Poor Celia Smollensky! It was way back in 2017 that I killed her. It made me sad because I liked Celia. She made me laugh. But unfortunately she had to go. I’ve killed others since, of course, but she was my first and so my most memorable.
Celia was, you see, a character in an early draft of Note to Boy. I enjoyed writing about her and her antics but I realised, amusing though she was, she was not adding enough to the story and, worse still, was in danger of slowing down the action. Sadly, I came to the conclusion that, to increase the pace, she was for the chop. Sorry Celia. And along with her went another fun invention: the Fash Tash.
But in writing, nothing is ever totally lost. Today, Celia Smollensky lives again! As the awards season looms, I present this exclusive snippet that didn’t make it into the final edit of Note to Boy. In it, we meet Celia as she prepares for a big red carpet event, with the help of self-styled Queen of Carnaby Street, Eloise Slaughter.
Hope you enjoy it!
A FASHION PHENOMENON IS BORN (from an early draft of Note to Boy)
Out of the blue, we were asked to dress Celia Smollensky, a friend of a friend of Bruno’s. You know, she played the lead in that TV series? The one about the police woman? What was it?
Come on, come on, Boy. I expect you to have these facts at your fingertips.
Oh yes, Sergeant Sally. Celia played Sally. She was to wear Heavenly Bodies to the British Academy Film Awards. All the stars were going to be there, from Dickie and Billie to Al and Robert. Celia wasn’t keen but she, like us, was desperate for publicity.
‘Our ratings have bombed since they put us up against The Bionic Woman,’ Celia told us. ‘My agent thinks wearing one of your gimmicky frocks might turn things round. I’ll do almost anything. All I ask is, please don’t let that weird gay couple anywhere near me.’
‘Trip and Dazzle?’ I laughed. ‘They’re not a couple. At least, I don’t think … In any case, you won’t even have to meet them. I’ll be doing the honours myself.’
I quickly regretted that decision. I thought I made a fuss getting ready for a big event. Celia was impossible. She insisted I was at her Mayfair house eight hours before she was due to turn up in Leicester Square. I had to get a cab straight from Annabel’s to pick up the gown we’d chosen.
The garment folded carefully over my arm, I was the last to arrive at her flat. A flutter of hairdressers, stylists and make-up artists swarmed in her wake, pulling and poking, snitching and bitching. Celia strode about in a green Chinese silk robe being obnoxious.
‘You can throw that lipstick out, it’s hideous. Watch it with that nail file or I’ll sue. I asked for freshly pressed orange not that muck.’
After ten minutes of this chaos, I’d had enough. ‘Out. Out. All of you,’ I commanded. ‘I can’t work like this. Go. Leave it to an expert.’ The truth was, I had a ferocious hangover and all that shouting wasn’t helping. After they’d bustled out, clutching their make-up cases and styling equipment, I sat Celia down.
‘You need to relax,’ I said. ‘No-one’s at their best when they’re tense. Just look at those frowny lines.’ I pressed my thumb between her eyebrows, where an ugly ‘v’ was forming. ‘So, let’s loosen things up with a little champers.’
I had an ulterior motive, dear reader. As everyone knows, the only cure for a champers hangover is … more champers. Three and a half bottles of Grand Cru later, with my headache fading, we made a start on getting her ready.
‘Firs’, yower ‘air,’ I slurred, hints of the West Midlands creeping in, I fear.
‘No probl’m,’ Celia beamed lopsidedly. ‘All my spikey cut needs is a shampoo ‘n’ a shake. Michel showed me how at Sashoonzz’.’
Maybe we washed it too much or didn’t shake it enough. All I know is, no matter how many times she ruffled her fingers through her hair or shook herself like a wet Labrador, or how many cans of lacquer we misted over Celia’s burgundy locks, they refused to spike up. Instead of fashionably tousled, her locks fell into a smooth, glossy halo. She looked like a librarian.
