In 2019 Greta Thunberg twice set sail across the Atlantic Ocean to attend UN summits in carbon-neutral style. These journeys capped off a remarkable 12 months in which the Swedish teenager established herself as perhaps the most famous environmental activist ever. But what is Thunberg really like away from the glare of the media spotlight? Well, one of her sailing partners has since revealed all – and her words are certainly enlightening.
Thunberg made her first epic transatlantic journey in August 2019 when she traveled by racing yacht from the English port of Plymouth to the Big Apple. Yes, the teen decided on this method of transport in a bid to reduce her carbon footprint as she headed for the UN Summit in New York. And it proved to be such a success that she repeated the feat several months later.
On her second voyage, however, Thunberg sailed from the United States to Madrid’s UN summit on climate change. But she seemingly needed some last-minute help to do so. Indeed, the summit was originally due to take place in Chile, but the location changed two weeks before the date. If she was going to make it, then, the teen had to quickly change her plans.
Luckily, Thunberg and her shipmates received some assistance from a pair of sailing vloggers and the youngest ever skipper to finish a round-the-world boat race. The latter, Nikki Henderson, later gave an interview about her experiences with the Swedish youngster. And here’s a look at what she had to say about the remarkable teen.
Born in the Swedish capital of Stockholm in 2003, Greta Thunberg might have been expected to pursue a career in showbiz. Her father, Svante, is an actor, while her mother, Malena, is an opera singer who once competed in the Eurovision Song Contest. In addition, her grandfather, Olof, is an actor and TV director.
However, Thunberg actually ended up following in the footsteps of a family member who had a different area of expertise. The teen, you see, is related to Nobel Prize-winning chemist Svante Arrhenius – the man who first predicted how the earth’s climate would be damaged by the greenhouse effect. And Thunberg first began taking an interest in the environment herself when she was just eight years old.
In fact, Thunberg became so concerned about the fate of the world that she started suffering from depression and lost a worrying amount of weight. She was subsequently diagnosed with selective mutism, OCD and the form of autism known as Asperger syndrome. And yet this didn’t deter the young girl from preaching her important messages.
Over the space of two years, then, Thunberg challenged her family to reduce their negative effect on the environment. She attempted to extol the virtues of upcycling, avoided traveling by plane and even adopted a vegan diet. When her initial tactics didn’t influence their actions, she argued that their lack of concern was robbing her of a future.
So Thunberg’s parents eventually relented. In December 2019, her father Svante told the BBC, “To be honest, [her mother] didn’t do it to save the climate. She did it to save her child because she saw how much it meant to her, and then, when she did that, she saw how much [Thunberg] grew from that, how much energy she got from it.”
And once Thunberg saw that she could persuade her parents to embrace the environmentalist lifestyle, she set her sights on a much bigger audience. By the end of 2018 she had started to gain attention across the world for her speeches about climate change and for leading the school strike for the climate. This was a protest held by students in an attempt to highlight the changes needed to save the world from global warming.
As you can imagine, Thunberg’s father wasn’t particularly happy with his daughter skipping school. But he told The Guardian, “[We] respect that she wants to make a stand. She can either sit at home and be really unhappy, or protest and be happy.” Staff at Thunberg’s school seemingly had mixed opinions, too. “As people, they think what I am doing is good, but as teachers they say I should stop,” the teen told the newspaper.
Thunberg was inspired to organize a climate change strike by the various teens who missed school following the U.S. school shootings of February 2018. She was further encouraged by Bo Thoren from the climate change activist group Fossil Free Dalsland. Thoren contacted the teen after reading her award-winning essay about the issue in Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.
In the attention-grabbing piece, Thunberg wrote, “I want to feel safe. How can I feel safe when I know we are in the greatest crisis in human history?” By staging a protest in the wake of its publication, the teen hoped to persuade the government in Sweden to reduce its amount of carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.
