Whichever way you look at it, the balloon arch is fucked.
I'm made aware of this after hearing a roar and swivelling on my heels to see Charlotte Crosby – reality TV star and proud owner of the biggest gob in the north-east – with a look of pure terror on her face. She runs past me, past all the PR people, journalists and family members standing in the cavernous reception area of her house, past her imposing marble staircase, finally arriving at the balloon arch, which has come unstuck and is now, in its various shades of pink and purple, hanging over the door into Charlotte's living room like a flaccid dick with an aesthetically-unfortunate STI.
Five ponytailed PRs try desperately to reattach the arch to its fastening, before Charlotte’s boyfriend Josh Ritchie – a man whose brunette blowout disrupts previously-held belief about the capabilities of hairspray – comes to the rescue.
Panic over, Charlotte nips off to change the music. Ariana Grande's "7 rings" pipes through the speakers as all the assembled press – including me – are ushered into the main room, an open plan kitchen-lounge, in which there are no less than three different areas (person-sized doll box; flower wall; gif machine w/ ring light) for guests to take a picture for Instagram.
"We're all over the photo ops already," one early arrival tells me. "That's the point of the night, isn't it, really?"
While it's true that 'grammable moments are a crucial part of the reality TV ecosystem, to rewind a bit: the point of tonight is actually to celebrate the premiere of the second season of Charlotte's own television programme. The Charlotte Show began last year on MTV, the same network that gave Charlotte her start in TV back in 2011. Aged 19 she was cast in Geordie Shore, a UK take on Jersey Shore, which had rapidly become an enormous success and cultural touchstone in the US. Over the course of 12-and-a-bit seasons, Charlotte emerged as the star of the show, with her arsenal of winning vulnerability, quick wit and enthusiastic willingness to piss herself on camera.
More reality TV success followed: she won Celebrity Big Brother in 2013, exposing her to an even wider audience, with round-the-clock filming proving that her madcap public persona was actually just her personality. In 2018, MTV realised what a good thing they had going, and The Charlotte Show – which follows Charlotte's family life, relationships and friendships – was born.
And this, in a roundabout way, is how I find myself wine-drunk in Charlotte Crosby's kitchen in Newcastle, at 6:30PM on a Wednesday, gesticulating so profusely in front of someone who works for the showbiz pages of The Sun that I drop a half-full plastic prosecco flute on her floor.
Charlotte's dad, who I recognise from the telly, kindly takes me to find the kitchen roll, and on the way we pass a massive box of Greggs vegan sausage rolls; a spread of food that looks like it was rendered by an oil painter; and Geordie Shore’s Holly Hagan, resplendent in frankly amazing hair extensions and pleather trousers. It's like I've somehow been sucked inside my phone screen and landed inside Instagram.
Related: Instagram is a crucial part of the proceedings tonight. For one, it’s important that the party creates shareable moments for the people in attendance, because social media – in particular the image-heaviness of Insta – is a crucial part of the reality TV economy. Charlotte is very much a part of this, and it's working in full force around me.
In Room 1, cast members from Geordie Shore go out for fags with members of the showbiz press, while Georgia from Love Island clamours to get next to Charlotte, who is filming an Instagram story in front of her flower wall (to indulge the gossip in both me and you for a second: Ellie and Kendall from Love Island season four were also there, but did not speak to Georgia once!!!).
The reality fame sausage being made is a weird thing to be party to up close. We tend to accept these people as famous and then forget about it, but for them, maintaining the fame is a process, one which moves in a cycle that goes something like this:
1) You go on a reality show.
2) You get a big Instagram following.
3) You go to celebrity events where you start talking to the press, either officially ("interview") or unofficially ("chat" – this is lingo I pick up from some of the other reporters).
4) You get a bigger Instagram following because of your increased publicity.
5) You get cast in more reality shows, etc., etc., repeat forever.
Events like tonight play a part in this, especially when the surroundings have been designed to fulfil a role – every aspect stage-managed to fit glamorously within a square frame on a grid.
In fact, this would feel just like many of the other celeb bashes that get covered on sites like MailOnline if not for the fact that that we're in Charlotte’s actual house – the same house we see in her show. I instinctively know my way around because I've watched this place before on TV. It's as though, despite all the photo-friendly bits, a layer of the Instagram-filtered, footage-edited artifice is being pulled back.
Charlotte's PRs tell me that the idea to have everyone over to her actual house was her own. She confirms this later during a pre-arranged interview in the cinema room, where there’s a table full of cupcakes with her face on. "The big house means shit all to us, that's why I’m holding this party – because it can get messed up, I don't really care." She shakes her ponytail. "It doesn't hold a strong place in my heart."
