All posts in Musings

My Starry Starry Night

 My sister, Isabel, is a TV producer and recently landed her biggest gig yet, to produce The Baftas. A few weeks ago she idly mentioned that they would need a hostess to go on stage after every award, to make sure the winners and presenters exited the right way.

‘I thought you’d be perfect,’ she said, referring to the fact that A/ I’ve done lots of presenting and B/ I’m up for anything. (Within reason of course. I point blank refused to go to an audition for a Dulcoease advert once. I mean, you’ve got to draw the line somewhere and I think advertising a product that softens your stools is probably it.)

Anyway, I was just about to scream ‘YES, I’LL DO IT, BOOK ME,’ loudly in her face, when she added ‘But the girl who did it last year has already been asked.’

However, luck was on my side, because for some reason, which I can only be eternally grateful for, the girl decided last minute not to do it, leaving me to leap in enthusiastically, from stage left. Anyone who knows me will know I was also doing jazz hands at the time. Anyone who doesn’t know me but who has read ‘Me and Miss M’, my first novel, will also probably be able to imagine how high (for that read scary) my excitement levels were.

After all, they say a first novel often contains a lot of the author and ‘Me and Miss M’ is about a starry eyed girl called Francesca who has had a love affair with the stars of the silver screen since she was little. Her biggest dream is to go to The Oscars and it’s only by working as a personal assistant to a nightmare Hollywood actress that she comes to realise ‘being famous’ isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.

So, in a nutshell, this job was right up my showbiz street. The Baftas promised proper, old school, Hollywood glamour, a rarity these days, which is ironic given that more people than ever are labelled ‘celebrities’ by the media, partly due to our own unending appetite for them. In fact I would say that you can now categorise celebs not just as A, B, C and Z list but right through the alphabet spectrum. ‘That bloke Bubble who was in Big Brother years ago’ scoring around an N. And when the latest supposedly celeb filled reality shows are launched, I always like to imagine millions of people on sofas around the country, turning to each other, brows furrowed saying ‘Who’s that?’

At the Baftas however I knew the cream of the film industry would be there, all the talented writers, directors, costume people, cinematographers etc, along with the A list stars who we all recognise from the big screen. I was in.

‘What do I wear?’ I asked my sister, day dreaming about red satin, or maybe an acid yellow, to ensure I’d be spotted. (Shy and retiring wallflower that I am.)

‘Black,’ she said firmly ‘Black, long and glam.’

It didn’t take long to find my dress. One trip to gorgeous, vintage shop Mela Mela in Teddington and I’d found the perfect frock.  It was by Frank Usher, long, with amazing diamante straps; it fitted like a glove and was just the right side of sexy. However, in order to avoid looking like I’d been dug up I booked in for a spray tan the day before, and a blow-dry.

‘Go big,’ I instructed my hairdresser. ‘I’m talking massive because I’ve got to sleep on it and it’s got to last the entire day tomorrow.’

She did as instructed and I walked home looking like a mahogany version of Maurice Gibb from The Bee Gees. (Always a joy I find when you arrive home and one of your children collapses on the floor in hysterical laughter and the other is visibly frightened).

‘Why did you do that Mummy?’ my five year old boy asked, looking genuinely bewildered.

‘Trust me,’ I said, sounding more confident than I probably felt ‘I know what I’m doing. After a shower and twelve hours or so of dropping time, I’ll look perfectly normal.’

Of course he had no idea what I was talking about so I backed out of the room with him staring at me blankly.

The next day, smelling of biscuits, I bounded out of bed, deciding to deal with my orange sheets another time. I had bigger fish to fry. I had to shower, (I mean literally, I HAD to shower in order to take my skin tone down a few notches,) I needed to pack a bag and get myself to Covent Garden.

My call time was 11.30 at The Royal Opera House. Upon arriving I was shown to a dressing room which I shared along with all the many chaperones. Every single person who was presenting an award had an allocated person to make sure they got out of their seat and onto the stage on time and happy. You can imagine what a lottery that must have been in terms of ‘who you got.’ The girls who got Brad Pitt and Jon Hamm felt like the chosen ones.

Rehearsals began at midday. Watching Stephen Fry go through his paces from the wings was fascinating. He was just as professional, witty, and charming as one would hope him to be. He also seemed abnormally unfazed by the enormity of the event he was about to present and rehearsals went like clockwork, with crew members standing in for presenters and pretending to be the winners, the identity of whom was still only known by an elite few at Bafta.

