My Los Angeles
I first went to Los Angeles in 2002 when I was making arts and entertainment programmes for ITV. Straight away I fell in love with the place – and my new love affair came as a complete surprise.
Before I’d left for LA loads of people had told me it was a soulless city and everyone who lived there was superficial. But what struck me first of all was something nobody had ever mentioned – just how beautiful it is. The beaches are gorgeous and as you look out to the horizon you can see dolphins jumping through the waves of the Pacific. Many of the streets are lined with palm trees that shimmer in the light breeze, the dramatic desert is just next door, and if you drive up into the hills you can see stunning views over the whole city. And, of course, the sun is always shining – that much I had been expecting. It was all quite overwhelming for a boy from Bolton.
On top of all that, I discovered that the restaurants and diners are amazing and offer all kinds of food that staff don’t mind you adapting to suit your own tastes. The shopping is great – much cheaper than Britain and you’re always served by people who seem happy to help. On practically every street you pass the house of a major international star – and, if you’re lucky, you might even bump into them in person. And all this takes place against the backdrop of the Hollywood sign sparkling out at you from the sunlit hills.
But, best of all, everywhere you look in LA you see hot men – on the streets, in bars, running through Laurel Canyon, working out on Muscle Beach and beaming at you with their perfect smiles from the windows of their cars. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many handsome men in one place and all of them seem to come with amazing bodies as standard. No wonder they call it la-la-land. And not only that but everyone I met in LA seemed to love Brits. Very quickly I understood why so many of our biggest stars, from Robbie Williams to the Beckhams, have spent time living there.
Over the next few years I was sent back to LA to shoot several more programmes for ITV. And, as I got to know the place better, I realized it simply isn’t true that all the people who live there are superficial. Alright, loads of them do spend ages making sure they look good but so many of them are also into self-help and self-improvement, whether that’s rhapsodizing about a new therapist they’re seeing or telling you all about their discovery of Buddhism. And I think that’s what made the most impact on me about LA – the hope, the optimism, the fact that anything seems possible. You’re never too old to reinvent yourself or start again and no-one will ever write you off as a lost cause.
Of course, LA isn’t all perfect. Over the years I’ve met plenty of people there who tell you whatever you want to hear and just gush over you without ever backing it up with concrete action. I’ve always been lucky enough to have a job to do each time I’ve been there and I remember thinking once that it must be a tough place to live if you’re a struggling actor or writer or director and can’t get a break. Back in Britain, I once interviewed Michael Caine when I worked for Channel 4 News and he told me that when he lived in LA he really missed the cycle of the seasons. As someone who grew up in the rainy and usually grey North West of England, I can’t imagine ever feeling the same way. But I do remember one time I was there filming with the actor Ian McKellen and he took me to a school for underprivileged children in the desperately run-down area of Koreatown where he was involved with a charity project. It was a side of the city I’d never seen before and it suddenly struck me that LA wasn’t all sunshine and smiles.
But despite this, my overwhelming memories of the place have always remained positive – and I think that’s why I decided to set my debut novel Shot Through the Heart there. I started to write the book years after my first visit to LA when I was feeling miserable and unhappy with my life in London. My career wasn’t going the way I wanted it to, I’d received a romantic rejection from a friend I’d totally fallen in love with and my mum had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. When I sat down to write I just wanted to escape. And it seemed like the logical thing to do to escape to LA.
Shot Through the Heart has just been published by Pan Macmillan. It’s a romantic comedy about a Hollywood actress who falls in love with a paparazzi photographer. The pap’s a Brit who loves LA so many of his impressions of the city are my own. Although I’ve tried not to lose sight of the dark side I’ve sometimes glimpsed through the sunshine.
My Review for Matt's book can be seen here
My Review for Matt's book can be seen here