Charlotte's position is that she hasn't allowed fame to change her (though, as she's acknowledged publicly, she has had a number of cosmetic surgeries, some as a direct result of increased public scrutiny). When you meet her, it's hard to disagree. She greets me with a bellow, remembering an interview we did in 2017 when I asked her what subject she'd do on Mastermind (her answer: marine life). She feels unique as a reality star in a hugely saturated market because of her willingness to be herself, and to show that from all sides.
As she puts it, "A lot of celebrities can be very, very fake. They all have this character, but I'm purely just myself. I never change. I don't go on a certain show and try and be all clever and posh just to get them to like us and book us again; I'll just always be myself. If you don’t like it then I'm sure someone else will along the line."
Charlotte knows that her personality and relatability are her USPs, and by inviting the press, competition winners and various others into this heightened version of her home – where Love Island contestants, Bobby from TOWIE and the founder of inthestyle are cutting about in her kitchen, doing flash-on selfies with her mam – she leans right into it.
On one hand, it feels thought out: better to be the realest reality star than the most fake. But there's so little cynicism about Charlotte that, when it comes to the stuff that matters, it feels as though total honesty was her only real option. "My show is probably the realest show you will see on telly," she tells me. "It's got my mam and dad, it's got my real friends. Not my celebrity friends who you see us on telly with – these are my friends I've known since I was 10, 11. I went to school with them. I'm letting you into my real life. I think that's what makes it so special."
Charlotte's real life is of course interesting because she's part of the reality TV cycle; much of the first season of The Charlotte Show features her readying promo for the very programme she was making. But she's only managed to remain in this world because she's so entertaining. I'm interested in whether she feels like she's changed much since her pre-Geordie Shore days. Here's her answer in full:
"The only thing I think has been a difference has been that I have this drive, right? I never felt this way before I was on telly. I just got along with life, and I worked in a bar, and I worked there like three hours a day, Monday to Friday, and a bit more on a Saturday. And I didn't earn much money, but that didn't bother us. I never felt sad because I didn’t have anything, because when I was there I had everything. I could do everything – I had, like, £20 on a weekend and I did everything with it.
"The sky was the limit with this £20. I'd go out, be laughing all the time, jump on the bus, nothing mattered. I was the happiest person in the world, and I had nothing. But that never made us sad; I'd never be like, 'I'm so glad this happened because I'm so much better off.' Because actually, I was more carefree then. More money, more problems, and that's a famous saying. You'll always be the same inside, you'll always want the littler things, you'll always crave what you grew up with.
"Before, I didn't care about my potential because I just lived a normal life where I just thought I wasn't really that great. I didn't ever think that people would love us or be funny or anything like that. But now that I see I do well in all these things I've got this insane drive to just do better, and better, and better. It's insane. I want to do everything. There's nothing I don't want to do. I said this in an interview once and then they were like, 'Charlotte says she's addicted to fame.' But I didn't. I said 'I've got a drive to do better and better and better.' I have this drive to want to do everything, and be the best at it."
There's a lot to say about reality TV and Instagram and the values they prioritise, which often feel like a sad indictment of the world we live in. Charlotte's own experiences with online negativity are evidence enough of that. But there's also a lot to be said for reality TV stars of Charlotte's breed, who trade on humour rather than hubris, genuine reality rather than the kind of constructed reality that makes other people feel like they're missing out on something. "I love when I get tweets like, 'I was lying in hospital today, just got out of an operation, feeling so down, and I watched The Charlotte Show on my iPad and I laughed the whole hour, it made us forget about everything,'" says Charlotte. "And that's what I like to do most."
After our interview, I'm handed probably the most beautiful gin and tonic I've ever seen. Then I clock James from Geordie Shore in a top so tight – the thing looks Pritt Sticked to his torso – that it is astonishing he is still able to breathe. It's jarring how quickly sights like this have begun to feel ordinary.
Along with the other press and guests, I watch the first episode of season two of The Charlotte Show in the screening room (Charlotte's mam heckles certain cast members who, curiously, happen not to be present), before – in a dizzyingly on brand move – I'm sent packing with an inthestyle X The Charlotte Show gift bag. I look back at the very weird world I'm stepping out of; it appears Geordie Shore's Sophie Kasaei has stolen the DJ's mic and is, on classic form, yelling into it.
The balloon arch, I note as I step out into the chilly Tyne air, has remained intact.
The Charlotte Show airs every Wednesday at 9pm on MTV.