Breathe a deep sigh of relief, fans of reality TV and the overuse of the word ‘literally’, for Made in Chelsea returns tonight (E4, 9pm). Tremble with anticipation as we wait to witness the fallout of their Gallic gallivanting in this summer’s South of France spin-off.
Unless, like me, you follow them all on Instagram and are a regular worshipper at the altar of the Sidebar of Shame, you will be unaware of what the gang have been up to for the past few weeks.
In a bid to find out, I sat down with the cabal – divided into intimate factions – in the basement of Channel 4 HQ. As we all know, the private lives of SW3’s elite are classified secrets, subject to Game of Thrones-style code-clearance confidentiality, so digging for dirt is no mean feat. Armed with no spoilers, no press release, nought but a dictaphone and the deadliest tool in my journalistic arsenal – my femininity – I did my level best. Here, I present my findings.
THE BOIIIIIS ARE BACK
That’s right, the self-proclaimed ‘Lost Boys’ have returned to the show, to the delight of friends and fans alike.
“It was nice to have some time out,” says Proudlock, “It’s like coming back to one big family, but this time I’m doing it with a bit more humour, and some more lighthearted scenes.” It was hard-hitting stuff before, I agree.
“I’ve been away in the wilderness for a few years,” says Boulle, who’s been living and working in Ghana. “My entire life was working out there in a harsh environment. I love what I do but the show’s always been very welcoming, but it’s never been the right time to come back. You need to recalibrate your compass. But I thought coming back would be a really great opportunity to promote a cause I’m passionate about. To save the pangolin.”
“They’re the most poached animal in the world, more than rhinos, elephants and tigers combined. Chinese black market wildlife traders sell them to restaurants in the Far East and sell their scales for Chinese medicine. Every day at work in Ghana I’d drive past poachers, and it’s such a tragedy – people just aren’t aware of how endangered they are. So I wanted to launch this campaign – PangolinSOS.org,” he says, speaking pointedly into the dictaphone.
“I’ve had a ten-season break,” says Frederik. “It wasn’t that I got sick of the show, or needed a break, I set up a company selling art and I couldn’t manage both of them at the same time. But I missed doing it, and I’m not doing that job anymore – I’m doing music – and I got the call. It happened at the right time. It’s a much bigger operation now, and the snacks are better. Now it’s hummus, Waitrose stuff. It used to be Wimpy burger.”
The trio begins to reminisce about those halcyon Wimpy days of 2011, McDonald’s orders, their favourite flavour of McFlurry (Flake was Proudlock’s, if you’re interested, before changing his mind and choosing Creme Egg.)
I ask whether Proudlock wears so many rings so he can defend himself when people start on him for being a toff. As usual, I am correct. “I have this crow head one so I can rip their nose off, basically, or come in from behind and fishhook them.”
What can they tell me about the new series? You guessed it–- nothing! But when Boulle is pressed on his accidental love-triangle with Olivia Bentley and Georgia Toffolo in Cannes this summer, he says, “Olivia and I had a great connection, we had a good time. Who knows what the future may hold.”
Proudlock – who owns a fashion line – offers to mend the rather gaping and regrettably revealing hole in my dress, and I am ushered out of the room before I can take him up on it.
OLLIE LOCKE WOULD LIKE TO GIVE THERESA MAY A BLOW DRY
“When you join Made in Chelsea, you look fantastic, but give it a year and a half and you become far more beautiful. You realise you can get your eyebrows done, your lips done, all for free! I think Theresa May will realise this, and become quite a fit Prime Minister, actually,” proclaims Ollie Locke.
A contender for the fittest PM we’ve ever had? “No – that’s Cameron, definitely,” he says. “Fittest politician, David Miliband.”
“NO!” says Georgia Toffolo, who’s incidentally been drunk-tweeting Theresa May, and wants to talk to her about some policies, but thinks she’s “doing quite well”. “Zac Goldsmith. I’m obsessed with him. He’s so f*****g good looking. I can’t even. I’ve got a real thing for him, I went to Barnes Film Festival just because I knew he was going to be there.”
Ollie chimes back in, “I met Ed Miliband once. I told him I was on Made in Chelsea, he said ‘I’m sorry, I’ve never watched it’. I offered to send him the boxset, but I never got round to it. He’d probably have quite a lot of time to catch up now.”
Also in our midst is new castmember Emily Blackwell, who’s 20, a model, from Surrey, and is a friend of Jess Woodley. She says she’s enjoying the experience so far, but doesn’t get a chance to launch into what would be (I assume) a Lacanian discussion of her apprehension to watch herself on-screen and the upcoming Mirror Stage identity crisis, before I move onto Stephanie Pratt, who’s been playing on her phone and whom I would rather like to probe about her relationship with Joey Essex.
“He’s so nice. He’s Skyped my family in LA, and I’ve been to Essex to meet his – I love it there! He has a backyard, and a pool and a tennis court,” she boasts.
