Rosie Millard: Thrifty Living

Hacks love freebies because they're not paid enough
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The Independent Online

Quite a good question, that, since we journalists are what one might call gourmets of the freebie. It's all because we are not really paid enough. I sometimes hear myself explaining this earnestly to people who work in the City and take home seven-figure bonuses every other Thursday.

But the best ever freebie? We mull on the question for some time, because one has to factor in not just the freebie, but the situation in which the freebie was given. "I mean, receiving a boxed set of The Lord of the Rings books through the post is quite a boring freebie," says Janie, who was, briefly, a film critic for a woman's weekly magazine. "But attending the Lord of the Rings film launch at Cannes, with Ian McKellen and Orlando Bloom in attendance in a medieval-esque hall, and then, on the way out, being given Tolkien's masterpiece in a neat little bag, well that was quite a good freebie. A great freebie, in fact."

She considers the brilliance of the moment. "Ditto a beautiful Lancôme lipstick in a mirrored pouch, which was a freebie at the Moulin Rouge launch, also at Cannes. I know exactly when my life stopped being glamorous," Janie says, mournfully. "When I stopped going to Cannes."

Of course, film launches are notorious for hosting lavish parties for journalists who have usually turned up in order to grab the freebie at the end. It may be as tacky as you like, but if it's free, and in a nice little bag, it's worth queueing up for, or even fighting over. I have seen journalists, in bikinis, coming to blows over Nars freebies at a film launch/clam bake in The Hamptons.

The word "freebie", with its childish overtones, sounds cute, but of course, the freebie is a form of bribery. It's not really done to accept a freebie and then ignore the product that tediously insisted on coming along with it. "I know," says Janie. "I remember that I got such a lovely leather shoulder bag at that Will Smith shocker Wild Wild West that I felt I just had to give the film a great plug."

"You could, of course, plan an entire summer around freebies," I say, hopefully. "Starting off with free holidays." When I was at the BBC, I once spent two weeks of my maternity leave on a glorious freebie aboard the QEII. Alright, I had to give a couple of lectures on "Famous Celebrities I have Interviewed", but the pay-off was two first-class tickets all the way back from Barbados. It was brilliant. I took my sister and my new baby, and we spent 14 days running around the liner, laughing about being on a £14,000 freebie. I dimly recall Michael Buerk got the same deal going in the other direction, all the way to Barbados, but the ship hit a storm across the Bay of Biscay, so his freebie was interspersed with long periods of seasickness.

"But you'll never get a great freebie during the school holidays," observes Janie, sagely. She's right. Travel freebies are offered at seriously off-peak moments such as the first week of December, or mid-March. So, in the height of summer, one has to look a bit closer to home. Free beach bags on the front of women's magazines, free scarves stuck around bottles of sun-cream, free sunglasses in two-for-one offers. But, of course, the excitement of unwrapping the freebie obscures the dull truth that one had to buy the product to get it.

And, of course, it's always something you don't need. There are never any freebies attached to necessities such as loo roll. "And do we need any more suncream, frankly?" Janie muses.

It's true. I've still got last year's truckload. "It's probably best to avoid freebies," I say, finally. "You're better off going to Lidl." Janie nods. Lidl. Where there are no freebies or special offers, just rock-bottom prices and weird stuff. This week, I picked up 15 mini-radios for £1.99 each. They will make perfect going-home presents for my daughter's birthday party. Although, of course, by handing out such a freebie in a goody bag, I could be breeding the next generation of film journalists.

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