Monday, 9 May 2011

Press-gagged: The rise of the celeb super-injunction

'Thown to the lions'... Imogen Thomas

They've got millions in the bank, lavish mansions, invitations to the hottest parties in town and walk-in wardrobes stuffed with designer clothes. They drive Aston Martins, spend their summers holidaying on super yachts and jet first class all over the world. There's nothing the rich and famous can't buy. Including, it seems, justice.

If the latest spate of super-injunctions are anything to go by, the rich and powerful have now become untouchable. An elite few who can afford to hire in top lawyers to do their dirty work for them; and cover up their even dirtier secrets. 

These gagging orders prevent the media from publishing a story about a celeb's private life, even stopping them from reporting the fact an injunction has been taken out. The result? A relieved celeb, a frustrated editor and a clear violation of free speech. 

Exposed... John Terry had his super-injunction lifted

The UK's privacy laws may state that everyone is entitled to a private and family life. But doesn't it also state the right to freedom of expression? Celebs and the super-rich are more than happy to grace the front pages when it suits them and when there's a product to plug, but they also need to accept that the media is a double-edged sword. With the smooth must come the rough. And the more famous they are, the more determined the editors will be to expose them if they behave badly.

The problem with the modern celebrity is they want their cake and eat it. But there's quite a few slices in that cake and some will undoubtably taste nasty. After all, they live lives of luxury and bankroll the kind of cash most of us could only ever dream of. And if the public is paying their monster mortgage by buying tickets to their concerts or football matches, their books, their music, their annual calendar, their fashion line and their eau de toilette, aren't they entitled to know their favourite celeb is actually a bit of a dirty dog? I think so. It is in the public interest. 

Journo Andrew Marr's super-injunction caused outrage
But what's most concerning is the fact the rich and powerful seem to be above the law. For years, singers and film stars have been given lenient sentences or poxy fines for serious crimes and misdemeanors. Footballers appearing in court for drink driving their supercars are given nothing more than a £500 fine and a slap on the wrist and George Michael's recent drug driving debacle resulted in a eight week sentence; only four of which were actually served behind bars. 

Not to mention the celebs who can't enter a club without their nosebags full of coke - which they make no attempt to conceal, yet it always goes seemingly unnoticed by the police patrolling nearby. 

But what about the vast majority who can't afford to buy anonymity? If an average Joe commits a crime, they have to put up with the crap that comes with it - including being plastered over the front pages of newspapers before they've even been convicted of any wrongdoing. And poor Imogen Thomas, recently revealed to have had an affair with a married footballer, has, in her words, been 'thrown to the lions' while her cowardly ex-lover enjoys anonymity simply because he can afford to pay for it. Why should she be labelled a trollop while he sits smugly at home with his poor, unsuspecting wife?

Grin and bear it... Wayne and Coleen rode out the media storm
For a country with a supposedly fair 'justice' system, this is a disgrace. No one should be above the law. As the age-old saying goes: you've made your bed and you can lie in it. And if the rich and famous don't want their reputations dragged through the mud, they really should learn to keep their pants on.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The hen don't

Queen of tack... Katie price at her hen do
Over the past week I've come to a conclusion. There's only one thing worse than a bridezilla and that's an over-zealous hen party organiser.

As the dreaded wedding season creeps ever-closer I've found myself physically unable to escape from the evil clutches of the Hen Do Nazis. Every one of my inboxes has been spammed with countless messages demanding payment for overpriced meals, inflatable willy hats, glow-in-the-dark penis stickers and humiliating outfits I've been forced into wearing but am somehow expected to part with my hard-earned cash to buy. And that's before I've shelled out for the bride's share of the meal, accommodation, outfit and plethora of penis accessories.

If Facebook for mobile isn't constantly pinging, my hotmail account is beeping at me. When I ignore them, my texts start bleeping and, shock, horror, if I don't reply instantly I'm hit by hostile messages across every possible medium. As time passes, the endless demands on my time and money have spiralled out of control until I'm left broke, pissed off and feeling as deflated as the inflatable willy three months after the event.

The dreaded inflatable willy
Now don't get me wrong. There's nothing I love more than a good hen do and I want to see my friends out of singledom with style. However, there's a hen do etiquette and it certainly doesn't include Facebook stalking, behaving like a certain Fascist dictator or expecting groups of self-respecting women to wear penises on their heads in a public place.

It's like being targeted by the school bully all over again, although this time they're not stealing my 80p dinner money, but asking me to hand over £500 for the designer penis-shaped yacht trip. I still feel like I've been robbed.

