Over the years I’ve had more names than most. I was born Jemma Forte and grew up wanting to write for Cosmopolitan magazine, be a famous actress or work in a shoe shop (because I loved the foot measuring device in Clarkes.) My parents didn’t really want me to go to stage school because, according to them, I was ‘precocious enough already.’ However, they actively encouraged my obsession with reading and writing. I discovered reading early and for my eighth birthday was given my very own bookshelf to house my huge Enid Blyton collection. I was thrilled, though thinking about it, isn’t that a bit like giving your child a carpet for Christmas and allowing them to play with it in the hall?
Years later, due to The Kids from Fame (I blame them entirely) my burning desire to perform hadn’t abated. With no agent or experience (or talent ??) I began working as a runner on films, dramas, commercials and pop promos. That way, I figured I could learn about the industry I so wanted to be a part of. 7033 showreels and 968 auditions later, my determination and strong resistance to rejection paid off. Finally I was given the chance to cut my presenting teeth at ‘Nickelodeon’. Fortunately I don’t think any VHS’s have lived to tell the tale. This is a good thing.
Then, in 1997 I won a year’s contract with the Disney Channel whereupon I changed my name to Jemma James. There was a reason for this. My dad also worked in TV and everyone knew him, so whenever I turned up for auditions people kept asking if we were related. Anxious to avoid charges of nepotism I plumped for the name James because I loved Wendy James from Transvision Vamp and Sally James from Tiswas.
I stayed at Disney for five years interviewing everyone from Britney Spears to David Beckham and hosting the Kids Awards in front of 12,000 people at London Arena. There are worse ways to spend your twenties. It was almost stupidly fun.
Disney sometimes ‘let me out’ for other projects including three series of ‘Sub Zero’, a live , very complicated and surreal children’s game show on BBC2 where I got to be the captain of a space ship, wore enormous black boots, club gear from Camden and had backcombed glittery hair. It went out at about eleven o clock on a Sunday morning, just as my hungover friends were emerging from their pits. To this day the memory of me bellowing instructions through their screens while dressed as a freaky space captain is one that both baffles and scares them. The next show I worked on was a fashion based show for Channel Four called ‘It’s a Girl Thing.’ It was far easier to understand.
By 2002 I’d left Disney so headed straight to Rhyl in North Wales to stay in a damp guest house, in a room with very basic washing facilities. Not for a holiday but because I was playing the part of Jack in the pantomime ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ (man alive I’ve got a strange CV). For work purposes I now reverted back to being Jemma Forte.
Presenting for grown ups followed with two shows for ITV daytime called ‘House Price Challenge’ and ‘Wedding Day’. Then I presented the National Lottery show ‘Come and Have a Go’ with Julian Clary on Wednesday and Saturday nights on BBC1. I’d only had my daughter four months previously and I can tell you that live Saturday night telly on little or no sleep was an ‘interesting’ experience. I’ll also share that I was wearing heavy duty Spanx throughout.
Becoming a Mum was a big life change. Charging round the country was no longer practical. I wanted to be at home getting to grips with my little ones, and besides, I was very tired and couldn’t stop eating cake. All these things combined meant I probably wasn’t a massively enticing prospect in terms of being on TV anyway (knackered, lactating presenter anyone?) so I ducked out for a while and concentrated on ‘being mum’. I did a lot of pram miles, learned how to make a cup of tea with one hand, and spent many hours talking to myself in playgrounds. It wasn’t until my second baby, a boy, was about six months old, that I unearthed a book I’d written over the course of about three years whenever I’d been in between jobs (out of work). Taking a deep breath I sent it to a publisher and the day I got my book deal was one of the happiest of my life (along with the day I got that darn bookshelf).
Nowadays, the babies are teenagers, I’ve got five books under my belt and have the pleasure and privilege of regularly talking on the telly box. Sometimes, admittedly, talking spills into ranting but no one can accuse me of being a shy author type, although I’m sure there are plenty of people who probably wish I was.
Peace out. Etc x