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Juliette and Kirran explain what working on our campaign has meant to them

Arthritis Today Winter 2017 Issue 174Juliette WillsArthritis Research UK’s The Nation’s Joint Problem campaign has reached millions of people over the last three months, through national news stories and features and TV, cinema and billboard advertising. We asked two people who helped to shape the campaign content about their experience of being part of our ground-breaking push to change attitudes to arthritis.


Journalist and author of Mostly Cloudy, Some Bright Spells Juliette Wills, 45, has lived with inflammatory spinal arthritis for 18 years. She wrote the six powerful stories featured in The Guardian which exposed the hidden impact of arthritis, as well as talking frankly on camera about how arthritis has affected her own life. Juliette says: "I was commissioned because Arthritis Research UK knew it was important to work with a journalist with arthritis, someone who really got it. Having first-hand experience meant I could empathise and there was no risk I’d trivialise what people were going through.

"I was given a lot of control over the content. They trusted me to do the job and knew I had a good grasp of what was needed, both as a patient and a writer. I chose people with strong stories, of different ages and backgrounds, so we could show the diversity of those affected by arthritis.

"I did find working on the campaign emotional at times. I interviewed Neil who, like me, has ankylosing spondylitis and his story really echoed my own. Talking to him made me very upset for him, as I knew what he'd been through. He’d never met anyone before that could relate so closely to his feelings of loss and despair.

"It was vital to me that my articles would resonate with people with arthritis. It’s meant a lot to know everyone I spoke to was happy with what I wrote. They all said it was spot on and encapsulated how they felt.

"This campaign will have a ripple effect. If someone reads an article that articulates exactly what they feel, and they then show it to their family and friends, it'll get people talking and thinking differently about arthritis. It has given people with arthritis a voice.

"When it came to telling my story, the main message I wanted to get across was that arthritis is an invisible illness. The pain is inexplicable and yet no one else can see it. I put on my make-up and clothes like armour and hide the level of pain I'm in. I hope this campaign will make people realise you can’t always see somebody’s pain. Perhaps it'll make them a little less judgemental about that person who asks for a seat on the train or has parked in a disabled space, but looks like there’s nothing wrong with them.

"Working on the campaign has meant a lot to me because, in a roundabout way, I feel like I owe my life to Arthritis Research UK. They funded years of research into anti-TNF therapy and this drug saved my life. Before I was given this treatment I was suicidal, things were that bad. This drug helps me manage my arthritis and I can do a lot more with my life now. So, working with the charity on this campaign feels like I'm doing something to pay that back."


Kirran Gill

Kirran, 36, has rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia and lives every day with chronic pain. As on-set consultant during the filming of the TV advert and an adviser during the scripting process she played a vital role in the campaign. Kirran says: "I was on set to make sure Tom, the lead actor, was accurately portraying what it’s like to have arthritis. I sat behind a monitor watching each take, in between filming they ran the scene and we’d discuss if it was realistic. I was asked to share tips on how to change the scene to make it true to life.

"Being asked to do this is the first positive thing to come out of my arthritis. I was listened to and know I’ve played a part in making something very important happen.

"Being involved in the campaign has given me back a huge sense of self-worth. I used to be a teacher and I loved my job. When arthritis stopped me from working I felt like I lost a piece of me. This has given me the chance to flip something negative in my life around and use it to help others.

"The most important message we need to get out there is that anyone, of any age, can get arthritis and everyone’s experience of it is unique. We need to keep talking and for diverse stories to be heard. Arthritis affects people of different ages, gender and occupations and by showing that diversity, we can help people around us to understand.

"I’d like to think others might feel more confident about speaking out now. I used to try to hide my arthritis, but it’s been incredibly positive for me to tell my story. Our experiences are the best, and most powerful, way to show that arthritis affects everyone.

"We still have a long way to go, but I hope the advert has had an impact. I’m absolutely delighted it has reached so many people; if it’s given anyone the push to find the information, advice and help they need that’s made it worthwhile."

Read next: Innovative design tackles everyday challenges

The Workey key turner

When you’re dealing with the big problems of living with arthritis, the last thing you need is lots more smaller problems that can make life even more difficult. We’ve teamed up with the Design Council to find and fund the best and brightest design ideas hoping to make everyday life better for people with arthritis.

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