The secret to success (well, some thoughts anyway…)

I once heard an anecdote from a famous literary agent’s assistant that made me laugh:

‘Every author wants a publishing deal. The authors who are critically acclaimed want to be commercially successful, and the authors who are commercially successful want to be critically acclaimed.

‘Every author is desperate to win an award. And those authors who win an award are most miserable of all, for they see the award as an albatross around their necks and fear nothing they ever do will scale those heights again.’

(Basically, every author is miserable!)

People definitely compare themselves upwards. None of these authors were thinking ‘It’s so great I have an agent!’ They were taking that for granted and wishing they were more successful. So there’s definitely something to be said for being extremely grateful for where you are now in life, rather than always striving for more.

Ariane Flowers.jpg

But if I had any advice for achieving your goals, it would be along the following lines:

Work out what you want to achieve. You can’t aim for a target you haven’t set. I know many people who want to lose weight, but that’s such a nebulous goal that it doesn’t focus the mind. In contrast, a goal to lose 4 stone is specific and measurable, and you know when you’ve achieved it.

Figure out the steps between you and your goal. Break it down into manageable chunks. For instance, today I weigh 12st 4.2lbs. To get down to 8 stone, I need to lose more than 4 stone, but right now I’m aiming for a ‘Club 10’ target of 12st 2.5lbs, which means I’ll have lost a tenth of my body weight since joining Slimming World. (SW is good like this – it rewards you at least every 7lbs.)

Recognise that you’ll fail before you succeed (especially true of weight loss). You’ll take two steps forward, one step back. If we’re talking creativity, everyone gets rejected at times; everyone has to produce more than will ever be published or used. Just think of all the many drafts of novels. Remember Samuel Beckett’s quote: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’

Keep going. You’ll fall down, but make sure to keep getting up and attempting to succeed. You’ll be amazed by how many people fall by the wayside. The person who succeeds is often the last (wo)man standing. There have been so many times when I’ve thought, ‘Fuck it, maybe I’ll just stay fat!’ but I also know that won’t make me happy. So keep your goal in mind when things get tough.

You never know when your luck will turn – when you’ll come to the attention of a gatekeeper who could change your life, or just get an exciting opportunity. Last week, I was headhunted for a role. It wasn’t right for me, but at least that person now knows I exist.

I also got invited to debate Brexit on Good Morning Britain. They went with another guest in the end, but I wasn’t expecting the invitation, and the randomness of it cheered me up. (Though I was also slightly relieved at being stood down to be honest – pretty sure Twitter would have been unusable for me for about two days afterwards thanks to angry Brexiteers!)

Writers: remember to preface harsh feedback with ‘in my opinion’. I’ve been told before by a literary agent that I can’t write. It floored me; I had to remind myself I’ve written endless columns for the Guardian, and lots for the Spectator and the Sunday Times. That knowledge helped to reframe this person’s opinion as ‘in my opinion, you can’t write’. And, in less polite terms: fuck ’em. Feedback should be constructive, and that wasn’t. Metaphorically kick them in the fanny and move on.

People who aren’t gatekeepers will also be shitty about your achievements. Look at the comments section of any comedy article. You’ll find ‘This isn’t funny’; ‘That’s five minutes of my life I’ll never get back’; ‘I can’t believe [publication] pays for this crap.’ That’s cool: you got paid and credited and you aren’t the person wasting your life leaving negative comments. Put it down to jealousy and don’t let it bother you. The publication wouldn’t have run the article if they didn’t like it.

Realise that you have to adapt to life’s changes. The Guardian stopped running me regularly in 2010; it hurt as it was the paper I grew up reading, and I still love it. I’d write for it again in a heartbeat, but if not, other publications are available. I also really enjoy writing for the Daily Mash and writing books for Little, Brown.

Sometimes things change because of you, not your employer. I realised I wasn’t enjoying writing for television in late 2007, and made the leap to journalism after six years of telly. I used to love going into the BBC and being the youngest person in writers’ rooms, but now I go into the BBC as an occasional commentator and am sometimes the oldest person on the panel, and that’s OK too. Life changes and you have to change with it rather than be depressed by it.

Oh, and lastly: never self-deprecate! As someone wiser than me once said, ‘People accept the value you place upon yourself’. Keep telling people you’re rubbish and they’ll eventually believe you.

Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

Ariane face

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 41

Me: 12st 4.2lbs (total loss in 41 days: 10lbs)

I need to keep going.

John: 14st 4.75lbs (total loss in 41 days: 2.75lbs)

John’s doing well again!

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, 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 for my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but I’m even more open in it (if you can imagine that!)

The time I came runner-up in a BBC sitcom award (final part and long read)

SCENE 8: INT. GRIMP & GRIMP SOLICITORS’ OFFICE (DAY)

LEILA WALKS INTO THE OFFICE SHE SHARES WITH AMRIT AND CAN HARDLY MOVE FOR ALL THE MESS AND PAPERWORK.

LEILA:

Amrit, I hate to say it, but on this occasion Mr Grimp is right. Your desk looks like a bomb site.

AMRIT: (GRINNING MISCHIEVOUSLY)

But you’d rather it looked like a building site, wouldn’t you? One worked on by ‘Darren Hyde Erection’!

LEILA:

Darren Hyde Construction, Amrit! Construction. And no I wouldn’t. (A NOTE OF SUSPICION CREEPS INTO HER VOICE) Anyway, how do you know his name’s Darren Hyde?

AMRIT: (LOOKING SHEEPISH)

Er, I just saw his van down your road. So what’s happening with him then?

LEILA:

Nothing. And it couldn’t if I wanted it to, which I don’t. Dad’s completely set on fixing me up with this rich old man from London. I don’t want to go along with it, it’s not fair, but I’ll feel so guilty if I don’t.

AMRIT:

What’s his name?

LEILA:

Oh I don’t know, some stupid name. Devinder Brar or something.

AMRIT:

Not… not the Devinder Brar?

LEILA: (SHRUGGING)

I don’t know. I think he’s involved in music.

AMRIT:

Oh my God, you’re being set up with Devinder Brar the millionaire record label boss! He’s a 62-year-old Piscean who’s been living alone in Fulham since his ex divorced him!

LEILA:

Who are you, his biographer?

AMRIT:

No, I just know about him ‘cause he’s really famous. And he wants to meet you!  You should be flattered.

LEILA:

Flattered? If I slept with him, I’d be flattened.

AMRIT:

Oh, come on. Padma Lakshmi and Salman Rushdie, Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas… old ugly rich men are really in fashion right now.

LEILA:

Fantastic. Can you give them to Oxfam once the season’s over?

AMRIT:

You’re so cynical. (GETS DREAMY, FARAWAY LOOK IN EYES) I’d love to be set up with someone nice, get married in a big traditional ceremony and beautiful sari, have lots of little babies…

LEILA:

It’s not about that though is it? Oh God, I feel both guilty and angry. It’s just so frustrating. I do want my parents to be happy, but right now I think Dad only sees me as a human chequebook. I’m already bailing out his businesses, and now I have to go through this.

AMRIT:

Well that’s your duty as his daughter. I’d bail out Auntiegee. Speaking of her, she freaked out last night – she saw me coming out of the shower and asked if I was in trouble. I wish. (SHE SIGHS)

LEILA: (CONFUSED)

What?

AMRIT: (SADLY, HOLDING STOMACH)

She thought my beer belly was a baby, innit?

LEILA: (WEARILY)

For the 87th time, you can’t use ‘innit’ as a contraction.

AMRIT:

Oh, I’d go through any amount of pain for a baby. (PRODS HER STOMACH.) I wish I was pregnant. If I had a kid and lovely husband I wouldn’t have to work for Mr. Grimp.

LEILA:

Amrit, even in this day and age the modern woman is always under someone. And your husband would expect certain things of you which Mr. Grimp does not.

AMRIT:

I wouldn’t mind. I wish I was under someone right now. Someone like that Darren.

LEILA: (FLUSHING BRIGHT RED)

Amrit, shut up! Don’t talk about him like that.

AMRIT:

Ooh, defending him! You like him!

LEILA:

I absolutely do not! And if you don’t shut up this minute, I’m going to tell Mr. Grimp you call him the Grim Pimp!

AMRIT: (GOGGLE-EYED)

You wouldn’t! Why are you getting so worked up? Blokes love you, everything’s perfect.

LEILA: (SNAPPING)

No Amrit. If things were perfect I would be living alone and working in my own practice, not living at home, working here and being pursued by randy builders and Jabba the Hut lookalikes!

AMRIT:

Come to think of it, Jabba the Hut’s quite fit…

 

SCENE 9: EXT. THE BUILDING SITE (DAY)

DARREN WALKS UP AND SITS ON THE WALL BETWEEN DEAN AND WAYNE.

WAYNE:

How’s yer bird, then?

DARREN: (DEJECTEDLY, HEAD IN HANDS)

It’s all over, lads. She’s probably getting married.

DEAN:

Oh mate, you must be gutted. That’s the worst excuse in the book. Why couldn’t she have just said she wasn’t interested?

DARREN:

No, really, she is being introduced to someone. He’s a millionaire record company owner.  How can I compete with that?

DEAN:

You could always tell her you’re about to float your own company for millions.  She doesn’t need to know that the Darren Hyde in its name is your Dad.

DARREN: (SADLY)

Nah, she won’t fall for that. She won’t fall for me either. I’m just going to have to face facts – she’s never going to be my girl.

DEAN:

Wait, slow down.

WAYNE:

Yeah, you’re still going to pick her best mate’s brains this lunchtime.

DEAN:

And you said Leila didn’t even like men, so she might not like this other bloke.

DARREN:

Yeah, she says she doesn’t want to be introduced to him, that he’s old and fat, but her Dad’s businesses are failing and they need money. And if her family are putting pressure on her…

WAYNE:

Yeah, and if he’s rich and old, that’s gotta swing it for him. He’s only one heart attack away from payday.

DEAN:

Oh, come on. Daz is young, athletic and hot… he’ll be a vindaloo to this bloke’s korma.

DARREN:

But what about the record company thing? Music’s much more glamorous than building. It’s not like I can take her to any celebrity parties.

DEAN:

No, but you mentioning music has given me an idea – you can serenade her! I’ve heard that’s all they do in those four-hour Bollywood films.

DARREN:

But… but I can’t sing.

DEAN:

It’s the thought that counts. You’ll make her feel like a princess in a fairytale.

DARREN: (GETTING INTO IT)

Yeah, I’ll be the handsome prince who rescues her from the clutches of…

WAYNE:

A lifetime of financial security? You’ll be the frog, mate, and she ain’t even gonna kiss you.

 

SCENE 10: INT. ITALIAN CAFE (DAY)

AMRIT IS SITTING NERVOUSLY AT A TABLE, TWO PINTS IN FRONT OF HER, LOOKING AT HER WATCH, WHEN DARREN WALKS IN.

DARREN:

So, Amrat.

AMRIT:

It’s Am-rit.

DARREN:

Right, of course – you’re not a rat are you?

HE TITTERS NERVOUSLY, WHILE AMRIT GIGGLES AND LEANS OVER TO KISS HIM ON THE CHEEK. LEILA ARRIVES AT THE CAFÉ, WHERE SHE’S COME TO BUY LUNCH, AND SEES THEM THROUGH THE WINDOW. THEY ARE LAUGHING AND LOOK LIKE THEY ARE HAVING A GOOD TIME. LEILA LOOKS HURT AND UPSET, AND WALKS OFF.

A WAITER ARRIVES AT AMRIT AND DARREN’S TABLE AND SETS DOWN TWO COFFEES.

AMRIT:

I am a bit of a rat actually. I shouldn’t really be here, but sometimes feelings are just too strong to ignore.

SHE GIVES DARREN A MEANINGFUL LOOK, WHICH HE IGNORES.

DARREN:

So has Leila mentioned me at all?

AMRIT:

Yeah, she said you were a wanker.

DARREN: (LOOKING VERY DEJECTED)

Oh.

AMRIT:

But you don’t want to worry about her. There are lots of other nice Asian girls around. (SHE WINKS AT HIM.)

DARREN: (DELIBERATELY LOOKING AWAY, TRYING TO GET THE MESSAGE ACROSS TO AMRIT THAT HE’S NOT INTERESTED)

I really like her though. Tell me some stuff about her – what’s her surname?

AMRIT:

Kaur.

DARREN:

How old is she?

AMRIT:

25, same as me.

DARREN:

Right. And what was she like at school?

AMRIT: (SIGHS, PISSED OFF)

Just as smart-arsed as she is now. Can we talk about something else?

 

SCENE 11: INT. GRIMP & GRIMP SOLICITORS’ (DAY)

AMRIT WALKS BACK DOWN THE STREET TO THE OFFICE. 

 

AMRIT: (MUTTERING)

Leila, Leila, Leila. She’s so bloody interesting.

AMRIT ENTERS THE OFFICE, WHERE LEILA IS SITTING AT HER DESK HUNCHED OVER PAPERWORK. AMRIT FLOPS DOWN IN A CHAIR AND LETS OUT A LOUD BREATH, LOOKING PISSED OFF. SHE THEN LOOKS OVER AT LEILA.

AMRIT:

Alright?

LEILA DOESN’T REPLY.

 AMRIT: (LOOKING PUZZLED)

What you doing?

LEILA:

I’m being a lawyer. Upholding the truth. Something you don’t seem to know much about. Now leave me alone.

AMRIT NOW LOOKS EXTREMELY BEWILDERED, THEN FLUSTERED. SHE SHRUGS, THEN SITS DOWN AND GETS ON WITH HER WORK.

 

SCENE 12: INT. LEILA’S HOUSE (EVENING)

LEILA ARRIVES HOME FROM WORK TO FIND HER MOTHER IN THE LOUNGE WATCHING TELEVISION. SHE SETS HER BAG DOWN.

LEILA:

Hiya.

MUM: (BEAMING)

I have been playing Countdown.

LEILA:

Yeah? How did you do?

MUM: (STILL BEAMING)

I won.

LEILA:

Hang on… you were playing in Punjabi again, weren’t you?

MUM: (BEAMS AGAIN)

Yes.

[Beat.]

MUM:

So are you looking forward to tomorrow?

LEILA:

Like Stella McCartney looks forward to a Big Mac. I can’t believe you’re making me do this.

MUM:

You know, Devinder is very light-skinned.

