Watching shoe designer Patrick Cox’s overweight bulldog have its claws painted blue at the opening of a pet spa in Harrods was not the most fulfilling experience of my life, but it was amazing. Amazingly odd. On my first day interning as a Diary girl at the Mail on Sunday, I encountered not only pampered pooches but also drank bellinis with pantomime dame and Sky One darling Louie Spence and had a conversation with Scroobius Pip, singer of ‘Thou Shalt Always Kill’ fame, on a bitingly cold side street off Tottenham Court Road.
At the end of the day, I chose the biggest, most sparkly cupcake on sale in the Hummingbird Bakery and licked the frosting off absentmindedly as I waited for my bus home. This was day one of celebrity journalism uncovered.
The Mail on Sunday’s Diary column is run by the paper’s royal correspondent, and is known for its weekly exclusive splashes. Before it goes to print, each story must be meticulously run through a multitude of search engines to ensure it has never been referenced anywhere ever before. For a single double page spread, a team of four ‘Diary girls’ work 14 hour days, five days a week, attending film premieres, fashion shows, after parties and perfume launches with the goal of chancing upon the holy grail: exclusive celebrity gossip. How is it done? I was mentored by the newest Diary girl on the team for my time on the column, and learning from her was incredible. A graduate from Oxford’s St Peter’s College and with a background in PR, Caroline was a walking vessel of charm. Even if she wasn’t best pals with everyone she met, she seemed to be, and that turned out to be the simplest key to unlocking gossip.
My first solo assignment was attending the British Fashion Awards after party at Mo*Vida in Mayfair. Dragging a friend along with me and stepping behind the symbolic red rope, I uttered the immortal words: ‘I’m press. This is my plus one.’ Top tip: definitely try this trick at home. The holy grail would have been to have sat next to a drunken Kate Moss and surreptitiously taken notes whilst she poured her heart out about her unrequited love for Piers Morgan. Unfortunately, unsurprisingly, Kate wasn’t there. I did several casual circuits of the club, and really, there was no one I recognised. But I have to admit, I hadn’t been keeping up with heat magazine so religiously – Michaelmas Term was a full one. So I checked with my new BFF, the bar man. ‘There are fuck all people here’, he growled in a Mexican accent (probably because he was Mexican). Fair enough. I was therefore officially Not Working (although, as I came to be told often later in the week, as a Diary girl, you are never Not Working). This meant drinking as many of the vodka-lychee cocktails as we could grab and dancing on the weird light-up dance floor, again fenced off by a red rope (why do they do this? Who are they fooling?) until the club owners realised no one famous was going to turn up and they chucked all the grubby journos out. Really.
The next evening I was sent to a premiere, which turned out to be the first of two that week. I was on the red carpet to report on The Way Back and The King’s Speech. This meant I had to find out urgently exactly what Colin Farrell was buying his baby sons for Christmas and whether Colin Firth was going to help his wife with cooking the turkey. After each premiere I was sent to a different club, where there had been a tip-off that someone famous would be there. During the five days, I air kissed, drank ridiculous drinks, accumulated a treasure trove of freebies, used the words ‘lovely’, ‘darling’ and ‘fabulous’ a lot, and had really a rather exciting time.
So, is it a viable career path? At the end of the week I was tired, yes, but then I do secretly love the thrill of drinking disgustingly strong coffee and sleeping for four hours a night: a kind of delirious half-alive state. I returned home in the early hours every night, often with a goody bag, and then reported to the offices the next morning. Something else that struck me was the time to productivity ratio. The evening where I spent five hours in the club Jalouse in order to hear Tinie Tempah say something inane but exclusive didn’t make me feel like I’d really contributed to the greater good, but it was fun and it was ridiculous and it was frivolous, and why not? I admit I do have a slight inkling that maybe I should concentrate on a job that will save the world. But even if Diary journalists don’t save the world, at least they provide light relief to lots of people every day. And quite frankly, to use a deeply sensible expression for a deeply non-sensible profession, that’s better than a poke in the eye with a blunt stick. (or a champagne flute).