lives of at least 1,400 children under five and 51,700 adults over 70. Meanwhile, people around the world have been sharing their own anecdotal findings online stories of sweet-smelling breezes, expanded bike lanes and birdsong returning to neighbourhoods in a way that almost resembles a digitally distributed Rebecca Solnit project: people catching glimpses, in the midst of a disaster, of a future they know they want and need.

Alongside these hopeful signs, a far less heartening story is unfolding, which fits Kleins shock doctrine framework. Disaster 1: Covid-19. Disaster 2: the dismantling of even the meagre existing rules designed to protect the environment. On 26 March, following lobbying from the energy industry, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced that, in recognition of the pandemics effects on the workforce, it will not punish violations of pollution regulations so long as companies can link those violations to the pandemic. Chinas environmental ministry has started waiving inspections that assess the environmental impact of industrial facilities. And advocacy groups funded by the plastics industry have launched a public relations blitz on behalf of single-use plastic bags, spreading the unproven claim that the virus is less likely to stick plastic than to the cloth fabric of reusable bags. Looking back at the crisis of 2008, we can see that emissions dropped then, too only to rebound drastically in 2010 and 2011.

Salamon believes that one lesson of the coronavirus crisis is the power of shared emotion, which has helped make possible radical action to slow the pandemic. Im not talking about people giving each other medical expertise. Im talking about people calling each other up and saying: How are you doing? Are you scared? Im scared. I want you to be OK, I want us to be OK. And thats what we want for climate, too. We need to learn to be scared together, to agree on what were terrified about. Only then, she said, would governments be forced to act. Its good that were entering emergency mode about the pandemic, she said. But unless we also do it for climate She didnt finish the sentence.

What kind of actions would it take for the optimists vision to materialise? The historian Philip Mirowski, author of Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown, warns against complacency. The left thought it was so obvious to everyone that the crisis revealed the utter bankruptcy of a certain way of looking at the economy, he told me. And it wasnt obvious to everyone, and the left lost. How do we prevent the world from going back to a version of the way it was before Covid-19, with the virus vanquished but all of the old ongoing disasters still unfolding?

The political outcome of the epidemic, said Mike Davis, will, like all political outcomes, be decided by struggle, by battles over interpretation, by pointing out what causes problems and what solves them. And we need to get that analysis out in the world any way we can. One major obstacle, of course, is social distancing, which certainly hinders many time-tested methods of waging such struggles, such as political canvassing and street protest. The biggest risk for all of us, said Klein, is going to be frittering away this time sitting at home on our social media feeds, living the extremely limited forms of politics that get enabled there.

Davis hoped protesters would find their way into the streets sooner rather than later, and speculated that a street action with all the sign-holding participants spaced 10 or 15 feet apart would make a dramatic media image. He lives in Ppaaloa, a small community in Hawaii, and as our conversation wrapped up, he mentioned that he was planning to spend part of the afternoon doing his part by standing by himself on a street corner, holding a sign. He hadnt decided what to write on it yet, but was thinking about SUPPORT THE NURSES UNION or DEMAND PAID SICK LEAVE.

Solnit told me she was taking heart from all the new ways people were finding to connect and help each other around the world, ranging from the neighbourhood delivery networks that had sprung up to bring groceries to people who couldnt get out, to more symbolic interventions, such as kids playing music on an older neighbours porch. The Italian political scientist Alessandro Delfanti said he was finding hope from a post-outbreak wave of strikes roiling Amazon warehouses in the US and Europe, and also the steps that workers across different sectors of the Italian economy were taking to help each other secure equipment they needed to stay safe.

What happens next might depend on the optimists ability to transport such moments of solidarity into the broader political sphere, arguing that it makes no sense to address Covid-19 without at least trying to fix everything else, too, creating a world where our shared resources do more for more people. We dont even have a language for this emotion, in which the wonderful comes wrapped in the terrible, joy in sorrow, courage in fear. We cannot welcome disaster, but we can value the responses, both practical and psychological, Solnit wrote in A Paradise Built in Hell.

The world feels awfully strange right now, but not because or not just because it is changing so fast and any one of us could fall ill at any time, or could already be carrying the virus and not know it. It feels strange because the past few weeks have exposed the fact that the biggest things can always change, at any minute. This simple truth, both destabilising and liberating, is easy to forget. Were not watching a movie: were writing one, together, until the end.

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It can feel daunting to think about the weeks ahead. But many people have not only lived but thrived in similar circumstances. A polar scientist, a monk, a solo sailor and more offer tips

Marion Dierickx, polar scientist

Dierickx is a postdoctoral fellow in experimental cosmology at Harvard, andspends two to three months a year at the Amundsen-Scott station at the south pole carrying out maintenance on her departments telescopes.

Marion Dierickx. Photograph: Provided by Marion Dierickx

Its a very unchanging environment and you cant really go outside, Dierickx says, so a lot of the psychological implications are similar to what we are experiencing now. I found that in my time there I would try to control my environment more. For example, we have lab space there and I would obsessively clean it, and I am doing the same thing now, stuck in my apartment.

Dierickx, 29, also becomes very attentive to change. Things like plants that grow noticeably or changing the decor of your room. Its a good way to channel energy, she says. Nurturing our environment can only help our psychological balance.

Sleeping at the station is not easy when it is the polar summer it is light 24 hours a day. Sleep is terrible, not just because of the light, but because its high altitude. Youre at 3,000 metres altitude, theres only 70% oxygen. People will routinely have nosebleeds every morning. The combination of those things makes getting rest very challenging, and that makes everything else more challenging. She says the key is to force yourself to sleep at set times. She also recommends board games and escapist books. Avoid War and Peace, and stick to thrillers.

How does she find living in such close proximity to a small group of people? That is one of the main challenges, she says. Especially if there is someone you dont get along with. Ive found that I have to proactively use my good side, try to repair relationships and work on my generosity. I confront people with kindness.

Ryan Ramsey, submarine captain

Ramsey captained the nuclear-powered submarine HMS Turbulent from 2008-11.

Ryan Ramsey. Photograph: Brad Wakefield

Submariners are trained to deal with isolation, whereas the public arent, he says. For the general public, its a wicked problem that theyre trying to tame. The first thing to do is get into a routine. It needs discipline. Do the same things in the same order every day. Make the weekends different. You have to differentiate time.

Ramsey suggests limiting your exposure to TV news. The constant news is such a dynamic change at the moment and its all negative, he says. Picking it up once a day will give you time to do other stuff. He also stresses the importance of exercise. If you are healthy physically, you will be healthy mentally. I used to exercise with dumbbells in my cabin, which was tiny. And keep mentally fit as well. Its about reading books and doing something different. This is an ideal opportunity to learn something new.

He describes a submarine as a steel tube with 130 people in it and admits there can be friction on a long deployment. De-conflict early, he says. Have a chat; find out what the issues are.

His final piece of advice is to enjoy whats there. Focus on what you have got rather than what you are being denied. Try to stay off the topic of what happens next, he says. You can only control what you can control.

Christopher Jamison, monk

Jamison is president of the English Benedictine Congregation and author of Finding Happiness: Monastic Steps for a Fulfilling Life.Drawing on almost 50 years experience as a monk, he has helped set up a website,, which addresses loneliness and self-sufficiency raised by the current crisis.

Christopher Jamison. Photograph: Toby Lloyd

The whole country is going through waves of different feelings, Jamison says. One that came up most in the early stages was anger. People were angry with people in supermarkets; angry with people who were stockpiling; angry with people who didnt stay at home. There is also a lot of fear around and, later, people will feel lonely and bored.

How does the monastic tradition help counter such feelings? If you just leave the day undifferentiated, it can get on top of you. But if you create your own rhythm, youll find that the day is more sustainable, bearable and enjoyable.

Jamison draws a distinction between boredom and lethargy. Boredom is when there is absolutely nothing to do. Lethargy is when there are things to do that you cant be bothered doing. Most people suffer the latter, but they call it the former because it lets them off the hook. In the monastery, people are always ringing bells telling you what to do next, so you dont have time to be bored.

Positivity is the key. Do not begin the day by rehearsing your grievances. Begin by remembering youre alive and there are good things still. You may have to do tough things later, but take it one step at a time. Begin with gratitude; then ask for the grace to face the day and its difficulties. Then go and address the difficulties. Doesnt all that presuppose a belief in God? You can, Jamison insists, be grateful without believing in God.

