There was a time when I saw Jodie Marsh more often than my family or friends. I was a showbiz reporter on The Sun and she, at the height of her fame, would go to the opening of a zip so long as there was a C-list penis or flashing camera on the other side. In the decade since Big Brother kick-started an obsession with reality shows, we have become anaesthetised to the steady flow of wannabes who crowd our consciousness.
As they try to stretch their 15 Minutes, we roll our eyes and turn the page. I often think of Jodie - a woman who made them all look like amateurs. Occasionally over the years I've wondered if she would ever make a comeback. And if so, how?
Today, watching ITV1's This Morning, a respectful smile flickered across my face as I witnessed her triumphant answer - a transformation to professional body builder that has made the collective nation's jaw drop.
Last week, Jodie couldn't have got herself in a tabloid if she'd rung them up and said she'd be looking at engagement rings in a Bond Street jewellers window with a mystery fella (a trick often employed by publicity-hungry stars).
Now, Jodie's mahogany muscles grace pages read by millions and leave Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield speechless on daytime tv. The likes of Amy Childs, the break-away star of The Only Way Is Essex, should take note from the master class that is Marsh.Take the FHM Awards in 2004.
Jodie's star was beginning to fade after a noble attempt to capitalise on her appearance on reality show Essex Wives. If you'd told any editor she would be their front page, instead of the supermodels and various assembled A-listers at the hottest bash in town, they'd have thrown their head back with a villainous laugh.
But when Jodie stepped out of her car in nothing but a couple of belts (worth a watch on youtube) she achieved the unthinkable: ousting every drop-dead gorgeous woman there. A year or two after this red carpet triumph, on the day a tiny comment I'd written in Bizarre was published, Jodie called me in a fit of demented rage. Her objection was being described as a 'Jordan wannabe'. Screaming like a mad woman, wailing and calling me the 'C' word, she said she had "more ****ing talent than Jordan did in her little finger.'I put her on loudspeaker. We were hungover.
We laughed. Increasingly Jodie was finding it hard to be talked about and attempts became desperate - not least the 2007 MTV show Totally Jodie Marsh which saw her marry the winning contestant. The ill-fated union with nemesis Jordan's ex Matt Peacock lasted three months. I seem to remember a flirtation with lesbianism. Though that could have been Abi Titmuss or Rebecca Loos (weird encounters with both are surfacing and making me squirm as I type) who were around at the time. I liked Jodie.
A bit like Jordan, she gave good copy, with the guarantee an interview or random chat at a free bar would deliver a bitchy comment that made the paper. She was a household name through her own making, incredibly smart without the backing of a huge PR machine and learnt quickly what to say to grab headlines. Jordan was like-minded and both seem damaged. But unlike Jordan, I found Jodie inherently likeable. After all, fake tan, tits and questionable sexual morality are no bars to a kind soul which I watched wrestle her ego.
Incidentally, Jordan hated Jodie with a passion, hissing whenever journalists pitted them as rivals. The animosity was, of course, borne from the recognition of Marsh in herself and accompanying fear of her drive.The sweat, pain, time, discipline and determination to achieve today's comeback cannot be underestimated.
Of course she's going to say it had nothing to do with getting back on the telly.No matter the motive, the achievement is huge. Celebrity bookers on TV have their pick. A Tory Conference, Amanda Knox verdict and Liz Hurley engagement jostle for newspaper space. Even the Guardian featured Jodie today, a pondering drop-intro telling us 'female strength is better than feebleness and self-denial'.
And so, Jodie has done it again.She epitomises something that is deeply wrong and sad with our society - a sentiment summed up perfectly by a contestant on last week's show."I'm sick of being a no one. I want to be a someone."Simon Cowell's poster kids for the vacuous belief fame equals success equals happiness.Rosie Ribbons, PJ from Big Brother, Jamie Shaw from Pop Stars: The Rivals anyone? Probably not. And yet, there was a time when I interviewed them and a page of copy followed.
There are more wannabes than ever - spewed from the money-making mouths of TOWIE (which, incidentally Jodie is rumoured to be joining), Made In Chelsea, Big Brother, Geordie Shores and so on.But of them all, Jodie Marsh is Queen. And I for one am glad she's back.Suggest a correction