Pride, Prejudice and Jasmine Field
The television was on.
“ooh, look - it's whatsisname.”
“you know . . .”
“the one with the hair.”
“oh yeah - God, haven't seen him for years. What was he in? Years ago now?”
“he was in that detective programme - what was it called?”
“oh I know, with that woman.”
“you know the one with the um — oh - married to that actor.”
“Big guy, funny eyes - oh god what was he in? That's going to really annoy me now”
“I never knew they were married.”
“yeah (belch), pardon.”
“I wish I could remember the name of that programme”
“the one that bloke was in.”
“you know, whatsisname.”
“DO YOU TWO MIND IF WE ACTUALLY HEAR THE PROGRAMME AS WELL AS WATCH IT?”
The tube train was stifling and packed. Jasmin Field - Jazz to her friends - couldn't read her book because someone's entire body was in her private space. Pinned to the door, she shut her eyes and imagined a cool breeze gently nudging a weeping willow as she swung lazily in her hammock. Somewhere in the distance a wood-pigeon cooed and the smell of freshly cut grass wafted by. She smiled drowsily and hoped she wouldn't have to move a muscle ever again.
Then the man next to her farted and the moment was lost.
“It's Harry Noble!” shrieked someone suddenly and the squash eased as a mass of sticky bodies shot to where the words had come from. Jazz was grateful for the extra room. The train had been stuck in the station now for ten minutes - some poor bastard had fainted in the front carriage apparently. Jazz was certainly no Harry Noble groupie, but she was grateful to him because now at least she could move her book up into the right position and start reading again.
Then, as one, the entire carriage moved to the windows. Not a word was spoken, of course - this was the London Underground — but a silent, almost mystic power of understanding bound everyone together. It's a common enough phenomenon when a mass of people all repress the same emotions - in this case, exhaustion, resentment and fascination - and it's one that happens every second of every day on the tube. But this time it was increased to the nth degree and you could almost hear it buzzing. Jazz looked up from her book and watched in wonder.
And then there he was.
Unbelievably, Harry Noble strode past them all, just a foot away, down West Hampstead Station's now empty platform. It was like being in a film. No one made a sound, they all just stared at him as he walked, elegant and tall, his neck straight, his eyes fixed ahead, to the exit. He was beautiful. Jazz was sure his lips were moving, as if he were talking to himself. He could have been on a desert island he was so wholly unaware of his audience. So this was the real reason the doors were still shut, surmised Jazz. No fainting passenger, just a famous one, who expected star treatment wherever he went. Suddenly, one young woman could hold back no longer - even if she was on the London Underground. She didn't care, dammit. She banged on her bit of the window and screamed, “HARRY!” in a voice full of longing and heartache.
He didn't even turn his head. His eyes kept staring straight ahead, as if no one was there.
“HARRY!” came more voices, plaintive and hoarse.
Eventually, ever so slowly, he turned his majestic head and smiled a curt smile. And then everyone forgot their reserve. Now every carriage took its turn shouting, banging on windows and squealing as he passed them by. It was like a Mexican soundwave of passion and loss. It was quite moving, thought Jazz. And Harry Noble, of the illustrious Noble theatrical dynasty, heart-throb English actor who had gone to Hollywood and got an Oscar for his troubles, had the decency to look touched. He even winked at one girl who caught his dark, brooding eye.
And then he was gone.
There was silence for a moment and then, miracle of miracles, commuters actually started talking to each other.
“Oh my God, he's even more gorgeous in real life!”
“He winked at me! He winked at me!”
“I think I'm going to faint!”
“My daughter won't believe this!”
“He winked at me! Did you see him wink at me!”
Jazz marvelled that these people, who had unwittingly been kept in a stuffy, enclosed space for fifteen hellish minutes just so that one man could get out faster and easier than them, could make such fools of themselves. He's just a man, thought Jazz. A man who has to go to the toilet like them, who gets headaches, verrucas and wind.
Her smile widened as she wondered what these people would say if they knew she was actually about to meet the pompous twat. And with that thought, she returned to her book. Ten minutes later, the doors finally opened and the train haemorrhaged its dazed and sweaty passengers onto the platform.
