Honesty Is The Best Policy (except of course when you’re a Spy)
A while and a half ago I almost became a real-life Spy. Honestly! I mean, yeah, I’ll probably get shot or something for telling you, cos I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to say anything to anyone, but it’s cool, right? We’ll just keep it between ourselves…
Besides, we all know that the truth always comes out eventually, I mean, you only have to look at the Roswell incident, or Jack and Georgia’s kiss on ‘Love Island’…
So, sod it, it’s time to spill…
Aye Aye, Spy!
I’ve always fantasised about becoming a Spy- it’s just a dead sexy job, isn’t it? I mean, yes, I’ve always fantasised about becoming a lot of things- a Princess, a Superhero, a Someone Who Has A Discernible Thigh Gap, but being a Spy just has the edge, doesn’t it? Who doesn’t want to put, ‘Spy’ on their Bumble profile?
Toe Be Or Not Toe Be
When I think of a Spy, I imagine Bond Girls, dripping in foreign accents, slinky weaponry and career-limiting co-dependency issues. I envision bare knuckle fighting, lots of leather gear and dodgy fake passports (or maybe that’s just Waltham Cross town centre on Market Day) but to put it simply, Spies are, quite simply, everything and somehow between puberty and now, I’d imagined I’d be plucked from obscurity to become one, my intellect flashing bright as a flare, alerting some (hot) MI5 Operative to my greatness. However, I was clearly not as shit hot as I’d thought, because by the grand old age of 39, I was still waiting to be discovered, semi-patiently twiddling my thumbs in suburbia. ‘The Next Mata Hari’ I was not. The only surveillance I was getting up to involved watching with horror as pesky hairs began to grow out of my big toe. TMI, I know…
I was aghast. Had MI5 not SEEN the results of that ‘Could You Be A Spy?’ quiz I’d done on the Daily Mail website? Had they not observed my ability to lie through my teeth while taking back clothes I’d already worn, but couldn’t afford to keep (sorry Retailers!)? Had they not even noticed my well impressive accent skills on my acting CV (apart from Irish that is, cos its like really feckin’ difficult)?
Spot Squeezing Porn
But then a break in the clouds… I was surfing Facebook one day, poring through videos of cats and spot squeezing porn when up popped an ad. It was a black square with the text written on it in white in the most ‘basic bitch’ Word font you could ever drum up. Clearly this was a ‘no expense spent’ ad campaign. It read:
“Do you want to be a Spy? A TV Show are looking for applicants to be trained by MI5 to become just that…”
‘Ello, ‘ello! My heart was pumping blood like a Vodka Luge at a hen do. Underneath the text, in even smaller basic bitch font was a link to a website where there was a billion-page form to fill out with details about your background, education, sexual proclivity, terrorist activity (I think having none, was preferable), and various disclaimers asking me to sign away my kidneys etc.
Of course, I filled that mother out. All a billion pages of it. This was my chance to go undercover and well, I guess wear different wigs and lipsticks and shit. I was on it, like avocado on a millennial’s sour dough toast.
Two weeks later, I got the call. I’d made it through to the first round! Based on what, I’m not entirely sure, but I’d frikkin’ done it! A researcher from the show asked me some very personal questions about my relationships with my loved ones, to the point I wondered if I was signing up for Dignitas and then she finally told me a bit more about what I would be letting myself in for.
At this point, you might be thinking, but hang on a minute Alexis, I thought you were trying (and mostly failing) to be an actress-writer as well as a mum-former popstar-former stand-up, I mean, the list goes on to the point where there just isn’t enough punctuation on this frazzled earth to cover my hyphenated existence? And you would be right, but rewind two years and I was just mumming-hyphen- feeling a little bit lost if the truth be told. I wanted to test myself, to see if I still worked.
Some Light Torture
The researcher was very sweet, her soft Yorkshire tones lulling me into a marshmallowy false sense of security. Apparently, although I potentially was to be subjected to some light torture, including sleep and food deprivation and I would have to lie to my then husband, my parents, even my own child about where I was for the next month, it would be a truly rewarding experience, one where I’d receive training from real life operatives. Well, that’s ok then…
The next step was to take the dreaded written exam, where MI5 and some other clever peoples would set those of us who had been shortlisted a series of psychometric, ethical and mathematical tests. I hadn’t done an exam for years so this terrified me a bit- but strangely, I felt compelled to keep listening to her.
All my career as an actress, even as an almost popstar, I had felt that my brains had been overlooked in favour of my ‘look’ or ‘looks’, which ultimately I had no control over, particularly when record labels had assigned me stylists over the years who’d tried to fix me and make me less uncool.
This was a chance for me to be judged on how smart I was. Nothing more, nothing less. It was intoxicating. And anyways, I figured, if I manage to pull this spy shit off, it might boost my acting career, get my name out there and get me cast as a Bond Girl! Not like I let myself get carried away or anything…
I’m in! I cried, almost howling with desperation, all the while wondering how the hell I was gonna diarise being a spy around Baby Tumble Time sessions at the local library. What the heck- you’re only (moderately) young (and fast approaching menopause) once, right! Right?
The First Rule About Spy Club
Exam Day loomed upon me and my guilt grew larger by the day. I had been warned I mustn’t tell a soul what I was up to and I felt terrible. But this was Spy Club, wasn’t it and the first rule of Spy Club is that you don’t talk about Spy Club, so I shut the fuck up and started conjuring up an alibi.
The morning arrived and I went to an aircraft hanger somewhere in East London, as per the instructions. I dressed in a blouse and skirt, thinking this was good Spy chic, because I looked quite ‘blend in-y’ and yet smart and casual at the same time (Per Una did me proud- so much so that I didn’t even take the skirt back afterwards). I debated over wearing earrings though. Are spies even allowed to wear earrings? It’s a wonder that a big idiot such as myself even made it through the first round…
I looked around the room, taking in my spy rivals, my ‘spyvals’, totally expecting to see a sea of geeky-looking Mensa fodder and was surprised to note that quite a lot of people there looked… well … how do I put this… ’ a bit Reality TV’. I didn’t speak to anyone (mainly because I am a socially inept weirdo) and instead listened in to all the other potential spies’ convos, to see what I could glean:
“So yeah, I dun X Factor and then I was like gonna go for The Voice, but that Will I Am’s a bit of a cunt, in’t he?”
I overheard, to my horror. I say to my horror because a) Will I Am could never be categorised as a cunt. and b) I realised that whereas I’d thought I’d signed up for an intelligent and challenging life experience, I might as well, in fact, have just put my name down for ‘Love Island’. I needed out…
Exit Stage Left
I started to make my way towards the door when I heard a familiar Yorkshire lilt, ‘Alexis!’ she yelled, and I turned to see a young girl I now realised was the researcher with whom I had spoken on the phone. I told her why I was leaving and she reassured me, pointing to one of the wannabes in crop tops, “They’re just some ringers we’ve thrown into the mix” she said, noticing my panicked expression and we smugly nodded silently at each other, like we were two friends with a secret; two superior snooty friends who looked down on people in crop tops misguidedly bought from Misguided. I felt like a right bitch but at the same time, I was relieved.
Just at that moment, we were all called downstairs into the basement for the written exam to begin. It was hard and some of the ethical questions were tough to answer but I opted for honesty, even if it isn’t always the best policy when you are like a proper spy and that…
I heard nothing from Miss Yorkshire Lilt. I resigned myself to living out the rest of my life as a Not Spy and then whilst I was bathing my baby daughter one afternoon, I got the phone call.
Shit, It’s Happening…
“You’re through!” Squealed Miss Yorkshire Lilt. I’d passed all their tests, with flying colours no less. She had me by the balls now, eager to jump through hoops as I am, once I’ve invested. There was no getting out of this now. She excitedly ran me through how the next few weeks would look and where they would be filming etc and well, I realised I would have to lie to my entire family about where I was for a whole month. Could I even do that?
Shit was getting real, both figuratively and literally as at that exact moment, my daughter did a large but perfectly formed poo in the bath. It was the first and only time she’d ever achieved this and I was shocked and equally sorta impressed. “Sorry, I have to go,” I said, “I get it, you need time to think”, Yorkshire Lilt said, “Er no, it’s just my daughter has just done a poo in the bath”. I hung up, utterly freaked out at the prospect of my new life as a spy. Was I ready for this? Was the poo a bad omen? So many questions…
A few days later, I had to sneak out to see the show’s Psychologist at their offices, to check I was sufficiently mentally stable to handle the experience, whatever that might be. Once again, he flirted with the words, ‘torture’ and once again, I found my eager-to-please self saying, ‘Torture? No problem!’. I had even started packing, in true OCD fashion. Do you need to take your passport when you go undercover or does that defeat the purpose?!!
And then a week before I was about to go undercover and abandon my family, I had a crisis of confidence and I bailed. No more Mata Hari. I thought about where this experience would lead and none of the options really fitted in with my life plan. I realised I’d just wanted to be chosen. To prove something, anything to myself. It was a harsh lesson, but a good one.
And anyways, I was never gonna look like this, was I?
Not when inside, I’m just:
So I went back to the warm and safe world of acting, where you always know where you stand, where you only need pretend to be a spy and at the end of the day you can just come home, take off your costume, sit back and watch ‘Love Island’…