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My Starry Starry Night

My sister, Isabel, is a TV producer and recently landed her biggest gig yet, to produce The Baftas. A few weeks ago she idly mentioned that they would need a hostess to go on stage after every award, to make sure the winners and presenters exited the right way.

‘I thought you’d be perfect,’ she said, referring to the fact that A/ I’ve done lots of presenting and B/ I’m up for anything. (Within reason of course. I point blank refused to go to an audition for a Dulcoease advert once. I mean, you’ve got to draw the line somewhere and I think advertising a product that softens your stools is probably it.)

Anyway, I was just about to scream ‘YES, I’LL DO IT, BOOK ME,’ loudly in her face, when she added ‘But the girl who did it last year has already been asked.’

However, luck was on my side, because for some reason, which I can only be eternally grateful for, the girl decided last minute not to do it, leaving me to leap in enthusiastically, from stage left. Anyone who knows me will know I was also doing jazz hands at the time. Anyone who doesn’t know me but who has read ‘Me and Miss M’, my first novel, will also probably be able to imagine how high (for that read scary) my excitement levels were.

After all, they say a first novel often contains a lot of the author and ‘Me and Miss M’ is about a starry eyed girl called Francesca who has had a love affair with the stars of the silver screen since she was little. Her biggest dream is to go to The Oscars and it’s only by working as a personal assistant to a nightmare Hollywood actress that she comes to realise ‘being famous’ isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.

So, in a nutshell, this job was right up my showbiz street. The Baftas promised proper, old school, Hollywood glamour, a rarity these days, which is ironic given that more people than ever are labelled ‘celebrities’ by the media, partly due to our own unending appetite for them. In fact I would say that you can now categorise celebs not just as A, B, C and Z list but right through the alphabet spectrum. ‘That bloke Bubble who was in Big Brother years ago’ scoring around an N. And when the latest supposedly celeb filled reality shows are launched, I always like to imagine millions of people on sofas around the country, turning to each other, brows furrowed saying ‘Who’s that?’

At the Baftas however I knew the cream of the film industry would be there, all the talented writers, directors, costume people, cinematographers etc, along with the A list stars who we all recognise from the big screen. I was in.

‘What do I wear?’ I asked my sister, day dreaming about red satin, or maybe an acid yellow, to ensure I’d be spotted. (Shy and retiring wallflower that I am.)

‘Black,’ she said firmly ‘Black, long and glam.’

It didn’t take long to find my dress. One trip to gorgeous, vintage shop Mela Mela in Teddington and I’d found the perfect frock.  It was by Frank Usher, long, with amazing diamante straps; it fitted like a glove and was just the right side of sexy. However, in order to avoid looking like I’d been dug up I booked in for a spray tan the day before, and a blow-dry.

‘Go big,’ I instructed my hairdresser. ‘I’m talking massive because I’ve got to sleep on it and it’s got to last the entire day tomorrow.’

She did as instructed and I walked home looking like a mahogany version of Maurice Gibb from The Bee Gees. (Always a joy I find when you arrive home and one of your children collapses on the floor in hysterical laughter and the other is visibly frightened).

‘Why did you do that Mummy?’ my five year old boy asked, looking genuinely bewildered.

‘Trust me,’ I said, sounding more confident than I probably felt ‘I know what I’m doing. After a shower and twelve hours or so of dropping time, I’ll look perfectly normal.’

Of course he had no idea what I was talking about so I backed out of the room with him staring at me blankly.

The next day, smelling of biscuits, I bounded out of bed, deciding to deal with my orange sheets another time. I had bigger fish to fry. I had to shower, (I mean literally, I HAD to shower in order to take my skin tone down a few notches,) I needed to pack a bag and get myself to Covent Garden.

My call time was 11.30 at The Royal Opera House. Upon arriving I was shown to a dressing room which I shared along with all the many chaperones. Every single person who was presenting an award had an allocated person to make sure they got out of their seat and onto the stage on time and happy. You can imagine what a lottery that must have been in terms of ‘who you got.’ The girls who got Brad Pitt and Jon Hamm felt like the chosen ones.

Rehearsals began at midday. Watching Stephen Fry go through his paces from the wings was fascinating. He was just as professional, witty, and charming as one would hope him to be. He also seemed abnormally unfazed by the enormity of the event he was about to present and rehearsals went like clockwork, with crew members standing in for presenters and pretending to be the winners, the identity of whom was still only known by an elite few at Bafta.

I had a long break between rehearsals ending at three and needing to be ready and standing by at 6.30, so I ventured out of the building for some fresh air and also to see if I could find a few people I knew who were working on the red carpet.

It was a freezing cold day yet the fans were already gathering in their hundreds, standing behind the barriers, eager to catch a glimpse of their favourite stars and prepared to risk getting hyperthermia in order to do so. I soon located my friend, Stroma, a celebrity booker, who was working for E Entertainment, one of the many broadcasters who had pitched up and were transmitting from the red carpet that day. Her job was to grab the celebs so that Dermot O Leary and Fearne Cotton could interview them. Despite having a layer of thermals under her obligatory black dress, she was freezing.

Then I went to find Anna Williamson, who I used to present with at Disney Channel years ago. These days she presents for Daybreak and has also just starred in a panto with Dame Edna Everage. Today however she was doing interviews for Bafta and when I found her she was interviewing Miss Piggy. It’s funny how excited all the surrounding adults were about seeing Miss Piggy in the flesh, myself included. After all, she is essentially just a puppet, a fact even the most intelligent person seems to forget when faced with the hammy icon of the stage and screen. Brilliant.

