Wendy Holden shares an extract from her new novel, Laura Lake and the Hipster Weddings.
The taxi drew up outside the address Demelza had given her. It was halfway up a street whose entrance had a barrier with a guard beside it and whose individual houses looked the size of Mimi’s entire block in Paris. Not much of the houses could be seen, however. All were set back behind huge gates and some were further disguised by builders’ screens and equipment. A huge crane reared up like an inquisitive yellow metal bird from the very next garden to Lulu’s and the roar of drills came from all directions. Being wealthy in London, it seemed, meant being part of a constant construction project. ‘Thanks,’ Laura said, walking away from the taxi. Having less than zero interest in football, she was glad the lecture on Arsenal was over. The driver banged on the window. ‘Oy. Where you going?’
‘I’ve got a meeting here.’ ‘And I’ve got an unpaid fare here. That’ll be £10.60.’ Laura gasped. It had never occurred to her that she would need to pay for the taxi. Demelza had just told her to hail one. £10.60! That left her with precisely £9.40 to last the rest of the week. And she hadn’t had lunch yet. Thank God she had gone for the full English breakfast; it might have to last all day. The driver handed her the change, which she hastily pocketed. ‘No bleeding tip?’ he could be heard snarling as he wrenched the vehicle round.
Laura turned to the gates, which, being close-set cast-iron bars, had something of the prison about them. Looking up, she saw that the movements of her head were echoed by security cameras fixed above. She pressed the intercom. ‘Good afternoon.’ A polite female voice seemed to be coming from a distant galaxy. Lulu? Laura explained who she was, and was let in. Behind the gates, a short gravel drive led between manicured borders to a large house of vaguely Queen Anne style. It was three storeys high and redbrick with white-painted windows. The front door, flanked by bay trees in pots, had a white pillared portico and was painted a bright glossy pink.
It rather clashed with the brickwork, Laura thought. Something had been trembling beneath her feet for some seconds, but what she had assumed was a subterranean Tube line was clearly not. The ground was actually moving. Looking down, she saw that the stretch of gravel she stood on was sliding to the side to expose a large hole. An earthquake? She gave a small scream and jumped off. The hole widened. Laura, standing astonished on the edge of it, now saw that something was coming up it on a platform powered by some softly clicking, whirring machine.
A gleaming candy-pink sports car now appeared. It had blacked-out windows and the numberplate was LULU1.
An underground garage, Laura realised. Of course the girl who had everything was going to have one of those. Her smile faded as, with the soft rev of its powerful engine, the car moved off towards the gates. If this was Lulu, and she was going out, where did that leave the interview?
Had she forgotten? ‘Miss, er, Lulu?’ Laura yelled, rushing to the driver’s window and tapping on it frantically. The window slid down to reveal someone with big blonde hair, massive black sunglasses and a cleavage like a tanned, even Grand, canyon, rising from a tight coral dress. Hands covered with sparkling rings clutched a steering wheel padded with coffee-coloured leather. The pattern on the leather was one that Laura recognised. The slanting intertwined initials and the repeating quatrefoil of the Louis Vuitton logo were repeated endlessly all over the seats, the fascia, the handle of the gearstick, even the seatbelts and the back of the rearview mirror.
While Lulu was not quite international A-list, Laura had read and heard enough about her to feel excited at seeing her in the heavily tinted flesh. She smelt wonderful too: a strong, fresh scent that suggested fabulous bathrooms and hours of pampering. ‘What you want?’ asked the growling accent familiar from all the newspaper articles. As one of them had said, or sort of said, it was a distillation of international first-class lounges. Lulu was a citizen of the world. ‘I’m here from Society magazine,’ Laura gasped. ‘We have an appointment.’ The window shot back up. Lulu was hidden behind black glass. Double black glass, if you counted the shades.