Thunberg may have initially struggled to drum up support for her cause. But when the protest outside of her school started gaining traction on social media, she soon found herself to be the leader of a global movement. By December 2018, then, 20,000 students across the world had held strikes in a bid to highlight the dangers of global warming.
Thunberg, too, had started to spread her message via speeches at various demonstrations. She also continued to build up a loyal following on social media and staged a protest every Friday outside her homeland’s parliament. Unfortunately, Thunberg’s efforts didn’t have the desired effect. In December 2019 she revealed that the rate of greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere had actually risen by 4 percent in the space of four years. But that didn’t stop the teen.
Yes, in the summer of 2019 Thunberg announced that she would be appearing at New York’s United Nations Climate Action Summit. However, practicing what she preached, the teen revealed she wouldn’t be flying across to the other side of the Atlantic to attend. She would instead be making a 15-day trip by boat.
Thunberg traveled in a 60-foot long racing yacht, complete with underwater turbines and solar panels. While in North America, the Swede also joined several protests about climate change where she once again showcased her skills as a keynote speaker. Thunberg later accompanied several other youngsters at a UNICEF press conference to officially call out the five countries who were failing to meet their Paris Agreement targets in reducing emissions.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is just one of many high-profile figures who lent his support to Thunberg’s activism. The pair rubbed shoulders when they both attended the Global Climate Strike staged in Montreal. What’s more, Billboard chart-toppers The 1975 even asked Thunberg to provide a voiceover for their self-titled song.
António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, has also backed Thunberg’s efforts – and her school strikes in particular. He said, “My generation has failed to respond properly to the dramatic challenge of climate change. This is deeply felt by young people. No wonder they are angry.” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a fan, too, having talked with the teen about both the environment and the prejudice that young women face in a video link.
And Thunberg doesn’t hold back when mixing with the elite. Indeed, she’s renowned for speaking her mind directly whether she’s talking to a man on the street or to world leaders. As a result, Thunberg has seemingly made her fair share of enemies, with the 45th President of the United States undoubtedly becoming her biggest.
Donald Trump first mocked Thunberg in September 2019 when he posted a video of her famous “we are in the beginning of a mass extinction” speech on Twitter. He captioned it, “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!” Instead of getting angry about his response, though, Thunberg amusingly changed her bio on Twitter to Trump’s patronizing description.
Thunberg repeated this tactic when Trump mocked her selection as Time magazine’s Person of the Year. The 45th tweeted, “So ridiculous. Greta must work on her anger management problem, then go to a good old fashioned movie with a friend! Chill Greta, Chill!” Thunberg also happily referred to herself as a brat on the same social media platform, as it was the term that Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro used against her.
Vladimir Putin has also called Thunberg’s approach into question. Describing her as “poorly informed,” the Russian president went on to say, “No one has explained to Greta that the modern world is complex and different and people in Africa or in many Asian countries want to live at the same wealth level as in Sweden.” Emmanuel Macron and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison are just a few of the other leaders who have taken umbrage with Thunberg’s uncompromising stance.
However, undeterred by making so many high profile enemies, Thunberg has continued to spread the word. In November 2019 she once again announced plans to set sail to a United Nations summit – this time from Hampton, Virginia to Chile. Her plans soon went awry, though, when the UN moved the Climate Change Conference to Spain.
Thunberg subsequently took to social media to ask for some assistance on getting to Madrid. Luckily, Elayna Caraus and husband Riley Whitelum, two vloggers who had been traveling across the globe on a yacht named La Vagabonde, came to her rescue. And they weren’t the only ones to answer Thunberg’s call for help, either.
Additionally, Nikki Henderson was asked to come on board as part of the crew just 24 hours after the Aussie sailors agreed to join Thunberg in her cause. And with good reason, too. Just a year earlier, you see, the British yachtswoman became the youngest ever skipper to finish a race around the world.
