The Only Way Is Essex, or TOWIE to its friends,
was a bit of a phenomenon. From the adverts recruiting residents of the nominated county to the audition tapes uploaded to Youtube and ITV's own specific TOWIE page, the reality show created more coffee break conjecture than whether or not Emma from HR is secretly having it off with Jonathan from Accounts. The first episode had a similar effect with Essex-ian quotes appearing in Facebook statuses up and down the country and the word Vajazzle entering most people vocabulary for the first time. It was guilty pleasure TV at its very vacuous best.
For those who were living under a rock for the duration of last autumn, The Only Way Is Essex is an ITV2 reality show that follows a cast of six young men and women from in and around the Brentwood area. Documenting their lives, romantic trials and tribulations and the occasional visit from Nanna Pat complete with a plate of culinary delights under her arm. Described rather cryptically by TV folk as 'real people in modified situations, saying unscripted lines but in a structured way,' the reality of this reality TV show was a matter of much debate.
So when I arranged to interview Kirk Norcross about the second series of TOWIE, due to air this month, I was curious to discover how close the Kirk of real life was to his on screen persona.
Of all The Only Way Is Essex characters it is undoubtable that Kirk came across the best. Through his boyish romantic pursuit of the cherry haired Amy Childs and insistence that London Zoo is a good place for a date (something I happen to agree with) he must have produced enough d'awws from the female population to land him with a sufficient number of fans to keep him in dates to the penguin enclosure all the way to retirement age.
I meet Kirk at Sugar Hut in Brentwood. The infamous Essex nightspot formed the backdrop to much of the first series of the show. I arrive uncharacteristically early for the interview, giving me time to soak up the atmosphere of the Brentwood landmark. For those who have never been to Sugar Hut - your typical home county disco it is not. Chandeliers take the place of mirror balls and the drinks sparkle. And by that I don't just mean they are fizzy, but they actually physically sparkle. Our table's ice bucket came complete with its very own miniature firework.
The cascade of sparks had just come to an end as our waitress came to tell me that Kirk had arrived but was currently being detained outside by a host of female fans all desperate for a photo with the reality TV star. Something one expects has become a rather common occurrence since the show first hit our screens last October.
Meeting a reality TV star is always quite an unusual experience. With actors you are well aware that the dramas you have been watching are not their own, they are somebody else's or the invention of dramatists. The relationship between viewer and viewee in reality TV is a different kettle of fish. You are know that the personal intimacies you have observed from your armchair are, at least supposedly, real. It is all a bit voyeuristic when you think about it. But however peculiar it is for me, it must be even odder for Kirk. That is perhaps why even before the interview starts, as we sit down in one of the Sugar Hut offices, far away from the noise of the dance floor, Kirk asks me just how much of the show I had watched and more specifically had I seen the boxing match between himself and Mark Wright – the show's other male lead, in which Kirk suffered a considerably bloody defeat. I answer truthfully that I saw some but not all of the first series and that though I had not witnessed the fight itself I had heard about it. ‘I got beaten pretty badly,” Kirk tells me with a laugh.
There is no doubt that appearing in the show has drastically changed Kirk's life, at least for the present if not forever. When we signed up, we had no idea where and when it was going to be aired. I thought it would probably end up one of these BBC3 two a.m. jobs. That I would have to remind people to watch it. Instead the show became an overnight success, with viewing numbers above the one million mark. ‘We had the first showing here,’ Kirk explains, ‘and life has just never really gone back to normal.’
His life may no longer be normal but Kirk himself is surprisingly down to earth. I ask Kirk how he has enjoyed his newfound fame, mentioning the photo call he had on his way in. ‘The publicity for the club has been amazing’ he says, gesturing at our surroundings, ‘but it can be a little mad. On Saturday nights I can arrive at nine and not get in the club until one, just taking photos.’ And it's not just people from Essex, people come from across the country to have their photo taken with Kirk - the girls from tonight came all the way from Brighton.