‘Jus’ stick yower ‘ead between yower knees in the taxi. Yow’ll be foine,’ I reassured. ‘Yower face now. We’re running out of toime.’
Indeed we were. Though we’d started at the crack of midday, all that bubbly had – as bubbly will – stolen the hours. Maybe we blacked out for an hour or two? Who knows? All I knew was, when I glanced up at the clock on the kitchen wall while sucking water from the tap, there was only an hour to go before Celia’s Leicester Square debut.
Luckily, Celia, as you may remember, dear reader, had a lovely face. It even looked good under one of those ridiculous bowler hats they used to make lady bobbies – even pretend telly ones – wear back then. Make-up would be a doddle, or so I thought. Squinting into those violet eyes, panstick wavering in my hand, I tried – despite the bubbly – to focus. I surveyed her face, her lovely face. A frown furrowed my brow.
Celia noticed the change in my expression. ‘Tell me s’not a zit.’
‘Not a zit,’ I said in the slow, even tones of the profoundly pissed. ‘’S’a hair. Upper lip. Long black fellow.’
‘God,’ Celia shrieked, clapping a hand to her face. ‘Get rid of it. Oh my god, those close-ups!’
Conscious of the minutes ticking by, I stumbled through the flat, rifling through make-up bags and tipping out drawers. Panic was rapidly sobering us up. A lot was riding on this evening.
‘Why-the-bloody-why,’ I shouted, ransacking the bathroom cabinets, ‘haven’t you got so much as a pair of tweezers, a lady razor or a tube of hair-removal cream in the whole of this sodding apartment?’
‘Don’t shout. My beauticians deal with my depilatory needs,’ Celia sniffed, her eyes filling with tears ‘And you sent them all away.’
Only half an hour till the car. Eight bloody hours we’d had to get her ready and now it was down to the wire. I returned with the only booty I could find: a roll of silver duct tape, a monkey wrench and some candles. ‘Don’t worry, I told her. ‘We’ll improvise with these.’
We started with the tape. After several painful yanks, I managed to remove quite a bit of skin from Celia’s top lip but not the hair. I melted some candlewax onto a hanky and slapped that on. Celia yelped as I tore the strip off. I examined the hanky. More skin but no hair. There was nothing for it. It was time for the monkey wrench.
After some nifty work, at last I held the hair up to the light. ‘Got you, you hairy bugger!’ I crowed. But time was still pressing. ‘We’ve only got a couple of minutes. Quick, bung the frock on while I do your lips and eyes.’
‘Oooh, that’s sore,’ she said, as I smeared on the lippy.
Quickly I outlined her eyes with kohl and loaded her lashes with mascara, while Celia unzipped the bag containing one of Trip and Dazzle’s most spectacular numbers, an all-in-one concoction of rags, flags, dusters and string, its bodice embellished by a chain, its plunging backline decorated with yellow fingers of wobbly rubber.
Holding it up, Celia pulled a face. ‘Good God. I know I said I’d wear anything, but really Eloise.’
‘Don’t be rude about my famous Rag Bag Look,’ I explained as she wriggled into it. ‘You’ll be a sensation.’
‘It doesn’t fit,’ she sulked, pulling twisted strips of material over her shoulders to form sort of straps. ‘It’s way too big.’
‘Stop moaning. This dress fits everyone. That’s the whole point. It’s flowing form liberates the female spirit,’ I told her, using a phrase I remembered from Cosmo. Celia didn’t understand it either.
‘What’s this flapping at the back?’ She reached behind and pulled at the rubbery strips.
‘It’s called a bustle. Made from those rubber gloves servants wear. You know, Marilyns.’
‘And this dirty old thing?’
‘A bike chain, with authentic black oil.’ I stood back to admire the full effect. ‘One last finishing touch,’ I said, draping a lime green feather boa round her shoulders. ‘There. You’re done.’
The doorbell rang. The car had arrived.
Celia slipped into a pair of silver lace-up boots. ‘What do you think?’
