Chapter One: Damian
My boyfriend’s name is Damian Benetti. If you own a television set, use a computer or buy magazines, chances are, you know who he is.
Well, if you do, can you fill me in? Lately I feel like I don’t know him at all.
I used to think I did though. I used to think I knew everything about him. We met before he was famous, so I thought that counted for something. I’ve known him for two years now. One year B.C. (before celebrity).
We met in a bar down on Customs Street. It was one of those after work pubs with villa-style windows that open out on to the street and tables with bench seats along one wall.
I’d started work early that Friday, assisting with a Pumpkin Patch shoot. Five of our little darlings had been booked and I was there to placate the client, control the kids, soothe the parents and act as a calming presence. For once, it had all gone incredibly well. The client and I decided to celebrate with a drink afterwards and head in to town.
We entered the bar with the late afternoon sun. It poured though the windows, gilding the grungy seats and slick tables and transforming the mirror wall behind the bar in to a kaleidoscope of liquor and glass, gleaming and refracting in the sun. Ruby, amber, gold, emerald, chartreuse – an alcoholic rainbow. The colour and light reflecting off the bottles gave the place an otherworldly glow and the faces of the clientele seemed happy and free. A disco ball effect.
I noticed the actors from Life’s A Beach straight away. No one in the country could fail to recognise their faces. They were bunched together at the front of the bar, laughing dramatically at something uproariously funny. Damian was the only one sitting on a bar stool. One olive skinned hand held a tumbler of something murky. He watched the others carefully. His hair was a mess of wavy black and his eyes, as he raised his hooded eyelids to meet mine, were a deep brown.
‘Italy,’ I thought. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. If someone were to bottle that country and pour it in to a human being, this, I thought, would be what he’d look like.
Of course, it was the Italy of my dreams. It was the Italy of movies, books, films and above all, art. It was the Italy I imagined because I had never actually been there. Still, he looked about as close to Michaelangelo’s David as you could get with clothes on.
At the time I had a thing about Italy. The result of an art history degree and a passion for Italian art. I wanted to travel, immerse myself in the galleries of the world learn to draw and paint. I was an art geek but it was all second hand, I hadn’t quite made to another country to see the originals.
My job at the model agency didn’t have much to do with my education. I looked at photos all day but that was about as artistic as I got; photos of cute kids, ugly kids, twins and babies. None of them looked the same in real life.
The kids were manic, their parents close to crazy but it was the whole scene that got me hooked. I loved the photographers with their unique view of the world, the advertisement business and all the shallow, glitzy rubbish that went on there. The production of moving images and the use of those images to suck people in to buying things. It fascinated and appalled me in equal measure. I loved the wacko people in that industry. I loved the hype.
I guess it was what attracted me to Damian’s world. ‘Don’t believe the hype.’ But I didn’t know that then. When I met him in that bar, he’d only just got the big time role of Doctor Diamond on the country’s longest running soap, Life’s A Beach. He was still a no-name. He had no idea of just how big he’d be. But later, later was a different story and I was along for the ride.
He approached me that night. My client had just left and I was searching in my hand bag for my keys.
‘Here I am,’ he said, appearing beside me. I looked up, startled.
‘You were looking for something. You’ve found him.’ He grinned his signature grin and I tried not to smile back. I let my keys fall out of my hand, back in to the subterranean depths of my handbag and shifted over as he eased his compact frame in to the bench seat next to me.
We talked, we drank, we laughed. I found him charming. I remember checking out his body; broad shoulders, average height - taller than me but not towering, a glow to his skin that made me want to run my hands over it. I found out his mother was Italian but he hadn’t been to Europe at all. I asked him if he knew any Italian, hoping for someone fluent in the language of Modigliani and Leonardo da Vinci.
He said yes, he knew quite a few words and squaring his shoulders and raising his chin slightly, he delivered an oratory: ‘Arrivederci, ciao, prego, grazie, bella, spaghetti, Ferrari, Gucci, cappuccino, fettuccine.’ He pronounced it all in a loud, operatic bass tone causing everyone in the bar to silence and turn our way.
