The day Simon Le Bon came round to my house

My ex-husband said that, if I told the story of my time with Duran Duran, no one would believe me. Luckily I have pictures to illustrate it! This story appeared in the Guardian in 2014 – but here are more details.

I was an obsessive Duran Duran fan – I just loved the music so much. It inspired me to want to become a singer-songwriter. So when I had to leave school in 1996, aged 16, and the deputy head told me I’d have to work out what to do with my life now, I replied ‘I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to go and find Duran Duran.’

I found out where the band were recording, thanks to a fellow fan I knew called Mandy, and started hanging out outside the studios. One day, Simon Le Bon turned up on his motorbike. We became friends, bonding over the fact that we both came from Pinner.

He said ‘I’d like to go back to Pinner sometime.’ He took my home telephone number (I didn’t have a mobile back then – neither did most people). The next day, he phoned me up and, to my utter disbelief, asked if he could come round.

Simon arrived at my house on Friday 7th March 1997 (yeah, it was 22 years ago, but it’s the sort of thing you remember when you’re a massive Duran Duran fan!). I was in raptures. He was riding his motorbike, was dressed all in leathers, and had brought along a spare helmet for me. The bike ride we would go on that day was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life – but before that, he would come into my house for about an hour.

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I made him a cup of tea. He sat at our kitchen table, picked up my guitar and played me a song he’d written, ‘Already Gone’. It was beautiful and delicate, but he said that Warren – Duran Duran’s guitarist at the time – said it sounded too much like ‘Wonderwall’, so the band weren’t going to use it. It didn’t sound like ‘Wonderwall’ to me, though it had a similar chord progression – but how many songs have the same chord progression as others? Millions. It’s a real shame that it was never released, because it has the loveliest melody.

My dad wandered into the kitchen and said hello to Simon. He seemed to take it for granted that a major rock star was sitting in his house drinking tea! Though my dad didn’t know anything about pop music, so he probably didn’t realise what a big deal it was. At the time, he had a massive black eye from an operation. After he’d left the kitchen, I apologised to Simon for his slightly frightening appearance, as my dad looked as though he’d been in a pub fight. Simon shook his head and said, ‘He looks cool, like a boxer!’

Then he asked if I owned a cassette player. I did, and he got a tape out of his leather biker jacket pocket and played me the band’s newest track, ‘Electric Barbarella’. I love electropop, though the lyrics and video are pretty unreconstructed (but that’s ’80s pop stars for you).

We went up to my bedroom so I could play Simon a song on my Casio keyboard, though I was extremely embarrassed about all the Duran Duran posters all over the room. In fairness, I was a teenage girl though – and what superfan doesn’t have posters of their favourite band all over their walls?

Later, as we were leaving the house, Simon stopped by a map of ancient Persia by the front door, and asked about my origins. I explained that I was half-Parsi Zoroastrian, and he seemed fascinated.

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I was so scared about getting on his motorbike. I’ve always been physically risk-averse, but I rationalised, ‘If I have to die, there’s no better way than this.’ I held on so tightly to his leathers around his waist, I’m surprised Simon didn’t loosen my grip as it must have been painful! We zoomed up to Croxley Green, where my first boyfriend lived. I will never forget his jaw dropping open as he saw us riding up his road on the bike (a top-of-the-range bright red Ducati 888).

Simon came round again a week later, so I could play him a reworked version of ‘Already Gone’, but didn’t stay for long.

Those days are in the few sweet memories from my childhood, and I will always be grateful to Simon for making my troubled teenage life so special.

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THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 33

Me: 12st 4.8lbs (total loss in 33 days: 9.4lbs)

Hurray! At last I’m on the downwards slope again.

John: 14st 4.25lbs (total loss in 33 days: 3.25lbs)

John there, pledging allegiance to the mighty Apple god. If you ate more apples, John, you might lose more weight!

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon. 

Rewards start from just $1 a month, which is 85p in real money and gets you access to my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but EVEN BETTER!

The day my mum stole my shoes

When I was 13, I fell in love with a pair of boots. They were just so beautiful and stylish and shapely, in black leather with high stiletto heels. I’ve scoured Google Images and can’t find the exact pair of boots, of course – these were only available in 1994 – but here’s an example of the kind of style I’m talking about.

boots

The boots were £25, and I saw them in Dolcis in St Ann’s Shopping Centre, Harrow. I was especially keen on buying them, because my first ever concert was coming up. I was going to see my favourite band Duran Duran, as my new penpal Anna (a fellow Duranie) had won us tickets in a radio competition by identifying a clip of the track ‘The Reflex’.

