The Blog

Using Theatre to Speak Out About Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Royal Air Force

I am so grateful to the arts; the power of creativity shines into the face of adversity and for me holds more weight than an official complaint, I will be heard.

With over 4.5 million views online in one week and thousands more engaging with the tour of the show, my story has provoked urgent discussions and has encouraged men and women who have been affected by bullying and sexual harassment in institutions to speak out...

My dad and my Grandad were both Royal Marines. I grew up in a rural town in Devon where opportunities for me seemed limited. I was 16 and I wanted to get out, grow up and be just as tough as my Dad. Joining the Royal Marines wasn't an option, I was female, joining the Royal Air Force would be fine, the uniforms looked cool and I had no fear of flying.

Four years into my service as an airwoman, working in Aerospace Systems Operations, I was posted to the Falkland Islands for four months, to do my job. For the final month of my detachment I was sent to a remote radar site called 'Mount Alice'. In anticipation of 'flying solo' as the only woman amongst 28 men, I felt afraid and conflicted, we were all supposed to be brothers and sisters and arms and I was going there to work, it would be OK right?

As I landed in the helicopter some of the men were lined up on the helipad 'mooning' me in. I was asked to join them in the Portacabin bar, sit on a stool while the men danced around and manhandled me wearing nothing but rubber gloves on their genitals. This was all part of my 'initiation ceremony'. I asked a superior if I could leave the mountain. I was told that life beyond the mountain would be made very difficult for me if I didn't 'stick it out'. The harassment got darker and my official complaint trashed in exchange for a good report and a flight on a Tornado F3.

Fifteen years later my complaint is now a script, a self-penned autobiographical solo show. When I began writing what was to become Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, I never imagined the response my story would provoke. I wanted to create a solo show about a female experience. I thought I had a fairly interesting one. There is a lack of representation of the female experience in the arts and I figured my story raised universal questions about gender inequality, sexual harassment and bullying in institutions.

My transition from military life into the arts is fairly uncommon and creatively my work as an educator began to inform my voice as an artist. I have a lot of experience of working with young people, my story celebrates friendship, identity and aspirations. I think the idea of re-invention, having the courage to follow your dreams and speak up for what you believe in can hold a powerful message for future voices.

Supported by Arts Council England throughout the whole development, I have been able to rediscover my story and the truth of what it is I want to say as an artist. I never visualized the power of this truth, my determination for zero tolerance and courage to creatively speak out.

The first scratch sharing in February 2015 evoked genuine terror, I was petrified and I hadn't even included the darker material about what had happened to me on Mount Alice. Once audiences began to engage with my work, the momentum gathered, the show got other people talking, offering feedback and searching for more truth. I started to unravel, emerge and move closer to the core of the story, it felt right to talk about it. Talk about it all.

In January 2016 I was invited by the Channel Four News team to talk about my experiences of bullying and sexual harassment in the armed forces. This was a great opportunity to speak out to a wider audience especially for other men and women who had been affected. I shared some of the video archives I include in the show...

I am so grateful to the arts; the power of creativity shines into the face of adversity and for me holds more weight than an official complaint, I will be heard.

Nicola Williams has recently been appointed as the first British Military Complaints Ombudsman. In a recent Channel 4 news interview she said she 'thrives off challenge'. Let's hope so. There's a lot of work to be done, so many voices to be heard and my story is just scratching the surface...

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot embarks on a UK Tour from February-June 2016!2016-uk-tour/c1di0

The script is published by Oberon Books and available here:

Link to the Channel 4 News interview: