I’m standing at the back of a derelict-industrial-unit-come-design-studio just off the main drag in Notting Hill and my set designer Jackie P is mincing around in stone-washed jeans that he had to lie down to get into and Vogue our production manager has one finger in her ear as she can’t hear her dealer on her iPhone and my crew are staring and Ricardo’s camera is flaring and Anne-Marie is under the spotlights trying to look sexy but can’t.
“Give me longing.” Flash. “Give me allure.” Flash. “Give me lust.” Flash.
Anne-Marie is the troubled teen-queen daughter of a major shipping family from Long Island, an It-Girl for a generation who don’t want to know, a party girl who doesn’t know when it’s time to get home. Her dad posted her to us with a plea for help to clean up her waster image but “trash is trash” as we always say.
“Anne-Marie, sweetheart,” Jackie P says with a camp flourish, “could you try looking more demure and less like a dead schoolgirl who’s been dragged out of a lake?”
Anne-Marie gives a pained look to no one in particular and goes back to contorting her nubile body into a pauper’s feast of poses – the hand-to-cheek, the coquettish over the shoulder, the arms-up-against-the-wall. Every pose makes her limbs flap and clap like a scarecrow in a thunderstorm. She looks atrocious and knows it.
“No, this just won’t do.” I pipe up, walking towards the set. “Anne-Marie, our readers want to see high fashion, not an awareness campaign for teenage bulimia. We need you more Marilyn Monroe and less Marilyn Manson. Change out of that ridiculous get-up and for heaven’s sake, wipe that powder off your nose.”
Anne-Marie puts her hand up to her rawboned cheek and carefully wipes white powder from her nostrils, letting little specks fall like dust in a snow globe. Tiny tears start to form, betraying the otherworldly deadness in her eyes. We’ve got twenty minutes to get three shots or we don’t get paid. I don’t feel sorry for her.
Anne-Marie makes her way into the office-come-changing-room twenty feet away with the girls from wardrobe and I saddle up to Jackie P and Vogue for an impromptu meet.
“This was a mistake, wasn’t it? She’s fucking hopeless.”
“Oh, I know,” Jackie P says, “this is what you get when you deal with Americans. They’re either fat as a basted turkey or thin as a wasted Somalian. They really are the most frightful lot.”
“Totally agree, totes agreemo,” says Vogue. “Screw ‘em. Screw this little never-gonna-see-her-twenty-first bitch and screw her sugardaddy. I’m giving her one more roll of film then she’s gone.”
“Vogue, babe,” I say, “her sugardaddy is paying thirty grand. We’re gonna get a decent shot out of this little passed-around-crackpipe if it kills her.”
“Wait here,” I say and then make my way over to Ricardo, who’s looking back over the photos on the video screen on his camera.
“Well?” I ask, “are any passable?
“Stevie baby,” Ricardo says, “every photo looks like a charity appeal ad. She’s just too skinny, I can’t work like this.” I put a hand on his broad shoulder, as I know how sensitive he gets about his work. Ricardo is a master-craftsman, a photographer for the ages. He should be working with the best of them, not with some scrawny, trust fund junkie with an eating disorder.
A piercing scream comes from the office. Tanya, our Saturday-make-up girl, runs out red-faced with Enya, the pedicure girl, behind her.
“Come quick, come quick!” Tanya yells, so excitedly that it’s hard to tell if it’s good or bad news.
“What’s going on?” Vogue says.
“It’s Anne-Marie, she’s in the office, please come right now!”
Me and Jackie P and Vogue and Ricardo and some of the crew begin hurriedly making our way over the tarmacked floor to the makeshift dressing room. Inside, the room is dimly lit, save for the obscured light coming in from the filthy glazed window. There is a chair on its side on the mouldy carpet and a body hanging from a rope tied to the lamp high above.
“If she’s dead, do we still get paid?” I ask. “Someone check her contract.”
Ricardo goes closer to inspect Anne-Marie’s face.
“Give me front page,” he says with a smile. Flash.