This is going to be a long one. You may want to make yourself a cuppa…
When I first heard I’d been invited to go on The Vanessa Show, I felt proud. Proud that someone had read something I’d written (Why I refuse to feel guilty about my Twitter addiction on Ready for Ten) and thought it was interesting enough to ask me to come on TV and expand on it.
Less than a week later, after recording the show, as I walked along Oxford Street crying into a tall mocha, the expression “pride comes before a fall” kept going through my head. I felt like an idiot. But then I thought, well, that’s a stupid expression. Why shouldn’t I have been proud? Why shouldn’t I still be proud that even though my first TV appearance didn’t go as well as I would have hoped, at least I did it? So I am still proud. And here’s why.
On a school day and everything!
As I headed for London on Tuesday morning, I admit I was feeling a bit full of myself. When I was a kid I was obsessed with London and desperate to live there. London, I thought, was where everything happened. London was where I could be myself and become a success. And then I moved to London and it didn’t quite work out that way. I was shy, insecure, afraid. When I left London (in 1997) I felt like a failure. It’s taken me a long time to be able to enjoy London again and each time I go back, I remember more and more why I loved it in the first place. So on Tuesday, I was thinking about how I no longer have to go every day to a job that I hate. How I get to be a writer and get to go to London and on TV. Get me.
When I got down there, I was nervous, but I met my lovely friend Sarah (and her gorgeous son) for lunch, checked in at my hotel and then got the tube to the studio, so I didn’t have time to get myself too worked up. I did keep thinking back to 1995 I think it was when I went with a friend to audition for a TV show (can’t remember what it was called – it was a film show presented by Johnny Vaughn) and could barely speak I was so terrified. But I’m nowhere near as shy as I was back then and wasn’t I just on the radio last week? This would be just like that only with cameras. And Vanessa Feltz.
Don’t mention Celebrity Big Brother…
As soon as I got to the studio, I was ushered into the make-up room where Vanessa was already sitting. I felt a flash of nerves then – she’s an intimidating presence – but she started chatting and I felt fine. She asked me to give her an example of a tweet I’d sent that day. I’d only sent one, which had been to say that my train to London had been delayed. “Boring, I know,” I said. “Yes,” Vanessa agreed, adding, “appallingly dull and tedious! What on earth made you tweet that?!” I said that sometimes tweets are just good for getting things off your chest, but that someone (Helen!) had then tweeted me to tell me that there were delays between Milton Keynes and London and how Twitter’s great for information as well as for chatting.
Vanessa asked me if I talk on the phone and I said I didn’t very much anymore. She said she doesn’t either, she just texts. I did have a moment when I wondered if she was treating our conversation as research for the interview, but then I thought, no, that would be unfair. And the questions will have already been prepared by a researcher. When I said I was nervous Vanessa said, “Oh there’s nothing to be nervous about! It’ll just be like this, us talking.”
Again, I felt a bit proud. I was holding my own, I wasn’t blushing and I didn’t feel intimidated or shy which – even though I haven’t really felt shy for years – is a massive thing for me. At school my worst fear was having to give a “talk” or read aloud from a book. I remember a teacher asking me to take a note to a teacher in a different classroom and I stood outside almost crying because I hated the thought of pushing open the classroom door and everyone looking at me.
Let’s have a heated debate!
I went back to the green room and chatted with Shamash, a mindfulness expert who was there as the “anti-Twitter”. I’d been a bit worried about this, worried that I’d be attacked and end up having a row on screen, but not only was Shamash lovely, he’s on Twitter. I felt confident that it would be, as the producer had assured me, a friendly and positive debate.
We walked through to the studio and watched Vanessa conduct a debate with a woman who feels bad about bribing her 2-year-old to do certain tasks and a parenting expert who doesn’t agree with bribery. And then it was time for our segment. We sat down. I saw myself on the giant monitor (why they have a bloody great screen directly opposite so you can see how utterly gormless you look I don’t know) and thought, ugh – the make-up artist had straightened my hair, but, by the look of it, only on one side – but then I just wanted to get on with it.
