Monday, 20 November 2006

Big Kenya Diary (Part II)

But as interesting as all these other aspects of Kenya are, what people ultimately come here to see are the animals. It means ridiculously early mornings (up at six to leave at seven – not good when you've had a night of no sleep on a plane), and hours and hours in a bumpy jeep, but when you see amazing, beautiful creatures like lions and elephants and giraffes with your own eyes, going about their business as they try to ignore you staring at them, it makes it all worth while.

During our week we had two full days of safari – one in Amboseli and one in Maasai Mara – as well as two half days and one night safari. We only did one night safari because we actually saw very little on ours, possibly due to bad luck more than anything. But we were quite glad we opted out of the second one as we later heard the jeep got stuck in a pothole for 40 minutes making it a late night for all concerned.After seeing my first giraffe I never got bored of seeing them. Watching them walking around like they own the place (they do!) is very strange. They're beautiful creatures, beautiful in their weirdness - their pretty, alien-like faces. The same cannot be said for zebras.

Again, seeing the first ones was a joy. They are also beautiful in their weirdness – the black and white stripes seeming completely incongruous in the unflinchingly beige landscape (one theory is that the black and white stripes camouflage them from the colour blind lions, another is that it confuses the blood-sucking tsetse fly). But there are bloody loads of them, and once you've seen one you've seen them all. And once you hear the strange barking noise they make, you realise that they are actually just slightly more glamorous donkeys.

They did provide some good drama, however. There were a couple of times when we parked ourselves by a river to watch the zebra and the wildebeest tentatively drink water. Tentatively because they had no idea whether a crocodile was going to jump out of the water and take them as prey. The first time we sat and watched zebra drinking from the river, we were the opposite side facing them. Despite there being nothing in sight, they were very skittish, spending as little time at the river's edge as possible. They knew something we didn't. We watched them for a bit, taking shots of what is a beautiful cliché of African nature, before driving across the river and sending them scattering.

As we crossed we finally saw what was making them so skittish – a solitary hippo sat nearby in the river.

We didn't see many hippos, so when we did see them it was always exciting. Our lunch during our second big safari was spent in their company; a herd of them lay in the water nearby, lazing in the sun.

We watched the young ones, almost cute despite their size, clambering over the older ones as we eat our sandwiches by the riverside. It was here I saw my first croc as well. A French guy we were with, one half of yet another just married couple, seemed to have a keener eye than the guides and spotted the croc on the other side of the river, seemingly sleeping in the shallow water by the river's edge. It's back looked just like a rock half submerged in the water, you really wouldn't notice it if you stepped on it, except of course you'd soon know about it.

We thought we were going to get some croc drama later that same afternoon. Driving around we noticed a load of jeeps parked further up the river. Herds of zebra and wildebeest were on the other side, tentatively approaching the water's edge to drink. Just to their right was a crocodile, its head submerged in the water while its tail snaked towards the river bank. Overhead, vultures circled. The croc was deathly still, seemingly uninterested in the potential prey nearby.

And perhaps it was, perhaps it had had its fill that day. For, while the wildebeest and zebra mostly remained cautious (some did get frighteningly, thrillingly close to the croc), it just didn't move. Eventually, after a good 45 minutes of the sun beating down on us and very little happening at the river's edge, we decided to move on.

Looking out for bunches of jeeps parked up together was a good way of finding animals. It was this way we got our best lion experience. We saw none in the Amboseli Park, but in Maasai Mara we got up close and personal with the handsome cats. We followed a mother (the guide pointed out her teets were swollen) lion for a while, her destination unknown, before overtaking and leaving her behind.

Then we stumbled across her destination – a group of cubs sitting in the shade of a bush, waiting for her to return. They were surrounded by three or four jeeps, seemingly unperturbed by the human presence.

They frolicked and dozed and we watched them awhile until they suddenly became alert at a noise. We listened carefully and heard the mother calling them.

