Sitting down at a quaint cafe on the edge of the piazza and ordering a coffee I thought about my career. Three years in repertory theatre, five years in and out of West End musicals, more rep and then an odd jump to join the Royal Shakespeare Company for a year and a half performing with world famous actors and touring to Stratford-Uopn-Avon and America, two more musicals and a hiatus of nothing but temping in an office. Ugh. It did nothing for your self esteem I thought to be travelling the world with Patrick Stewart one day and letting a flat to an annoying tenant the next. I remembered after having finished the tour having so little money that I had to start temping immediaetely (actually before the run ended I now recalled) and wanting to shout at people:
"I'm in the Royal Shakespeare Company! I'm not lettings agent!!"
But that was the point, no-one cared. People just believed what was in front of them. It made me wonder how many other people were not as they seemed. Or perhaps I was exactly as I seemed. I was a lettings agent who occasionally did amazing theatre jobs. What about the waiter bringing my coffee? Was he an actor, a model, an out of work t.v. producer? Who could say. For now he was serving my coffee and asking me if I wanted any milk with it.
And two sugars since you're asking.
I drank my coffee and pepped up a bit probably because of the artificial stimulants but also because I realised that not everyone could be absolutely at the top of their game all the time and wouldn't it be boring if everyone was. It was more fun probably to have the dream of some fantastic future than if that future actually came to pass. How many times had I wished for this and that only to have it come about and realise that it was not all it was cracked up to be.
For example I would have said that if I could be married, living in my at the time dream location (Islington) with great friends and family and apparently still looking young and healthy that I would be happy! You'd have bloody well thought so wouldn't you! But no, life was still a struggle as an artist in London.
The main difficulty with being an artist in London was money or lack thereof. However hard I worked (and I worked hard) there just did not seem to be enough and I was tired. At my age I mused I should have massive savings and an expense account. Instead I was selling my flat and the proceeds would cover my gigantic debts from spending fifteen years trying to be a successful artist in London with not much to spare left over.
No, I thought.
It was time to throw in the towel.
Give up the ghost.
Put it to bed.
Forget about it I was not going to be famous or even just successful enough not to have to work in an office in between gigs. I mean who on earth was I kidding. Despite my best efforts here I was auditioning for the part of understudying someone's mother and although you could argue that the Young Vic Theatre was a very prestigious place to work I knew that it would lead to nothing. I had worked in enough prestigious places to know that the eternal temping always loomed on the horizon unless you were very ric, very connected, very very lucky or preferably all three. I was none of the above.
I was not a celebrity. Just a jobbing actor.
Bollocks the caffeine had worn off. The day had moved on and very little had been achieved. I gathered together my belongings and decided to go home and have a think about what I could do with my life. After all 36 was not the end of the line. There were children to be had (hopefully) and possibly a whole new career! I just had to figure out what that was.
Back in my weeny Islington flat that I rented with my husband (right by the tube fabulous) I sat nursing a cup of tea and thought and thought and thought. I had always had a fascination with self help books of all kinds "how to find a husband after 30" "He's into anyone else but you" "The power of not sitting in front of the tv" etc. I had devoured so many of these books over the years that I was absolutely sure that I could write one myself. But what about? My life was not a picture of success.
"How to end up at 36 having done 6 west end shows broke and temping in a lettings office" was not a very good title.
How about "How NOT to end up at 36 having done 6 west end shows broke and temping in a lettings office?
I took a sip of tea and thought about another title. "An actor's life- the unbridled truth". Possible. Hadn't there been lots of actors who had written about their lives? Didn't mean I couldn't too. I suppose, I thought, I just have to start at the beginning.
And I did.