Authors: Lucy Diamond
Most embarrassing moment ever? I’ve had a few. One was when I walked down Harborne High Street with my skirt accidentally tucked into my knickers. I noticed people sniggering and pointing but assumed they were just the usual type of idiots who think overweight people are either deaf or totally immune to hurtful comments.
When a kind woman eventually stopped me outside the Oxfam shop to tell me that I was giving pedestrians a cheeky eyeful (in both senses of the word), I thought I might die with sheer mortification. Someone actually cheered as I yanked my skirt down at the back to cover myself up, and I felt my face flood with hot, humiliated colour. It took two almond croissants and a large cappuccino at Caffé Nero before I could even think about venturing out onto the street again.
Needless to say, that haunted me for ages, but then something happened at work last summer that was even more cringeworthy. More embarrassing, even, than the time I was seven years old and got my head stuck in a gate (for over an hour), or when I fell backwards into a lake trying to take a photo of my family.
I worked part-time at one of the big radio stations in Birmingham and I loved it. Well, I had done until recently, anyway. Radio had been a friend to me ever since I was a shy teenager in the shadow of my glamour-puss mum. My dad was long gone by then – and good riddance to him – so it was just the two of us, me and Mum, at home. I say just the two of us, but she wasn’t exactly one for the quiet life. She’d throw cocktail parties and soirées every weekend, filling the house with chic, tinkly-laughing friends and hearty blokes with booming voices from the theatre. I was always invited to join them, but the thought terrified me so much, I’d inevitably huddle upstairs with my radio and a bag of pick ’n’ mix instead.
That radio kept me company on many, many evenings. My favourite DJ was a honey-voiced guy called Alex Morley who made me feel as if he was speaking just to me. I imagined him as tall and rangy with shaggy, sandy-coloured hair, sparkling blue eyes and battered denim jeans. (Think sexy Sawyer from
, with a Dudley accent.) I would sit curled up in my beanbag, munching jelly snakes and flicking through
magazine while Alex played me tunes. Imagine how gutted I was when Mum sent off for a signed photo of him for me and he turned out to be jowly and slightly boss-eyed with what looked suspiciously like a bad comb-over.
No matter. I was already in love with the power of radio, how it made me feel less alone, how I was able to lose myself in that world. I forgave Alex his bad hair and well-covered cheekbones (who was I to talk, anyway?) and began coveting a dream that never really went away – that one day it would be me talking into a microphone, making somebody else feel more connected to the world . . .
was likely in my job, unfortunately. I was a broadcast assistant at Brum FM, and had been lucky enough to work for Chip Barrett, the smooth-tongued silver fox who’d presented the lunchtime slot for years and was a big favourite among ‘ladies of a certain age’. But since the new controller, Andy, had come in, he’d been trying to make the station cooler and more current. So poor old Chip had been relegated to the dawn shift, and his programme now went out between two and six in the morning. Meanwhile, they’d only gone and hired the meanest bitch in the country to take his place . . . and that was who I currently had the misfortune to work for.
‘Good morning, Birmingham! This is Collette McMahon, here to put a twinkle in your eye and a smile on your face,’ she would say at the start of her show every day. Ironic really, because while she was saying all that nicey-nice stuff, she’d usually be gesturing ferociously at me or pressing
on an email that read ‘
MADDIE, WE ARE OUT OF COFFEE IN HERE!!!!
This inevitably made me feel like slapping her –
Maddie Lawson, here to put a sharp stick in your eye and a smack on
your face, Collette!
– because one, I hated emails in capitals (way too shouty), and two, it wasn’t my job to make her sodding coffee, and well she knew it.
(And did I mention that she was whip-thin and very attractive, with shoulder-length black hair and smoky grey eyes? Just to make matters worse.)
On this particular day, Collette was late. Again. Her show started at eleven in the morning, and we were both meant to be in for ten o’clock on the dot so that we could go through the running order with the producer, Becky, and get everything ready in plenty of time. When Chip was doing the show, he was always in the studio from nine, writing his links and deliberating over his playlist – a consummate professional. But Collette breezed in whenever she fancied it. The first week she’d generally made it to her desk by 10.15, but on this day it was nearer 10.30 when she finally sauntered through the door.
‘Jeez, it’s hot out there,’ she said, slinging her bag onto the desk and pushing her big designer sunglasses up onto her head. She had a loud, rather posh voice – she was from Surrey, originally – and liked everyone to know that she had entered the building. ‘How are we doing? All set for a great show?’
Becky looked irritated. ‘Collette . . . you tell me,’ she replied. ‘Where have you been?’
Collette pulled a face. ‘No need to get uptight,’ she said. She glanced in my direction as if noticing me for the first time. ‘Get us a coffee, love, I’m parched. Bit of a late one last night.’
, note. And that annoying ‘love’, as if I was sixteen and a work-experience girl or something, when I was actually a year older than her, the stupid cow.
I was about to rise out of my seat when Becky put a hand on my arm to stop me.
‘Maddie doesn’t have time to run around making you coffee,’ she said coldly. ‘We need her here with us to prepare for the show. So . . . if you’re ready, let’s go through today’s running order. We’re on air in less than half an hour now, so let’s make it quick.’