“You have one too,” Ollie reminds her. “But it’s shared.”
What a peasant – imagine!
“You’re right. I’ve got a pool and a spa and a tennis court in Fulham, but they’re communal.” “Gross,” I agree.
I ask how she feels now her ex-bezzie Lucy Watson has left the show. “Oh. Has she? Didn’t notice.” Right.
The discussion moves, inexplicably, onto burgers. “The best burger in London, besides Shake Shack, is the lobby restaurant at The Dorchester,” Steph declares. Ollie prefers the Chinese. “China Tang – I was there last night. Got s***faced. Lychee martinis the best you can get. Food heaven.”
I should probably force them onto the topic of Made in Chelsea, as the PR starts to glance at her watch. “Who has the most drama this series?”
“Me,” Ollie declares. “I don’t like someone very much. But I’m right. So.”
And that’s all I’m getting.
AUDIENCES GO SAVAGE FOR THE BOYS
JP, Sam Thompson, Tiffany Watson and Frankie Gaff are a giddy, excitable bunch. Sam especially can’t wait for the new series to start – and is buzzing that the boiiis are back.
“Proudlock’s a legend, Francis – we all know he’s a good man. Frederik, he’s ENORMOUS now.”
He’s even more pleased that Lucy Watson – his girlfriend’s older sister and a source of much contention and ire – has left the series. “It’s great for me, isn’t it? No more microscopes!” “Oh Saaaaam,” says aforementioned gilfriend Tiff. “I’ve never known the show without her, but I’m happy she’s happy.”
Casting our minds back to the group’s continental antics on Made in Chelsea in the South of France, Frankie Gaff was caught in hot water in an unfortunate web of lies to boyfriend Jamie Laing. I prod about how this was received by viewers and friends, and what follows is a rather unexpected discussion of pseudo-feminism, and the power of trolls.
“It’s the way you go about it,” says Tiff, who was caught out cheating a few series before. “I’ve done things wrong on the show and I didn’t get much hate. But generally, if a girl does it she’s a bitch, if a boy does it, he’s a lad.”
Boyfriend Sam disagrees. “We get a lot of s**t. I get the viewers, I get her sister, we bear a lot of the brunt, even when we haven’t done anything! People like Spenny [erstwhile Casanova cast member Spencer Matthews] made all these mistakes at the start, and then we’re not allowed to make any. But I’m just a human being, I’m growing up.”
“The audiences go savage,” says JP. “I think you have to take it to a level, but people hide behind a screen and take it too far sometimes.”
“That just means they’re enjoying the show, and that’s good,” says Sam.
“No, boys have thicker skin, generally. I think it goes too far for the girls – it can become too personal.”
Tiff’s experiences of trolling are a little closer to home. “I care more about what people on the show tweet – when you have an argument on-screen, and it airs, and they’re tweeting nasty things about you. I just think that’s not needed. That happened with Steph.”
“Bit of a keyboard warrior, isn’t she?” says Sam.
In real life, how much aggro do they get for being a posse of proud poshos?
“I got hit on a night out once, because of the situation with [ex-girlfriend] Binky at the time,” says JP. “He just cracked me in the face. People do start on you, but I just think, you’re the sausage, because you’re the one watching the show! If you don’t like it, don’t watch it.”
“I like it,” says Sam. “It means people are interested in my life. I think it’s so amazing that people actually care that much.”
Last question time again, and I need to come away with at least one nugget about the new series. “JP, are you back together with Binky?” I note that they looked quite cosy bursting through the revolving doors at Channel 4 early this morning.
“We shared a taxi on the way here,” he volunteers. “I’ve shared taxis with a few guys, JP.” I give him a raised eyebrow, the girls burst out laughing, the group tell me I’m delightful (accurately), and I am dismissed.
QUELLE SURPRISE: MARK-FRANCIS VANDELLI AND VICTORIA BAKER-HARBER HATE CHELSEA
The famously frosty Mark-Francis and Victoria have little time for their Sloaney pony counterparts in Chelsea and Fulham.
“I was born in Belgravia and then made in Mayfair,” says Victoria. “I hate Chelsea. It’s full of middle-aged women who all have the same short blonde blow-dry. But when I was younger I used to LOVE the King’s Road.”
“It’s for KIDS Victoria!” says Mark-Francis. “It’s not a place for adults! I live in Knightsbridge – the show made me move out of Chelsea. If you have children it’s fine, you can have a house on Cheyne Walk, [can you??], you have the nannies, and you just drive out of Chelsea.”
“I’m not into Fulham. Like, I would just not go there,” Victoria says.
Where would they go?
“Mayfair!” says an incredulous Mark-Francis, to me, a 25-year-old journalist who cannot even afford a packet of Mayfair fags. “5 Hertford Street, Scott’s,” – have they ever been to Stoke Newington, I ask?
