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SEX, DRUGS & HANGOVERS: Everything I Know About Love is THE drama of the summer

FORGET Sex and the City – the BBC has a new binge-worthy series that’s even better, and it’s British too.

All episodes are available on BBC iPlayer in the UK, and I feel you will want to binge the whole series in one go, it deals with heartbreak, love, friendships, drugs, jobs and everything in between a twenty-somethings coming of age experiences are rarely shown on telly. 

Set in 2012 – the year that the UK was reminded how f*cking great it was with the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, those who grew up in the late noughties and early 2010s will finally feel “seen” by TV producers, its got bank overdrafts, binge drinking and bangers that will take you back to a Britain before Brexit and Covid and remind us what makes British culture great. 

CREDIT: 2021 London Olympic’s Opening Ceremony – BBC/Olympic Broadcasting Services

The show gives the viewer the feeling of what Sex and the City would have been like if you had watched it as a twenty-something in the late 1990s, when the western world was gripped by cigars and stains in the Oval Office – when America was at the top of its soft power cultural exchange, but this time, it’s Britain leading the culture wave.

Dolly Anderton’s series marks a welcome return of the UK winning back its spot on top of the global soft power culture war and our drama is bloody top-notch. 

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It takes you back to a London of reality rejects from Big Brother, early iPhones, Amy Whinehouse, Camden cool, Pete Doherty-style rockers in Primark and Topman checked shirts with cardies fashion, and the soundtrack brings back to life Rizzle Kicks, Calvin Haris and Dizzie Rascals epic Olympic set. 

The producers bill it as “a raucous girl gang show, set in a 2012 London house-share inhabited by four girls – Maggie, Birdy and their mates from university, Amara and Nell The series is an unflinching deep dive into bad dates, heartaches and humiliations and begs the question: can platonic love survive romantic love as we grow up?” 

And if you are someone who partied in Manchester during the early 2010s, you’ll recognise the locations in Manchester’s glitzy gay village backstreets standing in for London.

Interview with Dolly Alderton

Dolly Alderton is the author, screenwriter and Executive Producer of Everything I Know About Love

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Could you summarise Everything I Know About Love?

It’s a romantic comedy drama about friendship and a coming-of-age story. Plus it’s a raucous girl-gang show.

What does it feel like to see the show come to life?

Amazing, but it’s a cumulative and quite protracted experience, which I think I hadn’t quite realised. I thought when people say it’s shooting for four months that it’s all sort of done in four months. But there are so many layers of getting it right. You do your research, then you redraft the scripts, then you have a million meetings about props and what posters are on the walls of everyone’s bedroom. Then you’re talking about music, then you’re talking about the music you can’t afford which then has to be replaced with other music. Then you are talking about the colour of someone’s hair in the grade. So it’s amazing watching it come to life but it’s not a Stars In Your Eyes transformation. That’s a dated reference! I thought your script goes into the sliding doors and then comes out as a TV show two minutes later. But it doesn’t!

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Talk us through the story from the writing stage…

In terms of the full journey, it was optioned years ago, before I finished the book. We developed it for a good couple of years and I was working out what elements of the book I wanted to put on screen and fictionalise because the book actually covers my whole life. After it was commissioned, I wrote it all in six months which I thought was a really long time! I never thought the book would be on screen, I was just writing a memoir but when there was interest in it, it made sense because it’s the most vivid period of my life; my 20s, the decade of wilderness and learning.

I’m only 33, but I look back and think of it as the most extraordinary time of my life so far. It made sense that it would be a good story to put on camera because it wasn’t just about me, it was about this chorus of friends working out what kind of women we wanted to be when we intersected with the adult world.

What were the most important elements for you to keep?

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First and foremost was the central drama of two best girlfriends who’d grown up together, and their story as a romantic story. By which I mean looking at the ups and downs of their relationship with the same kind of focus and lens as you would in a romantic comedy. So, elevating that friendship to a place of premium drama that’s normally reserved just for romantic relationships. Looking at that being the driving force of the story was the thing I most wanted to preserve. I also wanted to capture that girl gang that I feel resonates with a lot of people who have read my book. That sense of women coming together, making a home together, being enmeshed in each other’s domestic lives, being naughty, being mistreated and being mischievous together.