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, round-the-world sailor

In 1969, Knox-Johnston became the first person to make a nonstop single-handed circumnavigation of the globe when he was the only competitor in a round-the-world yacht race to make it home. He was in his late 20s, and sailing a 32ft yacht; the journey took 312 days.

Robin Knox-Johnston. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Ten weeks into the voyage, Knox-Johnstons radio broke down. It was very frustrating, he says. I could hear people calling me, but I couldnt respond. For four and a half months, nothing was heard of him. The Times prepared an obituary.

How did he keep himself together mentally? That worried me, he admits. I took to learning poetry. I had a lovely anthology by Field Marshal Wavell called Other Mens Flowers. I committed all these wonderful poems to memory. Id sit there steering while reciting to myself.

I tried to keep to a regular schedule. Sleep during the night, although obviously at times you couldnt because you had to be on deck. Id make myself dinner, check everything was all right, then go and have some sleep, wake three or four hours later, check things, go back to bed again. Then, as the sun rose, Id get up, have a cup of coffee, make breakfast, check the boat and take my sights to work out where I was.

Robin Knox-Johnston. Photograph: Tony McGrath/The Observer

Food was fairly basic, but he had taken 12 bottles of whisky, 12 of brandy and 120 cans of beer, and he enjoyed a whisky or brandy with a cigarette before dinner. Did he ever get drunk? Youre on your own, he says emphatically. That would be pretty stupid.

Did he miss company? Oh God, yes, he says, just as emphatically. Going past Australia with my receiver working and picking up dance music on a Saturday night. You thought: What the hell am I doing out here on my own? But then you think: Im still in this. Im not giving this up for anything. And sex? You have to put it out of your mind, he says. You need all your energy for the boat.

Christa Byrne, Scottish islander

Byrne has lived with her husband on the island of Colonsay (population 135) in the Inner Hebrides for more than 40 years, first running a hotel and now a bookshop. It is one of the most isolated communities in the UK.

Christa Byrne in her bookshop on Colonsay. Photograph: Provided by Christa Byrne

For Byrne self-sufficiency is a way of life. Other people are used to shopping every day for what theyre going to eat, she says. We shop for a month. Its a completely different mindset.

There are pros and cons to island life. There is no crime, and people look out for each other. On the other hand, people know everyone elses business. Does the isolation ever get her down? No, she says. I am a very easy person. But for some people its almost impossible. Thats why we cant sustain much of a population here. Its heaven on a spring morning, but for weeks and months in the winter its really hard.

Byrne says the years-long feuds that used to characterise island life have lessened. People have their opinions and sometimes it would make your hair curl listening to what people say, but overall we do realise were all in this together. She also says the drinking culture is not what it was. People have woken up to the fact that having at least one car in the ditch every weekend is not a good idea.

Her tips for the newly isolated? Keep busy. Dont slouch around. Get up in the morning, get dressed, have a plan. Its too easy to fritter away your time, and that is very soul-destroying. Does she ever get bored? I dont really, she says. Theres always a good book to read, especially if you own a bookshop.

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Court filing says producer treated others with inhumanity as authorities seek prison time that reflects more than crimes for which he was convicted

Harvey Weinsteins record of sexual attacks and harassment against women dates back to the 1970s in a lifetime of abuse in which he trapped women into his exclusive control and assaulted or attempted to assault them, according to New York prosecutors.

In a note to the New York supreme court released on Friday ahead of Weinsteins sentencing next week, the lead prosecutor at his rape trial essentially threw the book at the fallen movie mogul. Without providing the states desired sentence, Joan Illuzzi-Orbon urged Judge James Burke to impose a sentence that reflects the seriousness of [his] offenses, his total lack of remorse for the harm he has caused, and the need to deter him and others from engaging in further criminal conduct.

Illuzzi-Orbon gives a devastating account of Weinsteins sexual crimes. She says of Weinstein that throughout his entire adult professional life, [he] has displayed a staggering lack of empathy, treating others with disdain and inhumanity. He has consistently advanced his own sordid desires and fixations over the well-being of others.

She then itemises a stunningly long list of Weinsteins alleged sexual misconduct, drawing on a two-year investigation out of the New York district attorneys office. She breaks the shocking litany up into three categories: sexual assault and harassment, bad acts and behavior in the work environment and other bad acts.

In total, the sentencing memo chronicles 36 instances of alleged sexual abuse, bullying, harassment and threats over a span of 40 years.

Last month the jury of seven men and five women found the former movie mogul guilty of sexually assaulting former production assistant Miriam Haley and of raping an aspiring actor who the Guardian has not named as her wishes in terms of identification are not known.

Haley testified that Weinstein forced oral sex on her in his home in 2006, while the other key witness testified that he raped her in March 2013, early in an extremely degrading relationship she had with him.

The jury acquitted Weinstein on the most serious charges, which carried a potential life sentence.

Extraordinarily, the prosecutors litany of Weinsteins sexual and other bad behavior begins as far back as 1978, when it alleges a woman working in Weinsteins then music company in Buffalo, New York, met him in New York City for a business meeting. There he told her there was only one room left at his hotel; later that night she woke up in their shared room to find him lying on top of her and forcing himself sexually on her.

The next entry is dated to the summer of 1981, when a woman turns up for an audition. She is met by Weinstein in a hotel room wearing only a terrycloth robe. Everyone calls me Teddy Bear because Im so big and cuddly and harmless, he is alleged to have said.

Weinstein then told the woman that he would give her any movie part she wanted if she had sex with him, the sentencing memo says. Defendant said that when a man is obese, normal sexual positions would not work and other options would have to be used to get him off.

In the UK in the 1990s, Weinstein is alleged to have lured a 19-year-old employee to his hotel room under the guise of a script meeting. Defendant then sexually assaulted the employee, who was left in extreme shock and had difficulty comprehending what had happened.

In another incident in the UK in 1991, a woman also aged 19 who worked as an intern for Weinstein for just one day was told by her supervisor to visit him in his hotel suite. There she was forced to see him naked in the bathtub and to watch him lying on his bed with his dressing gown open. He forced her to take her own top off before she fled.

Actor Rose McGowan speaks at a news conference with actor Rosanna Arquette outside a Manhattan courthouse where Weinsteins trial was held. Photograph: Mark Lennihan/AP

Under the category of abusive behavior in the workplace, the memo lists numerous examples of Weinsteins alleged tantrums and tirades. They include the movie mogul throwing a table of food at an employee who disagreed with him, threatening staff physically and professionally, and getting executives to lie on his behalf.

One business executive described Weinstein to prosecutors as despicable, aggressive, demeaning, coercive, threatening and as someone who would make you do things you dont want to do.

Another witness described Weinstein attacking his brother Bob Weinstein so badly that he bled a great deal and was briefly unconscious. A former board member of Weinsteins movie production company said he threatened to send someone to his office to cut off his genitals with gardening shears.

The final entry in the litany of horrors relates to the woman who Weinstein raped in 2013 for which he faces a possible maximum prison sentence of four years. Illuzzi-Orbon alleges that the woman was one of multiple people who reported to prosecutors that Weinstein had bragged to them about his ability to get people killed.

Weinstein told his rape victim that he could send men with baseball bats to assault her father if she wanted, bragging that he had done that with other people in the past, the memo claims.

A lawyer for Weinstein had no immediate comment about the allegations made in the sentencing note.

In its memo, the New York district attorneys office is seeking to firm up the groundbreaking nature of Weinsteins conviction. The once-powerful titan of Hollywood, who produced such cult films as Pulp Fiction and Shakespeare in Love, was found guilty of one charge of a criminal sex act and one of rape in the third degree which combined carry a maximum sentence of 29 years in prison.

The guilty verdict broke a glass ceiling in prosecutions of sexual assault in the US by convicting a defendant who continued to be in intimate contact with his victims, in some cases sexually. Such cases have almost never been taken all the way to trial as prosecutors have assumed that juries would acquit.

Marking the historic victory, Illuzzi-Orbon states in her memo: It is totally appropriate in this case to communicate to a wider audience that sexual assault, even if perpetrated upon an acquaintance or in a professional setting, is a serious offense worthy of a lengthy prison sentence.

Weinstein was moved to the prison on Rikers Island in New York on Thursday having undergone heart surgery. He will be sentenced on Wednesday.

