Cum-Bot cried off, mainly because he’s got a government to bring down. It being a low budget show, in which the celebs appear for free, because they’ve got something to promote, I, being the only person who knew the scripts, find myself in the hot seat. Norman Thrush and his aides had all but diverted one of our first six guests into the anchor’s seat – the very opposite of the thing we were trying to achieve. Honestly, he’s as thick as an HR executive at times.
No one was happy about it, mainly me, so I suggested a couple of tweaks to get everyone on board. The first was that I would wear one of those Covey-masks that you see some shop assistants and lots of old women wearing, with that clear welder’s mask arrangement hanging off a foam headband. It pleased Norman Thrush that I had made such an important gesture towards H&S, so with his support, I had a mask of Dominic Cummings pasted onto the front of it. I also had his wardrobe people run me up a pair of arsicide slacks from an old pair of tan corduroys I bought in. It made for a novel twist on the classic chat show anchor’s sharp suit I thought. Plus, I didn’t want to be upstaged by my toujours bien habillé guest, Claudia Winkelman.
She forgot to bring an offering, and claimed not to know how to make a cocktail, so we share mine: potcheen, turmeric, tomato juice. ‘I call it the malignant tumour,’ I tell her, ‘guaranteed to produce spotting on the gusset.’ She sniggered lightly, but she seems not to trust, as if she’s being set up; but she’s here to promote her book so she doesn’t run away – she just casts the odd nervous glance over to the other women she arrived with. To put her at her ease I invite her to sit down by my fire (think David Bowie and Bing Crosby) to talk about her book.
I read her some reviews: ‘A delight’ says Stylist magazine; ‘Funny, real and caring’ says YOU; ‘Funny, irreverent and moving… everything you would expect from the thick-fringed presenter who’s won a place in the nation’s hearts,’ The Sun; ‘Full of hilarious insights,’ Vanity Fair. She smiles benignly.
I could only find one serious review, I tell her, and I read from that. The reviewer calls it ‘borderline imbecilic,’ with chapters on shopping, picnics, and T-shirts, which he says are delivered with a sense of shame. In her early publicity for the book, Quite, by the way, a semi-autobiography, she bemoaned being pushed into writing it by her talent manager and publisher. Your tack seems to have changed now, I ask, and she doesn’t answer, apart from giving a non-committal wriggle of her shoulders. Is that because it’s now on the Sunday Times best seller list? I ask, but she just scrunches up her mouth and shrugs. But then you write a chapter on Titian. That seems incongruous, can you tell us why did you do that? Another, sheepish, non-committal, dip of head to hide behind fringe. Is it just an attempt to distract from the shame of the rest of it, or is it something bigger? A plea to have herself perceived as something more substantial than the frivolous, ephemeral celebrity that she is? I’m getting nowhere.
I wanted next to move on to who is your audience? and, what exactly are you? Not just to follow up on that theme, but also because Fips has said of her that when she starts talking, he wants to stab his own eardrums with a knitting needle. But I can’t find a way in, because she has gone defensively quiet, knowing now that I think, like her, that her book is meretricious shite, and amounts to no more than a pathetic attempt to cash in while she’s still popular, so I switch to the subject of money instead.
I wanted to ask about her BBC salary. I read somewhere that she took about £500,000 a year. It seems unfair to ask her directly how much she earns, so I ask whether, when she adds other gigs like Radio 2, or The Film Programme, it is all included under the same contract, or if she earns more for each one added? She is coy, so I ask her whether her main salary was just for doing that dancing programme? I mean, besides having to give up her weekends, there doesn’t seem an awful lot to it. She’s reluctant again, but it seems to be more or less true from the way she fidgets and giggles.
OK, I think, I’m probably breaking all the TV interviewer’s protocols, I’ll start with something innocent and work my way up, and I switch to asking her about her wardrobe. Does she have to give them value for money on their spend by using it again, or is it just hers to do with as she pleases once it’s been worn? She giggles again. Can she at least say how much is spent on that aspect of her employment? Shakes head. She’s wearing a black catsuit with flared trousers, and though she seems to favour items of a proximate style, I feel that I’ve seen this one before during the hours of videos I’ve watched by way of research. She’s a little frostier this time, shaking her head briskly. Methinks, she doth protest too vigorous. Perhaps she does recycle after all, but doesn’t like to talk about it? Maybe she isn’t allowed to wear BBC gear on other channels?
I wonder about wearing a catsuit twice though. It’s tight around the undercarriage, and you could not get away without some sweat, secretions, dampness, smells, transferring from the body corporeal to the flimsy fabric close by, especially under the studio lights. She’s sat on an armchair, giving vent to a two-way transference of deposits suspended in the manmade fabrics. You may point to a dry-cleaning solution, but who’s ever experienced dry-cleaning that worked? We put our faith in the process because it smells of chemicals and feels like science. I once got something back with the same dried egg dribbled on it. I guess the BBC will run the ACME of such services, but even so, put one of those items back on, having been worn once before in a live show, and within a few minutes the fabric smells will begin to rise, and that same coarse concertinaed effect will be noticed around the areas that take the strain. Oh, I tell you what, I bet she recycles by passing hers on to someone smaller, like Stacey Dooley, who then only has to have the hems taken up. That way the part that fits over the vag … I can’t say that, lower abdomen, upper thigh, nether region, centre of the heat map, centre of the moisture chart, the smelly bit, no that’s worse, the crotch, yes, that’s it, technically correct, the crotch of a trouser; that’s a point, is it a trouser suit? Why did I call it a catsuit? Though aren’t trouser suits just female versions of the male two-piece? Two-piece, that’s the key, catsuits are all-in-ones, aren’t they? But that begs further questions about toilet practices and accidents. Ola, he habido un accidente. Anyway, as I was saying, on Stacey, the crotch, it’s such a harsh word, isn’t it? I could say gusset which is scarcely better, but I’ve used that already. It’s more feminine though – but is it too specific? Does gusset refer to an area in general, or is it a specific term for a reinforced underpart of knicker? I’ll stick with crotch for now, so that I can at least claim propriety; the crotch on Stacey’s hand me down would hang lower, and would therefore cause fewer issues with cross contamination of vaginal secretions.
They must chafe though, on Claudia, because they’re fitted, and each leg is after all forced to come together at some point, and the material will be felt in movement against the skin. Perhaps she wears a long-legged gripper knicker that promotes abdominal discipline whilst keeping all the working parts in separate locations? Flesh coloured would work. I ask, but she remains reticent.
She’s actually quite nice, and is obviously a bit embarrassed about her book, and about how much she earns for fuck all talent and effort. She’s a bit puzzled by it all actually, so I spare her difficult questions about Russian novelists and Charles Dickens’ novels.
seen here wearing crimplene slacks.
Overall verdict: she’s just plain uninteresting, with virtually nothing to say. I’ve got nothing to add to that, and I think subsequent episodes will be more rewarding, so I wrap up by asking her to sit in with the band to play the show out. The choice is hers, drums or bass, and she says that she thinks she’ll do less damage on the drums.
It’s a jungle out there, I tell her, but she doesn’t get it. Or seems not to be interested.