LEILA:

I don’t care if he’s Michael Jackson, I’m not interested.

MUM:

I hope you marry him. Then I can meet lots of pop stars.

LEILA:

Great. Dad wants Devinder for his money, and you want him to assist you in your new career as a groupie. What about me? Don’t you care whether like him or want to marry him?

LEILA’S DAD COMES INTO THE LOUNGE FROM THE KITCHEN, COVERED IN FLOUR.

DAD:

You will, I am sure of that. He is a very respectable man, very charming. And he will certainly like you – I have been spending all day preparing for him coming tomorrow, but I am going to tell him you have done it all! We are having aloo gobi, rogan josh, roti and dhal, and I have put out a lovely pink sari for you to wear –

LEILA:

Dad, Dad, slow down. You don’t need to go to all this effort, it’s just not necessary.

DAD:

Just tell me, how was your work day?

LEILA:

Stimulating as ever.

DAD:

That Mr. Gimp, how much does he pay you?

LEILA:

Grimp, father, Grimp. You know he doesn’t pay me enough.

DAD:

Well, wouldn’t it be nice to not have to see him again? To be able to stay at home and read your heavy books and too-big papers and watch your Newsnight, all those things you like to do but don’t have time? You would no longer need to support us, for you would have lots of money.

LEILA: (SARCASTICALLY)

And money truly is the key to happiness.

DAD: (JOYFULLY)

At last you have realised!

 

SCENE 13: INT/EXT. LEILA’S HOUSE (AFTERNOON)

‘SING’ BY TRAVIS PLAYS FROM DARREN’S GHETTOBLASTER AS HE CARRIES IT DOWN WARWICK STREET. HE THEN STOPS OUTSIDE LEILA’S WINDOW AND STARTS SINGING VERY BADLY. HE SINGS ADAPTED LYRICS ALONG TO THE TRACK:

“Wish I was Singh, Singh, Singh

Singh, Si-ingh Si-ingh Si-ingh

For the love I bring won’t mean a thing

Till I’m a Singh, Si-ingh Si-ingh Si-ingh.”

LEILA APPEARS AT HER OPEN BEDROOM WINDOW HALFWAY THROUGH AND LISTENS TO HIM DISBELIEVINGLY.

LEILA:

Darren! What the hell are you doing? Are you in pain?

WE THEN SEE LEILA’S DAD COMING UP CAUTIOUSLY BEHIND LEILA IN HER BEDROOM, PEERING OVER HER SHOULDER AT DARREN.

DAD:

Leila, who is this man?

LEILA:

Just some weirdo trying to sell us a stereo. Don’t worry, I’ll get rid of him.

DARREN:

Is your father a thief?

DAD: (FIERCELY)

You will not rope me into your illegal activities!

DARREN:

I just wondered how he stole the stars from the sky and put –

LEILA:

– and I’ll put my fists in your eyes if you don’t shut up and piss off.

DARREN: (DESPERATELY)

Just tell me – is there a funeral in heaven tonight?

DAD: (WARILY)

Maybe he is a Jehovah’s Witness?

DARREN:

Because they seem to be missing an angel.

LEILA’S FATHER WALKS FORWARD AND LEANS OUT OF THE WINDOW

DAD: (ANGRILY)

Trying to fill my daughter’s head with Christian nonsense! Get out of my street or I will call the police!

DARREN LOOKS HURT AND BEWILDERED

LEILA:

Er, Dad, he lives in our street. Look, I’ll deal with him, you go and check that the rogan josh isn’t burning.

LEILA’S DAD GIVES DARREN AN EVIL LOOK AND WALKS OUT OF THE ROOM MUTTERING TO HIMSELF.

DARREN:

He doesn’t like me, does he? Is it because I’m not a Singh?

LEILA:

No, you fool, it’s because you’re standing on our front lawn with a ghettoblaster making a prat of yourself.

DARREN:

I don’t care if you think I’m mad. I love you Leila, I love your wit and your beauty and I know I could make you happy.

LEILA:

Delusion is a tragic thing.

DARREN:

Maybe you should ask your mate Amrit what she thinks of me. You might be surprised.

LEILA: (SNAPPING)

I doubt it! I can’t believe you’re expecting me to fall at your feet, serenading me and using what you don’t seem to realise are the lamest, most decrepit chat-up lines since ‘do you come here often?’, when in actual fact you’re the slimiest, least selective man I’ve ever met.

DARREN: (SHOCKED AND DISBELIEVING)

What? What have I done to make you think that?

LEILA: (LIPS SET GRIMLY IN THIN LINE)

I saw you looking cosy with Amrit at lunch time.

DARREN: (GAZES AT HER, MOUTH OPEN, AGHAST, THEN PUTS HEAD IN HANDS)

Oh Leila… you don’t think I fancy her, do you? I only met up with her as I wanted to ask her about your culture and what the best way was to woo you.

LEILA:

Oh really. And you expect me to believe that, do you?

DARREN:

Look, I don’t expect you to, but it’s true. And I don’t mind if you don’t get with me yet, just as long as you don’t marry this other bloke.

LEILA: (SIGHING)

He might not even want to marry me. Thought of that?

DARREN:

Why wouldn’t he? Just the thought of you with him makes me feel awful. You look like Rapunzel up there. I should ask you to let down your hair, then I could climb up and rescue you.

LEILA LOOKS AT HIM THOUGHTFULLY.

LEILA:

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but… actually, maybe you can rescue me. It’s worth a try. You might be able to help me get out of this whole thing with Devinder Brar.

DARREN: (BEMUSEDLY, TO HIMSELF)

Brar? (TO LEILA). Well yeah, sure… what do you want me to do?

LEILA:

Um… well, you could intercept him before he gets here and tell him something to put him off me. Let’s see… what would put him off? (CLAPS HER HANDS) That’s it! You’ve got to tell him I’m promiscuous.

DARREN: (DOUBTFULLY)

Is he going to believe that of you, do you reckon?

LEILA:

Oh, I’ll play up to it in the house. But I won’t be able to ham it up too much, because of my parents. So you’ll have to suggest to him first that he won’t be getting a virgin bride – that, in fact, I’m the very opposite. Now he’ll be coming down the road at around seven o’clock.

DARREN:

Great! Don’t worry, you just leave it all to me.

 

SCENE 14: EXT. WARWICK STREET (EVENING)

DARREN, DEAN AND WAYNE ARE CROUCHED BEHIND A PARKED CAR, PEERING OUT, WAITING FOR DEVINDER TO ARRIVE.

WAYNE:

He’s overweight, right? So we’re waiting for a… padded Brar.

DEAN:

He can’t be very fit then. Obviously he’s not a… sports Brar.

DARREN:

All right, that’s enough bra jokes. God, I won’t be able to say his name now, I’ll laugh. I’ll have to think of a new opening line.

DEAN:

Look, I think this is him!

DEVINDER BRAR’S MERCEDES PULLS UP AND HE GETS OUT, LOOKING VERY PLEASED WITH HIMSELF, STRAIGHTENING UP HIS SHARP SUIT. DARREN, DEAN AND WAYNE RUN UP TO HIM.

DARREN:

Excuse me, but are you going to see the Kaurs?

DEVINDER: (R.P. ACCENT)

Oh, are they in town? No, I think I’ll wait for the Lighthouse Family.