He still faces sexual assault charges in Los Angeles, which were announced just hours after his New York trial began in January. Dozens of women have also filed civil lawsuits against him.

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There are a dizzying number of apps promising to get you in shape even if you cant get to a gym. But can any of them keep our writers moving?


Price 15.49 a month.
What is it? A full-service experience from the Hollywood star Chris Hemsworth: not just workouts, but a complete meal planner with food for breakfast, lunch and dinner a daily guided meditation and a daily motivational article.
The experience I immediately regret declaring myself intermediate as the app launches into a punishing pilates workout. I am not very flexible at all, and it turns out that my baseline fitness leaves much to be desired in terms of core strength.
More frustrating is the fact that the various workouts are introduced as videos. Clearly, this is supposed to emulate a real pilates class, but when my phone tells me to lie face-down on the floor I can no longer see the screen. It is frustrating to have to repeatedly break out of the pose to check the next movement.
Worth a download? Only if you are single, enjoy cooking and are willing to hand control of your life to an app.


Price $14.99 (11.40) a month or $99.99 a year.
What is it? A cheery selection of audio workouts with curated tunes.
The experience Before I start, the app asks me my fitness level, how many times I work out a week, how many weeks a month, what days I work out on, what machines I have access to, and what equipment I have to hand. None of this stops it from absolutely destroying me with bodyweight exercises but it is the thought that counts.
The instructors are great, with the right level of enthusiasm (read: grating in any other context). I am glad to have clear verbal instructions for how to do the exercises, rather than wishing I could just read a list of workouts from my screen. Video walkthroughs, available before and after the workout, help clear up any lingering concerns about form.
Worth a download? If you want to get fit to the tune of 75 a year, this is the app to spend your money on. AH

Alex gets in the spirit. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian


Price Free; coaching from $1 a day.
What is it? A bizarre mix of a mediocre workout app and personal trainer upselling.
The experience You get what you pay for, and as a result the free version of Fitocracy is odd. The main workout app lets you set a goal, then pick workouts from a list, but the presentation of the workouts is much simpler than its competitors: just a list of exercises and reps, which you check off as you go.
The problem is that much of the app is effectively broken, with visual artefacts graphical glitches all over the place. Digging in, the cause is clear: really, the app is a gateway to a coaching business, where you can spend anything from $1 to $250 a month on a one-on-one consultation with a personal trainer.
Worth a download? If you want free, there is better; if you want a coach, head to your local gym. AH


Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

Price 17.49 a year.
What is it? A simple and direct approach to strength.
The experience A popular approach to learning to lift free weights, 5×5 involves doing five sets of five reps of heavy weights, with three different exercises, three times a week.
It demands precisely what it does and no more. You need a gym, a squat rack, a barbell and a bench. You dont need to memorise a list of different exercises, nor wonder which equipment you are going to need today, nor, really, think.
StrongLifts is the best introduction to this type of workout there is, providing basic coaching and tracking, as well as just enough motivation to get you to lift the next set. It is my personal favourite: in a year, I have gone from struggling with a 20kg bar to reliably squatting my own weight.
Worth a download? Yes, if you have access to a gym and dont know what to do when you are there. AH

Nike Training Club

Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

Price Free; 13.49 a month for the premium version.
What is it? Slick branded workouts with a generous free offering.
The experience Nike Training Club, the workout sibling to
the more popular Nike Run Club, feels less human than its competitors. While the personal trainers are front and centre, they mostly exist as silent models demonstrating the best form for each exercise.
That may suit a certain type of self-motivated student. Less helpful, for me, is the approach to equipment. I feel as if Nike expects me to have an incredibly well-stocked home with multiple dumbbells, a skipping rope and a bench or make myself hugely unpopular at the gym by seizing six things at once. That said, most of the app is available for free a price you cant beat.
Worth a download? Yes, if free is the magic number. AH

Sweat: Kayla Itsines Fitness

Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

Price 14.99 a month or 88 a year.
What is it? The chance to have your workout (for the home and gym) and diet plan organised by not only one Instagram influencer, but five inspired by everything from
powerlifting and muay thai to yoga.
The experienceKayla Itsines was one of the first internet exercise influencers. She rose to fame with the Bikini Body Guides, her series of fitness ebooks (the name hasnt aged well). Itsines still offers the BBG programme, but it now includes variations for different fitness levels. This feels like an app that could stay fresh for well over a year. I like that there are modifications for various exercises, that it is easy to sync to Spotify, and that it put so much emphasis on rest and rehabilitation to enhance healing.
The meal-planning features are disappointing, though. There is no option to swap suggested recipes, but as some of the suggestions are as unimaginative as egg and salad roll, I imagine quite a few people would want to.
Worth a download? Yes for the exercise, at least.


Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

Price $9.99 a month or $59.99 a year.
What is it? It is all about exercise on Sworkit, and there is a hell of a lot of it. You can choose from a variety of plans or one-off workouts, customisable by time or focused on body parts (Sworkit is quite invested in firming bums).
The experience This has one of the best interfaces for exercising of the apps I tried. It works in landscape, counts you in before the next exercise starts and has a preview window to mentally prepare you for the next move. You can alter music within the exercise window and set how long you want to exercise for, with sessions beginning at five minutes. It also has a great voiceover feature: think of the sort of thing a gym instructor might say, such as keep your toes pointing outward. The app sends out push notifications to encourage you to exercise, but the upkeep of a plan does not depend on exercising every day. So, beginners can set their own pace.
I cant work out if the instructor figures on Sworkit are AI or humans, but either way I liked them. Sworkit has tried to make its instructors diverse there are men and women in a variety of sizes. It is a small thing, but I appreciate not always having to follow someone with the figure of a goddess.
Worth a download? Yes, especially for beginners. None of Sworkits sessions require equipment, so if you ever work out at home or while travelling, it cant be beaten. CK

Fit Body with Anna Victoria

Price $16.99 a month.
What is it? The Instagram influencer Anna Victoria rose to fame with her downloadable workout plans known as the FBGs (or Fit Body Guides) and pictures of smoothie bowls. Here, she brings together her fitness and food advice in one app, offering 12-week exercise and nutrition programmes, including a customisable meal planner.
The experience The app provides a series of 12-week plans to last you 60 weeks (for home or gym, for weight loss or sculpting etc), a forum for users, a journal to log notes and a healthy-meal planner, which aims to spoon-feed the user into eating well (the nutrition section generates your recipes and grocery list for the week as well as reminding you when to drink water).

Coco tries out the apps. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

I couldnt get to grip with all of this, but when I tried it out there were some excellent features a nutrition guide that is not just about calorie-counting (although the variety of the dishes may bore food lovers), plus educational videos (such as breathing dos and donts) to help newcomers to regular exercise. The downsides? The app doesnt work in landscape mode, so checking the demo during workouts is difficult. Also, workouts often require equipment. I am not convinced the app would work for total novices (push-ups in week one for a woman seems ambitious, not to mention the amount of vicious burpees), while scanning future weeks leaves me wondering if it might get boring.
Worth a download? Unless you are a fan of Victoria and her style, I cant see it delivering enough. CK


Price 1.78 a week for training; 2.66 including nutrional information.
What is it? Touted as a digital personal trainer, this app has a cultish fanbase thanks to its detailed personalised fitness plans.
The experience You can join in with the short but intense fitness challenges, or a variety of running, bodyweight or gym workouts. Users can opt for workouts anywhere between 10 and 25 minutes long, and can select sessions based on parts of the body. So far, so normal. But it is the Coach programme that stands out. The personal plans are created by algorithms that pool the data of users with similar stats to chart your journey. Key to this is regular logging; you will record your details when you first start (height, weight, general fitness level) and log after each workout, telling the app how tough you found it.

