The Unwanted Spotlight

There’s an 80's song that haunts me every time I hear it, decades after I first heard it as a young teenager.

When I was 14 years old, my mum sent me to a PGL adventure centre. It was a big change from my usual life, filled with school and caring for the animals on our small farm sanctuary. The centre was all about outdoor adventures and trying new things. We learned how to sail, kayak and climb with ropes.

I shared a room with my mates, with just two bunk beds for all of us. My best friend, Andrew and I were quick to grab the top bunks.

Three days in, I was exhausted. I really needed sleep, but Andrew was in a playful mood. He kept leaping from his top bunk to mine, which drove me nuts – I just wanted to sleep. After his third jump, my patience snapped. 

“Stop it, Andrew!” I warned, but he just grinned and took another leap. 

This time, I stuck my foot out catching him mid-air in the gut. He crashed to the floor, howling in pain.

The noise woke everyone up, and soon the wardens rushed in. 

“He wouldn’t stop jumping on my bed,” I tried to explain, but I could tell I was in trouble. 

They told me my punishment would come the next day…

Would they make me clean the entire camp by myself, scrubbing toilets and picking up litter under the hot sun? Or perhaps they’d ban me from all the fun activities, forcing me to sit on the sidelines while everyone else had the time of their lives. I even pictured being put in some stocks, the centre of mockery for all my peers. 

I dreaded being sent home early, branded as a troublemaker, and the shame of explaining to my mum. And in my most anxious moments, I feared they might make me stand in front of everyone at camp, admitting my guilt and apologising to Andrew publicly, my voice shaking as I faced the crowd.

My imagination wasn’t far from the truth.

Andrew was taken to the nurse for his concussion, and by morning, despite him ignoring me at breakfast, no one had said anything about my punishment. I thought I was off the hook until later that morning,  a monitor pulled me aside. 

“You’ll be singing ‘Eternal Flame’ by The Bangles, solo, at the end-of-week performance,” he said. 

My stomach dropped. Singing, in front of everyone, and why that song? It felt like the ultimate humiliation.

I didn’t protest though. Part of me thought I deserved it, and maybe it wouldn’t be as bad as I feared… 

When Friday came, stepping onto that stage felt like walking the plank. 

The music started, and I clung to the lyrics sheet, my voice shaky. 

“♫ Close your eyes, give me your hand, darling,” I sang, barely above a whisper.

“♫ Do you feel my heart beating?” I continued with a little more umph.

♫ Do you understand?

♫ Do you feel the same?

♫ Am I only dreaming?

♫ Is this burning… an eternal flame?

To my surprise, the room erupted in cheers. Even Andrew smiled at me. 

The cheers felt good, like I had done something amazing. A strange mix of happiness and relief washed over me.

But even with the cheers and the good feeling, something inside me didn’t sit right. I realised that even though I liked the applause, I didn’t like being the one everyone was looking at. It was too much attention, and it made me uncomfortable.

Ever since I’ve disliked and where possible, avoided attention – even on the day I got married.

This preference for staying out of the spotlight influenced big choices in my life, like living for years in the remote jungles of Nigeria and Uganda, and working as a freelancer from home. 

These choices let me stay in the background, where I feel more at ease, doing what I love without the need for public acknowledgment.

That day at the camp, singing ‘Eternal Flame’, was a turning point. It taught me about my own limits and preferences. It was a complicated mix of feelings, from fear to temporary joy, and finally to a deeper understanding of myself. 

I learned that it’s okay not to want the spotlight, and that realisation continues to guide many of the decisions I’ve made since then.