It’s 2005. My dad tells me about a remake of an old show that’s going to be on the BBC soon. He says they used to hide behind the sofa. He says there’s always an ‘assistant’ and this time, she’s called Rose.
I’m 7 years old and all I’m thinking is, why were your sofas not against the wall…
At this age I had only ever met one other Rose; an older woman who worked at The Salad Bowl, a fruit and veg shop my mum would take me to. I didn’t like scary things, but I was intrigued by my namesake and the adventurous-sounding plot of the show.
Most people around my age, who watched this first season as it aired, knew there was something special about it. The story of Rose and the Doctor was a love story, and I was absolutely hooked.
Now it’s 2021, 16 years since the revival of the show. I can still recite the entire script from series 1 and 2, the Russell T Davies Doctor Who era would without a doubt be my mastermind category and Billie Piper is still my role model.
Rose Tyler didn’t defy expectations of womanhood. She was immature and selfish. But she was a companion, not an assistant. She was adventurous and confident, she called out bad behaviour and she was more of an equal to the Doctor than many before, marking a new era of progress. She taught him things, like how to care and love. I see some of myself in the character of Rose. Admiring, reliant, caring, compelled by emotions rather than the bigger picture.
It was these first series and this love story that made me love Rose Tyler. But when I had watched every episode of their story over and over, I knew staying within this fictional realm of an era passed wouldn’t satisfy. So I got to know Billie Piper too.
At school, when people said what celebrity would you invite to a dinner party, I’d always say Billie Piper. People would usually respond with slight confusion, saying “who? That one from Doctor Who?”, puzzled as to why I wasn’t saying someone crazy famous like Freddie Mercury or Barack Obama. But now in my 20s I see Billie Piper in a new light. I stand by my decision to have her at my dinner party, for more than my adoration of the character Rose. Billie Piper is a hardworking, hard achieving woman who comes across genuinely charismatic and fun. She has had some crazy life experiences, yet her feet have remained firmly on the ground.
She married Chris Evans at age 19, he bought her a Ferrari on their first date. She married, divorced and shared children with actor turned amateur politician/fierce anti-vaxxer Laurence Fox. She has acted many times whilst pregnant, including her recent debut project as both a writer and director, Rare Beasts. She was also pregnant whilst filming the raunchiest show I have ever seen, Secret Diary of a Call Girl, saying it was positive because it made her boobs look bigger for the nude scenes.
Billie Piper was the youngest musical artist to ever hit number 1 in the charts. She created the longest female masturbation scene in the fantastically addictive Fleabag-esque drama I Hate Suzie, which was accurately described as a “wild ride that feels like an absolute gift” in The Guardian. She has powerful monologues in Penny Dreadful. With Yerma, playing a desperate childless young woman, she became the first and only actor to have won all six of the currently available UK Theatre Best Actress awards for a single performance. Her career has taken her from extreme to extreme and back again. She consistently plays strong female leads, with good reason.
In 2016, pictures of Billie Piper smoking outside a pub with her (then new) boyfriend, musician Johnny Lloyd, came out as a classic attempt by the tabloids to slander and embarrass her. But all I thought was, “fuck, this woman is cool”. It reminded me of my own relationship at the time and made me think: if I could live like that, achieving amazing stuff whilst also having fun, being a mess and not really caring who’s looking, that’d be pretty good with me.
Anyone who can go from child star on Top of the Pops to feminist writer, actress and director is someone admirable to me. She used her somewhat traumatic beginnings and carved out her place from that to spread positivity and create powerful art. Yet still, she seems genuinely down to earth. She cares about kids getting the opportunity to study theatre, she writes and acts in a way that fully explores the corners of a woman’s experience. Despite her firsts and bests and craziest experiences, she comes across SO normal. I feel lucky to have identified with someone at a young age that I can feel proud to say they are a good person, and they still represent me.
So 16 years later, she’s moved from my childhood icon to my icon of a strong inspirational woman. And if I could invite any celebrity guest to a dinner party, it would always be her.