Catfights, romances that follow an almost incestuous musical chairs style, tans so frighteningly carroty you want to adjust the colour settings on your TV – not forgetting those surgically enhanced cleavages and fake fingernails and eyelashes – has seen BBC Entertainment’s dramality, The Only Way is Essex (Towie), earn a reputation for being seriously trashy and, as such, highly addictive viewing. Debashine Thangevelo got James ‘Arg’ Argent and Jessica Wright to dish the dirt on the series that has become a global phenomenon with six seasons in the bag and a The Only Way is Marbs spin-off series to boot…
TACKY shows have become an invaluable commodity for TV networks. How else can one explain the magnetism of Jersey Shore, Jerseylicious, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, Cheaters, Jerry Springer and, last but not least, The Real Housewives nexus.
When BBC Entertainment’s The Only Way is Essex debuted on the small screen in SA, it trended on Twitter. And the over-the-top allure hasn’t waned, with viewers revelling in the lives of the attention-seeking (not to mention some serious air-headed) protagonists.
Although Mark Wright, a former semi-pro footballer-turned-nightclub promoter, tends to hog the limelight in the series, his best friend – singer James “Arg” Argent – has gained a huge following with his unassuming and quirky personality.
Reflecting on his introduction in the first season, he cracks up.
“Obviously, life has been crazy. When we ended the show, we didn’t know what it was going to be like,” Argent says.
“Touch wood – the show has become bigger and bigger. It was in all the national tabloids and newspapers. We won a Bafta. We have never looked back.
“I would say I went from being in and out of jobs, where I never found anything I was interested in and struggled for money, to getting a lot of work on the back of the first series. And I never used to get much attention from the girls – now I’m a ladies’ man,” laughs Argent.
Jessica Wright, Mark’s sister and a member of a girl pop band called Lola, landed her big break in the first season. It meant having to drop her brother as her manager.
She shares: “It has been amazing. We didn’t expect it to have the success it has had in the UK and all over the world and it has opened up avenues for me.”
On giving her brother the axe and his over-protectiveness, Jessica says: “We have always been a close family. It doesn’t really matter. Yeah, he is quite protective. He is younger than I am so it’s strange when he feels he can tell me what to do. But it is nice that he wants to.”
Argent chuckles as he talks of Mark’s influence as a friend: “He is amazing at persuading and getting me to do things. He has put me in situations where I wouldn’t have necessarily done it. But it works both ways. I have done things I probably shouldn’t have, like playing golf with him. Although I don’t mind dressing up every now and again.”
Argent continues, between fits of laughter: “When I first started, I was nervous and not the most confident with the ladies. I had only one girlfriend – Lydia. Mark got me to the speed-dating evening. I’ve got better since.”
Interestingly, Argent and Lydia have tried to make a go of things – but, for an array of reasons, the relationship sours in season two.
Jessica finds love – in season four – with financial manager Ricky Rayment.
“Everything is really good,” she says.
Getting back to the drama we can expect in the follow-on season, Argent says: “I put on a lot of weight. On the back of the show, I celebrated a lot. Then there is Lydia and me, things are very rocky. One of my favourite episodes is Mark’s engagement party and the classic theme.”
Referring to the catfight with Lauren Goodger after she and Mark have patched things up, Jessica says: “With this show you get to see a small snippet. Lauren and I, apart from what has been shown, have been friends for 10 years. She was always there for me. So there is a lot more to it than what you see on the show. Season two shows me coming into my own as I have always been one with Lola.”
While some characters have moved on to other shows – Mark (I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here, Take Me Out: The Gossip and Mark Wright’s Hollywood Nights), Amy Childs (Celebrity Big Brother and It’s All About Amy), and Kirk Norcross (Celebrity Big Brother 2012) – Argent is determined to ride the The Only Way is Essex (Towie) cash cow for as long as possible.
“Towie has become bigger and better. And I’m enjoying being in it. I’m still a central character and I’m not jumping ship,” he says.
There are two fascinating introductions in season two: Joey Essex, a club promoter vying to outshine Mark, and car saleswoman Gemma, who tries to ensnare Mark.
With another colossal dose of salacious drama in the pipeline, curiosity is bound to get the better of viewers – fan or not!
• The second season of The Only Way Is Essex airs on BBC Entertainment (DStv Channel 120) at 8.30 tonight.