When I was 11, newly enrolled in Brentwood County High School for Girls, we were encouraged to have a French pen pal. The teacher had a pile of letters from a school in Brittany, with little black and white passport photos of the girls. I chose Chantal, as she was the prettiest: long, dark hair, big eyes. I duly wrote to her in careful French, attaching my own photo: greasy hair with split ends, an awful round-necked regulation sweater over a white shirt. I posted the letter. Hurrah! My first pen pal! I started to imagine going to stay with her family in the summer holidays. It would be exactly like Bonjour Tristesse. Oh, how I loved Cecile, with her long brown limbs and confidence. And do you know what? Chantal never wrote back. I was gutted. I still think about her.
You might think I’m successful, but I have been thwarted and rejected many, many times. Don’t even get me started on the number of times I have been turned down for a job. As editor of Elle. As fashion editor on a broadsheet. Books have been rejected. I sent one, a fictional account of the life of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, killed under the king’s horse on Derby Day, to a super-agent. His note with the returned manuscript consisted of just one word: ‘Poor.’
I’ve gone up for numerous TV jobs. I’m a Celebrity… I went to loads of meetings about this, and even a fortnight before filming I’d receive calls saying, ‘Are you still free? Have you got your passport?’ only to be usurped by Lorraine Chase at the last minute. I was up for something to do with being abandoned on a tropical island without a can opener and sunscreen by Bear Grylls; the producers eventually said no as I have ‘too many psychiatric issues’. There was an older woman’s dating show set in Greece called Our Shirley Valentine Summer. The TV execs grilled me for ages about this one, ‘Are you absolutely sure you’re single?’ they said, given I was still hot with David. ‘YES! YES!’ I lied. I’d have dumped him to get cast. I was up for Celebrity MasterChef but was told that, being vegan, I wouldn’t get past the invention test.
There were talks about Splash!,remember the diving show with Tom Daley? We even got as far as my agent saying, ‘They want to know the maximum height you will dive from, and do you mind people seeing your cellulite?’ Even though I’m scared of heights, nudity and water – I once went on holiday in Africa to learn to scuba dive, discovered I didn’t ‘like the thought of all that water over my head’, and for two weeks was tied to a boat with a rope and given a child’s snorkel – I said ‘ten metres’ and ‘no’. And I still didn’t get it!
I go to extreme lengths to get what I want. In a car, on assignment in Peru with the Hunk photographer (my life sounds so exciting, when at the moment the highlight of my day is watching Kirstie Allsopp sew buttons on to lampshades), he suddenly asked our driver to pull over. Yikes! He got out and led me to a rickety wooden tower. ‘If we climb to the top, we’ll be able to see the Nazca lines that could only have been made by aliens!’
So, despite my fear of even standing on a chair, let alone a stepladder, I let him lead me to the top, me clinging on for dear life, feeling giddy, head spinning. I didn’t get him, as we all know. But I’ve just got a text from him; at least I think it’s him, given the country code. It’s been in my inbox for a week, but I haven’t had the courage to open it. It’s like when I (rarely) get an email from the National Lottery, saying, ‘Congratulations, you have won a prize!’ I once let that sit for six months, the only rubber ring in the swamp of my life. When I eventually logged on it turned out to be £2.
I will open the text next week, I promise. Maybe once, just once, I will be one of the winners in life. Not an also-ran.
To contact Liz tweet #lizjonesgoddess or visit lizjonesgoddess.com