This kind of 'forced fun' feels more like attending an army boot camp. Operated with military precision and to a non-negotiable timetable, the hens are left terrified of stepping out of line without fear of reprisal for even the smallest of crimes. And if a brave chick dares to stand up to the authorities, her pleas are ignored - or she's cruelly exposed to the remainder of the party as a 'tight arse.' 

The Hen Do Nazi is a particular breed of woman. No-nonsense, strict and efficient, her sole mission is to ensure maximum fun for her best friend/sister/cousin - at the expense of all the other poor hens forced along for the ride. Often wealthy, she is unable to empathise with other hens' desperate pleas to keep the costs down. And she has a unique talent of making attendees feel guilty for complaining about any aspect of her organisational skills. She's also an obsessive photo-taker - leading to hours of frenzied de-tagging on Facebook the day after the event. 

But despite psyching myself up for another summer spent embroiled in hated hen do politics, I've also made a promise to myself to grin, bear it and and have a good time.

After all, something's got to make up for all those credit card bills on the doormat...

Saturday, 30 April 2011

The moment we'd all been waiting for

Sealed with a loving kiss... Will and Kate

It's finally over. After months of hype and speculation, Royal Wedding fever reached its pitch yesterday - culminating in not one but two balcony snogs.

Having never been a royalist - and a few years too young to have experienced Charles and Diana's wedding - I found it impossible to understand what the fuss was all about.

Shrouded in secrecy... Kate's dress
But the second I switched on the TV I was hooked. The celeb guests. The outfits. The carriages. The lavish venue. The open-topped Aston Martin. The Cartier tiara. And who could ever forget that £250,000 Alexander McQueen dress. The opulence of the whole affair blew me away - so much so I found myself glued to the screen for hours watching re-runs and speculating whether Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie had actually looked in the mirror before they left the house or if Harry and Pippa would get it on at the after-party.

Never mind that every penny spent probably came out of the public purse. Normally I'd be up in arms about such blatant frivolity, but after years stuck in recession depression it was a breath of fresh air to see the country come together and celebrate. For a nation so unpatriotic we can't even be bothered to celebrate St George's day, it was endearing to see crowds out in force with smiles on their faces and flags in their hands.

But despite all the pomp and formalities, the best thing about the Royal Wedding was the fact the bride and groom are clearly very much in love. Unlike Princess Diana who - when not completely shrouded by her hideous meringue - looked miserable throughout her wedding celebrations. It just goes to show that, despite the issues and alleged cover-ups of the last 25 years, the royals are finally moving into the 21st century.

Plus Harry's still single so there's hope for us all yet!

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Older but still none the wiser...

It all started a year ago today. This time 365 days ago, I pressed 'publish' on my first blog post and officially began my quest for journalistic fame. 

Starting out with zero page views and just one follower on Twitter, I never dreamt I could scratch the surface of the colossal and constantly expanding world wide web and make my tiny little blog stand out. However, a year and 25 blog posts later, I can finally see my work beginning to pay off and I've now got nearly 200 Twitter followers and well over 2,000 hits.

The past 12 months have been an emotional rollercoaster ride. I've felt elation every time I receive compliments on my blog - and when prolific journalists follow me on Twitter. I've felt frustration when it feels like I'm treading water and not getting anywhere. And I've felt rejection every time a job application  or email is ignored.

But if this industry has taught me anything it's to be persistent.

And what a difference a year makes!

Sunday, 3 April 2011

The Big C

Under the microscope... cancer cells

Cancer. It's a word society automatically associates with death and suffering. Yet, terrifyingly, a third of us will now contract the disease at some point in our lives.

Despite the statistics I naively thought it would never affect my family and instead cast it aside as being a terrible illness that only affected other people. The high-profile death of celebrities such as Jade Goody, Patrick Swayze and Farrah Fawcett saddened me greatly, yet I still failed to register the shocking prevalence of the disease.

So, when my mum found a breast lump on the same day news reports announced one in eight women get breast cancer, I wasn't worried. I explained the lump away in my head; surely it would just be a benign cyst, a fatty lump, a bit of muscle. Anything but face up to the possibility it could be cancer. 

Looking back, I was in denial. I genuinely thought mum was indestructible. On the day she was diagnosed with breast cancer the news didn't really sink in. That very evening I attended a friend's birthday party as normal. Then the next day I went shopping. Whilst browsing the rails in River Island I spotted a lady with a scarf covering her head - she was clearly a cancer sufferer. I felt like I'd been smacked in the face as the enormity of what was happening to mum suddenly hit me.

