‘I is out here on day two in the Calamari. It’s about a thousand degreeses. It’s baking! I is hotter than I ever been on any sunbed. Ha-ha. Yeah. They’re going to be well jealous of my tan when I get back to Essex. And it’s a long way from Essex, out here. Probably about…’ Stuey stuck his bottom lip out and shrugged. Smiled. ‘Probably about a thousand miles! It’s mental. It’s wild!’
Stuey ran his hand over his well-trained quiff, careful not to actually touch it, smiled again. The bright African sun glinted off his silk-white teeth. He winked for the camera. Then he turned his back and ran off, gangling, towards a group of native boys playing football. ‘’Ere y’are, boys. Pass to me, ay? Gi’us the ball. Pass it.’
It was true that the camera loved him. But the man operating it certainly did not.
‘Stuey,’ the cameraman called after him. ‘Stuey. Stuart!’
Stuey turned, squinting in the sun.
‘You’ve got to come back and do it again.’
‘What do you mean? I must of got it right that time. I done it like…a thousand times.
Each time he said it, thousand came out as faaasund.
The boom operator turned to Ollie, the cameraman. ‘Maybe after one to ten, the only number he knows is a faaasund.’
‘I would be truly surprised if he knew what one to ten was,’ Ollie replied. ‘Well, we need to do it for the thousandth and first time,’ he called out to Stuey. ‘Until we get it right, yeah?’
‘You don’t want to look to stupid, do you?’ he muttered under his breath as Stuey began to trudge back.
‘What did I do wrong this time then?’ Stuey asked, kicking the dirt petulantly. He pulled the fabric of his fluorescent yellow Jack & Jones t-shirt, depicting a scantily clad lady, from his sticky chest. ‘I was sure I done it right.’
‘You said Calamari,’ Ollie replied wearily. ‘Again.’
Behind his boom mic, Lewis sniggered into his fist.
‘Yeah. Well what’s it supposed to be then?’
‘We’re in the Kalahari. Calamari is fried squid. Kalahari is an African desert. Where we’re supposed to filming a fun and informative nature documentary.’
‘Well they sound the same to me,’ Stuey replied. ‘No one’s going to notice, are they? Can’t you just edit it, or something? That’s what they always did on Essex Callin’.’
Yes, and before working with you I’d always assumed that that particular show’s producers only did that to paint you in the worst possible light, Ollie thought, leaving only the dumbest sounding bits in. God only knows what ended up on the cutting room floor.
‘This isn’t Essex Callin’, Stuey. This is a documentary. For the BBC. Unfortunately David Attenborough was busy this week. But the viewers would at the very least expect you to know where it is that we’re setting the documentary. Come on, mate. You’ve had three days to learn the name of the place. And, again, it’s just degrees. Not degreeses.’
‘Who’s he, then?’
‘That bloke you said. David Attinbruv?’
‘Yeah, him. Where’s he, then? You said he was busy.’
‘I don’t know. It was a joke. Supposed to be.’
‘Can’t I just go and play football for a bit?’ Stuey moaned. ‘They’re waiting for me to join in.’
They all three looked over to the game of football that was continuing without the slightest regard for Stuey.
‘You can go when you get it right,’ Ollie said. ‘Just one more try, yeah? That’s what you’re being paid for. You can just say, “Here I am out in the wilds of Botswana,” if you like. Think you can manage that?’
‘Bots what? Thought we was in Africa?’
Ollie inhaled deeply. ‘Look, just say you’re out here in the African desert on day three of your It’s Wild! journey. Then just do your smile and run off to play football with the kids. We’ll do the rest.’
‘And don’t forget I got to do my thing: It’s mental. It’s Wild!’ Stuey smiled proudly.
‘That’s right.’ Ollie raised his eyebrows at Lewis, his cheekbone pulsing beneath his stubble as he gritted his teeth. ‘Ready?’
Lewis readjusted the boom mic in his grip, hovering it over Stuey.
