There was a time, Reader, when I wanted to be an actress. Adolescent Emma was a fey, intense, sallow killjoy who was (and it pains me to admit it but at least it means the therapy has finally worked!) a bit odd. While the other kids were into Duran Duran and pink eye-shadow, I was listening to 60’s psychedelic funk while reading Sylvia Plath; I ate Sosmix; there were moments when I honestly believed Kate Bush was singing “Don’t Push Your Foot On The Heartbrake” all about me; I stank of patchouli oil and wore tie-dyed ponchos. I had a permed mullet. My dad was a policeman and my mum was a Tupperware representative. We lived in a cul-de-sac in south Manchester on an estate where all the roads were named after Scottish castles. In short, I was as far away as it is possible to get from a deprived inner-city Bradford childhood. But in spite of this, I went for an audition for “Rita, Sue and Bob Too” and after an arduous audition process was shortlisted to be in the final three for the part of Sue.
I was over the moon. Delighted. This, I was sure, would be a different story to the “Wish You Were Here” Emily Lloyd flunk-out. And the “Coronation Street” disaster when I was almost in touching distance of being the actress Jane Hazelgrove would dream of being. Not to mention the “Seaview” debacle where I was pipped to the post of getting the lead role by Yvette “Spooky” Fielding. Yes, at fifteen years old I knew failure and, Reader, it was on more than nodding terms with me.
I went to my final “Rita” audition in London with hope and ambition clenched in my tight little pubescent heart. The casting director Beverley Keogh was there, the director Alan Clarke (no relation!) and a couple of other important-looking media people holding clipboards. I’d travelled down there by myself and was pleased that I’d managed to find the Great Titchfield office without having to sell my body for directions. The fact that I was alone in the big city with a nose full of black snot didn’t faze me in the least. I was going to be a star!
I was being filmed. I felt fantastic. I was full of vitality and verve. My mullet had never looked so bouncy.
Someone handed me a script and asked me to start reading it. Beverley Keogh read in the other parts. I was being filmed. I felt fantastic. I was full of vitality and verve. My mullet had never looked so bouncy. This was my moment! The scene - I remember it well; trauma does that to you, doesn’t it? - was about buying cheap knickers off a market stall. I got through it pretty well and I thought I captured the angst of Yorkshire depravity. In fact, I think I said that. “I think I captured the angst of Yorkshire depravity, there.” Or is that part of my recurring nightmare playing a trick on me? Anyway. I digress.
So they gave me another scene to read. This time it featured Bob. One of the men read his part. I started off brightly enough, flicking my hair in what I fancied was a deprived and depraved way, dropping my aitches and flattening my vowels like there was no tomorrow, which for my sojourn into being in “Rita, Sue and Bob Too” there actually wasn’t.
The end of the scene was approaching. The characters were in a bed, all together. A distant alarm-bell started to ring and I felt my performance sag a little. The characters were in a BED. Together! And then we got to the end of the scene. The bit where Sue has to go topless. The bit where she proudly waggles her breasts at everybody. I stopped, stock-still as though I’d been verily shot.
“What - what’s wrong, Emma?” said Beverley Keogh. “Do you want a drink of water?”
“Are you alright, love?” said Alan Clarke.
Purple-faced and large-haired, I looked at the media people, utterly terrified. “I can’t play this part!” I wailed, my juvenile mouth a perfect square of misery. “MY MUM’LL SEE MY TITS!”
And with that, Reader, my film career ended. You could say it was stifled by my own breasts.
Obviously, Michelle Holmes went on to do a far better job of the role than I ever could. I remember saying bye to her as I stumbled, shame-faced out of the audition room and out, out into the pale London daylight.
In case you’re wondering, my mother was overjoyed and my breasts didn’t bear a grudge. (Or should that be bare??)
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