 Samantha Jones' inspirational speech on SATC is a light-hearted take on cancer

The truth was, she could die. Tears streamed down my face as I contemplated life without her. Would she see me get married? Would she ever meet my children and see them grow up? The thought of losing her was more than I could bear.

But I had to stay strong for her so instead threw myself into learning about the disease. To my surprise, it has a very high survival rate and is easily treatable if caught early. Until mum had her lumpectomy we wouldn't know how advanced the cancer was or how far it had spread, so it was, quite literally, a waiting game. 

The lump was clearly visible by the time mum had surgery. I couldn't bring myself to look at it. Every time I did I thought of the cancer eating away at her which was just heart wrenching. Yet mum was so brave. She never once complained, even after surgery when her breast looked like something out of a horror movie. In fact, she held us all together - comforting my family when she must have been absolutely terrified herself.

Tragic... Jade's death encouraged young women to check for cancer
A week later we received results and discovered the cancer cells hadn't spread. Luckily it had been caught early and mum wouldn't need a mastectomy. A huge feeling of relief washed over me as I realised I wasn't going to lose her.

Six weeks on and mum has just had her second chemotherapy session. Chemo has been even more traumatising than surgery for mum, as losing her hair has been devastating. It had been falling out rapidly in chunks for days until eventually she decided to have it all shaved off. I was shocked to see her without hair, but I understand it's an unfortunate side-effect of a drug that will help her beat this horrific disease.

As always, there's a moral to my story. Don't ever take your mum (or your health) for granted. You never know when either could be taken away from you.

Happy mother's day mum. Get well soon. xxx

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

A model for a day

Being a model is not what it's cracked up to be. I've learned this from experience - and when I say 'experience' I refer to the one-day taster session I had when asked to model for a friend's promotional photo shoot.

Having always been happy with my size and general appearance (apart from the odd 'fat' or 'bad face' day) I agreed, thinking I could rock the model look with the best of them. Oh how wrong I was.

Arriving at the venue - impossibly hip North West London hangout Paradise - my ego was instantly deflated to the size of a pea as if I'd been stabbed with a giant safety pin. Tall, willowy types sashayed past to my dismay, as I lurked, dwarf-like, by the entrance. Those not over six foot tall had the other advantage of being super-thin; size six at most, giving their average sized limbs an elongated appearance far exceeding mine.

I reminded myself that my face was devoid of any make-up and decided to stay positive. An hour in the hands of an experienced face-caker would no doubt bring me up to scratch. I searched frantically for my make-up mood board and realised, upon finding it, that my positivity had been short-lived. Long - and frizzy - false eyelashes. Ghost-white skin. Black lips. Yellow and green eyes. And - worst of all - hair like Kate Bush... gone very wrong. In fact, the hair was closer in appearance to a garden bush. And not a pruned one at that.

I was miffed. Gone were my fantasies of presenting glossy pics to friends and family members whilst they massaged my ego telling me I could be the next Kate Moss. I always knew the theme was 'decadent tea party' but no one had told me I was going to be the Mad Hatter.

Fast forward an hour and I looked like Amy Winehouse. One look in the mirror sent me reaching for the nearest vodka and suddenly I realised why she went so off the rails. Glancing around in horror I noticed the willowy types were strutting past looking uber-chic with fabulous make-up and barnets hairdressed to perfection. It hit me why so many models are on anti-depressants. Proximity to this level of beauty does zero for one's confidence levels. Mine had sunk so low a slug could have slithered over it without encountering any obstacles.

As I contemplated legging it down the fire escape, it became apparent the shoot was about to start. A chiselled man in a beret and breton-style striped t-shirt started setting up camera apparatus whilst a braying Sloane ranger barked at us to take our positions.

Desperately scrambling towards the back of the group, I hoped I'd somehow be able to blend my fright-wig in with topiaries surrounding the stage. But suddenly I felt someone grabbing at my wrist and pulling me forward to the front.

Centre stage and sandwiched between a twiglet and a bamboo stick I had nowhere to hide. Far from a natural clothes-horse I was about as wooden as the piano I was leaning against. It was then I decided to pull myself together. I may have looked like an extra from the Rocky Horror show but there was nothing I could do about it. It was time to loosen up and attempt to enjoy myself.

Minutes later and I was having a whale of a time. The bizarre blue champagne cocktails and ribena vodka had kicked in. Someone had lit a cigarette. A bronzed Adonis had ripped off his shirt and started swinging from the chandelier.