Freeletics Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

Freeletics promises its workouts will be hard, but not so hard that you give up. It is the feedback moments that allow it to alter your plan accordingly, based on the behaviour of other users who had similar experiences. As with a real coach, there are plenty of demo videos and tutorials to guide you through, plus helpful nudges to drink water and sleep well. The Coach can even detect if you are overtraining. Freeletics also has a fairly busy meetup community, providing some of the social elements of exercise that can be lost when training at home. Plus, the exercises dont require any equipment
Worth a download? Absolutely, if you have some experience of exercising it could be a little overwhelming for a total newbie. CK

30 Day Fitness Challenge

Price Free; from 1.99 a week for the premium version.
What is it? A 30-day programme with levels from beginner to pro.
The experience Month-long challenges have become a staple of modern fitness. This app capitalises on the idea that people can do anything if it is in short bursts, hence the idea of daily sessions for 30 days.
Most of the challenges are focused on a specific area there is the flat belly challenge and the slim arms challenge but nearly all involve a full-body workout. The video tutorials are clear and there are 400 workouts in the library if you feel like doing something completely different outside of the challenge. The end result should be that your overall fitness is improved.
Worth a download? Absolutely 30-day challenges may not be for everyone, but, unlike many other apps, there is plenty to do for free. CK

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The story of the American cowboy is so white, which is frustrating for black riders right after the civil war, more than a quarter of cowboys were African American

I shot this on a trail ride with the Delta Hill Riders in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. The gentleman in the foreground, Joe Wrenn, organises this group ride every fall in the hilly terrain to the north of the Mississippi delta. Ive been going for a few years.

Trail rides are universal in the American cowboy tradition. In other states you might find thousands of people on a single ride. Here there were about 100 people, many riding, and others, who you cant see in the photo, on dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles.

Most of the delta region is completely flat. Up here, though, are rolling hills, which is where the group gets its name. The ride wasnt following a trail part of it was along an old logging road. We had all stopped for a break. People were relaxing, playing music and then, when we started back out, Joe drove the truck up alongside these three horses. I shot I dont know how many frames. I remember feeling so excited at getting both Joe and the kids on their horses silhouetted against that beautiful, late-afternoon sun bursting through. That is Joes grandson on the first horse.

Elsewhere, I have photographed a great-grandmother who had just turned 92 her husband, now deceased, was one of the first cowboys to start organising these rides in the delta. And Ive photographed little kids, maybe four or five, riding around a horse show.

Being a Delta Hill Rider is like being a member of a biker club. They have been riding horses for generations, and they take great pride in passing down the skills riding, grooming, competing from one generation to the next. The riders go to R&B clubs dressed as cowboys and the DJ will play cowboy songs and zydeco music.

My interest started by chance, in December 2016, when I was working as staff photographer at the university in Cleveland, Mississippi. I stumbled across a small group of riders during the annual parade and asked one of the riders if I could come and photograph where they keep their horses. He was excited that somebody was taking an interest. He invited me to a Black Heritage rodeo, which was happening the following month.

To begin with, I had very minimal knowledge of the deep history of black cowboys. Right after the civil war, more than a quarter of cowboys in the country were African American. But I think even people who have lived in the delta their whole life might not know about this. Mississippi is not really thought of as a cowboy state in the way that Texas or Oklahoma are. Beyond that, though, the story told of what the American cowboy is has been so white its John Wayne, the stoic white man. I know from oral-history interviews Ive started doing with [black] riders that this is frustrating for them. Theirs is a part of history that has been overlooked.

Meeting the Delta Hill Riders has been life-changing. I grew up in Maine, in a place that was not diverse. This was the first time in my life that I developed a deep connection with the African American community. I am really grateful for that. I feel like, if people made the time to get to know neighbours who were different from them, it would relieve a lot of the tension and divisive thinking that we have.

Rory Doyles CV

Photograph: Christopher P Michel

Born: Maine, 1983.

Trained: Journalism at St Michaels College, Vermont.

Influences: Ron Haviv, Diane Arbus, Alex Webb.

High point: The excitement of getting my first magazine assignment. It was a huge honour to have someone believe in my artistic approach.

Low point: I struggled to find an enjoyable career right out of university, and photojournalism helped me get out of that rut.

Top tip: Never feel as if youre done learning.

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Transforming everything from cities to the climate, the car is perhaps the most important designed object of the 20th century. Our critic travels to the Detroit plant where it all began

A whoop of exhilaration surges through the audience as a pick-up truck rises on to the stage through a trapdoor, its gleaming streamlined body emerging through swirling clouds of dry ice. There are laser beams and pounding rock music as a pair of robotic arms mime the balletic movements of welding and spraying its bodywork. A blast of air comes from a hidden bank of fans and a dramatic rumble shakes our seats. This, a thunderous voice tells us, is the Ford F-150 pick-up, officially the best-selling vehicle in US history.

I am watching this spectacle in the 4D cinema of Fords River Rouge factory in Detroit, where the whooping audience taking the tour of the plant is being treated to a story that, unlikely as it sounds, has all the drama of a Hollywood movie. This factory changed not only mechanised production, but the world as we know it. Boasting its own docks, an electricity plant, a steel mill and a whopping 100 miles of railroad track, River Rouge was the biggest factory in the world when it opened in 1928. It even had its own fire stations, a police force and a fully staffed hospital. During the depths of the great depression, it still managed to employ 100,000 people.

Sightseeing motorists pass the Ford River Rouge Plant in Detroit in 1941 to look at strikers picket lines. Photograph: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

But today, River Rouge is a shadow of its former self. Half of the 1,200-acre site has been sold off to other companies. The Ford plant now mostly comprises a single shed, its roof is planted with sedum flimsy eco-camouflage, given all the gas-guzzling trucks trundling off the production line within. Ford has decided to abandon sales of its smaller cars in North America, concentrating instead on SUVs and trucks at a time when such vehicles have been found to be the second biggest contributor to the rise in CO2 levels. Recent analysis found that if SUV drivers were a nation, they would rank seventh in the world for carbon emissions.

This astonishing rise and fall is reflected in the city beyond the gates. Detroits population once topped 1.8m, scattered across a freeway-threaded sprawl that could comfortably fit San Francisco, Boston and Manhattan within its boundaries. That same area now accounts for a third of that number, along with scores of abandoned homes. The very invention that made Detroit and changed everything from urban planning to fashion design and the climate has also lumbered the city, and the world, with an intractable legacy.

The history of the car is a history of unintended consequences, says Brendan Cormier, who made several visits to Detroit as research for a show thats about to open at the V&A in London. Cars: Accelerating the Modern World represents the first time in the institutions 167-year history that it has tackled the automobile, a surprising omission for what curator Cormier calls the single most important designed object of the 20th century.

The lapse is partly because cars have always been seen to be more about science, technology and surface styling, making them an uncomfortable fit for the illustrious museum of craft. This exhibition, says Cormier, aims to examine their broader social and historical context, shining a full beam on the astonishing impact cars have had on everything from the formation of labour unions to toasters. (One, called the Toastalator, looks like something Jack Kerouac would have driven.) And Detroit is the best place to see all this first-hand.

Mob rule Walter Specks mural commemorates the Battle of the Overpass. Photograph: E Clemens/Walter P Reuther Library, Wayne State University

Driving across town from the plant, past blocks of overgrown lots, we arrive at the Walter P Reuther Library, whose reading room displays an imposing 1930s mural. Two muscular workers, one male and one female, hold hands in front of an industrial scene in which autoworkers confront scowling managers. In one corner, a group of mobster-like heavies can be seen beating a stooped figure on a bridge, while another is pushed down the stairs.

This is The Battle of the Overpass, a clash between union leaders and Ford management that took place in 1937. It became one of the most important events in labour history. Among the beaten was Walter P Reuther, leader of the United Automobile Workers union (UAW), who had organised a Unionism, Not Fordism campaign, demanding fair wages and a shorter working day.

Fords henchmen were lead by Harry Bennett, a caricature of a thug who kept lions in his fortified estate. When Bennett unleashed his muscle, newspaper photographers were waiting and their images, splashed across front pages the following day, caused public sentiment to turn against the company. A sit-down strike, also depicted in the mural, had an even greater impact, leading to the full unionisation of the US auto industry. The UAW provided a model for other organisations and became the largest union in North America.

Nothing to boast about a 1962 ad for Humble Oil.

The UAW played a major role in developing the American middle class, says Cormier, who has negotiated loans from the unions archive, including graphic posters from the 1950s and 60s. One, depicting a robot pushing workers off a building, has the slogan: Fight automation fallout. The same battles continue today, as workers face plant closures across the US as a result of stiff competition from Asia and a global decline in car ownership.

At this critical point for the car, the show will reveal how some of our current challenges arent as modern as we like to think. At the General Motors Heritage Center, a great hangar full of gleaming vintage specimens on the outskirts of Detroit, we find the Firebird, a 1950s concept car that looks like a missile on wheels, with a bubble-topped cockpit bulging from its curving fuselage. The car which will appear in the exhibition wasnt just an exercise in going faster. It embodied the embryonic idea of driverless driving, boasting an electronic guide system that can rush it over an automatic highway while the driver relaxes. Its not hard to see why it didnt take off: these futuristic vehicles were to be guided via radio by men in watchtowers a few hundred metres apart, mapping the best route from their birds eye view.

