Issue No. 73, May 2000
Geordie TV starlet Donna pins herself to the door of your mind
"The art of being clever," states Donna Air, actress, TV presenter, überblonde and party girl supreme, "is to pretend to be stupid."
Think about that for a moment, readers. Clever. Stupid. Stupid. Clever. Values that have divided our society since time immemorial. Arbitrary, simplistic value judgements that seek to uphold the bourgeois cultural hegemony and crush nascent proletarian dreams of a better society for us and our children.
Class war, in other words.
That's not what Donna is talking about, though. She's talking about her hair.
"I don't mind people thinking I'm this dizzy blonde bimbo," she shrugs with a mischievous grin. "If you play it dumb, you can get away with anything."
In which case, Donna has got away with more than her fair share. I mean, to be born blonde might possibly be regarded as misfortune. To not be born with the surname 'Air' but choose it anyway, making it temptingly easy for unkind observers to add the word 'head', looks like carelessness.
"Nat [Appleton from All Saints] calls me Airhead," she casually admits, while getting her make-up done for her highly intelligent loaded photoshoot, "and she's one of my best mates. I must admit, I do come up with some corkers when I'm not on the ball. I can be really on it and really bright, but I do like having my daft half-hours when I don't make any sense. So in a way, the name is justified, sometimes."
Maybe people wouldn't notice if you dyed your hair an 'interesting' shade of, say, ginger...
"It's funny you should say that, because I think a change might be round the corner. But I don't honestly believe that changing my hair colour is going to drastically change my IQ. I do say stupid things. When people pick me up on it, I just say, 'What d'you expect? I am blonde, after all.' I don't have to prove to anyone how clever or cool I am - I'm just happy being the way I am and happy with whatever anyone thinks of me. They don't know me, so their opinion doesn't count as far as I'm concerned. I'm always learning more about what I do, and I don't think I'm doing too bad."
She certainly isn't. Nine years after she first appeared on the box in Byker Grove, you probably know Donna best from The Big Breakfast. Keener couch potatoes among you will also fondly remember her comely corkscrew curls, innocently exuberant battle with the autocue and 'post-professionalist' approach to presenting on the likes of MTV's Select phone-in and Apocalypse Tube. Never has enthusiastic amateurism looked so aesthetically pleasing.
Especially this morning. Despite the early hour, she wafts through the door cutting a figure somewhere between Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot and Melvyn Hayes in It Ain't Half Hot, Mum. Even in a pair of tatty old flares and a T-shirt, she exudes the kind of sex-kitten glamour that supermodels would try way too hard to affect: tiny face encased in porcelain skin and oval shades, smiling with genuine, carefree chirpiness.
Alas, she's not feeling quite herself this morning. Heavy night, was it?
"You've got a bloody cheek!" she seethes, her sunny demeanour suddenly clouding over at this seemingly innocuous line of questioning.
"This idea that I go out every night on the piss, it's outrageous! Because, as people who know me will confirm, I very rarely go out, and I always drink in moderation. I mean, most nights I'm curled up on the sofa in my slippers with a cup of cocoa, in bed by 10..."
Oh. Right then. Fancy a pint?
"Oh alright, I'm lying," she grins, unable to maintain the pretence of innocence for more than five seconds. "I do like a drink and I do like a party. That is correct. It's the only way to stay sane, isn't it? You have to go out and let off a bit of steam, I honestly think it's essential. You can't just live for work or you'd slowly kill yourself."
Indeed. Now more than ever, the world needs role models to guide the young and vulnerable along the path of righteousness. You know the path I'm talking about - it runs alongside the road of excess and leads to the mini-roundabout of eternal wisdom.
So it is surely right and proper that Donna is the new 'face' of Vladivar vodka. I don't ask whether they've sponsored her liver as well, but we can assume that comes with the territory. After all, her predecessors - Sara Cox and Meg Matthews before her - are both reputed to be fearsome booze vikings.
Donna has the art of drinking down to a science. She even has rules. "Never give a man your phone number when he asks - he will definitely track you down within 24 hours," for example.
"I never abide by it, though. I give my number out to everyone. Too many people, in fact. When I've had a drink I'm like, 'Yeah yeah, give me a call!' Half of London's got my phone number. But no, you shouldn't really. You've got to keep men on their toes."
Haven't you ended up with several stalkers through this reckless behaviour?
