Billie Jordan’s story

Many readers will recall , the civil servant who was a whistleblower against Labour Ministers undermining the neutrality of the public service.

Many will also be aware of , who led the Waiheke Hip Op-eration Crew to global publicity. Well it turns out they are the same person!

I don’t normally run a lengthy release but am doing so in this case as the story is so detailed. I have removed a couple of paragraphs around her family, as I have no way of contacting them to verify. I’m happy to run a response from the Herald.

This is her story:

“Everyone who knows me personally, knows I was called Erin Leigh before I
changed my name by Deed Poll eight years ago. I’m the same person as I was then,
I just have a different name. So why did I change my name? Well, two reasons: I had
an abusive childhood and didn’t want to spend the rest of my life with a name given
to me by my abusers; it was a way to get my power back and secondly, I was
defamed by the NZ Labour Government in 2007 when I blew the whistle on them
breaking the laws of neutrality in the public service. I had huge support from NZ
when I did this and was even nominated public servant of the year. However
although people love whistle blowers and most respect them, they don’t necessarily
want to employ them. Changing my name to something that was easy to say and
spell and androgynous gave me the fresh start I was looking for in life. I am
incredibly proud of the fact that when I was Erin Leigh I took the Ministry for the
Environment and the Attorney General to court – and won my case in the Supreme
Court.

I used that knowledge and my grit and determination to inspire and encourage my
senior citizen hip hop dancers to never give up or think they can’t achieve almost
impossible goals which seem so overwhelming at first. I had unwavering faith in my
dancers that they would make it to the world hip hop championships in just eight
months time – after all – if I, a mere public servant at the bottom of the pile could take
on the New Zealand Labour Government and win in the supreme court, anything
was possible.
If the fact I am Erin Leigh is news to you, it’s not because I have tried to hide it, it’s
just never been relevant to hip hop dancing. I used to be a journalist and have
friends in nearly every media outlet in the country – they have always known Billie
Jordan equals Erin Leigh. I haven’t had a face transplant and am in the public eye a
lot; if you were going to try and hide your identity you certainly wouldn’t allow yourself
to be in an international documentary film (Hip Hop-eration), have hundreds of news
media interviews and have your face plastered on nearly every publication in the
country – or travel around the country speaking to large groups of people. My life
story, including the time when I was called Erin Leigh, is all in my book (yet to be
published).
Hollywood know about it and have purchased my life story to make a film, Minister’s
of Parliament know my previous name, the news media know, my dance group have
always known, my work colleagues and speaking engagement agency knows, the
NZ Film Commission knows, the documentary film production company who made
Hip Hop-eration know – in fact I think every person who has been in my life for longer
than one hour knows.

Surviving childhood abuse is a very complex ordeal and the pathway to healing for
all involved is not straight forward. I tried to leave it in the past and put a lot of effort
into appeasing my parents and buying them gifts even though I continued to be
treated badly in adulthood.

[detailed deleted by DPF]

I have been shocked by the actions of Kim Knight from the Herald over the past two days which makes me despair New Zealand has just stepped back 200 years in how
victims of abuse are treated. She somehow tracked down my confidential counsellor
who I started seeing in 2007 and asked her to contact the Herald about my abuse.
My counsellor rang me last night and told me about the phone message she received and the fact she was not going to even acknowledge it let alone reveal highly confidential details of my abuse and counselling to splash all over the papers.

No wonder abuse victims are afraid to come forward when journalists like Kim Knight
persecute them like she has me. I sent an email to Kim Knight about how appalled I
was that she has invaded my privacy like this and how unethical it is and she
responded that it was me, trying to protect my own privacy, not her that was
unethical! I quote, “As a journalist, I am duty bound to follow up and attempt to verify
material gathered in the process of writing a story. It would be unethical of me not to
do that,” says Kim Knight of the (21/10/16).
Emails to the editor of the Herald have been ignored and now I understand Kim is
talking to some distant cousin I met once when I was four years old and no -one in
the family has had anything to do with since as some sort of credible witness to what
went on behind closed doors in my childhood house. When I was four years old this
cousin, who lived at the other end of the island than me, was about 14 years old.
However, somehow she knows every single thing that went on in a household she
has never been in. Nice one Herald – quality journalism!
Kim Knight came to my home on Waiheke Island on Tuesday along with her
videographer Greg Bowker. She made out they wanted to film my dance crew
rehearsing – so I even sent her our music track in advance. Instead the interview was
an aggressive, insulting barrage of ridiculous questions which she had on a long list
of paper in front of her. We didn’t want to be filmed but she told us she would not
listen to our responses to her accusations if we didn’t agree to her filming us. We
attained she had spent many hours earlier that day with a few people who I refused
to teach about 13 months ago. She was clearly all worked up about it and believed
their claims without question. It was a shocking situation for my six dancers and I
(one dancer was absent as she was visiting her husband in hospital). We answered
all her questions for nearly two hours but she didn’t seem interested in hearing
anything truthful, she seemed to love all the silly scandal. We were so appalled by
her behaviour one of my dancers who is 97 in three weeks time got up and walked
out. They have all been in tears because of the ordeal – yet it’s all supposed to be in
the name of ethical journalism.