It was January 1994, the concert was at Wembley Arena in a week’s time, and I was putting together the perfect outfit. I already had a black and white frilly New Romantic blouse, which in retrospect was hideous, and a black mini skirt and black tights. In my view, all I needed to complete the look were these boots, the pièce de résistance of the ensemble. Despite being a plain child with a face full of hair, I was harbouring a delusion that Simon Le Bon would somehow see me in the crowd, pull me out onto the stage and declare his undying love for me – if only I had the right clothes.

duran81[Duran Duran as New Romantics in 1981.]

So I told my mum about the boots, even though I knew there wasn’t a cat in hell’s chance of her buying them for me. She rarely bought me anything, and I didn’t get pocket money when I was 13, either. The rationale was that my mum would buy me anything I needed, but what she deemed necessary fell within a very narrow bracket. Still, I wanted to tell someone about the boots.

‘I’ve seen these amazing boots!’ I breathed. ‘They’re so beautiful, Mum! So stylish. They’re black leather and are in Dolcis in Harrow. Can we go and see them?’

To my amazement, my mum said yes. We went to Dolcis and, to my relief, the boots were still on display. My mum agreed that they were lovely. As I’d known she would though, she refused to buy them for me. ‘Your feet are still growing, darling,’ she murmured, ‘and your bones are soft. You don’t want to squash your feet into pointed shoes and wear heels yet, otherwise your feet will be misshapen when you grow up.’

I sighed. I very much did want to squash my feet into pointed shoes. I was disappointed, of course, but accepted my mum’s rationale as a reasonable and caring explanation for why I couldn’t have the boots. As a consolation prize, she said I could wear her slouchy flat navy boots to the concert. They were the wrong colour, of course, and weren’t nearly as stylish or shapely, but they were better than nothing.

slouchy[Totally the wrong boots.]

The day of the concert rolled around. I donned my black and white frilly blouse, my black skirt and tights, and the wrong boots, frowning at myself in the mirror. If only I had a fairy godmother who could transform my unattractive footwear into the perfect stylish ankle boots I’d seen.

Then my mum came home – and she was carrying a Dolcis bag! She put it down by the front door while she took off her coat and shoes. I looked in the bag, and saw a shoebox with the name of the boots on and my size, size 3. This couldn’t be happening! Surely my mum hadn’t bought them? I peeked in the box. It contained my boots!

‘MUM, YOU BOUGHT THEM FOR ME!’ I shrieked, launching myself at my bewildered mum and wrapping her in an enormous hug. ‘THANK YOU SO MUCH! I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!’

I couldn’t believe it. I’d always had my mum down as a joyless, neglectful mother who had never paid any attention to me or cared what I wanted or needed – but I had been wrong.  She was the best mother in the world. She truly loved me.

My mother disentangled herself with distaste. She never liked me hugging her. ‘What?!’ she snapped. ‘What are you talking about?’

‘The boots!’ I repeated in ecstasy. ‘You bought the boots for me!’

My mum looked down at the bag. ‘Oh, no darling,’ she said vaguely. ‘These aren’t for you. They’re for me.’

Then I remembered that, being 4’10”, my mum also took a size 3 shoe.

I stared at her. ‘For you?‘ I asked, my excitement ebbing away into an unrecognisable ache in my chest.

‘Yes,’ my mum said, smiling distantly. ‘You couldn’t possibly have thought they were for you. I mean, I already told you they’re bad for your feet. You’re still growing.’

And so, for the next few years, I had to watch my mother walking around in my dream pair of boots.

boots

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 22

Me: 12st 6.8lbs (total loss in 22 days: 7.4lbs)

Hurray! I’ve lost more than two stone this year now. Another five to go…

John: 14st 3.25lbs (total loss in 22 days: 4.25lbs)

The fungal toenail is back!

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Ricky Steer, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon. 

Rewards start from just $1 a month, which is 85p in real money and gets you access to my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but EVEN BETTER!

The time I nearly got into S Club 7

As a teenager, I was desperate to be a pop star. I couldn’t sing very well, but that never stopped the Spice Girls, right? So I wrote songs, and practised singing them (and cringed at the sound of my own voice. These days it’s a lot better and stronger though, so practice does pay off).

I spent my late teens scanning the ‘Auditions’ pages of the newspaper The Stage, hoping to spot the advert that would lead to my big break. A lot of the ads I circled were searching for singers for pop groups. And thanks to an ad placed in 1998 when I was 18, I almost succeeded in getting into a famous pop group: S Club 7.

