We were the hot celebrity couple in public, and a normal goofy couple in private. We lasted just over four months. Time enough for me to meet her rock-star-wannabe brother Ryan (and give him a free live session in the stations recording studio to give his band The Four-nicators a plug) and she briefly met Dad and Liz over Christmas time. I think Dad got quite a shock when he met her. When he heard I was dating a Page 3 girl he thought he’d be meeting an air-headed bimbo. It was the only time in my life the man admitted he was wrong. They both loved her, Liz especially. Even my brother, who has never met her, referred to me as ‘a lucky sonuvabitch!’ He was right. Just a shame I didn’t realise it! It was around the time we were having problems. I thought we were moving too fast. She was always saying there was no pressure. I always felt that there was. She started to back off saying she was giving me more space. I thought she was getting ready to leave. She saw me at a party, pissed out of my head with two of her colleagues practically wrapped round me. She demanded to know what I was doing. I laughed. She stormed out. I’m pretty sure that’s how it happened. It’s been pieced together by things people have told me, and pictures and apparent eye witness accounts from people who had managed to get in to this exclusive party and sell their stories to the highest bidder. Of course the papers and the vast majority of the countries male population rejoiced. ‘Sexy Suzy Single. Dan The Serial Dumper Strikes Again!’ That was the most stupid name. Made me sound like I was constantly...well, going for a dump! They had to stick their oar in a little more. One particular paper (which I wouldn’t even use as bog roll - you’d end up wiping more on than you’d take of!) wrote ‘Sorry Suzy, but we warned you!’
Of course I tried to make things right. But there was no chance she was going to let me back in. “Why should I?” she screamed at me the last time I saw her, trying to hide behind her half-closed front door. “You never trusted me, why should I give you that chance with me again?” She said she didn’t know who I was, accused me of constantly being Dan Shears: DJ & Media Whore - never “just Daniel”.
After that I buried myself between work and various glamour models breasts. I started holding bigger and better parties. People could pick up the guitars. They could download porn. They could shag in the recording studio for all I cared. (They might as well have. I did on several occasions!) In short I became Dan Shears: DJ & Male Whore. Weirdly though my star shone brighter than ever - ratings climbed and climbed, we won a couple of industry awards which people keep telling me is a good sign of a National Broadcasting Award. And yet it didn’t feel like the success was mine, nor that I deserved it.
About three weeks ago I was in the stations bathroom, just splashing some cold water on my face after a particularly energetic hour on air. I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognise the person in the reflection. Remember that last episode of Twin Peaks? Kyle Maclaghlan threw his head in to a bathroom mirror, pulled back smiling maniacally and smiling back at him even more maniacally was some weird demon guy? (I’m a bit hazy on the details. I never really saw the series and only watched the last episode early one morning when I couldn’t sleep and was delirious with a flu/medication induced fever. Scared the shit out of me though!) Well anyway, that was me. Only without the maniacal grinning bit, or throwing my head in to a mirror ’cos that’s just stupid. If I’m honest with you it was like looking at a face made of stone. No emotion at all. Just...nothing!
Later that week the email from Lucy about the first change of venue for the wedding/reunion came through. It felt inescapable. The time was already booked off. Originally I hadn’t been invited to the wedding in Bristol, problems with numbers apparently. But I’d booked the weekend and the following week off anyway. I’d decided not to go to Spain or Australia. At least this way I had a better reason than “I’d rather just stay at home and chill”. It was fate. Destiny was sending me back to Bournemouth, the root of all my problems.
Edward Time’s now pinned between a couple bad guys and a solid brick wall. Bullets are whizzing past him just inches away. The picture pans down to a timer on a crudely constructed home-made bomb, counting down. Tick…tick…tick… My hands are shaking. I’m terrified!
