It was a tempting offer: a self-catering, technology-free retreat of indeterminate duration in a pastel-coloured villa near Borehamwood, offering high security, and a mere 40-minute train ride from King’s Cross, although commuting is not advised.
I was interested. Maybe a glamorous incarceration could help blow away some cobwebs and inspire more gainful employment as an author/artiste?
The only rider to this otherwise attractive and paid offer was having to share bedrooms and lavatories with 14 other profile-seekers at the same time as being filmed. All the time. But since I figured I could get on with most people … what could possibly go wrong?
I gleefully sign up for my away-break of personal development, and upon arrival surrender my phone, biro and housewives’ purse. Surely a techno detox could only be of benefit, even though there was a teensy part of me that felt like a volunteer at an open prison. On the plus side, I wasn’t strip-searched; instead, I was required to insert as many marshmallows as possible into my mouth in one go, without swallowing, for what we in the business call ‘VT’ (filmed footage that shows game and enthusiastic celebrities at their carefree best for a winning TV trailer).
Finally, I am Celebrity Big Brother ready, complete with a spanking new dressing gown and one glam outfit that I decide can be re-worn with an entirely different hair slide depending on how many eviction nights I’m in for. I give a final, surprisingly emotional look at my Day Birger fancy handbag with leather trim before scurrying down a runway with a crowd either side of me that seems to be booing knowingly or cheering with pride. Who are these people, I wonder, and how did they all get here? But there’s no time to ask.
I’m sorry to say that from here on in my techno-detox holiday becomes a bit of a blur. It’s as if we are all performing at a corporate speaking competition where everyone is asked to give their audition speech but there’s no running order, and we all find ourselves speaking at the same time. Thankfully the alcohol seems to help us feel more confident about our contributions. Suddenly, a voice announces that the bedrooms are open, but I’m too middle-class to bagsy a single bed in good time (five seconds) and look around in dismay, wondering which celebrity bottom I might be rubbing up against for the night. Mercifully, a kind young woman covered in tattoos offers me her bed and decides to double up with America’s ‘real housewife of Beverly Hills’, who I can’t help but note is quite thin and won’t take up a lot of room. I don’t say this because I’m too grateful.
My first regret is that my ear plugs turn out to be pitifully inadequate, especially in the face of three different snorers who all seem to want to snort and bray at the same time. I can’t kick them into silence because they’re not family. Also, I’m being filmed.
The second regret was that I didn’t wear a Baywatch swimming cossie and splash about in the pool while accidently on purpose wetting my nipples for extra airtime. (This one isn’t true — I don’t regret it. I only dipped a Scholl-sandaled toe in once, and that was just to test its temperature.)
No, the other regret was facilitating a bout of hysteria from the two reality TV chaps sleeping next to me when I inadvertently coughed and let out a small fart at the same time, but I’m hopeful this didn’t make the edit. Surely, the traumas of other house guests coupling, decoupling or grappling with co-cooking were more deserving than my one innocuous bottom emission?
I also let myself down in the diary room, where housemates must address a hole in the wall and say insightful things about other people they have just met. Worryingly, I spent the first two weeks talking into the wrong hole, but apart from eating more mince than ever before I also learned what it was like to be voted off by a fellow housemate, which feels like eating even more mince, only raw. Thankfully, I was saved by the public twice, finally leaving on the third vote after three weeks of incarceration. This was a holiday where we all started out as equal, but some turned out to be more equal than others. I’ll be sure to mention it on TripAdvisor.