The Winning North, or, Newcastle and TV Talent Shows (What Secret Talents Have We Got and Who Voted For Christopher Maloney?)
In 2000, I dreamed of going into the Big Brother house. In the school common room at break, we’d talk about applying, look up the rules, the process, plan out our auditions. This was by no means the first reality TV we’d seen – Jack had a penchant for ‘The Real World’ in the nineties, mainly because no-one else we knew had seen it, and I’ve not forgotten the summer defined entirely by ‘Bug Juice’, an American documentary-style show about Summer Camp. It was something we lacked. I wanted it. Just as Jack wanted to live in a house like ‘The Real World’, then ‘Big Brother’. We grew up on the Isle of Wight, so we dreamed of going somewhere else, anywhere without a ferry journey separating us from civilization. Perhaps why that first dream saw us isolated with a select group of strangers in a prison-walled house. And each other.
We ended up in Newcastle, not really together, not much of the time, but now, more than ever, our reality TV fantasy is a threatening possibility. Location-wise, the region has spawned a slew of reality show winners. South Shields’ Joe McElderry has won two ITV reality shows, some of last year’s X Factor winners, Little Mix, were from Newcastle and South Shields, and this year’s winner, James Arthur, is from Saltburn, near Middlesborough. And, of course there’s Cheryl Cole and that orgasmic hair, which must be a wig at least half of the time, and a fucking good wig at that. In summary, we’re bloody good at winning things, presenting things once we’ve won them and covering other people’s songs.
Jack can’t dance and I can’t sing for shit. I don’t have a routine ready for ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, no marketable idea for ‘Dragon’s Den’, but people I work with are winning breakfast TV modelling competitions and singing down the phone for Simon Cowell. Often overlooked for bigger, more cosmopolitan cities with better funding and job prospects, what talent would Newcastle win with if it entered ‘Britain’s Got Talent’? On a TV contest, what would the city showcase, surprise us with, which could beat a dancing dog? Apart from, you know, glorified karaoke that pleasures Gary Barlow.
The Winning North
Jack says talent isn’t teeth bleach. I know this, hypnotised by straight lines, shine and post-brace rows. But we’re TV taught that talent hoop-jumps are makeovers, outfits free, celebrity endorsements and exposés at right times: when voting is low or over. My offering, small, like the Frankincense king, can’t gazump gold, or compete, even.
The people we meet are dexterous, apt, have uncategorisable talents, wouldn’t read the script that Cowell sets. I ask Jack who he knows, what he does that no-one’s noticed, and I can tell there’s blood behind his eyes, swilling, and he sips his can, but this is not one of his talents, no disrespect. He knows I’d five star him. He says, “I have this friend who knits every present, personally, so that it’s clothes you need or something you love – like sharks or dogs. I’m serious.” I ask for more.
“I know writers who can’t shout loud like some people or choose not to, drummers without permanent fixtures, critics with no platform, musicians in day jobs, models in the wrong location, really: there’s a force London move in careers and there shouldn’t be. We’re rich, really, momentarily, although the plug drain means there’s no priority and Nicole Scherzinger said we’re talentless when she came here and I’ve not believed an understood word from her mouth, but it hurts. And the funding goes, like a natural resource, a relic we’d museum-frame, Christian Slater.”
Jack asks what I know, who I know, who should’ve moon-stepped, could pinnacle it. But the list’s too long. There’s not one talent. But X Factor can’t be it. I watched it. I won’t fucking lie to you. I enjoy getting angry, and there’s so much to get vocal for: Gary Barlow’s hypocrisy, Louis’ bigotry, Tulisa’s delusions of grandeur.
The city, though, iconic, sure, but it’s celebration, that’s it’s talent. The people I know, in the North, know how to celebrate something: a new job, day off, birthday, anniversary, snow. Annie organised a parade, and John camped at Monument, and Ted made a blog to talk about change, and Kim had Christmas at her house. Events every night you could go to and absolute institutions: Tyneside, Hancock, Pink Lane. Links and ties and drinks and a trustable accent according to market research, fireworks, exhibitions in parks in winter and summer fairs and the Town Moor.
Organising’s not a personal pastime, not always, but it’s the talent of the city and the people in it. That flair that mean’s there’s complete love of place. And I didn’t feel that first, where I was. But now.