Once out of the Underground, Jazz walked to the monstrous Gothic church at the end of a nearby road. She was meeting Mo, her flatmate, and Georgia, her elder sister, at the audition, and couldn't have moved fast in the hot, airless atmosphere engulfing north London if she'd wanted to. There was no sign of the famous Harry Noble. He must have been picked up by a limousine, she thought. Shame she hadn't been able to catch up with him - she'd have cadged a lift.
Much more of a shame, though, was the fact that she wasn't in the least bit nervous about doing this stupid audition. It would have made excellent copy for her column: she always wrote well about suffering from nerves. But she just couldn't work up a sweat about performing in front of the great Harry Noble, the director of what was intended to be the celebrity fundraising theatrical experience of the millennium — Pride and Prejudice, An Adaptation. She'd tried, but it was all too ridiculous. So there would be no self-deprecating humour about sweaty palms and a faltering voice. Damn. Not for the first time, Jazz cursed the fact that she could never write what wasn't true.
She was glad that she wasn't going to tomorrow's audition, which was for the steaming masses. Today's was for specially selected actors, writers and personalities as well as anyone lucky enough to be personally invited by one. As a journalist, Jazz fitted into the second category, and had chosen to invite her best friend and flatmate, Mo, to see if she could get herself a small part. Georgia, a budding actress whose career filled Jazz with sisterly pride, had also been invited along. Jazz wondered if tomorrow was purely a publicity stunt and today was the real thing. Would they really let complete unknowns work with the great Harry Noble? Seeing as they wouldn't let the great unwashed share an Underground platform with him, it seemed unlikely.
As she approached the church, Jazz could see about 100 people cordoned off outside it and she tried to ignore the thrill it gave her to force her way through and show her pass to the bouncers. The crowd didn't even look at her; they were too busy scrutinising the streets for signs of their idol.
Jazz opened the heavy door and was instantly assailed by a musty church smell. She walked down the darkened corridor and wondered if Mo and George were here yet. She hoped not — it would give her more time to watch everyone else.
She turned the corner and came face to face with a pair of glasses.
“Did we know you were coming?” asked the glasses. They were amazing. Big purple frames that almost covered their wearer's entire face. Tragically, not all of it.
“Sign your name and then go to the end of the corridor where you'll be given a script,” instructed the glasses — which, Jazz noticed, were in the company of a chunky metal brace on the top row of their wearer's teeth. Jazz blinked, fascinated. The woman looked as if she had suddenly woken up one day and thought, How can I make myself as unattractive as possible? and had come up with a damn fine answer.
Jazz signed quickly. At the end of the corridor was a trestle table peppered with piles of scripts, each one entitled Pride and Prejudice, An Adaptation. Jazz picked one up. She tried reading it but couldn't concentrate. She sat on one of the chairs by the wall and waited for more people to arrive. Some knew each other and there were various luwie air kisses and much affected affection. She watched intrigued, trying to guess who was an actor and who was a fish out of water. It wasn't too difficult to make the distinction.
An actress entered. She wore a beautiful big brown fur-lined leather jacket and had a commanding presence. Her jet-black hair fell to angular shoulders, her long legs seemed to go on for ever and her eyes were like bullets. Jazz recognised her from a recent three-part thriller, in which she'd played a malicious killer. She was surprised to see that she actually looked even harder off-screen than on. The actress's name was Sara something - Jazz couldn't quite recall. Jazz watched her pick up a script and read it intensely, while pacing the floor. She seemed to desperately want a part.
A group of impossibly attractive people entered the hall and one of the men among them stood out from the rest. Jazz knew him instantly — he was a household name. He was the actor William Whitby, famous for his role in the popular series The Trials of Father Simon. In it he played the eponymous Father Simon, a warm, loving priest who brought peace to a rough inner-city housing estate. He had sandy-coloured hair and a handsome, easy, round face, but the most attractive thing about him, Jazz decided, was that he chatted to nearly everyone in the room. He was obviously well-liked, and Jazz could see why. Although he made a lot of rather unnecessary body contact with people, he seemed sincere and likeable. He stood with his head inclined towards them, a hand gently touching their elbow while they spoke to him, or he nudged them before saying something that he followed with a big, loud, warm laugh. He seemed delightfully unaware of the effect he had on everyone he talked to. No wonder he made such a perfect priest, thought Jazz.