I wake up every night having the same recurring nightmare. I’m covered in sweat, unable to speak and the bedclothes are a tangled heap on the floor.
Before I give you a graphic account of my night-time terror, let me tell you the back story. When I found myself catapulted from solid working-class actress into the public eye, courtesy of EastEnders, I suddenly became a “celebrity”.
Being a celebrity is fun, occasionally annoying (like someone taking photos on their mobile of you naked in the changing room of the gym), but mostly gratifying for the attention and lovely new friends you make every day. You also get offered freebies. A couple of tabloids once offered me a six-star holiday to Dubai — on condition they could take some “paparazzi shots” of me and hubby in the sea. I declined.
I’m always one for the small print, so if it’s free I want to know where the payment comes and in what form. So when a letter arrived via the Hampstead Theatre, where I had recently performed, asking if I would like to travel first-class to Miami, have a limo at my disposal, plus a suite at a hotel on Ocean Drive, I didn’t even finish reading it. The more luxurious the offer, the bigger the payback in my book. However, hubby found it and said: “I assume you’ve told them you’ll do this.” “Do what?” I asked. He poked the letter at me: “Read!”
It was from the highly respected International Women’s Forum who wanted me to host their annual Gala in Miami to inaugurate three women into their International Hall of Fame. Among this year’s recipients is Tzipi Livni. A thousand-strong delegation would be attending, including female world leaders in politics, the arts and science. Women such as Condoleezza Rice, Margaret Thatcher, Maya Angelou. My jaw dropped. (By the way, we’re not into the dream yet — this really happened.) They felt I embodied all that the organisation stood for (blimey!) and furthermore the ceremony would be televised. Oprah Winfrey and Dionne Warwick had hosted it previously. I looked at husband in disbelief. “Don’t ask. Do it!”
So this is the dream. I am waiting to walk on to a podium. My Cavalli dress fits beautifully. Lights dim. A thousand international movers and shakers quieten down expectantly. A voice booms out. “Ladies and gentleman, I’d like to introduce your host for the night. She’s unbelievably versatile, a writer, actress and performer who has had us laughing for years. She’s the woman who bought us The Simpsons. Please welcome Tracy… Ullman”