“Charlie, Charlie, Charlie”
High pitched shrieking and applauding. Pink and red balloons bounce and head bang on the ceiling. A flourish of piano trills and trumpet fanfare. And Charlie appears, rushes on to the stage, dressed as a clown, ponking his red nose and lifting up his exaggerated eye brows. The crowd of pre-schoolers and their carers yell and stomp the floor. Charlie gives his best grin, showing off his Bugs Bunny teeth that probably predestined his profession. He waves cheerily to his fans, yelling, helloo, helloooo, hellooooo.
He does a wobbly dance, juggling oranges and apples which fall on his head and he falls to the floor. The kids are loving it. He wiggles his bottom at them and sticks out his tongue. His tongue is blue. Charlie says hellooooo, he yodels and the children double up with laughter.
Cheeky Charlie. Cheesy Charlie. Whatever you may call him, he’s the star of the kid’s TV. He’s the host with the most. That grin, those eyes. That yodel. The kids adore him. He’s on your screens from 6 am until 7 pm with his partner in crime, the cutely sexy Priya Jones. She’s not meant to be sexy, she’s a children’s TV presenter. So she lisps and skips and dons pink tutus on telly. But off screen, she’s a siren. Off screen, Charlie is – still Charlie.
Charlie lives in a posh flat in Twickenham. His walls are black and white and he has flat screen plasma TV. He has an amazing collection of Swedish porn and Italian Mafia movies. He has a stacked bar and a fridge full of smoked salmon and antipasti. He bakes his own bread on Sundays. He never watches himself on television.
He had a girlfriend, but she left him. She couldn’t bear it when her colleagues teased her of being a paedo. They didn’t know of course that her uncle had done unmentionable things to her as a child and then she had run away from home. Being with Charlie brought it all back. She ran away again.
Charlie sips his beer at the nightclub. It’s nearly eleven, and he should be in bed. He has to show up at work at 4am. His producer doesn’t like it when he has puffy eyes. But there’s this girl he’s digging at the moment. She’s flashing her tits as she dances. Charlie wants to wait and see if he has a chance. She’s grinning at him now. He smiles and sips, his eyes closing to slits. Looking sexy, he hopes.
She comes up to him and nods. She knows who he is. Is that a good sign, he wonders. But she’s laughing and leading him to the dance floor. They grind against each other and she leans forward and kisses him.
“Past your bedtime, Charlie,” she giggles. “Do you want Mamma to tuck you in?”
Charlie cringes, but hey she’s hot. He can ignore the baby talk if she’s willing to shag. He glances at his Tag Heuer. He can spare half an hour. In twenty minutes they are gasping for breath in his car. But he has to go now. He gets her number and drives home.
As expected, his producer berates him for the puffy eyes. Priya Jones pouts in her polka dotted anorak. Her hair has pink ribbons and she’s wearing knee high polka dotted socks. She looks ridiculous. What’s she like out of the studio? Charlie wonders. He doesn’t know for she’s never invited him out. Nor he her. Professionals, that’s what they are. He’s going out with Anneke tonight. That blonde from the nightclub. He’s looking forward to that.
He takes her to a posh restaurant. He splurges on a Chateau Piron 1988 to go with the monk fish main. She giggles and runs her heels against the length of his trousers. They end up in his flat, where he’s changed his sheets to grey satin ones earlier on. Satin irritates his skin, but on a special night like this, he’s out to impress. He drops her home at 3:30 am. He doesn’t know her well enough to let her stay on. She doesn’t mind. She’s happy he’s asked her to see him again soon.
They shag for a month and then suddenly there is this coolness. Her mind’s not in it. He plies her with expensive wine and gives her sexy lingerie. But she’s not buying it. Finally she lets on. He’s Charlie, after all. Her daughter adores him. She cannot sleep with him, thinking that her little girl also dreams of the same man.
He shatters the wine glass against the wall. What the fuck does she mean? So what if he’s a children’s TV presenter? He’s making pots of money. He’s spending it on her. So where the hell does this explanation figure? No, she cannot do it. She mentioned to her daughter that she knows him and now Peaches wants to meet him. Peaches? For fuck’s sake, he laughs. You named her Peaches?
She slams the door on him. He’ll never see her again. He stares at the stain on his wall. I’m not Charlie, he screams. I’m Charles. Charles Tate. And I hate you, Charlie. You fucking loser.
