E is for… Essex

“You gotta go see Amy in her shop, shew’ll love you giwls coz your pretty!”

We are in Amy Child’s beauty salon and our bubbly beautician grins as she evangelises about her boss, oblivious of her implication that she only likes pretty people. She leans over my friend Moira who is lying horizontal on a treatment table, looking as if she is about to undergo a serious operation.

She is.

Moira is about to be ….. Vajazzled!

I decided to spend some time in Brentwood, Essex to provide a materialistic contrast to the more spiritual communities of AlphabetBritain. Of course, the ‘culture’ of a small community of young revellers in Essex is by no means exclusive to this part of the world. It can be found in most mid-size towns around the country and is relatively mainstream in this sense. The reason I decided to come here specifically was because of the hyperbole around the community, created by the TV show The Only Way Is Essex (TOWIE). I wanted to see how close to reality this Reality TV Show actually was.

My ‘Essex’ experience started far in advance of my arrival; my first stop was a City beauty salon for a fake tanning session.

“How dark do you want to go?” the unassuming beautician asked me as she adorned her rubber gloves.

“As dark as possible!” I replied confidently.

She looked shocked, “I have never been asked that before!” – she paused to think – “well … three coats it is then!”

That afternoon I went on a shopping trip – looking like an Oompa loompa – frantically sending pictures of myself from the dressing room to my friend Sian, asking ‘Is this tight enough? Bright enough? Revealing enough? Are these shoes high enough?’

We arrived in Brentwood later that evening to find a high street adorned with ‘boutiques’ selling row after row of tight dresses; “Lucy’s Boutique”, “Lauren’s Way”, “Amy’s Boutique”; all launched by the female cast members of TOWIE to capitalise on the wave of tourism created by the show.

On the first night we were scheduled to go to Faces nightclub, one of the clubs frequented by the TOWIE crowd, but we were diverted at the last minute by a call from a friend ‘in the loop’ who informed us that tonight was Mario’s birthday party in Sugar hut (Mario being a cast member), so this was the place to be.

After 3 hours of preening we finally arrived at the club. I teetered in awkwardly in my ridiculous heels, feeling like an old cow at the sales being paraded in front of a ring of unimpressed looking farmers. I looked around me at my fellow revellers. Nearly every other girl was wearing fake eyelashes, fake tan, fake hair, sky scraper heels and a ‘body contour’ dress, some were so tight you could see … well … everything.

I felt like an anti-feminist just by being there – why do girls have to put themselves through this charade just to look good for men? But then I looked around the room and it dawned on me – the men had done exactly the same! Most had waxed their eyebrows, were wearing fake tan and were dressed in tight, low cut t-shirts revealing painstakingly toned bodies. Their hair was combed through with a lot of gel into a neat, almost military sweep. Some were even wearing makeup.

One guy pushed in next to me at the bar. He was wearing a crisp grey suit with a thin tie and a v-neck cashmere jumper. He looked immaculate, like a doll. I couldn’t help myself and blurted out “Ahhhh, you look so sweet.” As soon as I said this I grimaced. How patronising. I waited for the tirade of abuse I deserved in return but, instead, he smiled at me and said “Thanks. You look really nice too”. What a nice guy!

He wasn’t an exception – everybody we had met so far was beyond friendly. The atmosphere was welcoming and the room filled me with a strange sense of camaraderie. With that, the bartender jumped up onto the bar and leant towards me; “Babe – am I coming detached at the edge?”

“Erm… What?” – I had no idea what she was talking about.

“My eyelash, is it coming off?” she pointed to the edge of her eye.

“Oh,” I look – feeling inexplicably proud that she chose me to ask this trusting, girly question to – “No, you’re fine”.

We somehow managed to blag our way into the VIP section where I had a stunted but relatively polite conversation with Mario and Chloe from TOWIE – I wasn’t sure if she was being purposefully nonchalant or if she was just struggling to move her botox laden face – before joining them and Louis Spence for a dance on the sofas. I decided to sneak a glass of Grey Goose Vodka and the night became a little hazy from then on. Funny that.

The next day we indulged in a daylong ‘getting ready’ routine for another night out in Sugar Hut, involving a vajazzle, a hair salon, nail painting and dinner with Prosecco. When we were back in our hotel room I bombarded my friends with questions;

“I think you presume we have all read a book about this stuff”, Sian said to me when I asked her which way round my fake eyelashes were supposed to go, “but it’s just common sense”.

Is it? Should I have been born with an innate sense of this stuff? I seem to have missed that gene. I don’t know how to put fake eyelashes on, I don’t know how to put hair extensions in, I am crap at doing make up, crap at doing my hair and I can’t walk in high heels. It turns out I am more out of my comfort zone in Essex than anywhere else… bring back the vampires!