A little further down an eight-lane highway, we arrive at the GM Tech Center, designed by Eero Saarinen in the 1960s as a modernist corporate campus, complete with an enigmatic silver dome where new designs are still inspected in secret. Just as Versailles was designed to be seen from a horse-drawn carriage, this place was designed to be viewed from your moving car, says GM archivist Christo Datini, as we glide around the vast ornamental lake in his gargantuan Chevrolet Suburban. The comparison isnt so far-fetched: the centre houses treasures that have proved just as influential as a gilded Louis XIV chaise.

Feminine touch Harley Earl with General Motors Damsels of Design. Photograph: General Motors LLC

In the archive are reams of original design drawings from GMs glory days under Harley Earl. As the first director of the companys Art and Colour Section, Earl is widely regarded as the godfather of modern car design. In an industry that had only ever been guided by the functional necessities of engineering, Earl introduced the concept of styling bodies and interiors.

First he hired dazzle camouflage artists, who had painted ships in the second world war, to make bodies look more sculpted. Then he went on to develop such purely aesthetic features as tail fins and pointed chrome bumpers, both inspired by fighter jets. He also ushered in the strategy of the annual model update, which GM liked to call dynamic obsolescence. This was a way of using design to encourage drivers to upgrade their cars more frequently a tactic that quickly spread to practically every other product in the world.

Earl looms large in the section about making the modern consumer. He is pictured with his Damsels of Design, another marketing ruse that emphasised the role of his (small) team of female designers, as a way of appealing to women buyers. As he put it in a 1958 press release: The skilled feminine hands helping to shape our cars of tomorrow are worthy representatives of American women, who today cast the final vote in the purchase of three out of four automobiles. Less loudly trumpeted was the fact that their role was limited to seats and fabrics.

The damsels may have been used as a cynical promotional tool, but elsewhere the exhibition will show how cars have been a means of empowerment, with such racing drivers as Kay Petre and Jill Scott Thomas becoming powerful symbols of the suffrage movement. Subcultures are also explored, in the form of wildly customised lowriders and souped-up muscle cars, while the future of environmentally conscious mobility, and the eventual demise of personal car ownership, will be thrown into sharp relief by attitudes from the 1960s. A shocking advert for the Humble Oil Company from 1962 proudly boasts: Each day Humble produces enough energy to melt seven million tons of glacier!

Museums, you could almost say, are where cars now belong.

Cars: Accelerating the Modern World is at the V&A, London, from 23 November until 19 April.

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When Shakira lost her voice she was so desperate she went to Lourdes. Now its back and after re-evaluating her life shes got her sights set on a J Lo-assisted Super Bowl show

There was a time, in late 2017, when Shakira thought she might never sing again. After suffering a haemorrhage in her vocal cords, she could barely speak. I always thought there were going to be things in my life that would go away, like beauty, youth, all of that stuff, she says. But I never thought that my voice would leave me, because its so inherent to my nature. It was my identity. So when I couldnt sing, that was unbearable. There were times I couldnt even get out of bed I was so depressed.

Theres something almost fairytale-like about this: a cautionary fable about the danger of taking happiness for granted, starring the Colombian singer who sold a reported 75m records and became one of the richest women in pop. To give her voice the best chance to recover, there were periods when Shakira wouldnt speak at all. I had to communicate through signs and nobody could understand me.

Her children then two and four couldnt read, so writing didnt help. She says she never fought with her partner, the Barcelona defender Gerard Piqu, so much as when she couldnt speak. He jokes that you would think you would want your wife to shut up but when I had to remain quiet, he felt like one of those ex-convicts who are given their freedom and dont know what to do with it. How did she stay positive? I was not positive. I was so pessimistic. I was a bitter person to be around. She laughs. Gerard saw the worst of me.

Doctors told her she needed surgery, but she wasnt convinced it would work. Instead she tried hypnosis and meditation, even going to Lourdes to get holy water. Either I needed surgery or divine intervention. When her voice eventually returned, without an operation, it felt like I was having some kind of religious experience. On her El Dorado tour, which shed been forced to postpone, every night on stage was a gift.

A film of the tour is about to be released, which is why were meeting in a hotel suite in Barcelona, by the window in the late afternoon, a darkening sky outside. Shakira sits cross-legged and tiny in a giant armchair, eating gummy sweets. A publicist is somewhere across the room in the shadows.

Watch a trailer for Shakiras El Dorado tour film

There is a palpable joy to Shakiras concert performances, filmed mostly at her Los Angeles show in August last year. She dances in sparkly fishnet leggings, her voice filling the stadium as she sings such Spanish-language favourites as Chantaje and her English-language crossover hits, including Whenever, Wherever and She Wolf. She thinks the experience has made her a better singer. You go out in search of affirmation that youre good, that people like you. But this time it was different I was out there because I wanted to feel the pleasure of singing.

In February, Shakira will perform with Jennifer Lopez at the Super Bowl half-time show, viewed as a career high for many artists. At least it was until 2016 and the NFLs treatment of the San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who had started kneeling during the national anthem in protest at racial inequality and police brutality. Many artists, in solidarity with Kaepernick, reportedly turned down the chance to perform at half-time. Did his protest have any impact on her decision to take to the stage? She looks down. Well, you know, I think its the right thing to do for the Latino community because weve also been through so much in Trumps America, with walls being built and She doesnt finish the sentence. Its an opportunity to celebrate our culture, you know?

Why has Latin pop become so big? Well, it was about time, says Shakira. Now 42, she wrote her first songs at just eight and recorded her first album, Magia, at 13. When I started, Colombia had a nonexistent pop scene. I had to overcome so many obstacles to become an international pop singer. Later on, even when I crossed over to the Anglo-American market, I had to fight my own record company to put out music like Hips Dont Lie. My music always had some kind of fusion Colombian and Middle Eastern influences, so it made my path even harder.

She lives in Barcelona with Piqu and their two sons. This tour is her first as a mother. I had no idea how this was going to feel, she says. At some points, I thought it was going to be impossible. My kids were so little, running around amok. She tried to arrange the dates so they would coincide with school holidays and they could be with her, but other times they stayed at home with Piqu. Those separation periods were hard.

Keeping the balance Shakira and Gerard Piqu, with their sons Milan, left, and Sasha at a New York basketball game in 2017. Photograph: James Devaney/Getty Images

Being a mother, she says, is the hardest job Ive ever done. Im never sure if Im doing it right. Im always second-guessing myself. I love being a mother but its challenging to keep the balance to not let motherhood prevent you from reading a good book, going out with your boyfriend-slash-husband, having an adult conversation. Has it affected her creativity? It could if you dont protect and defend that space.

Her children attended her show for the first time and saw their mother perform to tens of thousands of emotional fans. In the film, there is footage of her sons with their father, watching Shakira and looking a little bewildered. It must have blown their little minds. Yeah, I think a little too much. Im trying to give them some normalcy and thats one of the hardest things, because were not normal. At least, we are normal people but our lives are very unnatural in a way. We try to hide all the unnatural things and pretend were a regular family.

Its a work in progress, she says. I dont want to overload them with every single detail of my career, or every victory. Im more interested in them learning about the obstacles, my difficulties and their dads. They werent born when I was back in Colombia and every single door was shut in my face. Those are the stories I want to tell them because life isnt always easy. Not everything happens as you planned.

Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll grew up in Barranquilla, on the coast of northern Colombia. Her father, who is Lebanese but grew up in Colombia, ran a successful jewellery business until he went bankrupt when Shakira was a child. She and her mother went to stay in the US for a while and, when they returned, her father had sold everything, including their furniture, to pay debts. Though largely insulated from the countrys decades-long armed conflict, she was still very aware of it. When youre born in a country where there is huge social strife, and a few people have a lot and a lot of people have nothing, you grow up intolerant to that inequality.

Every Friday, her Catholic school would send its students into poor neighbourhoods to teach other children how to read and write. It was almost an impossible task. They were barefoot, shirtless in the sun. There were no proper resources or infrastructure. It was so unfair that some kids were able to go school and university, but for others that wasnt an option. I had to succeed, make money, become someone relevant in society, because I felt that only that way could I do something.