They went running towards her, one of the cubs being particularly playful and wrapping his front legs around her neck. It was a beautiful sight to see, a privileged snapshot of their life in their natural habitat.

Our guide with the loose grasp of the rules got us up close with a male lion as well, albeit one without a mane. He too was sitting in the shade of a bush, his female companion rolling around in the shade of another bush nearby.

He seemed nonchalant with regards to our presence, despite us being less than a meter away from him. But it was obvious he was keeping an eye on us as well.

The hyenas were a big surprise. We came across a mother sat by the road at one point; her cubs sat together a good 100 metres further up. They are much more appealing-looking animals in the flesh, much cuter and bear-like (particularly the cubs) than the evil-looking animals you see in Disney films. The mother seemed unperturbed by our presence near her babies and we spent quite some time taking photos, a couple of the cubs even coming up to have a look at the jeep.

We soon found we were lucky to be in an open jeep, Gamewatchers Safaris being one of the more pleasant some experiences in comparison to some. We saw some poor visitors driving around in what were little better than the matatus we saw in Nairobi. It made us appreciate that there were no windows or a van roof restricting our views of the African plains and the animals that inhabit them.

There were so many animals we saw – some sleeping cheetah hidden in a bush, bushbuck, the romantic dik dik who have the same partner for life, eland, gazelle, impala, oryx, topi, the wildebeest with their hilarious parping noises, ostrich, the huge and intimidating buffalo, jackal, baboon, vervet, the comedy warthog and its apparent three-second memory (why am I running again? Oh yeah), the massive grasshopper that jumped in the jeep and scared the living daylights out of me before our Maasai guide calmly picked it off my shoulder and threw it out. But none were more majestic and awe-inspiring than the elephants.

They were a welcome sight on the morning of our safari in Maasai Mara, which had started with two hours of seeing nothing at all (this can happen sometimes, the plains are unimaginably huge and the animals don't work to any timetable). It was a relief to stumble on some elephants half concealed by the tall grass they were feeding on.

But more fun to watch was a herd of these huge but graceful animals trekking across the plains, and across our road, as they headed towards water.

Our guide saw them coming and we sat and waited as the elephants slowly but surely crossed our path, the younger, smaller ones being guided and protected by the older, bigger ones.

Our elephant experience only got better, however, when we came across two males on heat having a violent fight. As we drove up they were in the middle of clashing, before they spent a long time circling each other. It was awesome to watch, nature at its most fierce and unforgiving.

So of 'The Big Five' we saw three – buffalo, lion and elephant – the rare rhino and the leopard evading our company for long enough that we were heading off to relax on the Kenyan coast before we got to see them. We'd seen enough, though, to fill our heads with some scarcely believable memories, and our cameras with some incredible photos. Plus we got to see one animal very few do – a venomous black mamba snake taking an early morning slither before noticing us and retreating into a bush. It wasn't the first time I was glad I was in the jeep and not out walking around.

And so off to Galu Beach, just 40 km south of Mombasa, where we would spend a couple of nights relaxing at Pinewood Village. We got there by plane, a small but sturdy-looking contraption that flew like a fairground ride at times thanks to some particularly violent turbulence.

The resort seemed dull in comparison to the experiences we'd just had, and we felt restless sitting by the pool, the only drama coming from watching the hotel staff scale the tall coconut trees with little regard for gravity.

The mass-produced food was average in comparison to the home-cooked feel of the meals we'd eaten at the camps, and it was even strange being surrounded by white people again. Taking a stroll on the enormous white beach was a pleasure tainted a little by the insistent beach boys trying to entice us into their shop. Still, it was good to chat to some locals, even if they were just after our money.

Some chill out time before heading home was good though, a chance to wind down and think about all the amazing things we'd seen before we had to head home and back to rainy Britain.

