However, there is nothing more humbling to the soul than going on national television and then experiencing ‘constructive feedback', almost instantly. Sure, Facebook allowed my friends to congratulate me on the food I was concocting. But it also gave them a forum to destroy my shirts. In slow motion if needs be. (Damn you Sky Plus, and your recorded image to watch over and over again.) My friends were right, the food looked good. I on the other hand looked terrible, with oversized shirts and blue checked patterns shadowing whatever I cooked up on the plate. The penny had dropped - I needed help.
Sisters? Nope. Too close to the subject matter. Girl friends? While they'd love a crack at having their own personal Ken Doll for a day, I needed a pro. This is when I was introduced to Nicolette Lang-Andersen, who decided to take on the challenge of reinventing my style. Of updating my wardrobe. Of creating a stylish Tarrant Ablett version 2.0, ready to face the cameras.
We sat down and Nicolette went through what we were going to do, which included a colour analysis, body shape breakdown and general grooming tips. I was nervous. It all sounded like I was stepping in to do my A Levels again, but without revising: my body shape wasn't ready to be broken down, and what happens if no colours decide to ‘get on' with my complexion? Nicolette eased my fears almost immediately. She has a warm and very enthusiastic persona, and the outfit she is wearing is what I can only describe as chic (by the end of the day, I'd increase my style language tenfold). Her outfit screams ‘effortlessly stylish'. Given a bin liner and some sticky tape she would come back to you in half an hour looking radiant in a new cat walk spectacular. If I was going to trust anyone, it was going to be her. I put the kettle on.
Nicolette presents me with a colour chart, which is similar to a Dulux paint mixer. She talks about various tones, shades, pastels... and I'm in foreign territory immediately. I begin looking at the walls of the living room, wondering if it needs a lick of paint this winter, or should I let it slide for another year? I almost want to ask if I can keep the Dulux paint mixer (I mean ‘colour chart') samples for later to hold up to the wall. I quickly regain focus, as Nicolette asks me to pan my hand over the various colours, saying ‘can you see yourself in that?' I can't. I shake my head and there is an air of disappointment in her eyes. I suggest doing it another time, and to be honest certain colours do bring out my natural skin tones. I smile and we establish that I am a mix between autumn and spring colours, which essentially means I can wear bolder shades, but should stay away from pastels as they make me look ‘washed out'.
This is more intense than I first anticipated. I start to regret that last infernal Sambuca shot I had the night before. We chat, and I quickly realise that Nicolette is full of insightful facts and terminology that I've never heard. Quick to make a start in the day she demands that I try on my current wardrobe. It doesn't take long, as a suit, a few shirts, my jeans and some t-shirts quickly fly past Nicolette's radar. Indeed when it comes to putting each article of clothes into allocated piles it is no surprise that the majority goes in the ‘bin/charity' heap. It is clear that this really is starting anew. But no matter how clean the start, there are some things a man will struggle to give up. Thus my Spiderman pyjamas remain mysteriously hidden at the bottom of the wardrobe. The Spidey powers are safe, for another day.
At the end of the initial meeting, part of me feels free, refreshed and looking forward to shopping for some more clothes. The other part feels naked, both metaphorically and literally. That evening I go to my wardrobe to dress for a night out and there isn't a shirt to be seen. I decide to stay in and have pizza - shopping requires a fresh head, and loads of stamina.
Refreshed and ready to get stuck in, I am up early and sipping my second macchiato by the time I met up with Nicolette. She has a natural excitement which is infectious, nodding as she talks as if to say ‘Team Ablett! Lets do this!' I wasn't about to argue, so we head into the shopping centre. It's a vast labyrinth of evil distractions, designed in every way to pull in discerning shoppers, a trap I very quickly fall into. I demand a quick glimpse of the artwork on sale and then get sidetracked by a blond offering massages. Trying to reason with Nicolette's wry smile, I suggest that maybe we should have one to prepare us for the day ahead? No dice. This lady was born ready. She raises her eyebrows and explains that we have a lot to get through, and suggests that if we have time and if we get everything done then I can have a massage at the end. A tactic my mother used an awful lot with me as a kid, i.e. ‘if you behave we can go and get chocolate when we are done'. Works like a charm.
