Megan Macmillan is the reigning queen of daytime television. She’s everyone’s best friend. And this morning–between lunch on a shoestring and a man with twelve toes–she’s mine. A ray of light on the darkest of mornings. Today, however, finds the three-time TV Guide award winner simmering with anger, and in the foulest of moods.
‘Did some cretin leave a door open?’ she says, aiming filthy looks at every member of the studio crew.
Sprawled on a beige leather sofa, her permatanned husband Clive chuckles and smirks, much like he does on screen whenever Megan goes off on one of her rants. Under bright lights and thanks to the combined efforts of three makeup artists, Clive looks half his age, in clothes hand-picked by their gay stylist - who Megan thinks might have a crush on Clive, since he insists on putting her in yellow; her most hated colour.
‘Well?’ she says, tapping her foot. ‘Does the star of this show have to die of pneumonia before someone takes her seriously? It’s cold enough in here to freeze a witch’s tit.’
Clive pulls his oil on troubled waters face and leans in closer to whisper in my ear. ‘You must excuse my wife,’ he says. ‘I’ve no idea where she picks up such colourful expressions.’
His liver-spotted, podgy hand pats my knee.
‘Where the hell is Simon?’ Megan looks around for their producer. ‘Is nobody in charge?’
‘Take cover,’ Clive whispers. ‘Any minute now poor Simon will inform her she did that last segment with a piece of spinach lodged between her front teeth. It won’t be pretty.’
I shuffle along the sofa before he makes another beeline for my knee.
It’s already been a long day. A car arrived at 5am, and the driver spent the entire journey from Brighton to London quizzing me about my footballer husband. He turned out to be a Brighton and Hove Albion fan. They almost always are.
Saturday with Megan and Clive is far from a happy workplace. As a long-married couple, they’ve ruled the hangover telly roost for years with a chintzy mix of recipes, makeover tips, weight loss routines and human-interest stories. The second I left the makeup chair, I sensed an atmosphere.
During an earlier break for the news, a row broke out, with Clive berating his wife for flirting with a reformed boy band. She’d stroked honed biceps and fanned herself with programme notes as the drummer lifted his shirt to reveal a six-pack.
Their screaming fight ended with Megan calling Clive pencil dick. He shot back that she was a sad, desperate tart. And then they spotted me, and professional smiles slotted back into place as Megan swished blonde extensions and Clive leaned in for a ‘welcome’ kiss.
‘Such a treat,’ he said, acting like I was a long-lost friend. ‘We’ve wanted you back since forever.’
This, I doubted. Producer Simon had called late yesterday afternoon on the off-chance I might be free. The Hollywood A-lister he’d booked had collapsed in an airport toilet, and an ambulance crew rushed her to rehab. Simon had once wangled me tickets for Hamilton, so I couldn’t refuse. He said that seeing as how everyone was tipping Jed for a place in the England squad, would I mind coming on?
The floor manager calls us back to the set as the signature tune plays.
‘My tummy hurts from eating all that cake.’ Megan flashes the best dentistry money can buy. ‘I just can’t resist chocolate. It’s my bête noir.’
This is a lie. She refused leftovers from the baking slot. A runner waved a slice of Sachertorte under her nose and she glared as if he’d been sick on the plate.
‘Our next guest has it all,’ she says. ‘And is about to rocket to the top of the WAG league… if her gorgeous husband lands the job we’re all talking about.’
The camera pans my face, and I do my best to smile.
‘Alexandra Small,’ Megan says. ‘It’s been way too long since we had you on our sofa.’
Before I get to speak, Clive takes over. ‘How’s the old man? Still telling the referee he needs glasses.’
‘He’s at a training camp,’ I say. ‘Preparing for the weekend.’
‘So, you’re young, free and single. Hot in the city? Perhaps I can tempt you out for lunch.’
Is he chatting me up? On live TV. In front of his wife?
Megan interrupts. ‘Tell us, Allie, are the rumours true about Jed? Our viewers are dying to know.’
First, I hate it when people I don’t know well call me Allie. It’s a name reserved for my closest friends. Second, I doubt the people who watch Megan and Clive’s show give two hoots about Jed’s try-out for the national squad.
‘It’s all hush-hush,’ I say, and mime zipped lips.
Megan guffaws like I’ve told the best joke ever. ‘But you’re not denying it?’
Clive’s sweaty hand finds its way back onto my knee. ‘Come on, Allie. It can be our little secret.’
He winks at the camera, and I brush him away.
‘How does it work with the WAGs?’ Megan pulls a serious face. ‘Is there a league table with Coleen Rooney at the top?’
‘I don’t really know her,’ I say. ‘We’ve met, but…’
Megan’s having none of it. ‘It must worry Coleen that you’ll grab her crown.’
She directs a vapid smile into the camera rather than at me.
‘I know there’s not an actual crown, Allie,’ she says and exchanges a smug smile with Clive, ‘but this news must put you in line to become the new WAG Queen.’
I die inside. The one thing I refuse to let define my life is the fact I married a footballer.
Megan wants an answer. ‘I can see she’s thinking about it,’ she says and nudges her husband.
‘It’s not like that.’ My voice sounds nothing like mine. ‘Or at least I don’t think it is. I tend not to mix with the other wives.’
The way she shakes her head suggests she doesn’t believe me.
‘I bet you all meet up and compare notes,’ she says.
‘Notes about what?’
Her eyes narrow and ice forms.
Clive must sense the cold front, because he takes control. ‘If Jed gets into the squad, how are you going to reward him?’
His hand makes yet another bid for my knee. If I shuffle any further along the sofa, I’ll be on Megan’s lap.
‘We’ll go for a lovely meal somewhere,’ I say.
‘I don’t drink.’
Megan pounces. ‘You had rather a problem, didn’t you, Allie? You’re a reformed alcoholic.’
‘I still call myself an alcoholic,’ I say. ‘Reformed or not. It’s an illness. Nobody says reformed about people in wheelchairs.’
Megan’s upper lip curls. ‘Are you comparing yourself to a disabled person?’
‘I would never…’
‘Because you can drink or not drink. They can’t walk or not walk.’
‘That’s not what I said.’
The floor manager gestures to wind things up, and Clive grins into a camera. ‘After the break, decorate or decimate. We’ll hear from a woman who claims her hapless hubby is the world’s worst handyman.’
The theme music plays, and Megan is on her feet and across the studio, vanishing into makeup.
‘Thanks for coming on last minute,’ Clive says.
Off-air, he’s more composed and less of a creep. With the lights down to natural levels, his face is creosote brown, his jeans are way too tight, and his French-tucked white shirt struggles to stay buttoned.
Someone comes to unhook my microphone.
‘I think Megan’s having a rough day.’ Clive shuffles closer. ‘Take nothing to heart.’
I scoot along the sofa and hold up surrender hands. ‘It’s fine. I get it.’
‘We should have that lunch sometime. Just the two of us.’
‘Clive, love,’ says Producer Simon. ‘We need you in the kitchenette for the next segment.’
My phone beeps. It’s Jed to remind me we’re meeting for coffee at 1pm.
Today is an anniversary.
We’ve been seeing the same fertility specialist at a swanky London clinic for exactly one year.