Once it was over I congratulated myself with a greasy burger and chips. Another clear sign I'm not catwalk material. I looked over to see the willowy types on another table tucking into a garden salad and my feelings of jealously suddenly turned into pity. All that time I'd spent envying them when really they were jealous of me... or rather my Aberdeen Angus cheeseburger. So I held my head high and took a huge mouthful.

Calories had never tasted quite so good.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Out of the frying pan, into the fire

MsMarmitelover's underground restaurant
Just over a week ago something incredibly exciting happened. I was invited to my very first PR event; a private screening of Eat Pray Love held at one of London's notorious secret supper clubs. 

Hopping off the tube at Kilburn station I wasn't sure what lay in store for me. Knowing no one, and having never attended one of these events I wasn't quite sure of the etiquette. Should I down the champers upon arrival for some dutch courage or remain sober and aloof? Should I join other journalists' conversations and risk interrupting or stand in the corner like a loner? I felt like a fraud - the only non-bonafide journo there, but then I reminded myself I'd earned my place at the table... quite literally. 

Still deep in thought I arrived at the venue feeling perplexed. From the outside it looked like your average London Victorian semi. Before I spun myself around to look for the real venue my eye caught a tiny note on the doorbell telling me I was at the right place - MsMarmitelover's underground restaurant. 

As the door opened I felt like Alice falling down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. A corridor led through to a tiny, quaint dining room which looked as though it had been converted from a well-used family lounge just hours before. Journalists in suits and glamourous outfits stood around sipping champagne and networking - looking very relaxed in their surroundings compared the nervous wreck I felt. 

The famous kitchen...
A waitress dressed in a Victorian-style apron handed me a much-needed glass of champers and led me through to Msmarmitelover's amazing kitchen (which looked like something from a real life dolls house), where our menu was being prepped. There I met the infamous MsMarmitelover herself - a quirky, fun and bubbly host who talked me through her rise to internet stardom through her popular food blog; before opening the UK's first underground supper club (The Underground Restaurant) and founding the secret supper club movement

A product of the recession, the underground restaurant (or secret supper club) movement thrived where most businesses failed. The aftermath of the crash saw the birth of a brand new target market - those who still had a craving for fine dining  - but on the cheap. Fascinated, and feeling left out at having never heard of this apparent craze, I googled it on my return home. Not only was the internet awash with websites dedicated to the supper club revolution, there were also over 70 restaurants in London alone - one being at the end of my road! It seems they aren't quite as 'secret' as I'd first thought.

Going back to the event and numerous glasses of champagne later, I managed to pull myself together just in time for our three-course dinner to be served. Being an Eat Pray Love DVD screening, international fare was on the menu; and the we sampled cuisine from Italy, India and Bali. Pizza, curry and pineapple with ice cream to be more exact. Having dived for a table containing the group who looked most like they'd tolerate me, I felt slightly more at ease. And it turned out I was in good company. A writer from OK Magazine online. The editor of A lifestyle producer. I barely noticed the film was playing as we chatted, laughed, tweeted and hash-tagged frantically throughout our delicious starters, mains and desserts. 

Three courses, ten glasses of wine, eight Twitter followers and two new Facebook friends later, it was time to call it a night. My anxiety long gone, as I walked back towards the tube station I wondered why I'd been so worried. I realised my terror was based upon not being accepted as a 'real' journalist, but seeing MsMarmitelover's success has only strengthened my feelings of belief in myself. The digital revolution has provided a opportunity for those who  may never have got their lucky break otherwise - and I plan to grab it with both hands. After all, success is what you make of it.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

A man's world?

Centre of a scandal ... Sian Massey
Hidden away in a Sky Sports studio, two men have a private conversation. It's a casual bit of banter between two mates, but unbeknown to them their every word is being recorded. The tape lands into the hands of the tabloids and a scandal is born... a scandal which will ultimately cost both men their lucrative careers.

Andy Gray would undoubtedly have kept his mouth taped shut had he known his comments to colleague Richard Keys would escalate into one of the biggest sexism rows of recent years. Probably only because the scandal got him axed from his cushy job as a pundit for Sky. Because there's no hiding the nonchalent way in which he speaks on that audio clip... those were the kind of throwaway comments he would make any day of the week. And he meant them.

Despite the outrage sparked by the pair's jibes, their behaviour really isn't surprising. In the world of sport, along with as most other male-dominated industries, casual sexism is commonplace. The only thing separating Gray from his pundit counterparts is the fact he was caught red-handed.

