A year ago, Janey Godley was the toast of Scotland and one of the nation’s best-loved comedians at the top of her game. But scandal hit when historic tweets were found and she was branded racist. She contemplated suicide and then, within weeks, was diagnosed with cancer. Now she’s back, in recovery and in front of audiences who still love her. She talks to our Writer at Large about her life-changing journey.

JANEY Godley’s prodigious sense of humour stands by her like a watchdog. It guards against the memories of the last terrible year, and seldom fails her.

It is there as she talks about how close she came to killing herself when historic tweets were uncovered and she was branded a racist in front of the nation. It is there as she matter-of-factly recounts being diagnosed with ovarian cancer – when she went from wanting to take her own life to fighting for her life in a single day.

But that sense of humour vanishes in the face of the kindness of one single stranger. All her protective jokes, all those self-deprecating gags, just disappear in an instant as she begins telling how a care assistant in a Glasgow hospital held her in the shower after her surgery – “when everything was taken away” – and Godley cried, naked, in the woman’s arms.

Kindness of strangers

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“It was after the hysterectomy. It was the most poignant moment of my life,” she says. Until this point in the conversation, Godley has been unfailingly upbeat despite reliving a year of public shaming, mental collapse and the prospect of her own death.

“The care assistant came in,” she begins, then – bang – in an instant, her watchdog leaves her. Her face crumples as she starts to cry, she bows her head and runs her hands through the close-cropped white hair that is a reminder of the chemo she’s just been through. “Honest to God, I can’t even,” she says, her voice thickening with tears, and she has to stop and pull herself together.

Godley tries to compose herself, inhales, and starts talking again. She recalls lying in bed surrounded by equipment and tubes, covered in drips and oxygen lines, a bag full of morphine attached to her, a catheter fitted. The care assistant arrived and helped Godley, slowly and painfully, undress and walk to the shower.

I’d all these scars and she was like ‘it disnae matter’. Oh my God, it makes me cry every time I think of her. She restored my faith in humanity.

“She stood me in that shower and her kindness just broke me in two,” Godley says. Her voice trembles again as emotion takes over, her eyes filling up once more.

“I still think about the human kindness of that wee woman. She washed my back, she washed my bum. I was standing there naked like a newborn baby, with all these drips. And she’s like ‘here, there’s the cloth, wash your boobs, you can do it’, and I was like ‘right okay’, and I’m trying to wash myself and she says ‘it’s gonna be alright’, and she just held me in her arms and I cried.

“I thought ‘Jesus Christ, this wee woman probably gets paid f*** all, she gets on the bus at the end of the day and just goes home’. But this was the most touching thing I’d ever been through.

“I’ve never been naked in front of a complete stranger. I felt so vulnerable. I’d all these scars and she was like ‘it disnae matter’. Oh my God, it makes me cry every time I think of her. She restored my faith in humanity. I asked her if this was difficult for her, because I was naked and scarred, and she said ‘naw, you’re just somebody’s mammy, somebody’s auntie’.”

The flood of emotion eases up and you can see the old bravado return. A little joke has crossed her mind, ready to take the sting out of all she’s said. “Anyway, the surgeon came in later, and everyone was like ‘ooh, the surgeon’s here’, and she was lovely, but I’m like ‘she’s no that woman that washes everyone’s diddies, it’s her who’s the most important person’.”

Getting cancelled

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IT’S almost a year since Godley’s world imploded. She was Scotland’s ‘Queen of Comedy’ then last September, tweets, described rightly as “shockingly racist”, were found from 2011. One referred to the singer Kelly Rowland as “the black horse from the USA”. Godley immediately issued an unreserved apology, but the scandal turned political. A prominent independence supporter, Godley, once described by Nicola Sturgeon as her “alter ego”, was dropped from the Scottish Government’s Covid public health campaign. She had been picked as frontwoman after her online comedy voiceovers spoofing high-profile figures became a much-loved diversion for the nation during pandemic. Then, a month after the scandal broke, Godley was diagnosed with cancer.

She has lived a tough life. Her parents were alcoholics. She was sexually abused by an uncle, who was later jailed. Her husband, who is autistic, came from a gangland family. Her mother was murdered by a violent boyfriend.

“The last year was harder than anything I’ve been through, though –harder than a child abuse trial – because so much was my fault. The Twitter thing was my fault. I know I hurt people.”

The hate and anger Godley experienced on social media was torrential. “People had every right to be angry,” she adds. “You take Government money, you open yourself to scrutiny, quite rightly so. I apologised immediately. It was wrong, I shouldn’t have written that. I don’t know what I was thinking. I’ve never been racist. I’ve marched for Black Lives Matter. I’ve marched against Trump and his racism. I’ve never been someone sneakily racist underneath but hiding it. So I apologised profusely but it was unforgiving. We’re teaching our children that you can never say sorry enough, and that’s very damaging.”

Many who attacked her hardest online, Godley says, were motivated by “tribal politics”, and condemned her while defending comedians, seen as right wing, who also crossed the line.

“The thing is, it’s not for white, angry people to accept my apology. The people who matter are people of colour, as they’re who I hurt. There’s people who won’t forgive me as they don’t agree with my politics. If they absolutely hate the SNP, then they’ve every right to hate me. They can say they hope I die of cancer. I’ll defend their right to do so. But I just f***ing ignore it now.”

She notes, though, “a very weird dichotomy”: that the same people who tell her “I hope your daughter bursts into flames” continue to condemn her past comments. “So I’m wrong for being racist, but it’s okay for them to wish people dead? It’s the hypocrisy that gets me.”

Rock bottom

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SHAME, regret, hate – it all took a terrible toll on Godley’s mental health. “I literally became suicidal. It was really frightening to hear that voice in my head say ‘you could just end this’. I got emergency help – I got therapy. I spoke to the Samaritans – they were brilliant. They got me off a ledge.”

Despite being “cancelled” online, the real world wasn’t quite so angry, however. A month after the scandal, she started a sellout British stand-up tour.

Proof, perhaps, that claims of “cancel culture” are over-exaggerated. Godley came on stage each night, explained what had happened, and found the audience applauding her honesty and remorse.

That was a real affirmation for Godley, and helped her start putting herself back together after the public shaming she had endured. With just three dates to go before the tour ended, though, her world collapsed again when she was diagnosed with stage three cancer. “I went from being cancelled to cancer in six weeks – from trying to lose my life to fighting for my life. I’d been saying ‘I hope I die’. Now I was saying ‘f***, am I going to die? I want to live’. I still can’t step back and look at it all. It’s like PTSD. It frightens me thinking about it.”

During the tour, Godley had been feeling terrible. “I didn’t realise that the reason I wasn’t eating wasn’t the cancellation but because I’d a massive tumour. By the end of the tour, I’d this huge swelling. It wasn’t just me being a fat b*****d. I went to the doctor, they tested my blood, stuck this Star Wars wand up my ninky, and they could see it right there.”

She went on stage that night knowing she had cancer. That was November 19. Then, after that, everyday life just stopped. “I never thought I’d be that woman sitting in hospital getting chemotherapy.” The diagnosis was a “grenade” thrown into her family. Then, as if matters couldn’t get worse, Godley caught Covid which meant she couldn’t get operated on for weeks. “I’d no Covid symptoms, though – because I drank from puddles as a child,” she jokes.

Godley worried about letting down the theatres that had booked her – and desperately needed ticket sales thanks to the pandemic – and others who depended on her like her agent. She underwent surgery on January 6, just before her 61st birthday. “It was insurrection day for Trump and my womb,” she says. “I hadn’t slept a wink. My heart was breaking”.

She was terrified. Her husband was with her and she just wanted to go back home with him. As they took her away to the operating theatre, he could hear her crying.

After surgery, she faced chemo. “F*****g hell,” she says. “It poisons you.” She was horrified at the sight of all the bags and medical equipment when she walked into the chemo ward. She wondered why a nurse kept sitting beside her, asking questions, until she realised he was there in case of a fatal reaction and he had to resuscitate her.

Hate and recovery

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MEANWHILE, as Godley faced the prospect of her own death, the mob which continued hounding her online had began claiming that she was either lying about cancer, or it was a sympathy stunt. By now, though, Godley was long past caring. “There’s always going to be c***s, you can’t spend your life arguing with them. Let them say what they want – they aren’t living my reality.”

What matters to her are the ordinary women – not the “anonymous w*****s and bams” – who wrote to her once her cancer became public, saying they had gone to get checked by their doctor after reading of her experience, and been diagnosed with cancer, but early enough to save their lives. “That’s worth everything,” Godley says.

I wanted other women to see me bald. I could easily wear a wig, but I don’t want to. There might be women out there who can’t afford one. It’s alright to look like this.

Humour, unsurprisingly, got the family through. One of Godley’s favourite haunts is Eusebi Deli in Glasgow’s west end, near her home. She and her daughter would joke that if it ever came to her funeral they would give out 20 per cent discount vouchers for mourners to get lunch.

Then, finally, three months ago, some good news came. After another regular scan, doctors found no evidence of cancer. That’s when Godley knew she might be through the worst. The ordeal is far from over, though. “My cancer marker numbers can go up and down. It’s a matter of living with it. It’s an ongoing ‘am I going to be alright?’ thing. Sometimes I’m going to be absolutely fine, then other times the doctors are like ‘we’re not happy with that blood test’. It’ll never be over for me – my cancer is very persistent. There’s a 70-90% chance of it returning. I’ll always have to keep on top of it. There’s never going to be a day when it stops. I’ll be like this until I die. You know that thing people say when they’ve lost their child, that they fall asleep and when they wake up realise immediately their loved one isn’t there anymore – that’s what I’m like. I go ‘f***, I’ve still got cancer’.”

She recently needed a blood transfusion as she had so little haemoglobin. This week, though, is a good example of the fluctuating nature of her health. The day before we spoke, she had travelled alone for the first time to Edinburgh, taking the bus and train to bring her debut novel – a murder mystery called Nothing Left Unsaid – to the Book Festival. It was a sellout gig and she was still buzzing from the audience’s approval – a “validation” after all she has been through. But the day after we spoke, she was laid low. Her platelet levels had fallen due to her medication, and her cancer numbers went up.

She may say “I don’t believe all that s***e about bravery and fighting cancer. I was a complete coward” – but it’s not quite true. Recently, Godley has posted pictures of her hair loss on Twitter. “I wanted other women to see me bald. I could easily wear a wig, but I don’t want to. There might be women out there who can’t afford one. It’s alright to look like this.”

Her hair has started growing back but it’s now completely white. “Full Stewart Granger,” she says. She jokes that it’s saved a fortune at the hairdresser. “I’m going to keep it really short. If the cancer returns and I get chemo again, I’ll just lose it anyway. But my eyebrows have come back better than in the eighties – and my moustache.”

There was no sickbed religious conversion for Godley during the dark times although she did say the Lord’s Prayer as a “sort of mantra” to clear her mind of fear. “My husband jokes that I’m a creepy wee Christian. But I don’t think there’s an afterlife. I don’t think my mum’s up there having sex with Frank Sinatra.”

A new start

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GODLEY has changed. She’s certainly much more humble. “Everything used to be about me as a performer, a writer, an actor – it was all about me. But what’s happened made me go ‘you know what, everything isn’t f*****g about me’.”

Godley’s had time to consider the art of stand-up, too. Her thoughts are timely: Jerry Sadowitz, the Glasgow comedian who got himself into a “cancel culture” row at the Edinburgh Festival recently for apparently pushing things too far, once performed at the pub Godley ran before she made it in showbusiness. “I don’t want to comment on another comedian’s material, as I wouldn’t expect them to comment on mine. But my general view is: if you make a mistake, say sorry.”

She doesn’t believe there’s such a thing as “cancel culture” – it’s a false notion cooked up as part of our endless culture wars, she feels. Godley still had a supportive audience after her Twitter scandal exploded, after all, and so do other comics who have been targeted for comments on stage, like Ricky Gervais or Jimmy Carr.

“There are consequences for your words, however,” she adds. “If you’re going to be up there, then by all means say the most horrendous things you want. But accept there will be people who don’t like it. Don’t be an edgelord and hang off a cliff screaming s**t and then go ‘wait a minute, I wasn’t expecting a backlash’. That’s how you make your money – shouting s**t. You can expect people to shout s**t back. If you really hurt people and they feel they deserve an apology, then apologise. Comedy isn’t always about pushing boundaries. If you’re going to say contentious things, don’t be surprised if people pull you up. Say any s**t you want and accept the consequences, or don’t say s**t. There’s no nuanced conversation about any of this, and there won’t be especially as we’ve a UK Government using ‘woke’ culture wars as a political weapon and just adding to it all.”

When it comes to the people who attack her online now, she just blocks them so she doesn’t have to read their hate. “They’re free to say what they want, I just don’t have to listen.”

She remains a supporter of independence, but is unsure if it will happen in her lifetime, even though the Conservative Government has “done the best PR job ever for independence with its absolute s***e and shenanigans”. She’s not some “dyed-in-the-wool” ultra SNP supporter, however. “The SNP has a lot of problems,” Godley adds. “I don’t blindly believe, sheep-like. They’re far from perfect. No political party is perfect – just like no human being is perfect, as I well know.”