Once I’d soaked up a bit of the atmosphere I ventured back into the warmth, at which point another sister of mine, Imogen, arrived to do her job of seat filling. For the purposes of the TV show they never want to see an empty seat in shot so the minute anyone leaves theirs, whether it be to go to the loo, or to go on stage, either to receive or give an award, the seat fillers dart in and take up the space. At one point during the show my sister found herself sat next to Christina Ricci.  

This is Imogen, the youngest Forte sis

Imogen and I got changed together (in the toilet. The dressing room was so full. This bit was not at all glamorous)

At this point the curtain was still down but you could hear the buzz of the by now full auditorium behind it and I felt a frisson of excitement as Tom Jones’ band gathered with their instruments, ready to start the show.

The old Welsh dragon kicked off proceedings with a tribute to James Bond and I honestly felt like I had the best seat in the house. Watching from the wings was thrilling and I felt privileged and lucky to be there.

Stephen Fry got proceedings underway and finally the awards started being given out. The only slightly tricky bit of my job was anticipating when the winners had finished speaking as sometimes it wasn’t totally obvious. One didn’t want to do a false start, sort of shuffling nervously on and off stage like Mrs Overall from Acorn Antiques and I soon figured out it was best to be bold and decisive. That way, even if I got it wrong and they hadn’t finished, I could stand there looking confident until they had, without looking like I’d made a mistake. There was simply no room for hesitancy but as I looked out for the first time into a sea of faces which included Martin Scorcese, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Penelope Cruz it was surreal to say the least.

Going back to my earlier point about the difference between minor celebrities and true stars, what was interesting to observe was quite how otherworldly some of the truly beautiful people looked. We have probably almost grown used to the sight of people like Brad Pitt and Penelope Cruz in magazines but seeing them up close and in the flesh their extraordinary looks really are unbelievable. Gillian Anderson was like the most delicate porcelain doll you’d ever seen, her bone structure exquisite, her skin like milk. Naomie Harris, one of the new Bond girls also has a pretty much perfect face, its symmetry being totally exact.

In reality the show ran for around three hours but was edited down to two and a half for TV purposes. I have to say there was one bit I knew at the time would definitely not be making it to the final broadcast.

Kristen Wiig and Chris O Dowd, two of the stars of Bridesmaids, came on to present an award. They were having a whale of a time, giggling and thoroughly enjoying themselves. Probably as a result of this, they ended up standing on totally the wrong side of the stage during the VT.  Not a problem in itself, except that when it came to ushering off the winner it meant that they ended up taking the lead and going on ahead of me. As they did so, Kristen turned to say something to Chris O Dowd, over her shoulder but failed to see a rather large spotlight. And so it was that with a small shriek of surprise she did a comedy trip worthy of its own scene in Bridesmaids and ended up on all fours on the side of the stage. Fortunately, the only thing that was hurt was her pride and she soon picked herself up and fled into the wings to have a quick ‘dying of mortification’ session. And so it was that I ended up with one of Hollywood’s leading ladies, her face hot with embarrassment, clutching my arms, pleading with me to tell her if anyone had seen.

I was flummoxed.

Had anybody seen? What should I do I wondered? How should I answer?

For clearly there was a massive difference between the truth of the matter and what she wanted to hear. Had anybody seen?

In the end I decided against saying ‘Well, only the entire audience saw. That is to say the majority of the British and American film industries put together.’

Instead I went for a more diplomatic ‘No one will see it, they’ll cut it out and besides, you did far funnier things in Bridesmaids….’

I know……. but it was the best I could come up with at the time.

I have to say though; I now loved this actress even more than I had before. It was as if she was her character in Bridesmaids. She was totally human and had just done the sort of thing I only usually do in nightmares, naked.

After the event we headed to the party which was at The Grosvenor and was sponsored by Di Saronno. I was so proud of my sister as everyone came up to tell her what a brilliant job she’d done and was even more proud to note that it wasn’t just her bosses that loved her but also the runners and other members of the team. Always telling I find.

This is my clever producer sis, weary after a full on day!

Emili Sande performed at the party and Cuba Gooding Jr moon walked into it (Not many parties you can say that about). We flung ourselves about on the dance floor until the early hours and drunk more amaretto than was probably sensible (I’m talking litres). At a certain point hunger pangs kicked in and Imogen and I started craving carbohydrate. We headed for the food table only to find some melon balls, grapes and strawberries. Not a sausage roll in sight. No wonder all the actresses are so bloody thin.

Still, the party was the perfect end to the perfect day, one which if I had to compare it to a movie, would be something cool and glam like The Player yet with the colour and drama of Moulin Rouge.

The day after was a different kettle of fish however. I came to, as opposed to woke up. My head was pounding as if it had an axe wedged in it and as I slowly opened one eye, (which felt like it had been bread-crumbed) after a measly two hours sleep, a terrifying thought occurred to me. It was the first day of half term.

A few hours later as I sat jibbering in the corner of a soft play centre, looking wretched, it didn’t take long to come up with today’s analogy. If yesterday had been ‘The Player’ and ‘Moulin Rouge’ today was most certainly The Hangover. Parts 1 and 2.

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