Fame: So fickle and so fleeting . . .
She danced in Madonna's last video but dreams of her own starring role. STEVEN RUSSELL explores a 21st Century phenomenon - the thirst for celebrity status - and meets a west Suffolk wannabee with an eye on the main prizeA BRIGHT yellow MG ZR rumbles into the car park and you just know Carrie Watson has arrived.
She danced in Madonna's last video but dreams of her own starring role. STEVEN RUSSELL explores a 21st Century phenomenon - the thirst for fame - and meets a west Suffolk wannabee with an eye on the main prize
A BRIGHT yellow MG ZR rumbles into the car park and you just know Carrie Watson has arrived. This is a girl who adores being noticed: whether she's being paid to gyrate in a nightclub, adorn the grid at Brands Hatch race-track or show a geekie guy how to dance.
When her motoring pride and joy was recuperating in the garage after a prang, she was loaned a pocket-sized Chevrolet Matiz that simply didn't cut the mustard in terms of profile. It was like Cinderella's glass coach had turned back into a pumpkin. “I just felt awful in it. My car is a big statement. It's really strange driving round in something that's not you,” she shudders.
Carrie craves the limelight. She's taken her first step into the world of unreality television with Beauty and the Geek on E4 - a TV concept that's crossed the Atlantic and handed her 47 minutes of exposure.
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The premise is simple: seven attractive young women pair up with seven young male intellectuals and compete for a £40,000 prize. The beauties' job is to turn the grade-A bookworms into social superstars; the boffins are charged with helping the girls improve their knowledge of things like rocket science.
But although it's the kind of programme you instinctively want to hate - not all blondes being dumb, of course, nor intellectuals dull - you can't help taking to the cast. (Mind you, fire-eating podium-dancer Hayley does initially sound a bit scary, and Essex girl Sam ponders why she can't be friends with ugly people. “They just put a downer on you,” she philosophises.)
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All 14 enter into the spirit of the thing, there are no airs and graces, and they gel happily. The girls find the game social awkwardness of the guys sweet, and the boys treat the ladies with respect and a dash of awe.
In case you missed the opening episode (on February 7), or are digitally dispossessed and can't get E4, there's what happened.
Our game 14 are whisked to a luxurious Scottish castle hotel just before Christmas: the girls all flowing locks and shapely ankles as they step out of expensive limousines; the cycle-helmet-clad guys wobbling into view on high-handlebarred bikes.
We meet Carrie, 21, from Bury St Edmunds. “People may think I'm dizzy, but then I am dizzy,” she giggles, adding that she's probably read only one complete book in her life.
She is tickled by the humour of Will, who in a rash moment fuelled by drink once snogged Christine Hamilton at the Oxford Union, but lets another girl pick him. Green-eyed and blonde-highlighted Carrie is then chosen by Phillip, 20, a computer scientist studying at Cambridge.
Being the penultimate couple to pair up, they're left with room with a double bed. Carrie confesses she snores badly.
And so to the challenges. It's general knowledge revision time for the beauties. Carrie's a bit confused by the number of millimetres in a metre - one million? - but during the subsequent quiz correctly gives the date of the Battle of Hastings.
The chance to work on a dance routine is right up her street. Performing it before an audience of Scottish schoolchildren goes quite well, with only a few clunky moments.
Then comes the crunch. The couples that win the quiz and the dancing get to nominate two couples to go head to head. The losers go home. Carrie and Phillip are one duo selected for the last-chance saloon. It's small consolation that they're chosen because they're perceived as contenders for the big prize.
Carrie sails through her teasers: naming four planets, giving Einstein's first name, and knowing what to do with a condiment. (Rival Hayley, meanwhile, gets a bit thrown by the square root of 49. She now knows it's not 489.)
Sadly, Phillip has a nightmare with popular culture. Three strikes later and he and Carrie are out, by a single point. She looks shocked, distraught and, well, plain angry. Then there are a few tears. The dream's come to a premature end. “I had so much more to give through the whole thing,” she says.
LUNCHTIME at the Embers Inn in Bury St Edmunds. About two months post-filming. Carrie Watson sips orange juice and lemonade through a straw and it's time for the Beauty and the Geek post-mortem.
Were you as angry with Phillip as you appeared to be?
“Well, I kind of thought that he wasn't putting any thought into this. His answers were so blasé and I thought 'You know what? I'm really going to be upset if you don't want to be here, because I really do.'
“I just don't think he was into it as much as me, 'cos he just answered them so 'whatever'. I thought 'Oh, god! The Beckhams and Jordan are in the news like all the time . . .
“I just thought 'Oh my god. This is my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity gone. I'm going home.' It was a big thing for me. This was all I've wanted - to do a reality TV show. And I loved being there.”
Carrie actually got on well enough with her partner. Indeed, on the first night she kindly invited him to share the double bed, rather than take the floor or a put-me-up.
“Well, the beds are so wide. I was clinging on to my side, though! But there was not much chance of touching in the middle, because they were wide. It worked OK.”
