Two summers, 1998 and 1999, I was an extra, sorry background artist, In Grange Hill. Grange Hill was staple TV for kids from the 70’s onwards but to be honest I never watched it, even after I’d been in it I couldn’t really be bothered, as far as I was concerned it was about a load of annoying and bitchy kids at school and it was on at just about the time I’d just got back from spending the day with a bunch of annoying and bitchy kids at my own school.
It was a bit like Children’s Ward, the most boring kids TV program ever to be invented, who’s idea was it to set a kid’s soap in a hospital and how depressing can you get? Oh no little jonny’s got his head stuck in some railings, that’s great fun for a Thursday afternoon. If I had to choose a children’s soap (and why do children need soaps, surely the whole point of kids tv is to inspire young minds before the drudgery of the day to day kicks in and they start watching Eastenders in order make their own lives appear comparatively happy and fulfilled!) I’d take Biker Grove anyday at least they had Geordie accents and PJ and Dunken! It’s no wonder they all got cancelled!
‘Doing’ Grange Hill was like a right of passage at the after school theatre group I went to. I had begged my mum to let me go to a proper Theatre School since I was tiny but it was never really an option due to the fact I had been very good at maths and science and she, sensibly really in retrospect, wanted me to get good GCSE’s over big hair and jazz hands, however, little did she know that given the first opportunity I would dump the maths and science anyway and throw myself blindly down that same track we’d avoided, putting me the best part of 10 years behind all the stage school brats, ahem kids, I’d be up against at auditions in later life. Damn you academia! So as a compromise I attended a Theatre Group every Thursday for a couple of years, until I went to college and discovered recreational drugs, where pretty much everything else went by the wayside.
The appealing thing about the Drama group, apart from the fact it gave me social options that didn’t involve the monstrous harpies I went to school with, was that she was also an agent and did indeed find people professional work, albeit Sunny delight Ads and Family Affairs bit parts, but I’d have gladly throttled a puppy to do either of those. This seemed like a dream come true and after some words of encouragement from the lovely agent, even throwing me a passing ‘oooh you’re like a young Kate Winslet’ (good god woman don’t say that to a girl who’s been dreaming of being an Oscar winning actress all her life) I started going to auditions. This was in the pre X factor days and I’m pretty sure ‘celebrity’ wasn’t a job option then, most of my friends wanted to be lawyers or doctors, some wanted to be musicians but I didn’t know many wannabe pop stars. Imagine my surprise when I came face to face at every audition with 20 girls who look a bit like me but thinner and with sparklier teeth and triple threat training (sing, dance and act for those sensible enough not to know the lingo), needless to say my teenage ego took a major battering and I didn’t get any of the jobs, except for a non speaking part in a PlayStation ad that didn’t even get shown in England. However it paid, so it counts!
Despite all this, I did a little bit of Grange Hill two years in a row. The first year I was quite shy and remember spending my first £60 cheque on a massive green hoody, that I subsequently wore for years and years, till it was completely threadbare and five times bigger than it was when I bought it. By the second summer I was sixteen, more confident, smoked far to much weed to be able to get too stressed about anything, had a nice group of friends and was quite sorted since I’d gotten away from the girls school hell I’d been inhabiting. My starring moment was eating cheese and onion crisps in the fake school canteen but the most mortifying point by far was not being allowed to wear the coveted GH uniform because me and C had been out in Camden the night before at the Electric Ballroom, which was the only club that would let us in and had been letting us in for ages before that, and some bloody goth bloke had sucked the most massive lovebite you have ever seen onto my neck, much to the disgust of the GH wardrobe lady! So there was me with a giant hicky wearing a really unattractive grey poloneck that was about six sizes too big for me. Marvellous. As an aside, It turns out that the boy who was sucking my neck would keep turning up as an extra in my life, never in any way related to me, I made a point of never speaking to or going anywhere near him ever again, but apparently a few years later he gave a friend of a friend crabs thusly braking up her long term relationship. I have seen him since from afar and he has to be one of the least attractive men I have ever seen. Ah youth!
So Grange Hill was not, needless to say, my big break, however I did have lunch with Sonia from Eastenders one day, now as much as I bombast the child-soaps of my youth, I have always watched Eastenders, It’s been over twenty years of following a soap opera. My mum used to watch it when she came home from work and I have always known all the characters, so eating with Sonia, well, I felt like I’d grown up with Sonia, it was the most natural thing in the world. Am I the first generation who can say that they have actually spent their whole life following a soap opera? There’s got to be some Coronation Street kids out there who are decades older than me, surely. So back to Sonia, I was the only person in the Grange Hill group over 16 and didn’t need tutoring so just hung around in the Elstree canteen marvelling at how short everyone was. Sonia from Eastenders, as she will always been known to me, was very lovely, friendly and wore Gucci sunglasses, however when I asked her if she was going to do A levels, we were the same age at the time and probably still are, she told me upfront that she was on £800 an episode and didn’t need to. That was when Eastenders was only on 3 times a week, quickly doing the maths I realised that there could even be some money in this acting malarky. Needless to say… there certainly hasn’t been so far!