I had a long break between rehearsals ending at three and needing to be ready and standing by at 6.30, so I ventured out of the building for some fresh air and also to see if I could find a few people I knew who were working on the red carpet.

It was a freezing cold day yet the fans were already gathering in their hundreds, standing behind the barriers, eager to catch a glimpse of their favourite stars and prepared to risk getting hyperthermia in order to do so. I soon located my friend, Stroma, a celebrity booker, who was working for E Entertainment, one of the many broadcasters who had pitched up and were transmitting from the red carpet that day. Her job was to grab the celebs so that Dermot O Leary and Fearne Cotton could interview them. Despite having a layer of thermals under her obligatory black dress, she was freezing.

Then I went to find Anna Williamson, who I used to present with at Disney Channel years ago. These days she presents for Daybreak and has also just starred in a panto with Dame Edna Everage. Today however she was doing interviews for Bafta and when I found her she was interviewing Miss Piggy. It’s funny how excited all the surrounding adults were about seeing Miss Piggy in the flesh, myself included. After all, she is essentially just a puppet, a fact even the most intelligent person seems to forget when faced with the hammy icon of the stage and screen. Brilliant.

Once I’d soaked up a bit of the atmosphere I ventured back into the warmth, at which point another sister of mine, Imogen, arrived to do her job of seat filling. For the purposes of the TV show they never want to see an empty seat in shot so the minute anyone leaves theirs, whether it be to go to the loo, or to go on stage, either to receive or give an award, the seat fillers dart in and take up the space. At one point during the show my sister found herself sat next to Christina Ricci.  

This is Imogen, the youngest Forte sis

Imogen and I got changed together (in the toilet. The dressing room was so full. This bit was not at all glamorous)

 and a lot of make up later, I was ready to go and was standing by at the side of the stage.

 

                                                 

 

 

 

At this point the curtain was still down but you could hear the buzz of the by now full auditorium behind it and I felt a frisson of excitement as Tom Jones’ band gathered with their instruments, ready to start the show.

The old Welsh dragon kicked off proceedings with a tribute to James Bond and I honestly felt like I had the best seat in the house. Watching from the wings was thrilling and I felt privileged and lucky to be there.

Stephen Fry got proceedings underway and finally the awards started being given out. The only slightly tricky bit of my job was anticipating when the winners had finished speaking as sometimes it wasn’t totally obvious. One didn’t want to do a false start, sort of shuffling nervously on and off stage like Mrs Overall from Acorn Antiques and I soon figured out it was best to be bold and decisive. That way, even if I got it wrong and they hadn’t finished, I could stand there looking confident until they had, without looking like I’d made a mistake. There was simply no room for hesitancy but as I looked out for the first time into a sea of faces which included Martin Scorcese, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Penelope Cruz it was surreal to say the least.

Going back to my earlier point about the difference between minor celebrities and true stars, what was interesting to observe was quite how otherworldly some of the truly beautiful people looked. We have probably almost grown used to the sight of people like Brad Pitt and Penelope Cruz in magazines but seeing them up close and in the flesh their extraordinary looks really are unbelievable. Gillian Anderson was like the most delicate porcelain doll you’d ever seen, her bone structure exquisite, her skin like milk. Naomie Harris, one of the new Bond girls also has a pretty much perfect face, its symmetry being totally exact.

In reality the show ran for around three hours but was edited down to two and a half for TV purposes. I have to say there was one bit I knew at the time would definitely not be making it to the final broadcast.

Kristen Wiig and Chris O Dowd, two of the stars of Bridesmaids, came on to present an award. They were having a whale of a time, giggling and thoroughly enjoying themselves. Probably as a result of this, they ended up standing on totally the wrong side of the stage during the VT.  Not a problem in itself, except that when it came to ushering off the winner it meant that they ended up taking the lead and going on ahead of me. As they did so, Kristen turned to say something to Chris O Dowd, over her shoulder but failed to see a rather large spotlight. And so it was that with a small shriek of surprise she did a comedy trip worthy of its own scene in Bridesmaids and ended up on all fours on the side of the stage. Fortunately, the only thing that was hurt was her pride and she soon picked herself up and fled into the wings to have a quick ‘dying of mortification’ session. And so it was that I ended up with one of Hollywood’s leading ladies, her face hot with embarrassment, clutching my arms, pleading with me to tell her if anyone had seen.

I was flummoxed.

Had anybody seen? What should I do I wondered? How should I answer?

For clearly there was a massive difference between the truth of the matter and what she wanted to hear. Had anybody seen?

