David Tennant Pretended To Be His Own PA, Melissa Von Stressel

The Confessional is a BBC series in which Green Wing and Episodes' star Stephen Mangan hosts a comedy chat show about the hilarious subjects of shame and guilt. As the show says "We're used to hearing celebrity interviews, where stars are persuaded to show off about their achievements and talk about their proudest moments. Stephen is not interested in that. He doesn't want to know what his guests are proud of; he wants to know what they're ashamed of. That's surely the way to find out what really makes a person tick." And this week that began with one David Tennant.

"Tennant's three stories of embarrassment and shame – that he's carried around in secret for years – are put under the microscope and awarded appropriate penances, so that he can leave feeling guilt-free." Mangan and Tennant starred together in Hang Ups, which really should get a new series as it would be perfect to record in lockdown conditions.

David Tennant Pretended To Be His Own PA, Melissa Von Stressle
David Tennant and Stephen Mangan, BBC PR

We'll let you discover two of them yourself (one of them we reckon includes Ian McKellen) but a third, well, we had to share it further. David Tennant shared that when he started to make it big as an actor, he created a fictitious PA – personal assistant – known as Melissa Von Stressel, who would send e-mails to people that he didn't feel able to say himself, turning down gigs, asking for conditions and keeping the baying maw at bay.

"For several years I needed a PA but I didn't have a PA." And that the fictional digital Stressel was "a buffer to have awkward conversations I didn't want to have. Melissa Von Stressel took some of the stress. The clue was in the name."

David Tennant elaborated "It was a way of communicating with people who wanted me to do things I didn't want to do, going to do's, giving speeches… I have a terribly privileged life, so there's a feeling that you should spend every waking minute opening fetes, writing forwards to books of giving ten-minute inspirational talks. I didn't know where to begin. I just pretend to be people on the television."

So for things David Tennant felt embarrassed about but didn't know how to say no, Melissa took the strain. "It worked as an instant rebuff. 'Unfortunately, Mr Tennant is unavailable'. I didn't have to get involved."

However, David Tennant also talked about what happened when it went wrong, and people wanted to keep talking to Melissa. "When an email chain got 3 or 4 emails long, I started to panic. Someone was so persistent, and in the end, I gave in and did this thing. Then I had to have conversations with this person about how lovely Melissa was. That was the beginning of the end for Melissa."

He's not alone in this, other people who invented their own PAs, representatives and agents include Donald Trump and Anneka Rice, Of course, most people will never confess to this, so we are very glad that Tennant has joined Anneka Rice in this. And if you ever had an appeal turned down by a Ms Von Stressel, now you know the truth. As David Tennant says "I hope no one is listening to this who got an e-mail from Melissa Von Stressel." Did you?

Or maybe you, like Stephen Mangan introduced yourself to Robert DeNiro, saying "Hello, I'm Robert DeNiro."

The Confessional is written and presented by Stephen Mangan with extra material by Nick Doody, produced by Dave Anderson and Frank Stirling and is a 7digital production for BBC Radio 4.

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Rich JohnstonAbout Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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