She has brought vajazzling to the masses, invented the term well-jel and is adorable. Just don’t ask reality TV star Amy Childs to cook some spaghetti, says Deborah Ross
When I’m first asked to interview Amy Childs I don’t properly know who she is, as I have never watched ITV’s The Only Way is Essex — I am much too high-brow, and will only watch BBC4 programmes about ancient civilisations presented by fusty old men in bow ties — but now I have seen TOWIE, and now I have met Amy, and here’s the thing: I love her to death.
She's adorable. She's a poppet. She is gorgeous or, to use her own particular vernacular, “gawdj”. I don't know if we'll ever gah dahn Sugar Hut together, to check if Kirk is back from Marbella, or get our teeth bleached, “proper white, like Melinda Messenger” or if she'll ever subject me to one of her wondrously unique geographical quizzes — “Where is Norf London?”; “Woz the capital of India? Pakistan?” — but I hope it is the beginning of something real, as we have so much to teach each other.
Having read she has never cooked a dish in her life, I teach her how to make spaghetti bolognese, and how to recognise boiling water — no, Amy, you can't put the “persghetti” in until it bubbles; the bubbles are key — while she teaches me how to apply false eyelashes without sticking them halfway up my forehead.
She is pleased with her cooking lesson or, as she later tweets: “Thanks to @deborahross for helping me make spag bowl”. Don't you love her already? Isn't she gawdj? And wouldn't you like a spag bowl, perhaps to keep your loose change in overnight?
We meet at her home in Brentwood, Essex, where she still lives with her mum, dad and brother. Her car, a white Land Rover, is outside with its personalised number plate, ‘Amy 22'. “I passed my driving test first time, Debs,” she says, “and theory seventh time. I just couldn't get it.” She hopes to eventually change the number plate to ‘well-jel' because “you know, honey, I created that word”. She did, it's true. She created ‘jel' for ‘jealous' and added it to ‘well' for when you are very jealous indeed. Genius!
But this is just one of her contributions to British culture and not, in fact, the main one which, of course, has to be vajazzling: the adornment of your “vadj” with what appear to be sparkly craft beads and which is, I suppose, something to do when BBC4 lets you down and just plays old episodes of Top of the Pops over and over. Was vajazzling hitherto unknown in this country, Amy? It was, she says.
A beautician by trade, she'd done a vajazzling class at college. “I went to do the Brazilian waxing class — you know, when you have a strip? Sorry about that, when we're cooking! — and they said we're doing an extra class in vajazzling, do you want to do it, and I was like: ‘Yeah, I'd love to do it'.
“So when the producers (of TOWIE) said to me do you know any beauty tricks, something different, I said straight away I could do a vajazzle, and when I did the vajazzle it took off like you can't imagine. I made it famous!”
Anyway, she is 21, and has quite a look. Obviously, ‘less is more' just doesn't cut it with Amy. Today, she is made-up to the nines times 1,000, so is made up to the nine thousands, and has a cartoonish, sex-bomb body which is poured into a coral and black peplum dress from her own clothing collection. I later look up the dress on her website. It is called ‘Elizabeth', costs £65, and is made from viscose, nylon and elastane and has a ‘100% polyester lining'. Should you purchase this dress you are advised to ‘keep away from fire', which seems wise. She has teamed the dress with super-high, glossy coral shoes from Miss Selfridge.
Do you ever wear flats, Amy? On holiday, say? Flip-flops, maybe? “No, Debs, I don't. When I go on holiday I wear wedges. They accentuate your leg, honey, and you have to look good on the beach.” I ask her what's the most she's ever spent on an outfit. She says although she is a high-street girl mostly — “I like Zara, Debs, and Topshop” — she did once pay £1,300 for a coat “from a shop in Chigwell called Deborah's. Do you know her?” I don't, I say, although I can see where you are coming from; that in an ideal world all Deborahs would know other Deborahs, but it doesn't actually work like that. She laughs happily.