In the end I decided against saying ‘Well, only the entire audience saw. That is to say the majority of the British and American film industries put together.’

Instead I went for a more diplomatic ‘No one will see it, they’ll cut it out and besides, you did far funnier things in Bridesmaids….’

I know……. but it was the best I could come up with at the time.

I have to say though; I now loved this actress even more than I had before. It was as if she was her character in Bridesmaids. She was totally human and had just done the sort of thing I only usually do in nightmares, naked.

After the event we headed to the party which was at The Grosvenor and was sponsored by Di Saronno. I was so proud of my sister as everyone came up to tell her what a brilliant job she’d done and was even more proud to note that it wasn’t just her bosses that loved her but also the runners and other members of the team. Always telling I find.

This is my clever producer sis, weary after a full on day!

Emili Sande performed at the party and Cuba Gooding Jr moon walked into it (Not many parties you can say that about). We flung ourselves about on the dance floor until the early hours and drunk more amaretto than was probably sensible (I’m talking litres). At a certain point hunger pangs kicked in and Imogen and I started craving carbohydrate. We headed for the food table only to find some melon balls, grapes and strawberries. Not a sausage roll in sight. No wonder all the actresses are so bloody thin.

Still, the party was the perfect end to the perfect day, one which if I had to compare it to a movie, would be something cool and glam like The Player yet with the colour and drama of Moulin Rouge.

The day after was a different kettle of fish however. I came to, as opposed to woke up. My head was pounding as if it had an axe wedged in it and as I slowly opened one eye, (which felt like it had been bread-crumbed) after a measly two hours sleep, a terrifying thought occurred to me. It was the first day of half term.

A few hours later as I sat jibbering in the corner of a soft play centre, looking wretched, it didn’t take long to come up with today’s analogy. If yesterday had been ‘The Player’ and ‘Moulin Rouge’ today was most certainly The Hangover. Parts 1 and 2.

 

 

Why holidaying with children can make you need a holiday.

Writer, comedienne and generally funny lady Emma Kennedy wrote a piece for The Guardian this weekend about how happy she is not to have children, particularly when it comes to going on holiday. The article is hilarious, although after reading it part of me wanted to lie on the floor and weep.

You see, what Emma has said out loud is that taking children on holiday is hard work which sort of negates the whole point of having one.

‘Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the results are in. Taking children on holiday is like some sort of ghastly self-inflicted punishment. Why are you doing it to yourselves? You work hard all year round. Don’t you deserve a bit of peace and quiet? Don’t you deserve some fun? Children can’t even help with the driving. What is the point of them? Going on holiday without children is brilliant. There. I’ve said it’

She certainly has and… shit, she might be right.

As far as I can remember, pre children, booking a holiday basically consisted of deciding which country I fancied lying down in. After that I’d consider the best time of year to go. If going to Europe, June and September always seemed like the most beautiful months. If, on the other hand, I was desperate for a bit of winter sun, then the Caribbean in March was an option or South Africa in February. Whatever we decided upon though, we would always avoid the school holidays knowing it would be A/nine thousand pounds cheaper during term time and B/ that we wouldn’t be surrounded by screaming brats and their weary parents. Bliss.

This system inverts the minute you’re a parent and goes something like this…

Continue Reading →

My Mother in Law…..

There are many brilliant moments in the movie ‘Meet the Parents’ but my favourite happens on the first morning of hapless Gaylord Focker’s stay with his prospective in – laws. Exhausted from his stressful journey the day before, he awakens after a long lie-in only to discover that his girlfriend has already got up and left the bedroom.

When he finally appears downstairs, still groggy, dishevelled and incongruous in a pair of his father in law’s pyjamas (the airline lost his luggage), it’s painfully clear that the entire family have been up for hours. Furthermore, they have washed, dressed and breakfasted. Their day is in full swing.

In the cinema, I roared with laughter. I could completely relate to Gaylord’s mortification, because the EXACT same thing happened to me the first time my husband (then boyfriend), took me to Leicestershire to meet his folks.

It may have been almost fourteen years ago but I can still vividly remember waking up after an unbelievably refreshing, gloriously deep night’s sleep in what is one of the most comfortable beds known to man. For a second I stretched out, drinking in the peace and quiet of the countryside. The only sound the soothing one of a wood pigeon cooing…….