Within five days of answering the call, Henderson was heading out to sea with Thunberg and her father, the husband-and-wife team of Whitelum and Caraus, and their young tot, Lennon. Eight days into the epic voyage, the Brit spoke to the Evening Standard about her experience so far. And it was proving to be a particularly affecting one.
“There was a lot of emotion and anticipation around the departure,” Henderson revealed to the British newspaper while sitting next to 11-month-old Lennon. She added, “The sound of a baby is a first for me at sea. I wonder if he’ll remember anything.” Henderson then revealed that she and the rest of her crewmates had been forced to deal with some treacherous conditions.
Indeed, snow, torrential rain and gusts of wind measuring up to 46 mph were just a few of the problems that those aboard the La Vagabonde had been forced to face. Luckily, the weather eventually calmed down, and Henderson was able to teach Thunberg and her father, Svante, some of the ropes. The yachtswoman also used her downtime to show the rest of the crew how to play Yahtzee.
Henderson revealed that she and the crew had also used the opportunity to get to know one another on a deeper level. “The power of love versus fear in encouraging people to act” was just one of the rather heavy topics of discussion aboard La Vagabonde. And as you’d expect, Henderson also chewed the fat with Thunberg and co. about the future of the planet.
Henderson, who first started sailing when she was just 11 years old, told the Evening Standard how much she admires Thunberg. “I am one to champion how powerful and strong young people are, but she has a huge responsibility on her shoulders. She is clearly driven by it and empowered by it, but still, it must be heavy.”
Of course, Henderson herself came under scrutiny from the press for her method of transport to join the sailing mission in America. Given such short notice, the yachtswoman had no other option than to take a flight across the Atlantic. Henderson admitted to the BBC in December 2019, “In an ideal world, yes, I would have sailed there and sailed back.”
Henderson, however, doesn’t believe that she or Thunberg can be accused of being hypocrites. She continued, “This is a more symbolic trip. Greta wanted to sail because it’s a good way to send a message to the world that there is no real sustainable option to travel. She’s not telling anyone how to travel; she’s not telling anyone how to live their life.”
Indeed, Henderson had nothing but kind words to say about Thunberg and she was particularly impressed by her fearlessness. She told the BBC, “I think it takes a certain type of person to cross the Atlantic in the winter – she’s obviously very brave. I take my hat off to her and her father for joining us. That was a pretty courageous thing to do.”
“They didn’t do it for themselves, they did it to send a message,” Henderson continued. “It felt very selfless.” The Brit went on to describe Thunberg as “friendly, quiet and kind” and also revealed that the teen is exactly the same behind closed doors as she is in front of the media spotlight.
Henderson added, “Her passion comes across if you know her as a person as well as if you see her on stage or you see a setting aside parliament on the floor.” And the yachtswoman didn’t stop the compliments there, either. “She’s so captivating because she genuinely, authentically is true to her message in every way,” Henderson explained.
When asked by the Evening Standard whether she would keep in contact with Thunberg after reaching their destination, Henderson replied, “I very much hope to. And of course, if I can, I’ll definitely put my hat in the ring if Greta needs another floating ride. She is changing the world. To be part of that is an honor.”
Henderson reiterated this during her interview with the BBC. She said, “A trip like that across an ocean builds bonds that are very, very hard to recreate in any other areas of life. I’m coming off with four very good friends, which I’m sure we’ll keep in contact with forever.”
Thunberg, Henderson and co. managed to dock in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon in December after 19 days at sea. After traveling to Madrid, the Swede spoke at the UN Climate Change Conference where she argued that more “concrete action” needed to be taken. And Henderson believes that their transatlantic journey undoubtedly helped to raise awareness of the issue of climate change.
Henderson told the BBC, “I think we did show that sailing across the Atlantic isn’t very practical and that we do need more sustainable options available to the everyday person. And I think there’s definitely a message there about what you can achieve if you work together, compromise on certain areas of your life and you work with nature. You can achieve something really remarkable if you’re prepared to do that.”
