At the beginning of The Devil Wears Prada, Anne Hathaway's character explains the reason she ended up at Runway is because the choice was between there and an Auto magazine. At times when I have least to do, I like to think I got the work placement Anne turned down.
Previously, Top Gear formed the brunt of my TV work experiences (they're all lovely by the way, although they tend to swear more on average than Miranda Priestley), but it was through the production secretary I worked with on Top Gear that I got my latest gig: a day working at the Dublin call-back auditions for Before Britain And Ireland's Next Top Model. Blimey. They were going to pay me for my trouble too. Double blimey.
Normally I'm deferential to attractive women for free. Just one problem: prior to showing up my knowledge of the show was restricted to merely knowing it existed.
Save for posters I saw in London a year or so ago of Lisa Snowdon commanding the sexiest platoon ever formed, and a video I saw on YouTube of a model stampede in Manhattan the likes of which haven't been seen since poor Mufasa bit the dust, I hadn't the faintest idea what was about to go down.
Where I'm from, "fierce" is a word farmers use to describe the weather. I wasn't in the building long though before I realised that ignorance of the proceedings was no excuse for being flippant. The excitement and nervousness of the girls was palpable. Some of them were going home that day having realised a long-held dream, others would go home bitterly disappointed. That's not something you approach lightly.
My role for the day was that of a logger, where I took down things the auditionees said and when they said them, a kind of sexy stenographer. This suited me fine, as it answered one of my core questions of the day, "Will I get to meet the models?"
My first task was the sit down interview, where the girls told us about themselves one by one, while the other girls and their families sat around tables that gave the atmosphere of the cast of a George Michael video attending a table quiz.
I was struck by two things during the interviews: first, my writing at speed is less legible than any medical practitioner and second, the girls were lovely. Really lovely. Not just beautiful, but well-educated, interesting and genuine. I was sure there'd be at least one vapid, prima-bitchface there. Not so.
After that came the bit everyone was waiting for: the bit where they go into the room and do stuff for the judges. (I'm sure they'll have a snappier title for this bit when the show comes out). In eight groups they came out to a narrow corridor to await their fate, where they were briefed by the director and put at ease by the producer, who joked and chatted with them before they walked into the breach. All the while I dutifully took the notes, and imagined how much better I'd be at doing the producer's job.
One of the more memorable episodes of the corridor session was that when the director said to the girls "Prepare to go inside, look straight ahead" without fail every group at that precise point looked behind them. After the girls went in we were kept abreast of what was going on via the audio feed a couple of the crew were privy to, every so often hearing updates like "She's been asked to sing", "they're coming back out", "the blonde girl is through" or "she's fallen over, there's bits of shoe everywhere". OK, only the first three.
The fallout of the judges' verdict was another surprise for me. There were some tears, but no sour grapes or tantrums. The girls were magnanimity and collegiality personified. That said, there were some instances where I did see one of the modelling world's more unfortunate hallmarks bore out. One girl became convinced she didn't get through because she was too heavy, despite not being on the same planet as heavy, but she couldn't be persuaded otherwise.
Another hopeful self-identified as a "plus-size" model, which given her figure made as much sense to me as calling the French Riviera "fair to middling". Plenty of others who didn't make it were upset for different reasons: they'd be the grand old age of 24 next year, thus unable to take part.
Those isolated alimentary incidents aside, the attitude to food wasn't that austere, in fact I had lunch with judge Charley Speed, who is a lovely bloke. One of the virtues of not knowing anything about the show was that I could talk to Charley about how nice the fish pie was and the merits of caramel desserts without feeling self-conscious or preposterous.
I even got to meet the redoubtable Elle Macpherson. Well, I say meet, I held the door open for her. And she didn't say thank you, she just went on her way, humming something I couldn't make out. Hard to get will get nowhere with me.
We wrapped up around 4pm, and with that my magical eight-hour journey into the world of modelling was complete. Dublin was the last audition day for the regular crew so they too were done, and they sang Ronan Keating songs of joy to mark the moment.
They went back to London to make the actual show, while all that remained for me to do was wonder if any of the girls I thought would make it through would be amongst the honoured chosen few. That said, if what I saw on my day on the inside is anything to go by, the competition in this year's series will be, eh, fierce.
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