I was asked recently why I didn’t like fancy dress by someone in the wonderful Cardstock group. I promised I’d blog about it. Some of you might have heard this story before…
Without a doubt, the single most exciting day of my childhood came in the 1982/83 school year, my 1st year in secondary school (Year Seven in new money). I was in a French class being led by Mr Goodrich, when there was a knock at the door. A message was handed to my teacher, who announced that I was to go down to the school reception office.
The ladies behind the slidey glass window in the office were terribly excited. “You’re going to be on television!” they excitedly announced. I was none the wiser.
A taxi was waiting and drove me the 20 miles to Television Centre in London’s Shepherds Bush. At the gates my mum met me.
I should probably point out at this stage that my mum, for much of her working life, worked for the BBC. More specifically, Children’s TV. Even more specifically, for Blue Peter, the long (and still) running kids magazine programme.
It turned out that the children’s new show Newsround was running a feature on new laws to introduce compulsory reflectors on the front, back and wheels of bicycles, and the show needed a child to ride a bike to illustrate the story for that evening’s show.
Some marketing folk from Raleigh had popped down from Nottingham, and so the call to my school had come from the need to find the rider. Television works in mysterious ways.
We spent some time in Hammersmith Park around the back of TVC, with the camera crew urging me to ride as slow as I possibly could over the bridge in the Japanese Garden, a wobbly old affair given the crazy paving…
After the filming was done, I was bought an ice cream (it must have been summer), and then I headed back home via school to pick my stuff up.
My moment of celebrity at school must have lasted at least 20 minutes. I’m not sure that many of my schoolmates watched Newsround even though this was back in the days when children’s TV consisted of an hour and a bit on ITV and BBC between 3 and 5 in the afternoon.
Flushed with my television success, I was delighted when my mum announced that there was to be another opportunity to be on the box. This time, in her home territory of Blue Peter itself.
Jane Asher, celebrity, actress and cakemaker before cakemaking was fashionable, had launched a book of children’s fancy dress costumes. Her publisher had wangled an appearance on the show to plug the book, and they needed a whole brigade of children to illustrate some of the contents.
From memory, presenter Simon Groom was dressed as a Christmas tree, there was a lot of bubble wrap, and one of the tiniest children in the group was now home disco diva Sophie Ellis Bextor.
Almost all of the costumes were removable. Except mine.
My costume was “Egyptian Mummy” and consisted of being wrapped head to toe in white bog roll.
If you haven’t ever tried to wrap a small 12-year-old child in toilet paper to a level of quality that would satisfy a television costume expert, then you won’t know that it takes forever.
We got ready for the rehearsal. In the early 80s the show was still broadcast live, twice a week. And the presenters had to learn the scripts because there was no autocue. It was an incredible feat, all things considered. Rehearsal was at about three, and we ran through everything as it would be in the live performance at five past five.
At the end of rehearsal everyone took off their costumes and headed to the Green Room. Apart from me.
The costume lady decided that it would take far too long to completely rebuild my mummy look, so they stripped my head, arms and legs, but left my torso encased. And because my movement was restricted, I was left in the studio.
These were the days before autocue. They were also the days before LED lights. Studio lights were hot, and they took ages to get to brightness, so many of them were left on. As as a result the studio was baking.
At about 4.30 my mum popped down to the studio with a cup of coffee. She asked if I’d like a sip. I said yes.
I had a sip.
I looked at mum and said “I feel a bit faint”.
She gave me one of those looks and said “Don’t be so silly”.
The next thing I remember was sitting in a BBC wheelchair, being pushed by a BBC nurse to the BBC sickbay. I watched my fancy-dressed colleagues on TV whilst my blood pressure was being taken.
There was nothing wrong, apart from leaving a 12-year-old wrapped in toilet paper in a hot TV studio for an afternoon. It was a shame not to have appeared on TV. Even more of a shame, in a weird way, not to have fainted on live TV. It would have been a “Lulu the Elephant” movement…
Thankfully it wasn’t to quite be the end of my TV career. A few months later I was able to be a “customer” in Coffee Shop of Saturday Superstore. I got to play conkers, learn to juggle, and was in proximity to Culture Club. Best of all I got to speak to Sarah Greene.
You might spot me the in background somewhere in this clip…
But was that later excitement enough to make up for the fancy dress debacle?
And that is why I hate fancy dress.