Through a chance meeting, I had landed a job as an entertainment reporter. Janet Street Porter had been tasked with creating a new channel and I had made the cut as one of the outside broadcast presenters. LiveTV had been launched in the late 90's as a UK cable channel for burgeoning presenters and their larger than life personalities. I had no TV experience, but was keen, confident and made it clear I was willing to work the unappealing night shifts. I arrived just as Janet was shafted from her job. The channel took on a new direction almost overnight. Kelvin MacKenzie, ex-Editor of the Mirror, was now firmly at the helm. Under Kelvin’s direction, questionable programmes such as Topless Darts were commissioned, while the nightly news was read as the presenter stripped to her underwear. Unsurprisingly, the channel was later renamed Babeworld.
The main brief of my new job was to accost celebrities at showbiz events and ask them invasive questions. It soon became apparent to the heads of the channel that I didn't have the required experience for the role. They suggested I shadow their star presenter, Claudia Winkleman, so she could show me the ropes. Claudia was presenting actual television shows for the channel, but I was encouraged to observe Claudia's timing and professionalism in front of the camera. She was lovely and encouraging, offering words of advice as we travelled from our Canary Wharf office in to central London. Following the hours shadowing Claudia, I felt confident to go it alone. I accepted an assignment covering a three-day music event organised by the BBC. Music I knew! As luck would have it, on the first night Noel Gallagher of Oasis had turned up to watch a new band he was championing. I spied Noel standing outside a dressing room and saw my chance. I walked over to where he was in conversation with a young singer and extended my large red microphone. I froze. Any personality or reasonable questions I had within me were lost to fear. The producer who was with me that night took charge. I assumed he would silently mouth questions to me to save any embarrassment, but instead proceeded to loudly reel off the questions in a less than impressed tone. Trying to sound as upbeat as possible, I relayed them to Noel. I knew I would be the source of amusement back at the editing suite as they cut the producer from film and found clever ways to make the footage appear less awkward. My only saving grace was that Noel seemed to be heavily under the influence and quite oblivious to the chaotic situation around him. The next day I was called into Kelvin’s office and promptly fired.
Upon leaving the channel, the only things I took away with me were a showreel and a lifelong friend in my cameraman Simon. I had become close with Simon during the months he and I had worked together. Simon had the most infectious energy and his dry sense of humour was the only thing that made our late night filming schedule bearable. After I was fired, Simon kindly offered to help me by involving me in his more serious work within the film industry. Socially, Simon and I spent most weekends at his house in Covent Garden, drinking wine and watching Hollywood blockbusters on his vast projection screen. Simon’s career was on the rise. He was being booked to work with leading directors and had gained a solid reputation. One evening over dinner at his house, we decided on my next career move; I would become an actress!
Simon did his best to create a future for me in the acting world, initially getting me walk on parts in films he was working on. Nil By Mouth was my first experience on a film set. It was a gritty drama being shot on a disused council estate in South London. The film was Gary Oldman’s directorial debut, the leads were the formidable Ray Winstone and Kathy Burke. Through Simon, I was booked for two day’s work on the film. My part was brief and straightforward; walk through an amusement arcade and tut at actor Jamie Forman. A novice with no formal training, my tutting skills clearly hadn’t impressed Gary and I was cut from the final edit. I remain unsure whether it was the insincerity of my tutting, or the fact I would often engage in conversation with the crew during tense moments of shooting. Either way, I was out.
Undeterred and with an eagerness to see my name in lights, Simon found me a walk on part in a big Hollywood production that was being shot on location in London. This time I would have a minor speaking role. Two words. Once again my lack of experience became blindingly obvious when two days into my week on set, I was quietly informed that I had caused thousands of pounds in reshoot costs due to stupidly (their words, not mine) taking my coat off half way through a scene. Clearly I hadn’t grasped the importance of continuity. It was extremely hot under the lights and during a break I had simply removed my coat. Not realising that when the producers played the scene back days later, there would suddenly be a luminous pink top in place of a heavy dark coat. Soon my walk on parts dried up and I was forced to accept that my Hollywood dreams would never materialise. I knew then that it was time to join the world of secretarial temping.
For some reason that still remains a mystery to me, I had, of my own will, completed an advanced secretarial course at evening classes while at college. I must have felt I would surely need something to fall back on should the entertainment industry not embrace me as I had hoped. A premonition of sorts.
I found work easily and enjoyed the short term contracts that temping provided. From receptionist, to editorial assistant, to many a CEO’s secretarial holiday cover. I revelled in my role as an upbeat saviour to the companies I was placed with. After a few months of temping and having grasped the basics of office life, I applied for the job of receptionist at one of the leading advertising agency's of the time, Leagas Delaney.
An imposing building on Shaftesbury Avenue, Leagas Delaney was headed up by its founder and feared industry figure Tim Delaney. At the time of my arrival, Tim was the Chairman of the D&AD, the advertising equivalent of the Oscars. You either hated Tim or adored him, and I absolutely adored him.
Within a few months I was asked to apply for the job of Tim’s PA. I succeeded in securing the role and was soon arranging the fresh stationery at my new desk. Young, blonde and clearly not one to take life too seriously, a rumour soon spread that I was obviously bonking Tim. Due to being in my early 20’s and more focused on what my evening plans would be, I found the rumours entertaining rather than upsetting. After a year in the role, the rumours died out and it was accepted that I was there in a purely professional capacity.
I spent four treasured years working at the agency, where my drunken behaviour at the frequent office parties became renowned throughout the industry. Three hour boozy working lunches at the Groucho were not uncommon and, with surprising regularity, I had woken under my desk long after everyone had left the office. Those years felt like the last hurrah of the original, boisterous advertising world.
After my four years with Tim, I was itching to do something else. Something more creative. I resigned on a whim, knowing that something far more exciting would be just around the corner.