As TOWIE celebrates its 10th anniversary, Laura Millar looks beyond the fake tan and flashy bling to find a different side of Britain’s most notorious county
‘Yes, I’m a proud Essex girl!’ laughs Jane Mohan, who’s greeting me at her property in Coggeshall wearing an elegant green top, tailored trousers, and – what’s this? – a string of pearls.
Essex girl surely she is not; where are the bodycon dress, the stilettoes, the false eyelashes?! But despite being, as she tells me, ‘Essex born and bred’, Jane is resolutely unlike some of the people you might associate with the E-word.
For, on October 10, 2010, on ITV2, a whole new world was unveiled to an astounded nation.
Sure, we’ve always had Essex girl jokes, and Essex man stereotypes, but The Only Way Is Essex presented us with a running cast of affluent, clued-up entrepreneurs. Clad in designer duds, running their own beauty salon, nightclub, or clothing boutique, they had money to burn, relationships to wreck, sizzling gossip to spill, and unmentionables to vajazzle.
TOWIE gave popular culture such inimitable characters as Mark Wright, Joey Essex, the mighty Gemma Collins, and, er, Diags, who, for better or worse, emblazoned their crazy lifestyles – catfights, crooning sessions (mainly Arg, to be fair), and all – across our screens.
Ten years on, and Essex would like to make the rest of the country aware that there’s a lot more to it. Thanks to a new campaign, Visit Essex (yes, there’s a tourist board!) wants to transport us from the reem streets of Brentwood – where the show was largely focused – to some of the county’s more overlooked environs.
The wine scene in Essex
I’m meeting Jane, one of several ambassadors for Visit Essex, in her pretty vineyard on West Street (weststreetvineyard.co.uk), established ten years ago.
There are now around 38 wine producers in Essex, although we get a little forgotten in favour of areas like Sussex and Kent
Here, in the quieter, more rural surrounds of northeastern Essex, which in the soft, late-summer sunlight could double for anywhere from Tuscany to the Dordogne, eager locals come to sample her light, refreshing vintages and enjoy romantic dinners at tables set among the vines.
‘My only background in wine before this was drinking it,’ she laughs, immediately re-establishing her credentials, ‘but I know what I like, and I use Burgundian grapes, which pair well with food.
We’ve got a great climate here, with relatively little rainfall, and there are now around 38 wine producers in Essex, although we get a little forgotten in favour of areas like Sussex and Kent.’
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