When her third album Pies Descalzos (Barefoot) was a hit, Shakira taught herself English, released the crossover album Laundry Service and became an international star. She also started the Pies Descalzos Foundation, which opens and funds schools in Colombia. She has since campaigned for education on the global stage, advised committees and presidents and formed an unlikely friendship with the former British prime minister Gordon Brown.

Her reputation as an activist and philanthropist took a hit this summer when she appeared in court in Spain answering allegations that she had avoided 14.5m in taxes. A statement released at the time said the singer had paid all tax due, and the issue was about when she had become resident in Spain (previously, she had been resident in the Bahamas; in 2017, she was also named in the Paradise Papers, the investigation into offshore finances). But she wont talk about any of this, says her PR, because of the legal issues involved.

Palpable joy Shakira in concert. Photograph: Xavi Menos

The film portrays her as fiercely determined, with laser-focused knowledge of what she wants. I am very structured and I make the rules, she says at one point, sitting on a private jet, travelling between shows, and I dont allow myself to fail. That sounds exhausting, I say, and she laughs. I dont remember saying that, but maybe I say so many things. Actually, with time Ive learned that you have to allow yourself to make mistakes. I guess we all have a little fear of failure we were trained that way but its true, its an exhausting way of living. Does she still have a fear of failure? Of course. But I fear other things a lot more. I fear for my familys health, their wellbeing. There are things that are much more important than personal and professional success.

That doesnt mean shes ready to take her foot off the gas. I want to continue growing and continue being an interesting lady. There are so many other things that I still want to achieve. Such as? Like one day waking up on a farm and being able to just mow the lawn, and milk some cows. One day I want to have a farm life. I dont think I could ever be bored of being in nature. Eat all I want. Sometimes I think theres going to be more to life than my actual life.

She smiles, not entirely serious. I dont believe her anyway. There is a shot of her at the end of her concert, a tiny tornado, all wild hair and pink leopard-print, performing an inhuman leap. She looks as if she couldnt be anywhere else.

Shakira in Concert: El Dorado World Tour is in cinemas worldwide on 13 November via Trafalgar Releasing. Find your local cinema at

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From a festival that helps artists trade work for healthcare to a regional micro-currency, Kingston is trying to build an inclusive and self-sufficient local ecosystem

Kingston, New York is a diverse city of 23,000, flanked to the east by Rondout Creek and the Hudson River and to the west by the Catskill mountains. It boasts a rustic industrial waterfront, a colorful historic district and Revolutionary War-era stone buildings. A stranger might call it bucolic. The streets of uptown are bustling with eateries and, of late, places to buy velvet halter dresses, vintage boleros, CBD tinctures, and LCD tea kettles with precision-pour spouts. But strolling by 10-year-old Half Moon Books, passersby might glimpse a different side of this city. The bookshops windows exclusively feature nonfiction on the end of the world as we know it. I started out putting together a window of utopias, says bookseller Jessica DuPont, but somehow I ended up with the death throes of capitalism.

I moved to Kingston from New York City just over a decade ago, on the heels of the 2008 recession. I was three years out of university, but my fledgling career in media stalled with the economic downturn. Friends of mine two painters, one in her 30s, the other in his 40s owned a building with an available apartment on the second floor where I could afford to live and work.

Around Kingston, a network of bike trails connects local towns to local farms in anticipation of the day when there is no more gas for cars. Photograph: Chris Boswell/Alamy

My new neighbors artists, musicians, shop owners, builders, gallerists, restaurateurs treated me like family. Our community was diverse in age, but we all had our independent creative pursuits in a place with scant economic opportunity otherwise. Thus, many of us shared the same problem: a lack of access to healthcare. Americas healthcare system has long been in shambles: then and still today, where single-payer care was available, premiums and deductibles were astronomical. Luckily, among our friends were doctors and dentists who valued the work we did as equal to their own. So, we came up with a plan. Drawing on the age-old system of barter, we figured out a way to trade the art of medicine for the medicine of art.

In October 2010, we launched our first weekend-long festival of street art, live music and health-related events. We called it O+, like the blood type. The general public attended by donation. Licensed health professionals volunteered to staff our on-site pop-up clinic. Over the years, thousands of participating artists, like Lucius, Spiritualized, and locals who played with the B-52s and David Bowie, have received medical, dental and wellness services worth hundreds and in some cases thousands of dollars. Some artists say the care they received even saved them.

Not long after the first O+, I left Kingston for a work opportunity. Now, I live in Savannah, Georgia. But O+ carried on. Its organizers have constantly expanded to connect the general public with more resources Narcan kits, CPR training, health expos and year-round wellness classes. Local politicians and residents who take issue with the public art that earns participants dental work and medical appointments have thrown up various roadblocks, but the cause has always been fueled by a sense of rebellion, with the understanding that artists need healthcare, and that art has health benefits.

The O+ festival started in 2010 as a weekend-long festival of street art, live music and health-related events. Photograph: Nicole Digilio for O+

The way you change a system nationally is you do thousands of local things, and eventually the system evolves, says O+ executive director Joe Concra, whose building I lived in when we first got O+ off the ground, and who volunteered full-time for years until grants and donors made it possible to pay modest salaries to three full-time and seven part-time employees. Every time I walk into the clinic, I think: Oh yeah, it is possible to build a new system. I refuse to believe we cant. So, we keep doing it.

The week before the 10th annual O+, Concra and I are sitting at the bar in another of Kingstons independent bookstores, Rough Draft, which opened in 2017 and often hosts fundraisers for local nonprofits. All three baristas are sporting O+ T-shirts.

When we started this thing, Concra says, indicating himself, me, the room, we didnt even realize what we were doing. He hops up and darts across the store for a copy of David Flemings Surviving the Future(2016), a treatise on sustainable communities in the aftermath of the market economy and opens to a chapter called Carnival.Look, he says. We were bringing carnival to the revolution.

Joe Concra, executive director of O+ Photograph: Courtesy of O+

O+ may have brought the carnival. Now, its far from alone in the revolution: Kingstons anti-capitalist, anti-establishment healthcare network is just one example of a model that could supplant corporate America. Locals have launched a non-commercial radio station, Radio Kingston WKNY, with widely representative, hyper-local programming that broadcasts via power generators if the grid goes dark. A regional micro-currency called the Hudson Valley Current now exists to, according to co-founder David McCarthy, create an ecosystem that includes everyone.

Agricultural initiatives like Farm Hub work toward equitable, resilient food systems. A network of bike trails quietly connects local towns to local farms (for the day when there is no more gas for our cars). And organizations like RiseUp Kingston, Kingston Citizens, Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, and the Kingston Tenants Union facilitate civic engagement, combat displacement, and advocate for policies to address an increasingly dire housing shortage.

From my vantage in the deep south, it looks as though, one mission at a time, Kingston is piecing together the infrastructure for a self-sufficient community one that wants to survive the possibly impending systemic collapse we nervously joke about over beers at Rough Draft.

DuPont at Half Moon doesnt believe the average Kingstonite is actively battening down the hatches for a societal implosion. But, she says, I do think the economic pressures especially skyrocketing housing costs are causing people to look to new ways to network and support each other. Meanwhile, directors of the above organizations and others are facing questions like How can we make sure we have all the resources we need? and How do we not leave anyone behind? quite head-on.

The first weekend in November at a local elementary school, the public is welcome at a conference called Surviving the future: Connection and community in unstable times. Leading thinkers in the field of system change and transition will discuss key themes for an inclusive, holistic, just transition away from capitalism to something new whatever that might look like.

The installation of wheatpaste work by O+ artist Bonnie M. Smith in 2010. Photograph: courtesy of O+

Imagining it from the ground up is a big part of the work at hand: On a panel about housing as a human right, co-hosted by Radio Kingston, O+, Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center and others, Callie Jayne of RiseUp Kingston says of working models to address her primary concern, the housing crisis: If it hasnt been done before, thats probably a good thing, because what were doing now is not working.

Im privileged to be part of the high-level conversations about what happens next, says Radio Kingston executive director Jimmy Buff. Other people here are just trying to find a place that doesnt take 50% of their income, trying to stay in the places theyve lived for decades and not be gentrified out of their neighborhoods. The climate crisis, potential civil unrest How do we unify locally to provide for ourselves when all of these things that seem to be going south do indeed go south?

