This is your life, p.20
This Is Your Life, page 20
‘You seem a bit – you know, not very relaxed?’
She was right, of course, although I was embarrassed that it was so obvious. I was in two minds about going through with this. Actually, it wasn’t so much ‘two minds’: my brain was against it, it was another part of my body that was lobbying hard in favour of proceeding. She only wanted to sleep with me because she thought I was a celebrity. Yet I knew that I wasn’t the genuine article, that I was deceiving her, tricking her into bed just as if I had laced her drink or had dishonestly promised the chorus girl the lead part in the musical.
‘Tanya, I’m sorry but I don’t think I should go to bed with you.’
‘What?’ she said indignantly.
‘Sorry, it just feels wrong, you know, a bit sudden.’
‘Is it because I’m a nobody; is that what it is?’
‘No – it’s because I’m a nobody. It’s all wrong. I’m here under false pretences.’ I stood up. ‘Look, we’ve only just met. Maybe it’s different for you because you recognized my face right away and felt like you knew me. But I’d never seen your face before until a couple of hours ago, and I don’t know the first thing about you.’
‘Oh,’ she said dejectedly. ‘So it is because I’m not famous then.’
As I walked home in the drizzle, pointlessly hailing taxis with their lights turned off, I wondered what a real star would have done. They probably wouldn’t have gone back to her flat for a start. An experienced TV celeb would never risk sleeping over at some complete stranger’s house. Imagine it. In the middle of the night, tiptoeing out of the toilet in a skimpy ladies’ dressing gown only to bump into some astonished flatmate in the hallway. ‘Bugger me! It’s the bloke off Antiques Roadshow! What the bloody hell are you doing here?’
‘Oh I was just trying to flush a used condom down the lavvy, but it won’t go down.’
‘Right. Listen, er, my grandma’s left me these antique porcelain figures, and I was wondering what they might be worth . . .’
I finally got a taxi and slumped back in my seat still wondering if I had done the right thing. Perhaps a real celebrity would have had sex with the fan and then forgotten all about her. Maybe I lacked that ruthless, selfish drive, the killer instinct needed to get to the very top. Perhaps I should be attempting to emulate the sexual psychology of today’s showbiz stars. The trouble was I didn’t fancy being tied up by transsexual prostitutes while out of my head on cocaine. I attempted to be as positive as possible about the evening. Tanya had thought I was ‘brilliant’, and had wanted to sleep with me because I was famous. People at the party had nudged each other and pointed in my direction; everyone wanted to talk to me. I had achieved everything I had ever dreamt of. I was a star, members of the public were impressed by me, at last I was recognized wherever I went. As these self-satisfied thoughts glowed inside my head, the taxi driver put his hand over to pull back the glass screen between us.
‘I hope you don’t mind me saying, but you’re that bloke off the telly, aren’t you?’
‘Yes, yes I am.’
‘I expect you get fed up with people recognizing you all the time, don’t you?’
‘Oh well, I don’t really mind. In my job the time to start worrying is when people stop recognizing you!’ I quipped.
‘That’s true, you’ve got a point there!’ he chuckled. ‘So how come the bloody weather forecast is always completely bloody wrong then?’
‘I’m sorry?’ I said, slightly perplexed.
‘Well, they pay you all that money to say whether it’s going to rain or not and you never bloody get it right.’
Now that he’d said this I suppose I did look a tiny bit like that weatherman, even if I didn’t wear beige polyester. The fact that this cabbie and I had just agreed how important it was for me to be recognized made me reluctant to point out that I wasn’t the celebrity he was thinking of.
‘I mean, when you say it’s going to be sunny, I make sure I put on my bloody raincoat, know what I mean!’ he went on. I felt slightly irritated.
‘Yeah, well, we tell you the wrong weather deliberately,’ I told him conspiratorially. ‘The government forces us to.’
‘Yeah. If we say it’s going to pour with rain, all the people who work outside are going to phone in sick and all the foreign tourists are going to cancel their holidays, so we are under strict instructions from the spin doctors in Downing Street to say the weather’s going to be much better than it really is.’