Ollie raised the camera, pointed it at Stuey.
Stuey jogged up and down on the spot, whipping his head from side to side. ‘Come on, boy,’ he spoke to the ground. ‘We ain’t got all day.’
‘All right, Stuey. This time. Five, four, three, two…’ Ollie pointed a finger and thumb at Stuey.
‘This is Stuey, out here in the jungle in Bosnia. It’s well ‘ot. About a faaasund degreeses. I’m sweating like a fucking pimp! It’s mental. It’s wild. Whooo!’ Stuey palmed his quiff, winked, and ran off to play football. ‘Oi! Boy! Pass it ‘ere, yeah? Pass it us, yeah?’
Lewis lowered the boom mic to the ground.
Ollie panned past Stuey – who was running like an idiot, dipping and diving from side to side, kicking an imaginary ball – to the children playing football beyond him. Zoomed to the grazing wildebeest in the far distance. Fading the shot to the lowering deep-orange sun in the West.
He switched off the camera. Put a hand to his aching forehead. ‘Jesus.’
‘Hard work?’ Lewis asked, smiling cautiously.
‘There are children and animals aplenty here that I would gladly work with, no matter for the old adage. But working with perhaps the most stupid, ill-educated human being on the planet…’ He left the words to drift off into the approaching dusk. ‘I’ve shot documentaries with retired sports stars, soap actors, wannabe rappers, football hooligans, pensioners. Even convicts. But trying to work with someone who’s famous just for being on a reality TV show is the most impossible task I’ve ever been assigned.’
‘I don’t know,’ Lewis said. ‘Perhaps we can do a voiceover later, once Stuey calms down a bit. When he’s tucked up comfortably in his jammies.’
Lewis sighed, staring off at the wildebeest. ‘Yeah.’
‘Fancy a cold beer, mate?’ Lewis asked, to break the silence.
‘Like never before in my life,’ Ollie replied.
‘What time are we leaving for safari in the morning?’
‘Well, I’m not sure that we’ll even have a presenter in the morning, to be honest, Lewis. At the moment I’m seriously considering dressing Stuey up in a zebra onesie and pointing him in the direction of the lions after the sun goes down.’
‘Morning, fellas!’ Stuey said, bounding over keenly to where Ollie and Lewis were boiling water over an open fire. He readjusted the bandana tied around his forehead. ‘Ready for a day out in the wild?’
Ollie and Lewis looked up bleary-eyed at Stuey. He was swinging his hips from side to side. Perfectly manicured and groomed in the early morning light. For all of his unfortunate lack in brain matter, his energy and enthusiasm could only be witnessed with admiration.
‘Did you read through your notes explaining what to expect out on the plains today, Stuey?’ Ollie asked. ‘Things to mention to the viewers? I can’t stress enough how important it is that we get some good shots today.’
‘It’s mental!’ Stuey continued, ignoring what Ollie had said as he kicked a wayward rock around in the dust. ‘Those kids I was playing football with know all the English players. All the teams. They asked if I know Wayne Rooney. If I ever met David Beckham. Told them I have, a TV awards party. Nice bloke. Bit thick, though.’
Ollie’s blood simmered, even as the water was yet to boil.
He couldn’t fathom how so many talentless nobodies had somehow managed to inveigle their way on to British television. Even to end up in front of his camera. How gullible must the British public be to keep falling for such shallow charm and charisma? Whilst it kept him in money, he supposed that he’d just have to continue to point his camera, grimace and bear it.
‘They even tell me the weekend scores,’ Stuey continued. ‘Liverpool done Newcastle, ‘pparently. Chelsea could only draw at the Bridge against Sunderland. That’s exactly what they said. Little brown boy says, “Chelsea, they only draw at Bridge,”’ Stuey repeated in the most ridiculous indigenous accent. ‘He reckoned it’s ‘cause Lampard don’t play for them no more. They know more than I does!’ he exclaimed wondrously.
