It all started before she was even born. It wasn’t as if her mother was unique in being influenced by pop culture, but being one of a proliferation of Kylies was in fact small consolation for Kylie Brownlow. And the whole choice-of-name thing was a sign, had she but known it, of other celebrity-influenced things to come.
She had recently read about women seeking to introduce worthy traits to their unborn offspring by placing a tube to their pregnant belly and wafting improving music down the shaft. But where middle class parents doubtless imbued their pre-natal Sebastians and Samanthas with some carefully selected Bach and Beethoven, Kylie suspected her mother of pumping her full of Australian soap-cum-pop-star, liberally interspersed with blasts of Irene Cara exhorting the little embryo to ‘remember my name, Fame, I’m gonna live for ever’.
Disappointingly for Carol Brownlow, when daughter Kylie emerged into the world on September 17th 1988 there was no scrum of paparazzi – just a reassuring midwife and a rather uncomfortable Barry Brownlow, whose own father had most certainly not been present at Barry’s birth because, as Mr Brownlow Senior had elegantly expressed it, that was ‘female stuff’. After uselessly hanging about whilst Carol screamed and sweated her way through several hours of labour, Barry felt that his father might not have been far off the mark.
In fact Barry was more like his dad than he chose to admit. Whilst he was delighted to have fathered a lovely little girl, ‘fathering’ to Barry was essentially a physical act that took place approximately nine months before Kylie’s birth rather than a continuing emotional and practical commitment demanding his time and energy for years to come. In some ways this may not have been such a bad thing for his marriage, as it would have been unlikely that Carol - despite occasional protestations to the contrary - would have welcomed any significant intrusion into her parenting style.
The first paper evidence that Kylie had of Carol’s over-commitment to her daughter’s potential place in the bright lights of public adulation was a yellowing double page spread of the Stroud News and Journal’s 1989 Baby of the Year competition.
Looking at that gallery now, Kylie was struck by three interesting observations.
Firstly, it seemed that maybe as many as 50% of the babies had apparently been born out of focus. Whilst this may have been something of a saving grace for some of the ugliest on display, it struck Kylie as odd that parents should go to the trouble of sending in a picture to the paper without taking care to ensure that their offspring’s features were at least basically visible.
Secondly, if you were going to give yourself any chance of getting into the top three, Kylie assumed that submitting a photo of your baby at least vaguely smiling would be preferable to a picture of your baby scowling, crying or projectile vomiting. Nonetheless, this rudimentary insight appeared to have evaded a significant proportion of the newspaper’s readership.
To be fair to her mother, however - which was something Kylie had since spent many years trying to be - her own photo was fine. Not wonderful, but certainly fine. Her head was unblurred and no features were missing, and whilst the look on her face was neither beatific nor joyous, it certainly suggested a greater measure of contentment than distress.
The third thing Kylie noticed was that she was one of nine Kylies.
Unfortunately, Kylie had not won a prize, despite Carol writing a disbelieving letter of complaint to the editor to say that even though she knew the judge’s decision was final, surely there must have been some kind of a mistake. As Kylie now scanned the photos, she suspected that she probably hadn’t even been in the top three Kylies.
And so the pattern for her childhood and early adolescence was set. Barry was officially proud but actually uninvolved, and Carol was lovingly obsessive. There was nothing obvious in Carol’s background to explain her lust for vicarious fame, but there was plenty in her daily life to prove it. Kylie was enrolled in the Anna Davies School of Dance almost before she could walk, and by the time she was four she had begun the long journey towards possible celebrity and certain deformity of the toes. When Kylie Brownlow shuffled onto the stage at The Subscription Rooms in her pink tutu for her first fifty seconds of fame as one of twelve Sylvan Glade Fairies (and one of only two Kylies), Carol’s heart swelled almost as much as her daughter’s feet. And, as far as Carol could tell as she craned her neck to pick out her daughter behind the really good dancers at the front, Kylie barely put a foot wrong. In fact, Carol was so excited that she completely forgot to use her camcorder in order to preserve for posterity those first literal and metaphorical steps. However, this oversight was easily rectified as Carol had already bought herself a ticket for each of the other three performances.
At primary school, Kylie was in every class play, though this was more a reflection of headteacher Mr Johnson’s egalitarian participation policy than an indication of Kylie’s particular talent. Nonetheless, Carol remained convinced of her daughter’s destiny amongst the stars of stage and screen. By the age of ten Kylie was not only dancing fairly adequately but she had also begun to show similar levels of ability when singing and acting.
Kylie attended the Anna Davies School of Dance for twelve years - every Saturday morning and then the big summer show each July. She calculated that she must have spent nearly three thousand hours of her childhood being a consistently mediocre performer. She didn’t not enjoy it, and she knew her mum loved coming to see her, but soon after she hit puberty she began to feel that there might be other options for her Saturday mornings. This was directly linked to the fact that she had discovered a new attraction of her own – not boys, but books. Whilst Carol still sought public acclaim for Kylie, Kylie increasingly sought the public library for herself. There she found private pleasure in a world of imagination. Amongst the pages nobody was watching you. You could be anywhere, witness anything, just for you. And your mother couldn’t thrust a camcorder inside your head.
Inspired partly by the words she read and partly by Mr Brannigan, her flamboyant new English teacher, Kylie began to write as well as read, not only entering other people’s worlds but conjuring up her own.
For Carol, all of this came as a major disappointment, particularly as Kylie’s withdrawal into herself coincided with a physical blossoming which was surely intended to enhance her prospects of future celebrity. Deep down, though, at some unconscious level, Carol knew about Kylie’s abilities. She could dance, but she wasn’t a dancer. She could sing, but she wasn’t a singer. She could act, but she wasn’t an actress. And as she gradually let these truths seep into her conscious mind, Carol at last reached the only logical conclusion. Kylie should be a model.
