“I’m starting to regret the curry sauce.” George admits quietly, but refuses to be defeated by his kebab. We are all standing around next to the window of the establishment, which looks onto the concourse of a petrol station on one side, and a tram track on the other. We stare in horror at the monstrosity George has ordered– some form of spiced teriyaki lamb kebab and a side of chips with gravy. I can only assume this is food exclusive to the North. The rest of us wait for our pizzas, while sipping on our sugary Fanta substitutes. The bright strip lighting flickers slightly, and the heat from the back of the fridges fills the room with a sweaty warmth. Suddenly the television playing random music videos comes to life with Bebe Rexha’s latest hit, and we laugh with delight and relief and excitement and exhaustion.
8 hours earlier:
“It’s a media student’s wet dream.” Ruth said flatly as we looked around the wasteland of studio buildings, landscaped piazzas and mediocre restaurants, all held together with a network of colour coded pathways. So far, our journey along the purple, yellow and orange streets of Media City had been unsuccessful. We’d been sent from door to door by women with painful, forced smiles and men with disinterested, blank eyes. We clearly didn’t have that television sparkle that made us interesting enough to pay any attention to. Eventually we stumbled across a man at the delivery entrance, who was far more helpful. He directed us around a corner where we saw Hannah grappling with two BBC interns.
I had rushed to Euston two hours previously after a long exam, to find Ruth and a bottle of coke which had saved me from my tiredness. The stress of the day had continued when the inspector forced her to spend eighty pounds on a new ticket due to a railcard-related catastrophe. It continued when we arrived at Manchester Piccadilly with fifteen minutes to get to Salford. And it had continued with our hurried search for the correct entrance to Dock 10. It had changed to annoyance and exasperation when we found it.
“There’s an actual Darlek!”
Hannah’s intern friends were almost stereotypically useless, advising us to go get a coffee for like an hour or something. We chose to ignore them, sat down and admired the various BBC attractions, including a large cardboard cut-out of Claudia Winkleman and the entire cast of Dr Who in plastic form. Ten minutes later, the interns returned rather sheepishly and announced that we’d be allowed through shortly. The process was long and boring: they checked our bags, gave us stickers, decided we shouldn’t have stickers, retrieved the stickers, and made us declare what relation we held to the performers. It seemed that the other groups had managed to find all of their family members to support them. We were severely lacking, with only one mother and two sisters between the nine of us.
We got in eventually, greeted by Carla and a large bag of merchandise. As I hurriedly shoved the t-shirt over my carefully chosen top, I settled into my fold-up plastic chair on the front row to enjoy the evening. For a show that was being filmed “live”, the four hours of filming seemed excessive. However, we couldn’t help but be excited. Gareth Malone and Kelis were joined by the star judge, who will hopefully be more famous in Britain by the time the programme goes out. It crossed my mind that Bebe’s outfit resembled the aluminium version of my famed Halloween bin bag dress, although – probably fortunately – I didn’t get a chance to tell her.
“Have you been canoodling with All the King’s Men?”
The competition opened with the whole group number. I can’t remember what the songs were. For an accurate sense of the show, it is best to watch the show rather than rely on my account. I do remember that this first song was a stirring introduction to what proved to be a thrilling show. The so-called “show-stoppers” that followed didn’t stop the show as much as the electrifying performance of Left Hand Free later in the programme or the extraordinary performance by Kedma and the Welsh choir of Somebody to Love. Despite the slow progress, we became breathless with excitement and nerves. It was too much at one point for Ruth and me, and we had to escape to the loo queue, only to be accused by Mel of running off after boys. The tension was so strong that I almost made up my mind to walk out of the studio for good and go for a relaxing walk across the legendary Media City footbridge. But none of us gave in. We stayed and cheered on, every single one of us hardly stopping to sit down between standing ovations.
And suddenly it was over. Ruth and I were crying and laughing all at once, hugging the vocal coach and Ben’s mum and anyone who would join in. Suddenly the lights came on, revealing a mundane empty set. The purple flashing floor was gone, the bright ceiling was just a roof full of lights and scaffolding, and All the King’s Men were filtering out of the backstage doors to be greeted by a group who were wordless with pride. There was an air of simultaneous excitement and anti-climax.
“Is it bad that I should have a drink but all I want is a kebab?”
Our initial excitement and thirst for wine gave way fairly quickly to hunger and tiredness. With the hunger fixed by pizza and, in George’s case, a horrible kebab, and with me falling asleep on my feet, we returned to the lively hotel to make a bed of cushions and catch a couple of hours sleep before the morning and the train that would whisk us down to Norwich.
“And just think, we’ve got to do that all again in a couple of months!” George said as he picked up some sofa padding.
Maybe I’m not so glad they won…