Last week I kissed a stranger on camera for a national newspaper.
I’d freaked out when I saw the original video of 20 strangers kissing for the first time, spread like wildfire as it did across the Internet. I posted it to my Facebook and declared: I AM NOT ASHAMED TO ADMIT THAT I WATCHED THIS THREE TIMES OVER BREAKFAST AND THEN TWICE ON THE WAY TO WORK! I was mad for it. When a friend Tweeted, ‘Am I the only one who just doesn’t get that YouTube vid?’ I responded heartily, Yes! because, to me, introducing yourself to a stranger with the full knowledge you’re about to kiss – one of the most lovely, intimate, special things two human beings can do – is the pinnacle of everything it is to be awkward, risk-taking, and honest.
It just got me really excited – even after it was revealed the video was actually a marketing ploy by a fashion label.
(That explained why everyone was so goddamn beautiful, then.)
When a friend told me national newspaper The Sun were looking for volunteers – real, ordinary, perhaps less conventionally attractive people than in the fashion video – I was all, ‘LOL, I’d totally do that!’
And then somehow I was on the underground headed to a South-East London studio with the palms of my hands sweating and my cheeks flushed, heart beating in double-quick time because I too was about to go tongue somebody I’d never met before.
I didn’t tell my friends – or, critically, Twitter - I was going, because I knew that’d make me lose my nerve. I was terrified; yet I really wanted to do it. I’ve had actual penetrative sex with strangers before (hiya, Mum!), fuelled by free shots from a cute barman and a predilection for provocative behaviour, but meeting someone with the sole intention of a kiss… that is far scarier.
I got to the studio before my partner, of whom the journalist would tell me nothing about. It occurred to me that I could absolutely be part of a set-up, where an obese, 50 year-old, smoker of a string vest wearing ogre could come around the corner, and I’d have to figure out a way to say, ‘YEAH BUT NOPE!’ without being a total bitch.
It then also occurred to me that perhaps somebody else was being set up, and it was me who was supposed to be the repulsive munter in the equation.
‘He’s cute,’ the sound technician whispered as she threaded a microphone under my dress and I hooked it on the waistband of my knickers.
‘Would you do this?’
‘If my boyfriend wasn’t stood right over there,’ she said, pointing, ‘I would totally do this.’
And then ACTION! was called. I stood not knowing what to do with my hands in the big white corner of the studio, three cameras rolling and a journalist taking notes, and waited for a man to traverse the corner. I was holding my breath.
He was tall, messy brunette hair, lanky but strong looking, with tattoos up his forearms. My mind was quite empty of coherent thoughts as he walked towards me, ready to position himself on the “x” some tape on the floor marked out, but I remember looking to his mouth. He had full, pink, lips, and a lop-sided smile. He said something, ‘Alright?’ or something like that, and revealed a broad Manchester accent. He had something of the Harry Styles about him -- a judgement in no small part influenced by the fact he was about the same age as him, too.
I think I’m destined to spend my whole life snogging younger men.
How do you greet somebody you’re about to pash? I panicked. If I hugged him, that’d be weird and forced, but if I simply kissed his cheek he might think I was going straight into the good stuff and no way was I doing this without knowing his name. So I… I put my hand out and said, ‘Nice to meet you. I’m Laura,’ and looking him directly in the eye was the most deliberate, courageous thing I have ever done.
‘James,’ he said, meeting my hand. We touched, and I noticed that he was shaking. Actually shaking. THE CUTIE PATOOTIE WAS TERRIFIED.
We made idle chatter, and before long he suggested we hold hands. His hands almost vibrated in mine as I watched him mentally pep talk himself towards taking a step forward, reaching out to hold the base of my neck, and pulling my mouth towards his.
I could feel his heart beating even through my chest, and I wanted to stop, to tell him he didn’t have to be nervous, that I was petrified too, but I didn’t want to embarrass him.
Time passed. We parted slowly, cautiously. We laughed, and then we said goodbye.