In October 2015, after three and a half years of teaching the Hip Op -eration Crew, I
decided to close it down. I was so run down, getting sick all the time and my finances
were dangerously low – as all my work is voluntary and I don’t get paid for the work I
do – nor do my dancers for that matter. There were 21 dancers in the group, two
were very frail, one was in hospital and many had grown such huge egos since they
received so much public adulation it was almost impossible to instruct them. Like any
group of students who have been together for a very long time, they were starting to
argue and gossip was spreading and becoming more malicious.
I had people only turning up to rehearsals if there were cameras there. This was a
big burden for me because we were a registered charity with the key objective to
‘reduce the stigma of ageing through entertainment’. Our goal was for the greater
good of other people – not for our own selfish endeavours to get a free exercise
lesson, cup of tea and cool outfits to wear. You can’t ask the public to donate funds
unless you can 100% promise all members of the charity are striving to meet the
objectives of the charity; and that’s how it should be.
However, as I was laying in bed with pneumonia and trying to fund raise at the same
time, I looked on the comments on our Social Media pages. It was full of comments
from people all over the world who were genuinely i nspired by what we were doing
and were deeply moved by it. I decided that instead of closing the whole group down
I should focus my energy, not on the students who were disruptive and unpleasant to
teach, but those who were really committed to bringing about social change in the
area of ageing.
I needed no more than seven dancers to fit the bill, as my van could only fit seven
people and we needed to be portable if we were going to up the ante. I hand
selected the seven I wanted in this group. They weren’t the most athletic members of
the dance group by any stretch of the imagination – but they were the most
passionate, the most committed and the most fun loving and positive. My group of
seven dancers are aged 72 to 96 years old, one is blind, one is deaf, three are
hearing impaired, one uses a walker, two have had open heart surgery, one has had
a stroke, there are about nine artificial joints amongst them and all have arthritis. Our
first appearance was in Hamilton and we got rapturous applause, our dance routine
was four times faster than it was with the previous group and we went on to win our
division at the Auckland Regional Hip Hop Championships a few months later. Since
then the group have performed in Japan, at Te Papa and at conferences all over
Auckland. They have just auditioned for a TV show and are going from strength to
strength. The world is their oyster and together we plan on changing the experience
of ageing around the globe.
Some of the people who were left off the team haven’t been pleased with my
decision and have called it ‘elder abuse’. It never occurred to them that I didn’t have
to teach them when I’m not getting paid for it. I have been surprised at how vicious
they have become. I knew some of them were capable of some pretty nasty stuff -but not to the level they have gone to and the fact they have continued this for 13
months now. Amazing really. All of their false accusations were only made when
they found out they didn’t make the group of seven and have increased in frequency
and in lunacy over the past year. I have emails from each of them saying lovely
things to me with hugs and kisses right up until the day I decided not to teach them.
Over the past 13 months they’ve said I used to bite them, abuse them, bully them.
It’s all so ridiculous, which my dance crew can testify to. Why would I spend four and
a half years teaching and managing old people without payment if I didn’t like old
people? Thankfully it’s only a tiny handful of ex-dancers doing this – most of the exdancers have been fine about it, as were running out of steam anyway and I
continue to have a great relationship with them. I understand how rejection can hurt
and no-one likes to left off the team, especially if the team has a high profile. But we
all have to learn to adapt to this as we get older and move forward. Experience, not
age, determines how well someone can adapt to different situations. The real
complainers are basically two women in their 60’s – not the older women. Sometimes
a man in his late 90’s joins as well. I think it must be hard for them having people
approach them asking how their dancing is going, and rather than say they were
rejected by the teacher, it’s easier to say they left because they didn’t like it anymore.
Saving face is understandable, but lying about someone who cared about you and
put their life on hold for you without payment, is not.