I gave her a last once-over. ‘Fabulous! – except the bit between your nose and your top lip.’
‘What’s wrong with it?’
‘Still just a tad red.’
‘I’ll splash cold water on it on my way out.’
‘Go,’ I commanded. ‘Go and knock their knickers off.’
Giving me a little kiss on the cheek, Celia swished into the bathroom to see to her lip, called out a cheery, ‘Here I go, shit or bust,’ and was gone.
I kicked off my shoes and poured out the last dregs of Grand Cru. Whether the gown would bring me the publicity I needed, I could only hope. As I raised my glass in a silent toast, I knew my future was in the lap of the gods.
The gods came up trumps. And how!
The following morning, Celia swept the board of the tabs. No-one else at the BAFTAs got a look-in. She was all over the front pages. As I promised, a sensation. Like Lizzie H in that Versace nappy-pin number a few decades later – another idea pinched from me. Celia was most definitely the woman of the moment. But it wasn’t her clothes that stole the headlines. What blew the papers away, what grabbed everyone’s attention was what was on her upper lip.
For you see, dear reader, when Celia had run into the bathroom to cool her tender lips, the towel she’d dabbed them with was black, new and very, very fluffy. Still sticky from the wax and the tape, her swollen upper lip met the dark fluff and – hey presto – a new look was born. The Fash Tash. I don’t remember who came up with the catchy name – me, probably. And that, dear reader, is the true story of how the trend for female moustaches came about.
The pictures were amazing. Celia in the foreground, grinning widely, eyes sparkling, totally unaware that a furry caterpillar had taken up residence on her top lip. By the time she did find out, it was too late. In any case, why should she worry? From that moment on she was in demand. An explosion of flashbulbs greeted her every appearance. Her picture was almost never off the front pages, sometimes accompanied by this little miss from the Midlands. I have pictures of us somewhere, strutting our stuff down red carpets and staggering out of nightclubs, both cutely mustachioed.
Note to Boy: I’ve seen those photographs somewhere. As my aman … aman .. as the person in charge of my archive, you should look them out.
Her particular look was what we later marketed as the ‘Thinnie’. Nothing too brash and overstated, just an adorable, pencil thin little face ferret. Think Clark Kent in Gone With the Wind and you’ll get the idea. It was only later, as the taste for ‘tashes grew that we became bolder, launching our more extreme styles; the ‘Dali’ and the ‘Wing Commander.’
Celia was signed to another two series of Sergeant Sally and was almost never off Parkinson. She even got a Vogue cover. And everyone, but everyone, was asking the same question: who was the genius behind her reinvention? What could I do, dear reader? I had to tell them. It was me, me, me. I created the Fash Tash. And this time, it really was. Of course, I never let on that it was a big fat mistake.
Next thing I knew, the press were camped on my doorstep. The Mirror did an eight-page special called ‘A De-lip-cious New Fashion’ – witty that, isn’t it? – featuring me and a bewhiskered model in a variety of poses. The Express ran with, ‘Famous Women as You’ve Never Seen Them’, illustrated with pictures of Queen Victoria, Princess Margaret, Fanny Craddock and other celebs all ‘tashed up’. The Guardian fashion editor ran an up-itself piece on ‘releasing your masculine side’. Whatever that means.
Before long, no high-fashion hairdresser was without a Fash Tash counter and Heavenly Bodies had branched out into its own Fash Tash Salons. I’ll never forget the proud day we opened one in Coventry, my home town. Back in the West Midlands for the first time in decades, I wielded the scissors to the ribbon myself, touched that Terry and Urse had turned out. A lump came to my throat as I surveyed my damp audience. More would have been there, I’m sure, if the weather had been more clement.
Moustaches for women were in. And so was I. I could do no wrong. Everything I touched turned to kerching. What’s more, there was not a peep from Kristina Krabtree to spoil my triumph. Why, dear reader? I must confess, there was a good reason for that.