DARREN:

Er, I mean, are you going to see Leila at number 48?

DEVINDER:

Ah yes, the Singhs. Why didn’t you say?

DARREN:

Her name’s Kaur isn’t it? Leila Kaur?

DEVINDER:

Of course, my dear English fellow.  But her father is called Singh, so they are the Singhs. Must always take the man’s name, you know, we reign supreme eh?

DARREN: (CLEARS HIS THROAT)

Right. You’ve no doubt heard that Leila’s really beautiful.

DEVINDER: (PREOCCUPIED)

Beautiful, intelligent, chaste… I‘m very much looking forward to meeting her.

DARREN:

You might not want her to once you find out where she’s been.

DEVINDER:

Where?

DARREN:

Everywhere, with everyone. I’ve had her, me mates have had her…

DEAN AND WAYNE NOD EARNESTLY.  DEVINDER STARTS SMILING.

DEAN:

The lollipop man’s had her…

WAYNE

My cousin’s dog’s –

DARREN:

Wayne! 

DEVINDER IS NOW LAUGHING LOUDLY, TO DARREN’S SHOCK AND DISMAY.

DARREN:

What’s so funny? Wouldn’t you rather go where no man has gone before?

DEAN:

She’s hardly uncharted territory.

DARREN:

Used goods, mate. She’s a loose woman.

WAYNE:

She’s sampled every sausage in New-

DARREN:

WAYNE!

DEVINDER WIPES HIS EYES, WHICH HAVE WATERED WITH MIRTH, AND SIGHS, AMUSED.

DEVINDER:

My dear boy, do you seriously expect me to believe she would sleep with you? Surely you give me more credit than that?

DARREN:(AFFRONTED)

Why wouldn’t she?

DEVINDER:

Well, you’re nothing but a common lout! And you’ve proved it by trying to soil her reputation. I’ve heard great things about her chastity.

WAYNE:

Ah, nostalgia!

DEVINDER STARTS TO WALK AWAY.

DARREN:

No, wait! There’s something else you don’t know, something important –

DEVINDER TURNS ON HIS HEEL AND RAISES AN EYEBROW IN AMUSED, EXASPERATED FASHION.

DEVINDER:

What now? Has my ex-wife ‘had her’, perchance?

DARREN:

No, she’s… (HE PAUSES, THEN SAYS THE FIRST THING THAT COMES INTO HIS HEAD) She’s – bald.

DEVINDER:

Don’t be ridiculous!

DEAN:

Seriously, she is. Shinier dome than St. Paul’s. That beautiful hair’s a wig.

DEVINDER: (CHORTLING)

Well, so’s mine, so we’ll have something in common! Leila Kaur – bald and promiscuous? Look, I don’t know what mischief you’re up to, but I haven’t laughed so much in ages!

HE WALKS OFF DOWN THE ROAD. DARREN PUTS HIS HEAD IN HIS HANDS.

DEAN:

Blimey. I think we can say that our meeting with Mr. Brar was NOT an uplifting experience.

 

SCENE 15: INT. LEILA’S HOUSE (EVENING)

THE LIVING ROOM IS DECORATED OPULENTLY, CHANDELIERS AND ORNATE FURNITURE HAVING BEEN BROUGHT OUT FOR THE OCCASION. LEILA’S PARENTS ARE SITTING AROUND A SMALL COFFEE TABLE WHICH IS LADEN WITH FOOD. 

THE DOORBELL RINGS AND LEILA’S DAD GOES TO OPEN THE DOOR.

DAD:

Devinder! So glad you could make it.

DEVINDER:

The pleasure is all mine, Surinder. (KISSES MRS. KAUR) Mandeep, I must say you’re looking good enough to eat.

MUM: (GOES PINK WITH PLEASURE)

Thank you.

DAD:

Oh, you don’t want to eat her! (HE LAUGHS AND SHOWS DEVINDER THROUGH TO THE LOUNGE) Leila’s made lots of delicious food for you.

DEVINDER AND LEILA’S MUM CONVERSE WITH THEIR BACKS TO THE STAIRS. LEILA COMES DOWN THE STAIRS WEARING A TIGHT-FITTED, ALMOST RACY BLACK SARI. HER DAD WALKS UP TO HER.

DAD: (TO LEILA)

Why on earth aren’t you wearing the pink one? That looked far more elegant.

LEILA:

I just thought this one looked a bit more funereal.

DEVINDER STOPS TALKING AND LOOKS OVER AT LEILA.

DAD:

Well at least you’re not wearing that horrible yellow one.

DEVINDER LOOKS PERPLEXED, OVERHEARING THE COMMENT.

DAD:

And where’s that pretty flower you were going to wear?

LEILA’S FATHER WALKS LEILA OVER TO DEVINDER.

DAD:

Honestly, Leila would forget her hair if it wasn’t stuck on!

DEVINDER’S FACE CREASES IN PUZZLEMENT.

DAD:

Here she is, my lovely daughter. She has been so looking forward to meeting you.

LEILA SMILES A BIG FAKE SMILE AND HUGS DEVINDER A BIT TOO TIGHTLY FOR A BIT TOO LONG. DEVINDER LOOKS PLEASED BUT BEMUSED. EVERYONE SITS DOWN AROUND THE TABLE.

DAD:

So Devinder, did the journey up take you long?

DEVINDER:

Not at all, not at all. I came in my brand new Mercedes.

LEILA GIVES HIM A BIG WINK.

LEILA:

Well I hope you cleaned up afterwards.

DEVINDER: (NOT BELIEVING HIS EARS)

Pardon?

LEILA:

I said ‘Wow, new Mercedes, that’s really sexy and impressive.’

DEVINDER:

Yes, yes, I suppose it is. So Leila, I hear you spend your time soliciting?

LEILA: (GIVES HIM A SEXY LOOK)

I do. I find it very exciting.

DEVINDER:

It must be quite stressful though. Do you have a lot of responsibility there?

LEILA: (SMOULDERS AT HIM.)

I do, but I like the variety. I must say, I enjoy trying out different positions.

DEVINDER: (CONFUSED)

But of course, you relax on weekends.

LEILA: (STILL SMOULDERING)

Oh yes.  I love to let my hair down.

DEVINDER: (LOOKING A LITTLE PERTURBED)

Yes, I must say, your hair is beautiful. You must spend a lot of time looking after it.

LEILA: (SEXILY)

Oh no. It’s much more fun getting it messed up.

DEVINDER:

Gosh, most girls I know spend ages faffing with theirs. You’re not a typical Sikh, are you?

DAD: (ANXIOUSLY)

Oh, Leila is a very good girl.  She has never smoked or drunk in her life, and always did very well at school.

DEVINDER:

That’s what I like to hear.  I’d like to take her out and spoil her sometime.

LEILA: (WINKING DRAMATICALLY)

Too late for that, sunshine!

DAD: (SMILING AWKWARDLY)

Er…  well, we’re going to leave you two alone for a few minutes to talk.

DAD AND MUM LEAVE THE ROOM.

DEVINDER:

So what do you say? You can come down to London for a day and I’ll treat you to some gorgeous clothes.

LEILA SLIPS HER SARI DOWN A BIT AND POUTS AT HIM.

