Until the first episode of Ibiza Uncovered aired on Sky1, the fact that we were about to appear on a weekly television show hadn't fully sunk in. Sure, we'd signed on the dotted line of the contracts, filmed the "before" scenes: packing our cases at my parents' three-bed semi in Sidcup, then another happily skipping out of Harvey Nicks after our last shift. The crew had appeared at our apartment a few days after we'd touched down on the White Isle brandishing conspicuous cameras and big fluffy mics. But it wasn't until that first Friday night episode went out that the reality of the "reality show" finally registered.
By this point we were living diagonally above The Ship Inn, having moved three times already; following our two-week package holiday near The Egg in central San An we spent several fraught weeks at Villa Angelina, although that was the mother of all misnomers, seeing as it wasn't a villa at all, but a damp, stone-walled underground cave with an icy dribble of an excuse for a solar-powered shower slap-bang in the middle of the living area.
This low-ceilinged subterranean dwelling was wholly inappropriate for a couple of lanky six-foot sheilas like ourselves, so we took to crawling about in there like a pair of tipsy trolls, necks craned at awkward angles, constantly cursing as we bumped our heads in the darkness after a boozy night out. It was like a scene from Alice in Wonderland; we'd drunk the wrong potion, clearly. Angelina, the crazy old cat lady who owned it, must have been stifling her sniggers as she pocketed our pesetas after that particular deal.
The darkness in the cave was disorientating too - one day I worked 6am-4pm, and went home to sleep at around five, before waking at seven-thirty and running to work in a blind panic thinking I was an hour and a half late for my 6am start, only to discover on arrival to everyone's amusement that it was actually still the same evening.
The accommodation situation had clearly become untenable, so it was time for home number three. One day we simply pitched up at work with our suitcases in order to take up Juan's earlier casual offer of residence in the flat above The New Star, which, it quickly became apparent, was an even worse idea.
By this time Kez and I were working opposite shifts, one of us on 6am to 4pm the other 6pm until 4am, which meant we shared a lumpy single bed and slept on rotation, with one of us waking the other when we finished work. Being employed at The New Star was crazy enough, living there as well....total chaos. Dodgy characters, shady deals, suspect "ladies of the night" regularly passing us on the stairs...hmm, time for us nomadic numpties to move on yet again.
Our fourth and final residence of the summer was, thankfully, much more suitable - a two-bed apartment at the top of the strip, aka the West End. It was very noisy, obviously, but being above The Ship was a huge selling point for us, and at least our neighbours wouldn't be complaining about us playing loud music.
The Ship was, (and still is, 20 years later), a lifeline for workers on the island. Landlord John and his lovely wife Denise were like surrogate parents to the scores of clueless young Brits washing up weekly in search of jobs and a summer of fun. Their toddler daughter Krystal was similarly adored by us workers. To describe the couple as pub landlords would be a gross understatement; they acted as employers, recruitment agents, agony aunt/uncle, estate agents...you name it, they'd be there with a pint and some sound advice. To us workers, John and Denise were Ibiza's A-Team. If you had a problem and no-one else could help, they were the go-to gurus.
The homely pub was a constant hub of activity as workers gathered around the noticeboard scanning the job ads, watching telly or reading their phone messages, since none of us owned a scrap of technology : no TV, mobile phone or landline. (Come to think of it, we didn't have work permits either, but times were different back then).
It was like the local post office, with the added bonus of selling beer. If one of our friends or parents phoned for Kez or I, the bar staff would just shout up to our balcony to summon us down. The same happened when our programme was about to start : the pub packed with rowdy holidaymakers watching the show on the big screen, with Kez and I sat cringing amongst them also watching it for the first time, albeit from behind our fingers.
We shared the apartment with two other London girls we'd met called Sam and Maria, who also got roped into appearing in the occasional episode of Uncovered with us. Being savvy Londoners, we soon had the idea of moving various randoms into our living room for an inflated rent, thereby reducing our own payments considerably, including the bonkers bong-smokers Noah and Kristina, a couple of American body-piercers. It was a bit cosy with six of us in a two-bed apartment, to say the least, and sometimes I'd come home from work in the afternoon to find the door wide open, the flat full of revellers, music blaring and several fully-clothed strangers asleep in my bed.
Anyway, back to our fifteen minutes....
After that first airing we got our first taste of "fame." Maybe notoriety is a better word. Workers and holidaymakers (or "tourists" as us workers patronisingly tagged them) whom we'd never met began calling us by name in the street, asking to have their photo taken with us (I bet there's some horrific shots yellowing in many an attic), giving us their varying opinions of our on-screen personas and situations and generally offering unsolicited advice.
