By Nathalie Bonney @nathaliebonney
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Videographer / director: Marcus Hessenberg, Ed Rius
Producer: Katie Mercer, Nathalie Bonney, Ruby Coote
Editor: Marcus Cooper
Once a month at the Resistance Gallery in Bethnal Green a rosta of approximately 12 female wrestlers step into the 16ft by 16ft wrestling ring to chokeslam, dropkick and maybe even moonsault one another; all in the name of entertainment – and feminism.
In a black vest, with a shock of neon pink hair, Emily Read gets the crowd going at an EVE pro wrestling evening: “Are we ready to have a good time? Are we ready for some wrestling?”
Emily, 32, co-founded EVE in 2009 with her then partner, now-husband, Dann, who she met on the promoting circuit. Wanting to give female wrestlers a platform to be the main event rather than the bikini-clad side attraction, Emily and Dann began EVE, “an all women’s Pro Wrestling Promotion” with a “grass roots punk vibe”.
Emily told Barcroft TV: “I’ve noticed women in wrestling, people were saying they weren’t as good as men but they weren’t being given the platform to perform like the men. They were being given maybe one match a show if they were lucky and I wanted to provide a platform for them to be able to really reach their full potential.”
Meeting in a disused railway arch in east London, ‘Secret Girl Gang Clubhouse’ is written in black paint on a pink floral bedding sheet and taped to the brick wall next to the entrance.
Emily said: “At the beginning we wanted people to stop sexualising the women and to just put on a brilliant show and it’s evolved by becoming more of a social movement.
“We’re now able to talk about women’s right and even things like mental health and really providing a safe space for people.”
Full of boos, cheers and jeers, while the wrestling shows may be fabricated – it’s anything but fake to its fans.
Emily added: “People have the misconception that wrestling fans believe it's real whereas every wrestling fan knows it is a performance.”
Kate Nash, who stars in hit Netflix women’s wrestling TV show GLOW says the female wrestling community has taught her about authenticity.
She said: “It’s one of the most real experiences and places I’ve ever been privileged to be a part of. Wrestling has taught me to be an advocate for myself and how to have strength and purpose for my body as a woman.
“I’m a massive EVE fan and I just really believe in what they do.”
Emily and Dann run the business from Sufolk where they live with their two children, but travel up to London at least once a week for the EVE training academy and regular shows.
At the beginning of May, they put on their biggest show to date at famous boxing venue York Hall in Bethnal Green, performing to a near-capacity crowd of 1,000 people.
Emily said: “We just put on Europe’s biggest ever all-women’s wrestling show and it was incredible. It was such a great audience and atmosphere.
“These women were superstars. They just were the show for once and they knew that they were the show not just a small part of an event.”
Since February of this year they now also run a weekly EVE training academy where wrestling enthusiasts work out, practice moves and hone their larger-than life wrestling personas.
Emily said: “Women learning together and supporting each other is beautiful to see - the way that everyone has bonded and come together.
“The women are able to use the training to just help work on their own self-confidence and their self-belief and the way that they are actually able to unlearn being quiet and small and unlearn that forced ‘lady like’ behaviour is so beautiful to behold, it really is.”
Running EVE has boosted Emily’s own confidence but it has also been pivotal in restoring her mental health.
She said: “Running EVE helps my mental health because it’s making me believe in myself again. It’s helping me feel like a stronger person.”
In 2012 the couple were forced to put EVE on hiatus after Emily suffered a breakdown, which led to her being sectioned for three months.
Emily explained: “When you have a breakdown it’s like holding wet sand and it suddenly dries and you are trying to hold it. Your whole mind, your whole being just goes and it runs through your fingers and you can't stop it and when you are recovering you are just trying to piece anything back together again.”
Dann recalled: “It was really hard for all of us because we lost our business. We were being threatened with eviction.
“My son at that time was two, my daughter was four.”
After being misdiagnosed with depression, Emily eventually got her correct diagnosis: bipolar disorder.
She explained: “Everyone feels happy and sad sometimes, with bipolar it goes further and when you get sad it will be a depression and a severe depression, you often can’t get out of bed, you don’t wash or shower for weeks.
“The other thing you get with bipolar is the mania; there’s this misconception that people think it’s fun and you are feeling in a great excitable mood, whereas you are actually more out of control. It is almost like you are drunk, you are not a responsible adult and your thoughts become faster and faster and it becomes almost painful to hold on to the threads of what you are thinking.”
Emily would typically have suicidal thoughts during periods of mania.
She said: “If I am in a period of mania cause it’s just so painful to try and hold on to anything, it’s like being in a whirlwind and a storm and if I become suicidal it’s then.”
Thanks to the medication Emily now takes she says her highs and lows are under control.
“It has saved my life. It’s so important that people aren’t afraid of medication, “ she said.
“Don’t ever tell someone with depression, maybe you can stop taking those pills, no because they are keeping you alive, the reason you are doing better is because you are taking the pills.”
For Emily, another big part of her recovery has been rebuilding EVE.
She said: “With EVE I was able to find purpose again. After my breakdown I wasn’t even sure if I’d be able to work and with a supportive husband I was able to slowly build my involvement more and more.
“Running EVE, I know that in my own way I’m fighting to make a difference and that I am helping to provide strong women as role models not just through myself but through the product I’m making.”
For more on the EVE academy and Pro wrestling shows go to http://www.evewrestling.com/