It was… an experience
When you get invited to tell the world your story, to get show them what it’s like to have to hide an enormous part of your identity from the world as you’re still in one of the minorities that can be discriminated against without legal recourse, be very careful what you sign up for…
The following is a blow-by-blow account of my tribe, my friends and my own experience with a major TV network in the UK.
It started innocently enough when the following email turned up in my inbox:
The format is a brand new take on a problem show giving people the opportunity to tell their stories directly to their peers in a series which will uniquely reflect the experience and cultures of this generation.
I’m really keen to include people within the show who are bi sexual (sic) and polyamourous along with the various problems that this may or may not bring to everyday life.
OMG! Totally Peaches is a brand new take on a problem show, hosted by Peaches Geldof.
With professional advice from experts we will aim to help find a resolution to your problems. The show will revolve around the confessions, compulsions, problems and obsessions and dilemmas of you, the ITV2 viewer.
So the show looked interesting. I’m not clued up at all on the world of celebrity and a quick Google showed Peaches to be one of those “famous because she’s famous” types. Not great, but so what, maybe she’s going for a re-image or something… How wrong I would be…
I phone up the woman organising everything, Nina, and we chat. Mainly it orients around “We’d love to be on the show but our only major problem is having to be closeted so much” to which she responded that that was a fine problem for the show and they’d be happy to give us a platform to tell our story and hopefully gain a bit more acceptance in the world. I agree that would be wonderful and ask around my tribe. One member immediately said no, one isn’t out so preferred not to and the other 2 agreed. We filled in the respective application forms and sent them off.
The emails and phone calls continued to iterate descriptions of the show such as:
Each real life story will offer the ITV2 viewer a window into the struggles, hopes and dreams of young people today. It’s a chance for you to tell your story directly to your peers in a series which will uniquely reflect the experiences and cultures of this generation.
A couple of weeks later myself, my partners and a few friends went to the TV offices to chat with Nina about the show, what topics would be covered and introduce ourselves in-the-flesh. It went really well and I was feeling fairly positive on the whole thing. Nina, although clearly not “getting it” was understanding and seemed eager to learn about polyamory and how it all works.
It was about this time things started to go sour…
One member of my tribe, N, is an extremely busy fellow and it ended up that the studio filming dates were set for when he was out of the country. However, the TV people didn’t seem to be willing to accept work commitments as a valid reason for not being available and ended up putting on so much pressure that N threw the towel in, not on practicalities but principle. It is unfortunate the exact reasons weren’t passed on to myself, a communication breakdown that may have helped stop further problems but such is the way of these things…
Then they started pushing the “Cuddle Party”.
I want to make this clear, crystal and perfectly, that they were and always have been the ones who pushed for the cuddle party. In fact, they pushed claiming that it was Peaches herself who wanted it. After the fact Peaches has been claiming that we were the ones who asked for the party and that she wasn’t comfortable or happy with the arrangement. Bullshit. Pure, grade A, Bullshit.
Our initial reaction was “but that’s nothing like our real life, we’ve never even done one before” but the threat of having the whole show cancelled reared up and, not wanting to lose the chance to get poly presented in a positive light (as had been promised for the past month or so), I relinquished and said I would see what could be done.
Worst. Mistake. Ever.
During the day before the party, we filmed the “talking head” segment of the show. We got more and more apprehensive as the questions oriented around our sex lives and when J was asked to repeat “I love Alex” about 20 times and never “I love Alex and N” both of us were uneasy. We only ended up getting J done in the end before some horribly choreographed and jilted shots of “us at home”. A huge line was crossed when they asked us to “playfully recreate” the moment I proposed to J, we said no, and they pushed anyway. We made it clear it wasn’t happening but it took a lot of effort to make them back down.
We had been promised the opportunity to meet Peaches before the party and I can’t help but feel things would have been very different if we had. For one, it would have come up that the party was her idea (well, Nina’s at least), not ours. I feel that bit of clarity would have helped a lot over the coming weeks… Instead we had to go straight to the venue, a friends house and get ready.
The whole thing was, looking back, awful. We were heavily choreographed, regardless of how often we said “nothing is organised or planned, we don’t even have cuddle parties, just a cuddle space in bigger parties”. Peaches happily joined in and we explained all the consent issues clearly to her, that one can always say “no” regardless and should always be asked first before being stroked or cuddled. Again, this is something she has either denied or misrepresented since.
The polys in the party were excellent. We discussed at length how we deal with numerous issues and Peaches, as Nina before her, didn’t really “get it” but certainly seemed genuinely curious and eager to learn more. When we had enough material, I was asked to do my talking head bit. It was gone 11pm after a very long day and all I wanted to do was get home (over 2 hours away) so I declined. This took a lot more effort than it should as clearly TV people don’t get told no very often…
After the party things just got worse. Firstly my other partner, U, got a phone call at her work place (that is, on the work phone) asking her to be on the show. Had she not been in such an accepting office this could have resulted in all manner of problems! The lack of respect and courtesy was mind boggling. Then, to make her agree to be on the show, a straight up lie was floated that she could easily be found through Google so she may as well go on TV. This was, simply, not the case and it was, in fact, impossible to locate U on Google without already knowing her.
Things just started getting worse and over the next few weeks more and more friends reported being harassed by the network to be on the show. There were no indications the requests were even polite, never mind wanted or of interest. We knew now that they weren’t below blackmail, guilt trips, pressure and out right lies and whilst this was contained to our own Tribe it was tolerable, not it had spread into the community a line had been crossed
Me and J discussed at length for several days how to proceed before finally contacting Nina and saying we were no longer interested. The way the whole process had been conducted was utterly unacceptable and we were now considered the matter finished. Unsurprisingly it took a few more phone calls, emails and finally one extremely angry phone call from C, the tribe member who had said no right from the start, to make them finally leave us alone.
The show itself airs tonight, what to expect is anyone’s guess.
So what did we learn?
This entire affair has, at least, been an enlightening process and if nothing else comes of this, I’d like to at least share the lessons I’ve learnt:
- To quote Marcus Morgan: “If you’ve got a story, go to the press. If they have come to you, they’ve already got a story & want to fit you in/up.”
- Don’t believe anything. As we found, the show went from being a fair platform where we could show the world that loving more than one person is a valid choice to a point-and-laugh freak show.
- Get final sign off. Don’t agree to anything unless your signature is required to authorise the final edit. If we’d known this from the start we’d have had a lot more control on the process. If possible, get a lawyer to confirm the contract.
- Pull out as soon as you get a bad feeling. This one is really important. Several times I (or let myself be) talked into continuing even though it felt like things weren’t going right. I was neverproven right, through the whole 3 months things just went from bad to worse
- Have a strong support network. The amount of stress, pressure and hassle this show has put into my life is really difficult to over-exaggerate, made even worse in the last few days with the air-date rapidly approaching. It can also put enormous pressure on your relationships, mine and J’s of almost 6 years nearly broke down irreparably. I’ve heard anecdotal evidence that extremely few (read “none”) relationships last long after the spotlight of TV
- Don’t work for free. When it came to the crunch the network were happy to start offering to throw money at us. Remember, they need you for a story so don’t be afraid to ask for adequate compensation.
This whole experience has not been one I would ever want to repeat. When it comes to TV and the media, my honest, hand-on-heart answer? Keep the fuck away.