I asked each of my dancers today what they thought of the current situation and
what they would like the public and the news media to know. Here are their
responses:
Kara Nelson, aged 96 (97 in November), aka Kara Bang Bang. Dancer in the Hip
Op-eration Crew (present – joined on first day in May 2012).
“Billie Jordan is an incredible teacher. I used to be a tea cher for over 50 years and
Billie is exceptional. She is kind, patient and gentle. Even though I have a walking
stick, am partially deaf and use a Walker, Billie always makes me feel loved and
valued and taken me to and from rehearsals for four and a half years. She has never
yelled at anyone and only says positive things about us, even if we are not doing that
well. She has taken me on two holidays to the Coromandel and Bay of Plenty,
organises something special for my birthday every year, helped me on my computer
and showed so much patience with me which few others do. Nothing is too much
trouble for Billie and she does it all with a smile on her face and ready to make me
laugh. These ex-dancers are making up their stories because they are jealous they
are no longer in the group and resent Billie for excluding them. I understand their
feelings would be hurt but it’s time they got over it – it was 13 months ago. One exdancer has said Billie physically threatened her when we were on holiday in Kuala
Lumpur in 2014. Billie would never threaten anyone. I shared a room with this exdancer, we used to be close friends, and she would have told me if something like
that had happened and I would have seen her crying or in distress. It’s all just made
up to get revenge on Billie for deciding to no longer teach her. If this woman was
truly threatened, then why did she carry on in the dance group for nearly 12 more
months? This woman wasn’t paid to go to class and didn’t pay Billie, if the event
really happened this ex-dancer would not have stuck around. This woman is a very
tough woman in her 60’s who has had a hard life from what I understand, she
wouldn’t stand for any nonsense and especially not a threat. When I see her in the
street she turns her back on me because she’s jealous I am still in the dance group;
it’s so hurtful.”

“I have been so distraught over these ex-dancers actions, they used to be my
friends. I was in tears about it over the weekend as I don’t know how to protect Billie
from all of this. When the NZ Herald interviewed me the other day they were so
offensive and their claims such a load of nonsense that I just said my piece and left -I couldn’t take it anymore. They didn’t seem interested in knowing the truth. If you
want to know the truth about what sort of person Billie is, meet her or take a look at a
photo of her. A picture says a thousand words. ”
Leila Gilchrist, aged 72, aka Leila G present dancer in the Hip Op-eration Crew
“Billie is the most wonderful girl. She has changed my life. All of these allegations are
from two or three people who used to be in the dance group a year ago are absolute
rot. They are possibly accompanied by a couple of others who have nothing to say
but are just going along for the ride. They are just the gutter statements of people
who have envy, pride and spite. Billie has been wonderful to everyone in the dance
group without exception. She paid for our oldest member Maynie to go to Las Vegas
out of her own pocket, cooked meals for her for months on end, massaged her back
on a daily basis to help her lungs, repaired things around her house, took her on
holidays, showered her with gifts including a scenic flight around Auckland and
arranged Maynie to be a the co-pilot. She replaced the letterbox of one of our
dancers because she noticed it was rusty and never told that dancer it was her – she
has never expected to be thanked for anything she has done. Who else in the world
would have done so much over the past four and a half years to a group of complete
strangers without being paid? She has put her young life on hold for us and worked
her butt off to enrich our lives and make us feel happy and valuable and give us
some fun in our old age. What that woman has had to put up with makes my
stomach turn. When she was teaching she would be disrupted so much throughout
the lesson by the same group of malcontents that she’d be lucky to get in 15 minutes
teaching time in every hour. One day I couldn’t take it anymore and yelled ‘Shut Up’.
I used to be shy and wouldn’t say boo to anyone, but I just couldn’t hold back any
longer. They were so disrespectful and so ungrateful for what she was doing for
them. I am an elder and lay preacher in my church and no -one would treat me the
way Billie was treated when I am doing a sermon. Billie’s decked them out in new
uniforms from top to bottom and would be lucky to get two words of thanks. I
remember her fund raising to try and get us to the Bronx and getting pneumonia and
people were just complaining they didn’t want to go to the Bronx in early November
and would prefer a warmer month. She’s never got a penny for what she has done
and all of these terrible accusations are complete and utter lies. She has always
been so encouraging and positive and so much fun to be around. She’s always
smiling and making us laugh and wanting to please us. I haven’t been able to sleep
because of all of this and have been crying over how the Herald and these
malcontents have treated her. What can we do to get the truth out there? Why would
anyone ever bother doing voluntary work with old people if they have to go through
what Billie has had to go through? It’s absolutely disgusting what is happening. My
husband used to work for the Herald and it was a decent publication then, it’s
certainly not now and is just tabloid rubbish. I’ve always said Billie deserves an OBE
for what she has done for us, and I was so proud she got a Queens Honour two
weeks ago – she deserves every bit of recognition she is receiving.”
Brenda Long, aged 83, aka BB Rizzell, present dancer in the Hip Op-eration
Crew – joined on first day in May 2012
“I have been in Billie’s group since day one and never missed a rehearsal. She has
never threatened or treated anyone unkindly in any rehearsal and is one of the
sweetest, and definitely the most patient people I have ever met. I know who the
people are that are spreading these lies. In fact one of the ex-dancers threw water
on my keyboard stool during a recent public performance because they are jealous I
am still in the group and they are not. Billie has done nothing but show kindness and
compassion to us bunch of oldies and done so much for us. She has busted her guts
for us for years on end without receiving a single penny for what she has done. This
whole Erin Leigh business is a joke and the Herald are trying to make out it’s news -we’ve all known about that since Day One and Billie is open about all aspects of her
life. The other day when I was crying about all of this Billie was more concerned with
how it was all hurting us, her dancers, more than herself. People have no idea what
this girl has had to go through with these ex-dancers. It’s all just absolutely
disgusting.”