Looking miffed, Collette shouted through to one of the secretaries for coffee instead, glaring daggers at me as if it were
Finally, we were able to get down to business. Collette’s show was a mixture of music and chat with different phone-ins and quizzes according to the day of the week. Part of my job was to put together the skeleton running order for Becky’s approval, research local news items Collette might want to talk about, and arrange guest interviews. Chip had always liked the human-interest stories – the Good Samaritan in the street, or the local girl with leukaemia who was getting treated to a Disneyland trip, that sort of thing. Becky and I were still finding our feet with Collette’s taste. So far, she only seemed interested in poking fun at celebrities and passing on gossipy rumours.
‘Okay,’ I started, going through my notes. ‘So we’ve got the midweek phone-in at 11.15 – we could do something about the school summer holidays starting soon—’
I gaped in shock at the way Collette had cut me dead. ‘Um . . . well, lots of our listeners are mums, so—’
‘So the last thing they want to talk about is school bloody holidays, babe!’ she snorted. ‘Ever heard of escapism? What else have you got?’
I glanced down at my notes, my face burning. Chip would never have spoken to me like that. ‘Well . . . the Birmingham Restaurant Awards are tonight,’ I began tentatively. ‘So maybe . . .’
She clicked her teeth. ‘Not very sexy,’ she said. ‘Look, leave it with me – I’ll come up with something better for the phone-in. What else?’
And so it went on, with Becky getting similar treatment. Collette didn’t like the sound of Phil the Chef’s Wednesday Recipe – ‘It’s kind of dull, isn’t it? Get him to give us another one, something more exotic.’ She rolled her eyes at the mention of the samba band who were coming in to play some tunes, and actually yawned when Becky reminded her about the Midday Quiz.
‘We’d better set up,’ Becky snapped at that point, twisting one of her auburn corkscrew curls taut around her finger (always a bad sign). ‘Collette, you’re just going to have to wing the rest, I’m afraid. Maddie, can you keep on top of the links, please.’
‘No worries,’ Collette said, cool as a cucumber, sashaying into the studio.
‘Of course,’ I said, not feeling in the slightest bit cool. I was used to live radio programmes now, of course, but Chip always ran a tight ship, with every minute of the three-hour programme accounted for. With Collette discounting half the material Becky and I had put together, the running order was looking horribly light.
I needn’t have worried, though. Collette had plenty to say. Most of it was stuff she’d got straight out of the
, and there was quite a long phone-in that revolved around slagging off the
contestants before she started a monologue about whether or not she was going to get her hair cut short at the weekend.
Then she segued into her bombshell.
‘You’ve got to look your best for summer, isn’t that right, people?’ she cooed into the mike. ‘That’s why I’m starting the Make Birmingham Beautiful campaign right here, right now. For the next few months, all my team at Brum FM are going to embark on a new beauty regime.’
Becky looked flustered. ‘What’s she talking about?’ she hissed to me. We were sitting a few metres away from Collette, but separated from her by the studio’s soundproof glass panel. ‘Do you know anything about this?’
‘No,’ I said, feeling nervous. I didn’t like the spiteful light in Collette’s eyes as she glanced over at me.
‘I, for example, will be road-testing some beauty goodies kindly sent to us by the Bliss Spa at Perfect Body Gym,’ she wittered. ‘And I’ll be posting “before” and “after” photos on my DJ blog, so watch out for those! I’ve also got some hair lotions and potions from Saks for Becky, our lovely producer, to try out.’
Becky smiled – with relief, I think – and gave Collette a thumbs-up.
‘What about our hunky controller, Andy Fleming?’ Collette continued. ‘Now, he’s my boss, so I’ve got a special treat for him – a Man Spa session at Serenity – the lucky fella! Let’s hope he remembers that when it comes to the annual pay rise, eh, Andy?’ She laughed at her own joke, then her gaze swivelled to me. I felt like a mouse being eyed up by a cobra and flinched.
‘As for Maddie, our super assistant . . .’ Collette cooed, her eyes glittering. She paused for a moment, then smiled a killer smile. ‘Well . . . she’s on a mission to beat the bulge! Yes, that’s right – Maddie’s going to try out a FatBusters weight-watching class. There are sessions running in all sorts of places around the city, so log on to our website if you’re interested in losing a few pounds yourself. I’ll let you know how we all get on in a fortnight, so don’t miss that . . .’
Snap. The mouse was history, the cobra victorious.
My hands were trembling, my mouth was dry and I felt a huge lump in my throat as if I was going to cry with embarrassment. It took every last shred of pride I had not to walk out of the studio there and then.
‘Are you all right, Maddie?’ Becky asked in concern. Collette had put on the latest Girls Aloud track and was bopping around as if she hadn’t a care in the world.
I couldn’t look at her, or reply. Collette’s words were still sinking in, stinging through me.
She’s on a mission to beat
the bulge! Maddie’s going to try out a FatBusters weight-watching class!
The horrible, horrible woman. The bitch. Everyone had been given nice treats, except me. I’d been made the laughing stock.
‘Maddie? Are you okay?’
I nodded mutely at Becky, not trusting myself to speak. Collette McMahon had just told thousands of listeners that I was fat and needed to do something about it. She had humiliated me in front of the whole city.