The other night a friend very kindly offered me some free tickets to the launch of a new West End play, along with press party passes, and without giving it that much thought, I gratefully accepted.
It wasn’t till the day before the big event, when I was raking around inside my wardrobe trying to find choose ‘grown up’ evening attire that I started to feel a little uneasy about it. The last time I went to an event like this was via my job, and time had not erased the memories of being surrounded by ‘plastics’, not being comfortable in my skin and having to spend entire evenings after a full days work trying to be someone I wasn’t.
My friend L sympathised but urged me to chill out about it.
‘It’s different this time isn’t it? You’re not being forced to attend, entertaining someone, or having to mind your ‘p’s and q’s’. You’re the client this time, as far as they’re concerned, and we can relax and have fun!’
This was all true. But it was still weird and I was anxious about any small talk that I may need to engage in.
‘So what do you do?’
‘Oh, I don’t work, I’m broke and bonkers, I just stay at home, watch TV and dream about owning my own business. I did have all kinds of plans, trouble is, I don’t have the balls to get on with them and make something of myself! How about you?’
‘Well I…oh is that Sadie Frost? Excuse me, I must go say hello…..’
How do I end up in these scenarios where I feel lesser than others? Will it always be this way, wherever I go, whatever job I do, whatever class of people I attempt to socialise with?
As for the thought of bumping into anyone from my working past and having to bullshit my way through that conversation, makes my blood run cold. I’m so ashamed of not having a ‘life after corporate hell’ success story to share with them.
‘Highly unlikely you’ll bump into any of that lot,’ L sniffs, ‘anyway if you do, just smile and give them a regal wave from our posh seats and turn the other way!’
I smiled at this, nodded, and promised her I wouldn’t bail.
But I wanted to.
When the big evening was finally upon us, I predictably had a big panic attack when getting ready, and ended up surrounded by clothes strewn all over the floor before finally settling on my most comfortable, but low cut Noa Noa LBD, a pair of black heels, stockings, a nice wool/cashmere coat and a bright pashmina wrap.
I gave myself one last appraisal in the mirror before heading out for the bus, and noticed my perplexed, dismayed expression hadn’t changed.
Who is that person?
She looks so foreboding and formal?
Why’s she got her tits out when it 5 degrees outside? And where are her leggings and favourite Dr Marten’s boots?
Fortified by an anti-d and beta blocker combo, I scuttled out of the door, onto the tube and then scurried up to the theatre to pick up the tickets.
‘Sorry madam, nothing here for you under that name’ say the box office lady looking absolutely mortified.
My heart is thumping like a jackhammer.
They know I’m a fraud. I look ridiculous. They don’t want me in there.
‘Ring your mate!’ says L, proper peeved, so I do, hoping fervently that he wasn’t contactable.
He picked up straight away, apologised profusely for the mix up, and arranged to meet us in a nearby cafe and sort it all out for us, and as we sit there amongst the casually dressed patrons, I feel ridiculously overdressed.
My feet are killing me.
My legs are freezing and actually trembling.
My fanny is in shock from extreme exposure, used to being protected by knickers, tights AND jeans in these harsher than usual climes. I’m just hoping it doesn’t sneeze mid performance and put the actors off their lines….
Alex arrives, red in the face and full of apologies.
‘It’s all OK now, just go and see Sonja, she has all your tickets, and call me if there are any problems.’
‘Oh don’t worry, we’ll just go for a quick drink instead if it’s going to be a hassle!’ I say accommodatingly, fantasising about thermal leggings, Ugg boots and hot chocolate with Baileys in front of the TV.
‘Will we hell!’ mutters L, determined to have her glamorous evening.
We walk to the theatre in silence, me panicking like fuck, L fully aware that I’m in a state.
‘Look how do you manage when you did that “extra” work, with all those cameras zooming in on you?’
That was easy.
It wasn’t me.
I was pretending to be someone else.
‘So do that now! You look amazing! No one would guess that you’re a….erm, well that you’re…’
Unemployed? Terrified? A complete and utter failure?
But she’s right. I’ve got to pull my shit together and get through this.
When we arrive at the theatre, I swoop up to the box office and ask politely but firmly for our tickets.
‘Yes, we have them here madam. So sorry for the mix up! There will be some complementary drinks at the bar for you, by way of apology.’
I smile my thanks, and head for the much needed alcohol injection, trying not to show how much my frigging heels hurt as I glide up the stairs with L in hot pursuit behind me.
‘They didn’t even acknowledge me,’ she grumbles, swigging back the bubbles and chomping on a handful of cashews, ‘I’M the Marketing Director of <huge American TV network> and they look at me like I’m your assistant!’
‘Don’t let it bother you,’ I mutter in reply, ‘at the end of the day, it doesn’t mean jack shit, does it?’
But she’s right; I clearly look the part and get lots of smiles and nods from people both at the play and the after party, clearly assuming that I’m something that I’m not. So I took L’s advice and acted the part of a well to do, well connected lady (whatever that means) with a big house and even bigger job.
But when it all got too exhausting, we snuck off and sat down somewhere quiet for some much needed respite.
‘So! Nothing to worry about hey?’ L grins rather drunkenly, ‘have you enjoyed yourself?’
‘Yes, it’s been fun! But this is the last time I’m getting tarted up like this for a long time! How the hell did I ever walk in these things?’
Suddenly there is a bit of a kerfuffle at the other side of the room, with lots of camera flashes and excited chitter chatter.
‘Oh look! The actors must be here! Quick, let’s go have a look!’
But I stay seated, because to be honest, that kind of thing never did get me off, and it certainly doesn’t now.
They’re just people like me, pretending to be someone else.
They just get paid for it, that’s all.
And perhaps, just perhaps, they’re as mad as I am.