LEILA:

But don’t you think the best things in life come for free? I mean, as you might have heard, I’m very free with my affections. I’m not the sort of girl who would ask you to pay.

DEVINDER: (MISHEARING, WHISPERING TO HIMSELF)

Toupee? (COMPOSES HIMSELF.)

DEVINDER:

Right.  Erm… so Leila, you’ve probably heard that I run Kaur Blimey, which is a record label for Asian female singers. Which female singers are you into?  Dev Saroop Kaur perhaps, or Asha Bhosle?

LEILA:

Actually I like Sinead O’Connor.

DEVINDER: (NOW SERIOUSLY WONDERING IF LEILA IS  WEARING A WIG)

But… but my dear, I would barely call her female!

LEILA:

Why? Just because she’s bald? She’s reportedly had numerous liaisons with men while maintaining her religious beliefs, and I personally think find that idea very sexy. In fact, I’d say she’s something of a role model for me.

DEVINDER DRAWS IN HIS BREATH SHARPLY.

DEVINDER:

I must say, I’ve never come across a girl like you before.

LEILA: (LICKING HER LIPS LASCIVIOUSLY)

No? Well, you can later.

DEVINDER LOOKS SHOCKED AND FROWNS.  HE THEN TAKES OUT A HANDKERCHIEF AND MOPS HIS BROW.

DEVINDER: (GRAVELY)

Well. I must say, Leila, and I won’t mention this to your parents, but you said earlier that I might have heard that you were – er – free with your affections.  Well, I’m afraid I have. And while I will say that surprises and saddens me, I’m unusually liberal for a member of our community and, due to your great beauty, am prepared to overlook it – provided, of course that you change your ways after marriage.

SHOT OF LEILA’S MUM AND DAD HUNCHED DOWN TRYING TO LISTEN AT THE DOOR. THEY RUSH TO RE-ENTER THE ROOM.

DAD: (EXCITEDLY)

Marriage? What’s all this?

DEVINDER:

Surinder, I like your daughter very much. She is intelligent, and, more importantly, she is beautiful. I would like to ask for her hand in marriage.

LEILA:

Oh bollocks. (SHE NOW DROPS THE PROMISCUOUS ACT.)

MUM AND DAD: (IN UNISON)

This is fantastic! We are so happy.

DEVINDER: (COUGHS)

But first, there is just one thing. I do not believe that married couples should have any secrets from one another. There are all kinds of supposedly embarrassing things that one shouldn’t be ashamed of – for instance, I used to have a problem with my hair when I would go around for days with food in my beard.

LEILA AND HER MOTHER EXCHANGE REVOLTED GLANCES, WHILE LEILA’S DAD NODS SYMPATHETICALLY AND STROKES HIS OWN BEARD.

LEILA: (DRYLY)

Romance is not dead.

DEVINDER: (NOW DESPERATE TO FIND OUT ABOUT LEILA’S POSSIBLE WIG)

I am just telling you to illustrate a point. Have you… have you ever had any problems with hair?

LEILA:

What do you mean?

DEVINDER REACHES OVER AND CARESSES A LOCK OF LEILA’S HAIR, WHILE SHE TRIES TO PULL AWAY.

DEVINDER:

Your hair is so silky… it’s hard to believe it’s real.

LEILA:

So what – you think I’m wearing a wig or something?

DEVINDER:

No no of course not. (PAUSE). You’re not, are you?

LEILA: (SCATHINGLY)

Don’t judge me by your own standards.

DEVINDER MOVES CLOSER, AND GIVES LEILA’S HAIR A SMALL, TENTATIVE TUG.

DEVINDER:

Are you lying to me?

LEILA: (SLIGHTLY ALARMED NOW)

What’s wrong with you? Get off, you weirdo! (TRIES TO PULL AWAY, TO NO AVAIL.)

DEVINDER: (TWISTS HAIR AROUND HIS FINGERS, A DESPERATE LOOK ON HIS FACE)

I’m so sorry, but I have to do this…

DEVINDER CANNOT RESIST IT. HE GIVES THE LOCK OF LEILA’S HAIR IN HIS HAND A VIOLENT TUG.

LEILA: (SHRIEKING AT THE TOP OF HER VOICE)

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!

A LOOK OF HORROR CROSSES DEVINDER’S FACE AS HE REALISES HIS MISTAKE.

DEVINDER: (SHOUTING, PURPLE IN THE FACE)

Oh Lord, please forgive me!

LEILA RUBS HER HEAD HARD.

DAD: (AGITATED)

Why on earth did you just pull my daughter’s hair?

DEVINDER: (FRANTICALLY)

I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I thought she was wearing a wig!

DAD: (URGENTLY)

What? Why did you think that?

DEVINDER: (MUDDLED)

Well, it was after I was told she’d shagged the lollipop man and the dog…. AIIEEEE!

DEVINDER FLEES, RUNNING OUT OF THE FRONT DOOR AT TOP SPEED, PURSUED BY A VERY ANGRY, VIOLENT LEILA’S DAD.

DAD:

Devinder? DEVINDEEEEER! (WE HEAR HIS VOICE CARRYING DOWN THE STREET.)

LEILA AND HER MOTHER ARE LEFT LOOKING AT EACH OTHER IN THE SITTING ROOM.

LEILA’S MUM:

Very strange man.

LEILA:

Yeah.

LEILA’S MUM: (MISERABLY)

No meeting pop stars.

LEILA:

No. Sorry about that.

LEILA’S MUM: (COMFORTINGLY)

Never mind.  I saw you tried hard to be attractive.  I am proud of you.

(SHE SMILES AT LEILA FONDLY.)

 

SCENE 16: EXT. WARWICK STREET (NIGHT)

LEILA STANDS AT THE OPEN FRONT DOOR AND LOOKS DOWN THE STREET, WAITING FOR HER DAD TO RETURN.  DARREN SEES HIS CHANCE AND RUNS UP THE DRIVE. 

DARREN: (EXCITEDLY)

Leila! We did it! We got rid of him.

LEILA:

Only just. I don’t remember telling you to tell him I was bald.

DARREN:

Yeah, but it worked, didn’t it?

LEILA: (SLIGHTLY OFFHAND)

It did. Thanks for that. But my dad’s about to come back any second, so…

DARREN: (PLEADINGLY)

Leila, you’re so lovely. And now you’re not going to marry Devinder… please will you go on a date with me?

LEILA CUPS HER CHIN IN HER HAND AS THOUGH SHE’S THINKING.

LEILA:

You never know, Darren. Maybe one day I will.

(THEY LOOK INTO EACH OTHER’S EYES.)

[Beat.]

LEILA:

But tonight, I’m washing my hair.

ENDS.

*

After I’d finished writing the first few scenes, I sent off the script to the BBC. Then I realised I hadn’t enclosed a CV as requested (not that I had much to put on a CV at the age of 21, but I thought I’d better include one anyhow) so I sent it off with the script again. This may have effectively have given me two chances, and it’s possible that I owe my entire writing career to the original oversight – though I only meant to obey the rules, not gain an advantage.

All the same, I had a good feeling about it, which turned out to be correct. I soon received an invitation to a full week at BBC Television Centre in White City, in which the ten shortlisted writers would bring our full 30-minute scripts along and read them out in front of successful comedy writers and producers including Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Dyson (The League of Gentlemen), Graham Linehan (Father Ted, Big Train), Paul Mayhew Archer (Two Pints, My Hero) and Beryl Vertue (Men Behaving Badly, Coupling).