‘Who’d imagine that?’ Ollie said, poking a stick into the fire.
‘I know, right? But the mental thing is that they already even knowed who I is,’ Stuey said toeing the rock.
Ollie and Lewis both looked up doubtfully at Stuey.
Stuey kicked the rock into the fire, causing the pan of hot water to tilt.
Ollie clenched his fist, before calmly resetting the pan. He looked over to where the town elders were conversing with the translator assigned to them. He would go over in a moment and speak to them of his plans for the day’s shoot – even though Stuey clearly didn’t have the slightest clue. The elders had agreed that the crew of three could accompany them on their journey: a hunt in the wild.
‘Yeah, it’s true. It’s mental. Ha-ha, It’s Wild!’ Stuey dropped down to the ground next to Ollie. Then, realising that his expensive white Dolce & Gabbana shorts were in contact with the dirty ground, he quickly jumped up into a crouching position, keeping one hand on the dirt to steady himself. ‘I is even famous out here!’ he beamed proudly. A comment not much appreciated by Ollie – not escaping Lewis’s attention.
‘Seems they get all the big TV shows from the UK out here in the jungle, not just Match of the Day.’
‘It’s a desert, Stuey. Not a jungle,’ Lewis said, smiling at Ollie. ‘Jungles have trees.’
‘Yeah, mate. There is trees out here too, y’know? Look!’
‘You’re right about that,’ Lewis agreed, casting another bemused glance at Ollie.
‘So you’re telling me that the kids in this tribe have watched Essex Callin’?’ Ollie asked.
‘Oh yeah,’ Stuey replied. ‘They actually love it, ‘pparently. Can’t get enough. That and the X Factor.’
They were filming out in the open wilds of the Kalahari Desert. Perhaps it was the gravity of the fact that he’d been repeatedly reminded that there were man-eating animals out here that Stuey was almost able to film a clip in one take.
They had been led by their Bushmen guides to a dug hide, protected only by hastily latticed prickly branches, deep out in the desert.
‘All right gang!’ he said excitedly, as if he were in a studio, or hairdressers, on a Saturday morning. ‘Here we are on day three of my It’s Wild! tour. It’s –’
‘Stuey!’ Ollie hissed. ‘The translator’s been trying to tell you to keep your voice down. Remember where you are, yeah? This is their livelihood, remember. Which, if you didn’t know, means that they need some quiet to hunt. OK?’
‘Livelihood?’ Stuey queried. ‘Yeah, OK.’
The eldest of the Bushmen issued a serious of clicks, by way of a warning to the translator – information to be passed on.
‘He says you keep your voice quiet,’ the translator warned Ollie, to his annoyance. ‘This not just because of scaring animal from watering place. On our journey, San detect that there dangerous animal out here too. We must not attract them. Or scare animal feed us away.’
The elder Bushman kept his eyes on Stuey. Looking from his sandaled feet to his coiffed hair and back down, past his white designer shorts. He then looked at each of the other two Bushmen in turn, half-smiling at each, revealing the gaps in his teeth, like those of an herbivore. Then they resumed their watch on the watering hole. Bow with arrow readied on the string.
‘Still rolling, Stuey,’ Ollie whispered. ‘We still have a documentary to make, yeah?’
Stuey’s cocksure demeanour seemed to have momentarily deserted him, along with his fake tan, leaving him rather pale-looking. He slipped a little further down into the hide. ‘What about the dangerous animals, mate? These the man-eating ones you mentioned, is they?’
‘It’s the Kalahari, Stuey,’ Ollie replied. ‘The animals, this place, it’s the wild out here, yeah? Free to roam? You’ve heard of lions, yeah? This isn’t London flipping Zoo.’
‘Yeah. No. I know,’ Stuey stammered. ‘Oh, what? Lions? Out here? It ain’t fried squid, is it?’
Ollie actually found himself smiling. ‘Still rolling, Stuey,’ he reminded.
Stuey composed himself. He issued a slightly lopsided smile to his waiting viewers.
