I Was Born for This
Cecily keeps tapping away at her phone. ‘No, babe. Let’s get back to poo and anxiety.’
Rowan sighs. ‘Now look what you’ve done. You’ve made Jimmy grumpy.’
‘I’m not grumpy—’
Lister drops his mouth open in faux shock. ‘How is this my fault?’
‘It’s both of you,’ says Rowan, gesturing to Lister and Cecily.
‘It’s none of you,’ I say. ‘I’m just in a weird mood.’
‘But you’re excited, yeah?’ asks Lister again.
‘Yes! I promise I am.’ And I mean it. I am excited.
I’m just nervous and scared and anxious as well.
The three of them are all looking at me.
‘Like, we’re performing at the Dolby!’ I say, and find myself grinning again.
Rowan raises his eyebrows a little, arms folded, but nods. Lister makes a whooping noise, then starts to unwind the window before Cecily smacks his hand and winds it back up again.
The screams coming from outside are piercing now and the car comes to a halt. I feel a bit sick. I don’t really know why all this is bothering me so much more today. I’m normally fine. Wary, always wary, but fine. The screams don’t sound like a tide any more. To me, they sound like the metallic screech of heavy machinery.
I’m sure I’ll enjoy myself once we get in there.
I rub my fingers over my collarbones, feeling for my tiny cross necklace. I ask God to calm me down. Hope He’s listening.
I’m wearing all black, as usual. Cigarette trousers, Chelsea boots that are giving me blisters, a big denim jacket, and a shirt that I have to keep pulling on because I feel like it’s choking me. And the little transgender flag pin I always wear to events.
Rowan undoes his seatbelt, pats me gently on the cheek, pinches Lister’s nose and says, ‘Let’s walk, lads.’
The girls aren’t anything new. They’re always there, somewhere, waiting for us. I don’t mind, really. I can’t say I understand it, but I love them back in a way, I guess. The same way I love Instagram videos of puppies tripping over.
We get out of the car and some woman touches up our hair and make-up and some other woman brushes down my jacket with a lint roller. I sort of love how they always seem to appear out of thin air. Men holding massive cameras, wearing jeans. Bald bodyguards wearing black. Everyone’s got a bloody lanyard on.
Rowan puts on his Serious Face. It’s hilarious. Kind of a pout, kind of a smoulder. He’s not so smiley in front of the cameras.
Lister, on the other hand, is flashing his smile all over the place. He never looks miserable in photos. He’s got the opposite of a resting bitch face.
The screams are deafening. Most of them are just screaming ‘Lister’. Lister turns round and holds up a hand, and I dare to take a glance too.
The girls. Our girls. Clawing at a chain-link fence, waving phones, crushing each other and screaming because they are so happy.
I hold up a hand and salute them, and they scream back at me. That’s how we communicate.
We get ushered on by the adults that escort us everywhere. Bodyguards and make-up artists and women holding walkie-talkies. Rowan walks in the middle, Lister walks slightly ahead and I linger at the back, finding myself more excited than I usually am at these awards ceremonies. They’ve got a bit samey in the UK, but this is our first one in America, and that makes it something special. This is our first step into the American music industry, worldwide success and a musical legacy.
We’ve made it from a rundown garage in rural Kent to a red carpet in Hollywood.
I glance up at the California sunshine and find myself smiling again.
Photos are very important, apparently. As if there aren’t already enough high-quality photos of us in the world. Cecily tried to explain it to me once. They need up-to-date HQ photos, she said. They need HQ photos of my hair now that I got the sides buzzed. They need HQ photos of Rowan’s suit, since it’s something special that fashion magazines will talk about. They need HQ photos of Lister. Because they sell.
The three of us reconvene at press photos. I still feel like it’s just us three here, sometimes, even though we’re surrounded by other people constantly – adults swarming round us, putting their hands on our backs and pointing where to stand, before jogging out of the way so the fireworks show of camera flashes can begin. I catch eyes with Lister and he mouths the words ‘shitting myself’ at me, before turning away and sending a blinding smile to the cameras.
I stand in the middle, always, holding my hands together in front of me. Rowan, the tallest, is to my left with a hand on my shoulder. Lister is to my right, his hands in his pockets. We never really discussed this. It’s just what we do now.
The photographers, like the girls, all scream mainly at Lister.
Lister hates this.
Rowan thinks it’s hilarious.
I think it’s hilarious.
But nobody except us three knows that.
‘This way!’ ‘To the right!’ ‘Guys!’ ‘Lister!’ ‘Over here!’ ‘To the left, now!’
It goes on. We can’t really do anything but stare into the flashing lights and wait.
Eventually a man gestures for us to move on. The photographers continue to scream at us. They’re worse than the girls because they’re doing it for money, not love.
I automatically walk close to Rowan and he turns to me and says, ‘Lively bunch tonight, aren’t they?’
‘California, baby,’ I say.
‘It’s a funny old world.’ He stretches out his arms to adjust his sleeves. ‘And I’m sweating one out right now.’
‘I’m the one wearing all black!’
The camera flashes reflect in his glasses. ‘At least you’re wearing socks. I think I can smell my feet already.’ He waves a foot at me. ‘Leather shoes with no socks is a fucking disaster. I’ve got a sweat swamp growing down there.’
I laugh and we walk on.
This is where most of the girls are. A long line of red carpet stretches out before us with the girls on either side, leaning over the fence, waving phones. I used to wish there was time to talk to every single one of them.
Lister dives straight in, walking along the left side of the carpet, stopping every so often to lean in to a girl’s selfie. They grab at his arms, his jacket, his hands. He smiles and moves on. A bodyguard hovers a few steps behind him.
Rowan hates the girls, hates the way they scream and grab him and cry in front of him and beg for a follow-back on Twitter. But he doesn’t want them to hate him. So he goes to take some selfies too.
I don’t any more. I don’t go anywhere near them any more. I don’t mind waving and smiling, and I’m grateful, definitely grateful that they’re here and supporting us and loving us, but … they scare me.
They could just reach out and hurt me at any moment. Someone could have a gun. No one would know. One evil person shows up and I’m dead. And I’m a big target. Being a member of one of the most successful and well-known boy bands in Europe makes you a big target.