The powerful engine revved again. The car’s thick tyres were right by Laura’s toes. If Lulu’s Louboutin slipped, she would be jam. But if Lulu drove away, she would be jam as well, so far as Society was concerned. When Clemency deigned to turn up, she would be furious to find her interviewee gone. The consequences of that were easy to imagine. Lulu pounded on the window again. Again it slid down. ‘I don’ wan’ do interview,’ growled Lulu. Up close, and despite the huge sunglasses, Laura could see that the illusion of cheekbones and chin was a product of clever make-up. Lulu’s actual face was as round as a ball. ‘Why not? What’s the matter?’ ‘Is no point, hmm? These magazines, always they make me look stupid. Call me rich idiot. Stupid socialist!’ The enormous diamonds in her ears flashed agitatedly. ‘You mean socialite,’ Laura suggested gently. ‘Socialite, socialist, what does it matter?’
Lulu shook back the pile of blonde hair, which wobbled strangely. It evidently contained a lot of hairspray. ‘What is difference?’ Quite a lot, but this was probably not the time to point out why. ‘This interview won’t be like that,’ Laura soothed, knowing perfectly well that it would be. Doing Clemency’s dirty work felt ghastly, but what choice did she have? It was Lulu or her. ‘Can we go inside and talk about it?’ She needed to get this woman out of the car. The engine was revving in time with Lulu’s agitated foot. ‘Don’ wanna talk.’ Lulu pouted. ‘Talking is what gets me into trouble. Interviews, they always come out wrong, hmm? My father go crazy. I do another to make the first one okay, but is worse. My father go crazy again. I do another. Is bishop’s circle.’
‘You mean vicious circle.’ Lulu shrugged and gave a sort of hiccup. Laura saw now that fat tears had appeared from beneath the heavy black sunglasses and were coursing silently downwards through the thick foundation on Lulu’s cheeks. Suddenly she felt terribly sorry for her. As well as terribly guilty. ‘Here.’ She rummaged in her trenchcoat pocket and handed over a packet of tissues. ‘Thank you.’ ‘Je vous en prie… I mean, you’re welcome.’ Lulu had raised her head. ‘You speak French?’ ‘I’m half-French.’ ‘Like me, hmm? I too am many countries. A mongoose.’ ‘You mean a mongrel?’ ‘Perhaps. So you are from Paris?’ Laura nodded.
Lulu beamed. ‘Paris, it is my second house. Place Vendôme, avenue Montaigne…’ The ultra-luxurious streets where the couturiers had their flagships and ateliers. Laura knew where they were, if nothing else. Yet she had clearly made a breakthrough. ‘About the interview,’ she began, cautiously. ‘It will be nice, I promise.’ What was she saying? The intention was to make Lulu ‘The Most Spoilt Girl in Britain!’ Lulu was having none of it anyway. The blonde mane wobbled firmly. ‘Is not just words, is pictures as well. Always I think that if I am nice with the photographer and do what he want, he’ll make me look good. But always he make me look like a slaphead.’ ‘Slaphead? Slapper?’ ‘Yes. Like cake, hmm?’ This one Laura couldn’t decipher. She looked at Lulu quizzically.
‘Tart. Then my parents go crazy and I feel so ashamed…’ Lulu sobbed again into the tissue, and Laura handed over another. She tried not to think of Grimston’s Girls. There had to be a way out of this, but she would have to think of it fast. Once Clemency and Grimston got here, events would have their own momentum. ‘It’ll be fine,’ she soothed. ‘I can help you. Just let’s go inside and talk about it. I promise you the interview will be your best ever. The best pictures, too.’
‘Huh.’ Lulu snivelled disbelievingly. ‘Have heard that before, hmm? But always they lie to me. Drag cotton over my eyes and take me for jog.’ The car revved again, threateningly. ‘Trust me,’ Laura insisted. ‘And turn off the engine, can you?’ After a few tense seconds, Lulu did as requested. The sports car’s long, gleaming, pink door opened. Lulu was much taller than expected. Or maybe her shoes were. They were the bizarrest Laura had ever seen. Black, peep-toed and with thick platform soles which angled upwards to accommodate a heel of about six inches. The heel itself was not there, however, and so the shoe looked like the side view of an escalator. Had Lulu left her heels in the car? ‘By Lambrusco,’ Lulu said, seeing Laura staring. She lifted one leg to show a neon-pink sole beneath the clumpy black. ‘Is original, hmm?’ She bent over to rummage in the car, revealing an expanse of solid brown upper thigh.