The advert in question was for ‘singers and presenters’, and was an open casting call for boys and girls aged 15-19 at Pineapple Studios in Covent Garden, Central London. So I dolled myself up and turned up at Pineapple to find half the teenage world already there.

teeth

[Me. Nice teeth, shame about the earrings.]

There were literally hundreds of equally glammed-up girls and spruced-up boys queuing in line. Eventually, a woman from the production company came out of the main hall.

‘We’re not going to be able to audition everyone, as there are so many of you,’ she said, ‘so if I point at you, you’re to come into the hall, and if I don’t, then apologies and thank you for your time.’

She started pointing at teenagers – and, to my delight, she pointed at me. I walked into the hall gleefully.

We all sat on the floor in a group in front of a tall blonde woman, who explained that her production company were putting together a TV show featuring a girl-and-boy pop group. She went round the hall and asked us each to sing something. My mind went blank, so I sang ‘Happy Birthday’!

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[I’ve only just realised that my vest says ‘Jesus’.]

Then I remember being asked to interview a beautiful mixed race girl. I asked her a question about her love life, and she said ‘That’d be telling,’ and I replied ‘Yes it would, so tell me!’ The blonde woman seemed to like that, and smiled approvingly.

I hadn’t brought along a CV or photo (not that I’d have had much to put on a CV at that age, other than winning Miss Harrow!) so the blonde woman gave me her card and asked me to post my photo and CV to her. I remember her saying ‘And do post them, as this is going to be big.’ The name on her card was Heather Alexander, and she was from 19 Management – which I realised excitedly was Simon Fuller’s production company (he managed the Spice Girls).

I posted the CV and photo off ASAP, and got a call soon after from the blonde lady for a ‘recall’ – also to take place at Pineapple Studios. I turned up and there was a short queue of pretty girls who all looked similar to me: dark hair, dark eyes, and tanned, beige or olive skin.

I had to do a piece to camera and say who I admired most in the world. I remember saying something about Duran Duran, which they probably didn’t expect from someone my age. Then I’d prepared a song, ‘Fever’ (I was singing jazz standards throughout my teens and playing the piano too, though I sang a cappella during the recall). I think in retrospect they would have preferred a chart pop song.

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[Me, making friends with a fence.]

They thanked me, and I never heard back. I guess I wasn’t exactly what they were looking for after all. Soon after that, I started dating a much older guy called Simon (not Simon Fuller) who was the band Shed Seven’s manager. The Sheds were signed to Polydor, and when I told Simon about the audition, he said ‘Ah, that must have been for S Club 7.’ ‘Who?’ I asked. ‘They’re the new pop group Simon (Fuller) has put together,’ he explained.

The next year, S Club 7 hit number 1 in the charts with their debut single ‘Bring It All Back’, which was released on Polydor, and I felt extremely wistful and envious. I realised that I and all the other dark-haired olive-skinned girls at the second audition must have been in the running for Tina’s place in the band.

Bring It All Back[S Club 7’s first single ‘Bring It All Back’. Tina is in the red.]

A couple of years later, I received another call from 19 Management about possibly being in S Club Juniors (later called S Club 8) and travelled down to Battersea to meet the team. However, I think they’d forgotten how old I was, and decided I was too long in the tooth at the advanced age of 20!

So I never got to be in S Club anything. My life could have been so different – but would it have been better? Probably not, especially as I had rarely thrived in groups of kids. Plus I’d never have created the Atheist Bus Campaign, and nor would I have had my wonderful daughter.

Lily and Mummy

[Me and the Lilster, back when she was six and had cut her own fringe.]

Years after the auditions, in March 2010, I’d get to perform an original song I’d written (below) with Tim Minchin at the Simon Singh benefit at London’s Cambridge Theatre. (Simon was being sued by the British Chiropractic Association for saying in a Guardian column that chiropractic was bogus, so the benefit was a celebrity fundraiser to support him.) The entire thousand-strong crowd sang the chorus along with me – so I got a little taste of what it felt like to be a pop star then – and it felt awesome.

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 16

Me: 12st 9.6lbs (total loss in 16 days: 4.6lbs)

Oh God. It was all going so well, and then I got my period and binged on chocolate. Forgive me.

John: 14st 4.5lbs (total loss in 16 days: 3lbs)

John chooses this moment to narrow the gap.

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Ricky Steer, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon.

Rewards start from just $1 a month, which is 85p in real money and gets you access to my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but EVEN BETTER!

