My name is Marlene and I am a resident of London. I am also a trainee spy.
Not Really. But, I am a part of Channel 4's brand new reality series Spies.
In the four-part series I, along with 15 others, were selected for our 'exceptional aptitude and potential to become a spy'. The show sees us being tested via means that include kidnap simulation, gun handling, surveillance, anti-surveillance, ethical hacking and manipulation techniques on both the UK and foreign soil, all in an attempt to ascertain whether or not we had what it took to make it in the world of espionage.
This show was advertised widely across the UK and so all selected candidates heard about it via different means. Personally I saw the training programme advertised online and applied that way. The selection process was gruelling and encompassed several interviews and tests on and off camera before I was finally accepted. Would you believe, an old acquaintance of mine was even contacted, visited, filmed and asked to give a character reference for me as part of the vetting process.
Trainees on this process were monitored by 'Control', a group of former British Intelligence Officers. We were observed 24 hours a day and Control looked at how naturally or unnaturally we responded to kidnap simulation, gun handling, surveillance, anti-surveillance, ethical hacking and being exposed to both betrayal and deceit.
This process was intense. We had to isolate ourselves from family and friends and this was tough for me, as I had to be away from my husband and children who are aged five and two. Perhaps the hardest part of this process for me was being away from them. However I remained focused and contributed my best efforts, knowing that they were well cared for and rooting for me at home.
While the experience was difficult, it was undeniably character building and extremely exciting. I remember feeling my heartbeat faster than usual several times, especially during an anti-surveillance task where I had to detect and identify whether or not I was being followed and by whom giving a detailed description. On more than one occasion I also had to betray the trust of fellow trainees to prove that I had what it took to extract information from a target without being detected. This was an unnatural task for me and made me feel deceitful, however even as a religious person I do appreciate that in this line of work, there are instances where having this skill could potentially save lives.
One of the most important messages I took away from the experts was that our expressions and demeanor can say a lot about us - so it is important as an intelligence officer to be aware of what we are saying when we are not speaking.
I studied criminology at university and the study of people and behaviour has always fascinated me, so it made sense for me to take part in this reality series. I was particularly interested in understanding what makes people tick and why people commit specific types of crimes; since studying I have invested a lot of time looking into crime prevention research methods that focus on how to reduce crime across particular social groups. This curiosity of the 'unknown world' around criminal justice - as members of the public, we do not fully understand how the British intelligence service operate - and I was curious to learn more about their techniques and processes.
Being part of the show motivated me to look at crime in a different way, considering potential weaknesses in an infrastructure as opposed to putting single focus on 'the criminal'. There are people who will offend if they are given the opportunity, perhaps as a society we could put our efforts into removing the opportunities. "Is a car thief 100% at fault if we were to leave the car unlocked with the keys in?"
Since being on the show I have considered a career adjustment and have enrolled back into higher education; I am now completing an MSc in Security Management and Fraud Prevention; So I guess 'Reality TV' can be inspiring despite international consensus.
A common question I have been asked since the airing of the show is "what happens next week?" And my answer is: "I would love to tell you but if I did, I'd have to kill you." I've always wanted to say that!