When I was performing as Madame Galina straight from the Edinburgh Fringe, Anne Peeble from Rapido TV rang me to ask if I would take part in a staged audition for a classical ballet company. I said I wouldn’t. And, Anne, I said, please do your research. Ballet companies have schools feeding them talent; otherwise dancers apply for contracts or the director will go to find. There are no open auditions. 'However, Anne, all is not lost - Madame Galina would audition to sell nice stuff on the Shopping Channel. A friend of a friend is on Factory Outlet TV as we speak and raking it in!'‘Would she? I’ll check with our producer.’
Anne checked, got the go ahead, and off I went to Peterborough with Dan and Hussein, camera and sound; more ‘street’ than the Chamberlayne Road, NW10.
Anne waved me off saying the experience would be ‘rock and roll’ and might ‘glean for me a side to Galina I’d never thought existed.’ Dan, more realistically, challenged me to stay in the Shopping Channel studio longer than two minutes.
‘Balls of steel, Galina,’ he said, in his Old Trafford rather than Salford Quays accent. ‘If you make it to three minutes, the beers are on Rapido.'
In the waiting room at Peterborough station, Dan and Huss masked me while I dressed in Galina’s offstage outfit: fur coat and hat, stiletto faux-snakeskin knee boots.
''First shot we'll need at the Shopping Channel,' Dan said, 'will be you getting out of the taxi.'
By the perimeter fence of the industrial estate housing the studio Dan and Huss set up for that shof me getting out of the minicab onto a muddy bank.
‘So cool the way the fur coat moves,’ Dan said, looking into the viewfinder. I tried to watch this fur movement myself and did an arser down the bank. Bless Dan and Huss, neither of them laughed.
‘You okay?’ Dan asked. ‘Can we go quickly again, please?’
I was careful this time.
‘And another go,’ Dan called. ‘You’re not doing the weird angle thing with your feet.’
Eye for detail, that man. Heels shoved forward I nailed ballerinic alighting from taxi and we could move on into the studio. I gave the receptionist photographs of me in various ballerina roles. ‘Please to cover up those,’ I said, pointing behind her to framed shots of the studio bosses. I rearranged the glass table and chairs in the seating area and had just picked up the rug when she asked what I was doing.
‘I am Madame Galina,’ I said, adopting Melba’s MO. ‘But don’t worry, I’m not going to charge you for the interior design improvements.'
Dan signalled for me to me. Sebastian Manley, the channel boss, was among us. He had an Eton mane and was dressed like a failed formula one driver. I held my hand out high to be kissed. He pulled it down to the right height to be shaken.
Now, you see, the moment I went in there dressed and made up as I was, he had a choice of either booting me out or going along with it. He tried instead to get one up on me.
First I was given a screen test. ‘Only from my best side,’ I admonished. From behind the crew, Dan looked up from his camera and mouthed, ‘Play along.’
Sebastian gave me a pen. ‘Sell this to me,' he said in geezerese. 'And make me feel that by buying it I am rendered exclusive in some way.’
I asked if there was a standard script.
‘Make it personal to yourself,’ he said. ‘And…ready…we’re selling!’
In full Galina mode I went into my spiel: how we had here the most elegant, stylish writing accessory. Sebastian gave me an approving nod for managing to use those six syllables instead of the one: ‘pen’. This writing accessory, furthermore, had width that was, opaquely to see, optimumly manufactured for manoeuvrability. ‘It’s clearly a pen for the Queen of the Swans. Not just any old swan or cygnet. And not for Olga Klimtova, always sixteenth swan on. She is more of a Bic Biro bird’.
Sebastian interrupted. ‘My viewer’ - I swear from Dan’s corpse that he had read the thought Just the one? behind my smirk - ‘My viewer won’t know who Olga is. And what was all that stuff about swans?’
‘You said I had to make it personal to my life. I play the Swan Queen regularly onstage.’
'Whatever,' Sebastian said, testily. ‘I’m not letting you go in front of a camera dressed like that. Put something else on and I’ll be back in a few minutes’.When he came back I was wearing much heavier make-up and had put on my purple baby-grow and matching alice band.
‘Is this better?’ I asked.
‘Of course it bloody isn’t. What is this? What makes you think you can get onto my shopping channel looking and behaving like this?’
I said nothing.
Sebastian bit his bottom lip and pointed at me. ‘What point of reference is my demographic of viewer going to have re you?’ he asked.
Dan and Huss giggled.
