Saturday, 28 November 2009

Move over Stacey, I've (almost) got the X Factor!

SIMON COWELL narrows his eyes as he takes in my semi-transparent blouse and knee-skimming lace skirt. “So, Karen, you think we have a connection?” he asks. I nod.

But it’s not that kind of connection. Simon and I share a hairdresser, Marco at Nicky Clarke, who has been promising me an introduction for months.

Now I’m standing in front of the record boss, who’s far better-looking in the flesh. Slim and tanned, sexiness pulses out of his every scrubbed and moisturised pore. But it’s not the intimate rendezvous I’d had in mind.

I am, in fact, meeting Simon, Louis Walsh and Sharon Osbourne at the London auditions for The X Factor. And they’re waiting for me to perform.

“Have you ever sung before?” Sharon asks, as I take my place in the audition room in Wembley’s Conference Centre.

Only to Postman Pat with my two-year-old son. “Do you think you have the X factor?” Simon demands.
Well, my husband said that’s why he married me, my mother claims I was born with it and my school music teachers wanted me to apply for Opportunity Knocks

“Off you go then,” Simon commands, and I unleash my vocals on Blondie’s Heart Of Glass.

Simon, Sharon and Louis stare at me. So do all the crew. As they continue to stare, fear begins to twist through my stomach.

As I warble on, terror clutches my throat…It’s time to try a few of dance moves, mixed with a little Debbie Harry attitude.

Simon’s eyes widen. I’m moving my arms, turning in a sexy, hauty way, just like Debbie did.
He eventually holds up his hand for me to stop. “Thank you, Karen,” he says. “What did you think, Louis?”

I smile at the man who managed Boyzone and Westlife. “You have absolutely no star quality,” he says deadpan. And he’s meant to be the nice one.

I keep smiling. “It wasn’t the worst voice I’ve heard today,” Sharon tells me. “But you were going a bit fast, like you wanted to get to the end as soon as possible.”

My cheeks are hurting from grinning so much. “You were the third best voice I heard today,” Simon announces.

I’m ecstatic – then I realise that I’m only the third person he’s seen today.

It’s time to vote whether or not I should be put through to the next round.

Louis: “No.” Come on Sharon. “No,” she repeats. A vote because of our mutual hairdresser, Simon? “No, but you were very brave,” he says.

Oh, the humiliation — and all of it captured on camera. “Please don’t show me as one of the comedy slots,” I mutter as I’m shown outside.

“Do you want to use The Pod?’ one of the production staff asks. It’s where contestants can vent their anger against the judges. I decide I’d rather head to the bar, only there isn’t one.

So I go back to work instead. ‘How did it go?’ everyone wants to know.

‘Er, not so great,’ I sigh. Just then the phone rings. It’s the X Factor wanting to talk to me. My hopes soar. Maybe they’re ringing to say they’ve made a mistake and, of course, they think I’m brilliant and want to put me through to the live show.

‘We want permission to use your audition on TV,’ the woman explains. I can’t stop grinning. I was good after all. Then I freeze.

She wants to use the footage of me, alright. I will get my five minutes of fame on the X Factor – as one of the worst singers ever!

(This first appeared in Closer when I auditioned for the X Factor in 2005 - but the shame still lives on and so does the fear that they will actually show me singing - even though I refused to sign the release forms.) 

Friday, 27 November 2009

Why The X Factor dream's over for my little boy!

I SWALLOWED AS I walked into my little boy’s room. It was still early and I didn’t know how I was going to tell him the terrible news.

I sat on the edge of his bed, trying to find the right words. Just then he woke up, his big blue eyes blinking.

‘What is it, Mamma?’ he asked, seeing my worried look. ‘What’s happened?’

My mouth was dry, I could hear my heart thumping. ‘I’ve got some bad news, sweetie,’ I began, my voice shaking. ‘Last night something awful happened.’

I took a deep breath, knowing how badly this was going to hurt my son. He was staring at me, waiting. I had to tell him. ‘Last night, well…’

I stopped, trying to build up the courage. He'd been tired the day before and had luckily fallen asleep before the nightmare happened. Now it was time to be honest, but how?

Nothing for it, I realised eventually, best just to blurt it out. ‘The truth is John and Edward have been sent home.’

Deme’s eyes widened. ‘They’ve been voted off?’ he said shocked.