That was probably the defining moment in the fracturing of their relationship. With a genuine enthusiasm of her own to pursue, Kylie did not respond well to maternal pressure that she should remove significant amounts of clothing under instruction from the slightly odd and more than slightly predatory Michael of Quedgeley Glamour Photography.
It is perhaps unusual for a teenager to fall out with a parent because her mother is pushing her to indulge in more public displays of sexuality than the child might desire, but such was the situation for Kylie and Carol. As for Barry, he found it almost impossibly awkward to be the father of a daughter who was developing a taut bottom and rather lovely breasts.
On the day of her seventeenth birthday, Kylie left home. Not wishing to upset her mother more than necessary, she used her emerging talent as a writer to fabricate an encouraging invitation from an agency in London to which Carol had sent one of her many over-effusive letters.
The carefully forged reply purported to offer Kylie an opportunity to spend six subsidised months living in the city whilst receiving the support of an agent to break into modelling and film work. Anyone other than a zealous parent with a blinkered lust for family fame would have felt this invitation to be at best unlikely and at worst positively dodgy. Fortunately for Kylie’s purposes, however, she knew her mother to be more than adequately blinkered. Carol was far too excited by the invitation to question its veracity. This, after all, was both the culmination and the vindication of seventeen years of Carol’s hard work. She celebrated by announcing Kylie’s big break to each of her friends, to the Anna Davies School of Dance, to several past teachers and to a not insignificant number of complete strangers with whom she chose to initiate conversations in shops or bus queues.
Kylie in fact had taken a flat with Mr Brannigan’s niece, a job at Tescos, and a really interesting course in creative writing. As the end of her six months of not modelling or acting drew near, she set her creative mind to the future. For one whole week she immersed herself in celebrity magazines – a process which elicited two happy outcomes. The first was that from scouring all those pages of gossip and tat it was clear that nobody called Kylie (other than the everlasting Minogue) had become even a minor celebrity. The second was a plan for her mother.
On page 17 of ‘Hot Chat’ magazine there was a lot of flesh and just a few words. Truth be told, this was also the pattern for pages 1-16 and 18-32. It was difficult to conceive of anyone designated as a writer for ‘Hot Chat’. Those words that had been allowed to intrude on the photos were mostly captions, usually in block capitals and pretty much overwhelmed by a rash of exclamation marks!! Kylie could not help but feel that the nearest ‘Hot Chat’ got to the role of ‘writer’ was ’typesetter’.
Nevertheless, the few words on page 17 were to prove to be the inspiration for Kylie’s plan. They revealed the existence of Candy Fortune, body double to the stars. Prompted into some unlikely web research, Kylie discovered the hidden world of women whose role in life is to substitute one - or more usually two - of their body parts for those of a famous actress who wishes to maintain her modesty (or who maybe has some unsightly spots).
Gleefully Kylie hand-wrote a letter to her mother. It was a glorious work of fiction. She revealed with mischievous ambiguity that after several weeks of auditions she had got ‘a part’ in a film with Keira Knightley. Kylie kept her supposed role a surprise but advised her mother to keep a particular eye out for a couple of key scenes in which Ms Knightley and she both appeared.
When Kylie’s phone rang on the evening of the film’s Gloucestershire premiere, her frustrated mother’s disappointment overflowed down the line. ‘You weren’t there, darling. I looked so hard, and you simply weren’t there. They must have cut your scenes. It’s so unfair.’ When the storm of outrage subsided, Kylie played her ace. ‘I’m there, mum. I’m what they call Keira Knightley’s body double. You know when she’s lying naked on the bed? That’s my bum, not hers.’
This was Kylie’s moment. A well-crafted lie as gentle revenge for years of Carol’s pushiness. A parody of those maternal dreams. Not her name in lights; just her bum on the screen. She listened for her mother’s embarrassed deflation.
‘That’s fantastic, darling!’ This was not the response Kylie had expected. Even after all those years she had under-estimated the depths her mother was prepared to plumb in search of her daughter’s celebrity status. ‘Darling’, Carol recalled, ‘Your father did once say you had a hell of an arse on you’.
Kylie didn’t have the heart to tell her mother the truth. It actually suited them both to maintain the deception. For Carol, she had sort of got what she’d always wanted. She happily boasted of her daughter’s bizarre success, and all around the southern Cotswolds there were middle-aged women going to the cinema, checking out what may or may not have been Keira Knightley’s bare bottom, and phoning Carol to say they’d seen Kylie and that they thought her bum was just great.
For Kylie the deception was straightforward and actually quite entertaining to nurture. Since no film’s credits ever rolled with the immortal words, ‘Ms Knightley’s arse was played by Candy Fortune’, there were limitless opportunities to develop her unusual claim to fame. Indeed, Kylie’s research told her that the same person’s bum could appear as Keira Knightley’s one week and as Scarlet Johannson’s the next. So Kylie simply went to the cinema from time to time, made sure there was a scene in which someone famous stripped off, and penned another note to Carol.
And for Christmas 2009, after what was admittedly a slightly drunken party with her writers’ group friends, Kylie photographed her own bare bottom. She inscribed the picture ‘To dear Kylie. Thanks so much for sharing your arse’ and signed it ‘Love, Keira’, with a big kiss. She wrapped it up and sent it to her mother. Carol had it professionally framed. It now sits proudly on her living room wall above the fireplace. When he is at home Barry tends to sit with his back to it.