“This isn’t working,” said Jake. “I think it would be for the best if we don’t see each other any more.”
Annabel said nothing, although she wasn’t exactly surprised. By the time she finally thought of a suitable response, she couldn’t help but feel that the moment had passed.
“Cut,” she said. “Can you do that again, Jake? But this time, really look at me. Don’t be afraid to get a little bit intense, to make the viewer squirm, you know?”
“For god’s sake, Annabel!” He snapped. “Can’t you see that this is the problem? I can’t indulge you any longer. I won’t go on being a player in this little show of yours. None of it is real – the whole thing is just too weird.”
Annabel frowned, hoping his comments hadn’t hurt Bill’s feelings. Bill was her cameraman.
“I understand,” she said, “but if we could just give this one more go –”
“No, Annabel, it’s over.”
“Oh, I know that,” she said. “What I meant was, could we give the breakup another go? One more take, maybe two. I think we’re so close to nailing it.”
Jake’s lip curled up in disgust, but she signalled for Bill to keep rolling. Sure enough, Jake stood up and stormed out of the restaurant. With the right editing, it would make the perfect cliff-hanger before an ad break.
Annabel was the first to admit; reality TV wasn’t for everyone. She’d had some doubts about it herself, when she first got the call from the production company. Because no matter how unseemly your average Guardian reader might find it, the qualms of the prospective starlet are double. Was she anxious, apprehensive even, at giving a film crew unlimited access to her life, of forfeiting mherprivacy for god knows how long? Of course. But she also knew that the show, The Sweet Life, was too big an opportunity to give up.
At the end of their first day of shooting, Bill had taken her aside and told her she was a natural. It took some getting used to at first; having to enunciate more, conducting the same conversations over and over in order to form a seamless narrative in the edit. And then there was the camera. She soon learned to suppress the instinct to smile or ‘act’, and just behave nonchalantly. It was funny, really. She’d always felt special. Like, maybe in another life she might have been Cleopatra, or Marie Antoinette, or Cheryl Cole. Turned out, she was born to be a TV star, which she thought beat being Kate Middleton any day.
When Annabel arrived home after her disastrous lunch with Jake, Mum and Dad were sitting in the living room. She positioned herself far enough away from the window that the late afternoon light wouldn’t ruin the shot, then said brightly:
“Hi kids! What’s new?” She talked to her mum and dad as if they were the young, hip parents of a 90’s sitcom. Apparently the fans loved it.
“Darling,” Mum beckoned for Annabel to sit next to her. Instead, she perched on the arm of the sofa, to better show off her Jimmy Choos. She was hoping to get an endorsement.
“We ran into Jake this afternoon,” Dad said. “He told us what happened.”
Damn. If Jake was blabbing to all and sundry about their recent split, it wasn’t going to come as much of a surprise to viewers when the episode aired.
“I won’t lie,” she said, with a heart-heavy sigh, “I’m really hurting right now.” This could be the episode’s closing act, she decided. The star of the show, letting down her confident, ready-to-take-on-the-world exterior, and showing her true feelings. There had been talk of a National TV Award, so she needed to give it her all.
“Why don’t you tell us your side of it, love,” said Mum, supportive as ever. Annabel had told her more than once that she was a firm fan favourite, but she’d hear nothing of it.
“Good idea,” said Dad. “Who dumped who?” Unfortunately, Dad’s directness had garnered him less in the way of a fan base.
“He…” Annabel paused, and let her voice falter. “He broke up with me. I never thought I was the kind of girl who needed to be with a man, but he made me really happy.” After another long pause, she added, just for good measure: “I'm heartbroken.”
“Oh, love…” Mum reached out and took Annabel’s hand in hers. “Did he say why?”
She hesitated before replying, reluctant to bite the hand that fed her, then resolved to tell the truth. She’d only be seen as braver for it.
“It’s the show,” she said. “It was all just too much for him.”
Mum’s expression changed. She glanced at Dad, then turned back to face her.
“Annabel,” she said, in that gentle yet firm way of hers, “we’ve talked about this. There is no show.”
Annabel laughed. “What are you talking about?” Is this some kind of meta joke, she wondered, or perhaps something for the DVD extras?
“It’s all in your head, Annie,” Dad said. “The Sweet Life, the cameras, everything.”
Something in the way Mum and Dad looked at each other, that worried glance they shared, made Annabel uncomfortable in a way that being dumped by Jake just hadn’t.
“But Bill,” she said, no longer concerned with breaking the fourth wall.
“Bill’s not real either,” Mum said. “Look around. See for yourself.”
She turned to where Bill always stood when they were filming downstairs; in the doorway, where he could capture the entire room. Except he wasn’t there now.
“No,” she said, “this isn’t right. I’m a natural. People love me.”
Her eyes began to sting, and Mum pulled her into a tight embrace. Why did she feel like this conversation had happened before? Why did this feel like the umpteenth take? Tears quickly followed, and as she cried into her mother’s silk scarf, Annabel thought she heard Bill’s voice in her ear:
Give that girl a BAFTA.