Joys of Modern Life: 19. Melinda Messenger

RIGHT FROM Melinda's first "Class Behind Glass" advertising campaign, I was curiously drawn to her; not in a sexual way, more of a straight- up fascination.

She had a certain indefinable something that set her apart from all the other pumped up micro-blondes and made her, well, weirdly likeable.

At the time the only way that I could explain it was by comparison. "She has a brilliant, innocent, airbrushed quality to her," I would explain to people, "like one of those Seventies Top of the Pops album covers." I was convinced that she would look airbrushed in the flesh - suspiciously perfect.

Melinda's arrival on the scene coincided with the high point of the men's mag boom and a pronounced sexualisation of popular culture; cover girls were not simply semi-clad; they had a peculiar kind of archness to them. They all seemed to have the same facial expression - somewhere between the imperious cruelty of high-class porn stars and the grim determination of women who had done it all before and would keep doing it till they became famous. By comparison, Melinda's sexuality seemed fascinatingly uncynical; it was very easy to imagine her in a Peter Sellers film, or donning a bikini for a Carry On movie.

It would be too easy to attribute her giggly purity to the fact that she hadn't been round the block; that she hadn't been eaten up by a craving for celebrity, hadn't had to endure the same knocks as the others. But I like to think it came from something more than that: something within her; a natural openness and self-confidence.

After Melinda developed the "Page Three Girl for the Thrillennium" tag, comparisons started flooding in; she was the new Sam Fox, the heir to Diana Dors, the British Pamela Anderson.

I started to realise that Melinda had something much bigger going for her than end-of-the-pier charm; in many ways she has the look of the century. She could have been a Betty Grable, a Doris Day; she has something of the sweet, sexualised innocence of Monroe, the kittenishness of Bardot, the trample-me honesty of a Bond girl. Stick her in a gingham shirt and she'd be recruiting for the land girls; plait her hair and give her a pitchfork and she'd be the dream child of Soviet Realism. That wide forehead and turned-up nose make her a propaganda poster painter's dream.

In being a true 20th century girl she is also the perfect modern celebrity, the spirit of her age. Possibly the only person comparable would be Robbie Williams; both have transcended the manufactured commercialism of their careers through total honesty and humour, by maintaining some kind of reality that fame can't touch. She has had plastic surgery, but she laughs at herself for having done so. She presents an endurance test, but is endearingly un-toned among the Lycra-clad hard bodies. She was an overnight success who managed not to be a one-hit wonder. She has achieved fame, but somehow you sense that she didn't really try - it just happened to her accidentally. Whether she got the 11 O-levels of legend or the seven her mum claims, it doesn't really matter; we can tell she's not thick, because she never pretends to be clever.

As for her being a joy, somehow I just find her comforting; Melinda is on telly - all is right with the world. Sometimes, fairy tales really do come true.

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