Though potentially quite surreal it would seem that most of the attention Kirk has gained from being on the show has been positive. ‘I think I have maybe had four bad tweets in total.’ His co-stars have not been so lucky with more than one receiving hate mail and even death threats. If Kirk has, on the whole, escaped the furor that surrounds the show it is almost certainly as a result of his personality. In his audition tape he describes himself as a 'cheeky chap' but in the flesh he is polite, accommodating and nothing if not lovely. I ask Kirk how closely his onscreen character reflects the real him: ‘What you see on TV is me,’ smiles the perfectly groomed twenty-two year old. Though he quickly adds, with a grin, ‘perhaps I am not quite as nice as I appear in the show.’
Following the success of series one of The Only Way Is Essex the show produced a Christmas special aired on Christmas Eve, from which Kirk was notably absent. Following his scenes being almost entirely cut there was talk in the press that Kirk had quit the show out of anger. Happily, for all you Norcross fans out there, those rumours appear to have been false and he will be back on our screens this March. Something apparently not all the cast is happy about. ‘I think Amy is a bit mad about it,’ Kirk confides.
The level of animosity between cast members of The Only Way Is Essex is remarkable. In an interview for Attitude last month, which boasted a cover of Kirk and Mark Wright squaring off in nothing but pants and socks (don't ask us why they kept the socks on, maybe the floors were cold?), Kirk when asked about Mark answered that he ‘detested the guy.’ Though his language is not quite so fiery when I ask him about how he feels about his co-stars it is clear they are not the best of friends.
Despite how it might appear on screen the leads from The Only Way Is Essex are not a tightly knit group of friends, in fact pre-filming some of them were practically strangers. ‘I only really knew Amy and Sam before the show,’ he reveals before adding, To be fair I just don't really speak to the rest of them. I get on with them alright, it's just they are not my ideal set of people. Are they the same as they appear in the show? ‘It was all real at the start,’ he tells me. ‘But with the second series I am worried people will try and manipulate the show.’ I ask him if he means that his co-stars may try to utilise the programme as a launch pad for something else, a spin off series like in The Hills or even to break into another career market. Kirk nods before adding, ‘It's a bit of a cheat really, when people want reality.’
So, the people are real at least so far, even if the friendships aren’t necessarily so. But I am still curious about how the show actually works. Each episode is quite obviously structured, but how? ‘The producers ask me what's coming up in my life and then give me a timeline to work around,’ he explains before revealing to me that his upcoming birthday party in April will play a part in the upcoming series. As will his relationship with the glamour model and DJ Lauren Pope.
There has been quite a bit of debate over the actuality of Kirk and Lauren's relationship, with perhaps the more sceptical viewers suggesting that her appearance in the series might have been more to do with what the leggy brunette would do for ratings than genuine affection. But it would seem that those un-romantics were in fact wrong and Kirk and Lauren are the real deal. Kirk tells me, I have been with Lauren for the last five months. It's actually the longest relationship I have had and I am very happy. Happy and proud, if his broad smile is anything to go by. The Only Way Is Essex has not been without controversy.
With its wealth of fake tans, fake breasts and flashed cash some claim the show promotes a negative stereotype of the county. I ask Kirk how he responds to such accusations ‘It's the title I think that upsets people,’ he says earnestly. ‘Really it's the story of six people who live in Brentwood. It's not exactly representative. I don't think it should have every really been called “The Only Way Is Essex.”’
So what else can our readers expect from the upcoming second series? ‘Well, we will be hosting a ladies night here at Sugar Hut and I am responsible for picking the male strippers for that.’ I can practically sense the twitterstorm of quotes from that scene already. ‘And I will be asking Lauren to move in with me.’ Congratulations I say, how has this come about? I am twenty two and I am in love. I would rather keep Lauren, than have any other girl. Not as nice as you appear in the show? Sorry Kirk, but we don't believe you for one second.
Series 2 of The Only Way Is Essex starts later this month.
Follow Kirk on Twitter @kirk_official.
FIVE FAVOURITE THINGS:
My family – They are very important to me.
Cars – I plan to get myself a Cadillac Deville.
My Appearance – It is important to look good.
Tattoos – I've got eight. I just really like them,
especially Sex – Because I am really good at it.