‘Hmmm,’ I said ‘A real linguist.’
He was a great performer, I remember thinking that. Yet beneath the show, I sensed a deeper thread. He wasn’t aware of it but this hidden part of him lent depth to everything he said, meaning to his eyes and I’m sure it was this, rather than his good looks or winning personality, that transfixed the camera. Whatever his inner turmoil was that night, it cloaked him with a compelling ambiguity. I found myself wanting to draw him.
Our relationship progressed like it was on speed. One minute we were holding hands, the next we moved in together. I loved the pace of it. I felt like I’d found the other half of me - the exciting, anti-boring me.
Damian’s role on the show broadened, his working hours lengthened but he always made time for me. As his public persona increased though, our relationship dynamic started to change. We found ourselves spending less time alone as a couple and more time out and about, being seen.
Women viewers, particularly, fall in love with Damian. At least they fall in love with his character, Doctor Diamond; which, to them, is the same thing. We couldn’t go out to dinner without paparazzi snapping us and people requesting autographs. Damian lapped it up like a hungry puppy.
To begin with I found the attention flattering but odd. There were new customs and rules to learn. Like don’t pick your nose in front of photographers and never have a visible panty line. Luckily we had a whole team of people doctoring Damian’s every public appearance. They styled him, they lectured him, they gave him a list of dos and don’ts.
As I grew accustomed to the mores of the celebrity lifestyle, I started to like it, a lot. The parties, the events, the presentations, even the charity fundraisers were a chance to hang off Damian’s arm, dress up and dazzle. I opened my mouth over the celebrity hook and chomped on the bait.
Fashion became my new art, finding the best dress and most amazing hair and makeup became my new mission. Thoughts of leaving to travel the world seemed ridiculous. Why leave, when the world was happening here, now.
But fame can become a craving. After a while, when you’re not getting attention, you get ants in your pants. The habit needs you out there, where it’s all happening, amongst it. You need people. Not for the joy of being with them, but to see you, to notice you, to react to you.
Here I am, you say. Look at how shiny I am; all gleaming and sparkly and gold. Look at us on the red carpet, take our picture in the street, catch us snogging in the taxi on the way home. Come on! Didn’t you see me in that cafe just now, I was buying, wait for it, coffee!
After a while you start to watch for the heads to turn. If they don’t, you wonder why. You wonder if you need to up your game. You ring your PR team, book in a botox session, get a new hair cut and fire your stylist.
When there’s even the slightest hint of a downturn in interest, the fame addict usually acts quickly to attract the public eye - to get their fix. Be it something practical, like asking their agent for a charity show. Or less practical, like throwing up over a journalist. Damian tried both.
I guess his constant need for outside attention is getting to me. I’m starting to wonder what it’s all about. Damian is so caught up in it, I feel sidelined. How does he keep up the pace? He’s become so adept at hiding himself behind the public persona of Dr Diamond that he’s doing it with me too. I can’t get past the act. Something’s changed in him but I can’t put my finger on it. He seems, somehow, absent. I guess I’ve been too busy to notice what’s slipped away.
I’m changed too. I recognise that. I love this lifestyle but I’m tired. Sometimes, instead of craving the limelight, I long for early nights. I fantasise about being horizontal by 8pm. When I’m out partying, I catch myself thinking about my bed. It’s probably just a stage I’m going through.
When Damian and I are alone he’s preoccupied. He’s distant and distracted. He turns on the smiles when necessary but if I catch him on his own he’s staring at something inside himself. Something I don’t recognise. He’s back in that bar where I met him, struggling with something. Working something out. He never brings that something to the surface. I can feel him slipping through my fingers.
I know his ratings are down, I know the show is under pressure and contracts for the new season are just around the corner. Maybe it’s just that.
Or maybe it’s this stupid public relations idea to put me on television. I can’t believe this is happening. It’s all very well being someone’s sidekick but when the cameras are focused on you it’s terrifying.
But you can’t argue with PR. Focus Groups report that fans have seen me with Damian one too many times and want to know who’s tucked in to Dr Diamond’s satin sheets.
Well, they’re about to find out.