‘We just thought we’d go with a new angle,’ I said. ‘Something they won’t have seen before.’
‘So you think,’ he was getting a bit loud now, ‘that you are bigger than the product you’re selling? Can I tell you just how fatal that is?’
After a few seconds I said, ‘Okay, tell me’.
He was seething. Going blotchy.
‘Do you think you’re bigger than my product?’ he shouted.
I held the pen up to camera.
‘Yes, Sebastian,’ I said smiling. ‘I am bigger.'
‘That’s it! You’re just made the one unforgivable shopping channel mistake - admitting to thinking yourself bigger than the product.’
His crew appeared stunned. Dan looked at me from behind them and mouthed ‘Balls of steel.’
I pretended to cry. ‘He is shouting at me,’ I said between sobs. ‘Not even Nureyev ever shouted at me’.
Sebastian stared. The crew shuffled. Dan mimed: ‘Go with it’.
I wailed and flounced.
‘Is this for real?’ Sebastian asked. One of his crew shrugged. Dan gave me the thumbs up.
I staggered, stopped, looked at Sebastian wide-eyed with terror, clutched at the air and toppled backward into a simulated dead faint. Silence. Until I giggled.
‘That’s it,’ Sebastian decided. ‘You’re out of here. I’m getting security.’ He left.
‘Shithead,’ I said to camera. His crew stopped filming. Dan and Huss hurried across the room to me.
‘Go and put your tutu on,' Dan hissed.
‘No way,’ I said. ‘He’s getting security. I'm out of here.’
‘Put your tutu on! Balls of steel. Dan dares you.’
I put my tutu on. I could hear people coming. Dan went into the corridor and said calmly but not messing, ‘Any of you touch him and it’s assault, okay?’
He was back. ‘Right, Iestyn. We make this look like it’s Madame Galina's decision to leave. Now, go win the award for most outraged hissy-fit.’
Huss had my bag over one shoulder camera on the other, Dan was shadowing me like a boxing second, the security guards were smiling nicely and I was giving it my best Beyonce strut. Through reception - ‘I’ll have my photos back, thank you. Pearl before swine as they were’ - the car park, the gates and onto the supply road. It was rush hour. I got honked at a lot. Out of sight of Dan in the main building I asked the biggest security guard to fake having to manhandle me through the gates. He agreed. And was very gentle about prizing my fingers from around the railings. Huss thought it had looked believable through the viewfinder, but couldn’t be sure how it would come across at TV screen size. I shook hands with the security guard. ‘Thank you very much. We won’t tell Sebastian.’
Dan said it was time to eat humble pie and get the footage out. He started back up the drive. I got changed, with Huss trying to mask me with my fur coat held arms akimbo.
‘Thanks, Huss, my modesty and all that.’
‘Actually,’ Huss said, ‘I’m more concerned about them taking their eyes off the road. Headline. Drag Ballerina cause of
After twenty minutes or so Dan came back. He was on his mobile.
‘…Sebastian’s saying no way is he signing the release forms. He actually got his lawyers down and made them watch the footage, and ended up even more pissed off because they started cracking up. Yeah, I was watching it with them. We have to get it back. It’s classic.’
After he hung up, he said, ‘Anne wants me to try and get the stuff back off him, and you two can head back to London.’
The next day Anne called me. She was subdued. ‘Sebastian wants to sue you for defamation of character for calling him a shithead on camera.’
‘A fictional character can’t defame someone, Anne. Otherwise my mother would have had me inside by now. Have you got the footage back?’
‘There’s no hope of that, actually’.
‘But what did Dan and Huss say about it?’
‘They’re keeping quite a low profile.’
What was this?
Anne said, ‘We’d really like you to write a sincere letter of apology to Sebastian.’
‘No. He started it.'
‘Iestyn, I’m really afraid you put us in a very tricky position, re a potential stations war’.
‘Rapido versus a shopping channel. Hardly matched like King Kong and Godzilla is it?’
‘Could we draft a letter for you to sign?’
‘Could we write him a letter and mention you in it?’
‘As long as the mention of me isn’t libelous.’
She sighed. I could imagine her putting her mouth close to the phone to get the full effect.
‘You…’ she paused, I could hear her rifling through papers, and she quoted from the Madame Galina press release, 'character comics, with white clown influence and classical ballet skills, never take anything seriously, do you? And, you know, we all really liked you here.’
'Oh, good. I'm glad, nicely.'