Behind the scenes at Women’s Health

I emerged from the myriad of tunnels that form Old Street underground station and picked up a message from my good chum Laura K. She was in the coffee shop next door to the location for today’s shoot. I still had plenty of time to spare, so I tracked her down and we got to natterin’. We gassed, chitty-chatted, chinwagged, talked the hind legs of many donkeys, before suddenly realising that the 30 minutes to spare had now reduced to just 2 minutes before we were due in the studio. Panic. We dashed outside, desperate to find the venue, which was apparently ‘just next door’.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FIND THE STUDIO

Alas, it seemed that finding the entrance to the studio was like finding the Ministry of Magic. Somewhere, in the gaps between these tall, ancient buildings and old industrial works was an entrance. But where, oh where in the world, was anyone’s guess. Just as I was beginning to wonder if perhaps we should retreat to the phone box across the street and go in underground Harry-Potter style, I spotted a glimmer of hope. Two ‘model’ types were hanging out on the steps of what we thought could potentially, possibly, definitely-maybe be the entrance.

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The final result!

THE LIONESSES

We approached, cautiously. Each of them was holding a takeaway coffee cup, their never-ending legs interlocked like spiders webs across the steps. These two young pups couldn’t have been more than 16, but what they lacked in years they more than made up for in attitude. I moved slightly forward and then swiftly back – as if I were a lion tamer, and these two lionesses. Something about their body language told me they hadn’t eaten in a while, and I could be next: “Hi, um hi,…. hi there.” I began, before tentatively enquiring if they knew how we might be able to get in. Blondie number one slid her glasses to the end of her nose and looked us up and down. “I don’t know. This is the first time here for us too.” She swished her hair and continued to stare at me. I felt inclined to swish mine too, if only to ingratiate myself and to perhaps glean just a morsel of important information. Unfortunately I don’t really have hair that swishes, so my head movement must have come across as if it were some kind of odd convulsion. She frowned. Excellent. It was now clear that the lionesses did not hold the key to getting inside, and so we headed off up the road in the opposite direction instead.

At last we located the studio. Past a gated alleyway, through a courtyard and beyond a door we had walked by a number of times already that morning, naturally. We adventure queens immediately put our lady-guns to good use, helping out an assistant who was hauling suitcases up several flights of stairs to our room. It turned out that these suitcases contained all of the clothes and shoes we’d be rolling around in that day.

After Sophie Radcliffe and Bonita Norris had arrived on set (I’ve always wanted to describe how someone arrived ‘on set’…) the fearless adventurers awesome foursome was complete. And, after I had filled my face with an assortment of foodstuffs from the rather large freebie food table, it was time to get the party started.

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Sophie and Laura get the glam treatment in hair and make-up

NO, IT’S NOT A PERM

Lovely Director of Photgraphy, Caz, the woman in charge of the whole shebang had brought along with some ideas for poses and talked us through how the day was going to play out. “Anna do you want to go in for hair and make-up first?” she asked. I giggled. This was going to be a novelty. I own approximately three make-up items. I make a point of never wearing make-up when I give school talks -the kids need to see real girls doing real stuff after all. In fact, I only ever wear make up for special occasions. Birthday’s, Bah Mitzvah’s you know, that kind of fandango. As for my hair. Well. I have that cut about once every three years. For the time in between I use kitchen scissors to shape my fro. I wet it, pull it back in a ponytail, fasten with an elastic band, snip and leave a neat little pile of curls on the kitchen floor. Cost effective and good for the compost on the garden. Magic.

Desmond the Hairdresser took one look at my hair and said…. “Oooo! I think we’ll just leave that as is.” I nearly spat my coffee out. But that suited me just fine. Then he asked: “What do you do to it?” To which I replied. “I get out of bed.” After affirming to Des that my curls were indeed natural (and not a perm) he did a little bit of ‘spritzing’ as only hairdressers can do, and we were done. Like a true artist Desmond clearly knew when to leave the beast well alone. For the rest of the day he called me ‘Shirley Temple’ and reiterated just how much he loved my hair. What a doll.

