I Was Not Ready for My Close Up

By Candy Gourlay

I have written guest posts for blogs elsewhere over the years. I thought it would be a good idea to archive them here on my website. Here's one I wrote in August 2011 for the now defunct Storyblog. 

Candy Gourlay on camera

I love taking pictures but I hate having my photo taken. I can happily go for years without having a single picture taken of me.

But last year I became an author.

Candy at a school visit wearing a paperbag on her head

Suddenly I was being photographed all the time.

‘Grin and bear it’ doesn’t do justice to what that’s like. I mean, in my neighbourhood, one of the mums described me as ‘never knowingly combed’ …

So when I went home to my native Philippines last year to launch my debut novel Tall Story, I was a little bit nervous to discover that a few of my old contacts had their own TV shows – and wanted me to appear as a guest. For anyone with hopes for appearances on TV, I have three bits of advice:

1. Try not to melt.
My glamorous big sister Joy - an ex ballet dancer and rock singer who has always despaired about my non-attention to appearances – decided to take me in hand.

My big sister Joy (left) has always been the stylish one in our family. My favourite outfit in those days were these dungarees – because I thought they made me look like Hank Ketcham’s Dennis the Menace, a naughty predecessor of Calvin & Hobbes.

So on the morning of my appearance on the cultural programme Illuminati, Joy got me up early, made sure I had a shower, combed my hair, applied make-up, and then, to make sure I didn’t melt in the sweltering Manila heat, had her husband drive me to a taxi rank so that I could arrive at the studio in air-conditioned glory.

I climbed into the taxi. Uh oh. It was like stepping into a small oven, Gas Mark 4.

“Sorry, Miss,” the taxi driver grunted. “The airconditioning isn’t working.”

As the taxi careened away for the 40 minute journey in Manila’s creeping traffic, I sat as still as I could, trying to control the flow of perspiration with techniques I’d learnt from a recent X-Men movie.

Screenshot from The Toughest Place to be a Bus Driver

If you’ve never experienced Manila traffic, you need only skim through this documentary The Toughest Place to Be a Bus Driver. Plus it’s hot and humid, the grime of pollution embedding swiftly in your hair and complexion.

I wasn’t that surprised when one tyre suddenly blew off.

The driver seemed unperturbed. He calmly swerved dangerously across the path of a bus then swung us up onto the pavement. “It’s not far from here. You should just take a jeepney,” he said.

Screenshot of jeepney swerving from The Toughest Place to be a Bus Driver

In fact, I had to change jeepneys twice.

It would have taken longer if it hadn’t been for a tidy looking woman who noticed my pathetic attempts to engage a grumpy jeepney driver. She firmly told the driver that he should look after me, then gave me clear directions as to where to jump off.

She was wonderful. I have no doubt she was a school librarian.

Thankfully, I had not totally melted away by the time I got to the studio to meet Illuminati’s hosts, Krip Yuson and Trix Syjuco.

Krip Yuson and Trix Syjuco with a copy of Tall Story
I knew the author Krip Yuson from good old bad days of the Marcos Era. His co-presenter is Trix Syjuco, a poet.

2. Be sure you know what language is spoken on the programme

Out of its 175 languages, the Philippines has designated two as official: Filipino and English.
Sadly, after 22 years in the land of Shakespeare, though my Filipino is great for a conversation, it is not quite up to the standards of intelligent broadcasting (To be honest, my Filipino was never great – I spoke another language until I moved to Manila as a child).
Anyway, you’d think a programme called The Morning Show would be held in English, right? Wrong.
Make up on the Morning Show
This time, there was a room with a nice woman who put make up on anyone who walked through. If we hadn't restrained her, she was quite happy to put some on my husband too. Tempting.

The moment we emerged from the make-up room and entered the studio, it was clear that I might have a bit of a struggle.

The presenter Nikki Jimenez – a lovely if annoyingly well-preserved friend from university days – was moving from item to item in sparkling, flowing, vivacious Filipino.

“Well, you’re in trouble,” my husband, who had come along for a laugh, observed mildly.

I briefly considered returning him to the make up room for some eye shadow work.

Candy Gourlay appearing opposite presenter Nikki Jimenez on the Morning Show.

Then it was time.

I was waved unceremoniously onto a set with two high stools (be sure to sit on the edge, I warned myself, to restrain any tummy bulging). A man swiftly put his hand up my back to install a microphone.

There was only enough time for Nikki to say hello long-time-no-see and then there we were, live nationwide on morning TV.

Nikki launched into her introduction, again in flawless flowing Filipino. I desperately tried to remember the words for ‘literature’, ‘author’, ‘characters’, ‘plot’. And how was I to translate ‘Tall Story’ ?

The Morning Show set - Nikki Jimenez interviews Candy Gourlay

Then Nikki turned to me and said, “Good morning!” … in ENGLISH!

If you watch the video of the Morning Show interview on YouTube, you will notice that I managed not to fall at her feet screaming “Thank you Thank you Thank you!!!!”

But the relief is palpable.

3. Wear appropriate clothing.

I guess this tip only applies when you have to go to another country to be worthy of being featured in the media. My final TV appearance was shot just before we went home to England after more than a month in the Philippines with unreliable laundry facilities.

Obviously, I had run out of clothes appropriate for TV appearances.

The only presentable thing I had left in my suitcase was a pink linen jacket that I never got to wear because the weather was too hot even for linen.

My sister Joy would have known what to do. But she was not available to perform a fashion rescue.

So though I looked like this:

Candy in Pink Linen Jacket

I really felt like this:

“Ma’am,” the cameraman said, as he watched oceans of sweat exploding from my forehead. “Maybe you should take your jacket off?”

I refused.

The jacket you see, was all I had on.

Soon after, we left the Philippines for London and I never did get to see that particular clip … but if you ever get the chance, please take pity on me and don’t look too closely.

The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth like the ungentle sweat flooding into my blinking eyes as I do my best to sound like an articulate author.