I Sent Fake Versions of Myself On TV and Everyone Fell for It
I'm no good at doing press for my shed story, so thought it might be fun to get some other people to do it instead.
Photo: Chris Bethell
I don't want to do this anymore. I've just watched myself on French TV, talking about the time I made my shed London's number one restaurant on TripAdvisor, and it's the last time I'll subject myself to it. Like Jared Leto, or Julianne Moore, or any one of the actors who love telling Graham Norton they just can't bear to watch their own films, I've had it with myself.
I don't recognise this Oobah; the real Oobah. I let go of him some time ago. The version of myself I'm more used to seeing is the infinitely better version I've spent the past decade carefully curating online. And I'm not an anomaly – we all do it. Whether it's your sardonic wanker-self who tweets gags about anxiety, or your thirst-trap Instagram alter-ego, it's more and more the norm these days to present multiple selfs on the internet.
With all the press I'm having to do for this shed story, maybe I could apply these rules to real life? Why jeopardise my career, interview by interview, when I could find someone with better chat and a more palatable accent to go on TV in my place? Someone educated who could make me sound smart on the radio? I want to be the first person to have his very own flesh-and-bone avatar – various versions of myself who represent me in the ways I'd like to be perceived in public. Yes, fuck it, I will hire an army of lookalikes and send them off in my place.
I know what you're thinking: there's no way broadcasters, journalists and producers will fail to realise they're interviewing the wrong guy. I get that. But I have reason to believe this will work. Whether it's the segment on Brazil's Globo TV, or the hour-long documentary on Japanese TV, every interviewer has asked me the same questions about the shed. It's not really me being interviewed; what I did has some recognition, but I don't.
So, for six weeks, I'm stepping aside to see whether these superior versions of myself can excel in my place.
HOW TO CAST AN OOBAH
First, I'll set out some criteria:
1: They must be bleach-blonde.
2: They must be ready to lie on television.
3: They must make me look good.
THE OPENING GAMBIT: BBC ONE, UK
It's early morning and researchers from BBC One's Rip Off Britain – a show about people being ripped off – are on the way to my shed to interview me for about episode about the seedy underbelly of fake online reviews. But not actually me; fake, better me. Tom.
Tom Rhys Harries is an actor from Wales who I guess looks a bit like me, if all my identifying features didn't appear to be drawn on with crayon by a child.
I've been prepping Tom on how these interviews tend to go, but if this is to stand any chance of working I have to pay attention to the details. So on the big day, I transform the shed from old:
Once that's done, we conduct back-to-back rehearsals until the crew shows up.
My phone rings. They have arrived. Vibrating with excitement, I retreat into position and bark last orders to Tom as he disappears up the path to greet them. From utter silence emerges a rising sun of murmurs...
…and polite laughter! We've passed the first test. Now for the interview.
Does it matter that the interviewer watched the shed film earlier this morning? That Tom has a completely different face to mine? No! This is extraordinary, and I must see it with my own eyes.
Remarkable. After one hour, they leave.
Now for the final test: the broadcast.
I cross off the days until the big moment, and when it begins and they start discussing the shed I'm breathless, giddy, waiting for Tom's face to appear – but it never does. The interview has been completely cut from the eight-minute segment. Fuck. They must have known something was up. If this is going to work, I have to start smaller; be smarter.
SMART OOBAH: RADIO 5 LIVE, UK
The problem with Tom's interview, the BBC producers later explain, was that my (his) insights about fake reviewing weren't deep enough. So I'll add a new point to the fake Oobah criteria:
4: They must know my shit and suit the situation.
Like the one offered to me by BBC Radio 5 Live. The station is doing a special on fake reviews and want an interview about the shed that discusses the morality of fake reviewing. The man for this one is:
Smart Oobah, AKA Peter Yeung (who, since helping me out with this, has gained notoriety in media circles for doing something strangely similar to what I did with the shed).
Yes, he looks nothing like me, but as the interview is remote, who cares – it's all about the brain. And with an expertise in social anthropology, you'd assume Peter has a good one.
At 7AM I tune into 5 Live to hear a dream come true: me sounding intelligent on national radio.
As I dance around the room, listening to myself sound smart for the very first time, I hear the references to Cambridge Analytica and the well-constructed arguments and, all of a sudden, begin to feel a little cold. One of my mates' mums texts me to tell me I've "gone posh". This is glaringly not me, isn't it?
This concern continues until the next day, when I get an email. Then another. By the afternoon, Smart Oobah is off on his own press tour around the UK's radio stations, showcasing to the people of Britain how I'm actually a deeply brainy guy. And that, friends, is all I've ever wanted.
Except sexiness. I've also always wanted to be considered very sexy.
SEXY OOBAH: WION NETWORK, INDIAN TV
With Smart Oobah doing his thing, I'm asked to appear on WION, one of the biggest English-language TV channels in India. With radio listeners now viewing me as an intellectual, back on TV I've got the space to be that thing I've always yearned to be:
Luckily, Barney – this hunky, bleach-blonde, 6ft tall ex-model I found on Instagram – has read and enjoyed my work, and is up for helping me out.
Within the hour I'm watching him, with my head in my hands, stumbling over his words on Indian TV. The interviewer looks confused – but silver lining: it's nice to see myself billed as a whistleblower.
After the broadcast, the notifications roll in:
A load of of likes from new fans on my Facebook; approaches for business opportunities in India. Despite his rambling, Sexy Oobah has enchanted a new wave of interest. Another success!