* * *
We’re about half an hour out from Bournemouth. I’ve just sent a message to Lucy telling her my progress. She says she’ll be there to pick me up. My mouth is bone dry. I’ve drunk a litre of water but that’s only sent me to the loo three times in the last half hour. My hands are still shaking. I’m trying to shake out the nerves by tapping random rhythms with my fingers on the fold-away tables. Judging by the looks on my fellow travellers faces I probably shouldn’t do that any more.
So ‘why so nervous?’ I hear you ask. Well it’s been a while. Just over six years since I was last in Bournemouth. And for me it’s never the location, it’s more the people that make somewhere feel like home, and since both Dad and Jason had done the smart thing and left the country there was never any reason to go back. Especially since some former so-called friends wanted nothing to do with me.
Anyway, back in the school days everything was planned for me. I would go in to the family business, and end up co-running Sterling with Jason. My brother is a couple of years older than me. He was born with the brains for this kind of empire. Dad had started using him as a sounding board and idea fountain when he was five! He was a model student. He started his own mini-businesses when he was seven; nothing too imaginative - car washing or garden tending. But it was never the job that was his concern. It was the credibility, the reputation that came with doing a job well. He was born the finished package. Me, not so much. I was less concerned with business and more with what would happen in the latest episode of Airwolf. Entertainment would have been my speciality in the hotel business. I studied all media – music, TV, film. Watched video of old programmes like Fawlty Towers and Monty Python. I spent much of my formative years in front of the TV, which Dad hated (except when Monty Python came on. Then he’d actually laugh for half-an-hour). He tried everything to get me on board the hotel train. Tried to bribe me with expensive holidays, offered me money in exchange for doing better. He tried everything short of tying a tray to my hands and following me around the hotel restaurant cracking a whip at my backside. I just wasn’t interested.
When I was sixteen he stopped trying to bribe me and sat me down for a talk in one of the Sterling Grand’s lush boardrooms. He admitted straight away it wasn’t his idea, but his assistant Liz’s. For the first time he asked me “What do you want to do?” And I was silent. Partly with shock, he’d never tried the direct approach before. But mainly because I didn’t have an answer, which probably concerned him even more. It was rare that I never had a comeback. We sat in that room for three hours with a whiteboard and some pens, devising a chart to try and ascertain what skills and desires I had. It was impossible. I was an average student with a seemingly low attention span who was occasionally summoned to the head-masters office for unruly behaviour. Dad shook his head. He must have wondered where he’d gone wrong. “Do you even want to be part of all this?” he asked waving his hands around the room, at the vast empire he’d created with his bare hands for his sons to inherit. Eventually I shook my head. If I was one of his employees I know he’d have fired me on the spot and personally kicked me out the front door propelling me over the cliffs with a barrage of verbal abuse until I crash landed in to the sea below. But instead he was remarkably composed. He told me he accepted my decision - the hotel business wasn’t for everyone. Even made a joke that maybe all the business side of him went in to Jason, and that whatever was left went in to me. “We just need to find out what’s left” he said, standing and walking round the room. “And until we find out what that is I’m giving you no other choice. After school you will attend Bournemouth University. There’s a BA honours course there in Business Studies, with an option to choose another subject along side. That’s your decision. You will finish and graduate that course. You will have a qualification, something tangible, to fall back on. When you’ve figured out what you want to do with your life you come and tell me. I promise I will support you no matter what. But you will finish that course, do you understand me?”
It was hard not too. It had been made quite clear. I didn’t know how I was going to get in to the course with the grades that had been predicted for me, but I didn’t mention that. Nor did I protest. It was clear this was my final chance before I ended up like a bad member of the hotel staff. Firm, but fair.
I buckled down, with my brother’s help. Jason didn’t bother with University. I guess what with everything he’d learnt on his own he was years ahead of anyone else his age. Instead he’d ended up co-managing The Grand so Dad could concentrate running the other hotels. He helped me through my GCSE’s to gain respectable grades – mainly B’s and C’s with an A- in English. I got accepted on to the Business course, and still with no idea at all what I wanted to do with my life I started university. That’s when I got shown a whole other life.