I did Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls a couple of years ago. I was dropped off on a desert island with nine people I didn’t know, with no food, no clothes except the ones we were wearing, no shoes, no mobile phone, no bra and no mayonnaise. For one month. There were five men and five women: single parents, divorced, married; black, mixed race, white working class, white middle class, Arab, American and one person with a disability.
There were people I didn’t like and I knew there were people who didn’t like me. The conditions were harsh. We hadn’t eaten for six days and were severely dehydrated and constantly bitten by sandflies and mosquitoes. We were lying in ditches suffering from hypothermia. It wasn’t Glastonbury, it was Vietnam.
Generally, I did all the fishing while others sat around the fire discussing who had stolen whose trousers. Some people kept jumping in front of the cameras and not doing anything at all to help. There was one white man who described himself as an alpha male, and appointed himself leader.
There was tension, resentment and hostility, but no one argued at all. The strong, silent woman’s pragmatic approach is a technique I have used in life to stay alive, and on the island I kept my hatred to myself. We pretended to get on, and as a result we all survived. We faked it till we made it.
Since coming back, we have all become very close friends. We go to weddings and parties, we send each other messages of support and pictures of our newborn children. We realised it was the circumstances under which we were living that caused us to have the feelings that we did, and once those circumstances had gone we were able to like each other, love each other and get on. When we first knew each other, initially we all masked our hatred. We pretended to like each other, but eventually we found we did. The Island was a magnified microcosm of society and of Brexit.
Since 2016, we now know for sure that everybody hates each other. It’s out in the open. In any democracy there is a certain amount of opposition, but that’s not the same as hate. The archbishop of Canterbury said after the referendum, “The privilege of democracy is to vote … To have robust and firm discussion. It is not a privilege of democracy to express hatred, to use division as an excuse for prejudice and for hate-filled attacks.” People vote; some win and some lose. But since the referendum we have used democracy as an excuse to express our hatred, and we all lost. Hate has become as popular and competitive as Formula One and baking cakes.
According to research by the charity Show Racism the Red Card, 21% of schoolchildren think Muslims are taking over England, while 37% of Britons surveyed by YouGov said they would support a political party that would reduce the number of Muslims in the UK. It doesn’t exactly help when a privileged white male says that veiled Muslim women look like bank robbers and letterboxes and a year later becomes prime minister. It is an endorsement of that hatred.
Meanwhile, Home Office figures show hate crimes in England and Wales rising over the past five years – with a big increase, it says, since 2016. A few days after the vote for Brexit a friend of mine was abused on the street. She was wearing Asian clothes. A woman came up to her and said, “Haven’t you left yet?” Just days after the referendum? I mean, give us a chance to get out. My friend said, “I was born here”, and this woman said, “Well, change your stupid clothes then.” And this woman was wearing a pink, terry-towelling tracksuit.
All those people who voted leave because they thought that when they woke up in the morning all the brown people would be gone are going to have the shock of their lives in six months’ time when we’re all still here, Nadiya is all over the TV and there’s still a woman in a hijab reading the news on Channel 4.
People face challenging times and that causes division. You look around and wonder, “Why is their life easier than mine? Why have they got what I haven’t? Why are they happy and I’m not?” You get angry, then bitter and eventually hate sets in.
But there is a way out. The Island made me realise that masking our hatred doesn’t just happen. It requires us to work. Nobody goes through life never feeling anger towards others. We are human and we have these emotions. But what I learned is that if you just keep your hatred to yourself for long enough, you will forget what you hate and why. We don’t have to deny it, we just have to hide it. So how about we all just shut up and pretend that we like each other?
• Shazia Mirza is a comedian.