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It is twenty minutes before I am due to arrive for lunch at Vogue House in Hanover Square, and I should be calmly collecting myself before going to reception and sitting in the lobby to wait. Instead I am charging into the changing rooms at French Connection with several items of clothing. I am doing this because five minutes ago I decided my blouse was completely wrong, and I had to buy a cardigan to cover it up. Blue is my colour, but with the addition of an aqua coloured cardigan I am wearing so many different shades of blue, I look like the colour scheme of a municipal swimming pool. I decide to return it to the rail and pull myself together. Looking in the mirror I repeat the mantra which has seen me successfully through the morning so far.
"This has nothing to do with what you look like."
Yes. I feel so much better now.

An invitation to lunch at Vogue, to meet judges including Editors, and writers Miranda Sawyer and Nick Hornby is one which induces excitement first. And then a mild sort of panic which subsides once I have met some of the other people shortlisted. We all agree that we are just there to enjoy the experience, happy to have got so far. The atmosphere is not the one of competiveness one might expect, but I do wonder. I know we would all love to win.

Think of Vogue and you expect bitchiness and icy cool sophistication. This expectation was somewhat confounded. The security men at reception were jovial and friendly, and this fairly down to earth attitude continued throughout proceedings. Everyone had to wear a name badge, and there was a chance to mingle before lunch. Champagne and wine flowed freely, and cigarette smoke soon wafted over the lunch table. This at least was suitably glamourous. But the judges were friendly, interested and eager to set us at our ease. It was almost disappointing. With 11 shortlisted for the prize of £1,000 and a months paid work experience at Vogue, and around the same number of judges, there was an obvious logistical problem with all of the judges getting a chance to speak to all of the candidates. It was partly solved by sitting the each candidate in between two judges, and having the judges move around the table two places after each course. This meant we at least got to speak to a variety of people, although I was disappointed not to talk to Nick Hornby. At the beginning of lunch he was sat opposite me accross the wide board room table, and asked me if I would like some water. I said yes, thankyou. This is as far as the exchange went, and I later wished I had savoured the moment a little more.

I was impressed by the way in which the judges seemed familiar with the pieces we had written in order to be shortlisted. In my case, they were more familiar with what I had written than I was. They generally asked questions about why we had entered the competition, what motivated us to write and what are plans and ambitions are. Harriet Quick, who won the competition herself and now works for Vogue as Fashion Features Editor, confided that she spent the money on a HiFi, an expensive item of clothing and a holiday. Everyone is happy to advise and praise. Before lunch began, Editor Alexandra Shulman welcomed us saying the lunch wasn't meant to be an ordeal or performance - the judges had simply wanted to meet us because they had enjoyed our writing. We therefore did enjoy the lunch - although I was barely aware of what I ate - and left with a glow, whatever the result turned out to be.

Lunch lasted until three o'clock, but in fact seemed to pass much too quickly. Before we went we were given a tour of the building, which includes the offices of GQ and Tatler, as well as Vogue. The behind the scenes view revealed life is not all glamour in a glossy magazine, but there were sufficient hints about drawers stuffed with beauty samples, being allowed to borrow clothes, and parties to make the thought of working there very tempting. I didn't win, but the Vogue Talent contest has given me an amazing opportunity to meet people, and was well worth entering.

I'll go and find a job now, then!
© Jayne Sharratt

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