Sometimes life still refuses to make sense to Gráinne Maguire. That’s when she reaches for her favourite celeb autobiography and shares the life lessons learned from former girl band members, reality stars and, in this episode, Shane Richie.
Illustration by Jemima Williams
Reading Shane Richie’s autobiography is, I imagine, a lot like being married to him: lots of fun at the time; you definitely wouldn’t want any of your friends to see you doing it, and when it’s all over, you’ve a gnawing feeling you’ve wasted your life.
However, any true tale that opens with a self-pitying quote from a Sinatra song, includes a story about Tommy Ball threatening to break his legs over a Nolan sister and features a climactic moment with a West End production of Grease starring 80s popstar Sonia is going to have to work pretty hard to disappoint. Reality stars read and learn: 2003’s Rags to Richie is how it’s done.
Born to poor immigrant parents and blessed with a cheeky grin, charm and a confidence luckily free from any reliance on accompanying talent, Shane rises from Pontins’ Bluecoat, to jobbing comedian, to Mr Daz doorstep challenge. He loses it all when his reputation as a love rat briefly obscures his talent for presenting dreadful ITV game shows, before returning triumphant as EastEnders’ Alfie Moon, the nation’s favourite lovelorn landlord of the Queen Vic.
Shane recreates the glamour of 1980s light entertainment in all its bow-tie-and-matching-cummerbund-wacky-dancing-to-Michael-Jackson-before-breaking-into-a-Tom-Jones-song glory. It’s a golden era; when comics were cabaret artistes, sang between gags and Russ Abbot was the governor. Here Shane describes the heady Gatsby-like glamour of a party at the Nolans’ house in Blackpool, where he first met his future wife Coleen:
“It was celebrity excess at its finest. There were canapés and champagne. This was what I had dreamed of for years. This was showbiz.”
Yes, indeed. Or most people’s house at Christmas. You can’t deny his enthusiasm; this is a man with a lot of love to give. In fact, large sections of the book only make sense if you imagine the Benny Hill theme tune playing in the background and picture Shane dressed as a saucy 1970s milkman and every woman he meets a bored housewife.
Shane cheerfully loses his virginity at 12, sleeps with more than 1000 women during his time as a Bluecoat, and is even a gigolo for a brief giddy period. He adores women, just not enough to remain faithful to any for any period of time. Somewhat ruefully, he brushes his infidelity aside with the unalienable truth that anyone in his position, starring in a regional touring production of Grease, would find the accompanying rock and roll lifestyle hard to resist.
Don’t get him wrong though; Shane is at pains to remind the reader that despite all his scallywaggery, he really does have a heart of gold. Look how he talks about his beloved mother:
“I’m told I take after her in many ways. She can be the life and soul of the party but at the same time she has a really shy, insecure side too. She’s one of those people who puts up a façade and tries to be what people want her to be at any particular moment.”
Reader, do we get the subtle point our author is trying to make?
Though he finishes the book restored as the nation’s favourite, there are hints that yet other mountains exist for Shane’s ambition to climb. He recalls his feeling of frustration when sharing a rehearsal space with some classically trained actors. How come, he ponders, that although they couldn’t do what he was doing (at this point, he’s about to tread the boards as Hook in a production of Peter Pan), he could easily do what they were rehearsing: Macbeth at the Old Vic.
He then reveals an ambition to play Hamlet. Shane Richie tackling the great Dane is a thought few will have had when starting this book, but making it happen is a burning desire we share with the author by the time it’s finished. Come on BBC, pull your finger out.
Rags To Richie (2003) is published by Contender Books
Find out how you can support Standard Issue – join our gang here.
Gráinne Maguire is a comedian, comedy writer, lover and a fighter. Loves the Labour Party and Cheryl Cole in equal measures.