Charles Tate runs along the river to forget who he is. He is panting and sweating and stops for a rest. He sits on a bench, looking at the ancient boatman ferrying Japanese tourists across the Thames. They take pictures of him, sitting on the bench, for it makes a nice photo against the autumn foliage and the golden sunset. A man in a blue track suit sets the scene well. They don’t know he’s a celebrity and that kind of feels good. Well, good because he’s not the right sort of celebrity. He’s the hero of the kiddy world. The world of tooth fairies and pirate-y aaarghs.
He wants a change. Asks his producer if he can take a sabbatical. He wants to take part in a porn show, he jokes. His producer laughs. The parents will be watching that, and then where will you go, Charlie boy? Enjoy it, Bunny boy; you won’t be here for long. But he’s been here three long years. And the kids are still loving him.
He doesn’t do family Christmases any more. At first it was fun. Hey Charlie, yodel for us. Hey Charlie, sit by little Suzy. She wants a picture to take to class. Hey Charlie, where’s your clown costume, mate? Charlie, the star, until it got boring. The demands from the family, cousins, nephews, nieces, step-something, everyone wanting a piece of him. Doing his act. Making a fool, having a laugh.
So it’s Christmas in his flat. No Christmas tree in sight. A lovely lady makes up for it in her little Santa dress. Silk garters and steel toed stilettos. She imitates his yodel when she comes and she nearly dies laughing. He throws her out in her Santa dress, no coat. Maybe she’ll freeze to death. Good riddance. She yells and calls him names. He’ll be in the Sun probably, with that bitch screaming his name on the street. He doesn’t care. He’s had enough. Come the New Year and he’s outta here.
A holiday is Thailand will do him good. Where he can be a man. Have a good time. Yes, a holiday to the East. He’ll tell his producer that tomorrow. To hell with the show.
Charlie Tate is leaving the show. His producer begs and pleads. Take a break. Go do a porn film in Nigeria. But come back, man. We need you. Priya pouts and asks why is Charlie being such a prick? The producer shrugs. He’s running around, trying to arrange dates and new contract deals with Charlie.
Charlie lies on a beach in Thailand. He sips his tropical cocktail and grins into the sunset. Five days already and no one has given him the knowing eye. He’s attended all night raves on the beach, smoked marijuana and had a Thai sandwich experience with a souvenir DVD to take home. Charles Tate has come a long way.
But of course it doesn’t last. A squeal and a shout. Charlie Charlie Charlie. A gaggle of five year olds on their Easter break. Their mothers following suit, pointing excitedly. Why can’t he just love his fame? His lips stretch to that hideous smile. He can’t help it. He cannot ruin his reputation. He goes cross eyed and gives a yelp of a laugh. The kids love it. The mums are beaming. Autograph, they say, thrusting paper napkins at him.
He’s on coke now to go through the days. His producer isn’t returning his calls. He watches Priya skipping along, playing Red Riding hood to – this man, a tall young man dressed as a wolf, doing cartwheels as he chases Priya down the forest path. He’s ginger and has a toothy grin. Bet the kids love him.
He opens the fridge. There’s wilted lettuce and milk that’s thick white residue. There’s a whiskey bottle by his bedside. He’s hardly sober these days. He lets hair grow on his face, to cover up his Bug Bunny teeth. His trademark. He watches old reruns of himself yodelling and playing the fool. He’s freaking out but doesn’t know what to do. He wants his old life back. But he had taken the curtain call himself.
When he is found in his car, nearly naked and overdosed, he doesn’t make it to the newspaper. He lies in the hospital bed, staring at the fluorescent tube, wondering why he has survived. To listen to his mother weep by his bedside. Probably just for that. He will make it up to her. He will love her again, he promises. He will start a clean slate.
He’s cleaned up and ready to go. A new life, he decides. Away from London. A quiet life in the South West. It isn’t easy though. His little flat is painted sunshine yellow. He eats organic veg. He doesn’t own a television. He runs. He runs twenty miles every day. But the demons keep coming back. He cannot shake them off. Charlie Charlie Charlie in his sleep. They scream and clap. They laugh and try to touch him. No, he shouts, waking up in cold sweat. I am Charles Tate and you do not know me.
He has an appointment with a counsellor. At last, there seems to be a solution. A way forward. She will guide him through, rescue him. He sits in her cheery reception, gazing at the walls full of Warhol prints. His hands shake. He’s been dry for the past two days. But he can do it. He presses them between his knees and sighs.
At last she’s ready. He opens the door and steps in. She’s sitting behind a large walnut desk, smiling. Her eyes light up when she sees him. Charlie, she says. He falters. He sees picture frames on the table. Three children smiling at the camera. She opens her mouth to speak. But he turns away. He races out of the building.
Charles Tate runs and runs and runs.