Before Stuey could address the camera, the elder Bushman clicked a couple of comments to his companions.
‘What’d he say?’ Stuey asked the translator. ‘Why don’t he just talk English, ay? Ain’t that, like, more easy than click, clicky, cluck, cluck? Sound like pigeons.’
‘I think that you mean chickens, Stuey,’ Ollie replied. ‘And don’t forget that whilst we’re filming you’re supposed to be telling the viewers what it’s like out here, yeah?’
It would surely be easier to teach algebra to infant school pupils.
‘Well, it’s flippin’ mental, innit, listening to those weirdoes clicking?’ Stuey said. ‘What he say, mate?’
‘Say gemsbok pack coming to watering place,’ the translator replied, looking over the Bushmen’s shoulders.
‘Does they eat people?’
The translator smiled and shook his head. ‘They food animal.’
Stuey nodded. ‘Good, mate.’
‘Still rolling, Stuey,’ Ollie reminded wearily. ‘Just keep remembering that you’re making a nature documentary here. And that there’s nature abound all around you. But I’m sure that we’re perfectly safe.’
Stuey nodded and wiped his hands on his shorts, realised that he’d wiped dirt on them, and looked around himself, as if for a wet wipe. He looked accusingly at his hands. Then readjusted his bandana.
‘Remember the things that your notes said you should mention?’ Ollie asked slowly. ‘Now would be a really good time to do so.’
‘What notes is they supposed to be, then?’ Stuey asked, frowning.
Ollie couldn’t even be bothered to waste his breath in the dry heat by sighing.
Stuey cleared his throat, causing the elder Bushman to stare spears at him.
‘Um. Ah. Sorry,’ he stammered. ‘OK, so…’ he whispered, trying to smile. ‘Hello gang. It’s day three of my It’s Wild! tour. We is out here in the…er…desert. We been led here by a group of San Bushmen guides to a hide by a watering hole you’ll notice just over my shoulder here.’
As he illustrated Stuey’s narrative by directing the camera over his shoulder at the Bushmen, Ollie nodded approvingly.
‘There’s literally actually faaasunds of wild animals out here. We been told that not all of them is friendly, neither. It ain’t exactly London flippin’ Zoo, if you know what I mean.’ Stuey looked expertly over his shoulder, pausing for effect. ‘All that is separating us from the big wild out there is a few broken twigs and branches making a kind of spiky fence around us down in our hole.
‘The Bushmen is hunting for their dinner, using just bows and arrows. See, there ain’t a Subway for miles. I been looking!’ The cheeky smile, flirting with camera, irritated Ollie. But he continued to fill the lens with the brainless fake celebrity before him.
‘I don’t know the exact name of the animal they is hunting by the watering hole. But they look like deers. I is sure they is tasty enough between two slices of bread.’
Again, hardly Attenborough. But Stuey was at least finally fulfilling the task assigned to him. Albeit none too fastidiously.
Suddenly, behind Stuey, Ollie noticed the Bushmen become tense. They seemed to no longer be observing the watering hole. They looking were to their right, clicking rapidly to each other. Gripping their bows and arrows tighter in their hands. Poised as if to pounce. Or to run.
Stuey continued his documentary, informing his viewers that in no way could this place be compared to Southend on a Friday night. He told them that it was mental.
‘It’s wi –’ Suddenly he was as alert as the Bushmen. ‘What the fucking hell was that?’
‘Quick. The Bushmen want you over here. They ask for Essex boy and camera to come.’
No longer caring for the fabric of his shorts, on his hands and knees Stuey crept over to where the Bushmen were now staring intensely, their backs arched like hyenas. ‘Wh…what is it?’
The translator pointed through the sparse branches of the hide to where a leopard was prowling. Even as it stepped slowly across the dry ground, its eyes were fastened on the hide. Even with each rise and fall of its muscular shoulder blades, its head was set level, unerringly. Threateningly.
