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:


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.


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. 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.



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.

The day I robbed a bank, aged 17

My first bank account was with NatWest. They offered me £30 to open it, in 1996. The branch was in Bridge Street, one of the shopping streets in Pinner, Middlesex, and I lived more than half a mile away – which, for a lazy teenager, was an epic trek.

My grandparents had given me a cheque for my birthday, which was also £30, and I wanted to cash it so I could buy something nice at the weekend. It would take four days to clear. So that Monday at 4pm I strolled down to the bank, which closed at 4.30pm. By the time I got there, it was 4.15pm – comfortably before closing time.

But no! Alas, the bank was closed. There was no notice outside – the plaque on the wall still said its opening hours were 9.30 to 4.30pm on weekdays – but the door was firmly shut and wouldn’t budge, no matter how hard I tried to get in.

I sighed. If the bank was shut, that meant I wouldn’t be able to cash my cheque in time for the weekend. Then – aha! – I heard the lock turn, and spied movement. Someone was being let out of the bank. ‘Excuse me,’ I said to the bank official doing the letting out, whose badge said Bank Manager, ‘it’s only 4.15pm and I’d like to cash a cheque please.’

‘We’re closed,’ he said, looking surly, and slammed the door in my face, locking it again.

Well!, I thought. That was just not on. The bank had an obligation to its customers – it couldn’t close early unless it had a very good reason, and the man hadn’t provided one. [My mum had been doing a law degree throughout my childhood, which may explain my slightly argumentative nature back then.]

So when the door next opened to let someone out, I slipped past them and into the bank. Hurray! Now I could cash my cheque.

‘Get out!’ snarled the bank manager. He was an Asian man, but clearly felt no solidarity for this fellow Asian. He was also quite a bit taller than my unimpressive height of 5’2″, but he didn’t scare me.

‘I’ll get out as soon as you cash my cheque,’ I said. ‘I’m a NatWest customer and you have a duty to cash it.’

‘We’re not going to cash your cheque, so you can get out now,’ the bank manager snapped, though I could see the bank tills were still open and the cashiers were working.

‘Shan’t!’ I said truculently, and slid down to the floor. I still remember exactly where in the bank I sat down – near the entrance, diagonally opposite the customer service desk. ‘I’m not leaving until you cash my cheque. You have opening hours and they’re not over yet.’


The bank manager was fuming, but clearly didn’t want to forcibly manhandle me out of the branch like Mark Field. ‘Right,’ he said. ‘Get out, or I’m calling the police.’

‘Call them!’ I said, still staging my one-girl sit-in protest. ‘See if I care. I’m going to report you to head office and close my account!’ (This wasn’t much of a threat, as back then my account contained about 50p, but it was all I could think of.)

To my surprise, the bank manager actually called the police. He dialled the number as I sat grumpily on the bank floor, and he muttered something into the phone. I shrugged and hugged my knees to my chest, bored and cross.

The police station was at the top of Bridge Street in those days, so it took less than one minute for the sirens to blaze and the police car to screech down to the bank. Two uniformed policemen burst in, then looked around the bank, puzzled.

‘We’ve come here because of reports of a disturbance!’ one of them announced.

The bank manager pointed at me.

‘Is this the disturbance?’ the policeman asked, gawping at my seven-and-a-half-stone frame, amazed.

‘She’s trespassing and refusing to leave the bank,’ the bank manager announced. I glared at him.

‘We’ve come here on blues and twos!’ the policeman ranted, staring at me. ‘We thought the bank was being robbed!’

‘Don’t blame me! I didn’t call you,’ I said. ‘I just wanted to cash my cheque.’

The policeman calmed down. ‘Well, if the bank manager tells you to leave the bank, you should leave the bank,’ he said.

I glared, defeated, and got to my feet. ‘He shouldn’t have called you though,’ I said. ‘I’m not very scary.’

‘Quite the opposite, Madam,’ replied the policeman mildly, who clearly thought the bank manager was a bit of a dick.

I never did report the bank manager to head office or close my account – I think I realised I was being a bit of a horror and they wouldn’t take my side – but I did eventually get to cash my cheque.

I still hold an account with NatWest to this day, though the best thing I ever got out of that bank was this anecdote.

2017_12_29_16_28_15[Me as a teenager. I was wearing a boob tube, though you can’t see it.]


Day 1

Me: 12st 12.8lbs (total loss: 1.4lbs). Here’s a picture of my feet on the scales so I can’t cheat (apologies for my hairy legs and feet. I am basically a gorilla in human form!)


John: 14st 6lbs (total loss: 1.5lbs)

John is winning (just)! I need to up my game.

This post has been made possible by my Patreon supporters Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, 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.