Actress and frenemy Ellen Buddle reflects on why she wishes she'd never read Popular. Or met me.
It’s mid-March, around midday. I sit up groggily in bed, check my phone. One voicemail.
“Hi love, Gareth here. Just on the way to the gym and wanted to run something by you. Don’t know if you’re sleeping...”
He trails off delicately, but the phrase “you lazy little piglet” is implicit in his tone...
Gareth rarely insults me actively via voicemail. I think he sees it as practice for when his star inevitably waxes, knowing perfectly well that the News of the World will have no need to employ any so-called “dark arts” with me. Just wave a new pair of Louboutins under my nose and I’ll be spilling the deepest recesses of Gareth’s mind faster than the reporter can call in the check for dinner. (Yes, for future reference to all tabloid journalists, I will be expecting dinner as well.) And besides, Gareth knows that I’m the only one in this whole wide world that knows what really went down in Namibia. And take it from me, he does not want that getting out. Anyway, the voicemail goes on.
“Don’t know if you’re sleeping or, you know, off working on some project (the doubt in his voice is entirely justified)... but anyway, I’m trying out some new things on the Popular blog and was thinking a few friends might want to write a guest article...”
My brain starts whirring immediately. Yes! At last Gareth has duly recognised that I am a natural-born opinion maker. He sees that the world has been so far deprived of my views on cuts to arts funding, women’s body image, the dual role of the actor as artist and employee, the nature of reality and why white people should never, NEVER, wear pink on top and white below (revolutionary, I know, but frankly it’s one of those revelatory facts I don’t know how we’ve so far lived without. Seriously, it makes you look like a seal with vitiligo. No, seriously). This is my chance, my brain’s chance, my very essence’s chance to show the world what I’m really made of...
“...about how much they love Popular. BBM me any thoughts/ideas you have for what you’d like to say. Thanks love, chat later. Bye!”
I should have known.
Look, I’m a gracious woman. Granted, I’m a little disappointed that the world is going to have to wait that little bit longer for me to change its collective life. Clearly this is a fundamental betrayal by Gareth of me and everything I live my life by. But I’m fine with that. At least I will be once I’ve been put instantly on a plane to Copenhagen where I shall dine at Noma (aka best restaurant in the world) for at least a month, during which time I will repeatedly try to seduce the married head chef, resulting in someone having to repeatedly pay bribes in order to allow me to eat there again, before being whisked away to Paris for a non-stop week-long shopping spree to burn off those wonderful, wonderful calories. (Gareth, I hope you’re taking notes) And in the meantime, I will do what any good friend will do, and write a blog post guaranteed to boost book sales at least 300% from the original projections. Because I’m a good person. And here it is:
Parents, don’t let your children anywhere near this book. It is going to rot their brains until it seeps out in the form of grey sludge from their increasingly uncomprehending ears. I mean this literally. I am fairly sure that every page contains a secret code that will cause young people to unwittingly drop several IQ points, with a requisite decline in moral and behavioural standards, every time they turn to the next page. And even if they realise what’s going on, they won’t stop reading. They can’t. It has simply been packed too full of witty rejoinders, chaotic parties and scintillating intrigue for anyone to possibly turn away once they have started. Let your kids anywhere near this book, and they will be doomed. Doomed I say!
You probably think I’m joking. “Oh!” you’ll scoff, “I see what’s going on. This is one of those witty, ironic pieces where you comment on the fact that children instantly scoop up whatever pop culture phenomenon their parents most disapprove of, which is why no one past the age of 12 pays any attention to the Jonas Brothers. Clever, Ellen, bravo. And very amusing, too.”
But stop! True, I can’t help that my writing style is relentlessly entertaining and penetratingly insightful, but to focus on only this is to distract from my central point. And I only speak the truth!
Take me, for example. When I first met Gareth, I was sensible, hardworking, politically minded, selfless, empathetic and principled. I went to demonstrations. I enjoyed studying. If I started feeling drunk at parties, I went home and got a good night’s sleep. Now look at me. I’m the sort of person who writes this article. And just look at this article! I’m ruined. A heartless, narcissistic, self-absorbed, clothing-obsessed, judgemental and demanding little harpy. And yes, this is all because of Gareth and his evil, evil little book.
Don’t make the same mistakes I did, or rather that my parents did by not banning Gareth from my life and taking out several restraining orders both in the UK and internationally, ensuring that wherever I turned I would be permanently spared from his toxic influence. Because really, whatever I have become, everyone is to blame but me. Especially you. Yes. You.
So ban the book. Ban it from the house, ban it from the vicinity of the house. Ban any friends from the house that you suspect of reading it. I mean, it’s not like teenagers have initiative or are secretive in any way shape or form. There’s no way they would just keep it in their locker at school, or hold their noses and go and read it in the library. It’s not like your kids’ friends behave differently when you’re not around and will start spilling all the latest plot twists until your child feels utterly compelled to go and pick it up and see for themselves. Besides, if they don’t read this book that will inevitably become the book to read this summer holiday, it’s not as if they’ll become a social pariah for being so painfully out of the loop. That kind of thing only happens in books. Like Popular. And since no child is going to read it because no parent will let them, you have nothing to worry about. Their innocence is safe. And my job is done. Moral crusade won.
No need to thank me Gareth. That’s just what friends are for. Oh, and I’ll see you in Paris. I need someone to carry my bags.