Danny Wallace on accidentally gate-crashing the winners' circle
"One of the most effective ways of finding out you haven’t won an award is when they read someone else’s name out"
One of the most effective ways of finding out you haven’t won an award is when they read someone else’s name out.
In that second, you absolutely know either way whether you have just won.
This has just happened to me, but it’s fine, because I tell myself that someone else winning means I’ll be able to slink out of the venue and get home early. Not for me the standing around and shaking hands with people and having photos taken and being lauded as special. Maybe I can even buy a Big Mac on the way back that I can disingenuously blame on disappointment. This is an angle that McDonald’s is yet to capitalise on in its advertisements. The searing feelings of disappointment that sometimes lead lone men to strip-lit burger bars to shovel vast packets of chips in their faces.
But also, it is fine, until, right at the end, an announcement: “Will all nominees and winners come to the stage to have their photo taken!”
Well, OK. A photo! I’ll have my photo taken, and then I’ll have a Big Mac. When I was 12, that would have been the perfect day out.
But as I stand on the stage, generously off to one side so that my natural charisma does not distract from the glint of trophies, which I don’t even want because then I wouldn’t be able to have a Big Mac, the photographer realises I am unbalancing his photograph.
He looks at the shot. He frowns and shakes his head.
I am reasonably tall, and the man seems to think if I am off to one side I am making the photo heavier or something. It’s just not Zen. It’s like he thinks if I’m weighing it down on one side, the finished photo will just slide straight off people’s mantelpieces. I’m not sure he knows how photographs work.
“Danny, can you move round the back please?” he says, waving me towards the middle.
“Round here?” I say, finding my way behind people.
“A little more…” says the man, and I keep shuffling. “Perfect!”
I had considered this might conceal me from view, as if the man planned for me to be a sort of DVD ‘hidden extra’. But I am actually now standing right in the middle of the photograph. Like right in the middle. I shouldn’t be here. I’m at the back, yes, but I’m at the back now peeping over the shoulders of people holding actual awards. Winners. It’s just them, beaming and holding their trophies, while I hover creepily behind them. No one else has been sent back here. Just me. A weird head, floating between shoulders.
All over the land, I realise that people will soon look at this photo and say, “Oh, congratulations – but who’s that head-guy just trying to be near you?”
“Smile!” yells the photographer, and I think he’s yelling at me, so I beam my most generous smile. All the other not-winners remain at the edges, where they belong. But I look like I’ve arrogantly decided I do not belong with them. No. I belong with the trophy-holders. I look like I’m trying to pretend I’ve won. Like I’ve turned my back on my people – the losers – in order to ingratiate myself with the upper classes.
But I didn’t win, meaning my position also means I appear to be the main loser. Out of all the losers, it’s like I’m the one who hasn’t won the most.
“Oh!” says the lady who won the main award, when she half-turns and notices me towering over her, just standing there. She clutches her award tighter, suspicious, perhaps worrying this is some kind of plan I’ve hatched to creep around at the back until I can pounce and steal an award.
“He made me stand here,” I whisper, nodding towards the photographer, but this does not seem to reassure her, and nor does it seem likely. Why would he make me stand here?
Her eyes say it all: I am an interloper.
I realise that a new class structure has immediately arisen. A few moments ago, we were equals, all sitting in the dark together waiting for our names to be read out. But her name was read out, and now she is a winner, and I am some kind of strangely self-entitled shadow-boy, drifting around with suspicious intent, not content with my lot in life. Keen to better myself.
I can tell she wants to alert someone in case there’s been a dreadful mistake.
“I’m not trying to steal your award!” I joke, but this merely reinforces in her head the idea that I might indeed be trying to steal her award.
“Smile!” yells the photographer again, and both me and the lady immediately make startled grins.
“Congratulations,” I whisper to her, as she still stares resolutely at the camera, not wishing to engage me in conversation. And then I say: “I’m going to have a Big Mac on my way home.” Because that is my guilt-free right. That is the loser’s prize.
And in that moment, through some pretty intense psychological mind play, I am sure that every person on that stage knew who the real winner was.
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