Why Morrissey is wrong about everything

When I was in my late teens and twenties, one of my regular pastimes was arguing with my best friend Graham about music. He thought my favourite bands (Duran Duran and U2) were rubbish; I thought his favourite band and associated artist (The Smiths and Morrissey) had superlative lyrics, but dirgy and discordant melodies that often sounded the same. We only found common ground with Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys, two bands we both loved.

Getting back to Morrissey: I also thought ‘Bengali In Platforms’ was up there with The Kinks’ ‘Apeman’ as the most racist song I’d ever heard. Morrissey had written the lyrics:

‘Bengali, Bengali, Bengali, Bengali
Oh, shelve your Western plans
And understand
That life is hard enough when you belong here’

and he was therefore racist.

Graham argued Morrissey wasn’t racist; he was just a provocateur who liked to court attention by saying shocking things.

20 years later, he has had to admit that I was right. He has been horrified by Morrissey’s support for the far-right political party For Britain, and his Islamophobia, to the extent that he’s refused to buy Morrissey’s latest album California Son.

“Can you imagine if Simon Le Bon turned out to be a massive racist?” Graham asked me. “It’s so distressing.” (I said I couldn’t imagine any such thing, especially as Simon’s wife is half-Asian and Duran Duran have been so heavily influenced by bands like Chic, The Temptations and Public Enemy.)

Anyhow, let’s go through and debunk a few of Morrissey’s claims:

Morrissey on For Britain: “For Britain seem to say what many British people are currently thinking, which is why the BBC or Channel 4 News will not acknowledge them, because, well, For Britain would change British politics forever.”

Fixed it for you:

“For Britain seem to say what many racist British people are currently thinking, which is why the BBC or Channel 4 News will not acknowledge them, because they don’t want to entertain racists, and For Britain would change British politics for the worse forever.”

Morrissey on Sadiq Khan: “The Mayor of London tells us about ‘Neighborhood policin’ – what is ‘policin’? He tells us London is an ‘amazin’ city. What is ‘amazin’? This is the Mayor of London! And he cannot talk properly! I saw an interview where he was discussing mental health, and he repeatedly said ‘men’el’ … he could not say the words ‘mental health’.”

What he means:

“The Mayor of London is Muslim and I don’t like Muslims, so I’m going to pick at his London accent as I can’t find anything else to pick on him for. I also have flat Mancunian vowels and Sadiq Khan could well say ‘What is a “bath”? What is a “mug”?’ But he wouldn’t because he’s not that small-minded and petty and understands that the UK is a diverse place with many different equally valid accents.”

Morrissey on Diane Abbott: “No, I haven’t ever voted. I don’t have sufficient faith in the circus of politics … and … you can see why! It is a moral disaster on every level. Even Tesco wouldn’t employ Diane Abbott.”

Fixed it:

“No, I haven’t ever voted, because I am a moral disaster on every level. Even Tesco wouldn’t employ Diane Abbott because she would be way over-qualified even if she applied to be CEO.”

And one more:

Morrissey on being called ‘racist’: “When someone calls you racist, what they are saying is “hmm, you actually have a point, and I don’t know how to answer it, so perhaps if I distract you by calling you a bigot we’ll both forget how enlightened your comment was.”

Fixed:

“When someone calls you racist, what they are saying is ‘hmm, you are actually a racist’.”

Anyhow, I could do this all day, but the internet doesn’t have enough space for me to refute all of Morrissey’s stupid remarks, so I’ll go and do something more productive now.

Ariane GrahamMe and Big G in front of the atheist bus, back when he loved Mozza.

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 14

Me: 12st 8.2lbs (total loss in 14 days: 6lbs)

I weigh the same today – and so does John!

John: 14st 5.25lbs (total loss in 14 days: 2.25lbs)

Let’s hope this week sees more weight loss for both of us.

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Ricky Steer, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon.

Rewards start from just $1 a month, which is 85p in real money and gets you access to my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but EVEN BETTER!

I was a teenage beauty queen

I ran a Twitter poll yesterday asking what you’d like to see more of on this blog. The winner by a hair was true life stories, which is handy as my whole life has been crazy. Not sure how I’m going to break this result to the eight-year-old though.

Anyhow, here’s another true tale from my rather large arsenal…

I was such an ugly, geeky, friendless kid. I had big sticky-out buck teeth, a hairy face, and my mum cut my hair. The girls at secondary school said I’d have to have sex with an animal if I ever wanted to have sex, as ‘you’re so ugly no man will ever fuck you’.

