Earlier this year, Channel 4 started advertising for a new edition of Come Dine With Me, which would feature couples as opposed to singles. My boyfriend and I were inundated with texts and tweets from friends insisting that we apply, so we filled out the application and within a few weeks we had been chosen.
Filming was intense and on our night we shot from 8am in the morning until 2.30am the next morning. It was clear from the beginning that the director and crew had specific roles they wanted us to play. I was cast as the loud, flamboyant fairy, while my boyfriend Russell was to be my “long-suffering partner”.
I can’t sit here and pretend these roles are totally far from the truth, but they were incredibly exaggerated. Nevertheless, we were complete cash cows and did whatever they asked us to do. In our establishing shots I was asked to try on a fabulous Joan Collins-esque sequin jacket in a vintage shop. Naturally, this was to be followed by Russell angrily dragging me out of the shop by my ear as though we were in a 1980s Northern working class comedy.
On the second night, I was asked to compete in an operatic sing-off with a fellow contestant. Tanked up with wine, I jumped at the chance and hit notes that would make even Mariah green with envy. Russell was then given the awkward task of having to film around 60 seconds’ worth of “reaction shots” such as eye-rolls and sighs, which they would later edit in as though they happened at the time. These days, we all know this is how TV is made, and as awful as it sounds, it was great fun and we genuinely didn’t mind sending ourselves up. We knew it was all part of the reality TV pantomime.
Three-and-a-half incredibly anxious months later, our episode was finally given an air date. Russell and I chose to watch it alone in our house, as we didn’t want to be sitting there and having to panic-justify any ridiculous moments to our friends and family. We were knocking back brandy like a pair of washed up divas, holding each other’s hands and shaking like shitting dogs. I know it seems like I’m being over-dramatic now, but I found every second of the hour-long episode hellish to watch. I wanted to be able to enjoy it, but I couldn’t help but have a sinking feeling in my stomach the entire time.
The editing was as creative as I had imagined, only showing my loud, hyperactive moments and barely letting poor Russell get a word in edgeways. It made for a very entertaining episode, but it also portrayed us in a rather one-dimensional light. We made the brave decision to have the MacBook open on a table so we could peek at Twitter in the ad breaks and see what people were saying. In hindsight, I wish we hadn’t. The comments were 80-90% positive, but the nasty comments cut deeply.
The abuse came in several categories. The homophobia from straight people didn’t bother me as, sad to say, it was probably to be expected. What did bother me, however, was the homophobia I received from inside the gay community, with people calling me a “walking stereotype” and a “bottom boy”. I have never understood the assumption that being effeminate means you can’t give a guy a good ramming – trust me, it would be a waste of a good tool if I didn’t. I digress…
The “straight-acting” brigade seemed to enjoy asserting their pseudo-heterosexuality by belittling me – some of them even tweeted homophobic slurs at me ,which then seemed to make it OK for straight people to do the same. On top of this, I got a few comments about my appearance, which as a sufferer of body dysmorphic disorder was absolutely Earth-shattering. If it wasn’t my “thinning hair” they picked on, it was my “hideous face”. I mean, I’ve never classed myself as David Beckham, but I’d like to think I was slightly higher than “hideous” on the barometer of beauty.
By the end of the viewing, I was happy with the episode, but the experience had been tinged with sadness. We gained hundreds of new Twitter followers and were showered with love from family and friends, but we were both left questioning our looks and aspects of our personality. I know it would be hypocritical of me to complain too much, as I can be just as big of a fool when I’m tweeting away about Barbara’s shit choice of cardigan on Deal or No Deal. Throwaway comments are easy to make and Twitter, after all, is an open arena for people to say whatever they want. The only people we had to blame were ourselves for getting wrapped up in it.
Later that evening, we had a second viewing with my family, joined by our fellow contestants and fabulous new friends Colin and Jane. This time, able to relax, we watched the show in an entirely different light. I felt proud of what we had achieved, and particularly proud of how well Russell and I (‘Russtyn’ as our one-day-fanbase called us) worked as a team. The episode was genuinely hilarious and we had stayed true to ourselves throughout, unlike one of the other couples, whose interview segments were unexpectedly harsh.
Yes, I came across as a fairy. Yes, Russ came across as a dry little bitch. But essentially that’s what we are, just with lots of other layers that would make really boring TV. Childhood videos such as this one prove that we have always been the way we are, and if my one-hour of fame taught me anything, it’s that there’s always going to be a twat behind a keyboard that secretly wishes they could win £1,000 by drinking loads of wine on TV – like we did.
Follow the amazing Martyn Hett on Twitter @MartynHett.