Yet while Greta Thunberg is reportedly quite similar in real life to the person we see in the media, it’s sometimes very difficult to know what other celebrities are truly like behind closed doors. Take Lady Gaga, for instance, who’s renowned for her ability to put on a show. Well, a fellow NYU student came clean about what the singer was like before fame – and their words are incredibly eye-opening.
Lady Gaga is successful, beautiful and talented: on the surface, she appears to have it all. But things may not have always been that way. In fact, life before fame was allegedly very different for the singer – according to an inside source, that is. You see, one of the star’s fellow NYU alumni has seemingly confirmed a shocking rumor about the her college days. And the revelation will make you see Gaga in a whole new light.
But the full extent of what Gaga went through at college only became clear after she pocketed an Oscar for her A Star Is Born track “Shallow.” Remarkably, picking up said award in February 2019 made her a record-holder: she is the first ever person to win an Oscar, a BAFTA, a Grammy and a Golden Globe over a one-year period.
Needless to say, such a momentous achievement resulted in a fresh rush of interest in the singer. And while her success was being discussed online, Twitter users seemingly unearthed new information about the star’s college days. And the revelations came as a shock to many of the singer’s fans. After all, it’s shocking to think of Gaga – of all people – going through such a heartbreaking experience.
Right now, Gaga is one of the biggest names in showbiz. The singer had her breakout success in 2008 with the album The Fame and its hits “Poker Face” and “Just Dance.” And since then she’s remained pretty much consistently at the top. In fact, Gaga’s second and third albums, Born This Way and Artpop, respectively, were even bigger hits than her first.
By 2016 Gaga had already shifted 27 million albums and received multiple awards. In fact, she’d won the sort of acclaim most musicians can only dream of. In 2011 she was ranked second on a Time magazine poll of the decade’s most influential people, for example. And a year later she was named the fourth Greatest Woman in Music by VH1.
Moreover, as soon as Gaga decided to break into acting it turned out she was good at that, too. From 2015 to 2016 she played Elizabeth in the fifth season of TV series American Horror Story – and people liked what they saw. She picked up a “Best Actress in a Miniseries or Television Film” Golden Globe for her performance.
In addition to being a hugely successful singer and actress, Gaga is also an activist. The amount of time and money she devotes to good causes has won her praise. Over the years she’s worked for victims of natural disasters, homeless youth charities, anti-fracking environmental organizations, and LGBT advocacy.
Gaga is a member of the LGBT community herself, in fact, as she’s bisexual. She’s said in interviews that her song “Poker Face” is about her having an attraction to women. And she’s unsurprisingly devoted to fighting for LGBT rights worldwide. For instance, the singer’s famous “meat dress” was a statement about such issues. In 2010 she told Ellen Degeneres it meant “if we don’t fight for our rights, pretty soon we’re going to have as much rights as the meat on our own bones.”
And in 2011 Gaga gave a stirring speech at the Europride event in Rome. She told her audience, “The stories of all my beautiful fans, the young soldiers, the homeless LGBT youth, anti-gay violence, the effect that the denial of gay marriage has on real families worldwide — these are the stories that must be told to the world.”
“We stand together to demand and to defend basic human rights,” Gaga continued. “We have come so far from the days of Stonewall. But despite the political advances made in terms of our rights and visibility as LGBT people, sadly the truth and the fact is that homophobia and anti-gay violence and bullying are alive and real.”
Gaga is extremely outspoken about bullying in general, too. “People want you to fail. People want to tear me down, they were going to knife me anyway,” she told Time Out magazine in 2011. “The good news is that when they look back they’ll all remember how brave I was: ‘She put out a record about being yourself, and we crucified her for it, but she soared on and sat at number one for six weeks and told everyone to f*** off!’”
“Being bullied stays with you your whole life,” Gaga explained. “And no matter how many people are screaming your name or how many number one hits you have, you can still wake up and feel like a loser.” Asked about her music, she said, “Unless I am both capable of and willing to reopen the wound every time I write a song… I’m really not worth being called an artist at all.”
