Edinburgh Book Festival: "Sane New World" Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Edinburgh Book Festival
Ruby Wax, Diana Hope (Chair)
Running time

This was an absolutely packed house with not a seat empty; many probably knew Ruby Wax as a comedian, rather than a writer and mental health campaigner. Diana Hope, who chaired the session, introduced her as someone who was born in Evanston, Illinois, to Jewish parents who had fled from Austria in 1939 to avoid the Nazi threat.

Ruby Wax came to Scotland and trained at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow before heading for the Crucible theatre in Sheffield and then on to the Royal Shakespeare Company.

She moved into comedy and, in addition to many other comedy roles, she was the script editor for "Absolutely Fabulous" and had several appearances on the show.

She was diagnosed with a bipolar condition in the early 1990s and from then on has taken a great interest in mental health. Diana Hope told the audience that Wax was due to graduate with a Masters Degree in 'mindfulness' (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy) later this year - for which she received generous applause.

Ruby Wax said that when she started campaigning for mental health she took part in a campaign photo shoot. She was taken aback when she saw the large pictures of herself that were being posted everywhere saying, "this woman has a mental illness"!

Things have moved on and she pointed out that doctors can now see into the brain through scanning, allowing the experts to try and work out ways to regulate it. In her view, the brain is like a 'mothership', where all the power is located.

Wax told of her time at University College, London where the students thought she was old, but then found out she had a degree - so they then knew she was really old! Getting into Oxford was another story and she had to 'buff up' her earlier grades and, of course, she said she was good at interviews, so that helped. She said that she was amazed that she got into Oxford while recalling that she had not even graduated from nursery school!

Why did she want to study 'mindfulness'? She said that there are no instruction manuals for mental illness and that no one has a voice in their head to say, "well done" if something goes well or to say, "how lovely you look today".

One of the effects of depression, she said, might be that the individual might be always looking about for danger like an animal, perhaps like a cat. This is because we are living in a sort of 'news hothouse' where we are fed news, mostly depressing, which reaches us constantly every minute of the day. This, she said, keeps everyone under unnatural pressure and this is bound to have an effect - at present one in four have mental stress problems, but by 2020 it could be four in four.

She likened it also to the pressure to be 'doing something' - never say at a dinner party that you are doing nothing as you will never be asked back again! Say, perhaps, that you have just had a heart attack and then you will immediately get attention and sympathy with comments like, "oh you are doing well" ! She said she would like to see a world where it was the survival of the wisest and not just survival of the fittest.

This was a fascinating hour where the audience was treated to a combination of Ruby Wax the entertainer, combined with Ruby Wax the mental health campaigner. It was a blend that gave us all a thoroughly remarkable experience.