A series dedicated to explaining Britain's manufactured celebrities to an American audience.
At this pivotal juncture of Western feminism, as minds great and not so great debate Sheryl Sandberg's diktats, parse Marissa Mayer's tyrannical telecommuting ban, and analyze more rigorously the lyrics of "I Knew You Were Trouble" now that we know Taylor's totally singing about Harry Styles, it is edifying to see that, when it comes to sisterly activism, one of Britain's most influential female role models refuses to shirk her duty. "It's hard being 33 and being a model," beloved Page 3 alum Kelly Brook movingly—bravely!—confided to OK, "but I do it because it's nice to have a real representation of a woman out there."
Indeed, the millions Brook earns from posing in a state of dishabille and endorsing saucy lingerie must pale in importance next to her soul's vocational call. Admittedly, the ideals encompassed by her particular brand of Get Your Tits Out For The Lads feminism—presenting an oiled-up cleavage for the unstinting appraisal of FHM readers, accepting the occasional acting job provided the role demands nudity, and endlessly eulogizing to the press about one's "curves"—could forgivably be mistaken for comically, bordering on criminally, retrogressive. But our Kels would indignantly dismiss such a churlish interpretation of her good works on behalf of womankind. Stripping off, she is fond of saying, is "empowering," and if anyone understands the millennia-long oppression of the patriarchy, she does. "It's still a man's world," as she once lamented. "I've had to fight to be something that isn't just a pretty face or body." Precisely what that something is remains hazy, but lest anyone accuse this column of not giving its esteemed subjects the benefit of the doubt, let us scrupulously assay the career of Ms. Brook—née Kelly Ann Parsons in Rochester, Kent—who's been famous for being something for nearly fifteen years.
Brook's tempestuous relationship with the British TV industry—a cruel and fickle mistress even to those with discernible skills—is perhaps the most conspicuous facet of her valiant, and ongoing, battle to prove that her talents lie beyond the physical. As a stage school-educated 19 year old whose biggest gig to date was appearing topless in the Daily Star, she made her terrestrial TV debut as the presenter of a popular breakfast show. Alas, she was humiliatingly fired six months in, amid sneers about her inability to read unfamiliar words on the autocue and play along with her sharp-witted co-host's humor. "I suppose I could have given up," she later reflected, "but what would have been the point? You have to take the knocks, you know. It's a tough business." Instead, she retreated to advance, which meant hosting an MTV show and cultivating with laudable assiduity her loyal lad mag fanbase.
Our bonny heroine's next high-profile foray into TV, some years later, saw her participating in what must, in all sincerity, be classified as human endeavor's chilling nadir: a reality show entitled "Celebrity Love Island." Even explaining the "rules" of the "game" feels like baiting the wrath of the gods; suffice it to say there were Z-list celebs, "love shacks" and viewers voting on their preferred couplings. When Brook's efforts at fronting this televisual annex of Hades were deemed inadequate—reviews were brutal, and she was replaced after the first season—it could so easily have sounded the final death knell for any ambitions in this arena, and surely would have for a thinner-skinned type.
But, with her unwavering determination to leave more for posterity than bestselling calendars and eleventy thousand step-and-repeat shots, she prevailed, and soon achieved the middling starlet's true mark of distinction: being dismissed by Simon Cowell as a talent show judge after two episodes. Brook, displaying the fierce integrity of someone paid £1 million to appear in Lynx commercials, announced: "We're not friends. I didn't know him before and I'll probably never meet him again." And, as if in karmic rebuke to the almighty Restylaned despot, this spring has brought glimmering hints that Brook's TV career may at last have turned a corner. Currently doing maternity cover as a team captain on the game show "Celebrity Juice," she has so far acquitted herself admirably in duties including, but not limited to, fellating rubber objects while blindfolded, reciting scripted jokes about the week's trivia, and having the shiniest hair in all of Christendom.
Rather poignantly, Brook has often said that acting is her raison d'etre. No stranger to serious theater, since 2000 she has trod the boards in "Eye Contact," "Calendar Girls" and "Fat Pig" by Neil LaBute, as well as in Parisian burlesque "Crazy Horse." Destiny, ever capricious, has yet to send a stage role in which her character is required to remain attired, but that's the unfathomable business of show for you. As for her cinematic oeuvre, it's probably kinder to gloss over the mostly naked, mostly critically reviled details. (When Fishtales—in which she plays a mermaid opposite then-boyfriend Billy Zane—was shown at Cannes, half the audience got up and left.) Nevertheless, in the sunlit chasms of Brook's mind, her lack of Hollywood glory can simply be chalked up to her status as a Jill of all trades. "I often think if I had been better at focusing on one thing exclusively," she shared with Sunday Telegraph readers, "I'd have had an acting career like Kate Winslet."
With such remarks, which give new meaning to the phrase "too easy," it's momentarily tempting to wonder if Brook's ditzy persona is an act of high-wire satire, a prank on us all. The moment tends to pass, however, as soon as she starts banging on about her curves, an event that punctuates English life as reliably as rain and random stabbings. Per a cursory Googling of Kelly headlines: "I know how to get pleasure out of my curves"; "How I feel about my curves"; "I'm happy with my curves"; "How I keep my curves in shape"; and, many times over, "I'm proud of my curves." There's only one entity whose fascination with Brook's T & A equals her own: Daily Mail Online, which updates practically hourly on whether her curves happen to be "flaunted," "covered up," "highlighted," "unleashed," "accentuated," "shown off" or, everyone's favorite, "poured into" some garment or another. Earlier this month, shockwaves went through the top secret bunker where the cloned imps, bred to identify cellulite dimples with split-second x-ray vision, compile the Mail's Sidebar of Shame: Brook, without so much as a by your leave, had imposed a moratorium on selfies, a copious stream of which normally flows daily onto her Instagram feed. This devilish stunt lasted hours, during which goodness knows how profoundly the cosmos was altered by the butterfly effect of pervy Brook-obsessives unexpectedly, disconsolately, seeking their jollies elsewhere.
Recently reintroduced into one in every two or three hundred of her selfies is Kelly's boyfriend Danny Cipriani, a 25-year-old rugby player whom she dated between 2008 and 2010 before severing and, as of a few weeks ago, joyfully re-establishing relations. In the meantime she was in a relationship with Thom Evans, who to the casual observer is barely distinguishable from Danny, also being a 20-something rugby player with rippling muscles and an expression that might politely be described as far away. (Side note: in conformance with the ancient law stipulating that all C/D-list celebs must be part of a love-quadrangle, Thom is now dating Danny's ex, Jessica Lowndes off of "90210.")
Worryingly, Kelly is at imminent risk of devastating heartbreak according to several concerned citizens, including American model Jasmine Waltz (no, me neither), who warns that "Danny has no way of holding down a serious relationship. I feel sorry for Kelly and am pretty sure he is the kind of animal she cannot tame." Strong words, but the mother of another ex-girlfriend heartily concurs. "Danny can never be faithful to one woman. I like Kelly a lot, but she shouldn't be chasing around this airhead toyboy," insists Margit Irimia, whose daughter, Cheeky Girl Monica, was cheated on by the caddish athlete. (What, pray, is a Cheeky Girl? I hear you vaguely mutter—a question to which only those with a cast-iron capacity for extreme levels of unreconstructed Euro-pop kitsch should seek an answer.)
But busybodying controversy-mongers be damned: a woman who has graced more FHM 100 Sexiest Woman lists than anyone on the planet can't possibly be expected to spend the briefest interlude single, as Brook's romantic history confirms. Her first go-round with Danny was preceded by seven years with (I believe this is the obligatory label, but please visualize your columnist's wrinkled-nosed moue of distaste) "action hero" Jason Statham, then four years with Titanic actor Billy Zane. And on the rare occasions that she's casually dated, the media's relentless scrutiny has generated some unfortunate PR. A 2010 liaison with "Glee" star Matthew Morrison led to his ungallant, and ubiquitously reported, characterization of her as "not the brightest bulb." (Well, it stands to reason that a man who makes his living performing "Ice Ice Baby" in a high-school auditorium would want to discuss Kierkegaard and Heidegger on his downtime.) Then in February, after Kelly was photographed with nightclub owner and Cosa Nostra snitch Chris Paciello in Miami, a deluge of headlines varied on the theme that Kelly was GETTING CLOSE TO A CONVICTED MURDERER. Honestly, you have lunch with one notorious bank robber whose most recent heist involved a woman getting shot in the head, and the papers hear wedding bells.
Rest assured that Brook, as is her custom, will breezily rise above any impertinent chatter about her choice of suitor, and focus on what's important. For starters, her new make-up collection isn't going to promote itself. Though the products were developed by fashion chain New Look, which also carries Kelly Brook clothes, shoes, swimwear and lingerie, she's made it clear that her full engagement with the creative process is non-optional. Hence, "polka dots, gingham, Marilyn Monroe, flowers" was the radical blueprint she flung, with what I like to imagine as Lagerfeldian imperiousness, at the "branding people." And woe betide the underling who misinterprets any element of the Brook vision: "I can get really upset about things that haven't been named correctly," she confessed, "or colours that weren't what I wanted." Such is the lot of the true artist in a world that cares more for per-unit profit margins than creating the most flattering hue of berry lip gloss.
An even more pressing professional obligation currently on Brook's packed agenda? Nurturing a vicious feud with Katie Price. The Artist Formerly Known As Jordan, whose antipathy toward Kelly may stem from her own brief but torrid fling with the sociable Danny, recently committed to print the provocative view that, in a new bikini snap, her adversary was carrying some extra poundage—this milieu's equivalent of a Crip throwing a burning red bandana onto a Blood's doorstep. Kelly, thus mad disrespected, had no choice but to direct puerile insults at Katie from the safety of a TV studio. God willing, they'll be able to keep this gripping contretemps— sorry, "sexy catfight" —in the headlines for another week. Or at least until something earthshattering happens, like Cheryl Cole is pictured pensive or thin or fat or with a new tattoo.
Meanwhile, Brook must resolutely soldier on with her soi-disant campaign to elevate womankind via the cunning strategy of getting her kit off in exchange for money—$500,000 in the case of Playboy, an offer she accepted without hesitation in 2010. "I love Playboy," she said at the time, "I think it's such an iconic brand," pretty much echoing Gloria Steinem's famous comment that "a woman reading Playboy feels a little like a Jew reading a Nazi manual." And yet, for some reason, the question of whether Brook is a genius or an idiot, an exemplar of liberated womanhood or the ultimate female chauvinist pig, continues to confound the media whose powers Brook, or perhaps more accurately her management, harnesses so lucratively. As she herself put it: "I guess that's kind of the debate. Am I the ultimate feminist, or am I not? I don't know. I don't really drive myself mad about it."
Previously: The Miraculous Exploits Of Princess Michael Of Kent
Emma Garman is on Tumblr and Twitter.