BBC Talent.png

It was brutal – our scripts were ripped to shreds. I remember wandering round the BBC cafeteria in tears after my reading. The week had been quite fun – all the writers got on well, despite being in a competition scenario, and I remember us having a real laugh together. One day in a break, for some reason probably best known to ourselves, we all thought up Shakespeare porn film titles (Tight-Arse Androgynous; Two Gentlemen In Verona; The Merchant of Penis; etc etc). But despite the fun and games, it was clear to me that my journey was over.

We were told to go away, rewrite our scripts and send them back in. Three scripts would then be selected out of the ten for the final stage.

Convinced that they hated my script, I declined to rewrite it. I then got a call from the Head of Comedy Development, asking where my script was. Confused but pleased, I quickly rewrote and submitted it.

Hyde and Sikh was then chosen as one of the final three scripts, along with a sitcom by Daniel Peak (who would go on to write for Two Pints, My Hero and a billion other programmes) as well as one by Tom Phillips (@flashboy on Twitter, who would go on to be a top journalist at Buzzfeed and write bestselling books). They were both white male Oxbridge graduates, so I felt pleased that I’d made it into the top three, given that I was a mixed-race Asian female graduate from the not-very-prestigious University of Westminster.

BBC showcase.png

I’d turned 22 and started my MA in Scriptwriting at Goldsmiths by the time the scripts were staged at RADA in a showcase that November. Daniel, Tom and I spent another week in central London with the cast and director of our scripts. They’d got none other than Archie Panjabi (now an Emmy-award-winning Hollywood actress and star of The Good Wife!) to star as Leila in mine, along with Kulvinder Ghir from Goodness Gracious Me as her dad (though he had to drop out after the first day, and was replaced).

I remember this week also being really difficult, because my script just wasn’t working on stage. Whether it was the script’s fault or whether it was because there was no chemistry between the lead actors, I’m not sure, but it left me in tears of frustration. They asked for a blurb for the show night booklet, and I thought I’d be sidelined for being inexperienced, so pretended I’d been writing my show since I’d had the idea for it a year previously. (By the time I’d left school when I was 16, I’d had a couple of not-very-close friends, so I included ‘making them laugh’ in the blurb.)

Hyde & Sikh.png

My fears about the play were realised, and the performance of my script was a total humiliation. I basically cringed all the way through it, and then went out with the rest of the team and got paralytically drunk! I felt so ill the next day that I’ve barely drunk alcohol since. 

Daniel Peak.png

 

Daniel’s script, which was undeniably brilliant, won the showcase, and a pilot of it appeared on BBC Choice (which was later renamed BBC3). Daniel went on to have another of his sitcoms, Big Top, made into a series and televised on BBC1.

BBC3

Tom and I were joint runners-up, and each got £1,000. At some point in that year, Tom came round my house and we played tennis in Pinner! His sequel to his bestselling book Humans is out in September.

Tom Phillips.png

As for me, I went on to write for BBC comedy shows including My Family, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, The Story of Tracy Beaker and Space Pirates. 

I would go on to grow very disillusioned with the TV scriptwriting process, and leave television for journalism in 2008. But that, as I always say, is another story.

Me bracelet.jpg

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, 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 time I came runner-up in a BBC sitcom award (part 1)

In 2002, aged 21, I was waiting in a queue at HMV when I spotted a booklet at the tills for BBC Talent. It was an initiative designed to find new writing and presenting talent, and one of the contests was a comedy scriptwriting competition: the BBC Talent New Sitcom Writers’ Award.

I thought I was pretty funny, but had never written a script in my life. The BBC wanted applicants to send in the first few pages of a sitcom script, but I didn’t have one. Fine, I thought, with characteristic 21-year-old chutzpah: I’ll write one! I’d had a good run of luck in the previous few years – winning Miss Harrow and getting a First in my degree – and so I told myself it was worth entering, even if I didn’t get through.

I’d been staying with my religious Asian grandparents in Leicester the previous year. They’d had an arranged marriage when my nan was just 19, and I wondered what it would have been like to be forced to have one myself. Though it might not immediately seem like an ideal subject for a sitcom, I thought the idea of rebelling against such a marriage had comic potential. I’d considered writing about this idea since staying with my grandparents, but had been finishing my degree and hadn’t done anything about it.

I therefore began to create a family of sitcom characters. But I told myself I couldn’t write about a Zoroastrian family like my mum’s, ’cause who the hell had ever heard of Zoroastrians? Every time I mentioned being Zoroastrian to someone, they either asked ‘What-Austrian?’ or made a joke about Zorro!

So I decided to write about a different Asian religion, mainly so I could make a daft pun. My main character, a Punjabi girl called Leila, was a feminist who hated men (forgive me, fellow feminists, but I was young). She was being wooed by a builder called Darren Hyde, for the sole reason that I could then call my sitcom Hyde and Sikh. Again, I can only apologise…

Me mirror.jpg

Anyhow, the premise each episode was that Leila’s parents would set her up with an Asian suitor, in the hopes that she would agree to an arranged marriage with him. She would then team up with the besotted and unreconstructed English builder Darren in order to scare off the suitor.

So I wrote the script according to the online template the BBC had provided. I found it again in the deepest recesses of my hard drive, and here it is!

HYDE & SIKH

Episode 1: ‘A Hairy Situation’

OUTLINE

Sassy Sikh girl verbally outwits besotted builder, parents and potential husbands alike.

SYNOPSIS

Leila Kaur is a 25-year-old Sikh solicitor living in Newark with her parents, who are trying to find her a suitable husband. Unfortunately Leila thinks men are pathetic, a view compounded by her biggest admirer Darren Hyde – an English builder who lives down her road. Darren is totally infatuated with Leila, and makes it his mission to intercept and thwart all the suitors who come to visit her.

SCENE 1: INT. LEILA’S HOUSE, 48 WARWICK STREET (MORNING)

LEILA COMES INTO THE KITCHEN, DRESSED READY FOR WORK. HER PARENTS ARE HAVING BREAKFAST. LEILA POURS HERSELF A GLASS OF WATER AND STARTS DRINKING IT.

LEILA’S DAD: (STRONG INDIAN ACCENT)

Hello my sweet flower. You are looking very beautiful this morning. How are you today?

LEILA: (SUSPICIOUSLY)

What do you want?

DAD: (SMILING)

I have some good news.

LEILA: (DRYLY)

Don’t tell me – you’re finally starting to understand the jokes on Goodness Gracious Me?

DAD: (SHAKING HIS HEAD AND ROLLING HIS EYES)

Nay. (GRINS SLYLY AND PROUDLY) I… have found a man.

LEILA: (COUGHING, SHOCKED)

Blimey. You’re having a midlife crisis? Don’t worry, it’s cool with me.

LEILA’S MUM (MRS. KAUR) IS SMILING AND NODDING IN HER WHEELCHAIR.

MUM: (IN A VERY STRONG INDIAN ACCENT)

Very nice man.

LEILA:

And Mum seems okay with it.

LEILA’S DAD LOOKS VERY SHOCKED AND BEWILDERED, AND THUMPS THE TABLE.

DAD:

No! I have found a man, for you!

