Jessamy Calkin

The Telegraph

The Telegraph Magazine cover ‘A Boy Named Sophie’ is without doubt one of the most remarkable stories to be published in this, or any, year - a subject of extraordinary complexity and sensitivity, which required a mixture of great skill, insight and compassion to tell. There is no finer journalist than Jessamy Calkin to have told it.

Sophie Ottaway was born male, but with a rare medical disorder, and her parents were advised that the best thing to do would be to give her gender altering surgery. When she was two days old, Sophie’s gender changed from male to female. It was a secret that doctors and Sophie’s parents kept from her, and which, incredibly, she only discovered when she was 22.

Jessamy is the first journalist Sophie has ever spoken to about the shock of discovering that she was born a boy, how that discovery affected her life and the years of psychological turmoil and physical pain that followed, culminating in her confrontation with the doctor who had made the fateful decision to transform her from a boy into a girl. Calkin interviewed her and her parents, and the story unfolds with a brilliant combination of meticulous forensic detail, sympathy and authority.

This story of unique human interest galvanised Telegraph readers, prompting a far-reaching debate about the medical and social issues involved, with almost all offering their support and praise to Sophie for facing her difficulties with such courage and clear-eyed honesty. It generated the fifth-most subscriptions of any article in the past 12 months, remarkably positive engagement across the board and attention around the world.

Meanwhile, Calkin’s profile of the actor Ncuti Gatwa, who is rising rapidly through his roles in Sex Education, Barbie and as the new Dr Who, demonstrates her extraordinary versatility as a writer, and her effortless ability to change pace and tone according to her subject.

Interviews with young actors can be among the least promising assignments, but this playful, surprising and highly entertaining piece perfectly captures a subject ‘fizzing with irreverent good humour’. Gatwa was born in Rwanda and raised in Scotland and talks fascinatingly about how his singular background influences his approach to acting. ‘People love Shiv’, Calkin begins her interview with Sarah Snook. ‘“You lucky bitch,” said my friend, when I mentioned I was going to New York to interview Sarah Snook, who plays her in the HBO series Succession. What’s so lovable about a character whom even one of her creators has called a “flawed, monstrous nightmare?"’

It’s a question Calkin set out to answer in this superbly crafted piece which examines the gestation and reasons for success of one of television’s most lauded series, and the woman who made Shiv into one of the most compelling characters on television.

Calkin makes her interviews flow like good conversations, and this is a funny and revealing portrait of an actor who loves to play bad, married her best friend and has wombats and kangaroos in her backyard.