As the twelfth series of The Only Way Is Essex returns to the small screen, Keeley Bolger leaves her snobbishness at the door to guide you through the Bafta-winning reality show.
It was an unpromising start.
A bunch of mouthy, unknown 17-30 year olds from Essex being filmed gossiping, bickering and occasionally making-up for a weekly “stage-managed” reality TV series.
But four years on and The Only Way Is Essex (aka Towie) has made stars out of its cast, who regularly bag headlines and spin new phrases, while engaging in complicated relationships with each other. It’s really drawn in viewers.
The “scripted reality” formula (whereby all the people featured are real but the scenes are structured by the show’s producers) is a successful one.
Indeed, it’s so successful that the team scooped the 2011 Audience Award Bafta win from established favourites Downton Abbey, BBC’s Sherlock, thriller The Killing, Channel 4 documentary series My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and gentle comedy Miranda.
Several series down the line, with plenty of break-ups, make-ups, exits and new faces along the way, and the show still holds our interest. So much so that it’s now in its twelfth run, with a thirteenth series scheduled for new ITV lifestyle channel ITVBe, which will launch later this year.
So with the new series about to kick off with a two-part special in Marbella tomorrow, here’s our guide to all things Towie...
When the series launched, some members of Essex County Council admitted that it was “disappointing” only certain aspects of the county were represented, namely partying and excess.
Now, four years on, there are regular tours around the Towie ‘set’ bringing heaps of visitors to places like Minnie’s Boutique and the Sugar Hut Village nightclub in Brentwood.
Plus, there’s been a surge in series about the county, from BBC Four’s The Joy Of Essex to Channel 4’s Educating Essex.
THE TOWIE LEGACY
The Towie lot love abbreviating. After all, with all that drama going on, they can’t waste precious milliseconds saying a word in full, can they? So thanks to them, “Marbs” (Marbella), “well jel” (really jealous) and, of course, “totes amaze” (totally amazing) have all entered our language.
And let’s not forget the memorable beauty treatment Amy Childs opened our eyes to when she gave her pal Sam Faiers – a “vajazzle” – a form of genital decoration.
WHAT HAVE WE MISSED?
The last series ended with Mark Wright’s big sister Jessica and her boyfriend Ricky throwing a princes and princesses themed party.
Towie regular Sam Faiers, who was recently diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, bowed out of the show (for the time being at least) to concentrate on her health and relationship with Joey Essex.
Ex-cast member Lydia Bright made a surprise appearance at the party, leaving her ex Arg embarrassed that he’d come dressed as Will Smith’s character from Nineties teen classic The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air.
Meanwhile, model Chloe Sims announced that her friendship with DJ Lauren Pope was over after falling out over ladies’ man Mario Falcone, who they’ve both had romantic dalliances with.
WE’RE OFF TO SUNNY SPAIN
To start the new series with a bang, the cast have flown out to Marbella, southern Spain, or as they call it, ‘Marbs’.
When they’re not filming, the stars of the show have been busy snapping selfies in their beachwear, lounging around on yachts and taking to the mic for the start of Spanish party season.
Big characters in this series are likeable long-time Towie member James “Arg” Argent, pregnant shopowner Billie Faiers, upfront former car saleswoman Gemma Collins and her straight talking best pal Bobby Norris.
Also expect to see the return of Ricky, Jess, her mum Carol and grandma Nanny Pat, as well as Lydia Bright, Lauren Pope and Chloe Sims among the familiar faces.
There are three new members to join the Towie line-up this series; Vas Morgan, Robyn Althasen and Imogen Leaver.
ITV are remaining tight-lipped about the newbies but it’s known that Morgan is a celebrity blogger, Leaver is a former Britain And Ireland’s Next Top Model finalist and Althasen is her best friend.
Former friends Chloe Sims and Lauren Pope will come face-to-face for the first time since falling out over Mario Falcone.
Sims, the sister of Charlie, and DJ Pope’s friendship suffered when Pope found out that Sims kissed ladies’ man Falcone, who she had a fling with in Vegas.
LOVE IS IN THE AIR
The makers of the ITV2 series promise that there will be love aplenty as on-off couple Charlie and Ferne get their romance back on track after a “rocky couple of months”. Deli owner Charlie cheated on playful Ferne in Ibiza during celebrations for long-time favourite Joey Essex’s birthday.
Crooner James ‘Arg’ Argent is in for an awkward time when his ex-girlfriend, fashion designer Lydia Bright, returns to Towie following a break.
Adding to the drama is former car saleswoman-turned-plus-size clothes shop owner Gemma Collins, who enjoyed a racy fling with Arg which fizzled out when Collins realised Arg didn’t love her as much as she loved him.
BABY ON BOARD
Shop owner Billie, who is the sister of Sam, is expecting her first baby with her fiance Greg Shepherd.
The Towie cast celebrated with a pink-themed baby shower last month and the baby – the first from the Towie bunch – is expected to arrive soon.
Even cast members who’ve flown the Towie nest are still very much enjoying the show’s ripple effect.
While Mark Wright’s solo TV attempts Party Wright Around The World and Mark Wright’s Hollywood Nights failed to pull in the viewers, his high profile engagement to ex-Coronation Street actress Michelle Keegan is keeping him in the public eye.
Model Amy Childs similarly fared badly with her own reality series, It’s All About Amy, but with swimwear, tanning kits and perfume to her name, she’s not doing so badly.
Joey Essex proved a popular contestant in last year’s I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! and has fronted his own show Educating Joey Essex.
Nightclub promoter Kirk Norcross left the show after the third series, but he’s kept a profile by popping up as a housemate in 2012’s Celebrity Big Brother and has recently launched a dating site for fitness fans.
She may have left Towie two years ago, but Lauren Goodger is still engaged in public spats with ex-boyfriend Mark Wright, has her own beauty line, Lauren’s Way, and appeared as a contestant on last year’s Dancing On Ice.