Nerves and excitement were the perfect words to describe how I felt when I woke up yesterday morning, knowing today was the day I was heading to The House of Commons in London to be a guest speaker for the White Ribbon Charity.
The White Ribbon Charity, formed in 1991 is a global movement of men and boys working to end male violence against woman and girls. White Ribbon is active in over 60 countries and seeks to promote healthy relationships, gender equality and a compassionate vision of masculinity. As you all can probably imagine I was honoured to be asked by Brian Mitchell, Chairperson and Ikram Butt, Sports Campaign Manager of the White Ribbon movement, together with photographer Lorraine Hinks to be guest speakers and put our case forward of how the help support women who have been through domestic abuse using art and creativity. Tony Saunders and John Bolton also joined us as guest speakers, co-founders and Directors of School of Media & Rock in Bradford and like The White Ribbon movement, challenge domestic abuse through the art of music.
Arriving just on time at the House of Parliaments, where the security check was similar to going through airport security but minus the sunny holiday, we were taken to our room where we were greeted by a handful of MP’s. I’ve never been inside House of Parliament. I can simply describe my first impression with a big ‘wow!’, followed by a ‘sweet lord!’. I can’t believe I am walking around this grand building with stunning high Gothic ceilings and renaissance paintings, rubbing shoulders with MP’s in sleek suits and about to speak up and be heard. To speak about EssyEntials’ involvement with The White Ribbon Charity to empower women with my self-esteem workshops, using modelling and fashion as an art form to help women find their own unique identity and build their confidence in a fun and safe environment with like-minded women. My good friend, photographer Kay Anthony was kind enough to be there for support, which was greatly appreciated as when I sat down my nerves kicked in big style. My nervous system went into that horrid fight or flight mode. One that I recognise when I first started doing cat walks and my esteem was still very low. However I managed to calm myself down, telling myself I had overcome my stage fright by repeating cat walks and I wasn’t here for me. I was here to represent vulnerable women, needing the support and a life line to re-start building their broken self-esteem and offering them tools to becoming happier in healthier surroundings.
After a short introduction by Gavin Newlands MP (SNP), the MP & Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for White Ribbon, Tony Saunders and John Bolton opened with an incredibly well put together presentation of the work they do, using music as a creative tool to raise awareness and help women overcome domestic violence. I was still taking in the environment and trying to control my nerves when I was asked to do my presentation. I thought it would be Lorraine Hinks turn next. I started off a little bit wobbly, but it didn’t last. Even got emotional explaining how I had overcome my self–esteem issues, but I was able to take control and deliver my unrehearsed speech, ending with a: “I hope you all enjoyed my speech and I put my case forward clearly, as in my head I had pictured myself walking into this room Kate Moss cat walk style, showing more of my personality and what I will bring to my workshops to inspire and supporting other women fighting their way back to after domestic abuse!” Lorraine was next and my compliments to her calm, direct and clear way showing her work and how she will be able to help others using photography. Her images representing domestic violence and the after effect were powerful and well executed.
After the meeting, another MP, who’s name I never actually found out, took us to one of the private bars in Parliament. Enjoying a well deserved drink on the balcony overlooking the Thames and beautiful Southbank was an amazing way to wind down. Only then it started to sink in what an opportunity I had been given. Not only did I conquer and challenge my fear of public speaking, but thanks to The White Ribbon movement I was given an opportunity to make my dream of helping other females a reality. Me! Ester van der Vlies! The for many years ‘just’ stay at home wife of two beautiful children. If any of you would have told me three years ago that I would be a single 45 year mother on a cat walk, let alone speaking in the House of Commons, I would have laughed and said you’re mad. Three years ago I had no connections within the fashion industry and Charities. I had zero confidence to be able to handle public speaking. My self-esteem was nonexistent. I had no career prospects and no path to follow. My identity was lost. You see, if I can recover my self-esteem, after trauma, then for sure others can too. Whether it’s through music, sports, photography or fashion it doesn’t matter how. But with the help of White Ribbon, we are desperately trying to make this happen for lots of women around the country still struggling in silence.
Of course this unforgettable day wouldn’t be a standard hurricane Essy day without a little unexpected drama. Firstly, one of the MP’s mistakenly taking my mobile, which I discovered after frantically emptying my Tardis-like bag contents in the meeting room, exposing the others in the room with a random collar, sanitary towels and a zillion pair of sunglasses! I was also stopped by Manchester police at 1:30am while driving home on the last leg of a long journey and ended up on the backseat of the police car doing a breathalyser test. Because after asking me where I had travelled from and me replying casually, “Ohh only Parliament in London. I was a guest speaker. I am a model you see.” They were pretty convinced I was intoxicated!
I’d like to thank the above people involved for this incredible opportunity and taking time to listen to my story. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and I am very grateful for spending time with everyone support of such a great cause. I am more determined then ever to make a difference to women and girls suffering with crippling low self-esteem. If you would like to get involved or have questions regarding the work we do please visit the www.whiteribboncampaign.co.uk or alternatively send me an email Essy@EssyEntials.com.
Love always, Essy xxx