Undoubtedly there will be hordes of other sports presenters and commentators quaking in their boots - wondering if a camera was still rolling or a microphone had been left on the last time they joked about a woman's bra size. Terrified they'll be next in the firing line. Because although Gray opened a sizeable can of worms, he certainly isn't solely to blame. Others have laughed along with him and engaged in his sexist banter. The issue here is that, despite strong measures to stamp out sexism in the sporting world - and every other workplace for that matter - there are still large numbers of prehistoric creatures who think a woman's place is to look pretty, keep quiet and remain chained to the kitchen sink.

These misogynists' tiny minds are only capable of judging women on their looks rather than their professional capability. Never mind Sian Massey's exceptional achievement of becoming a premiership lineswoman at the tender age of 25. Not to mention that Karren Brady's talents landed her the role of MD at Birmingham City FC aged only 23. And let's ignore research showing females perform better in exams and have a stronger ability to multi-task in the workplace. 

It's about time these chauvinists looked beyond their own egos and at the bigger picture. Yes, there are more bimbos than you could shake a Laboutin at whose sole ambitions are to star on Page 3 and become a WAG. But there are a hell of a lot of other ladies who have much to bring to the boardroom. Yet these hard-working, successful women are often forced to prove their worth by slaving in the office whilst their male counterparts puff on cigars and back-slap each other in the lapdancing club.

The truth is, sexism is part of our everyday lives. It's ingrained into society. You need only scan a magazine news stand, watch a TV advert or Hollywood film to see how women are represented as either a sex object, a housewife, a victim - or, worse still, all three put together.

Women have a big battle on their hands. Because sadly, until society views women and men as equals, dinosaurs like Andy Gray will always be allowed to roam the planet freely. 

Monday, 3 January 2011

The January blues

Just a fraction of the booze consumed at the office xmas party...

It’s the third day of the new year and I finally feel sober enough to write my first entry of 2011. After a month of quaffing and scoffing just about everything I could lay my hands on it finally feels time to start that customary January detox. The detox I can guarantee will last until the end of the week before I succumb to ‘just one glass of wine’ and a couple of chocolate hob nobs.

As each year passes I’ve noticed the festivities seems to begin earlier. No longer can I simply write off the month of December as the party season; my diary during the latter part of November is now also filled with Christmas revelry. Whilst forcing myself through my umpteenth consecutive Christmas party I realised even the free cocktails had begun to lose their appeal. Along with the canap├ęs, which now looked less appetising than a frozen Christmas dinner for one from Iceland. 

Add this to trekking through treacherous snow and compacted ice in stilettos at 4am in search of a vacant cab and it’s no wonder that by the time Christmas day finally arrives I’m nursing a twisted ankle, an outbreak of flu and a nasty crop of spots. But never being one to ruin the season of goodwill I’ll pour myself a glass of bucks fizz with breakfast and be on the sloe gin by lunch.

By the time boxing day comes around and the boredom sets in, a whole host of monstrous and humiliating festive photographs begin to appear on Facebook; bringing with them further reason as to why I should never drink again (which is, of course, one of my new year's resolutions) and forcing me to spend the day rooted to my computer, de-tagging frantically. And all the while I'm thinking 'Why?! Why do I do this to myself?!' It seems yuletide is deemed as an excuse to completely write off all kinds of embarrassing and downright disgraceful behaviour.

Determined to turn over a new leaf, on new year's day I decided to enter a place I’ve pretended didn’t exist since the 20th November (which, in my head is when the festive season begins). A place where a considerable chunk of my monthly salary seems to disappear. The gym. Needless to say it was a hellish experience. Any ordinary day the place is half-full; with a few people dotted around on exercise machines and the rest donning leather gloves and posing around the weights section. On this occasion I could barely squeeze myself through the door without joining the queue for the treadmills. 

After fighting my way onto a cross-trainer, my workout was cut short by several pairs of beady eyes staring at me with disapproval when they realised I intended to stay on the machine for over 15 minutes. Apparently new year brings with it an unspoken rule that one must be considerate of other fatties who over-indulged themselves during the festive season.

After working off the equivalent of one mince pie, I decided to reward myself by heading to the jacuzzi, sauna and steam room to relax my aching muscles and attempt to sweat out some of the alcohol. Whilst there I worked out that to healthily lose the weight I’d gained over Christmas would take me until… November 2011.

When the whole process starts all over again. Oops...