LEILA CHOKES ON HER GLASS OF WATER, SPILLING IT EVERYWHERE.

LEILA: (SPLUTTERING)

What? Well… well you can just go and put him back where you found him! I’ve told you since I was thirteen, you’re not arranging anything with me. Goodbye!

SHE GRABS HER COAT AND STORMS OUT OF THE HOUSE, SLAMMING THE FRONT DOOR. HER DAD RUSHES AFTER HER AND REOPENS THE DOOR.

DAD: (YELLING)

Leila, come back here now!

SCENE 2: EXT. THE BUS STOP, WARWICK STREET (DAY)

LEILA STOMPS OUT OF HER HOUSE AND SITS ON THE BENCH AT THE BUS STOP A FEW DOORS DOWN. SIMULTANEOUSLY, DARREN HYDE STROLLS OUT OF HIS OWN HOUSE, WHISTLING, AND DOES A DOUBLE TAKE WHEN HE SEES LEILA. HE COMES AND SITS AT THE OTHER END OF THE BENCH, STILL GAWPING AT HER. LEILA TAKES ONE LOOK AT HIS SCRAGGY VEST, PAINT-SPATTERED CLOTHES AND LEER, AND MOVES RIGHT TO THE END OF THE SEATING ARRANGEMENT.

DARREN(WOLFWHISTLING)

Cor!

LEILA GIVES HIM A DISPARAGING LOOK.

DARREN:

Asian babe!

LEILA:

Earth is full. Go home.

DARREN LOOKS A BIT SHOCKED, THEN REGAINS HIS COMPOSURE.

DARREN:

Nah, they don’t have anyone as fit as you there.

LEILA:

No, not if you’re anything to go by.

DARREN LOOKS INDIGNANT, AND PUFFS HIMSELF UP.

DARREN:

I’m the sexiest bloke in Newark, I am.

LEILA:

Which reminds me, I must relocate.

DARREN:

And I own my own company.

LEILA:

Then why don’t you keep your own company?

DARREN:

I’m an entrepreneur, me. I have to make crucial decisions every day.

LEILA:

Let me guess: Daily Star or Daily Sport?

DARREN SIGHS, LOOKING PUT OUT.

DARREN:

You’re not impressed then?

LEILA:

How many times am I going to have to flush before you’ll go away?

DARREN:

Okay, okay, but just tell me one thing – where are you from?

LEILA: (GESTICULATING TO THEIR SURROUNDINGS)

What does it look like?

DARREN:

No, I mean really from.

LEILA: (ROLLING HER EYES)

Newark, you imbecile.

DARREN:

Right, yeh. It’s just that you’re so beautiful and exotic, and Newark, well… Newark’s the only town in England that’s an anagram of ‘wanker.’

LEILA:

You must feel very much at home.

DARREN: (SOUNDING HURT)

Come on, I was only asking.

LEILA: (RELENTING)

My family originate from the Punjab. I’m Sikh.

DARREN: (LOOKING HER UP AND DOWN)

You look alright to me.

LEILA STANDS UP TO SEE IF THE BUS IS COMING (CLOSE-UP ON EMPTY STREET), THEN SIGHS AND SITS DOWN AGAIN. 

DARREN(HOPEFULLY)

I heard a good Asian joke the other day.

LEILA: (SARCASTICALLY)

Now let’s see, would that be the one about the Asian lesbian called Mingita? Or the one about Asian people being so bad at football because every time they get a corner, they build a shop?

DARREN:

Nah, don’t worry love – I’m sexist, not racist.  I’m Darren by the way, of Darren Hyde Construction. I just moved into number 72, so you could say I’m right up your street.

LEILA:

Right up my nose, more like.

THE BUS COMES AND LEILA RAISES HER HAND TO STOP IT.

DARREN:

Wait… can I see you again?

LEILA:

Sure. Let me see, are you free…. never?

SHE FLICKS HER HAIR BACK HAUGHTILY AND GETS ON THE BUS.

Continued in Part 2 tomorrow…

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 35

Me: 12st 5lbs (total loss in 35 days: 9.2lbs)

I fell so far off the wagon last night that it rolled away into the distance. This week is a write-off dietwise – I have a book launch, lunch with a publisher and endless treats in the house for the eight-year-old. Will do much better soon.

John: 14st 3.25lbs (total loss in 35 days: 4.25lbs)

Go John!

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, 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!

What it’s really like doing live telly

Every so often, a producer phones me up and asks if I’ll appear on live telly to talk about a particular issue (generally something to do with atheism). I don’t know why I fear this as much as I do – every telly appearance I’ve done bar one (The Alan Titchmarsh Show, which ironically wasn’t live) has been absolutely fine.

The thing is, I know that appearing on TV raises my profile slightly and I’ll meet interesting people and get a small fee (typically £50 or £100) – so I usually bite down my nerves and agree to go on. Then I dread it until it’s over. But I’ve done around two dozen live TV appearances now, and despite a few panic attacks when I was starting out, I’m beginning to get used to appearing.

So what happens when you go on live telly? Well, first you have to appear on the radar of a show’s producer for some reason. The Atheist Bus Campaign tends to be the way they find me, even ten years on. I reckon I’m now on some sort of atheist telly watch list!

Then they email, generally, and ask if I’d be willing to appear on their show the next day. I say yes if I can, for the reasons above. They then phone and chat to me about the topic in question, to check I’m articulate and can put across a strong point of view. Though obviously not too strong (‘they should all be killed!’ doesn’t tend to go down well).

During this conversation, I force myself to ask the producer what the fee is. I always worry that by bringing up money, I’ll rule myself out, and instead they’ll choose someone who isn’t as mercenary as me. But seriously: you don’t ask, you don’t get – and even if the fee is only £50, it covers any necessary travel and the time taken out of your day to appear.

If you don’t get a fee, you’re effectively paying to go on the show, which is ridiculous as it wouldn’t be a show without any guests – plus most of these shows have big budgets (you can bet the presenters are being paid several thousand pounds per episode).

[I wore this green Dorothy Perkins dress for several TV appearances.]

Sometimes the producer will book you a taxi to the studio – this always used to be the case – but lately I’ve noticed that, as I live in London, they often say ‘It’s probably quickest if you just jump on the Tube’.

It’s not really, as I live 20 minutes’ walk from the Tube station and  it takes £10 out of my fee, but I don’t want to be labelled difficult. Plus I often get car sick, though I’d deal with that this summer for a luxury air-conditioned ride!

I’ll spend the evening before the appearance deciding what to wear. It will largely depend on the colour of the sofa I’m going to be sitting in front of – you need to wear a contrasting colour so as not to blend in!

Then I’ll iron the outfit and put every part of it out ready to wear in the morning. I’ll spend that night tossing and turning in bed, feeling nervous, going over and over my argument for the show in my head, unable to sleep. But back to generalities…

When you get to the studio, you give the receptionist your name and the name of the show you’re appearing on, and they call the runner to come and collect you. They also print out a pass for you, which you’re not meant to wear. At the BBC, your bag gets X-rayed, which is reassuring as long as it doesn’t contain a sex toy. Then the runner collects you and takes you down in the lift to the green room.