“Not knowingly,” is the sombre reply.
“I’ve been to a rave in Brixton,” says Victoria brightly.
“We are a little unpredictable like that. I’m not a snob, I’m happy to go anywhere as long as I’m with My People,” he says.
“I think my nightmare would be having to go out with a bunch of rugby players. It would be horrific,” Victoria admits.
Back on message, is there anything they’re willing to tell me about the new series? That is, after all, why we’re here.
“It’s all about educating Toff. There’s so much she still needs to learn. We open her eyes to different things, take her out of Fulham to see different people and different perspectives,” Victoria says, with nary a hint of irony. “And Francis Boulle is irrelevant now.”
Last question – what was going on with that snog between these two in Monte Carlo?
“It was quite long actually, it was just abbreviated to a matter of milliseconds but it went on for quite some time. It’s just something that happens once in a while. We’d had a long lunch at Cipriani that day,” says Mark-Francis, apparently a sufficient explanation.
“I ate EVERYTHING, and I started to drink beer. I gained ten kilos this summer! It’s been so long – it went on from May until September!” Mental.
BLOGS AND JEWELLERY LINES AND BEING FILMED ARE, LIKE, SO NOT EASY TO JUGGLE
I’m now with Rosie Fortescue, Olivia Bentley and new cast member Julius Cowdrey, all of whom are reluctant to volunteer more than one syllable at a time, which is a challenge, but not an insurmountable one.
“Olivia and I have known each other since we were three or four,” says Julius, a singer-songwriter.
“Yes, we’re family friends. ONLY,” Olivia clarifies.
I ask a few vague questions about the series, to little response or avail. “We’ll just get into trouble if we tell you anything,” says Rosie, who seems disinterested in talking about herself or her life, which does seem ironic given the purpose of her presence this morning, and indeed of the programme on which she has appeared for five years, is to talk about herself and her life.
But she will say she’s optimistic about the new series. “There’s a fresh energy with old people like Francis, Proudlock and Frederik coming back, as well as new people all in it together. There’s good vibe.” Mmmmm.
When I ask what sets Made in Chelsea apart from other structured reality series, Olivia ruminates, “I think it’s the lifestyle. It looks so nice on camera, and people find it quite fascinating to see what we all do.” Quite fascinating, yes.
How’s new boy Julius adjusting to life on camera? “I already regret saying a few things, and it’s only early days.”
Does stalwart Rosie see herself on the show indefinitely? “I have my blog AND my jewellery brand, and it’s a struggle. There will be a day when it’s too much, and the show will give.”
NEW CASTMEMBER AKIN SOLANKE-CAULKER WANTS TO BE A POSITIVE ROLE MODEL
“Ak Attack, Captain Chocolate, Spencer 2.0” are a few of the nicknames boasted by new castmember Akin, a 26-year-old sports agent and school friend of Alex Mytton.
“I’m quite a chilled customer – and very laid back. I don’t really get caught up in the ‘he said/she said’ and ‘girl situations'” he claims, which is rather perplexing, given “‘he said/she said’ and ‘girl situations'” is the central conceit of Made in Chelsea.
“I don’t jump into relationships for TV purposes. I’m taking my time and having a look at who stokes that fire deep in my loins. Spencer Matthews is an idol of mine. I like how he did things. But I don’t have his turnover rate with the ladies. I’m very conscious of how I treat women.” I raise an eyebrow, as he begins to try and recite his phone number, before the PR interrupts.
“It’s a law of averages!” He laughs. “One of them will take it!” I’m flattered.
Changing topic – I ask whether it’s disappointing that it’s taken over five years for Made in Chelsea to introduce a main castmember of colour.
“Diversity is important – I offer a different voice which can only be great and get different audiences involved. But there has to be attention paid to not just putting a person of colour or of a different religion into the mix to fill a quota. I know the guys really well, I have personal relationships with a lot of the cast, so that’s why I’m here. Not the colour of my skin. That being said, I’m proud to be a young, HANDSOME black guy doing my thing. Little kids watching TV who see a lot of negativity will see something positive – not just black kids, but whatever you are. My being black is very much a side dish. The main meal is the show, and what we all get up to.”
Binky Felstead’s here, and has stayed quite quiet beyond laughing at the ridiculousness of her colleague until now. I tentatively ask about her situation with ex-boyfriend JP. “I’m confused, but happier. I take each day as it comes, and I’m trying not to overanalyse – which is hard given I talk about it every day on the show. He’s offering me the world and more, which is the nicest thing in the world, for any girl, but I’ve still got my guard up. It might be a case of it’s too little too late.”
How does she feel having strangers like me poking their nose in all the time? “It’s tiring, I kind of want to scream.” I feel her.
Thus concludes a surreal morning, as we’re set free and pour out of the building en-masse, and I’m off to Pret a Manger.
Made in Chelsea returns tonight, on E4 at 9pm.