“Hey!” your editor says. “I know this is a long shot, but would you like to cover the Brit Awards on February 8th? We’ve been offered a ticket. Really looking for someone to cover it from a ‘This Is What It's Like to Attend the Brits When You're a Non-Celeb’ type of angle, if that’s—?”
“Would we say I am a ‘non-celeb’?” you say back.
“How do you mean?”
“Well you know: I don’t know. ‘Non-celeb’. Seems sort of… I mean I’m not saying I’m famous,” you say, “but like. You know, I had that… book. I have a blue tick on both of the major social media platforms that aren’t TikTok. Once a month, like clockwork, a guy my age and with more or less my exact face approaches me in a pub and explains that his name is Tom and he really likes that worm article I did four years ago and he’d like to buy me a pint of Neck Oil, that sort of thing. So would we go so far as to say: ‘non-celeb’. Would we go so far as to say: ‘unfamous’, ‘unbeloved’—?”
“Charlotte from Geordie Shore is going to be there.”
“Charlotte from Geordie Shore is going to be there, in the same section as you, milling around, being Charlotte from Geordie Shore, taking selfies with all the cunts. Are you more famous than Charlotte from Geordie Shore?”
“Then I’ll report from the Brits as an unfamous person.”
You think about the Brits. Every year since you were born, they have been doing this, but you are struggling to actually think of any “moments”. There was “invoice me for the microphone”, of course. Geri Halliwell’s dress. And uh… well, you think Dua Lipa might have done a performance involving the Tube at some point last year? You’re Googling it now.
Hold on, this cannot be a real sentence: “Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott was happily watching Fleetwood Mac play ‘Go Your Own Way’ at the 1998 Brits when Danbert Nobacon, from the anarchist pop band Chumbawamba, leapt onto his table and emptied a bucket of iced water over him and his wife”. How is this possible. How is it possible that Chumbawumba attacked the deputy prime minister at the Brit Awards 24 years ago and you are just learning about it now. This should be on the curriculum. This should be what they use to sell the Brits. Not, “well, we’ve got Adele again”.
You are at the Brits. Or, well, no: You are in the queue to the hotel which is next to the O2 which, in just three-and-a-half hours, will begin to host the Brits. There is something very fragile about seeing people “glammed up” in stark, grey, daylight hours: There is something vulnerable about them, almost, the way they shield themselves with their arms or their coats to hide the shame of being more glamorously outfitted than the normal people walking past.
A lot of people just don’t really wear a suit with any sort of confidence or panache, you notice (you are wearing a blazer over a t-shirt and too much aftershave. You could have tried a lot harder), and this is reflected in the queue here. There are a lot of people who have misjudged the tone a little and are wearing a full tuxedo. There are a lot of like, sequinned jumpsuits, and lace-effect patterning, and ostentatious accessories. A couple of people have realised the Brits isn’t quite as “gown-y” as they thought it might be when they put the gown on earlier.
This is how you would dress if someone invited you to a wedding in Las Vegas, you think. Badly. Behind you, a man from the music industry absolutely cannot believe he has to queue, like this, with other people from the music industry. “Bro, mate,” he says into a phone that apparently is held up to your ear instead of his, based on how clearly and loudly you can hear the entire conversation. “I don’t have to fucking queue, do I?”
A pause. “Yeah because I’m in the queue.” Pause. “Yeah outside.” A pause. “The hotel.” The queue is about 200 people deep, but there are four people checking tickets. “Well can you not come and get m—? Yeah, no. Yeah. No, I guess I’ll see you inside.” He hangs up. There is a moment’s pause, in which the queue shuffles forward a good metre and a half. To apparently no one – maybe you? Maybe he is trying to talk to you? Maybe you are friends with him now? Maybe you are his best friend? – he sighs and says: “Fucking queue.”
Two minutes later, you are inside the hotel. The set-up here is this: All the people you just queued with are now in a big foyer, with a red carpet and a couple of pedestals that smiling hospitality workers with black jackets and headsets are stood behind, handing out wristbands that say, “DIAMOND GUEST” on them. You, too, are a DIAMOND GUEST.
You look at the wristband (green) strangling your wrist. You always, when someone puts a wristband on you, worry about how hairy your arms have got, whether those arm-hairs will get caught up in the wristband somehow, that you might accidentally wax a strip of hair off your arm when you remove it with nail scissors the next day. “Is this a normal amount of hair?” you think to yourself. The hair isn’t dark, but there is a lot of it. Is that normal? You pull up your phone and Google “evolutionary function of arm hair?”. You recall you are at the Brits.