The green room is a kind of hotel suite with more armchairs instead of a bed, where all the guests hang out before and during the show. It always has a telly so you can watch the show before you go on, and facilities for making tea and coffee, and sometimes if you’re lucky there’s a tray full of pastries.

You can chat to the other guests – I always do, though sometimes they’re not very friendly, especially if they’re taking the opposing side of a debate to you. One girl who I shan’t name looked me up and down like I was a piece of muck, then asked disdainfully, ‘Where did they find you, then?!’

Sometimes you’re taken into makeup in a separate room, where a woman tries to make you look more aesthetically pleasing; sometimes the makeup lady just pops her head round the green room door and says ‘You’re fine’ or powders your nose.

Huge Nose.JPG

Then, before you know it, it’s showtime! You’re taken up to the studio with the other guests. The presenters generally say hi then, and you’re seated in a specific place. The studio is always quiet with no windows, and sometimes you can see yourself on the screens and/or the autocue on the camera.

When the presenter starts talking to you, time speeds up. You try and put your point across succinctly and articulately, without interrupting anyone, but it’s all a bit of a blur. If you’re lucky, you can see the questions she’s going to ask on the autocue or her clipboard, so have a few seconds to think about the answer. Usually if I get nervous, I sip the water they put out for guests on the table.

However, almost as soon as you start, the segment’s over and you’re being escorted back to the green room to collect your bag. These days, I check Twitter as soon as I get back to my phone, to see what the reaction to my appearance is. Then, if you’re lucky, you get a taxi home and speak to your friends, who have watched you on live TV.

So to finish, here I am on BBC Breakfast ten years ago, talking about Fawlty Towers while wearing my favourite green dress. I didn’t realise the camera could see me sitting on my leg!

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 28

Me: 12st 5.6lbs (total loss in 28 days: 8.6lbs)

I’m back on the wagon and am determined to stay on!

John: 14st 5lbs (total loss in 28 days: 2.5lbs)

John has fallen off the wagon and seems determined to stay off!

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. 

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The time I won £3,000 on Channel 5’s Brainteaser

In 2002, I came second in a BBC comedy scriptwriting competition. I was only 22 and took the runner-up prize with my very first script – which filled me with horror. I was a fraud! I had no idea how to write a script, and someone was bound to rumble me very, very soon.

Then a friend saw an MA in Scriptwriting advertised in the paper. It was at Goldsmiths College, University of London – a prestigious arts college. If I actually learned how to write scripts, I decided, maybe I wouldn’t feel so fraudulent. I submitted an application, initially got rejected, then finally accepted for sheer persistence after I metaphorically hammered on their door.

There was an ethnic minorities’ bursary for one student attached to the course, which would cover the £3,000 course fees. I told myself I’d most likely get it – after all, there were only 12 students on the whole course. The odds were good, right?

Unfortunately for me, the bursary went to the very talented Veronica McKenzie, the only other BAME student on the course.

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This meant I had to find £3,000 from somewhere. I was leafing through the Metro newspaper one day, and an advert jumped out at me: ARE YOU GOOD AT ANAGRAMS? DO YOU WANT TO WIN £3,000? Yes and yes!

The ad was for contestants for the Channel 5 show Brainteaser, which was produced by Endemol’s studios in Oxford. After a short telephone interview, I was given a date to appear on telly. I remember that they refused to reimburse travel costs, so I paid the £30 return in train and Tube fares vowing that I had to win, rather than end up £30 down.

I entered the Endemol studios and met the other contestants in the green room beforehand. I remember one of them, a lady called Joanne, trying to psych me out by listing all the TV shows she’d been on, including Bargain Hunt. She seemed very competitive and I could tell that she really wanted to win. In the green room were goody bags containing a purple Brainteaser-branded mug and pen, but being a design elitist I planned to give them to my nan.

The first round featured me and Joanne. We took our places behind two stands, but then I realised I had a big problem – I couldn’t see the letters on the screen! It was too far away and the letters were all fuzzy and blurry in front of my eyes. I’ve always been shortsighted, but glasses really don’t suit me and I’m too squeamish for contacts or laser, so I just sort of muddle along (don’t worry, I don’t drive).

Luckily, one of the elderly secretaries at Endemol had a pair of rather unfetching glasses which she lent me. We must have had the same prescription (about -1.5) as when I put them on the screen was crystal clear. With my sight problems out of the way, battle commenced!

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In one round, we had to rearrange the segments to make a word. I was a bit rubbish at this on the day, though I can immediately see that the above word says INDIVIDUALISM. Joanne raced into the lead, but I fought back hard and eventually won by a single point.

We also had to fill in crossword clues in another round, which I was slightly better at. I remember that one of the words was about a religious day at Easter, and I got it right – ASCENSION – which is ironic given my later career activities!

The presenter didn’t seem to like me much, as between the rounds she came up and whispered to Joanne, ‘You can still win this, you know!’ Eventually, after a very hard-fought battle, I won. Joanne was disappointed and I felt sorry for her, but I had an MA to fund.

I remember that I was so tense, I kept whacking the buzzer super-hard instead of pressing it gently. The presenter told me off, and her link into the adverts was ‘Will Ariane survive the next round? Will the buzzer? Join us after the break to find out!’

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With Joanne gone, the presenter asked me a few questions about myself. This was only my second time on telly, and I remember saying hi to my nan, who was watching. The presenter said, referring to the tense rounds between me and Joanne, ‘Your nan’s probably had a heart attack by now’ and I replied ‘I hope she hasn’t’ and the presenter retorted, ‘Well, of course we hope she hasn’t too – what sort of people would we be?!’

Ah, the joys of live telly…

After the break, I played a middle-aged woman called Glenys who was very sweet and gentle. This was a much easier battle, and I managed to buzz in (generally too violently) on 95% of the questions. I found the above round especially fun and easy – I can immediately answer STUDIO.

Then we played a general knowledge round which was not exactly Mastermind. Four clues would appear on the screen and you had to buzz in as soon as you knew the answer. (This one is TESS DALY.)

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Throughout the show, the presenter kept telling people to phone in on a premium rate phone line to win a competition by answering the easiest anagram ever. Brainteaser would finally be cancelled when the show was implicated in the phone lines scandal of 2007.

As for me, I was through to the final round, which was a solo anagram round in which the questions progressively got harder. If you answered another clue correctly you’d get more money, but if you tried to answer and failed, you’d forfeit the lot.

Adding a D to the word SUE to form a new word was easy, but adding a V to AROUSED? When I reached AROUSED (so to speak) I wondered if I should stick at £1,500, and nearly did – but then I found the courage to go for the £3,000, as that was what I’d come on the show for…

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… and let’s just say I SAVOURED my win! The £3,000 was mine, and therefore I could afford the MA. Though it was a nightmare course and definitely wasn’t worth the £3,000, but that’s another story entirely.

Winning Brainteaser gave me the confidence to apply for Countdown, which was a brilliant experience. I got the telly bug and would go on to appear around 20 times on news and current affairs programmes on the BBC, ITV1 and Channel 4. Plus my nan liked her Brainteaser mug and pen, and thankfully she never did have a heart attack.

Those specs, though…

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THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 27

Me: 12st 6.4lbs (total loss in 27 days: 7.8lbs)

Same old, same old.

John: 14st 3lbs (total loss in 27 days: 4.5lbs)

John has digested and excreted the elephant!

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!