Interview: The Word according to Huffty: The end of the current Friday night TV series is nigh, just when she'd mastered shaving her head when drunk. So what next?
Anyone can appear on The Word. You just have to be very stupid. No really, they have this spot every week in which some half-wit from the audience gets two minutes of fame, as long as they are prepared to eat a worm sandwich or bathe in pig's urine.
The four regular presenters, of which Huffty is one, get a longer dose of fame. They have become household faces, at least in households of 25-year-olds.
It's a cultish programme, watched by three million young culters, not all of them sober. What they love is jeering at the presenters and rubbishing the music. The present series finishes on Friday. Then what will happen to her? Simple. Back on the dole.
So how did she get the job? Ah, the ways of yoof television cannot be explained in words. In fact, talking proper is a definite handicap. It's looks, innit. It's charisma. It's being different. And Huffty is certainly different.
Last Friday, she was sitting in The Word's studio, waiting to shave her head for that night's show. In our photo, she has a bit more than usual. In another hour, it would be as smooth as an egg. At home in Newcastle she does it with electric clippers, but that always leaves a faint suspicion of hair. For the programme they like her head to be really, really naked.
'I've been using a Bic razor for the last four months on the show. At first I used to cut myself like buggery, especially round the back of the neck. Now there's no problem. I can even shave my head when I'm drunk . . .' Jolly useful.
She's 25 and was born in Whitley Bay. Her real name, but please keep it secret or bang goes part of the mystique, is Andrea Huftika Reah. The surname is Irish. The middle bit, and source of her nickname, is Polish, going back to her great-grandad. Her dad, now retired, was a door-to- door insurance salesman. Her mother died of cancer when she was 16. She has a younger sister who works in a Newcastle supermarket.
She went to a Roman Catholic primary school and then to a comprehensive where she was terribly sporty, playing cricket and football, but she was best at hockey.
'I played for the county, as goalie, and had trials for the North of England. On the morning of the trial it was bloody freezing. I turned up with a hangover. I was on cider and black in them days, you know, blackcurrant. I put on a woolly pom-pom hat as I stood in the goal to keep warm. They said I was incorrectly dressed, and I didn't get picked for the North of England. On the other hand, it could have been 'cos I was crap.'
At 15, she had a Mohican haircut. Her dad was very upset. She said it was for a school play, she'd grow it back, but never did. At 18 she shaved it all off, and has been bald ever since.
'I always hated me hair. It was horrible. I never knew what to do with it. It just hung there, down me back. No style. I think I look much better as a baldie.'
It was about the time she discovered she was lesbian. 'Until then, I didn't know what it was. At school, lads would be called poofs and girls lezzies, to slag them off, be offensive, but I didn't realise the word meant anything. When I was about 17, I was very friendly with this boy Stuart, hung around with him, and one day he told me he was bisexual. So I said I'm lesbian. We started going to gay and lesbian bars together. I mixed with the dykes, and that was it. I got a girlfriend, four years older, and we stayed together for the next three years. I'm proud to say I've never slept with a lad.'
Wouldn't it have been part of life's rich tapestry even if you didn't like it? She made a face, as if about to be sick. ' That's not an experience I ever wanted. I used to feel so sorry for the lasses at school, being pressurised into it by boys, going through all that trauma, putting up with all that sexism. Teenage boys think they're God's gift to women. They treat lasses like shite.'
At school, she was also pretty good at lessons, staying on for her A-levels, getting B in English, B in ancient history, C in sociology - good enough for university, but she didn't fancy it. 'My mother had just died, and that just changed things. I don't like book-learning anyway. I'd rather experience life.'
She left school at 18, hoping to get some sort of job in the theatre. Nothing came up, so she was on the dole for a year. Then she got on a YTS scheme and became a youth worker on pounds 60 a week, ending up running an all-girls' youth club in Newcastle. She still helps out there on a voluntary basis. 'I go on Tuesdays to see the lasses. They can never get enough workers.'
She then teamed up with a friend called Bev and created a cabaret act called Boo. They dressed in wigs and Crimplene frocks and sang Cilla Black songs.
''I think Crimplene is funny. I was always dressed in it as a bairn. In our act, I told stories about being a working-class lesbian, how my Nanna used to say when I was little, 'You're a queer one, Andrea', little knowing how queer I was. Then I had some Catholic jokes. I'd say how at 18 I took the three holy vows of poverty, chastity and obedience - I signed on . . .'
They didn't get paid for this act, perhaps not surprisingly, but were allowed as much beer as they could drink.
