From homeless teen to top celebrity agent and best-selling author of Thunder Girls which is now a record-breaking play at Salford's Lowry theatre - meet Melanie Blake
The pendant feels warm to the touch and sparkles with what could be a little glimmer of magic.
Jackie, is that you?
For this very piece of jewellery, hanging beautifully around the neck of Melanie Blake, not only formerly belonged to her late literary idol Jackie Collins but was the catalyst into this new phase of her life.
There’s been a lot of chatter about Melanie.
First there’s her remarkable rags to riches story, including her escape from a religious-fanatic father who gave away the family’s money to a cult church and banned them from the modern world and her subsequent brief spell as a penniless homeless teen.
Then there’s her astonishing celebrity agent career with her agency Urban Associates which began after she blagged a camera assistant job at the iconic Top of the Pops, the very show her father had banned her from watching.
Then there’s her talent for flipping property which means she now lives a glamorous life in a £3m mansion.
Now, as she prepares for the opening of her box office record-breaking play Thunder Girls, based on her best-selling debut novel of the same name, it seems Melanie can do no wrong.
But - much like the plot of a Jackie Collins novel - stories are always far from straightforward and as Melanie explains, it was horrendous heartbreak that led her to the point she is now.
She originally wrote Thunder Girls 20 years ago inspired by the scandalous pop world she found herself in and happily admits everything that happened in the book is inspired by real situations in the music world.
"Oh it all happened," she says with a wink.
But she admits her entry into this new world had been a 'fluke' for a skint teen from from the north.
“I had no qualifications, no education and no specific way into the business,” she says.
“I got in through fluke through the back door and climbed the ladder.
“This day and age the world is your portal, you can tweet someone at Microsoft or DM Cher and they will contact you if they think you are good enough. Not then.
“ So back then in 1999 I was working as Tops of the pops as a camera assistant and runner - I told them I was experienced. I wasn't!
"It was lowest rung you can get,” says Melanie.
"But I found myself in the Top of the Pops studio with Kylie, The Spice Girls, Steps - and it was Claire from Steps who was my first client when she went solo."
The environment, particularly as she toured with comeback bands, provided endless inspiration for the novel.
“I saw a lot of pop stars behaving very badly and realised that if they were just in it for the money and not the journey it was not going to end well," she says.
“So I had this idea for a story about a fictitious girl group the Thunder Girls which had once been the biggest in the world but only lasted two years - because this is often the way.
"Then 30 years later one of them needed the others back which would mean they were in their 40s/50s slash 60s.
“So I was very lucky because I sent it out and got an immediate offer for a lot of money from a big agency on the proviso I changed the women’s ages and make them in 20s.
“And I said - how can it be a 30 year reunion?
"They needed life, loss, death, marriage, birth so I very bravely said no and I’m glad I did.
“I was living in a bedsit as well and broke - £50,000 in debt - so that money would have changed everything but I would have lost the rights to it forever.”
So she put Thunder Girls away in a drawer.
“A couple of years later it got picked up again for development for a major TV channel who I won’t name but will mouth (whispers name) who paid me a lot of money but then guess what they wanted to do?
"Make all the women young again!
"So that didn’t get made either,” says Melanie
“Then about four or five years ago when Jackie Collins died and her jewellery was being sold I purchased some on a whim - I grew up on her books.”
It was this moment which changed the course of her Thunder Girls story.
“I was wearing a piece of the jewellery on a day I was in my day job as a talent agent. I was with a celebrity who was on a TV show about psychics.
“I was wearing the very pendant I am wearing right now - this is it.
"If you Google her you’ll find her wearing this all the time and this ring too.
“So I was wearing this and the psychic - which I didn’t believe in by the way - said can I talk to you about that jewellery you are wearing? I said’ I’m busy with a client’.”
At this point, Melanie explained, nobody knew who she was so she was baffled why the woman had picked on her.
“Then she told me that jewellery belonged to a really powerful woman and she is so glad you have got it.
"My heart was in my mouth, it was such a weird thing to say and I was intrigued.
"She said ‘you’ve written something - it’s in a cupboard and she wants you to get it out and give it another go’.
“That was it - I was stunned and went back to watching the client making the programme.
Then that night I went home and dug out Thunder Girls.
“The strange thing about it was I’d had a really terrible heartbreak and people know what sort of background I have and my upbringing.
“But I’d never broken - all my life I’d stayed strong - but this was the worst heartbreak and pain I’d ever known.
"My mum had died at 52 - she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer on Christmas Eve and died six days later - and I survived that better than the heartbreak.”
And Jackie Collins was her idol.
“I took such inspiration from Jackie Collins when I was younger that you could be strong and didn’t have to be beholden to anyone.” she says
“So I put this pendant on and said a little prayer - I’m not particularly religious - and said I’ve lost my strength and my energy and I need something. This was the day before the psychic show.
“So I got the manuscript out and re-wrote it because it was old and it sold on day one.
"It came out this year - released 20 years to the day since I wrote it.”
Melanie - who celebrates her 41st birthday on Tuesday coinciding with the play’s opening night at Salford’s The Lowry Theatre just yards away from where 24 years ago to the day she “once felt hopeless”- is passionate about quashing the crushing societal and industry norms that try to make women out of their 20s and 30s invisible.
She wants to break through the industry snobbery round the subject matter, which touches upon issues such as menopause, HRT, and the ‘Me Too’ movement in the setting of female friendships, bitching and betrayal - the latter subject matter is usually reserved for novels about younger women.
“Women have no expiration date,” she says.
“We have a sellout play of Thunder Girls at The Lowry and it has broken box office records.
"People in the industry are too addicted to trying to follow the trend rather than what people are actually interested in.
“Look at us in Britain, we watch soaps, not everybody is high brow or cool.
"Cool is a state of mind and age. It’s when you care about peer and pressure.
“Nobody thought our project was cool whereas the audience wanted to know what those women had to do and say and that’s why Thunder Girls went to Number one and the play sold out.”
The casting of Thunder Girls, which Melanie adapted for the stage herself, proves this.
It’s a female powerhouse of women in their 40s, 50s and 60s including Blackpool’s Coleen Nolan, Coronation Street’s Beverley Callard, Carol Harrison and West End musical star Sandra Marvin who quit Emmerdale to join the cast.
It’s being produced by Angela Squire and led by acclaimed director Joyce Branagh (she is the sister of Sir Kenneth Branagh although it seems moot to even mention this)
Quite the team.
Safe to say Melanie has come a long way from the days she had to sleep rough and stay in squats.
I’m sure Jackie Collins is extremely proud.
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