CHARMING OOBAH: NOVA, BULGARIAN TV
Next up, one of Bulgaria's most popular news shows. It's classic breakfast television – chatty, casual, a little bit flirty – and I have the perfect guy. Remember Tom, the actor, from earlier? I know things didn't work out that first time, but we've learned some lessons since then.
During this interview, should we encounter any problematic questions...
We have a contingency plan.
Looks not at all bulletproof and possibly like an actually bad idea, right? Watch it and weep:
Does the fact that you can literally see me in Charming Oobah's sunglasses matter? Well, following the segment, the channel claims the ratings were "sensational". Another! Smash! Hit!
SLIM OOBAH: 'BREAKFAST SUNRISE', AUSTRALIA'S BIGGEST MORNING SHOW
Building momentum in Asia, Eastern Europe and at home in Britain, it was inevitable that another continent would come calling at some point. However, I didn't expect this: a request from Australia's biggest breakfast show.
This is a big deal. Not only am I trying to fool millions of Australians, but I'm also trying to dupe the same channel and the same team that interviewed me in the same studio just a few months ago. I need somebody near-perfect.
I need my brother, Pete. And he needs a makeover.
I teach him the precise lines I want him to say, and send him on.
So is it possible, under the microscope of prime-time Australian television, in glorious full HD, to convince a studio that this man with only a vague resemblance to me is actually me?
The hair is obviously a nice touch, but I'm going to put this one down to the dungarees. Dungarees on a shirtless man are confusing; they short-circuit the brain.
The presenters were so preoccupied, I was even able to get him to deliver the exact messages I wanted:
– "I've been really interested, especially with this, in identity fluidity."
– "I'm not even the same person I was a year ago."
A gigantic success.
THE GRAND FINALE / A SHOT AT REDEMPTION: BBC RADIO 2, UK
I haven't done a media appearance as myself in six weeks. Sending doubles has become second nature, something I don't even think about, until I get a text that makes me shiver.
BBC Radio 2 primetime. Over 7 million listeners, potentially including: school friends, ex-girlfriends, future employers, other people I might desperately want to impress at some point in the future. I must send a double.
But there's a problem: the broadcaster is the only one to have thwarted me so far – the BBC.
If this is going to work, I need to find the greatest Oobah available. Somebody capable of getting past the airport-level security, metal detectors and photos they use to verify your identity at the BBC. So I send a photo of myself to every casting director in town, and by the end of the week I have my options laid out in front of me:
I call the first name on the sheet:
And, from there, put them through their paces:
Questioning them on the shed:
Roleplaying as if they're me arriving at the BBC and I'm a producer accusing them of not being Oobah Butler:
After hours of intense scrutiny, I line up the candidates.
And ask myself: what do I want to be more than anything in life?
Hot. I want to be hot.
With mere hours until the interview, we get to work.
I question him on the specificities of fake reviewing; the shed opening night; the amount of brothers Oobah has, and their names – all of it.
We also play some ping-pong.
A block away from Wogan House, I hand over my phone and my ID card, and Sexy Oobah leaves the taxi. The rest is out of my hands.
I sit in the back of a black cab – knees tucked into my chest, jaw clenched – as BBC Radio 2 blares out and we drive circles around London Zoo. Soon, I feel a vibration. It's Hot Oobah. A text explains that they're having "some problems" at security. Fuck. I ask my cabbie to pull over. Opening the door, I'm interrupted by the voice of presenter Vanessa Feltz.
"If you think you've had it for fake news for one show, just sit tight, because you have not heard all the fakery that you're going to hear this afternoon. Oobah Butler…"
We did it.
REAPING THE REWARDS
It was a tall order, this: that a group of people with faces that slightly resemble mine could successfully masquerade as me over the course of a month-and-a-half.
But it worked. It worked so well, in fact, that I've managed to pick up a load of new followers and fans, complete a mini-radio tour, help a Bulgarian TV show achieve "sensational" ratings, convince at least a few people that I'm actually incredibly attractive and, most significantly, potentially played into the most significant accolade of my life: a nomination for Content Creator of the Year.
At the DRUM Online Media Awards, the presenter runs through the other nominees, takes a pause and steps up to the microphone.
"What the judges said," he starts, "is that we were absolutely inspired by the winner. This creator, in the words of the judges, is a true talent. The award goes to…"
I can't believe it! I fucking did it!
If by I, you mean a Norwegian man named Joakim, then yes: I did it!
Striding onstage, Joakim heroically holds the award in the air as if he's Didier Deschamps lifting the World Cup trophy.
Watching Joakim celebrate winning an award that will no doubt be the achievement my parents are singularly most proud of for the rest of my life, I feel something I didn't expect: pride.
I know that's strange; that I didn't really physically do any of this stuff. But I did curate it all to portray me in the way I would most like to be portrayed. These brave, young, bleach-blonde men optimised my identity, bettering me and my reputation I never could have managed on my own.
The takeaway? That this IRL avatar thing is a genuinely groundbreaking discovery that everyone should benefit from. So, I've devised an app to help you do just that.
It's called Oobah.com, and the trailer for its services are below:
Want to optimise your identity? Book an Oobah now.
(P.S. This is real, so please fill in the form at www.oobah.com and we'll find you a better you, ASAP!)
Watch the documentary we made about all this below: