In my quest to find more about that ballsy British woman who constantly wants to “talk about your bum” on television for Cottonelle, I found myself on the receiving end of the following very awkward question: “How do you wipe your bum, Sara?”
I shifted in my seat, thankful that the camera was not turned on for our Skype chat across the pond. Then, I politely tried to change the subject. Only that was the subject.
All over America, people are talking to Cherry Healey, a 33-year-old from West London, about their bottoms. From bowling alleys (“I need a clean alley every time”) to car shows (“Are your bumpers as clean as your bums?”), she’s making her mark on the US of A by helping others clean up theirs.
So who is this bold, brassy blonde with the potty mouth, and how’d she get Americans to be so forthright about their bums? (Side note: When did we start calling them bums, anyway?)
The Suffolk-born Healey has been making documentary films on “uncomfortable subjects” in Britain for several years. “Being really nosey is my favorite thing,” she says. “And I’ve got the hots for working in telly.”
As the youngest of four siblings—all the rest boys—Healey grew up accustomed to climbing trees, eating fast, and getting dirty. The family moved to West London when she was 10, and she went to Central School of Speech and Drama in 2000 to study Drama and Education. “Kind of drama for social change-type thing,” she explains. Since then, the married “mum” of two—Edward (aka Bear) is 7 months, and Coco is 4 —has tackled various subjects for the BBC ranging from money and marriage to virginity and piercings.
The Cottonelle adverts, however, seem to have given Healey, who has over 100,000 Twitter followers, the most recognition thus far across the pond.
While she hesitates to take sole credit for the squeamish commercials—“It was a meeting of the minds,” Healey claims—no doubt it’s her endearing personality that’s made the adverts such a success. And let’s face it: Americans are such suckers for an accent. Only we’re used to the buttoned-up Mr. Bates or Sherlock Holmes variety who seem more at ease talking about buttons than they do bums.
What it really comes down to, says Amanda O’Connor, senior brand manager for Cottonelle, is that Healy is shamelessly unafraid.
“Cherry’s charming and outgoing personality makes an otherwise potentially awkward conversation fun and educational,” says O’Connor.
“It was like they’ve been waiting all their lives to tell me how they’ve been wiping their bums.”
Take, for example, the curious fact that we wipe a baby’s bottom with a wet wipe, but not our own. Speaking up about this backwards philosophy is actually how she got the gig. “When I had my [first] child,” says Healey, “I found it really weird that I would never clean her bum with a dry paper. Yet I’m bigger, with bigger poos, and I do! With dry, you gotta go back and back again. I’m too busy for dry wipes!”
She connected with Cottonelle and the next thing she knew she was handing over flushable moist toilettes to java lovers in coffee houses, travelers in airports, singles at speed dating events and various other folks at random locales chosen for their ability to be “puntastic.”
“We didn’t set anybody up,” assures Healey, who now refers to herself as “the face of bums.” “They couldn’t wait to talk to me. It was like they’ve been waiting all their lives to tell me how they’ve been wiping their bums.”
The question is, would her otherwise prim British contingent—Downton Abbey’s Bates, Sherlock Holmes, Kate Middleton and the like—be as responsive?
“I imagine they would play ball as long as it wasn’t too confrontational,” says Healey. “There is definitely a strong sense of personal space and proper conduct [in England], but so long as they didn’t feel pressured to take part in the chat I think they would think it extremely funny!”
For the moment, Cottonelle is keeping the campaign stateside and is “dedicated to continuing the conversation,” says O’Connor. It’s no wonder: Cottonelle had record net sales and operating profit in 2013 thanks, in part, to Healey’s adverts. While Healey’s current claim to fame here in America may remain a bit below some people’s standards, the woman makes a damn good case for a clean, if not cheeky, campaign.