‘You know, that doesn’t surprise me,’ he replied. ‘That doesn’t surprise me one bit.’ And he shook his head in dismay about how even the weather was being spun these days.
‘But you’ll keep that to yourself, won’t you?’ I said as we pulled up.
‘Oh yeah, of course I will,’ he lied. I paid him for driving me home and recognizing me, even if I was a little insulted that he thought I was someone else. Obviously you can’t blame an ordinary member of the public for something like that; I wasn’t that vain and petty and mean. I just didn’t have any loose change for a tip, that’s all. He really is a tight bastard, that weatherman.
I was distressed to discover that this sort of mix-up happened more frequently than I would have imagined. I was also variously confused with a daytime TV quizmaster, a presenter on the Shopping Channel and on one occasion a man wanted in connection with a series of armed raids in the East Midlands whose photo had appeared on the news. The only group of people who never got me mixed up with any other celebrities were the celebrities themselves. The very people who had stared right through me at Billy Scrivens’s funeral were now inviting me to their book launches and after-show parties and welcoming me to their bosom like some long-lost friend.
Nothing motivates a star like the fear of their own fame fading. I think I was invited to parties by VIPs I’d never met because they needed to bolster their own fame by surrounding themselves with the latest arrivals at the celebrity ball. I sensed that they didn’t feel any more secure than I did. I suppose fame is so precious because it’s so intangible. If you buy a new car, it’s there, gleaming; an undeniable physical presence. You can drive it around, park it in the street and glance around too many times as you are walking away from it. But fame is in the air, an invisible, one-step-ahead will o’ the wisp that you can never be sure is going to stay around or just flit away to glow around someone else. So the stars I met were constantly seeking to become more famous. Even if they were Oscar winners and major film stars, it still wasn’t enough; they didn’t feel they’d arrived yet, they couldn’t see the Hollywood for the trees. Would my own nagging sense of frustration be lifted if only I could get more famous? Was the problem with this drug that I hadn’t got a big enough shot of it?
Or was my insecurity different because my fame had been all smoke and mirrors in the first place? Every time I hoped I might be becoming a bona fide star I found myself having to lie again. My fancy costume was a mass of safety pins underneath. If Hello! magazine ever wanted to do a feature on me, I’d never be able to show them my house in Seaford.
For comedian Jimmy Conway, home is a one-bedroom rented terraced house in Sussex. ‘The wonderful thing about living in a seaside town is that I can look out of my window in the morning and gaze out upon the vast expanse of the Safeway supermarket car park,’ says Jimmy, proudly showing us the view though the very off-white net curtains. Every room is full of memories. A large brown circle on the ceiling reminds Jimmy of the time the phone rang when he was running a bath. The large modern radiators remind him of a time when the central heating worked. The woodchip wallpaper that undulates across the bathroom walls was personally chosen by Jimmy from Do-It-All’s famous economy range. The distressed lounge carpet is a mottled brown and its chaotic textured pattern features all sorts of unusual shades that Jimmy describes as ‘vindaloo’ and ‘tikka masala’. Throughout the home the decor has been carefully chosen to reflect Jimmy’s hectic lifestyle. As well as scatter cushions, there are scatter news
The homes you saw in Hello! and OK! magazines all seemed pretty much the same. They had tables you couldn’t put things on and cushions you would never dare to sit upon. I think it must be a precondition of them photographing a star’s home.
‘Um, hello there. Look, we just have to check – you do have big puffy yellow curtains, don’t you?’
‘Of course I do.’
‘Jolly good. Sorry we had to ask but you can’t be too careful.’
My home could not have been more unsuitable and yet when OK! did finally contact me and ask if I would be interested in appearing in a photo feature, I couldn’t resist it. ‘Yes, I’d be delighted!’ I said. I couldn’t help myself, I was just so flattered to be asked. It was another step on the show business ladder, another medal in the war against anonymity. I knew I didn’t have a home I could ever possibly show them but a voice in my head said, Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it. And then another panicky voice screamed: There is no bridge, you idiot! THERE IS NO BRIDGE, the ravine is completely bloody bridge-less! It’s ‘Let’s step off that cliff and fall to our death when we come to it!’