When Time Out asked, “Who was your worst bully at school?” Gaga avoided the question to some extent. “There were a lot of bullies,” she replied. “You have to open the wound and pour salt and arsenic and poison in that wound and you must get out a needle and poke and prod then sew it back up again.”
Memories of the bullying had become part of her song-writing process, Gaga implied. “When I’m handed a beat that sounds amazing, that beat is the scissors, and then I cut the wound I’ve just sewn up, and I go back in,” she said. “I go back in and I ask myself the same questions again and again and again: why am I here?”
The magazine then asked Gaga what the answer to that question was, and she said, “Because I must be here. Because I know it is my purpose to be an artist, but I have to go back over and over that wound, being bullied, feeling insecure, all things that recurred in my childhood and continue to recur through my career. You can’t look me in the eye and tell me I’m one of them: I know I’m not. And I never will be.”
The Time Out interviewer asked Gaga, “One of ‘them?’ Who are ‘they?’” Gaga answered, “The in-crowd. Right? I don’t really want to be one of them, yet [the bullying] affected me so deeply that I have to go in over and over and over again to write music.” She considered herself part of a different group, then.
“If you were not bullied in high school, I can imagine that it might be a bit difficult to be around us, because we kind of flock together,” the pop star explained. “But there’s no discrimination. I mean, if you were a cool kid at school, that doesn’t mean you’re not welcome. I’m not trying to further divisiveness.”
“Those people who feel bullied or like nerds, I’m trying to make them feel like winners, but I’m not trying to make them hate all of the cool kids more,” Gaga concluded. “It’s all about closing the gap and bringing people closer together. And that’s what the pop end of my music is all about.”
In 2012 Gaga took things one step further and created the non-profit Born This Way Foundation (BTWF), the name taken from her hit 2011 song. The aim of the BTWF is to promote kindness, community-building and tolerance among young people. Gaga’s mother, Cynthia Germanotta, co-founded it with her.
The BTWF’s website explains the organization’s ongoing mission. “The Foundation is dedicated to creating a safe community that helps connect young people with the skills and opportunities they need to build a kinder, braver world,” it says. “We believe that everyone has the right to feel safe, to be empowered and to make a difference in the world. Together, we will move towards acceptance, bravery and love.”
And when Gaga spoke about the foundation at Harvard University in February 2012, more stories came out about her childhood. Once, Cynthia said, the other kids at her daughter’s school threw a party and deliberately excluded young Stefani. Gaga also told The New York Times that she once got chucked into a trash can during her schooldays.
“I was called really horrible, profane names very loudly in front of huge crowds of people, and my schoolwork suffered at one point,” Gaga explained. “I didn’t want to go to class. And I was a straight-A student, so there was a certain point in my high school years where I just couldn’t even focus on class because I was so embarrassed all the time. I was so ashamed of who I was.”
Gaga admitted that she was still haunted by those childhood experiences. “To this day, some of my closest friends say, ‘Gaga, you know, everything’s great. You’re a singer; your dreams have come true,’” she stated. “But, still, when certain things are said to you over and over again as you’re growing up, it stays with you and you wonder if they’re true.”
Gaga even ended up drawing on those experiences to play the main character Ally in A Star Is Born. “What I had to do was go back further into my childhood, into my high school years, when I was bullied and made fun of for having big dreams,” she explained to People magazine in September 2018. “That’s where I went.”
Those big dreams eventually came true, of course. Nonetheless, even when Gaga won her Oscar, she gave a speech that referenced what she’d been through. “It’s not about how many times you get rejected or you fall down or you’re beaten up,” she said onstage at the ceremony. “It’s about how many times you stand up and are brave and you keep on going.”
And after Gaga’s triumphant night, some details of her experiences were spread around by shocked fans. It transpired that while she was at NYU, her fellow students had created a Facebook page that was malicious… and hilariously wrong. It was called “Stefani Germanotta, you will never be famous.”
