Rhona's spiritual side emerges in the Naked Drinking Club
Rhona Cameron – former reality TV moaner – has the last laugh with her funny, dark and touching first novel about drunken Brits Down Under, writes James Kidd It s becoming increasingly hard to define Rhona Cameron s career. Stand-up comedian, sit-com wr
Rhona Cameron - former reality TV moaner - has the last laugh with her funny, dark and touching first novel about drunken Brits Down Under, writes James Kidd
It's becoming increasingly hard to define Rhona Cameron's career. Stand-up comedian, sit-com writer, presenter of Gaytime TV, quiz show host, reality television star, bestselling memoirist, the Tufnell Park resident has been all these and more - not least centre back for local football team, Camden FC.
"I'm knackered now," the chatty Cameron says of her football career. "I'm getting on. I have maybe one more year left."
With the publication of The Naked Drinking Club, Cameron has added yet another string to her bow: that of writing fiction. Along with memoir 1979, her frank account of her childhood in Scotland, this is Cameron's proudest achievement to date.
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"A lot of people say, 'Rhona, you're a really great stand-up, why don't you do it more?' But the only things I am really proud of, that I feel I have got some self-respect from, are my two books. I really worked for the first time in the entire history of my life. Everything else I have winged. You can't a wing a book."
In some ways, The Naked Drinking Club picks up where 1979 left off. Kerry, our hero, is young, Scottish, feisty, funny and adopted - not unlike Cameron herself. Yet, while Cameron found her biological parents in Newcastle, Kerry travels all the way to Australia to uncover her origins. Falling in with a diverse group of ex-pats flogging terrible paintings door-to-door around Sydney, she embarks on a hedonistic voyage of self-discovery that is funny (thanks to some smart dialogue), dark and occasionally rather moving.
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Based partly on Cameron's own experiences (she spent time Down Under and sold paintings door-to-door), the novel is a coming of age story that continues to have strong personal meaning for its 41-year-old author. "It's my midlife crisis book," Cameron says. "I wanted to give Kerry some of the direction, some of the wisdom that I wish that I had then. It was hard writing a character who was younger and frivolous and hedonistic who doesn't understand what it's all about, because I understand now."
In part, this is a reference to Cameron's personal battles with drink and drugs. "I have been a totally self-absorbed person all my life - as you can imagine. Not in a healthy way, but through a lot of isolation. I closed myself off from others and used drinking and transitory connections with people rather than building depth."
Cameron is also alluding to the complicated question of her family background: 1979 was the year she discovered she was adopted, not long before the death of her father. The subjects of family, parents and adoption dominate her novel and conversation alike. Indeed, she says, the writing process has been helpful and even cathartic.
"A lot of people who are adopted find it hard to build permanence in their lives - whether it's relationships, jobs, houses. I have relied on transient experiences to come to terms with my past or avoid it. Drink, drugs. You could even say that stand-up is quite fleeting, highs and lows. A book stays with you. The whole nurturing process - giving birth to it, giving it over, looking after it right to the end does have an affect. It engages me in a process of permanence."
Writing may have helped Cameron come to terms with who she is, but some people have yet to catch up. She may be a twice-published writer, a respected comedian with a diverse television career in comedy behind her, but many continue to see her as the stroppy Scottish lesbian from I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here - the one who delivered a 'Sometimes' speech in which she slated fellow contestants Nigel Benn, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and Tony Blackburn.
Such limitations may be frustrating, but Cameron accepts them with good humour. One Celebrity-related anecdote leaves her close to hysterics. "I was queuing at a cashpoint in Mayfair and this mum and daughter came up and said, 'You're Rhona from I'm A Celebrity aren't you? What was your speech again?'"
Cameron was mumbling embarrassed nothings when the pair, refusing to take no for an answer, grabbed her hands and began encouraging her to recite her long-forgotten words. "I was trying to keep a low profile. They were trying to get me to say it. 'Wasn't it...sometimes?' they said. 'That's it.' They took my arms and started chanting, 'Sometimes we are all like that' and getting me to join in."
At this point Cameron was tapped on the shoulder. "I turned around and it was f**king Ricky Gervais. He said, 'You're not still doing that, are you? That's ages ago and you're still going on about it?' Of all the people to see me just then. I said, 'Ricky it's really not how it looks.'"
Really not how it looks? This complex, funny and multi-talented entertained couldn't have described it better.
The Naked Drinking Club - Drunk, Disorderly And Down Under by Rhona Cameron is published by Ebury Press, £12.99.