Stuey felt that the Leopard’s eyes were fixed directly on him.
‘It’s a…flippin’ tiger! What’s he looking at us like that for?’ Stuey asked, his voice raised a pitch higher than usual.
Before the Bushmen could issue another click, they darted out of the hide in the opposite direction to the leopard, who continued to slowly approach the hide.
‘Hey!’ Stuey called. He gripped the translator by the shoulders and shook him. ‘What’s going on?’
From behind Stuey, Ollie continued to film the approach of the leopard, occasionally passing the lens over the face of the terrified and underqualified presenter. And finally enjoying every second of it.
Like he had heard it said, you don’t have to be faster than the animal chasing you. You just don’t want to be the slowest one running away from it.
‘We must sit and we wait,’ the translator replied.
‘Sit and wait?’ Stuey repeated, his voice now shrill with panic. ‘What for? For us to be dinner? The hunter becomes the hunted?’
Even Ollie had to admit that Stuey’s use of trope was terrifically apt. Perhaps he could make it as a wildlife presenter after all. If he was ever tasked with another outing by making it out of this one alive.
Through his camera, Ollie observed that the leopard had now advanced halfway towards the hide.
‘Me, I off too,’ the translator spoke calmly, and he slipped out in the same direction as the Bushmen.
‘Heh…hey!’Stuey’s stricken, sweaty face filled the lens. Slowly, he slumped down to the bottom of the hide, gripping the dry soil, repeating obscenities over and over.
They would have to be beeped out of the transmission, thought Ollie, ensuring that the camera never left the presenter’s face.
Joined by Lewis, he hunkered down behind Stuey. He picked up a stick and slid it into Stuey’s grip. ‘For safety, mate,’ he whispered to the whimpering, designer-clad lump in front of him.
The camera he now kept focused on the top of the hide, expecting at any moment the yellow, black and white head to poke through the branches.
He was not disappointed.
Two minutes later, sure enough, the face of the leopard appeared at the top of the hide, piercing green eyes glaring down on the three Englishmen.
Gradually moving his head forward into the hide. Smelling.
Arching his back. Ready to pounce.
Lifting his huge front paw to begin his advance into the hide.
‘Oh, please,’ Stuey said, peering through his fingers. He grabbed onto Ollie’s ankle. Digging his neatly manicured nails into the material of his trousers. ‘Please don’t eat me.’
Ollie had one of the best nature shots ever filmed panning out in front of him. No doubt destined to one day feature on a programme called ‘When Animals Attack,’ or something of the like. Perhaps, ‘Wild Animals Do The Nastiest Things To Dim-witted Essex Boys.’
‘Please,’ Stuey whimpered.
‘Please a faaasund times,’ Ollie whispered to Lewis, making them both chuckle.
The leopard slowly stepped down the wall of the hide, tiny rocks cascading before his advance, his eyes fixed on Stuey.
Just feet away from him.
Just two big paw steps away.
Stuey had curled into a ball, muttering prayers in a high-pitched voice.
And then the leopard leaned forward and licked Stuey’s hands with one long, thick, rough tongue. Then it licked him again.
Stuey opened his eyes. His vision was filled with the head of the leopard.
Beyond the leopard, at the top of the hide, the three Bushman stood laughing, holding their sides, pointing at the uncomprehending presenter of It’s Wild!
‘Wha – ?’ Stuey asked, wiping his wet eyes. ‘Wha – ?’
‘Oh, we…get you, Essex boy,’ the elder Bushman said, through his laughter. ‘We get you good.’
‘Meet Prince Charles,’ the translator said, re-joining the group from behind the Bushmen, indicating the leopard curling up on Stuey’s feet. ‘The friendliest wild animal you ever meet.’
Prince Charles looked up into Stuey’s eyes.
Ollie and Lewis high-fived one another.
‘Yes, yes,’ smiled the elder Bushman. ‘We send this to Harry Hill, I think. We share two hundred fifty pounds. Now we all on TV.’