It's nearly six months since I sent off my Come Dine With Me application form. People regularly ask me if I've heard anything more. But of course I won't till sometime next year, if I hear at all, because (a) Channel 4 must already have made its selections for the 2014 series, and so I'd feature in the 2015 series at the earliest; and (b) there is probably a huge choice of applications to consider. CDWM is very, very popular, and Channel 4 can pick the cream of the many applicants. You'd think a trans person who lives near Brighton would be a dead cert for selection, but actually I'd be surprised if they automatically jumped at someone like me for one of their Sussex-based programmes. Gay guys, lesbian ladies, or zombies perhaps; but trans?
On the other hand, they might just think the time has come to feature a Brighton-area trans person, and see what happens. It still won't be me if several other local trans women have applied, as I can't possibly compete with young thirty-somethings who are a delight to look at. Visually I'm old, overweight, and past it. But you never know. If I do get a phone call or email inviting me to participate, I won't turn the chance down! It's quite clear that taking part in this programme is an unforgettable experience, not to be missed.
Here's a description of one person's selection experience in late 2010 (from http://alexfoster.me.uk/2011/01/26/come-dine-with-me-how-do-they-find-these-people/):
And how did I get selected? Well, as I blogged here [http://alexfoster.me.uk/2009/12/29/how-to-lose-come-dine-with-me/] it all started in December 2009. I emailed the show saying I’d like to be on it. Digging back in the gmail folder, it turns out all I did was send them my name, address and contact details. No bio, no talking about myself, just contact details and links to twitter and my blog.
After that, radio silence for nearly a year, until October 2010.
Then a phone call from a producer, which I missed the first time around, and left to my voicemail. They’d like to talk to me about the show. Can I have a think about the sorts of things I’d like to talk about and phone them back.
I had a think and a very few sets of text messages sent to nearest and dearest, most of which were replied to with versions of enthusiastic “Wahey, go for it!” So I phoned back and left messages, and then they phoned back and we spoke. I outlined two menus as requested, a French inspired one and a hyper-local one, they took copious notes, and then right at the end of quite a long conversation, we talked about availability. I was available in the week they wanted to film, but it was pretty dodgy in the weeks leading up to it, and in particular in the weeks they were doing home visits, I was actually on honeymoon.
They phoned back a few days later and made an appointment that just fit around the dates I was away – having, I think, made some changes so that they could come to Nottingham before I left.
Two lovely ladies, a location director and an assistant producer, dressed in leggings and knitware, came around one Sunday afternoon, and I showed them round my house, answered questions about cooking and my personality and preferences. They got me to tell them jokes, show them the rooms I’d tidied specially and the rooms that got neglected, asked the odd difficult question (“What does this room say about you?” / “Erm, well, it says I should have tried to remake my airing cupboard four years ago when they finished putting the solar panel in, but never got around to it”).
They were equipped with a video camera and taped me as we went around, filmed all the interviews, and took digital pictures of everything hanging on my walls. And we did a bit of something I’d get awfully familiar with: they stood side by side, one with the camera, one with a list of notes and questions to ask. The one with the notes would ask the questions and I’d have to reply, making sure I totally ignored the camera, and looked at and replied to the one asking the questions. It is pretty tricky to ignore a camera pointed right at you.
At the end of the visit, which lasted less than an hour, they said thank you very much, they’d be in touch, and left. At one point they even said that if I wasn’t successful at this round I should definitely re-apply.
I subsequently learned that in the course of those visits, they were seeing about 50 people over a number of days. They didn’t mention that at the time, and to me, it felt like a fairly seemless progression phone-call, visit, another phonecall to say yes, you’ll be on the show. Presumably dozens of people were actually screened out at each stage for any number of reasons.
I got the phonecall to say I’d definitely be on shortly before going on honeymoon – I received the call on my mobile while I was in Nottingham Council’s new HQ, and given I was surrounded by Council staff, I had to be extremely restrained in my reaction. It was basically “Oh. My. God.”
The enormity dawned.
Hmmm. Well, supposing that phone call comes for me, and I go through the home visit, and they pick me from fifty other local hopefuls? What could be the problems? I've thought of quite a few:
Do I want strangers to know where I live? Supposing they stalk me afterwards?
My home is comfortable, but the decor lacks pizazz, and needs an expensive makeover that I can't afford just now.
