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The International Writers Magazine:You Can Become Unfamous

Celebrity - Anonymous
Mark Robinson

Hello. My name’s Gemira and I’m a celebrity.’
A chorus of hellos droned up from the circular continuum of equi-distant set plastic chairs; the voices all rhinestones, hoop earrings, tight-fitting, size-zero clothes, foundation, fake breasts and designer stubble.

From on high, the bright-veneered smiles listed like a red carpet premiere: every coloured-contact, every hair-weave and mirror-practised pout, every tweezed-thin eyebrow raise; all of these recovering celebrities had conquered the first obstacle by admitting to themselves that they had a problem.
Step one.
Fresh from prison for sleeping with a murdered footballer, Gemira had vowed to quit the life. All the time she was inside, smeared across the tabloids – her fame finally realised – her goal was to, one day, get out and go clean. And, here she was.

A dingy school hall in a run down, inner-city council estate; this was where they met once a fortnight, the twenty-second chapter of Celebrities Anonymous. It brought them back down to earth; forced them all to realise that this was where they came from – literally. Gemira who used to be Gemma who used to go to this school. And, in coming back here, she had reached step three; she wanted to turn her life around.

They all wanted something; all these fading stars and underachievers; burned out and disaffected, these has-beens had spent the majority of their lives in search of the spotlight, only to get burned or forgotten. Probably more than anyone here, Gemira could relate; burned, bruised and left behind, she had no fight left in her.
The need and want of celebrity had started it all, had brought her to the brink and beyond. What she had once done for the chance to be in the tabloids now made her face fill with blood; queuing outside clubs in the desperate hope of getting inside and snaring a celebrity; a footballer, reality TV star, or soap actor. Showing as much skin without being indecent; fighting with other wannabe-WAGs; sleeping with men because of who they were; selling her stories to the press; living the high-life of a celebrity-wannabe; famous for being famous.
Gemira took her seat to allow the other twelve-stepper’s to vent their woes. Around the room, poor socialite after old page-three model after washed-up reality TV star after shamed soap actor after pop idol runner up after porn channel regular after shopping channel rejects after divorced WAGs; everyone stood up to be counted; all of them here for help; every celebrity, just a scared child inside wanting love and acceptance.

Once the circle was complete, they would all hold hands and repeat the C.A. mantra, fake tears and award-acceptance-speech-faces on; ‘I am a celebrity; it is a sickness; but, now I have admitted to myself that I have a problem, I am no longer alone; we will help one another get back the lives we have lost; to make amends, to the people we have harmed or ignored; to admit we were wrong; and improve our minds; and by doing so, help others.’

The newcomers; they found it hard to look you in the eyes; they still wore designer shades or pulled their baseball caps down low over their eyes. As the mantra said, it was a sickness; it could take a newcomer months to fully ingrain themselves into the new mind set; to fully remove their character defects and shortcomings. Steps six and seven.

After the tears, the group would break so those that smoked to compensate one addiction for another could go outside and be part of another minority group, huddled against the masses and the cold. While, inside, caffeine-rich drinks were poured into tiny cups so at least everyone could feel something positive about themselves.
Gemira had a problem mixing; what with her infamous reputation and fading good looks, nobody would approach her unless they were in a group. And, as she was fairly new here, the cliques had already clicked so she was left alone, not a part of the whispers. She badly needed a sponsor; it was part of her rehabilitation and probation orders, but how was she meant to get one if nobody would speak to her? And, without a sponsor, she wouldn’t budge past step five.