You and everybody in London with an @warnermusic.com e-mail address are now stood in more or less the same place, and the atmosphere is— well, you want to say, “buzzing”, but there is not really an active buzz. It is more the sound of 2,000 people asking, “So how did you get here? Tube? Yeah. No yeah we Tubed it” all at once. There are some billboards that say “Brits” on them and a red carpet, so you can take your picture in front of a billboard that says “Brits” on it while standing on a red carpet, so it looks like you walked the red carpet, the one Adele goes down, with the Brits billboard and the photographers and a crowd behind a fence.
But you are not on that red carpet. You are on a separate red carpet, approximately 800 metres away, inside a hotel, asking a security guard if he can take your photo for you because none of your friends are here and you are literally on your own. Is this a red carpet experience? Logically, yes it is. The carpet beneath you is red and the livery behind you tells you where you are. But it also very much isn’t. It really very much isn’t a red carpet experience. You are having your photo taken inside a hotel. You are a DIAMOND GUEST.
You go up an escalator and wait staff are holding out trays of orange juice (no), apple juice (no), and champagne (sure). The tray with the champagne on is one of the ones with little slots in it that the flutes sit on and you are supposed to pull the flute up and out, not just out, which turns out to be like ten or 20 times more difficult than you were expecting it to be when you approached the guy holding the champagne tray.
Even though the whole incident takes what— three seconds? Four seconds? Five, at a push? — it is actually very gloweringly embarrassing how much difficulty you’re having with this glass and the tray thing, while the guy just stares at you (Are you stupid, sir? Have you never grasped a champagne flute before? Is this your first Brits?). Once it’s over, you take yourself off to a corner to look at your phone for a few minutes (it protects the body against trauma and also against UV damage) and compose yourself. You remember you don’t really like champagne. It tastes of apples and the headache you’re going to have in about two hours. It tastes like being polite to someone’s aunt while two people you don’t actually like that much take their wedding photos. You, obviously, drink two more glasses.
Technically you “have a table at the Brits” but in the same way you just “had your photo taken on the red carpet”, as in: You do, but you don’t. Your table, for example, is in a hotel behind the venue for the Brits. Dinner also starts at the inexplicable time of 5PM, and you have to vacate the table before the Brits even start. So to reiterate: You’re eating dinner near the Brits before Neighbours has even been on. To make a couple of thousand people leave the foyer in a timely fashion, there is a man on a wireless microphone who repeats, “Please make your way to your tables, the show is about to start” once a minute every minute for 15 minutes, which, as you can imagine, really gets you in the mood.
There is a whole palaver with you not knowing what table you are on, even though everyone else in the room knows exactly what table they are on, and you are seemingly the only person who does not know their table number – “no, it should be on your ticket?” a barman says, and then a security guy, and then a woman with a bulkier-looking wireless headset says she’ll “be back in just a minute” with “someone to help you” and then just never returns again. Another woman with a clipboard says hello yes, I can help, and then you show her your ticket and she just looks at it blankly, just quietly says, “no, that’s not right”. Anyway, we won’t get into the weeds with it, but eventually you sit down.
Above you, on the ceiling, a rigid metal frame hung with butterflies. Behind you, a DJ spins songs you forget you are hearing as soon as you hear them. There is a light show and two bored-looking tech guys behind a booth. In front of you, a puck of hummus wrapped with a slice of cucumber and some small blobs of what, despite you eating it and everyone else at the table eating it, you cannot quite identify. You all land somewhere between “taramasalata” and “purée”.
People keep asking what you do now you’ve left VICE. You left VICE a number of years ago. Are people still talking about VICE? You left VICE a number of years ago. You do the – no, hmm, they e-mailed to say they were stopping doing that. You sold that – no, well, that didn’t really go anywhere in the end. Oh. Ah. You’re going to have a mental health crisis again, aren’t you?
You realise with a clunk of dread that a very loud cabaret act is about to start. This is the curse of the DIAMOND GUEST: You are thrown on a tightly choreographed table with a number of industry people you don’t know but should know and just as you hit Peroni #2 and start to actually get into the swing of things (“Yeah it reduces friction, like when you’re walking. When you swing your arm. That’s why you shouldn’t shave it”), you are forbidden from talking because a ‘20s-inspired cabaret singer is really belting out a song and – oh, no.