What do you think fans will love most about it?

Something that I really wanted to give to the readers of the book who were coming to the TV show was to retain that kind of millennial experience and millennial nostalgia that I knew lots of people enjoyed in the book. It’s obviously just so delicious to put on screen, and so fun to flashback to the noughties with two teenage girls putting hair gems in or listening to Hear’Say. I also wanted to hone in on what those cultural touchstones were as they are so recognisable for our generation and hopefully for younger audiences. It will be a nice throwback. I can’t believe that my childhood is now a piece of nostalgia.

What do the people who inspired the story think about the TV series?

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The people who inspired the story are my best mates. They miraculously decided to carry on talking to me and being friends with me even after I wrote about them relentlessly for years. I’m so lucky and they are really happy. Imagine if they weren’t happy, I wouldn’t have a TV show.

What was it like walking on set and seeing those locations come to life?

I was just so, so excited. Charlotte, who’s our production designer, just completely nailed this hinterland of somewhere between student and adulthood in design, where it’s kind of nearly nice but it’s also mixed in with hangovers from adolescence and bizarre kitsch findings, like a light in the shape of a baguette on the kitchen wall, which I never quite understood. Plus memorabilia from nights out – stolen road signs and fish and chip shop signs. It’s quite disgusting living with a bunch girls in their 20s. I really wanted that. Charlotte decided there would never be a radiator shown in our house that wouldn’t have some ratty pants hanging off it.

Tell us about the costumes.

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It was my favourite place to hang out. I often would just go and hang out in the costume department – all the clothes were so authentic. Basically everything is from a high street shop in 2012 or from a vintage shop in Camden. There’s this specific smell of vintage shops in Camden where everything’s kind of cool but also kind of flammable. Everything smells a bit like a damp cricket pavilion, which was what Matt Price’s department smelt like, and it was very comforting to me! Matt chose pieces for the girls without realising that I had owned them.

Tell us about the casting process.

It was kind of like finding a boyfriend. It was so like when you meet someone that you like. I remember the first time that I saw Emma in a chemistry test, I just knew it was love. I just knew it had to be.

Tell us about the shooting locations. 

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I drank an enormous amount of M&S tinned cocktails on the West Coast train to Manchester. I loved shooting there and every person on that set was the very best at that job. I also loved coming to London for a few weeks – it felt like we were all going on a school trip and it was weirdly bonding as a whole crew. I always knew I wanted the show to shoot in New York; for every generation New York has held something of being a place of dreams, particularly for millennial girls. We grew up watching American shows on Nickelodeon and HBO and watching Sex And The City. I always knew Maggie was going to be one of those incredibly romantic, dreamy, whimsical, nostalgic people and New York was her kind of Oz, a place of pilgrimage, where dreams will come true. There’s lots of locations that were found in my favourite New York romcoms.

What is the universal appeal of the show?

It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, everyone knows or remembers what it is like to have your heart broken. Everyone knows what it is to lose someone really close to you who you thought you were going to spend your life with. Everyone knows what it is to try and work out what kind of adult you want to be and feel kind of lost in the adult world. I also think it provides a nice story; we always knew it was going to take place in 2012 and wanted to tell it like a period piece, for want of a better word. We wanted an episode about the Olympics in London. We wanted an episode about the Diamond Jubilee. We wanted an episode about the launch of dating apps.

What can audiences expect from Everything I Know About Love?

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They will laugh, cry and ring their best friend immediately.

Describe Everything I Know About Love in three emojis?

The dancing lady. The heart. Then the wine glass.

Interview with Emma Appleton who plays lead-character Maggie

Tell us who you play and describe your character. 

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I play Maggie, who is based on Dolly. She’s mischievous, playful and lively. It’s with good intentions, and she’s the most nuanced (real) character I’ve ever come across.

What were your thoughts when you first read the book?

I first read the book in the second lockdown and my initial thoughts were just how relatable it was and how funny it was. I kept sending pictures of the text to my friends. Some sections of the book really resonated with me, for some reason the recipes really stood out. I think it’s because they are solid recipes you can’t go wrong with!

What did you learn from the story?

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What I’ve learned from the story is how many different kinds of love there are. I think we think that romantic love is the number one thing in our life, when actually there are so many other aspects that are as important. 