'Eventually we did get offered a paid gig, pounds 100, which seemed incredible, but Bev backed out. She's a carpenter, and her business had suddenly taken off, so she gave up cabaret. I did a stand-up comedy act on my own. Then I did a few more, all lesbian stuff. But it's a bit hard to explain.
'I was still working as a youth worker during the day, till I got this offer to be in two local plays. It got me my Equity card, but when the plays finished I was out of a job. I was on the dole for another two years, though I made the odd appearance in gay and lesbian television and radio programmes, and I appeared in a film as well.'
This was the stage she was at last autumn, when The Word came along, looking for a new presenter. 'They saw about 100 women in Newcastle alone. I got down to the last 10 and was brought to London for a screen test. I had to interview Vinnie Jones, the footballer, and get the audience singing a song.'
She got the job, for 16 weeks. It's not a lot of money, she says. 'I know some youth leaders in Newcastle who are getting more, but it's better fun than being on the dole, I can tell ye.'
They have had her whizzing round the globe doing little interviews - film stars in New York, Miss World contestants in South Africa, muscle men on Australian beaches. 'I was away a week in Australia, but it seemed longer. When I got back to Newcastle, and crossed the Tyne Bridge, I had tears in me eyes.'
She says she'll never leave Newcastle, even if more television work comes up. She lives alone, with her own bedroom in a housing co-op in the Elswick district of Newcastle. 'I couldn't live in London. It's too big, too expensive, I don't like the beer and I don't find southerners very friendly. I just come down once a week to do the show. I miss hearing Geordie accents, all the streets, all my friends. In Newcastle, I like knowing where every bus goes.'
No partner at the moment? 'Why aye, I have a girlfriend, known her two years and we're passionately in love.' So why don't you live together? Because of her job? 'No, she's on the dole. The romance would go out of w'ar relationship, if we lived together. We'd argue about the washing up, whose turn to clean the lav. We get on well as lovers and girlfriends, but full- time together, and we'd get on each other's nerves. We all have our little quirks. I love watching football on telly, for example, which she doesn't. I love all telly. I can watch from six in the evening till two in the morning, without moving, apart from getting my beer and chips.'
Gazza is her hero. She can even look a little bit like him. 'What an insult to Gazza. I wouldn't tell him, if I were you, that he looks like a baldie-headed lesbian off The Word.' She lets out a great dirty laugh.
Her normal tipple, of an evening, is six pints, that's when it's social drinking. 'In my younger days, I used to love Slalom D. That's a very strong lager. Our local had a competition to see who could drink most of it. After 10 pints, you got one free. I drank 10 - then collapsed under the table. I never got my free pint.
'I don't worry about my weight. I stuff myself with as much chips and beer as I want. I'd be happy at 20 stone. Wouldn't worry me. If I wanna be fat, I'll be fat. Male culture isn't going to make me feel embarrassed about my looks.'
How about going round with a shaved head, men's denim shirts and huge boots? That must lead to the occasional comment. 'Aye, homophobia is bad. In Newcastle and in London. Men try to pick fights with me in bars, and I've had a few.'
'Since I got this job, the reaction is less hostile. People recognise me as that bald lesbian Geordie, and they shake my hand. I am the only lesbian presenter on television. There are others, I suppose, maybes, but they haven't come out. It's a bloody shame they haven't. But I don't feel any responsibility. I'm not a spokeswoman for lesbians. Every lesbian is different. I'm just being myself, like.'
The actual experience of being a television presenter has not been quite what she expected. 'It has made me a bit more cynical than before, watching the machinations, hearing the bitchiness. It's opened my eyes to what happens in offices. I'd never worked in one before.
'I love doing the outside filming, but I'm just a cog. They tell me the information I have to get over, then say 'put it in your own words'. But there's so much to get over there's not a lot of me. When I do my own stand-up set in the Newcastle lesbian clubs, then that's me, all mine. On TV I'm part of a team.
'I still enjoy it, mind. I've made enough money these last 16 weeks to buy a pair of leather trousers, which I've always wanted. And when the show finishes and I'm back in Newcastle, on the dole probably, I'll have saved enough to start driving lessons.'
She has two ambitions. One, to have her own television series, in which she can truly be herself. 'I'd like to have power and control, so that the image is me. The Word is supposed to be outrageous, yeh, but in a sort of controlled way. I'm much more outrageous, personally. And more political.'
Her other ambition is to have children. 'The only thing that puts me off is the pain. It's the same with a tattoo. I've been trying to get up the courage for two years to have a tattoo, but the thought of the pain puts me right off. Ugh.'
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