The show is recorded “as live” so Vanessa did a link to the next segment (my segment) and then there was an ad break or something. During the break Vanessa said something like “I’m really looking forward to this because it’s a real bone of contention between me and Ben” (her partner, who co-presents the show). “It’s a real argument, not a TV argument,” she continued. “It drives me absolutely fucking mad.”
And that’s when I thought… Oh. Shit.
I must have a life cos it flashed before my eyes
The actually interview is pretty much a blur, but I know she started by saying something about how she was amazed that I’d agreed to join them in the real world, something about “isn’t it true that you never even talk on the phone anymore!” and that my husband gets annoyed that I’m online all the time! And that I’m on Twitter when I’m with my kids!
I was completely wrong-footed. I remember thinking, “Wow. You bitch.” But at the same time I felt a sort of grudging admiration. She’s a pro. And I was naive. And I knew I was screwed. It’s The Vanessa Show, after all.
I don’t remember my responses clearly. I made a feeble joke about everything being in 3D. I know I said something about Twitter not being about what you had for breakfast. I know I told some stupid story about David melting butter on the radiator and how other people had tweeted “boneheaded” things their husbands/partners had done. I know I said I try to give my boys my full attention, but sometimes I’m tempted to go and tweet something they’ve done or said. And that Twitter has made me laugh and cry. But I couldn’t remember any of the things I’d wanted to say. I could barely remember what Twitter was.
It all went by really fast and then Vanessa was thanking me, the crew was congratulating me and then I was outside in the street thinking, “What just happened?” As I walked up to the tube, I thought of all the things I wanted to say, but hadn’t said.
Meanwhile, back in the real world…
I wish I’d said that parenting is isolating and Twitter is supportive and encouraging and entertaining. I wish I’d said that my virtual life is in addition to, not a replacement for, my real life, which is wonderful. I felt guilty that I’d talked about David. (Poor David always gets the shitty end of the stick.) I wish I’d told her how amazingly supportive Twitter is. How it can literally be a lifeline for some people. How I can be chatting with friends about TV, looking at photographs tweeted by astronauts on the Space Shuttle, and reading a link to an incredibly powerful and moving blog all within a few minutes.
Before the interview, I wanted to say that Twitter is not just broadcasting, it’s a conversation, but then I worried that – because she’s a broadcaster – it might get Vanessa’s back up. I wish I’d said it now. Because she may be an excellent broadcaster, but she’s not so hot on conversation. No wonder she doesn’t get Twitter.
Imagine All By Myself playing over this bit. Maybe on a saxophone.
As I walked through London, I felt worse and worse. I berated myself for sounding silly and frivolous and making Twitter sound silly and frivolous. I felt like I’d let the lovely women at Ready for Ten down. I felt like I’d let Linda Jones (who has been supporting and encouraging and inspiring me since I first started writing) down. I felt like I’d let everyone on Twitter down.
I wandered and I whimpered and I felt very sorry for myself. I tweeted about it, obviously, and got the most incredibly lovely responses that made me laugh out loud and also made me cry even harder.
Even so, I didn’t want to stay overnight as planned, I wanted to go home and see David and our boys. Leaving London a failure again. But when I woke up on Wednesday morning, I felt much better. I felt strong and confident and positive.
Yes, it’s all about me.
I don’t believe everything happens for a reason, but I do think this happened for a reason. It taught me that I can do things I didn’t think I could ever do. It taught me that I’m no longer that terrified girl standing outside the classroom door, scared to go in. It taught me that I’m not the blushing, tongue-tied 20-odd year old at the Johnny Vaughn audition. During the interview, Vanessa asked me if, on Twitter, I feel pressure to be “amusing”. I don’t know what I replied, but what I should have said was that the only thing I want to be is authentic. And that’s how I felt when I woke up on Wednesday morning.
In 1989 when I moved to London, I thought it was where I could be myself and become a success. Twenty-two years later, I no longer live in London, but I am myself (even to the point of not wanting the make-up artist to straighten my hair and replying “Absolutely!” when she asked if I’d be wearing my glasses) and I am a success.
Tweet that, Vanessa.