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Are You Really Real

It's too good to be true, the way I feel. Who are you and where did you come from? Maybe you're an angel in disguise. I'm out of control, this burnin' inside me, and we're makin' love all night until the mornin' light, baby. Dancin' lovers on the wall, take me, darling, gonna fall. Hold me tight all through the night now, baby.

Tell me that you'll never leave, give me something to believe if you're not a fantasy. It's feelin' like it's too good to be real. Whoa, I can't believe the way you make me feel. Whoa, it's feelin' like it's too good to be real. Are you real? Oh, is this really for real?

I know and I don't have to see. Oh, now give me something, honey, to believe. Darlin', I could never leave, give me somethin' to believe. I don't want nobody but you. No, I don't want somebody to do. He is 5ft 6in and slight, with a body that kept a respectful distance from any image of athleticism. His clipped private-school consonants and eager-to-please eyes are obvious artefacts of a life spent very far from rowdy pubs. Alex is not deterred; he packs his clothes, says goodbye to his boyfriend Clinton, bids adieu to Roger, and sets out to fake it.

To help him act the part, he is provided with three advisers — kickboxing champion Tony, former police officer and security expert Charlie and voice coach William — and sent to live for a month with Tony on the 15th floor of a council block. And this jacket. It was marching him towards a future life in a big country house, going to horse trials, hunting and shooting.

How is that possible? I had to ask Alex directly. I found him in Australia, where he now lives. His vowels have been hammered flat by years in Australia and he is not as affably eager to please. I literally dropped everything. I arrived in Australia with a backpack and not much else. Is our sense of who we are a belief just like any other? More pressingly, how do we do it? Is it the kind of thing we can be persuaded into? What does it mean to have a belief about your true self?

What even is a true self? But how would we debunk the autobiography we have been mentally narrating and replace it with a more accurate one? Here we hit the first problem: unlike any other story, our internal narration about what kind of person we are can become our reason for acting in a particular way.

Then we act in that particular way and create more supporting evidence for the story about being that particular way. Alex, from where he sits now, is especially well-positioned to see how internal narrators can tamper with the evidence. One episode tasked a prim lawyer with becoming a garage MC and he never got over how unlike him it was to rap.

Things got very real when he went for his first kickboxing lesson. When she literally shoved him off the mat he made no effort to hide the fact that he is curled up and wheezing. So he had his head shaved. He started walking with more bounce in his knees. He stayed in character around the clock and filmed his video diaries in an east London accent. Maybe he was secretly trying to shed his old identity all along. It just sort of happened. Something about his commitment seemed to win them over, and they accepted him on to that plane of UK male friendship of laugh- shoving each other in the shoulder.

One night they took Alex to a strip club. He did his best not to shrink from the debauchery, but afterwards he looked like a concussed cartoon character, birds circling around his head. If changing your mind about who you really are means getting your internal narrator to tell a story that matches the facts better, presumably we need to find the evidence that will let us access that new story. Who does the displacing?