You know, if you were to take away all that was fake about Amy — lashes, boobs, lips, nails, hair, tan — I'm thinking you could reconstruct her in the next room, although I couldn't say what would be left in this room. An Oompa Loompa-coloured puddle? But her sweet, sunny, guileless personality is genuine, I'm sure of it, and it's this that has made her TOWIE's break-out star.
“Amy,” confirms her mum, Julie, “don't have a nasty bone in her body.”
“I didn't bitch about no one on TOWIE,” Amy further confirms. “To get my storyline they'd say: ‘Amy, say somefing bad about Mark’ and I'd say: ‘No, I'm all right, fanks'.”
It's a busy house. Two of the fat pugs — Pugsy and Pooch — scuttle about while the third and youngest, Prince (Childs), is at doggy day-care “because he's so naughty, Debs”. Julie is around although, as a hairdresser who works from home, she sometimes disappears because “Shirley's here and I need to do her colour”. Hannah, the manager of Amy's salon pops in. “Hello, gawdj,” says Amy. “Hello, gawdj,” says Hannah.
I eventually manage to get Amy started on the spag bowl, and hand her an onion to peel. Can you seriously not cook at all, Amy? “I can make pizza bread,” she says. But that's brilliant, I enthuse, patronisingly. Pizza dough isn't easy. All that kneading and resting. She says: “Nah, pizza bread. Pizza on a baguette. I get mozzarella, put it on the bread, and tomato purée and cut up peppers and put it in the oven for 15 minutes. You've never tasted anything like it, Debs, and my mum says I'm the best at making it.”
She starts picking at the onion skin, and pick, pick, picks away, removing microscopic flakes. No rush, I say. Although I do have a dentist's appointment a week on Thursday which I really shouldn't miss. OK, I'll give you a tip: get a knife and cut the top and bottom off. That'll make it much easier to peel. “Are you,” she asks, “a professional cook, Debs?” No, I say. “You seem like a professional cook,” she says.
She gets a knife but then just stares at the onion, looking perplexed. Oh, give it here, I say. I lop the top and bottom off for her. Now, peel it, I instruct. “What ‘bout this bit?” she queries. Yes, that is skin. All the brown is skin. Get it off. “I'm glad you made me do this, Debs. I'm learning lots,” she says. Next week, I say, we're going to build an aircraft engine. “Really?” she queries. Shall we see how we go with the pasta first? “Ok, honey.”
I say I've watched series one and two of TOWIE — Amy left after series two for Celebrity Big Brother and then her own reality show on Channel 5 — but still don't quite get it. I know it's ‘structured reality' but how does that work exactly?
She says she and Kirk and Lauren and Sam and Mark etc are all real people, who all knew each other when the production team turned up, but were then put into contrived scenarios. For example, when she and Kirk were kind of dating, the team would set Kirk up with another woman, and then arrange for Amy to walk in “and they'd tape my reactions, Debs. All the reactions are real”.
Her salon in the series, though, was not real; it was actually a mock-up in the garage here, but now she has a proper one on Brentwood's main drag and it's going great guns. “We're manic,” says Hannah. “People come from Australia and New Zealand.”
“On Saturdays,” says Amy, “we have one girl who just does vajazzling all day, Debs.” “The other week,” says Julie, “I popped in and there was a couple who'd come all the way down from Scotland to get their little girl's nails done, as it was her birthday.”
What, I ask Amy, do you imagine your future to be? “I want to have an amazing career. My fake tan has just gone into Tesco. People are buying my eyelashes and clothes, Debs. My perfume comes out in September. I've just launched my fitness DVD.”
When it comes to reality stars, I am always minded of Carrie Fisher's remark that “Celebrity is simply obscurity biding it's time”, but Amy does seem well sorted. “Debs,” she says, “I've bought three houses in Brentwood and tomorrow I'm going to look at one in Chelmsford.” These are investments? In case it all goes belly-up? “Def. If it all went wrong, I'd still have that.”
Maddeningly, she is still picking away at the skin. Do you want me to get it off for you? “Yes, please, hon. And now I cut it into quarters, dun I?” Not really, no. Shall I show you how to chop an onion? “Yes please, hon.” In the end, I chop it for her, because I'm serious about that dentist appointment.
