Jackie Hagan: 'I figured I might as well milk the one-legged thing'
Jackie Hagan was a well-known and popular poet on the Manchester scene and beyond when she went into hospital - and came out minus one leg. Now she is touring with her show, Some People Have Too Many Legs, with her stump taking on multiple personalities of its own, and being featured on national media. She has also made the Saboteur indie lit awards shortlist. Before a big homecoming date at Manchester’s Contact theatre on 9 May, in an interview with Write Out Loud she talks of how she has turned what happened to her “into a big strength”, and how she views life in a “surprising and optimistic way”; her work with a project “helping silenced people to express themselves”; and of seeing loads of sheep during her rural tour of Britain.
Your current show, Some People Have too Many Legs, is reflection of the fact that you spent a traumatic, life-threatening spell in hospital not so long ago that resulted in an amputation. Can you tell us something about the feelings that you went through at that time? And how is your health now?
People think I was this amazing tower of strength in hospital but in reality it was because I was trying to impress this lad I fancied, plus I was off my head on morphine so that probably helped. I've always been a bit of a cosy rebel, I'd never swear at an old lady but I like being surprising, I've a horror of cliche, so if everyone thinks you're gonna be broken by something then I like to make it into a big strength, hence the glittery false leg with the little lights and everything.
My stump is shaped really odd because it didn't heal right. You know the blonde one out of Birds of a Feather? Well, the scar looks like her miserable gob, so it came dead natural to draw some eyes on it, and start doing stump puppetry. I was off my head on morphine like. So these days I dress it up as different celebrities and people guess who it is, Maggie Thatcher, Ziggy Stardust ... the man off the Go Compare advert.
Health-wise - they never figured out what was wrong with me, there's been various diagnoses thrown around but I'm not that bothered. I just eat more veg, and figure if it happens again I'll cope.
When did you decide to turn this nightmare you experienced into a piece of entertainment?
I won a thing called Flying Solo, it's a competition where you win a commission from the National Rural Touring Forum for a solo show, a month before I went into hospital. You have a year to write it before the tour starts so I was in hospital for half of that, then couldn't get a council flat for yonks after that, so I did most of the writing on scraps of paper and in my head. It's been a proper bonkers year.
There has been a lot of media interest in you recently, including an interview on BBC’s The One Show. Can you tell us some more about that?
I sold my story to Chat magazine and bought a campervan. I figured I might as well milk the whole one-legged thing. Plus I really really like attention.
How and when did you start writing and performing poetry? Did it help you in your darkest hour?
I was always a wordy little bugger growing up but never wrote poetry. Started performing at open mics and wotnot about 10 years ago and now I run a project at Bluesci Well Being Centre helping silenced people to express themselves and have facilitated loads of poetry workshops, breaking people out of old patterns and getting out of their own way and figuring out exactly what is stopping them from being what they want to be, poetically. Did poetry help? Yes, I think being a natural storyteller means that I make sense of things with an audience in my head. You never ever want to bore an audience or make them think you are using them for your own therapy, so, for me, that really helps me to make sense of things in a surprising and optimistic way.
How is the tour going?
Great! It's a rural tour so I'm seeing loads of sheep. The big homecoming show is happening in Manchester on 9 May, so I'm excited about that, I just bought 300 more holographic rave specs for the audience (kids keep nicking ‘em, don't blame ‘em) and my mam is coming so it should be a good one. Last time I did the show in Manchester this nurse (you know the type of woman who has a face like a hen party? In a good way, I mean) who was on my ward was in the audience and she was bladdered and doing overly-supportive heckling, "Go 'ead, Jackie girl!" etc, that was great. I'm good with hecklers, I was brought up by them.
Tickets for the homecoming show in Manchester on 9 May are going fast: you can get them here. You can follow Jackie Hagan on Twitter @jackiehagan or or Facebook at www.facebook.com/jackiehagantheatre. You can follow her on her website here, too