I wonder about this constantly. But in Savannah a racially divided, politically divided city of 124,000 with a poverty rate a quarter higher than Kingstons Im in a very quiet minority. There is no AM frequency of ongoing conversations of equity via the diverse voices of my neighbors. I havent seen apocalyptic lit in the bookshop windows. When I think about how unprepared we are for a meltdown, I miss Kingston most of all.

When the shit hits the fan, no ones coming to rescue us, Buff says. Weve got to figure it out ourselves, because this is our city. This is where we live. This is what weve got.

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The charismatic star of hit TV show Queer Eye had a troubled and chaotic early life. Here, for the first time, he talks about his journey back from the brink and his life with the virus

The words smoky lavender appear twice in Over the Top, a memoir by Jonathan Van Ness, the most fabulous of the so-called Fab Five on Queer Eye, the hyperventilating makeover show in which he stars. The first time it is used to describe the skin colour of a gun-toting meth addict he encounters during a stint as a sex worker in Tucson. The second to describe the colour of the thigh-high boots worn by the hair stylist at a salon he lands at in Los Angeles in 2008. He is 19. Later, Jane Fonda, a customer, tells Van Ness his hair makes him look like Jesus.

Between these two smoky lavenders is a gulf that separates two versions of Van Ness: the garrulous, sassy, resident groomer of Queer Eye and the emotionally bruised, risk-taking addict. As he warns readers midway through the book, Buckle up, buttercup, because I can go from comedy to tragedy in three seconds flat.

Van Ness and I are in a Cadillac sedan, driving past the tangled, rusting architecture of Philadelphias suburbs. Travelling like this is normal for him on Queer Eye, he gets to roam the country waving his wand and transforming lives. The show, which was brought out of cold storage last year after an 11-year hiatus, has been a surprising success. America, it seems, is hungry for its uplifting brand of magic. A lot of that comes down to Van Ness, the shows foremost cheerleader for Queer Eyes stated mission of turning red (Republican) states pink, one makeover at a time. Its Van Ness who brings the energy to the party, Yass queeninghis way through each episode, scattering memes and neologisms wherever he goes, and generally helping people connect to their feelings, often by tapping into his own. Tears are never far below the surface. Resistance is futile. Everyone loves him.

Looking sharp: the Fab Five from the first series of Queer Eye. Photograph: Gavin Bond/Netflix

Van Ness has a hectic, energetic style and a voice that soars high and then higher. In the car he talks quickly, words tumbling out of his mouth in a way that can leave you trailing far behind. When I ask if any of his encounters on Queer Eye have changed him, he answers: The act of showing up for your family and being able to live in the world I think is heroic. Theres like 15 bajillion eggs in the ovaries and who even knows how many, like, little spermies are in there, so the fact we got to be born and be living this long is kind of like a mathematical who-knew. This is, I think, a roundabout way of saying we all deserve to be acknowledged. But things are way more fun when Van Ness says them.

For our meeting, Id taken the train from New York to Philadelphia, where Van Ness was filming an episode of the show, with vague plans to walk to the Liberty Bell. But hed just received a 24-hour reprieve from work and, shortly before arriving, his publicist suggested I drive back to New York with him. Sitting in the back of a car with someone youve never met can be awkward, and I was conflicted. But Van Ness disarms with charm. A pop culture magpie, he slides from subject to subject and dares you to keep up. How he finds time to watch so much, know so much, work so much, is a conundrum. Lately, he has learned to meditate as a way to manage his stress. On Sundays I sometimes dont work, he says.

We are on Route 95 somewhere outside of Philadelphia and, as we navigate the traffic, we admire his latest manicure, each nail painted to represent a different cast member of the 1996 comedy the First Wives Club, a touchstone for Van Ness.

On Sundays I sometimes dont work: Jonathan Van Ness. Photograph: Danielle Levitt/The Observer

This is Goldie Hawn getting her lips done, he says, lifting a finger for inspection. We talk about cats he has four, including Liza Meownelli and we watch an old video that surfaced late last year on the Jimmy Kimmel Show. In it the 11-year old Van Ness performs an interpretative dance to Jewels Pieces of You his entry in the school talent show. For the number, he wore a kabuki mask positioned on the back of his head and a baggy black T-shirt emblazoned with a question mark. The piece, inspired by an ice-skating routine, culminates in a triple-axel-style pirouette that is so wholehearted, so gutsy and so precious that its heartbreaking. At the time, his mother gently suggested he might want to reconsider. The other kids, she said, might not let him live it down. But when had they ever?

What Van Ness knew early on was that the world of women was more interesting to him than the world of men. He recalls at the age of four telling his fathers friend that he wanted to be a cabana girl or a cosmetologist when he grew up. As an adult, he would gravitate to the term gender queer to express his place in the world, but that wasnt an option in childhood. A particularly painful story conjures his fathers war on his gender exploration. I remember very clearly my dad finding me in an evening gown with my two cousins, he says. He tore me out of the dress, holding me in the air so that I was perpendicular to the ground. I was terrified.

But there were pockets of joy, too. Joining the junior varsity cheerleading squad at high school at 14 was an epiphany he felt at home immediately. When I make the faux pas of forgetting who starred in Bring It On, the cult 1999 cheerleading movie, Van Ness gasps. I could almost throw you out of the back of this car for asking such a preposterous question, he says. So, youre telling me you came to this interview not having seen Bring It On? What were you doing?

In season four of Queer Eye, viewers saw Van Ness return to his high school in Quincy to makeover his arts teacher, Cathy Dooley, a beloved figure who stood out for not making him feel different or unusual. The cameras show Van Ness performing with the cheerleading squad as students clap and whoop. Its a moving spectacle that implies a circle has been closed. Everyone loves queer people now, even in Quincy.

But what we see on screen is not the whole truth. A few weeks before the Fab Five arrived, the school had asked parents to sign permission slips for their children to be on camera, prompting protests from a local pastor. He sent a letter to the newspaper that blasted the normalisation of LGBTQ culture, and said we should not be rolling out the welcome mats at a public school, Van Ness says. It was just a really nasty letter. Nor was it just any old pastor. This was someone who was like a family friend, someone Id known for a very long time. He looks glum. I dont think weve come as far as I wished and hoped that we had.

Smile please: posing for a selfie with a fan at 2019 MTV Video Music Awards in New Jersey. Photograph: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

Leaving small town America in order to be fully himself, only to find being fully himself is what brings him back to small town America, is an irony not lost on Van Ness. Its a little bit Gift of the Magi, he says. But he also knows Quincy is his secret weapon because even the most Republican-ass Trump supporter is someone I have grown up next door to. Or even grown up with. Three years ago, he had to work hard to convince his father not to vote for Trump. I cussed my dad out 300 of the days of 2016, he says. Our relationship literally was on thin ice over that election. In the end, Van Ness Senior voted for Gary Johnson, the nominee for the Libertarian party. I was really proud of him for it, he says.

When the originalQueer Eye premiered on the Bravo channel in 2003, it was a more straightforward makeover show inspired by advice columns in Esquire magazine. Where it was radical was in the casting of five confident, unapologetic gay men to dish advice to hapless straight men. But people rarely cried and there was little talk of self-care. I was just trying to get guys out of pleated khakis and to get them to cut off their mullets, says Carson Cressley, who starred in the original. I dont think any of us thought the show had any sort of idea about making a political statement. The 2018 reboot, on Netflix, repackaged the Fab Five as social missionaries spreading the gospel of love around America. A masterstroke was to take the guys out of New York, where the original show had been located, and into the heartland states that voted for Donald Trump in 2016. In a fractured society, the show would open minds by showing that our similarities were greater than our differences. Or, as another of the Fab Five, Karamo Brown, said in the opening episode of season one: Weve all got to come together in a way we can understand each other.

There have been four seasons of Queer Eye since its debut in February 2018 and a new one will drop early next year. The shows hosts have not wasted time, assiduously attending to their brand while they still enjoy the spotlight. Three have published books this year and this month its the turn of Van Ness. His memoir, Over the Top, could have been a ghostwriters gift, packed with his witticisms and mantras for self-care. Instead its a lightning bolt devastating and stirring, powered by years of anguish and humiliation. Does he worry how fans will react to his own revelations? Im scared, he admits. But Im ready to pull the Band Aid off.

