Dear former idol to whom I started and failed to finish a lot of letters throughout the years,
Hi. Wow. You are every bit as flawless as I’d imagined. And as friendly and witty and just plain charming. Honestly, I wish you were a bitch. It would make it easier not to blurt out ‘when I was 14, I had a shrine to you in my bedroom.’ Because I did. An actual shrine. There was a publicity still, one of your books, a cheap lemongrass-scented candle on a bookshelf, surrounded by pictures torn out of magazines. To this day, the scent of lemongrass makes me feel like a sexually confused adolescent.
Today, there’s no lemongrass. There’s just the smell of expensive coffee from the cafetiere that your hand hovers over, asking me if I want a drink, and the Chanel Allure I borrowed from my girlfriend this morning because even though I’m nearly 30, I still don’t have any grown-up perfume. I have to be professional, which means not asking you to pose for an Instagram pic, or tweeting that we’re in the same room, using half a dozen “!!!!!!” and our names followed by “#4eva.” I’ll do that later on Facebook, since everyone there remembers that I covered my pencil case with pictures of you cut out from the newspaper during that sex scandal. It was the borderline-obsessive fangirl version of Christmas that month, until the tabloids moved on to someone younger, thinner, dirtier. By that time, my status as the school dyke was pretty much established, and I didn’t even bother to fight it. If having that word scrawled in biro on my locker was the consequence of feeling that bubble of joy in my chest every time I heard you speak, then it couldn’t be all bad. The nuns put whoever did it in detention for a week and reassured me that I was going through a phase.
It’s a phase that’s lasted, one on which I’ve built a career. The same career that has led me to this small room in West London where you’re asking me if I take sugar. I say “no thank you,” even though what I mean is “please don’t disappoint me.” Or maybe “please do”. There were periods in my life when it was hard to do anything other than just look at you, in the papers or on television or on your book jackets. That was fine then, but now I have bills to pay and deadlines to meet and I don’t have the time to sit and count your freckles. They’re still adorable, by the way. I used to have every one memorised, or at least all the ones that showed up in the paparazzi shot, you know the one, where you’re on the beach, sprawled out on the sand sunbathing, with his hand on your thigh.
And I’m sorry if I’m staring. It’s not that I don’t often come face to face with the people who unwittingly got me through me teenage years; it actually happens with disturbing frequency. But you’re different, because with you, eventually, I knew. Don’t get me wrong, you are amazingly talented. It’s just that, in the end, that’s not all that caught my eye. And by the end of that odd, year-long infatuation, I had a word for it. I had a crush on you. A year later I had, and acknowledged having, crushes on other women too. The names piled up as the years went by, and suddenly I’m 29 with a ring on my finger in a country where it’s almost legal. And you’re standing there, handing me a cup of coffee, and all I can say is “thank you.”
Yours, in a way that you don’t know and would probably mildly freak out about if you did,