Nicolette gently guides me to the direction of the first shop. Inside she commands everything, striding the aisles with purpose, pulling out suits, ties and shirts at will. Nicolette has ‘researched' this shopping area the day before, and it shows. This normal clothing store is transformed into a colourful bazaar of shades and styles. Everything she picks is brilliant. Even the skinny tie which I swore I would never wear seems to fit. I change, I pace, I model in front of the mirror, and Nicolette reminds me of the colours and cut we are going for. One shop down, two suits, a shirt, a fistful of ties and a belt, all purchased.
This shopping malarkey is easy! Well it certainly seems to be when you've got someone who knows what they are doing. I shrug and remark flippantly, "Is that it? Time for the massage now?" Not even close sunshine. She's a machine, and I get whisked upstairs and down escalators like an errant schoolchild . I try on outfits, shoes and even hats under her watchful eye. We go into a shop for tailored suits which is brilliant, and between Nicolette and Graham (the tailor) they convince me that I want one. I will get one, but for now I settle with a beautiful jacket, which I love. Everything has been planned and the day goes on with me being utterly focussed on the task in hand. Nicolette has her plan that she refers to religiously, although nothing is ever rushed or overlooked. For the first time ever I am having fun shopping. My only moan is when being told by a Russell Brand look-alike shop assistant that the largest size they go up to is a 34" waist - something that I have never been. I roll my eyes and make for the exit, exclaiming to Nicolette about ‘Monsieur floppy hair' and his condescending comments. She calmly responds by placing her hand on my back and saying, ‘Now you know how us girls feel'. Indeed the sizing of clothes are a bit of a misnomer. I was a small, medium and large depending on the shop. I begin to wonder what happened to the international standard of measurements. Surely an inch is still an inch regardless of whether we have travelled the 10 meters to another shop? I can't help feel that a standardisation would be helpful to all.
We stop for a brief interlude, where we indulge in a cappuccino and carrot cake. I explain that I am on the cusp of creating a new recipe for my version of the cake, and I need to sample as many as possible to gain more ‘inspiration' - one of the perks of the job I remark to Nicolette. I just have time to go through the idea of my carrot and orange with a hint of ginger cake and we are back hitting the shops. The caffeine has given us a boost and we are flying through the centre. Our relationship has become closer, demonstrated by Nicolette giving me an orange jumper. I laugh and say that will never work. Despite my scepticism I try it on, appearing from the dressing room in a sheepish manner. After a couple of tugs at the jumper Nicolette shakes her head and says, ‘Not quite as good as I thought this colour would be on you.' Unfazed, she hands me another jersey and we move on. This is one of the great things about her, in that she is totally honest whilst being diplomatic. It was never my extruding beer belly to blame for the tight fit, but more the ‘Italian' cut of the shirt. It was nice, comforting even, and it gave me the confidence to try on things I never normally would.
We shopped until literally the security shutters came down. I am absolutely knackered, and suggest we stagger over to an Italian restaurant for a rewarding bottle of wine. We grab the mass of bags and order a bottle of white whilst debriefing of the days excursion. I am hugely pleased with everything we have purchased, although the tank top and the hat is going to take a bit of getting used to and I have no doubt a little bit of mick taking from the boys. We part on the advice of, ‘wear it confidently and you will be fine - honestly, you look good.' Sound advice that makes me think that actually I will.
It has been a fantastic experience. I now have a newfound respect for shopping and style, and moreover I have had fun. Who knew?! Am I now converted to fashion and shopping? Probably not, but what I do know is that having a professional such as Nicolette makes things easy, it takes the hassle and pain out of perusing the hangers, adds structure to the day and avoids so many impeding arguments with friends, partners or family.
I have a date a few days later, and don my new clothes, admiring the bold new man in the mirror. Strange how clothes imbue you with extra confidence. People seem to take more notice of me on the street, as my walk takes on a new life. I like this feeling. I smile to myself and think I must remember to drop Nicolette an email to thank her. The date seems to appreciate it too. If I can conduct a similar transformation on some of my upcoming recipes, it'll be a smash hit. I can't wait...