Brave, too, to admit to snoring. Her room-mate didn't complain, as far as she can remember. “A lot of people do! Like when I stay round my mates, they're like 'We couldn't sleep.' So I know it is bad.”
Phillip, she laughs, is “not like the guy you'd normally wake up with!” Young, free and single at the moment, what type does she go for?
“A bit more . . . I want to say 'urban'. A bit more urbanly dressed . . . I don't know how to describe it.” Like some of the guys in the Madonna video, maybe? Carrie's voice takes on a conspiratorial air. “There is one, actually. I like guys that can really dance. And guys with a passion for music.”
What did she say to Phillip after they lost? “Well, I said 'If you don't know the answers, you just don't know them.' I just kept telling myself 'I'm really glad to be here. I got selected to come on it' - because a lot of people wouldn't even hear about the audition, let alone get it.”
(By the way, she doesn't know which couple triumphs in the end; she's been out with the girls in London since filming ended, but everyone was keeping mum about the result.)
Having had a taste of showbiz, she craves more. Beauty and the Geek is likely to record bigger viewing figures when repeated on terrestrial Channel 4 in the spring, and she'd give her eye teeth for a high public profile as a result.
“I want it to be really big. I'm not scared of that. What I'd really like is for someone to see me and say 'We'll have you for work experience or something,' because I really want to try TV (presenting). I might not be very good at it, but at least if I try it . . . I want to act, as well, but it's not like I've got the money to spend on drama school or anything.”
Dad Martin used to take her to a big truck show at Peterborough when she was younger and her head was turned by the sassy promotional girls handing out freebies, leaflets and offers.
“I thought 'I want to be one of those girls.' I wanted to do promotional work - promotional modelling.”
She grew up around Elmswell and Rougham. After Beyton Middle and Thurston Upper schools “I did the jobs you had to do - you know, work in a café, Waitrose and things like that. But then I started working for Vibe FM, which was really good fun: in the daytime going around businesses, and in the night-time going to clubs. And then I started gradually getting with promotional agencies.”
The work's a kaleidoscope, with jobs more frequent when the weather warms up.
“You get nicer jobs then as well, like Brands Hatch. I was grid girl for Castrol. I was in the new Madonna video, Hung Up, at the very end. I was in the club scene and the arcade scene. I'm now doing a lot for LA Fitness (the gym people).”
She adores meeting people. “When I've worked in an office I've found it boring. I'd spend more time walking around, talking to people, than sitting down doing what I was meant to be doing. I'm always wanting to be seeing different people, or doing something where people are seeing me.”
Carrie's not stupid, and she can clearly laugh at herself. She got grade A for GCSE art and B in music, and achieved grade six at piano. Was she ever peeved by the show's peddling of stereotypes: that pretty blondes are vacuous?
No. “I don't worry about it because the people who know me know me for my personality. Friends and family know me for who I am.”
Mind you, the publicity blurb said she'd shell out for “a new pair of gahoonaburgers” - breast enhancement surgery - if she had the readies. Is that true or just E4 spin?
“I think differently every day. Some days I think 'Yeah, just do it,' and then some days I think 'No. I'm happy with myself.' In the end I probably wouldn't dare.”
She bats away suggestions that people in pursuit of celebrity - without the achievements to warrant fame - are shallow.
“I'm not. People that know me think I'm quite down to earth.”
She confesses to loving shopping, though. “Me and my sister don't allow ourselves to go shopping sometimes. We walked into a sunglasses shop one day - no intention of buying anything. I walked out 10 minutes later with a D&G pair and she walked out with a Channel pair.
“We were like 'How did that happen?' Mine were about £190 or something, and hers were about the same - but mine were reduced. We're really dangerous when we go shopping, because we encourage each other. We don't go a lot, but when we do . . .”
What about being ogled by men? Carrie is one of Maxim magazine's Little Black Book Babes - a diary-sized volume, and complementary web site, showing scantily-attired girls apparently up for a date with eligible chaps. In one picture her modesty is preserved only by a thin strip of neon pink plastic or fabric, wrapped round her 5ft 8ins frame several times.
Well, she might think twice if she didn't have the body for it, she says, but at the moment has no reservations. But she'd draw the line at topless work - not a good idea if you want to get into presenting.
Carrie admits being based in the capital would probably open doors, but the pull of close friends and family in Suffolk is strong. Her dad now lives in the north, but Mum Jayne (a hairdresser who takes care of Carrie's styling) and sister Geniene are close at hand.
In some ways Carrie's very similar to her sibling, she reckons, “but in the way of work and the things I'd do, she wouldn't do them. We were watching Honey, a film about dancing, and the girl dances and everyone's watching here. Geniene said 'That would be my worst nightmare,' and I'm like 'That would be my dream!'”
The posers that proved Phillip's (and thus Carrie's) downfall:
1. What's Jordan's real name? (Katie Price)
2. Which TV programme features Wisteria Lane (Desperate Housewives)
3. Name David and Victoria Beckham's three children (Brooklyn, Romeo and Cruz)