The only solution was to use someone else’s house. If I was to be cross-examined by the celebrity police, my only chance was to give a false address. I had the perfect location: my parents had keys for the London flat of their Korean neighbours who were often out of the country. I’d been in there once with Mum when she’d gone to water their plants, and she was always saying it was like something out of Ideal Home. This place really looked like a star’s home. Expensive ornaments were carefully placed in backlit alcoves, full bottles of lotions and bath oils were neatly arranged around the jacuzzi. These people had shelves with just one item on! At no point had this little figurine been gradually joined by some old paperbacks, piled-up videos and a couple of cracked empty CD cases.
Why shouldn’t this be my London pad as far as the general public were concerned? The Korean couple were the least likely people on Earth ever to buy OK! magazine. It would be a very straightforward operation. I would give a very specific time to the photographer, I’d be in there waiting for him, I’d let him in to take a few snaps and he’d be on his way again in half an hour. And all right, after the deed was done I might have to confess to Mum and Dad and persuade them to keep this little secret to themselves, but other than that it was quite plausible that ‘one of Britain’s most exciting new comics’ (Daily Telegraph), ‘the fastest rising star on the comedy circuit’ (Time Out), should have an opulent flat like this in West London.
The arrangement was made and one quiet Wednesday morning I let myself in through the front door, entering the code to silence the beep on the burglar alarm. When I had previously accompanied Mum around the apartment it had felt legitimate, but now I felt like an intruder; a style burglar who was there to filch a little bit of this couple’s opulent lifestyle for myself. I put a pint of milk in the fridge so I could confidently offer a cup of tea and then I spread a couple of that day’s newspapers across the coffee table along with a scuffed paperback copy of Carrot – How One Root Vegetable Changed the History of the World.
I sat on the sofa and lay back. ‘Yah – this was originally three rooms but my architect did a wonderful job with it.’ I crossed my legs the other way and placed my hand on my chin pensively. ‘Yah, of course this building was originally an old clock factory – it’s such a shame there’s no real industry left in the capital—’ then the door buzzer went off and I leapt up in shock. ‘Hi there, come on up!’ I said to the intercom, pressing the button to release the main door downstairs. I had a last glance in the mirror to check that I was completely happy with what I was wearing. The casual, just-thrown-on-a-few-old-things look had taken me ages to get right.
I suppose if I’d stopped to think about it I’d have realized that a professional photographer was bound to turn up with more than just a little camera. His arrival was like the D-Day landings. He and his young assistant carried in metal boxes, light stands, tripods, a big white umbrella, electrical leads, a reflective silver circle, more metal boxes. I was worried that by the time he had unpacked everything a whole month would have passed by and the flat-owners would arrive back from New York just in time to see me perched on the end of their double bed with a big hairy photographer leaning over me.
He introduced himself as Carl while his assistant didn’t even bother. Almost immediately it seemed as if Carl was testing me to see if it really was my flat. ‘Sorry, do you mind if I use your toilet?’ he said. He was never going to catch me out with a question like that. ‘Down the corridor, second on the left!’ I said confidently.
‘Got it!’ he shouted back.
‘Yup,’ I said to his assistant proudly. ‘That’s where the toilet is all right.’
‘So have you lived here long?’ quizzed Carl as he returned.
‘No, no, well, yes. I mean, it’s just a London pad, you know. I have a place down in Sussex as well.’
The assistant and Carl seemed to have some private joke which they were not about to share as they both tried to stop themselves sniggering.
‘Nice pictures!’ he said.
‘Thanks,’ I replied, and the assistant let a brief laugh slip out. I looked at the pictures and saw that they weren’t nice at all; they were a bit gaudy.
‘Er – actually, they’re not mine. A friend asked if he could store them here. Not really my kind of thing.’
‘Oh right,’ smirked Carl. ‘Tell me – doesn’t that little fountain with the angels get on your nerves, bubbling away in the hall all day?’