Big Kenya Diary (Part I)

The first time you see a giraffe in the wild is quite breathtaking. Even if you have been to Africa before, or even if you've had some experience of the endless African plains before (neither of which I had done, everything about this holiday was new to me), it must have an impact on a person. It's just that feeling of, okay, I've seen them on TV, I've even seen them in the zoo, but here they are chewing on a tree, doing their own thing. I'm the one that's out of place in this situation.

And of course they're beautiful creatures. The big eyes, the long eyelashes, the longer legs, the longest neck. The toffee and custard yellow patterning. And the graceful, almost slow motion way of running, which we got to see on our second full day safari, when the naughtier of the two guides we had drove a little closer to the animals than he should.

Seeing my first wild giraffe, right there, in the flesh, was just one of many firsts I clocked up on a week in Kenya. It was my first time in Africa (not counting my two visits to Egypt, that's more Middle East, right?) for a start, the continent never having held much interest for me. But when the opportunity to go came up I was certainly up for the adventure, the chance to experience a part of the world I knew nothing about and seemed almost alien to me. As was my safari buddy for the trip, Anna, who was realising a long-held ambition to go on safari.

Nairobi International is much like any other airport, only very small things making you realise you were in a country not as rich as your own, like the lack of a screen telling you which conveyor belt to pick up your bags, for example. Things like this were not to be expected in Kenya. We waited at the belt that had the most people around it – if in doubt do what everyone else does, right? – but there was no sign of our bags. I decided to go on a hunt as their seemed to be piles of bags near the other belts. I found ours on the other side.

The people of Kenya are very welcoming and lovely. Tourism is big business here so most of them have a loose, formal grasp of English. Walking outside the airport was like walking into the '70s – the dated architecture, the ancient, simple vehicles, the slight blurriness to everything thanks to lack of sleep on the plane. We had a three hour journey ahead of us so I figured I could get some sleep on the way. After being introduced to our driver, John, Anna and I got in the car and grinned at each other. We were here.

Before the trip we were told we may need motion sickness tablets. On our three hour drive to the first camp we realised why. Thanks to the bumps and potholes and general lack of smooth roads anywhere in the country, I only managed to drift in and out of sleep, head lolling onto my shoulder only to be jerked upright every now and then by one of the wheels jumping in and out of a pothole. It was like this every time we got into a vehicle from that point on. The African plains are no smoother than the roads.

We headed out through an industrial part of Nairobi, not seeing much of the city itself. It was around eight o'clock in the morning and scores of men queued up outside factory walls, waiting to be let in for a day's work. There were no women in sight. The factories became fewer and far between and the countryside revealed itself to be sparse and dusty, the yellowy, sometimes brown dust getting into our vehicle and up our nostrils. We saw baboons sat on rocks. I saw two children running across a field in a red and blue school uniform, which seemed odd to me at first. In a country where so much is more primitive than ours, school uniform seemed to be at odds with the surroundings. I chastised myself for being patronising. Why would they not have school uniform?

It was to be my first lesson in the fact that, while Kenya is a country that is less rich than us, its differences are also brought about by the fact that, while its people have some of the same priorities as us, they also have many that are different.

Nairobi is, for all intents and purposes, just like any other bustling international city. It took status as the country's capital from the other big town, Mombasa, in 1907, but, by our standards, there are elements to it that visitors will find backwards. For example, there is the strange understanding that it is dangerous for any woman to be walking around the streets after seven in the evening; that they are seen as some kind of prostitute if they do decide to leave the house at that time. And there's the people's approach to their roads and buildings, in that they don't really have an approach. Both are just functional. Roads are mostly just mud and pavements a rarity, while buildings are used until they fall down and another one is built. You won't find any listed historical buildings here. That said, you can tell the difference between a poor area of the city and a middle class area. The poor areas are shockingly run down, with big piles of rubbish by the side of the road, kids playing nearby. The middle class areas are a little cleaner, the buildings a little nicer maybe, but still very functional. Every one gets around in matatus - white minibuses with a yellow stripe; there are few buses around. While most have this uniform colour of white with a yellow stripe, we see many that are painted in various colours and inscriptions, a trend left over from before 2004 when a law was passed to make them more safe – they all had to have seatbelts and travel under a certain speed, and be recognisable – hence the white and yellow.