At first, we assumed we'd met them before, perhaps after a few drinks, but nope, they were complete strangers just sidling up for a chat. One family of nutjobs practically camped under our balcony for two weeks with a camcorder pointing up at us, filming us at every opportunity as if we were Hollywood stars. A few of the bars gave us a frosty reception, of the opinion that the programme brought the island into disrepute. I reckon the island was doing a good enough job of that on it's own, thankyouverymuch.
We started receiving calls from various journalists and TV production teams via The Ship's phone service, with regular exciting messages appearing on the noticeboard, leading to some welcome extra wonga from spin-offs and magazine articles. I flew back to the UK several times over the summer to appear on television shows such as This Morning and The Vanessa Show.
By now, we had several jobs on the go. Kez was propping for Amore Mio, an Italian restaurant in the West End. I was still at the New Star, we both did a spot of flyering and also sold tickets for Cream at Amnesia amongst other club nights, plus I was part of the entertainments team at Manumission. This basically involved dressing up as something ridiculous for the themed parties at Privilege on a Monday night, getting wasted and dancing on stage or mingling with the eight thousand clubbers in attendance, doing such random acts as peeling potatoes whilst sprayed head-to-toe in silver paint (over a leotard, of course) or dressed as a milkmaid milking a cow on a podium. The latter was the safer option, as I nearly gouged a few eyeballs out with that peeler as drunken revellers bashed into me. The week I had to hand out melon which I'd cut up in the middle of the club with a machete was a tad hairy too.
My cow co-star was a guy called Ben, who was really beefing up in his bovine attire. He'd get a bit irritable in the heat of a packed Balaeric nightclub in July wearing that full furry costume complete with huge udders. "Mooooo-ve," he'd cry as he negiotiated the crowds in his costume. In exchange for creating a spectacle (the only vague requirement of the role), we got into the club for free and could help ourselves to the workers' bar, plus a small wage. Sweet. We'd do a pre-party parade around San Antonio before hopping on a special disco bus (oh, it was special, alright) and heading to the club for midnight.
I have many memories of those hedonistic nights, my favourite moments involved floating about in the back room drinking a Coco Loco (an intoxicating potion whose dubious ingredients were unknown but the effects were pretty spectacular) and dancing ecstatically as the sun came up through huge glass windows. Then it was onto Space for the Carry-On, where Kez worked for a while handing out fruit on giant platters. Oh, how very civilised.
Space opening fiesta was another stand-out snapshot of the summer. Juan closed the bar, got the New Star team in for free, then the Sky crew rocked up and filmed our day, the joyous scenes of us dancing on the terrace in the sunshine with our fellow worker pals immortalised on celluloid, the many tatty VHS tapes of each episode of the series still lurking in my loft.
To avoid the extortionate bar prices, someone would wrap a load of drinks in a half-deflated lilo and sling them over the wall. The less prepared would simply go "minesweeping" instead, which was the unethical practise of swiping unattended drinks from tables.
And so the summer of '97 passed by - a heady mix of sunbathing, work, partying and general, off-the-charts high jinks, as only one who's been to Ibiza can understand. The daytime parties at Kanya, Mambo and Bora Bora spring to mind, to name but a few. Radio 1 parties. The Funky Room at Pacha. PAs from Sonique at Amnesia, Skin from Skunk Anansie at Es Paradis stand out in my mind. The MTV quarry party on the night Diana died. Morgana. KM5. There are so many anecdotes I could share, enough for a book not a blog (if only I could remember half of what happened). Perhaps these are best whispered in person directly into your shell-like, so I can watch your lips curl upwards and your eyes widen.
The overriding emotion, looking back, was a feeling of good fortune. How lucky were we to have escaped the rat-race whilst our mates slogged away at home like London-based lemmings? How lucky were we to be spending our days lying in the sun, working (in the loosest sense of the word), and going to the best parties and clubs in the world on a beautiful island at the pinnacle of it's popularity?
One of our favourite pastimes was sneaking a peak at our watches and then reminding each other what everyone at home would be doing right at that moment. At 8am on a Tuesday morning whilst people at home were on their silent stony-faced commute, we'd high five each other as we stepped over the threshold into Space.
In 1997 Ibiza was in it's prime, and so were we. It was the most amazing summer. From May til October we'd made firm friendships, most of which endure to this day (largely through the power of Facebook, which reunited us all, years later).
So it was pretty obvious that as we attended our final closing party and packed our suitcases at the end of the summer, the words on every worker's lips as we hugged each other goodbye were:
"Hasta luego amigo....see you next season...."
Fancy reading my back-story before you go any further? You can find my other blogs at:
Facebook: Samantha Jane Walsh