I nodded, grabbing his hand. ‘I can’t believe it,’ Deme cried. ‘They were the best ever. Now their X Factor dream is over.’

I cuddled him then, knowing how much he loved Jedward. He’d asked for their hair cut (I’d said no, his was long and curly) and even taught his baby sister the words to Ghostbusters. Now it was finished.

‘Can we buy their DVD and CD and go and watch them in concert?’ he asked. I smiled. They’d only been out of the competition 12 hours and already Deme thought they were cashing in.

He’ll make a great businessman when he’s older. Perhaps I should introduce him to Simon Cowell. After all we have met.

But I’ll tell you all about that tomorrow! Until then tell me who you think should win this year…

Tuesday, 24 November 2009


I HAVE A confession to make. I’m in lust with someone else. Every night when my husband’s asleep, I sneak out of the bedroom to see him.

It’s his eyes that first attracted me. I love the way they flash tawny gold whenever he leans in close. Then there are the lips, stained red against his gleaming white teeth and pale skin. Whenever I look into his chiseled face I want him to kiss me.

I can’t get enough of him. I want to see him every night, but this relationship isn’t good for me. It comes with a bite.

Yes. I’m in love with Edward Cullen, the vampire with a heart from Twilight. And the closest I’ve ever actually got to him is watching the hit film on Sky movies over and over again.

It’s the character I’m in love with, not the actor. Edward is a true gentleman, an eternal 17-year-old who’s been around for over a century, and knows exactly how to treat a woman – and how to resist sucking her dry of her blood, while in a clinch. And it’s this danger that makes Edward so irresistible. 

Underneath that cool exterior there’s the ultimate killer lurking, one that’s truly dazzling. Not only does he sparkle like diamonds in sunlight, but he can read your mind (as long as you’re not called Bella) and run faster than the wind.

The actor who plays him RPattz is dull in comparison. While Edward looks like he’s hewn from the finest marble, Robert is simply pale and uninteresting.

His hair is floppy in an annoying Hugh Grant-style, and his Harry Potter accent (yes it was him in the Order of the Phoenix film!) is tedious compared to Edward’s transatlantic drawl.

Luckily, my little boy has always loved scary films. I find him scanning the sky planner for movies to make my hair stand on end, so, of course, he loves everything with a vampire in it.

I thought seven-year-old Deme was watching Ben 10 Alien Force while I bathed and put his baby sister to bed. But he’d discovered Twilight and was watching it as relentlessly as me.

So I was delighted when he spotted a poster for the latest film in the Twilight sage – New Moon – at the cinema the other day.

I’d taken him and his little friend to watch Up! in 3D but Deme was begging me to book preview tickets to see Edward as tall as a building in the cinema. Result!

Off we went on Saturday together to get our latest fix of Vampire flick. I left Alexio in charge of the baby and didn’t even have to divulge my lust for a blood-crazed Cullen.

‘Stand up straight and tell anyone who asks that you’re 12,’ I instructed Deme. ‘And no asking for Pic’n’mix until we’re through all the security.’

He’s tall for his age so no one quizzed me. And then, laden up with sweets, cola and popcorn, we settled back in our seats. And that’s where the trouble started. Yes, Edward came onscreen and was as gorgeous as ever.

But then Jacob – played by Taylor Lautner – walked into shot and all my desires for Edward were forgotten.

Wolfishly handsome, with olive skin and long, dark, hair the vampire’s love rival was buff and beautiful. He reminded me of a very gorgeous boy I kissed a lot when I was 16 and found a summer job in a tennis centre.

But it was more than that. Dedicated and loyal, you wouldn’t want to make Jacob mad. He turns into a werewolf whenever he loses control or can smell vampires. Fantastically cast, Taylor has a very rare thing – raw, animal magic.

It’s dark versus light, good versus evil, Jacob vs Edward in the battle for Bella. Of course, Edward wins – ‘it’s him, it’s always been him’ - she swoons when she’s forced to decide between them. But for me there’s only one clear choice.  Edward is sooo last century. It’s team Jacob, the living, breathing wolf boy with the brooding eyes for me.

And just to make sure, I’m taking Deme to see the film again this weekend. He loves all the action, fighting and special effects. Me? I just love watching these two beautiful characters up close on the screen while pretending I’m only going along to keep my son happy.
Which team are you on – Team Edward or Team Jacob? In case you need a reminder here’s a photo to drool over.