I get the onion going in the pan then pass Amy the pack of mince, which I've brought with me. “Look, mum,” says Amy, “it's from Waitrose. You're a classy bird, aren't yer, Debs? We like Asda.”
I ask Julie how Amy has got to this age without even being able to — pizza bread not withstanding — cook a thing. Julie says she had poor parenting herself — “I didn't have a great mum” — so has always liked to do everything for Amy and her older brother, Billy.
Her mum, she continues, abandoned the family when she was four, and she didn't hear from her again for 32 years. “She was an alcoholic though, weren't she mum?” says Amy. “Alcohol, drugs,” says Julie. And when she made contact again? “I just couldn't accept it. She'd met and married another guy and had told that guy she was born with a disease, and couldn't have children, even though she'd had four children.”
Was your dad a good dad? “He weren't bad but then he met this woman.”
“She was a witch, weren't she mum?” says Amy. Julie continues: “They moved away. I went on holiday with Amy's dad (also called Billy) when I was 16 and when his mum picked us up from the airport she said: ‘I've got some bad news. Your dad and step-mum have moved'. I made her drive me to the house. We didn't live there anymore. And I only went away for a week!” What did you do? “I moved in with Billy.”
She adds: “I do overprotect my kids. I haven't cut the umbilical cord yet, but I never had nothing. Not even a birthday present.”
Amy's dad left school at 14, and has since built up a successful floristry business. “They are spoilt, my kids,” says Julie, “but they know what's right and wrong and are still good. I always told ‘em: you only got that because your dad works seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.”
Amy attended a private school, where dyslexia meant she struggled academically. “I was always behind in class,” she says cheerfully. “There was people in my class who was amazing at art, amazing at maths, amazing at English, but I wasn't clever with anything, even though I tried my hardest. And then, at the end, they gave me head girl.” Really? “Yes, because the teachers saw how much I tried, and how nice a girl I was, Debs.”
As a little girl, she'd been obsessed with her Barbies and her Girl's World kit and had always wanted to be a beautician. Her first job was on Saturdays in a beauty salon when she was 15, “and I loved it”, she says. Julie says the salon was owned by a friend of hers and “she asked me: what on earth have you done to Amy? Amy didn't even know how to open a bottle of bleach. She didn't know you had to press down and twist!”
Amy had completed her training and was working in the beauty salon at Epping Forest Country Club when TOWIE came along. “I used to be a sports masseuse and, I'm not going to lie to you, I was good at it, Debs. I'm quite strong and had a waiting list of three and a half weeks. When I told my boss, Sharon, I'd be leaving for a little while she said that's fine, but she couldn't wait to have me back. I'd probably still be working there if it weren't for TOWIE, Debs, and I wouldn't have minded. I'm a happy person, Debs.”
Boyfriends? She says she was seeing a stockbroker called Joe but they've recently parted. “We've got really different careers. He was always with clients in London, while I'm doing what I'm doing. It's hard having a boyfriend, doing what I'm doing, but I'm too young to settle down, aren't I, Debs? Can I put the persghetti in now?” Look at the pan of water, Amy. Are there bubbles? “I can see bubbles, Debs.” That, Amy, means the water is boiling so, yes, you may put the persghetti in.
I finish the bolognese by adding a jar of pre-prepared sauce because, if I can't make that dentist appointment, I would like to make it home before Christmas. We eat the persghetti. “It's bewiful,” says Amy. “Are you sure you're not a professional cook?”
She then gives me an eyelash lesson, and somehow I end up with ‘Flirt 1' falsies on my lids. (Alas, they feel like bricks and I take them off on the train home.)
We part warmly. A hug to the Pugs. A hug to lovely Julie. A hug to the adorable Amy who kindly offers: “Next time you come, Debs, I can give you HD eyebrows,” whatever they are. “Or a vajazzle?” she adds.
Right you are, I say, although honestly? I was only joking earlier. My vadj is totally gawdj as it is. Are you well-jel? Thought as much.
Amy Childs: Fit in 30 Days is available now on DVD; visit amazon.co.uk