She was quite well built, Laura thought, certainly compared to the rickety waifs in the Society office. Lulu had produced a green snakeskin handbag and was feeling around inside it. The diamond-ringed hand re-emerged clutching a large bar of Galaxy, into which she ripped eagerly. ‘Chocolate make everything better, hmm?’ she mumbled through a full mouth. ‘Wan’ some?’ She proffered the bar. Laura shook her head. She preferred hers intense and dark. Her mind was darting about but coming up with nothing. Lulu had almost finished the bar now and was looking much more cheerful. ‘So you help me, hmm?’ ‘Absolutely!’ Although how, Laura still had no idea.
Her gaze slid to the Lambrusco shoes. How did one help the unhelpable? By thinking the unthinkable? Suddenly, she remembered Carinthia’s words about the magazine being counterintuitive. That was it! Saved! ‘You just have to show your more serious side!’ Laura’s whole body was rushing with relief, not to mention self congratulation. This really was a brilliant idea. She was a natural at this job! ‘I would like to be taken seriously,’ Lulu allowed, wiggling up to the pink front door in her tight dress and footwear.
‘Absolutely!’ Laura enthused. ‘Show the Lulu no one’s read about yet. The one to whom designer labels don’t matter and—’ Her words were drowned out by a violent crashing. For some reason, Lulu was banging on the door of her own house. There was something familiar about the doorknocker’s design. ‘You like?’ Lulu pointed to the shining interlocking Cs. ‘Is solid gold. Chanel make it for me as special favour. Am good customer, hmm? They do letterbox too, and bootscraper.’ Laura was still looking at Lulu’s fingernails. They were covered in tiny Gucci Gs.
The door was opened by someone broadly built, dark-suited and with a grave, respectful mien. A butler, Laura guessed excitedly. She had only ever encountered them in books. Lulu’s butler had a serious, even mournful face that could have been any age from thirty to sixty. His hair was plastered down and had a liquid shine and a side-parting so straight it seemed a ruler had been used. He inclined his head gravely. ‘Madam has forgotten some thing?’ ‘Have come back. Am doing interview, hmm?’ There was a hesitation, so slight as to be almost undetectable, before the butler said, in his sonorous tones, ‘Very good, madam,’ then bowed and glided away.
Laura entered the hall of Lulu’s house and thought instantly of her grandmother. ‘Letters are for the optician’s chart. You are not a billboard.’ But Mimi would never have imagined that a house could be a billboard too. Lulu had taken her logomania as far as it would go. The hall walls were white and covered all over with the black Cs of Chanel. The Louis Vuitton logo from the car interior was echoed in the coffee-coloured carpet. Above it all, a vast chandelier dangled with gold letters of different sizes. They turned in the air, variations on D, I, O and R.
‘This way, hmm?’ Lulu picked her way up a flight of glass stairs that, like her Lambruscos, had no visible means of support. Given her powerfully black sunglasses, this seemed a risky undertaking. In the huge first-floor sitting room, the shagpile carpet was Tiffany blue, stamped with the store name in white. The walls were Hermès orange and had the brand’s coach-and horses logo driving all over them. As none of these design houses usually did carpets or wallpaper, Lulu had to be a spectacularly good customer.
Laura Lake longs to be a journalist. For now she’s an unpaid intern at a glossy magazine – sleeping secretly in the fashion cupboard and living on canapés. But hey, you have to start somewhere. And she’s just got her first big break – to infiltrate three society weddings and write a juicy expose.
Security will be tighter than a bodycon dress, but how hard can it be to get the skinny? She’ll disguise herself as a ballgowned billionheiress for the castle-partying aristocrats and a boho-chic pixie child for the posh festival nuptials. Oh, and a moustachioed lobster for the Shoreditch hipsters.
But nothing can prepare her for disappearing brides, raunchy royals and a brush with the next James Bond. Or the fact that her jealous office enemy will do anything to bring her down. Will Laura get the scoop of the year? Or will she be out on her ear?
Number one bestselling author Wendy Holden was a journalist on Tatler, the Sunday Times, and The Mail on Sunday before becoming an author. She has since written ten consecutive Sunday Times top-ten bestsellers. She lives in Derbyshire.