May 13 2012 By Jenny Morrison
charlene mcphee tangerine queen Image 2
A TEENAGER nicknamed the Tango Queen of Thurso has told how a TV “make-under” left her boyfriend struggling to recognise her.
Fake tan addict Charlene McPhee, 19, has stunned family and friends after becoming pale and interesting in a dramatic TV transformation.
And Ross Cameron, 20 – her boyfriend for four years – took a minute to realise it was her.
Charlene said: “He knew he was looking at me…but at the same time wasn’t really sure.
“Even I had totally forgotten how I looked without a tan and, if I’m honest, I was a bit scared.”
For the last five years, the young chef has spent up to six hours perfecting her unique look – based on fake tan, skimpy tops and day-glo tutus – before leaving the house.
She went through three bottles of fake tan a week and wouldn’t go out without two pairs of false eyelashes.
Even her friends were shocked by her OTT look and would often demand that she went home and changed before a night out.
But now the shocked looks in her home town of Thurso, Caithness, have been replaced by amazement at her new, natural look.
Charlene was shocked into changing her image when her mum, youth worker Kathy, 42, contacted BBC3 style show Snog, Marry, Avoid? and begged them to help her daughter.
They helped cure her fake tan addiction and ditch perma-tanned model Katie Price and Jersey Shore star Snooki as her style icons.
Charlene said: “It used to be that people stopped and stared because I looked so ridiculous – but now they stare because they can’t believe it is really me.
“I’ve had to call after friends and relatives who have walked past me in the street because they didn’t recognise me with my new look.
“Even Ross had to do a double take when he saw me for the first time since being stripped of fake tan and make-up.
“He hated my old look and says the natural look makes me look beautiful. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better reaction.”
Charlene started lathering on the fake tan and make-up after bullies made her miserable at high school.
She says that instead of blending in with the rest of the girls at Thurso High School, she reinvented her outrageous style in a bid to toughen up and stand out.
She said: “I was bullied a bit but was determined I wasn’t going to let it go on.
“Looking back, I think I started wearing make-up and fake tan almost as a sort of body armour to protect the girl underneath.
“I felt a bit tougher and braver if I had my make-up on. But somewhere along the way things, it got out of hand.”
As Charlene grew older, she admits she started plastering on more and more make-up.
Most of her wages went on fake tan, lashes and other beauty products including false nails, hair extensions and brightly coloured hair dye.
And her wardrobe also came in for a lot of criticism. She said: “Sometimes my friends would look at the outfits I had put on and send me back home to change as they were too embarrassed to be seen out with me.
“Another time, I remember everyone started calling me Skittles because I had a rainbow of brightly coloured dye through my hair.”
Charlene, who has three sisters, said: “At the time, I felt that was the person I was, and that was the look I liked.
“My mum was always begging me to tone down my image and I know Ross hated the negative looks I would get when we were out – but it didn’t really bother me. I felt I was expressing who I was.”
Charlene admits that while she had been happy with her old appearance, there were times when her tan habit caused problems.
She said: “I don’t know how many bed sheets my mum had to throw out because of me. Every morning, I would wake up and my pillows and sheets would be totally stained.
“It rubbed off on my clothes, on towels, on everything.
“I put on so much fake tan that my skin was actually mahogany coloured.
“When I look at pieces of mahogany furniture in the house, I can’t believe I was that colour too – but I was.
“Some mornings I would set my alarm clock for 6am, just so that I could start putting on my tan and make-up and be ready to go out for noon. It was ridiculous.”
Charlene was eventually shocked into changing her image by the team from Snog, Marry Avoid?
A camera crew from the show travelled to Thurso to meet her, before asking locals what they thought of her image as the Highland’s most tanned woman.
They then whisked her off to Manchester where she spent 24 hours undergoing a dramatic “make-under” with the show’s host, styling guru Ellie Taylor.
Charlene was stripped of all her fake tan, heavy make-up and skimpy clothes then restyled with light, natural make-up and high street fashions.
And Charlene admits she couldn’t have been more pleased with the result.
She said: “I had a whole day of styling where I couldn’t see what they were doing to me.
“When they did the ‘reveal’ and I got to see myself in the mirror, I was totally blown away.”
Charlene, who now spends her days dressed down in jeans and a T-shirt, says she has no intention of going back to her tan addict ways.
She says: “I do still wear a touch of natural make-up and I do sometimes put a very light tan on my skin, but I’ll never go crazy with it again. I’m happy with the natural-looking me.”
■Charlene will be in the new series of Snog, Marry, Avoid? starting on BBC3 tomorrow at 10.30pm.
My tan costume cost me £200 a month
Charlene’s over-the-top look caused such a stir in Thurso where she lived that both locals and tourists would stop and stare at her.
And the young chef admits that she was spending more than £200 on make-up and other beauty products every month.
She would get through at least three bottles of St Tropez dark-coloured tanning cream each week.
And her tan habit meant she left a trail of orange stains on everything from her bedsheets to her chef’s whites at work.
She said: “Despite the fact Thurso is not exactly the warmest place to live in the world, I only ever dressed in really skimpy clothes.
“I was always in tiny little skirts and vest tops or skimpy dresses.
“I loved little tutu ballet skirts, but I remembered one terrible accident I had where I slipped in the snow and ended up with cuts and grazes all over my legs and bum because I hadn’t been wearing anything underneath.”
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