My kitchen is on view from the dining area - I can't fudge anything out of sight of my guests, or conceal the awful fact that I've burnt the main course...
Three men? Two men and one other woman? One man and two other women? The dynamics are different in each case. Could be tricky.
Channel 4 seems fond of including at least one very critical person.
One of them might have a serious personality problem, such as a huge ego, or a compulsive need to show off or perform.
One of them might have a dietary requirement that I might not be able to guess at.
'Welsh themed' on my application form. But will the fruits of the mountains and the sea shore be exciting enough? I can't just give them faggots, leeks, laver and bara brith.
Roast welsh hare - and welsh lamb - could be winners, but am I really going to drive off to mid-Wales and buy them at source in Llandrindod Wells or Rhayader? (Yes I jolly well would, for the sake of authenticity, but the travel cost would be significant)
I can rustle up a tasty, attractive and nourishing meal blindfolded - but not one exquisite enough for Masterchef. Can I cook to impress on CDWM?
Can't sing, can't dance, can't do card tricks, can't do impersonations, and I really doubt my standup comedy capabilities.
A game of 'I spy' seems a bit tame.
However, I can't imagine myself making the classic mistakes of 'being very clever', airing boring opinions, or being 'honest and truthful' to the point of giving offence. And although every contestant would like to make out that they are a reasonable cook, I wouldn't pose as a serious foodie.
The real issue on this show is not so much what your cookery skills are, but how you come across as a person. Do you get on with people? Is your contribution to the evening outstanding? In other words, will the others love to share a meal with you again? Being a warm, sincere, vivacious and fun hostess matters. Likewise it matters to be a warm, sincere, vivacious and fun fellow-diner. But I think I can do all that.
It also pays to be entirely natural and relaxed, and not worry about being ditsy or idiotic. Channel 4 want a lively, watchable programme, and they really like to see people saying and doing things that are ignorant, ill-judged, or plain stupid, so that David Lamb (doing the voiceover) can leap in with a witty remark. They won't mind one bit if, despite my trying very hard not to, I do something completely daft. Especially if I'm quite unaware of it!
What about the trans thing? Well, if I'm challenged by a guest or fellow-diner, and my trans status is exposed for the viewer, Channel 4 will be very well pleased. Such good TV! But much depends on how I handle it. If I can deal with it well, the challenge need not be edited out. I've been thinking about this on and off quite a lot. The most frequent imagined scenario is a foursome consisting of me, two empathetic natal women, and a man who thinks he is a 'real man', very masculine, and not at all empathetic, who has been sizing me up and means to put a direct question to me. It's the last evening. The imagined conversation might go like this:
Man: Lucy, you've been the perfect hostess, and you've really helped the week along with your fun nature and unwillingness to criticise anybody, but I think you've not been completely honest with us.
Lucy: Oh, how have I not been honest?
Man: Come now. A little thing that you should have mentioned at the outset?
Lucy: Well, you tell me!
Man: Let me put it this way. Have you always been a woman?
Lucy: Yes, of course. Always. What a strange question.
Natal woman 1: I think that's a strange question too. Why are you having a go at Lucy?
Natal woman 2: Leave her alone. You're being really rude.
Man: Hand on heart?
Lucy: Hand on heart.
Man: No sex change?
Lucy: No sex change. I have always been a woman, and there has been no sex change. That's what being a transsexual woman is all about.
Man: Aha! You are transsexual. I knew it. So you were a man once?
Lucy: No, a woman. I was simply thought to be male, and brought up as a male person. I believed it when people said I was a man, and I did the things they expected me to do. But it was no good, and one day it all unravelled. Since then I've lived openly as a woman, as I should have done all along.
Man: That's hard for me to accept.
Lucy: Well, you'll have to. In any case, it says 'girl' on my birth certificate, and I really don't see how you can argue with that.
Natal woman 1: Lucy, you don't have to tell him what it says on your birth certificate. That's private.
Lucy (to the man): I'm really surprised that you've had to ask. I thought I was obviously transsexual.
Natal woman 2: Not to me!
Natal woman 1: Nor me. You're not obvious at all.
Natal woman 2: Besides, it doesn't matter, Lucy. You tell him he's a fool. If you don't, we will!
Man: I'm outnumbered!
Natal woman 1: Yes, you are. We girls stick together.
I can see that sequence being erased from the final cut! Channel 4 would want to see much stronger language, and some argument. Besides, where does David Lamb get his one-liners in?