It's no secret that we girls are obsessed with accessories, jewellery, handbags, clutch bags, totes, you name it -- well, I am anyway, especially Swarovski! But what has always fascinated me is people's reaction when they see my most important accessory. Yes, I carry it everywhere, inside my handbag -- actually my school bag or even school blazer -- and a whole multitude of places in reality. They are good old-fashioned asthma inhalers, and they're pretty ugly. If I leave home without my little blue baby inhaler, I sometimes get a panic attack. Even if I know I won't need it, it's comforting to have one on me just in case. Going to a concert or a red carpet without that in my bag is just not in the dictionary!
It's also fair to say that I am a tad clumsy, and more often than not, I have dropped my inhaler on the floor -- mostly in the bathroom at school, or a restaurant or some place like that.
But the lack of knowledge out there about the ever-mysterious asthma, even from schoolteachers and friends, is incredible to me.
"Oh gosh, I didn't know you had asthma?" is a typical response with a look of utter bewilderment. "But you sing so well," said one in astonishment, and on and on it goes.
Then I start my pre-rehearsed speech about why asthma is not a curse. Sure, it can be a very serious disease, and when not managed with a proper program, it can be fatal. Then I tell them about what we asthma sufferers can do and how we go about it. But when you're born with a lung issue like asthma, it just becomes part of your life. In fact, when my mother was just five months pregnant with me, my parents were told that I might not survive to full term, as there were some complications, but I am here to tell the tale! We asthma people fight, manage it and strive to outgrow it. I've been told that I never will, but I am an eternal optimist (It comes from my mum -- she's a glass-half-full lady).
Having spent many a night in my local children's hospital when I was growing up, imagining what I would do when I was older, singing was always at the top of the list.
Because of my asthma, I remember being so allergic to wasp stings, strawberries, citrus fruits and loads of things, and a common cold that would inevitably lead to a really serious flu, inciting an attack or worse. Being part of a big family (I'm one of four) my family had a nifty emergency program. My mum always carried her "purse of tricks" with a selection of medication in case of emergency!
My mum banned me from doing sports outside in those horrible icy cold winters. You might think that's severe, but when I get a cold it's no ordinary cold. It ignites the old asthma and if it gets really bad, I need oral steroids! So I learned to exercise in a different way. We got a running machine at home and my dad told me to take up the flute. Apart from the fact that I wasn't allowed to pick up the instrument until I could sight-read the music a little, it proved a lifesaver. It really helped open my lungs, and I loved it!
Then came the yoga -- my mum got me into that too. "It's all in the breathing..." as our yoga teacher Valerie would tell us. She spent hours simply teaching me to breath properly. Now, my lung capacity is managed better and my stamina for singing has doubled. Climate does play a large part in the stamina issue. You should have heard me sing at the Teen Choice Awards after party in LA -- after a week in the wonderful dry climate of California, my dosage dramatically reduced and my lungs performed really well.
This whole British Olympic fever worked a treat for me, as well -- I admit, I got a little emotional when Olympic heroine and double gold medal-winner Laura Trott told of her collapsed lung as a youngster and how she took up sports to increase her lung capacity. Then I read that Rebecca Adlington has asthma -- in fact, 25 percent of athletes in the Team GB athletics squad have asthma. What a cool fact to discover!
So what's in my purse has become a source of pride, really. I am no longer ashamed to hurry and hide my inhalers underneath my other stuff or shove them back into a pocket or bag. But given my love of fashion I do have one request -- let's give the inhaler case a makeover! Some crystals perhaps, textures, faux leathers even... If this is ever to become an accepted illness without the inescapable stares, then surely it's time it was a little more stylish. In a market where there are 5.5 million people receiving treatment for asthma in the UK, with 1.1 million of them children, I think it's time. I won't even start on the US potential. Give me a call if you need some ideas!