And yes, I know I’m old enough to be their, er, older sister, but there’s no law against looking is there? Let me know what you think? 

Friday, 20 November 2009


IT WAS 11am and I was sweating. What had I done so far that morning? Not much. Been woken up at 5.30am by a little girl who was desperate to sing Twinkle Twinkle and play with Mamma.

That was after I’d been up all night feeding her and her big brother medicine for their sore throats/colds/coughs and mystery virus – which is what doctor’s say when they don’t know what’s wrong.

Then there was breakfast, loading the washing machine, dishwasher, making the beds, changing Anais’ nappy, telling Deme to turn the TV down, changing Anais’ nappy, deciding Deme wasn’t well enough to go to school, giving him more medicine, changing Anais’ nappy and stopping Deme playing baseball/football/tennis/wrestling in the front room after the medicine started working.

I live in a house full of stairs. I may be fat but all that running up and down means I have killer legs. I could be a leg model if I bothered to wax them and apply fake tan.

But I never have the time to do anything other than go to the loo and even that I have to do it with an audience. ‘What are you doing, Mamma?’ my seven-year-old son will ask, barging in.

‘Going to the toilet obviously,’ I’ll say. But he wants me to be specific. ‘Nooo,’ I’ll shriek, disgusted. That’s nothing though, compared to the curiosity of Anais, whose 18 months.

She’ll try and push me off the toilet so she can look down it – or peer at my bottom. I long for the days when I can lock the door, but I daren’t right now in case they fall down the stairs/set fire to the house/ find an adult channel on Sky or throw juice or milk all over my computer.

Finally, sweat pooling, I checked the time. Maybe I could have two minutes rest before emptying the washing machine and dishwasher and getting the lunch ready.

No such luck. Anais wanted her book read to her and Deme wanted me to be in goal. Who said being a mum wasn’t fun?

Finally, a couple of hours later and I could finally sit down. Both children had been watered, fed, wiped down and now Anais was having her nap while Deme watched TV.

I even made myself a cup of tea. Then I remembered I hadn’t put on the baby monitor. My calf muscles were aching. Our house was tall and skinny with each room on a different floor. I couldn’t go up another four flights of stairs again for at least another hour but my little girl’s room was at the top of the house and I was in the kitchen.

‘Deme, can you go and check if your sister’s crying?’ I called up to him in the living room. He didn’t want to so I offered chocolate, an extra hour’s stay up before bed and a playdate with any friend of his choice at the weekend. Finally he agreed.

‘OK,’ he called back down, and I heard the thump, thump of his flat feet on the stairs. He banged all the way back down again as I sipped that delicious cup of tea.

‘It’s OK, Mamma,’ he sighed. ‘She’s not flying.’

I had to laugh. What did he expect to find Anais doing in her room – piloting a helicopter or practising trapeze style pirouettes on a high wire?

Oh well, rest over. I’d have to go upstairs again after all and leave my tea unfinished. Time to get Deme’s ears looked at again!   

