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'Are you ready to roll?'

'Mum!! I'm phoning from the pavement outside Bloomingdale's. One whole window ... a whole window, Mum, is Perfect Dress. I'll send you a photo right now!'

Annie heard the thrill in Lana's voice and told her: 'You should be very proud, very proud, darlin'. You and Elena.'

'And you!' Lana insisted, 'it was your idea to go skip hunting in Brooklyn and to have the fashion show and to send a dress to Emily Wilmington!'

'Aw, thank you, babes. I do feel proud. The window of bloomin' Bloomingdale's, no less! But you're the ones supplying the orders, manning the business. Be very proud of all you've done. Darlin' I have to go. I'm filming! Yes ... right now. You should see me, I look like a freeeeeeak! See you very, very soon. It's less than a fortnight now. Love you. Mwah! Byeeeee.'

Annie hung up and took care to switch off. She now had first-hand experience of what Gawain did to people who let their mobiles ring when he was training them.

It involved many, many press-ups and it wasn't at all nice.

'Annie, c'mon, we're all ready for you!' the director called from the centre of the studio.

There, a treadmill, a cross trainer and several other instruments of torture were set out for her. Gawain, glistening oiled skin popping with muscles, was standing beside the treadmill in silky shorts and a cut-off sweatshirt, his dark locks pulled back from his face with a sweatband.

'h.e.l.lo, girl,' he said, looking friendly, but with his hands on his hips, meaning business.

Annie felt a little nervous, but OK. This was going to hurt. Again. But somehow when she was being filmed, when she knew she was going to share the pain, the agony, but also the ultimate triumph with her viewers, it didn't hurt quite so much.

She shuffled along to the treadmill, the plastic clothes she was wearing scrunching as she walked.

It was an experiment. She was in a tight T-shirt and tight cycle shorts (grotesque, every dip and rise of cellulite on view), and over this she was wearing a top and trousers both made of clear, elasticated plastic. Apparently this was to keep her hot and sweating so she could work her muscles and lose weight more effectively.

'I look like a boil-in-the-bag,' she said directly to the camera, then gave a little twirl.

Bob, the man behind the camera who had filmed most of the episodes in Annie's How Not To Shop series, not to mention the disastrous digital TV show they'd been involved with before began to laugh.

'Don't forget your chicken,' the director said, pointing to an assistant who was holding a red plate studded with tiny cubes of white meat.

'Chicken boil-in-the-bag!' Annie joked, then straight to camera she explained: 'OK, as well as working out and swathing myself in plastic, I'm also going to be eating a piece of lean protein every fifteen minutes. Apparently this will stoke my metabolism to a raging furnace and burn, baby, burn.'

Annie tried to check the smirk that was threatening to break out over her face.

Gawain was shaking his head in an 'I didn't sign up for this' kind of way. 'Are you ready to roll?' he asked Annie.

She nodded, and he pointed to the cross trainer.

As she slid her feet into the stirrups, he began to encourage her in the inimitable Gawain way. Crouching low so he could talk right into her ear, he began to tell her all the good things she was going to achieve as he whacked the speed up higher and higher.

'No gain without pain, that's why we train, train and train with Gawain!'

Now the loud, cheesy, disco music Annie had chosen began to thump out of the speakers, and she pushed her feet forward and back, forward and back, faster, faster, until she began to pant with the effort.

'C'mon now, you can do this. I've seen you go much faster. You can run, girl, feel the wind in your hair,' Gawain urged.

'Whoooooo-hooooo!' Annie cried, then began to sing along with the music. She reached over for the chicken cube the assistant was offering her. Her plastic clothing flapping in the wind, she carried on speeding along, chewing, sweating and singing.

Bob pushed his lens forward and zoomed in on her face.


Annie looked up. There, at the edge of the studio s.p.a.ce, was Tamsin's assistant, Amelia, committing the cardinal sin of interrupting a shoot.

Annie whacked the stop b.u.t.ton on the machine and jumped off, feeling a rush of panic. 'Is everything OK?' she panted, gasping for breath.

'It's Tamsin ...' Amelia began, holding out her mobile phone. 'She says she has to tell you something right now. She doesn't care what you're doing.'

It was Tamsin ... Annie gulped down a lungful or two of air and tried to calm herself. This was a work call. No family emergency had occurred.

'Hi-' she began, trying not to pant too hard down the line.

'ANNIE! I know your phone's off, I know you're filming ... but I've just had incredible news. Guy Kettner Guy Kettner and the BBC!' Tamsin was so excited she could hardly tell the story straight.

'Yes?' Annie's fingers clutched the mobile tightly.

'We've just put the deal together. You're going to have your very own show again. But this time on BBC TWO. The real deal! A twelve-episode first series. How To Be Fabulous. Covering money, health, work, lifestyle but loads of fashion included, don't worry and just for you, one entire episode to be filmed in Manhattan!'

'No. NO! You have got to be joking, girl.'

For several moments, as Tamsin went into the detail, Annie tried to take it all in. She closed her eyes and found she was squeezing out tears. It was just so strange, sometimes, the way things worked out.

Suddenly it didn't seem so long ago that she'd been out on the town in her moment-of-shopping-madness red Valentino dress, celebrating her husband Roddy's unbelievable new television deal. The amazing lead part that he'd never been able to play; the one which would have put enough money in the bank to take care of them all for years and years to come.

Then all those terrible times had followed, when she'd been alone and bereaved, so broke and so desperate to provide for her shattered children. She'd worked incredibly hard and just willed her way through it ... but even then she had always allowed herself to dream. To dream of the next deal, the next pay-rise, the next genius new outfit she'd treat herself to when ...

So a moment like this ... a triumph like this ... Annie knew now that precious few of these came around in a lifetime, and that when they did they had to be savoured to the full.

'Just a second,' she told Tamsin and carefully set the phone down on the floor. In a minute she would call Ed, Lana, Owen, Dinah, her mum and Connor to tell them this incredible news. In fact, no even better she'd throw a full-on party and everyone from The Store would be invited too.

But right now, still encased in the see-through plastic suit, Annie just had to throw her arms up into the air and begin a victory lap of the studio, shrieking: 'Yeeeesssssss!' at the top of her voice. First the director was treated to a sweaty hug and kiss, then the assistant, then the sound guy and the girl on lights, then it was a startled Gawain's turn, and finally Bob.

To his astonishment, Bob got a kiss on each cheek and a damp smacker right on the lips.

'I love you,' Annie told him, 'I love the camera ... and my family ... and isn't life just fabulous, babes?'

Also by Carmen Reid.





Starring Annie Valentine.





And for teenage readers.