I woke up again as we drove through a town called Sulton Hamud. It's a town like any British town, in that it has shops, a chemist, awnings with Coca Cola logos splashed across them. But this is a primitive version of a modern town. All the buildings are one storey, rarely two, more often made of tin and wood than brick, sometimes all three. There are no pavements here, just mud road. The market has few or no stalls, the sellers displaying their wares – clothes, vegetables etc - on a sheet on the ground. The contemporary clothing seems to clash with the surroundings.
When I'm jolted awake again we're in the bush. It's dustier, bumpier and there are bigger holes in the ground. John drives on as if we're on beautifully laid tarmac. He turns back and grins. "You're getting a real taste of African roads here," he says. I grin back, thinking, you're not kidding. "You must be seeing a big change," he adds in his strong accent. "From London, Nairobi, now you're in the bush."

He's not wrong. Looking outside we see the first dwellings of the Maasai people. The ones we see are the traditional huts, made of mud and cow dung and wood. John tells us that they are slowly decreasing in number as the Maasai turn to tin to make their homes. While it's sad that these traditional homes are gradually being lost, you can't blame them for using tin instead. We all look for ways to make our lives easier. We later find out that it takes around a fortnight to build a mud hut. A tin hut they can build in a day. It's a no-brainer really.

Despite being the most well-known, the Maasai are actually only a minor tribe in Kenya. There are many others much larger. But their distinctive dress and customs, and their close proximity to many of the big game parks, have made them the most familiar to tourists. They are a strong presence during our trip. We are greeted by a welcoming committee of Maasai warriors at both camps (the Gamewatchers Safaris' Porini Camps), all of whom are dressed in their colourful traditional garb – a bright red or purple or similarly-coloured shawl adorned with multi-coloured beaded necklaces – apart from one, who we are introduced to as Daniel. I later find out that this is his real name, despite many of the other Maasai taking on Western names when working on the camps and dealing with tourists. Daniel is dressed in Western clothes, safari type stuff, and tells us he will be our guide and look after us during our two nights at the Amboseli Porini Camp.

The camps themselves are simply set up - six tents, each with a double bed and a single, plus a bathroom at the back (more on that later). Then there is a main tent where the guests dine, together, plus a kitchen area behind that where all the food is prepared by the Maasai staff. We find our bags in our tents – the accommodation might be simple and in the middle of nowhere but it still has a five star sensibility. As do the tents themselves. The tent is huge.

It fits the beds, bedside tables, a desk and chair, a wardrobe. There's a bathroom at the back with sink and mirror, a flushing toilet and a shower. We are later told that, as water is scarce, we are only allowed six minute showers, the hot water coming from what is basically a bucket outside, filled by the Maasai staff on request, with a pipe that comes through to the shower. Anna, who has long blonde hair that she spends hours styling each day, looks worried. She looks even more worried when she realises that there is only a curtain between the bedroom and bathroom and we will hear each other going to the toilet. It's amazing how quickly we get used to this, although having lived together for two years previously might have helped.

We hear other weird noises, what must be bird noises. Although they sound nothing like any bird in Britain. The noises remind me of the scenes in Star Wars where Luke Skywalker is on Dagobah being trained by Yoda.Beside the main tent, set back behind it, was a little ramshackle hut, not much taller than myself, made of wood. We peered inside between the branches that formed the walls and saw an array of souvenirs – the colourful Maasai jewellery, the short Maasai swords, shields made of cowhide. Two Maasai came over and let us in, keen to sell us something. I didn't like any of the jewellery, and wasn't sure if any of my female friends would. Anna began to pick out some stuff for her friends while I looked at the swords. They were pretty cool but there was no chance of me getting one home. Anna bought some stuff. I was relieved as it meant I didn't have to. As much as I didn't like it, there was part me thinking I should buy something, help these people out. I resolved to tip them a bit more instead.