After prison, mingling wasn’t easy; trust was all but gone as a human quality. Like the open auditions she’d endured for Big Brother four, these wannabe celebrities treated their peers like inmates; competition was fierce; the lengths that some people would go to get on TV were extraordinary; she should know, Gemira had been there herself at the lowest point in her life. Step four was to take a moral inventory. Prison had been low, but being a kiss-and-tell sex siren for her ex-publicist, Charles Cyphers, had fallen beneath that; scraping her knees in a trendy nightclub car park while footballers took turns to use her was the pit of her moral life so far.
She forced a smile and went for a coffee refill, immersing herself into the low mutterings of past lives; of bad memories and name-dropping situations. Once you were in the mindset it was difficult to get out. A hand reached for the pot alongside her own; another recovering celebrity; another helpless soul craving attention and forgiveness.
They both breathed their apologies, leaving the way clear; not wanting to make eye contact but having to; it was the only way forward.
‘You go.’ An old face; one Gemira had seen and noticed in the previous groups; a male face that evaded easy recognition but not consideration.
‘Thanks.’ She took the heated pot and first poured his before her own, replacing it on the warmer with a tired, unpractised smile.
‘Thank you.’ A gravelly voice that jabbed her lungs with familiarity, summoning the strength to make eye contact. But, his face refused to be caught.
Following him to a seat across the hall, breathing in the scent of teenage pheromones, damp athletic equipment and floor polish, while outside cigarette smoke clouded the empty night air like exhausted central heating carbon monoxide.
‘How long have you been coming?’ The weakest but easiest of questions to jump-start a conversation.
The man took a sip of warm, strong coffee and allowed his eyes to change direction in order to count the days he’d been clean. It was a number that always changed; a number you could taste on the insides of your mouth, just like your age: ‘One-hundred and sixty-six days.’ Letting it out with a tired smile, like it had taken him that long to perfect it.
‘Wow!’ Not quite a gush but, close enough for her to find it embarrassing.
He smiled again, to let her know they were all friends here.
‘Fifty-six days.’ An exhale of sounds; ‘Not including when I was, you know, inside.’

It was like a footnote; a disclaimer to every comment because time stood still in there. It was out here that being celebrity-free mattered. In prison there were no distractions; no real temptations; no chance of falling off the wagon. But, out here, in the real world, the media was everywhere; newspapers were free to your homes, on public transport, in restaurants; billboards on every inch of free space; radios blared from every passing car, office block, building site, newsstand, café, MP3 player; magazines and advertisements flooded the post as junk mail; buses; roundabouts; emails; internet pop-up’s; nowhere was safe or free.

But, the hardest part wasn’t ignoring it; the hardest part was filling the void without it; of finding something else to occupy the time instead of TV or reading magazines. Sitting in a doctors or dentists waiting room, any other person would grab a magazine and read but, to them, it was like having a bar in there for the alcoholics while they waited or a prostitute in the window for the sex addicts. Nobody understood that theirs was an illness, too. An addiction.
‘Will you be my sponsor?’ It was out; free of her chest and it weighed less, now, her body and soul.
The man’s eyes looked about as if to find and suggest to her an alternative. And, Gemira felt that weight she had just lost, climb back upon her shoulders.
‘I’m not really the…’
‘It’s okay; I understand.’ Cutting him off like all those bouncers had done during her celebrity stakeouts all those years ago; getting up from the seat and moment they’d shared to find her own place within the celebrity circle elsewhere in the middle of the room.

Head down, she flipped open her spiral notepad she kept in her pocket; not so much a diary, but a reminder of where she was in her life, like a plaster cast or scar. Although, she couldn’t officially move from step four without having a sponsor, emotionally she was on to step eight; making amends to those she had hurt. Her list had spawned a second page of names; people who, in some way or another, she had to apologise to for some miss-deed perpetrated while being famous.

Top of the list was her best friend, Roxy and the baby. Not long after Gemira was arrested, she’d learned that Roxy was wanted for kidnapping the kid; some orphan baby another celebrity had adopted and Roxy’s sister had decided to steal for her own. The last thing she heard was Roxy was awaiting trial, like her, for something she didn’t do. And, now she was out, Gemira wanted to find her and make amends for bringing her into this life; the celebrity life of wanting to be everywhere, to be noticed; the celebrity life that brought on her eating disorders and panic attacks; and the fact that she couldn’t be there for her when she needed it the most; that if it wasn’t for her, Roxy wouldn’t be a celebrity.

Daniel Freeman was next on her list; the pop idol finalist she slept with and ruined his career with the kiss-and-tell story she sold to the tabloids. He was her first celebrity snare; the first of many and, because of what she’d done to him for her own ends, she needed to make amends.

Her parents were down, too. As were the other members of her family that had tried to talk to her during the lads mag covers and porn channel cameos; the car shows, bikini scratching the paintwork and porn sites.
She only hoped that the other celebrities who wronged her would, one day, apologise for their mistakes: the panel show team captains that took the piss on TV; the breakfast show DJs that commented on her body after promising the world on the red carpet; those footballers that took advantage of her, night after night.
‘Everyone ready to continue?’ Hayleigh, their group leader, squeezed back into the celebrity circle and took her seat.
Gemira pocketed her notebook and wiped a hand across her skin.
The group leader looked around the room with a smile that always seemed to find the best in everyone, no matter what the situation. She wasn’t like them; Hayleigh wasn’t a celebrity, recovering or current but she had survived a past to be present and offer others help and strength. As an outsider, she could see their suffering. And, that’s exactly what everyone in this room needed; what every recovering celebrity craved, deep down, was not to be recognised or idolised. They just wanted to be normal like everybody else.