I dont think weve come as far as I wished and hoped that we had: Jonathan Van Ness. Photograph: Danielle Levitt/The Observer

For Van Ness, Over the Top is about charting his own path through adolescence towards the triumph that is Queer Eye, but its also about owning and thereby defusing two of the most traumatic chapters in his life. The first occurred when he was four, when an older boy molested him in a closet. Van Ness tells his parents but its written off as experimentation and swiftly passed over. That single act of abuse casts a long, pernicious shadow over the book as we witness the ways in which Van Ness acts out his confusion and pain, from taking crystal meth, to sustained binges in sex clubs that satisfy his need to be wanted. He joins a 12-step programme for sex addiction, but relapses.

In the midst of all that, his stepfather, Steve, is diagnosed with bladder cancer, and told he has 11 months to live. His death, when it comes, knocks Van Ness back into the unhealthy behaviour hes been working to quit.

Everything that happened to me that summer will always be painful to think about, he says. It was like saying goodbye to so much of what I wanted.

Shortly after the funeral, his former boyfriend tracked him down at a bathhouse in St Louis and Van Nesss fall to rock bottom seems complete. Almost. When he gets sick, collapsing at the hair salon he is working at one afternoon, he already knows what a doctor will tell him a day later: he is HIV positive.

Van Ness writes about these bombshells with a quiet tenacity that skirts melodrama. He wonders if his reckless behaviour was a self-fulfilling prophecy, the consequence of all the fear ingrained in him at such a young age. He wants other people not to have to go through the same thing.

It occurred to me: what if everything Ive ever been through was preparing me for this moment to be strong enough to share this, and to share it on my own terms, he says. Part of that for me is to process whats happened, but the bigger part is that I wanted to do something to move the conversation forward in a meaningful way around HIV/Aids, and what it is to live with HIV, and to humanise and normalise a lot of the things I talk about. He blinks, then adds, Im talking slow because Im trying not to cry.

I wanted to do something to move the conversation forward in a meaningful way: Jonathan Van Ness on his HIV activism. Photograph: Danielle Levitt/The Observer

We are nearing New York, and the canyons of Manhattan fill the hazy skyline. Growing up, Van Ness used to fantasise he would help other people like himself. I always felt that was part of my purpose, he says. But I thought it would be a really chic juice studio with great baked goods, maybe a dance and yoga studio. He didnt think the way hed help people was simply by being himself on a global TV show or by penning a generous and frank memoir.

At a certain point, Van Ness picked himself up and decided he didnt want to throw away his life. It really took some time to figure out how to put my life together, he says. But medical advances mean the virus is now undetectable in his blood. He remembers the day he was given his HIV diagnosis, asking the doctor if he could still live to be 75. She was, like, I will keep you alive long enough to die of a heart attack or cancer like everyone else, and then she laughed uncontrollably.

Is he making time for relationships? Van Ness shakes his head. In the past, Ive had relationships with people who I was almost using to validate myself and my existence, and thats not been a great plan for me, he says. So, this is a season of me falling in love with myself all the way.

In some ways, he thinks that testing positive for HIV has been his liberation. In the past year, he has taken up ice-skating and thrown himself into gymnastics. And, of course, there is an election to fight. I absolutely do not think Id have been as socially aware or conscious or want to make as much of a difference, he says. It gave me a reason to really fight.

I want to humanise a lot of the difficult things I talk about: Jonathan Van Ness. Photograph: Danielle Levitt/The Observer

You know those plants that are always trying to find the light?
Extract from Over the Top by Jonathan Van Ness

Picture me in the seventh grade: a chubby, slightly snaggletoothed kid with a voluminous mop of frizzy curly hair. Id be cycling through several of my cutest looks, usually monochromatic jumpers with severe Doc Martens boots, just to go to the mall. It felt entirely possible that a talent scout would be there, in the nations smallest capital of Springfield, Illinois Id practice ice-skating routines in my living room, trying to be like the Olympians I idolised, imagining how triumphant Id be when I finally seized that gold medal. The years of fantasising about reaching stratospheric fame through a local mall discovery had long since faded by 2017. Id settled for much more attainable goals. I became a hairdresser, working in both LA and New York. Id stumbled, very grate- fully, into a side hustle in the form of a web series called Gay of Thrones. That spring I would move to Atlanta to shoot a dream project with four new friends. We had beaten out the collective gay world for these five coveted positions, and we all knew it was a monumental opportunity. Like Maya Angelou taught me, I was hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst, so that nothing could catch me off guard. I was just happy that I had completed my mission of escaping cornfield-small-town-only- gay-person infamy and was now free to live an authentic queer life in a gorgeous big city with a Trader Joes and nobody thinking twice about my leggings.

A year later in February, Queer Eye had just come out, and I was on my way to a meeting. To my shock I arrived early, so I went to grab a coffee, and as I was walking in, this lady with the most gorgeous ex- pertly done microbraids and giant glasses stopped me and bellowed, Honey, this faggotry you are serving is giving me everything!

At first, I was confused. Did she just call me a fag? But the smile on her face and her extreme proximity seemed to suggest a loving and enamoured person. Im now doubly confused, Im running ahead of schedule, and strangers are stopping me. Mind you, its still 8.15am, my eyes still subtly perma-stoned from last nights edible, and I hadnt even had my coffee yet! So I said, Thanks, queen, and continued on my way.

But then two steps later, two other girls stopped me. They said they were living for the show and asked if they could take selfies. Of course I said, Yes, sweets! and that caused a few more girls from outside the shop to come in for what was quickly becoming an impromptu meet-and-greet. My original encounter from the store got in line for her pic next, then be- came the photographer for the rest of the meet-and-greet. After thanking all my new friends, I left the coffee shop to head back with no coffee because I forgot. Well, that was fun. How much am I thriving right now? I thought.

Crossing the street to go to my meeting, a very nice man stopped me and began playing twenty questions with me about my life, about the show, about everything. I obliged, because Im eternally a people pleaser, and I didnt want him to feel bad, but at that point my early arrival turned into being fully actually late to the meeting. When I was filming Queer Eye in secrecy with the boys in Atlanta in 2017, sometimes producers, or people who were familiar with the shows revival, would ask me, Are you ready for your life to change? I always said, OMG, yes! But this morning, something shifted. People knew who I was, everywhere I went.

There was a girl who stopped me on the corner of Twenty- Third and Park not long after the show came out. We made eye contact for a split second and it was like an invisible Jackie Chan punched her in the stomach. She doubled over. She took a dramatic step back. Oh my God, she yelled. Oh my God! Oh my God! I was so worried about her that I stopped right there and pulled her onto the curb. We sat for a while until she pulled herself together.

When people had asked me whether I was ready for my life to change, I dont think I really understood what they meant. It wasnt just that strangers would know who I was. It was this other thing that started to happen to me: when I looked in their eyes, sometimes, there was a little voice in my head wondering,Would you still be so excited to meet me if you really knew who I was? If you knew all the things Id done? If you could see all my parts?

Sure, theres a part of me thats endlessly positive. But its just one part. Its a beautiful part, a strong part, and an important part, but its not all of it. There are other parts I want to show, parts that are a little bit scarier to get into. Like the nagging, insecure part of me that worries my positivity is faker than the hair that covers the chalkboard scalp of Donald Trump. Or the part of me thats had sex with a ton of peoplea lot of whom I wish I hadnt. What about my irritated part, which isnt the easiest to deal with if my people-pleasing part has been working overtime. My binge-eating part, my part that just wants to be left alone, or my part that could make you pray for me to catch permanent laryngitis because I cant stop telling you about the Romanovs, or my cats, or the irony of the GOP that wants low taxes and even lower federal government regulation, unless it comes to regulation of peoples pregnancies, marijuana, or the fundamentally racist state and federal prison systems. Because when you have this much personality, theres a fear lurking just below the surface: If you knew all of me, you wouldnt love me anymore. You would no longer want me as your new best friend.

Over the Top by Jonathan Van Ness is published by Simon & Schuster at 20. Order a copy for 17.60 at

Produced by Stephanie Porto; styling by Alison Brooks; styling assistant Emily Payne; grooming by Brenna Drury for Exclusive Artists using MAC Cosmetics and Oribe Haircare. Jonathan wears a skirt and sweatshirt by The Row; sweater by Dries Van Noten Skirt; boots by Chanel; cat shoes by Maison Margiela; skirt by Rip n Dip and socks by Paul Smith

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