Sectioning of Lily Allen’s stalker echoed in psychiatrist’s debut novel
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Celebrity psychiatrist Dr Raj Persaud tells Bridget Galton why his debut novel highlights the entitlement and narcissm pervading modern romance
“Stalking”, says Dr Raj Persaud, “is a kind of psychological terrorism or rape”.
“Victims go through an incredible sense of violation and isolation, and paradoxically find great difficulty getting the stalker out of their head.”
The consultant psychiatrist, who has previously penned popular books on seduction and the mind, now tackles obsessional fixation in his debut novel Can’t Get You Out of My Head (Silverwood Publishing).
The Regent’s Park resident sprinkles facts and statistics around his fictional tale of a cabinet minister and a pop star who receive unwanted attention.
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“The book is full of true stories of terrible things that have happened to ordinary people,” says Persaud whose novel echoes last month’s court ruling to section Lily Allen’s stalker Alex Gray.
The singer has spoken of her terror and isolation at being pursued for seven years with abusive letters and texts, culminating in Gray breaking into her bedroom.
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“It’s hard to communicate what it feels like to have a person camping outside your front door - these cases go on for a long time, the average is 18 months but one went on for 40 years,” says Persaud, who also cites cases such as Frank Mendoza the Florida man jailed in 2014 after tracking down his ex and planting acid bombs in her car.
The novel’s hero William James is a psychologist drafted into a specialist police unit to assess the threats to these famous women.
The 53-year-old researched the real life Fixated Threat Assesment Centre which focuses on people with “delusional obsession”.
“Every time the Prime Minister or the Queen get crank mail this unit analyses those that are a real threat.
“Every single attack or assassination attempt connected with a lone wolf has been presaged by threats. It’s important work.”
In his own consulting rooms Persaud has seen “a lot of well known people including pop stars who have been stalked”.
“It’s part of the price of fame that you get unwanted attention that is fixated and obsessional.”
But what is the difference between being an avid fan and a stalker?
“The turning point is the notion of causing distress. Stalkers aren’t that bothered about it because they objectify their victim.
“It’s narcissism, you are in it for you rather than the other person.”
Ever keen to communicate ideas about psychology in accessible ways he hopes the novel says “something about love in the modern era”.
“We have all been in a relationship where either we get too possessive or they do.
“We get dysfunctional love when we view the other person as an object to be owned.
“We develop a sense of entitlement that is pervading modern romance.”
Dating apps, he says, jettison the necessity for seduction and turn relationships into something we consume.
“We used to have to seduce people through conversation. Now we pick relationships off the shelf and have a sense of entitlement about what we want from it.”
If our parent’s generation saw love as about obligation and duty, something you give rather than take, now “we feel betrayed if someone is not giving us what we feel we are owed.”
He adds: “Stalking is a metaphor for dysfunctional love, we are in grave danger that people don’t know how to be functional in relationships.
“It’s a skill that should be taught at school - you are more likely to need it than algebra when you grow up.”
He observes: “We have never been freer to choose who we love. We’re not constrained by class, cast, race, religion or geography and yet despite that, the divorce rate has never been higher.
“Perhaps there was wisdom in the idea of constraining choice to people of similar social backgrounds?”
While Persaud’s main work is his clinical practice, he has long championed mental health issues whether on Tv show This Morning, or through his journalism.
“Lack of public education about the nature of psychological problems means some suffer in silence for decades.
“There’s so much unmet need. Communication is extremely important so that people who are treatable know the problem can be solved.”
Writing a novel, is simply an extension of Persaud getting across ideas about mental health - although perhaps naively he thought it would be easy.
“It proved much more difficult. There are so many rules about how to tell a story,” he says.
“I am not claiming to be a great novelist, I hope I am competent, but psychiatrists have to engage with story telling if they are going to communicate their subject to the public.”
He adds: “I always thought psychology and psychiatry were about the human condition but most people trying to understand themselves don’t read psychology books, they read novels.
“A great novel gives you insight into people and endures for centuries.
“We have such an appetite for stories. Stories are very powerful, they move people and resonate at a deep psychological level. Nothing produces personal change better than a good story.”
All profits from the book go to the Suzy Lamplugh Trust.