So it’s not just romantic love, it’s the love for your friends and your family and the love that you have for yourself. Plus how important all those relationships are equally, rather than one of them being a priority.

There’s such a great dynamic between the four friends. Can you describe those dynamics?

I think it’s interesting as Maggie and Amara are very similar and I think that’s why they clash a bit. Nell gets really annoyed with Maggie but I think she plays up to that. They all know what each other is doing and I think they really love each other for it. But they are all slightly different.

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What was it like working with all the girls and with Dolly?

Every time we were on set or off set we hung out learning dance routines. It was just the best fun. Working with Dolly was incredible and having her there on set was so important because I wanted to be as respectful and passionate about the fact that it’s based on her life.

What was it like working with China?

A dream. I was lucky as I’d worked with her before. She just cared about the project so much. She understood the nuance and complexity of the characters.

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Has filming the series triggered any memories from that time?

More so were the scenes that we shot from 2007. The clothes were so specific and they were the most nostalgic bit. The tights with denim shorts over the top and the hoodies. Very specific fashion choices that were nice to re-live!

What was in your bedroom in 2012?

I remember a lava lamp. I had one of those for a long time!

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Were there any particular moments of the shoot that stood out to you?

One particular scene that we shot, we were dancing pretty much the whole morning. Basically clubbing for work which was really fun! Really good music, lots of strobe lighting which was quite intense at 9am but so much fun.

What can audiences expect?

To laugh and some tears. They will want to go out with their friends and have dinner – just do all of the things you see in the show.

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Interview with Bel Powley who plays Birdy

How would you describe your character?

I play Birdy, also known as Belinda Benowitz and she’s loving, open hearted, a little bit shy, hardworking, traditional and a bit of a people pleaser!

What attracted you to the project?

I was a huge fan of the book and of Dolly. I see a little bit of myself in all of the characters and I think I felt a little more of an affinity with Birdy. She’s Jewish and her background is very similar to mine. I just love her.

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How does your character fit in with the other girls?

Maggie and Birdy have known each other since they were 11 years old and have been best friends ever since. They have been to university together and met Nell and Amara there. They joined as a group and moved in together for the first time in London.

What do you think your character learns by the end of the series?

It’s a study of your early 20s when there’s so much going on for you. When we’re teenagers, our lives are very small, and then you are suddenly let out into the world. There’s lots of things going on in the world; your friends, parents, family, paying your rent, all of those things. I don’t think the show is necessarily about learning one specific thing. It’s more about growing, coming of age, being on this journey with these women. I don’t think a lesson has been learnt by Birdy at the end of this series, it’s more that she’s started on this journey.

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What’s been your favourite thing about the project?

I couldn’t pick one favourite thing, everything has been a dream. I’ve never worked on a project that is based on a book that I’ve actually really loved. I was a huge, huge fan of this book when it came out and I think a lot of millennial women were. It feels really special. Everything in this show is completely relatable to me.

Have you had any similar experiences like these four girls, not just Birdy?

It’s about a bunch of girls who move to London in their early 20s and when I was that age, I did everything that these girls did. I lived in a house like this in London. I went through the trials and tribulations of love, friendship, and breaking up with friends and boyfriends. It’s all so relatable.

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What about the make-up and costume?

It’s been so good. Setting something in 2012 is not quite old enough to be a standalone period piece but it is a decade ago and fashion has evolved since then. They have done an incredible job in pinpointing those looks to make us feel like we’re in 2012. When we did the costume fittings, there were vintage bits from Depop. I remember when Kate Moss did a collaboration with Topshop which at the time was huge and I had about five of those things. So I think it’s going to be really nostalgic for lots of women out there. My friends especially are going to be like “oh my god, that takes me right back”.

Was there a souvenir you would have liked to have kept?

I find everything too triggering! Maybe Birdy’s suit that she wears to her John Lewis interview. It’s like a fake Chanel full suit. She’s very keen.

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Interview with Marli Siu who plays Nell

Can you describe your character?

In the script, Nell came across as very witty, articulate and funny, with a lot of one-liners. In a lot of scripts, they are usually reserved for the male characters but in this, I think she has some of the best! Dolly had included a really detailed description of Nell and so much that I hadn’t played before so I was really excited!