She’s walking through the audience. Your table is in the exact middle of the room and that means the small round podium-style stage next to you – which you’d just dismissed on the way in, you put your champagne flute on it when you were desperately phoning the PR to check you “actually had a table” – is actually going to have a load of cabaret acts performing on it, you would say approximately two metres from where you are sitting, and while the cabaret acts perform everyone will turn the flash on on their phones and record the whole thing, your rictus face politely smiling in the background, even when the male stripper bends over and just fully shows arse, even when that happens, your fork still in your puck of hummus, even when that happens you affect a serene smile as if to say: This is normal, and I am used to this. It is normal that I am wearing a suit in a hotel and looking right down the barrel of somebody.
The compere is American and the audience is British. You don’t like to think we are that different, as nations, because you like all the TV they make and the movies and they do good books, too – I mean you can’t argue with the Great American Novel, can you – and their music and their comedy scene: I mean all of the culture you consume, basically, is inflected by the US, isn’t it. So you can’t be that different. But you do notice that when you’re not-quite-drunk in a room full of butterflies and an American is shouting, “Make some motherfucking noise London, mm–hmm!” that actually we are very different, like, as people.
(Later you will come back from the bathroom and the American compere is doing a sort of mawkish hymnal thing where she stands on the stage you just saw an anus on and sings, and there is a beaming choir of over-styled children, and she announces “thankyoutothe Brit School, the reason we are all here tonight!”. You forgot about the Brit School, didn’t you, but they are still out there, Britting. You try and get a good look at all of the Brit School kids. Statistically, one of them will go on to be the most famous person in the UK in about eight years’ time, so you want to get a clear look at them now, before they make it, so you have a story to tell, but also more crucially the rest of them will not. The rest of them will become nothing. The rest of them will just be in DIAMOND GUEST, here, with you.)
The guy on the wireless microphone is demanding things again, repeating “everybody please LEAVE YOUR TABLE and make your way over to the O2, where theshow’sabouttostart!” once a minute every minute for fifteen minutes, but there’s still a lot of alcohol left on the table so you stay and drink two more Peronis while the ballroom slowly empties. When you do finally get up, you are ferried through a hotel back door – past some bins, and an overlit portakabin – and then, suddenly, you are in the O2 Arena, the most vibeless place in the entire United Kingdom.
You remember your school trip to the Millennium Dome, don’t you. You remember all the pageantry and pomp of the new millennium. That special episode of Blackadder they did, all of that. And now, the Dome: the only reason you’ve ever gone to North Greenwich station, the beating heart of arena tours that can’t quite fill Wembley.
What did they build the dome on top of to so fundamentally kill the vibe there for 22 years straight? A plague pit, maybe? Some sort of ancient drowned slum? Back in Ye Olde Days, back when this was Londinium, you assume the peninsula was the site of some cursed slaughter – blood mixed with the deep clay mud of a swamp – and the spirits still haunt it here, evaporating vibes before they can possibly develop, making all the lights too bright in a way that tightens your skin, ensuring there is always a two-hour wait for Nando’s. We built a cathedral in honour of the new world and made every secondary school in the country visit it on a coach trip and then we shuttered it and turned it into a big hollow mall. We like to boast we are the nation that gave the world Shakespeare, but fundamentally we haven’t had any culture for 400 years.
In another Brits queue, this time at the O2.
Anyway: You are queuing, again. A disparate queue in front of and behind you: those music executives you dined with, people talking with security about the fairly insane new see-through bag policy, some teenagers, and then some very lux-looking people you quietly suspect are not famous exactly but are quite rich, and it’s taking forever to get in because everyone has to go through a metal detector and also everyone has decided to go at once. So this is you before the Brits, just you and several thousand people, stood outside a closed and shuttered Adidas store (why is there an adidas store inside the O2? Who goes to the O2 to buy Adidas? The spirits of the slaughtered peasants engulf you).
You have been in a queue before so you know how this goes: Everyone joins the queue and assesses the size of the queue and then tips their head back in agony, and then they queue for five minutes and do a restless leg movement and a few huffed laughs, and someone will say, “taking a while, isn’t it?” and other people will do a polite titter, and then all of the aggregate energy will, the closer you get to the end of the queue and the longer it seems to take, actually get quite angry, so by the time you’re all going through security everyone is pushing and shoving and trying to outmanoeuvre the queue, and one incredibly threatening-seeming bouncer type pushes through with some silent famous-looking-but-not-famous-just-rich types behind him, and when people say things like “Oh come on!” and other semi-polite queue-things, he just turns around and holds a finger to his lips as if to say “shh”, and you realise it’s genuinely one of the most threatening motions you’ve ever seen in your life.