We were introduced to Wilson, a Maasai warrior, and his friends, who also had Western names. I later found out Wilson's real name was Ole Kasaine, but, like most of the Maasai who came into contact with us lazy Westerners, he had taken on a name we could get our tongues round. Wilson was to be our guide on a bush walk to a traditional Maasai village. This was both exciting and nerve-wracking. What a culture shock this was going to be.Wilson spoke good English. He had been away to university in Nairobi where he had studied on a tourism course and gained a diploma. Now he had come back to his tribe to put his education to good use for them. As we walked along with Wilson, we learned that the Maasai were embracing the slow impingement of Western culture on African tribes by taking from it what they could and putting it to use for their own benefit. One example of this was the many Maasai that worked in tourism as guides on safaris, bringing the money they made back to the family. It was when Maasai people went off to the big cities to get an education and make their own way through life that elder Maasai would become angry, and they would find themselves unwelcome if they ever returned to their families.

The Maasai warriors we walked with had spent some time away from the tribe making the move from childhood to manhood as they learned how to hunt and how to fight. They showed us how they throw spears, each of them hitting a tree trunk with precision aim. Wilson asked if I wanted a go. I jumped at the chance and immediately made a fool of myself. While theirs arched through the air, landing in the trunk with a thud, mine just flew through the air in exactly the same position, crashing into the tree and landing on the floor. I had a few more goes - it was fun more than anything – before conceding that I was never going to be entering the Olympics throwing javelin.

We arrived at the Maasai settlement, where we were greeted by a song from the women. It was touching but a little harsh on my Western ears.

We were introduced to the chief, who would guide us around the settlement. He pointed out the set up, how the animals were kept in a pen in the middle of the camp, and surrounded by the huts.

He couldn't stop staring at my t-shirt. I'd noticed this with Wilson as well, and the other Maasai. While the rest of my clothes were plain, I was wearing a brown t-shirt which had an Emily Strange cartoon on the front. It was black and white and fluorescent green and obviously fascinated the Maasai, but none of them asked me about it. It made me feel slightly uncomfortable – had I done something wrong in wearing it? I ignored it and tried to take in what the chief was saying.

He showed us a backgammon-style game that they played to pass the time.

And he got one of the tribesmen to show us how they made fire from cow dung and two bits of wood. One had a pointed end and the other had grooves into which the pointed stick fitted. He placed the two bits of wood near the dung and proceeded to spin the pointed stick between his hands. In a moment there was smoke coming from the grooved bit of wood and quickly the dung caught alight. He continued for some time, blowing on the smoking dung until the fire was lit completely. It was impressive and looked much easier than it probably was.

The chief took us to another side of the camp where a woman was sat by a fire and shoving a hot stick into some gourds. He explained she was cleaning them with the heat. They were used to store milk in, and cattle blood – both part of the staple diet of the Maasai.

We moved on again, and he took us to one of the huts. We stood outside as he explained that it was the women's job to build the huts and, as I said before, they took about two weeks. We had to duck down to go inside – these are short people, none much taller than me. In fact, the word warrior did seem a little incongruous just looking at these thin, wiry men in their coloured shawls, but it's only as you learn about them – their lifestyle and history, the many battles they have gone through over the generations – that you see it's a very apt word.

We followed the chief inside the hut and as our eyes got accustomed to the dark (a little light came through a small hole in the roof that allowed the smoke from a small fire situated in the middle to escape) we saw it was much more sophisticated than you might expect. We had to walk down a small corridor to get to the middle room, which was between the man's room and the woman's room. For reasons not established they slept separately. In fact much of the time the men and women were separate, each having their own sections of the camp.

We left the hut and made our way back to where we'd arrived. This time the men put on a performance for us – a traditional Maasai dance were they would jump as high as they could from standing position (to show how agile and strong they were), coming down with a loud thump in rhythm to the song their friends were singing.

We thanked the chief and shook hands with as many of the Maasai as we could, patting the children on the head (this was the norm apparently). Wilson and his friends walked us back, pointing out the various plants that the Maasai used in their everyday lives, and showing me the tiny bugs that made the weird, perfectly circular, holes in the dirt.

Back at the camp we met the first of many just married couples we were going to meet during the week. Kenya seems to be a favourite destination for honeymooners, though ones who have a taste for adventure, rather than a taste for romance. The less than private bathroom would soon kill any romance.

Ed and Jessica had been out on safari all day and were now joining us for a 'sundowner' – a trip out to a remote part of the bush to watch the sun go down. They enthusiastically told us about how they had woken up that morning to see a giraffe outside their tent, feeding on the trees above them, and about all the animals they'd seen that day. I began to get excited about our own safari.

Sundowners are a nice way to end the day. After a full day's safari it becomes less about looking at the beautiful but desolate landscape that stretches for miles in every direction, and more about cracking open a beer. But our first evening we'd yet to get accustomed to the surroundings and it was nice to get our first taste of these seemingly unending stretches of grass, occasionally punctuated by the odd tree or bush. We didn't have much luck with our sundowners, the cloud often hiding the sun's departure, but on our first night we did get to see the top of Mount Kilimanjaro (the tallest free-standing mountain in the world which is situated in the neighbouring country Tanzania) peeking over the top of the clouds – it's that big.

Sunday, 5 November 2006

total:spec - Preston

This time last year Samuel Preston, or just Preston as he likes to be known, could not have called himself a celebrity. Not that he’d have been particularly bothered, as we’ll later see, but, although he was the lead singer of mildly successful rock band The Ordinary Boys, if he walked down the street he would have turned more heads with his striking pretty boy good looks than with his recognisability.

Then, in January of this year, Preston went into the Celebrity Big Brother house. As such, these days he’s a bona fide celebrity. Those good looks made him the so-called ‘hunk’ of the house (despite his slight frame) - the one all the teenage female viewers latched on to and quickly came to adore. And although he only eventually came fourth in the show, what added to his appeal, both in and once he was out of the house, was his obvious mutual infatuation with the house’s pretend celebrity Chantelle Houghton. His ensuing break-up from his then girlfriend Camille Aznar and subsequent marriage in August (just seven months after they’d met) to Chantelle has made Preston one of the most talked about and high profile British music stars of 2006.

But as well as giving Preston a new career as a celebrity, it also saved his band. The truth is, The Ordinary Boys - also made up of William Brown on guitar, James Gregory on bass, and Simon Goldring on drums - were sliding rapidly back into obscurity before Big Brother. After the initial flurry of music press interest in the band during 2004, thanks to their lively debut album Over The Counter Culture, its follow up, 2005’s Brassbound, was lacking in both imagination and, more importantly, tunes.

It’s one memorable song, the ska-pop gem Boys Will Be Boys, only managed No 16 on its first release and it looked like The Ordinary Boys were only going to manage meriting a footnote in the history of early 21st century guitar bands. And so, while it was a huge surprise to see Preston walk into the Big Brother house on that first day, you could understand why he did it. It’s the 21st century way of saving an ailing entertainment career.

Except Preston proclaims that’s not why he did it all. He’s said in many interviews he was just a fan of the show and wanted to experience it firsthand. More recently he’s admitted he was a bit bored with his life - settled down with his girlfriend in Brighton, trudging along with his band. But what he’s adamant about is that it wasn’t a career move.

“I mean, yeah, it’s undeniably helped,” he says now, talking on the phone as he is transported from a hotel to an appearance with his band at the Oxford Street London branch of HMV. “And I think that it would have been genius of me if I had have done it to help the band, but, you know, I didn’t,” he laughs.

Big Brother pretty much saved the band from being dropped. In the wake of Preston’s success on the show, Boys Will Be Boys re-entered the charts and went to No 3, while even the lacklustre Brassbound scored a more impressive No 11 on the album chart. They then went out on a successful nationwide tour, rallying the fans - both old (the so-called ‘Ordinary Army’) and new - as they prepared for their next move as a band. But that, says Preston, is as far as the influence of Big Brother went.

Listening to the band’s latest album How To Get Everything You Ever Wanted In Ten Easy Steps, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a reaction to Preston’s new-found status as a household name. It is the most mainstream thing the band have done, packed full of unrelentingly poppy melodies, electronic sounds and a pleasingly polished production. But Preston says the new sound is actually a reaction to the last album, not a cynical ploy to please fans he acquired in the Big Brother house.

“Making Brassbound we were all just terribly depressed,” he says. “Ultimately we’re pop stars and we should be having an absolute ball, being decadent and debauched and just enjoying everything. It should be making us excited. But it just felt like we were turning into middle-aged men. We were dangerously close to becoming Ocean Colour Scene and it was all a bit depressing. But in a way it was good that we went through that because our reaction has been making this album.”

But why not just make this album last time?

“I just think it’s really difficult to make a pop album, and to have the confidence to do it. There’s a lot of false arrogance in rock’n’roll and people don’t seem to be able to spot it, but I can spot it. I was becoming a bit guilty of it and I didn’t like it. But I think it’s important for a band to have that confidence and arrogance and a bit of swagger. Just a bit of triumphance about themselves. But I was getting to the stage where I would be like, [flatly] ‘yeah, fuck off you twats’, and it was all a bit depressing.

“Now we’ve found a genuine arrogance and I feel confident enough to make a poppy album. There’s already been the inevitable backlash, which has really polarised opinion on the band, which I think is great anyway. I can deal with that in terms of I don’t like the idea of being a real indie band. I want as many people to enjoy our music as possible, I want to be a pop band. As long as we’re polarising it in a way that the mainstream media is embracing us and the niche, cliquey media is rejecting us, well, that’s kind of the point.”

What is certain is that, had Preston not done Big Brother, the lyrics on How To Get Everything You Ever Wanted In Ten Easy Steps would have been very different. His celebrity, and his apparently tongue-in-cheek attitude towards it, is all over the songs. But what he actually thinks about it all is difficult to fathom. Since he left the house he has whole-heartedly embraced the celebrity lifestyle. He appeared on the cover of the Daily Mirror topless. Even more astounding was his cover shoot with pseudo-posh celeb mag Hello! Then in August he and Chantelle sold their wedding photos to Hello!’s rival OK!

“I feel like I’ve got this interesting mission of blurring the lines between what is seen as indie and what is seen as mainstream,” says Preston. “I think really they’re one and the same thing. They’re both controlled by the same big record label bosses, it’s just whether they decide to promote a band through MySpace or through morning television. It’s all really the same thing.

“I think there is an unhealthy stigma which is attached to music,” he adds, “which makes people have to pigeonhole music. Whatever music turns you on, turns you on. I think it’s ridiculous to have to set yourself rules about that because of what’s seen as cool. I think the whole idea of people saying, ‘Seriously you should check out this band, they’re well unsuccessful’ is crap. Surely if bands are any good they’ll sell millions of records and everyone would like them.”

Do you think you’ve succeeded in keeping your feet in both camps?

“I don’t know if I have. I’m not sure. It’s hard to judge your own public perception. But everyone who gets it just thinks the whole thing is so funny and I love that.”

So are you completely taking the piss out of it all, or is there part of you that enjoys it as well?

“I enjoy it in a kind of perverse way, in the same way that I enjoy watching a car crash. There is a part of me that absolutely enjoys it and I love the hypocrisy of the fact that I’m in this world, and making money from this world, then going off and trying to be satirical about it as well. I really relish in the whole hypocrisy of it. I’m this person who manages to contradict myself in the same word sometimes,” he laughs. “So there’s something quite fun about that, in a perverse, slightly deranged kind of way.”

Of course it’s not all fun. Preston has had to deal with the story coming out about his addiction to sleeping pills, which he tackled just by being honest about it, and the constant speculation about his relationship with Chantelle. He pays tribute to the so-called ‘close friends’ that are quoted in the many stories about him in last single Lonely At The Top.

“I have probably three or four close friends and none of them would ever speak to the press about me,” says Preston. “So I’m kind of safe in that if someone talks to the press about me chances are I’ve never met them, and I never got my invitation to the drugs and sex orgy that we supposedly had together. It’s kind of like, it doesn’t really matter. I just find the whole thing quite funny. Like, there was a story recently that I’d said I’d married a bimbo.”

Did you actually say that?

“I don’t know. I probably did but it was probably a joke. I think someone said to me in an interview, ‘How does it feel being married to a bimbo?’, and I just think bimbo is such a non-descript term. It kind of a implies a whole load of things. I just said something about it being great because it’s an ideal situation for a man, and so it’s a big fuck you to all the bullies at school. I wasn’t even bullied at school, I don’t know why I said that. I’m not particularly stressed about the story, and Chantelle laughs at it, so it actually makes great entertainment, I think. It makes life constantly exciting because you never know what ridiculous thing you’re going to read about yourself.”

How did it feel seeing your wedding photos on cover of a magazine?

“Well we actually got married at 11 o’clock that morning at a little private ceremony anyway. So we had our marriage and then we had the photoshoot for 20 minutes in the afternoon. I don’t know, I really enjoyed it. I do like the whole kind of glamour of it all. It’s something I don’t often indulge myself in, that kind of glamour, so it was just good to have a day of ridiculous celebrity glitz.”

So there is a part of you that loves it.

“Yeah I think so. I think if you don’t embrace it in a sense you can’t really be critical of it. It’s far too easy to dismiss the whole celebrity world as this disgusting tacky thing. But it’s 21st century royalty isn’t it? And it’s such a vague term, it’s so weird. The whole thing fascinates and repels me in equal measure. I still don’t really know what to make of it, and I’ve been dabbling with it for almost a year now.”

Do you think it has any importance?

“Well, I just think it’s fun and should be treated as such. Everyone takes everything so seriously these days. I think it’s the best bit advice - chill out, it doesn’t matter. It is what it is, really.”

Preston is a great believer in Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame theory. He fully expects the high level of media interest that there’s been this year in both him and Chantelle to die down very quickly. Now that the two of them are married he fully expects people to lose interest, and a cynical part of you almost wonders if that’s one reason they got married so quickly. But Preston’s obviously in love, and seems to be just trying to play the fame game a little differently.

“I’m constantly waiting for it all to collapse around me, and that slightly taints everything,” he laughs. “But in a way that makes me enjoy it more, I think. If you stayed drunk and you didn’t expect a hangover, you wouldn’t relish in your drunkenness so much. I think we’re getting drunker and drunker and the hangover is going to be worse and worse. There’s something quite exciting yet terrifying about that. I quite like the drama of it all.”

And what if it doesn’t end? What if the interest in you and Chantelle carries on as long as it has for, say, Jade Goody?

“But isn’t she a public jester though? I wouldn’t put myself in that position. I feel like I’m not quite as grotesque as that. The public like something they can prod at and go, look at that, it’s weird. I’ve got dark secrets but no one’s ever going to find out about them. Many lives have been lost ensuring that won’t happen.”

But there is the public perception that you and Chantelle are a bit of a mismatch. That might hold people’s interest.

“And I suppose we are. I think that’s what makes it great for us. If I’d have gone out with some singer out of a band it would be terribly boring and I’d be terribly bored anyway. I think I try and do things to make life more interesting, and by doing that I’ve accidentally met my wife. It’s quite funny.”