Jack Long, aged 85, aka JJ Rizzell, present dancer in the Hip Op-eration Crew -joined on first day in May 2012
“I know who is making all these false allegations about Billie and I have always kept
away from them as I could see what their character was like very early on. I have
never missed a rehearsal and Billie only praises us and encourages us and has
never said a single put-down to anyone in the group. It’s just not her nature, she
doesn’t have it in her to be mean like that. She’s a lovely girl and has been so kind,
especially to the older ones like Maynie. I’ve seen her take soup to Terri when she
was sick and become so run down and sick herself because she was busy taking
care of others. My wife and I visited her when she was in bed with pneumonia. The
doctors wanted her to go to hospital but she refused so they put her on a drip on the
island. Instead of resting, Billie was sitting up in bed trying to raise funds for the
group. She cares about all of us and treated everyone, both past and present, so
well. If it was me, I would have thrown the towel in with that lot years ago.”
Marie Turfrey, aged 72, aka Missy M, present member of the Hip Op-eration
Crew since day one in May 2012
“These statements from the people Billie decided to no longer teach are completely
made-up. Why would anyone continue going to a dance class if they were being
treated unkindly? If Billie was rude to me I would get up and walk straight out and
never go back. I’m retired. I don’t have to put up with anything I don’t want to . If you
want to know if these claims are true or not, just apply good common sense. Why
keep going to a class if you’re not being paid to go, can leave at any second you
want if you’re being treated badly? It’s all simply not true. These silly accusations
were only made after the group was reduced to seven members. Before then,
everyone praised Billie through the roof. I am so upset seeing Billie having to go
through all of this when she has done so much good – not just for us but for all older
people around the world. I have never seen someone as kind to older people as
Billie is, she has gone beyond the call of duty time and time again. She clearly cares
about old people and loves making them smile and laugh and wants them to have a
good time. She has a heart of gold and people are just jealous and angry she doesn’t
want them in her class or her life anymore. They should just move on and enjoy the
years they have left than make-up stories to try and destroy a wonderful young
woman.”
Len Curtis, aged 75, aka Big Deal, present member of The Hip Op-eration Crew
– joined on Day 1 in May 2012
“Billie is one of the kindest girls I know. You have no idea what she has done for us.
She’s incredible. All of these lies have only come about since she reduced the size of
the dance group to just the seven of us. She said she did this because the larger
group was becoming too difficult to manage and a small group of people in the group
of 22 were so disruptive and awful to deal with she couldn’t take it anymore. Since
we’ve been the seven we have gone from strength to strength because Billie can
spend more time on us instead of trying to manage disruptive students who didn’t
have their heart in it. We dance four times faster than we did with the larger group,
won our division at the Auckland Regional Hip Hop Championships and have
performed in Japan. We have other exciting things coming up in the future but don’t
want to talk about those because every time we achieve something great this small
group of ex-dancers starts more vicious rumours about Billie. All these statements
are just completely untrue. I have only missed one rehearsal in the past four and a
half years and Billie has never threatened or bullied anyone. Why would she? She
has unbelievable patience. She was teaching a large group of people twice her age,
all aged 30 years apart from 65 to 96 years old with all sorts of physical and mental
conditions. Everyone kept going back week after week for years on end because
they loved being in her company and she made them feel good. Some people can’t
take rejection well and I think that’s what these trouble makers are all about – they
just want Billie to close down the group and make it impossible for her to keep going.
They’re not nice people and Billie hasn’t been their only target.”
Rosemary McKenzie, aged 75, aka Missy Ro Yo, present member of The Hip
Op-eration Crew – joined on Day 1 in May 2012.
“The claims these people are making that Billie broke my pelvis are completely
unfounded. My husband and I are legally blind and I was at an event in Wyndam
12
Street in the city with our guide dog when I stumbled on a retaining wall. This
happened in March 2014. Six weeks later I was back at rehearsals which I
thoroughly enjoy. Billie has always treated me the same as everyone else; with
respect and kindness. I thoroughly enjoy Billie’s company and the challenge of
learning hip hop which is why I never want to miss a rehearsal”.
For more information about Billie Jordan see:
Ted Talk
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saRWpSqQpPA
Erin Leigh
http://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/2011/09/erin_leigh_qa.html
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10480541
http://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/2011/09/garner_on_leigh.html

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