Bullies made my life hell – but now I’m fighting back, says Hollyoaks beauty Abi Phillips
HOLLYOAKS star Abi Phillips has launching a campaign against bullying – after revealing that playground thugs reduced her to tears with cruel jibes about her body shape.
The 19-year-old actress and singer confessed that she was targeted for being overweight when she was at school before joining the Channel 4 soap.
The vile abuse left her too afraid to step outside her own front door and it threatened to rob her of her self-confidence.
But now Abi, who plays Liberty Savage in the TV show, is turning the tables on the bullies by campaigning on behalf of other victims of bullying.
Abi confided: “I first started getting bullied in primary school. It all centred around my weight, because I used to be quite big.
“My full name is Abigail and the other children used to call me ‘ABI-WHALE’, which was very hurtful.
“My family are prone to putting on weight unless we exercise, even if we eat healthily, so I was big.
“I used to stand and look in the mirror and cry very often. I used to see my reflection and wrongly think, ‘You look disgusting.’
“There was this group of girls who were very bitchy towards me, but it was boys too.
“When someone is different because they are overweight, some people can’t handle it and they don’t understand that the person is not a weirdo.”
Looking at Abi’s sunny demeanor today it is hard to imagine her as a shy and overweight child.
She is a confident young woman who is launching a new pop career after teaming up with song-writer Rob Davies, who’s previously helped to turn Kylie Minogue and Sophie Ellis-Bextor into household names.
Abi says music helped her through the difficult times because she could channel all her negative feelings into songs. She has been performing since the age of 13 with the support of her mum and dad.
Abi has now written a song about bullying with the help of her bass guitarist Ben Drummond to help kids who are being bullied get through the hard times.
She will also be campaigning against bullying at a local school near her home in Birmingham, West Midlands, where she will give a talk to pupils.
“I think bullying has made me the person I am today because coping with it makes you stronger,” she says. “As an actress and a singer you have to get used to rejection. Singing also gave me an opportunity to get dressed up and feel good about myself.”
Abi says bullying does not have to be physical for it to have a devastating effect.
Abi was attacked by older girls when she was 12, but most of the abuse that she suffered was psychological – and it began with the name calling in primary school.
Abi, whose dad runs a hairdressing business, said: “I told my parents about it, but because it wasn’t physical they said the best thing to do was not to give them a reaction, because that would only fuel it.
“It carried on for a good few years until about middle of year eight when I couldn’t take it any more, so I decided to try and lose weight by not eating.
“In the mornings I’d say that I didn’t have time to eat any breakfast. My mum used to make me lunches, but I’d get to school and throw them in the bin.
“I did it for a good couple of weeks. I used to eat quite a bit when I was bigger and the dramatic change in diet shocked my body.
“It made me feel terrible and I caught this horrible bug. I was ill for about three weeks. I couldn’t swallow and I was in a terrible state because when you don’t eat your immune system goes to pot.
“It was only for a short period. I wasn’t anorexic: I just wanted to lose some weight.
“Thankfully, I got better very quickly and I started to go running with my mum and I began to get slimmer.”
Ironically, the bullies then targeted Abi for changing her appearance.
“Girls started calling me names. So I got bullied throughout my school life and in the end I couldn’t wait to leave.
“In school, I was always left out of any group activities. They used to plan things in front of me and ignore me. It was another thing to make you feel crap about yourself.
“There was this one occasion in particular that I can remember that really hurt me.
“I was with a group of girls and we’d all promised that we’d take part in a Duke of Edinburgh awards scheme by going camping together in Wales.
“I was really looking forward to it. Then on the deadline day of handing in the names of the people they told me I wasn’t wanted in their group.
“I was just like ‘Oh my God, I am not friends with anyone else I can’t find another group in time.’ So I ended up not going.
“I was really upset. I went to the toilets on my own because I hated it when anyone saw me crying.
“I just wanted someone to talk to, so I told my sister who confronted them and told them they were mean.
“Afterwards they surrounded me in the corridor and they wouldn’t let me out at the end of school. They were really aggressive and I thought they were going to hit me.
“It affected my confidence. In the mornings I was terrible and I used to pretend I was ill, so I didn’t have to go to school. Sometimes I would just cry and say I was too scared. My attendance was appalling.
“I even got bullied when I was outside of school at dancing classes.
“A girl spread malicious rumours that were untrue. She said that I was a lesbian and that I was taking pictures of them and putting them on my bedroom wall.
“It was almost laughable, like how did you even think of that? But people wouldn’t get changed near me.”
Thankfully, with the support of her mum and her sister Jess, Abi has eventually emerged from her ordeal as a stronger person – and is now throwing herself into music.
* If you need help or information about bullying go to http://www.beatbullying.org/