Demond and me

Demond adjusting my hair and calling me Shirley Temple

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The real Shirley Temple

CAMERA, ACTION!

Action woman Sophie went first, and when it comes to this kind of thing – Soph knows what she’s doing. She’d brought in her bike and so we all watched from the sidelines as she posed elegantly around it, working that thing to within an inch of it’s life. Natural hazards like chain-ring grease on leggings and hair wrapped around the handlebars were avoided with grace and expertise. And if you’ve ever wondered how people achieve that hair off-of-face wind tunnel look in a photo? It’s because Desmond is sat on the floor to their right with a hairdryer blowing it at them.

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Sophs doing her thing, Desmond on the hair dryer

I was up next and after a brief chat with Caz and photographer Tom we got underway. “We need you to look like you’re running without actually running.” Said Caz. “No problem”, says I. “Let’s try some jumping” says she. And we were off. Now, a few years back I might have gotten a little self conscious at this point. Whatever my loud mouth exterior seems to exude, I am not always especially confident when it comes to picture taking. I am by no means photogenic. That isn’t self criticism, that’s a reality. But something’s happened over the past few years, since finding a bit more of a life direction, that I just care a hell of a lot less. In fact, I now don’t really care at all.

And so I began to enjoy the moment – leaping, frolicking, twirling bounding and bouncing around on that white background – so much so that within a minute I’d almost given myself a heart attack. I was jumping so hard that I kept moving the backing sheet under foot and (much to Tom the photographer’s amusement) almost kamikaze face-planting after every leap. Round one complete, we stopped to review the photographs. There was a silence from the gang. I must have done something wrong, I knew it. “Anna….” said Caz after a few awkward moments. “Could you just consider, doing it less… well… well?”

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Apparently there is such a thing as over-doing the leaping

THINK LIKE EDDIE THE EAGLE

Now, when someone tells me get up there and jump – I freaking get up there and jump. But in the midst of having a whale of a time, leaping around all over the show, I had forgotten that perhaps it might be nice for the photos to actually show parts of my face, as opposed to a squashed up mess of excitement. And that I should, perhaps, consider that this wasn’t a one woman jumping competition. If this was America’s Next Top Model, Tara would have had my guts for garters. The shoot continued apace, and I gradually warmed to Caz’s instructions: “Tight, not tense Anna, strong not rigid….” At one point I needed to jump and remember to ‘push up, out and down’. For  anyone who’s been to see Eddie the Eagle at the cinema this month, you’ll know we both faced a similar challenge.

After me it was Laura’s, and then Bonita’s turn. Bonita took to the set like a pro – swinging from her climbing ropes, upside down, entwined, elegant and smiling all at once. Individual shoots complete, and the afternoon drawing to a close, we all piled on the set together. And like naughty school children we had to be told off several times for talking when we should have been listening. The fact that we were all friends without a doubt made everything just that little bit easier. Especially when Soph accidentally touched my boob. What’s a little boob-touch on a photoshoot between friends, after all?

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Finally nailing the controlled jump-running.

JUST ANOTHER DAY AT THE OFFICE

This was no ordinary day for me, and I’m not going to pretend that it was. I’m also not going to pretend that it wasn’t ruddy great fun, exciting, interesting and wholly enjoyable to spend 8 hours hanging out with my mates and getting to be the centre of attention. I’m just stoked that we four got the chance to share our stories . To show that behind seemingly ‘fearless adventurers’ are four very ordinary girls. One who cycles, one who climbs mountains, one who kayaks and one who cuts her hair with kitchen scissors. Thank you to Women’s Health for giving us the space and good grace to tell our tales, to journalist Victoria Joy for taking the time to listen as I ranted on about chasing dreams and self-belief, and to Tom Watkins for making me laugh at the top of every leap.

May this be the first of many national magazine features for UK female adventurers.

Women’s Health, June edition, hit the shelves on May 12th.

My three femme fatal partners in crime for the day were:

Until next time,

McNuff out xx

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Girls on film: Me, Bonita, Sophie and Laura.

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