‘Before we continue, I just want you all to know that every single individual sitting here in this circle is making excellent progress. If you are here, it means that you want to change your life. And, with each others help, you will succeed.’ A group round of applause followed, as it always did; you can take the celebrity out of the person but not the person out of the celebrity. ‘As some of you are probably aware, one or two of our members here are onto step nine; making amends.’ Old, turned down, faces watched the floor and nodded slowly. Hayleigh looked to each side of her and smiled again. ‘And, they have asked to stand up here tonight and apologise to those they have wronged in this room.’

All eyes reached up to the old man with the gravelly voice, Gemira shared coffee with earlier; silence in the room. Who had this man wronged? And, how hard was it to do what he was about to do? Gemira felt sick for asking him to be her sponsor when he was obviously too preoccupied with what he was about to do. Their eyes met and she gave him an encouraging smile. But, his eyes shied away.

Reading from a card: ‘My name’s Alan and, maybe, some of you don’t know who I used to be?’ Around the room, people nodded. ‘As Hayleigh said, I’ve reached step nine, making amends; something I never would have done without her help.’ A round of applause. A red-faced smile from Hayleigh. ‘Back when I was a celebrity, I did a lot of things I’m not proud of.’ Nods from around the group. ‘To people, I probably won’t ever get the chance to apologise to.’ More nodding; everyone felt the same. Everyone in this room. ‘But, when I started coming here and putting my life back together, the group got bigger and I started seeing people from my past; people I’d all but forgotten existed; people, who I couldn’t bring myself to look in the eye.’ Alan’s voice wavered; he took a breath.
From beneath the spotlight, Hayleigh’s hand reached up to his. ‘It’s okay, Alan; you’re doing great.’
Head back, eyes closed; deep breath; ‘Terrible things I’ve done; I’m so sorry…’ A mulched mess of saliva sounds, tears all but eradicating any real sense. Bodies flooded the inner-circle to comfort Alan, but Gemira stayed still. Something wasn’t right; she had wronged another celebrity while famous, the worst she had done was ruin their careers; it wasn’t excusable but would’ve happened sooner or later anyway; fame was so fickle, nobody’s fifteen minutes lasted forever.

People shifted in their seats; others were thinking the same things as her. Celebrity was blind, but not blind enough to forgive or forget. Someone in this room shared Alan’s secret; someone in this room was his victim.
Her name made her body cold; caused her breath to expire; forced her insides to clench; left her skin shivering.
All eyes, but hers, were fixed on Gemira; the shell that used to be a celebrity that used to be Gemma that used to go to this school, that used to be enough.
‘I’m not really the best person to be your sponsor; I’m sorry.’ Alan’s difficult words, exhaled and gone.
That was it?
‘Joni; I should have let you have that space, last week.’

And, on they went; his feeble little apologies that were as mundane as him; apologising for things that nobody really gave a shit about; life’s little inconveniences that went away with the rubbish bins or recycling collections.
What about the real mistakes; the important trespasses? When would he make amends for them?
Before she realised it, Gemira was on her feet, to the attention of the group. ‘What about me?!’ The recovering celebrities fell silent. ‘You want step nine; them apologise to me!’ Eyes flashed from her to him; Hayleigh’s face stricken; Alan’s shoulders knotted toward his ears.

In his face; in the eyes of everyone present and God above; Gemira suddenly convinced that this man was an ex-footballer; one of the many footballer’s who had done things to her when she was desperate and willing, all those years ago.

And, in the quiet circle of friends, Gemira, one-time celebrity, broke down. Nothing would ever change that. Nobody could ever make her past go away. From the scrap books at home and faces inside she studied, slowly crossing off the names she sought. From her publicist, who lay dead and undiscovered in the boot of his car, securely parked in a long stay airport multi-storey; to the dwindling list of ex-footballers she had been photographed leaving trendy nightclubs with; trawling the internet for their current whereabouts; football grounds; holiday resorts; and, Celebrity Anonymous chapters that were springing up around the country headed by her friend and lover Hayleigh.

Together, they would rid the world of fallen celebrities; those people that had wronged; every single person that had crossed her.

© Mark Robinson June 2008

Life Moments


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