This really upset me, and I vowed I’d never have sex with an animal. And ladies and gentlemen, to this day, I have kept that promise.

I was bullied at my primary school in Willesden Green, Malorees; then when I was eight, my family moved to Pinner in Harrow, Middlesex, where I was bullied at my new primary school, West Lodge Middle School (we used to call it Wet Splodge Piddle School); and then finally I was bullied at my secondary school, Watford Grammar School for Girls. It seems the saying is true that ‘wherever you go, there you are’.

I used to stare wistfully at the other girls at school in Games, and wish I had their perfect, hairless bodies. I used to cry thinking how ugly I was. Here I am, aged 11 in West Lodge uniform:

Ariane1991

But within four years, my appearance had changed. When I blossomed at age 15, I could barely believe it. Suddenly, I wasn’t ugly any more, though I was still virtually friendless. I wore a brace for two years to fix my front teeth, learned how to bleach and pluck the hair on my face, and began shaving my body. I started wearing makeup, put my hair up in a ‘pineapple’ ponytail on top of my head, and got my first proper boyfriend. I remember him saying that if he had a wish from a genie, ‘I’d wish to make your tits bigger’. Charming.

Age 15

Then, when I was nearly 17, the local paper in my hometown of Harrow ran a beauty contest for the very first time: Miss Harrow. The main prizes were a £400 hifi and £100 in cash. I entered with this photo of me and Simon Le Bon, as we were friends (another story for another time). God knows what the staff thought at The Harrow Times if they recognised him! They probably didn’t get many photos of parochial beauty contest contestants with rock stars.

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A few weeks later, I received a phone call to say I’d made it into the final five contestants. I had to come and meet the judges at the Harrow Times. Thankfully, I didn’t have to parade in a bikini, demonstrate a talent or make a speech about world peace.

A few days after the judging panel, I received another call to say that I had won, and was to be crowned the inaugural Miss Harrow! It felt amazing, but I’d left school by this point, so sadly didn’t get to feel vindicated in the face of the bullies. Though when I went to college in Stanmore the following year, a girl who had seen me in the paper told me, ‘If you’re Miss Harrow, I’m Miss Universe’ – to which I replied deadpan, ‘Congratulations, Miss Universe.’

I was crowned Miss Harrow at the Harrow Show in July 1997, just after my 17th birthday:

Age 17 (2)

Now this is where my own personal version of The Ugly Duckling gets a little surreal and funny. After my coronation, I had to have lunch with the dignitaries: the new mayor Keith Toms (above), whose wife had made my very fetching sash; the editor of the Harrow Times, Charlie Harris; and the sitting MPs.

The new MP for Harrow East at the time was Labour’s Tony McNulty. You may recognise his name, as he was later implicated in the expenses scandal and had to resign, though that doesn’t really narrow it down much.

tony-mcnulty

Tony McNulty. Image credit: Press Association.

Anyhow, over lunch, Tony told Charlie, the editor of the Harrow Times, that he didn’t approve of the beauty contest – it was sexist, reductive and unreconstructed, he said. Charlie tried to argue that it was post-modern, but Tony said he didn’t want to see another contest being run.

So, for the next 15 years, I was still Miss Harrow.

Every year, the organisers would email me and ask if, as the reigning Miss Harrow, I would appear at the Harrow Show. By then, I was slightly embarrassed about my superficial accolade, so I always said no.

I only made one more appearance as Miss Harrow, which was soon after my coronation: I rode in an open-topped sports car through the spectator-lined streets at the Stanmore Carnival. I was told to wave to the crowds, but I’d forgotten to shave my armpits, so ended up waving at them with my left hand clamped to my right pit.

I know a lot of people don’t agree with beauty contests and would take Tony McNulty’s stance here, but in my defence, given that I was bullied for my looks for years, I kind of needed some official confirmation that I was no longer hideous.

This 1952 video of The Ugly Duckling is really lovely, and will leave you with a warm feeling in your heart. I hope you enjoy it.

 

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE

I can no longer bear (or even bare) my shabby feet, so am going to fix them today. Tomorrow they will be less skanky and more swanky!

Day 3

Me: 12st 12.2lbs (total loss: 2lbs in three days)

I don’t know why the hell I’ve put on 0.6 of a pound. Yesterday I mostly ate vegetables, I couldn’t have eaten more than 1,200 calories, and I logged my foods assiduously in a food diary. Oh well – I’m not going to let this deter me. I’m still winning, after all.

John: 14st 6.25lbs (total loss: 1.25lbs in three days)

This post has been made possible by my Patreon supporters Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon.