Tom’s Mad Fat success story heads to the States

Tom Bidwell at home in Leyland with girlfriend Lorraine Metz
Tom Bidwell at home in Leyland with girlfriend Lorraine Metz
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“I’m going to have to get used to writing ‘coffee’ instead of ‘brew’ – but it’s a very exciting opportunity.”

Film and TV script writer Tom Bidwell is jetting off to America this summer, to work on the US version of a hit drama he has penned for the past couple of years.

Channel 4’s My Mad Fat Diary is an adaptation of a real diary from an obese 16-year-old girl who lives in Australia, and Tom says writing the script helped him overcome some traumatic experiences from his own teenage years.

The news that MTV has commissioned a pilot for an American version of the show is even more exciting, as it coincides with an announcement that the UK series has been nominated for a BAFTA (British Academy Film and Television Award).

Tom, who lives in Towngate, Leyland, with his girlfriend Lorraine Metz and Labrador Clyde, says: “The success of series one meant that Channel 4 wanted a second series, and that’s just finished on TV now.

“It was quite stressful writing that series because there wasn’t much time, but it was worth it in the end.

“The first episode of the second season was the most Tweeted-about programme on Twitter – it had 76,000 Tweets about it.

“It’s got a really big following and people have been uploading photographs online of artwork they have done with quotes from the show, which is really touching.

“We’ve received a lot of letters from teenagers too, saying that the programme has helped with their self-esteem issues; that’s the most rewarding part of it.

“The BAFTA nomination is nice, but the best bit is hearing from these viewers who have really taken something from the show. It’s very touching.

“Sometimes you forget what you’re doing this for, and seeing those letters and the artwork is very humbling and moving.”

Tom, 30, is no stranger to feeling like an outcast, as he went through something most teens would never imagine facing when he was a pupil at Balshaw’s High School.

At the age of 14, he was diagnosed with a cancer called Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, after doctors found a tumour in his shoulder.

He underwent eight months of chemotherapy and lost his hair in the process – so he now feel as though he can relate on some level to the isolation the character in My Mad Fat Diary experiences.

Tom has been in contact with the girl who wrote the diary, Rae Earl.

“We got the character and the humour from Rae,” Tom explains. “But it was my job to come up with the stories, and I relied on some of my own memories to do that.

“I don’t really think it’s possible to write and not put part of yourself into it.”

And the work turned out to be more rewarding than Tom expected, as it helped him overcome some unresolved issues from when he was fighting cancer.

“I was quite ill for about six months, a couple years ago,” he says. “I hadn’t dealt with my own ordeal properly, and I had a bit of a breakdown.

“Doctors thought I had ME because the symptoms for ME are very similar to anxiety, but really I was struggling to deal with the issues I’d gone through as a teenager.

“I used to be embarrassed about writing about my cancer, I don’t know why. I was ashamed I suppose.

“But I talked to a therapist and talked about my past, and then writing My Mad Fat Diary really helped.

“I think to write a good drama, there needs to be some truth in there.

“It was painful but it was very cathartic.

“I feel like I can move on from it all now.

“I don’t want to disassociate myself from what I went through – it’s part of who I am and I’m proud to be a cancer survivor.

“But I’m in a much better place now. I’ve never felt better.”

Tom, who achieved five GCSEs at Balshaw’s as well as A-levels in theatre studies, English and media studies at Runshaw College, now feels he can enjoy the upcoming BAFTAs ceremony in London on May 18 - something he is “massively pleased” about.

He was nominated for an Oscar in 2011 for a short film he wrote about a teenage cancer patient - again drawing on his own experiences – but admits now that he wasn’t in the best frame of mind to enjoy the experience properly.

“It was a lot of pressure,” he says. “It was when I wasn’t well, but I’m really looking forward to the BAFTAs next month – that will be a real treat.

“I’ve learnt so much about myself and I feel much more relaxed and less worried about things now. I just take life as it comes.”

He adds: “I’m hoping to be able to take Lorraine with me to the awards ceremony this time. She has been so supportive and it would be a nice reward for her as well.

“I’m not sure if we’ll win – we’re up against some really great shows like Broadchurch, the Village and Top of the Lake, but being named as one of four of the best drama series of the year is a real privilege.”

Next on the agenda is a trip to America – probably LA – in the summer to film the pilot of the US version of My Mad Fat Diary.

Tom says: “They do it differently over there. They’ll just make the pilot and see if they like it enough to make a whole series.

“They’re also doing 30-minute episodes rather than an hour, so there are a lot of differences.

“I’m working on the story now and will be working on the script over the next couple of months.

“I’m going to be the lead writer and show-runner.

“They’ll have a full writing team out there, but I’ll be in charge of managing that, so I’m really excited about it.”

He adds: “It’s often more difficult to write shorter scripts I think, because you’ve got to fit in a lot.

“I expect the American version to shift more towards the comedy than the drama, so it’s our job to make sure it doesn’t head too much towards the comedy.

“It’s a serious subject matter and we know what response it’s had from teenagers here.”

One thing Tom will need to be on top of is making sure his Northern-isms don’t slip into the US script – but he says girlfriend Lorraine, who is American, will keep him in check.

“I suppose I’ll have to get to get used to saying ‘coffee’ instead of ‘brew’, but it shouldn’t be too hard,” he laughs. “I’ll be working with people out there too who will be able to help with the cultural differences.

“A guy called Jeff Greenstein is involved, who has worked on a number of really successful American TV shows such as Friends, Will and Grace, and Desperate Housewives, so that will be a great honour.”

And being in good company will also be a boost for Tom, who admits that working from home can sometimes get a bit lonely.

“I enjoy working from home because I get to be with my dog – and my girlfriend!

“That part of it is really fun and it’s great to get paid to do something I love.

“It can be a very isolating job. It just takes practice, it’s like any profession.

“You learn to be disciplined and the more you do, the better you get at it.

“And you realise that you’ll always be learning and always improving, which I think is a really exciting thing.”