All to get into the Brits.
At 8AM this morning, you realise you were meant to interview someone on YouTube Shorts to justify this entire article and also the trip to the Brits but you forgot, to do that, so you just have to make one up:
You: Is this thing…? Yeah, it’s recording.
A YouTuber: It’s recording?
Yeah it’s recording yeah.
So you’re… sorry, they did tell me. A YouTuber?
I have my channel, yeah, but we’re doing other things as well. I’ve just done a clothing line—
And there’s a new— err. It’s a new— what’s the new…?
The Brits is partnering with YouTube Shorts to give exclusive red carpet –
And the Unknown Vlogs, yeah –
It’s just “Unknown Vlogs”.
Is he the “bait out a sket” one who’s always in Stratford?
No he does the fashion vlogs.
Oh, like asking Drake how much his watch cost or something…?
What do you…
No, I was going to say: What do you. What do you think— do you think Unknown Vlogs would like my outfit…
[The tape detects a pause]
Eventually, you are on a slow-moving escalator assessing the queue beneath you like a disinterested emperor. It is here that you realise what you are: a warm body who has spent hours of your day fretting about what “SMART” means on the dress code, and nothing else. You have no personality and you have no soul. You are flesh without blood.
You look down at the crowd and realise that is exactly what it is, and what you are, too: a crowd. You are here to make the show look more popular when they air it on ITV later. You are there to make the noises that contribute to an atmosphere. You have been conned with the promise of DIAMOND GUEST and “VIP Level 1” into thinking you might be a somehow more important part of the show – a face – not a bulging morass of audience, like you might get invited into the dressing room after a football match, that you might tell Harry Kane well done on getting a goal, and that he will let you wear his armband.
But you are not that, and neither are all these people beneath you: You are a butterfly pinned to the ceiling, you are a decoration, you are set dressing. You are one of 50,000 blank faces Maya Jama will turn around to and say, “Are we excited, London?” and you, London, will say: “yeah”. You’re not anything. You’re not anyone. You’re nothing.
Ed Sheeran plays one of his songs with all the elan of someone’s brother you forgot was on the stag do with you and still uses his student discount in Burton’s. Adele gets up and accepts her award and says something like “cor fanks” and “I do love all of you” and “honoured”. Fundamentally, you think, as she sings one of her little songs and the audience sighs then shrieks with delirium, there is something very embarrassing about singing in public, isn’t there. Mo Gilligan does a fine job of just saying that there’s going to be a break. The crowd moves in and out of the bathroom in a mass. Most of the show is just spent trying to figure out where the person who is talking actually is (“They’re there” — you, one hundred thousand times, at the Brits).
The truth of the Brits is it is the party you are at while you are hoping to be invited to the better party, and you make attempts at this – semi-desperate WhatsApp messages you wince to look at the morning after, a “where are u?” Instagram message that won’t go through because the networks are all busy, a doomed trip to the third floor where you stand very close to a polite boy trying to keep people without wristbands out of the wristband area that you don’t have a wristband for, which, in hindsight, was very very embarrassing on your part, I don’t know what you were thinking.
Is there an afterparty? There are whispers of an afterparty. Maybe you can get into the Sam Fender one, you sort of know a guy who – well, he’s not at the Brits, but he can make the call. Maybe you could get an Uber to Pe – oh the Ubers have all already gone to Peckham? Oh, hmm. Well maybe not then because – oh, someone’s come back from the bathroom. You got any info on the Sam Fender party? Is it Chiltern or Groucho? Well, can we get in? I’m not going if we can’t get in. Well, what’s the deal? Well, why didn’t he text him?
You’re in All Bar One in the O2 and someone is crying. An Instagram story tells you there is a far better party happening somewhere else but you are not at it. Eventually you will get the Tube home but it turns out the Tube was not the Tube you thought the Tube was and then you end up in Embankment and getting home is fucking long. Was there an iconic moment to make up for all this, you think? How good was it when Anne-Marie fell over a bit, was that good? The cursed spirits of the O2 Arena whisper in the air:
you are going to have a mental health crisis again, aren’t you?