Do you see yourself in the character at all?

She’s much more articulate than me and wittier! She’s not a people pleaser which is something I really admire in her. I guess we’re similar in the sense that we have a deep sense of fairness which I think I feel too. Also, probably being a little too blunt and honest to my nearest and dearest.

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Where does your character sit with the other girls?

She’s the more responsible and practical one. She’s the voice of reason sometimes!

What do you love about this project?

Everything. The script is incredible and Dolly writes dialogue and characters so realistically and naturally. Working with the other girls, the most incredible actresses, is an absolute godsend of a job.

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Have you had any similar life experiences in terms of living with a group of friends?

I had a really similar experience where me and my best mate moved to London together and moved into a house in Walthamstow. There was damp all over the place and the shower was broken. Also, there were no windows in some of the bedrooms. But I was so excited to be there and, even if things were bad, I had my best mate and she would leave peanut butter cups outside my room on bad days. It was the experience of not having much else but your best mate.

What has it been like working with Dolly?

She’s amazing and has set up a very open relationship with us. Dolly’s such a natural collaborator and was always on set so I think we all kind of gravitate towards her.

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How has it been shooting between London and Manchester?

It shakes things up working between new environments! I found the London week pretty exciting as it was so iconic – shooting in Camden and then a pinch me moment on the Southbank with the London Eye behind you.

Had you read the book before?

I got told to read it by multiple friends when it came out. I usually read more fiction novels. It turned out to be the first book I read in lockdown and I read it in two days. It was such a nice few days in such a horrible time. Everyone was sitting at home thinking about their lives so it was magical as I was reading it during such a reflective time. It feels like Dolly is speaking to you when you read her book.

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Does it make you feel nostalgic, revisiting 2012?

Absolutely! I think music is a huge one, when you hear a song and you’re like wow I remember what I was doing then. The clothes as well, I never want to wear shorts and tights again. It doesn’t feel that long ago but why did we wear such weird things? That’s such a flashback.

What audiences do you think this show will appeal to?

Anyone who’s figuring things out. There’s lots of nostalgia for millennials. But I think there’s a little bit for everyone in there.

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What do you think audiences will take away from this series?

There’s a lot of laughter and love but also a lot of heartbreak. Have a laugh, have a cry. Call your friends.

What three emojis would summarise the series?

The dancing girl, the laughing face and the red love heart!

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Interview with Aliyah Odoffin who plays Amara

How would you describe your character?

Spontaneous, incredibly fun and caring but quiet. At first glance, there’s so much to her character and the kind that she doesn’t even show to her friends. She holds a lot of herself back and we see that unravel as the time goes on. I like that duality of her character – one person with her friends and then another with her family.

Do you see any of yourself in her?

I think she’s a big dreamer and wants to make her dreams a reality, so in that aspect I see a lot of myself.

Where does she fit in with the other girls?

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She’s the first one to suggest a party if someone is upset or going through something in order to shake it off. But she’s also a good guide and gives good advice such as “don’t date that guy, he’s a Gemini!”

What piece of advice would you give your character?

Not to assume what everyone else is thinking as I think she does it a lot and it holds her back.

What’s it been like working with Dolly?

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Dolly’s so cool, she’s an amazing writer. Her writing is so witty, authentic and natural.

What’s it like collaborating with the wider crew such as hair, make up etc?

There’s such a feeling of collaboration, it’s been so cleverly crafted. The hair and make-up in 2012 is so drastically different that I don’t remember! It was so fun to go back.

What did you learn from the story?

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It taught me more about friendship. I think people feel, especially when you’re growing up at school etc, that you will make friends and that you will have your best friends. The book pulls that apart. It’s not easy making friends, so when you do, you want to latch onto them for dear life and feel very lucky when you find someone that you think is your best friend. Friendships like that take work to maintain, they aren’t easy as you grow in life, things change and they take work. More than anything, its taught me a lot about the complexities of friendships and the rarity of the good ones.

Who will Everything I Know About Love appeal to?

The show will appeal to most people and I think there’s elements of everything, so much nostalgia. It offers people a chance to look back at friendships or relationships or moments in their life and think, oh gosh I did that.

What are three words to summarise the series?

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Friendship. Identity. Change.

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