I Was Born for This
Lister’s eyes are watering and his skin is pale white.
‘Er, yeah, just need to go to the loo,’ he mumbles, and then walks swiftly out of the room. Rowan and I follow him immediately, like there’s a string attaching us, just in time to hear him run into the nearest bathroom and throw up in a toilet.
We enter the bathroom. Lister tells us to go away, but Rowan just walks up to him and starts rubbing his back as he throws up again. I don’t really know what to do, there’s not much I can do, so I just sit down on a radiator and wait.
There’s a big window on one side of the bathroom. Big enough to climb out, probably. We’re on the ground floor. We could just climb out and run. Get up and go.
We’re with the interviewer, now, back in the hotel conference room. He’s white, middle-aged, balding, and his name is Dave. Dave looks evil.
He has put a Dictaphone on the table between us, and it is recording everything we say.
He nods at us slowly.
‘The Ark has always had something special,’ he begins, as if he’s already writing the article in his head. ‘YouTube success. Then chart success. And you’re a strong example for the diversity everyone craves in today’s media –’ he gestures at Rowan – ‘a young man, born to two Nigerian immigrants, in the height of success and fame –’ he gestures at Lister – ‘a young man who grew up in a single-parent, working-class family on benefits, only to make himself a millionaire before he turned eighteen –’ he gestures at me – ‘and a transgender guy of both Indian and Italian heritage, proving to the world that being transgender is just one tiny part of you.’
I resist the urge to roll my eyes. Being trans has been a pretty big part of my life so far, thanks, but that shouldn’t be particularly relevant here, in an interview about our music. Younger interviewers usually like to chat about music and fans, but older interviewers, like Dave, are always obsessed with how many adjectives they can put before our names.
‘And now a European tour, huh? Started from the bottom, now we’re here? How does it feel to be at the absolute top of your game?’
Lister, having thrown up several times, looks once again like a god, and begins his We Are So Lucky to Be Here and We Love Our Fans spiel.
The interviewer nods along, like they usually do.
Then he says, ‘Now, guys. I know you know you’re very fortunate people. You’ve won several prestigious British and European music awards. Gone gold on two albums. A sell-out European tour.’ He leans forward onto his elbows, like he’s the CEO and we’re three underperforming interns. ‘But I want to know the real Ark. I want to know your highs –’ he gestures vaguely towards the ceiling – ‘and your lows.’ He points at the ground and narrows his eyes. ‘I want to dig into your hearts and your minds. I want you to tell me what it’s really like being a famous boy band.’
None of us say anything.
‘Why don’t we start at the start, huh?’ Dave continues. ‘I’ve heard it from Wikipedia but I want to hear it from you. How did you meet?’
I wait for either of the others to speak, but Rowan still seems distracted after reading the new contract, and Lister looks a little like he didn’t understand the question.
I smile widely at Dave and begin the story of how Rowan and I met at primary school, and when we were thirteen we wanted to start a band. We needed a drummer, so we got Lister to join, after some persuading. He didn’t want to hang around with two music nerds, but he was the only person we knew who could play drums.
‘Must seem like a world away now, huh?’ Dave chips in. ‘Three schoolboys starting a band.’ I don’t really know whether to continue the story, but then Dave holds up his palms and says, ‘Sorry! I interrupted. Carry on.’
‘When we were thirteen, we starting uploading our songs to YouTube. A year and two hundred thousand views later, Cecily Wills from Thunder Management found us and took us straight to Fort Records, and that was that.’
‘Ah, the power of the internet,’ says Dave after I’ve finished. There might be something sinister about the way he says it, or I might be imagining it.
We talk for a while more about the formation of The Ark. I do most of the talking, which is a little unusual, but Lister keeps fidgeting – he probably still feels a bit ill – and Rowan is still acting weird and silent.
‘Now, I want to delve a little bit into your relationship with your fans,’ says Dave. ‘Particularly your online fans.’
Here we go.
‘The Ark has a well-established online fan base. Perhaps one of the biggest in the world. You’ve got people watching and analysing your every move, perhaps even invading your privacy, in certain areas.’
He pauses, so I nod at him.
‘In particular, The Ark’s online fan base is famous for its conspiracies and overanalyses.’ He leans back in his chair. ‘How does stuff like that make you feel?’
None of us say anything.
Cecily watches on from the corner of the room.
‘A difficult question, I suppose,’ continues Dave, unfazed by our silence. ‘Let’s look at it a different way. I’m a journalist. I write serious articles, and, yes, I hope that they affect people, in a similar way your music does. I hope that they change people’s way of thinking. Teach them something. Make them feel something.’ He crosses his legs. ‘But at the same time, I am, for the lack of a better phrase, a “normal person”. I send off my article to my editor, go home from the office, and nobody cares.’ He holds up his hands and laughs. ‘Nobody cares! And there’s freedom in that. But you three – you don’t have that freedom any more. You don’t have the freedom that normal people have. You barely even had the chance to experience it at all.’
There’s another pause.
‘And I want to know how that makes you feel,’ says Dave.
Rowan sits up in his chair.
‘We love our fans,’ he says, but it sounds wrong. It sounds like he’s lying. ‘Everything they do, they do out of love, and we love them back for that.’
Dave nods, smiling. He knows.
‘Love is a strong word for people you’ve never met,’ he says. ‘For people that watch your every move, that talk about you behind your backs, that formulate their own opinions of your personalities and relationships and behaviour, all without having spoken to you, or often even seen you, in real life.’
Rowan doesn’t drop eye contact. ‘Appreciate, then. We appreciate our fans. We wouldn’t be here without our fans.’ It sounds like he’s reading from a script.
Rowan says nothing.
‘And that’s all you have to say about your fans?’ says Dave.
Lister leans forward and laughs, though it’s obviously fake, trying to diffuse the tension. ‘Look, mate, what are you trying to get us to say?’
Dave laughs back at him. ‘I just want to hear some honesty. That’s sort of what I do.’
‘Well, if you’re looking for some easy drama, you picked the wrong band, mate.’ Lister laughs some more. ‘We’ve nearly finished our second European tour. Let us fucking rest. I just want to fucking rest.’
‘Now that’s honesty.’ Dave points at Lister, and then looks back at me and Rowan. ‘I like him.’
Rowan scoffs and looks away.
‘Jimmy,’ says Dave. ‘How do you feel about your fans?’
The photograph flashes in my mind before I can stop it. A fangirl standing over Rowan and me asleep in my bedroom, eyes empty black pits, a grin with spiky shark-teeth.
‘I love the fans,’ I say in a robot voice.
‘You don’t feel irritated that they keep on insisting on knowing everything about your personal lives?’ Dave leans back. ‘I mean, take the photo that emerged on the internet today. You guys must have heard about that, right? How did that make you feel?’
I force the words out. ‘I … felt … anxious, because … people now think that … my and Rowan’s rela– friendship is something more than … friendship. It looks like we’re lying to our fans.’ My palms are actually sweating. ‘We’d never lie to our fans.’