Now the assistant was biting his lip, nearly exploding with suppressed hysterics. I glanced at the fountain. It was awful. In fact, although the whole flat was tidy and large and expensively done out, seeing it through their eyes I realized that it was full of the most extravagant and vulgar furnishings imaginable. While I was in the kitchen making them a cup of tea, I could hear them pointing things out to each other and giggling at my appalling taste, and the penny dropped that I would now be exposing all of this to the entire nation.
‘Look at those bloody curtains – they’re disgusting!’
‘Shhh ... Not so loud.’
‘Not you. I was talking to the curtains!’
And they collapsed into more hushed giggles at my expense.
When I returned with the tea I attempted to claim that I’d recently employed someone to furnish the house for me but I didn’t really like it and was going to change it all again.
‘Oh well, as long you as you don’t throw out the zebra pattern sofa,’ said the assistant and Carl sniggered and I consoled myself with the fact that at least they didn’t suspect anything. And then the phone rang.
Carl looked at me expectantly and I smiled benignly back at him. ‘Sorry, do you want to get that?’ he said.
‘Er, no, not really.’ I shrugged. ‘Your time is precious.’
‘Oh, that’s OK – we’re going to be a while setting up so please don’t mind us.’
The phone continued to ring insistently.
‘OK, well, er, I think I’ll still leave it . . . I’m sure they’ll ring back if it’s important.’
At that point an answering machine cut in. I froze in terror that the instructions to the caller would be transmitted across the room, thereby exposing my fraud when it had barely begun, but thankfully the outgoing message was relayed in silence and I was safe. And then we all listened to the amplified incoming message. It wasn’t so much what was said as the fact that my caller was talking Korean that made Carl raise his eyebrows.
‘Annyong hashimmikga,’ she said. ‘Kanapsummida. Olma imnigga Halggi han-guk aradmddupta?’ Her message went on and on while I stood there nodding contemplatively at what was being said. ‘Interesting . . . interesting . . .’ I mumbled to myself. Carl looked like he was about to say something but I solemnly raised my palm as if prevent him interrupting my concentrat
Finally the message ended and I shook my head in annoyed irritation at what had been said.
‘What language was that then? Japanese?’
‘Blimey, you speak Korean, do you?’
‘Well, you know . . . Un petit peu. I get by. They want me to go and do a gig out in Saigon.’
‘Not Saigon, sorry, what’s it called? Seoul. I was always get those two mixed up, because they both had wars, didn’t they? I mean Korea and Vietnam, except it’s not called Seoul any more, is it? Hang on, that’s not right. Seoul is still called Seoul but Saigon is called something else, isn’t it?’ My nervous blabbing was making me look guilty so I felt forced to put any doubt out of his mind. Td better deal with this now,’ I announced and I picked up the phone and dialled a number and then angrily chastized the speaking clock in my best version of made-up oriental gobbledy-gook. ‘Ning-dai some waidonga noy niee dawii blioni dwing noee singa hyundai daewoo noi Daewoo,’ I said and I slammed the phone down. They both stared at me. ‘I had a Daewoo,’ said the assistant after a moment’s silence. ‘But I changed it for a Honda.’
The piece when it appeared was very flattering. The decor was still appalling so I fitted in perfectly between the premiership footballer and the former TV impressionist. A journalist from the magazine had come about an hour later and talked to me about my busy life and like all hacks I had encountered distorted what I had said or simply made things up. Only this time blatant lies were published to give the impression I was much nicer than I really was. My words were twisted and used in my favour. This wasn’t muck-raking as much as ‘perfume-raking’. Somebody should take them to the Press Complaints Commission.
My mother saw the piece and asked if I had bought the flat belonging to the Korean couple in their road without telling her. In unnecessarily hushed tones I explained I had been dared to pose in a house that wasn’t my own as a bet to raise money for charity, but this secret mustn’t get out or the injured seabirds wouldn’t get the cash. She was delighted and promised not to breathe a word. Then she probed me on which charity and how much I had raised and somehow I ended up having to write the cheque out there and then before handing it over to her to send off.
by John O'Farrell have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes