It started with a phone call into Confidential’s’ office one Wednesday afternoon.
Would we like to put a call out to our readers as the production company behind Come Dine With Me (CDWM) was looking for contestants (simpletons) to be flayed alive. As the best thing since sliced bread in food and drink reporting in Manchester it was obvious why they wanted our help.
Anyway Confidential sales supremo Chris Grimes took the call and quickly saw a sales opportunity, whilst at the same time thinking of the sweet humiliation he could heap on me, the Publisher of Confidential, and in another life, Gordo.
The four of us had got used to each other and we were getting along really well. Ruth hated this. She kept suggesting that we start a topic that was aimed at me being lecherous, Pascha saying something daft, Jilly winding me up or Jon hating the critic. It backfired.
“Great news boss,” says the shifty one, “I’ve got you a banging bit of PR, it will blast the Confidential name across the UK and the world”.
Yes, the opportunity for a sound thrashing from Dave Lamb, the piss-taking voice-over on CDWM was presenting itself on a plate.
Of course the lure of big telly is one of those that even media savvy professionals knowingly get snagged by. An ageing simpleton like me stands no chance.
“Oh go on then…”
The process up until the filming was straightforward; two telephone interviews, the second after I had sent pictures of my apartment through, then an interview on camera, again in the apartment and finally a phone call to give me the good news that I was on.“Oh yes, and one of your guests will be a vegetarian”.
I saw a particularly huge smile come on her face half way through my explaining my credentials. I knew I had made a mistake.
On film, the hours turned into two five second sound bites.
“When it comes to food and when it comes to booze,” says the lamb well on its way to slaughter by the Lamb, “there aren’t many people who know as much as I do…”
“Or who is as smug as you…”
That’s aimed at both Dave and myself.
The following day, the Monday, it was my turn to cook, being first up. The interview the day before gave me a heads up from what I was going to endure from Ruth; her job is to wind people up. Clearly, she wanted to be seeing plenty of vegetarian abuse as I am on record as being a hater. To this end she'd found me a vegetarian to get my teeth into.
People arrive at your place early; from five, and that five-o’clock rendezvous arrives like an express train running on time. The previous six hours were an endurance cooking test.
“Go on Mark, have a drink.”
“Sorry, lights gone, can you make the mayo again?”
“Oops, the Town Hall clock is about to go off, can everyone freeze? “
I could happily have gutted the film crew with my boning knife.
When the guests arrived, they turned out to be an eclectic bunch. When I met the veggie weirdo, Pascha, wearing an outfit modelled from a 1940s’ lady travelling from Paddington Station, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
“Well, I love Russia; I model everything I do from my Russian studies. I went to uni and it was there I became a vegetarian, because I don’t like killing animals. I love cake. That’s about all I eat.
Oh yes, I’m a Stalinist.”
“But Pascha, Stalin murdered sixty million people…”
“Yes, I suppose he got a bad rep.”
Jilly looked like another character drafted in to get me at it. In her own words, she is a ‘MILF’ (‘scuse the French, that’s internet porn language for ‘mother I’d like to fuck’). She was dressed to bait me with an outstanding figure, accentuated by a corset and skin tight jeans from Vivienne Westwood.
Jilly again turned out to be a darling and very knowledgeable on the subject of food and booze. She wasn’t worried about giving an opinion. When she gave it, the opinion was well founded.
I thought they should know what I did. I introduced myself as a food critic; the guests went a little pale. Questions were being asked of me about subject matters that had been talked over during my initial Stock interview; clearly Ruth had been feeding wind-up questions to my other contestants. One about the age difference with my girlfriends was dropped in deftly by Jilly.
On that first evening, I was confident that I had been a good host.
Between eleven and a quarter past twelve I had a good chat with Jon, as the girls were interviewed.
During the evening he had refused Pol Roger, Condrieu and a couple of good burgundies. Oh and a half bottle of Rieussec, Guinness and John Smiths bitter during the evening. He did drink a couple of cans of warm Fosters. I gave up. Finally, at eleven I’d asked him what his tipple was.
“Right, here’s a bottle. The rules of the house are I pour yours first, then you help yourself to whatever else you want.”
He seemed to relax and we had that chat. At the same time I watched him, slack-jawed, as he drank the full bottle of Remy in one hour and fifteen minutes. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Let me tell you something. This process is nothing like you see on the TV. I couldn’t serve the pudding until a quarter to one in the morning, the guests finally left at half past three and the film crew at four.
The next day was at Pascha’s in Hulme. The food was shocking. Pascha was hilarious. At the end of the evening, I found myself chatting with Pascha along with a member of the film crew.
“So Pascha, did you get to Russia during your studies?” I asked.
“No, didn’t, ‘cos of the breakdown.”
“Do you mean when the Wall came down?”
“No, no, it were me nervous breakdown,” she said in her broad Yorkshire accent. “They didn’t get the medication right for five years.”
“I’ve got news for you love,” I was thinking, “they still haven’t.”
We left that party at half past two. The third was held at Jon’s pub, which I was delighted by, a JW Lees establishment in Timperley called The Moss Trooper. I stuck to bitter. Unfortunately lots and lots of it.
Ruth was doing her usually mixing, stopping and started the conversation, dropping in conversation ideas that were designed to get the team having a row. She did a good job of it. She had spotted that Jon had been feeling left out.
I was surprised to hear that he'd felt left out on the first night at my place as well; I had asked my pal Al to sing, he brought a couple of long-stemmed roses for the girls, Jon had the needle that he wasn’t given one.
That was a bit bizarre.
Apparently he was also upset that he was given greens with his main. He didn’t like greens and was upset that I hadn’t done anything else. He didn’t mention the dauphinoise; besides, what else should I have had ready, some fucking carrots?Ruth (I think her surname was Less) did a good job of winding everyone up at that party, I of course was doing what everyone told me not to do. Getting pissed.
Jon’s food, mind you, was pretty good, apart from the dessert, something you would see being made in much smaller portions on a CBBC cookery show. Feeling Ruth’s inspired, ‘let's get the food critic’ atmosphere I just thought bugger it, where’s the next pint. That was my favourite night. Again though, another marathon of a three point battle between food, personalities and Ruth Less trying to wind everyone up. Three thirty.
The final day was at Jilly’s in Hale. This night was funny. The four of us had got used to each other and we were getting along really well. Ruth hated this. She kept suggesting that we start a topic that was aimed at me being lecherous, Pascha saying something daft, Jilly winding me up or Jon hating the critic. It backfired.
Ruth asked me what I thought about the girl’s outfits, clearly hoping that I was going to be rude. I wasn’t, deflecting another of Ruth’s attempt at car crash telly.
After one ridiculous row-making attempt, I decided to step in and told Ruth that it was time to stop her bear baiting. From that point on we had a proper party in Jilly’s garden, along with her great hubby who had been banished to the local all night.
We’re good friends now and I am taking the three of them out shortly on a restaurant write-up session.
In retrospect, I thoroughly enjoyed it: the excuse I made to myself was that it would be good for Confidential, along with being a great life experience as well. There is no point in being frightened of what it brings along. I do however feel a bit uncomfortable for people with shoulders less broad than mine who go on shows like this; they have to be prepared to deal with their mistakes, drunken or sober, for a long time to come.
I felt happy when, at the end of the last evening, one of the crew looked at Ruth.“They’ve been very naughty tonight, haven’t they?”
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