"I haven't, actually. I think I'd quite like one, though. It'd be quite glam, wouldn't it? Dead showbiz. The trouble is, I like mad characters, so I don't think I'd be able to deal with them properly. I'd just end up going to the pub with them and I'd shatter all their illusions."
That's the appeal of Donna. She's the Wonderbra girl next door, the blonde bombshell you could take home to Mum and then go out and get riotously pissed with. She may not be the kind of ultra-professional ice queen you're used to seeing on telly, but you get the impression of a real girl, someone you could meet in your local and have a laugh with. Even if your drunken attempts to take your acquaintance further would inevitably meet with a firm but friendly brush-off.
She wouldn't take you to just any old pub, mind. Donna is a leading member of the capital's ligging elite, based around the shuddering epicentre of Londonstrendymetbar, the exclusive aristocrats' alehouse and Mecca for middle-ranking celebrity on Park Lane. A Martini costs about eight quid, a round's about a week's wages, and the women are at least two hundred quid a night... sorry, I meant the rooms.
But then, if Donna went down the Flakjacket & Firkin, she wouldn't be able to move for male suitors. There'd be a bloody riot. And imagine how unscrupulous bystanders might take advantage of her if she should find herself all of a flutter after a tipple too many.
"That doesn't happen very often," she claims. "I do keep it together pretty well. If I get to the point where I'm falling on the floor, then one of my mates will take me home. It's a Northern thing, isn't it? They're all a bit soft down south. They can't take their drink, most of them. I get it off my dad, I think. He always liked a drink, and I think he blessed me with good drinking genes.
"I'm a really nice drunk, me. I just start dancing around and having a laugh with the girls and telling everyone how much I love them. I can't stand it when people can't take their drink, and get all argumentative or aggressive."
Are we to assume she has no regular male escort to protect her from unchivalrous advances? Or, to put it bluntly, isn't she going out with anyone at the moment?
"Well that's a bit of a cheeky question, isn't it?"
Oh, I don't know. A simple 'yes' or 'no' would do, followed by intimate details of your private sex games...
"No, it's just me and my bottle of vodka."
Bloody hell. You want to watch yourself, our kid. Besides, surely a bottle is no substitute for the warm embrace of a strong, virile lover to help you through the cold, dark night?
"I'm 20 years old, enjoying life, so you can make your own conclusions from that, I dare say."
So you juggle them like plates on sticks, then?
"Pfff! Well! It's a long time since I did a loaded interview, but now I remember... no, I don't believe in messing people around. I'm fairly conventional in the way I conduct my love life."
What kind of men tend to go for you?
"God, I don't know. Insane ones!"
You'd look good with a footballer on your arm.
"I did date a footballer once, I think," she reveals cryptically. "I went on a blind date with one. I'm not going to say who it was - it would be embarrassing for both parties. I'm not really cut out to go out with a footballer. You're alright if you can talk about cars for five hours, but otherwise you're stumped."
Aww. Not to worry. She can surely take comfort in the positive vibrations flowing through the airwaves from all the adolescent viewers who enjoy fantasies of making her acquaintance. Does she find the idea of 15-year-olds getting pleasure from her an encouraging one?
"It's quite nice, I suppose. It's pretty harmless. I used to have posters on my wall when I was young. It's nice to have people to look up to, idolise. I'm just flattered if people look at me in that way."
Even if they're looking at you while doing those things that adolescent boys do?
"I don't know what you're talking about! I've never been a boy, so I'll just leave that up to the boys and not think about it, thank you very much!"
Fair enough. But there comes a time in every woman's life, or so someone once reckoned to me in the playground, when she questions whether this heterosexuality lark is worth the trouble, when she could be enjoying the warm bosom of sapphic sisterhood. Has Donna ever felt attracted to other women?
"I can't say I ever have. I know that's not very interesting for the male readers - you can pretend I am if you want! I know a lot of straight girls who have dabbled in it, and I reckon it's just because it's trendy. I have no problem with it, but I've never tried. Who knows? By the time I'm 30 I could switch sides. But I doubt it."
You get the feeling, though, that even if she suddenly discovered she was a hermaphrodite shoe-fetishist, this girl would take it in her stride without too much self-analysis. Donna Air, as you may have deduced by now, is a party girl. A society beauty in the classics mould. And she looks good on the telly. To criticise her for that feels like slagging off Vinnie Jones for his lack of understanding of Halifax's drainage network.
So next time you see her in your local exclusive top people's watering hole, buy Donna a drink. She is an inspiration to airheads everywhere.