And then I remembered where I was, at which point, calm was replaced by a huge shot of adrenaline. Panicked, I sat bolt upright, desperate to locate a clock so I could work out the extent of my lounging crimes. Continue Reading →

How to be a Woman

This week I read Caitlin Moran’s book ‘How to be a Woman’ and experienced what can only be described as an epiphany. Without being overly dramatic, reading it provided me with a monumental feeling of relief, akin to the one you get when you’ve sat in a steam room too long then finally emerge back into oxygen laden air and can BREATHE again. Let me tell you why.

The book is about Caitlin Moran’s life and her views on what it is to be a woman, the main message being that we all need to reclaim the word ‘feminist’. For too long it’s meaning has been muddied with negativity and as a result has become associated with women who are anti men, who don’t laugh much, tackle only serious political issues and wear bad clothes. What Moran is saying is that we have to remember that all being a feminist really means is that women should be equal to men, and that’s it. Interestingly she also makes it very clear that some of the most strident feminists she knows are men; in particular her husband who taught her the very definition of what feminism should be ‘Everyone being polite to each other.Continue Reading →

Chicken Lies (not porky pies)

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. And yes I know, these days everybody goes on about how busy they are, as if being stressed is some kind of status symbol, but I promise you I don’t relish being so full on. Personally I loved April and May, what with all those bank holidays and bonus days off. The work/life balance was right whereas at the moment it’s way off kilter. I’ve got a new job presenting on a shopping channel which launches next week so have been rehearsing and training for that, my new book comes out in a month, I’m finishing my third novel, the children’s calendars are stuffed to the brim and my husband is about to go away on business for a week. All of which you need to know in order for the following story to make any sense at all.

The day before yesterday I phoned my best friend on the way to work and ranted, in a way you only can to someone you’ve known for two decades.

‘And today’s going to be such a long day,’ I wailed ‘And I haven’t really slept because I’ve got insomnia because I’m so stressed, and hubby’s away next week when I’ve got to work every day until midnight so I need to sort out 900 hours of childcare, and the kids will be needy and sad so I feel GUILTY, and I’m not working tomorrow but have millions of bits and pieces to do but also have people coming for dinner and no idea what to cook….’

At this point her answer machine cut me off, terminating my stream of angst. To be fair I didn’t blame it. Continue Reading →

How Chezza has taught us all a lesson

At this stage, despite endless press speculation, why Cheryl Cole got sacked from American X  Factor still remains a bit of a mystery. All we are sure of is that something, somewhere along the line, has gone horribly  wrong.

For the last few years her image has been golden, and that’s despite having been married to ‘morals of a snake’ Ashley, buying his and hers Hummers, that National Lottery advert and getting involved in a controversial fight with a toilet attendant with subsequent accusations of racism. Continue Reading →

Parky dinner

ParkyLast night I was lucky enough to be invited along to the unveiling of Johnny Yeo’s portrait of Michael Parkinson at the National Portrait Gallery. Johnny is one of the artists my husband exhibits at his gallery ‘Eleven’ and an old friend. In fact he’s one of the artists in the Britpop show that is on now until the 2nd July.

The painting, when unveiled, was brilliant and captured the man we’ve all grown up watching on the telly looking thoughtful yet faintly amused, with bold brushstrokes. When the big moment happened there were some great noises. It certainly required some noises, deadly silence would have been a massive anti-climax but for a moment I wasn’t sure what noise to go for. There were lots of ‘Ooh’ some ‘Aah’s and from some of the art world a sort of hurrumph that I think was supposed to convey gravitas and respect. In the end I opted for a girly ‘ooh.’ Continue Reading →

A floater

I took the kids for their first swimming lesson of the term yesterday. I have a ‘no swimming lessons during the winter’ policy because frankly life’s too short to be heaving tights up small damp legs when it’s cold. Still, spring has sprung so the time to make the mad dash from school to Richmond Baths once a week, weighed down by changes of clothes, towels and enough snacks to feed a pack of Scouts, like a stressed pack horse, has come again. Children have to be able to swim, a mantra which I repeat through gritted teeth while trying to find enough loose change to feed into the exorbitant meters every week.

Anyway, of my two children, so far  it’s seeming like Lily might be the one with the sport gene. She loves all sports, has never been scared of getting amongst the boys when playing football and thrives on a bit of competition. Her lesson was first and went without a hitch. After we left Freddie poolside while we went to get her showered and changed. When I say we left him poolside I do mean with a teacher obviously and with about eight floats on each arm, wearing goggles and generally looking like, give or take a bit of lard, he was ready for a channel crossing at the very least. Continue Reading →