Twitter users had plenty to say about the page and its 12 – yes, 12 – members. One person wrote, “The best revenge is living well. Always has been and always will be. Bravo Lady Gaga!” And another pointed out, succinctly, “That’s the difference between those who put their effort to destroy and those to put their effort to build.”
Although the story of the Facebook page came to the attention of the wider public in 2019 after Gaga’s Oscar win, it had actually already been written about in some depth back in 2016. Lauren Bohn, a journalist who’d gone to the same college as Gaga, penned a piece called “When they dissed the future Lady Gaga” for PRI’s The World.
“The page housed pictures of a pretty Norah Jones-esque young 18-year-old NYU student who sang and played piano at local bars,” Bohn explained of the Facebook group. “The group was peppered with comments, sharp as porcupine needles, vilifying the aspiring musician for being an ‘attention-whore.’ Scores asked: ‘Who does she think she is?’”
One man went so far as to get a flyer for one of Gaga’s early shows, stamp it into the ground, and then put a picture of it on the group, according to Bohn. “I couldn’t shake the raw feeling of filth while scrolling down that Facebook page, but I pretty much – and quickly – forgot about that group and that girl with the intense raven eyes,” she wrote.
Bohn came to realise, a few years later, that the bullied girl on Facebook and the superstar Lady Gaga were one and the same. The journalist was on a train when she picked up a copy of New York magazine and happened to stumble upon a profile of Gaga that gave out the singer’s real name. She was shocked.
“I was overcome with a dizzying emotional cocktail of stage-mom-at-a-beauty-pageant and nerd-revenge triumph,” Bohn wrote. “But also shame. Shame that I never wrote on that group, shame that I never defended the girl with the intense raven eyes – the girl whose brave flyers were stomped on, probably somewhere near my dorm.”
Bohn ended her article by thanking Gaga for being so strong. “I’ve got a lot of feelings, but the easiest one to articulate: gratitude,” she wrote. “Stefani, thank you. Thank you for always thinking you’re a superstar, for using your cracks to let the light come out more brightly. Humans, let’s follow suit.”
A world-famous megastar such as Gaga taking a stand against bullying is important, because the statistics around the subject are bleak. According to the website DoSomething.org, a fifth of students in the USA aged 12 to 18 will have been bullied at some time in their lives. This leads to decreased grades at school and poor attendance.
And even more worrying is that childhood bullying is linked with an increased risk of suicide. In 2019 a study about this was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. The researchers had observed children in close to 50 countries and concluded that the more a youngster was bullied, the greater the likelihood that they would have suicidal thoughts.
The study served as a warning of sorts. Within it, the researchers wrote, “Prevention of bullying should be considered in suicide prevention strategies. Mental health practitioners should be cognizant of the fact that bullying victimization can be the cause of suicide attempts, and it is important to assess suicidality in adolescents who are bullied.”
Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation wants to change all that. It’s not strictly an anti-bullying charity, but the idea is, fundamentally, to get people to be nicer to each other. When it was launched, Gaga made clear that although her experiences with bullies shaped her adulthood, she wasn’t bitter about her past.
“The Born This Way Foundation is not restitution or revenge for my experiences. I want to make that clear,” Gaga told The New York Times. “This is: I am now a woman, I have a voice in the universe, and I want to do everything I can to become an expert in social justice and hope I can make a difference and mobilize young people to change the world.”
And it seems to be working. So far, the foundation has launched campaigns to reduce cyberbullying and to help people through stressful situations. In October 2017 – after the triple disaster of Hurricanes Maria, Harvey and Irma – the BTWF teamed with One America Appeal to start a mental health program for people affected.
Gaga is passionate about her work, and it’s easy to see why. In 2012 The New York Times journalist Nicholas D. Kristof asked her “if people won’t be cynical about an agenda so simple and straightforward as kindling kindness.” Gaga replied, “That cynicism is exactly what we’re trying to change.”