Wednesday, 18 November 2009


THERE WERE tomatoes everywhere of every type– ripened, slightly green, cherry, and off and on the vine.
And in the middle of them chopping, peeling, dicing and slicing stood my husband, looking like he was getting ready for the final of MasterChef.
‘I’m cooking everything fresh from now on,’ Alexio announced. ‘No more junk food in this house.’
I smiled. Alexio’s Italian. It’s not as if we have a secret family McDonald’s habit or live on turkey twizzlers.
For him junk was pizza, anything fried and roast dinner. Which is a shame as that’s all I can cook.
It’s taken me 25 years, and a marriage to a man who reads recipe books like I consume celebrity and real-life magazines, to understand cooking doesn’t mean burning.
Growing up I didn’t know that fried eggs should be white with a yellow yoke. I’d only ever seen them black.
And I’d never understood that baked beans were separate swimming in a tomato sauce. I’d always seen them dished up as a congealed, burnt blob of beans.
My mum’s cooking skills consisted of throwing something in hot oil and hoping for the best.
Our weekly treat would be a fried egg that she’d incinerate while I rushed to the mobile fish and chip van to buy fries wrapped in paper.
Needless to say back then I thought it was delicious – but not exactly healthy.
Having a mother who thought cooking was as exciting as going to a funeral gave me a twisted vision of food.
As a student I lived on peanut butter on toast. When I became a successful journalist I ate out on expenses.
If I invited any friends home for dinner they always knew that meant plenty of rioja – and a takeaway menu.
And then I met Alexio. He lives for food. When I offered to cook him lasagne on one of our first dates he thought I was as talented in the kitchen as him.
Only when the ping! of the microwave – and the scent of a ready meal – filled the air did he realise what a cookery clutz I was.
So from the moment he moved in he laid claim to the oven. I’ve spent the last 13 years scoffing cannelloni, melanzane parmigiana, spaghetti mozzarella and fiori fritti. All home cooked, of course.
It was like having an Italian Jamie Oliver in the house, only he said ‘bene’ instead of ‘pukka.’
Our son and daughter think we’re slumming if we go out to a restaurant as it’s never as nice as something Daddy would make.
But now, Alexio had decided the days of fine dining were over. We all had to hit the salad bowl (with no dressing), egg whites only omelettes (cooked in lo-cal oil) and tiny portions that left our stomachs growling for more.
Luckily, I’m vegetarian and Anais is only 18-months so needs a varied diet that includes some fat. But more Deme was handed fish that had been steamed, poached or broiled but had never ever seen the whiff of a chip.
And – shock – now he was expected to eat Alexio’s tomato soup. It was a labour of love. He spent an hour preparing the ingredients and then he lavished the broth with love as it simmered all day in the kitchen.
He rarely left the pan’s side, tasting and checking it was the best soup ever.
Every utensil in the kitchen was used and he made enough mess to make Gordon Ramsay use the f word.
Finally, it was ready and I collected our son from school. ‘Mmm, something smells nice,’ Deme said, washing his hands for dinner.
Alexio was beaming as he served him a steaming bowl of soup. Deme took a sip and pulled a face. ‘Euuuwwww,’ he said. ‘That’s disgusting.’ Alexio looked furious and crestfallen at once.
‘How can you not like it?’ he demanded. ‘I know you eat tomato soup at school.’
Deme slammed down his spoon. ‘Yes but that’s delicious, Daddy. Everyone knows the best tomato soup comes out of a can.’
I thought Alex was going to have a heart attack but I managed to calm him down. After all, everyone knows that Heinz meanz happy kids! 

Monday, 2 November 2009

Scary (Small) Monsters!

MY LITTLE BOY was brandishing a knife and it was getting scary.He’d been slashing, gouging and slicing for half an hour now. ‘Please stop,’ I begged as he took another eye out.
But seven-year-old Deme shook his head. He was twisting the blade into the flesh now.
His crazed stabbing was like something from The Krays as he jabbed the blade into the sides of the mouth. I couldn’t watch anymore.
Worse still, my husband was helping him. ‘Slice it bigger,’ he ordered as Deme slashed again and again.
But finally, it was over and Deme and his dad stood back. ‘Frighteningly good,’ they agreed as they stared at the pumpkin they’d made for Halloween.
‘Not bad,’ I had to admit, and went to fetch a candle to place in it.Five minutes later, the lit pumpkin head was glowing orange in the window, inviting brave Trick or Treaters.
Deme had begged to go out in his scariest costume but we thought he was too young.
We live in London where no one says hello to their neighbours, let alone beg for sweets or threaten them with an ‘or else.’
But we’d let him pick a costume and this year he’d opted for a skeleton.The baby was asleep so Deme could roam the house singing Them Bones, Them Bones, and cackling in his most terrifying voice.
He was miffed about being made to stay in though while other children knocked on strangers’ doors and begged for candy.
‘Please can I go out?’ he asked one more time and we shook our heads. ‘When you’re older,’ we said. Like 35. When he has his own kids.  
Just then the doorbell went and we crept downstairs. We’d turned all the lights off to let the pumpkin glow show off Deme’s carving skills (though they’re more butcher than plastic surgeon) in the dark.
We could hear children giggling on the other side of the door and thought Deme would hurry to hand them the sweets we’d bought for Trick or Treat.
Instead he slipped on his skeleton mask, drew himself up to all of his 4ft height and waited.
A second passed, then two, and as soon as the children began to grow bored – and quiet, Deme yanked the door open and yelled: Mahahahahahahahaha into the frosty air.
Shocked, the children jumped back, scared. One little witch even screamed.
‘Got you,’ Deme giggled, delighted. Scaring the kids who want to get hold of his sweets – now that’s a neat Trick.