At first I thought this was really cool. A real, live woman in a translucent dress made of data comes out of your screen and gives you help with the computer! Okay, it only happened in the ads, but wow! Every geek's dream!

I was young. I repent.

This was back in the bad old days when geek meant a Bad Thing, and I was a geek only in that sense. In fact, I wasn't good enough with computers even to be one of them... I'm probably still not... but I digress.

When I became a man, I put away childish things. I came to realise that Connie the AOL girl, apart from being a spokesperson of the evil empire¹, was really, really irritating. That hideous whiny voice, and that stupid little pursed-lips smirk she does when she's indoctrinated another helpless luser into the evils of AOL. That aside, she wasn't even good-looking. How could I ever have been so blind?

Connie is still out there somewhere, polluting the ether, extolling the so-called 'benefits' of AOL's 'free' trial period. I catch her sometimes on the TV in the bar where I work. Invoking the beneficence of Linus, or the benevolence of nate, seems to exorcise this demon in female form. least for a while....

[1] Not the Evil Empire, of course: with the capital letters, that's still Microsoft. AOL is just another evil empire to add to the multitudes... their name is Legion, for they are many....

Penny-a-minute ambassador of the AOL generation.

"Connie is one of the most recognised faces of TV advertising and we often get comments from people about her. This campaign reveals a more modern look for our genie - she has already helped AOL to become one of the most well-known and trusted online brands in the UK and we believe that the new-look Connie will be equally recognisable to potential and existing members."
Karen Thomson, AOL UK CEO

The brainchild of the then Marketing Director of AOL UK, Karen Thomson, Connie was unleashed in 1998 with a series of adverts defining her as the ultimate geek fantasy; she appears in your bedroom, she helps you with your computer, and she only costs a penny a minute. Amazing, right?

But behind the corporate disguise of a digitally-enhanced1 dress and ridiculous bob haircut is the actress Rachel Willis whose roles to date outside the AOL adverts start and end with a bit part as a stewardess in Luc Besson's film, The Fifth Element. She's also the daughter of the Liberal Democrat MP Phil Willis with whom she shares a house with in Kennington, South London.

She made the UK national news on 9th May 2002, when she became the victim of an attack by a thief who got away with her mobile phone, although only after her resistance led to kicks and a punch in the face. Quoth she:

"It happened so quickly, your instant reaction is to hang on, which I did - but then he got violent. I was really, really shaken up but it could have been a lot worse. I feel quite traumatised."
1Animated with the highlights and benefits of AOL's service, the phrase 'digitally enhanced' is highly debatable.

Metro newspaper, 09.05:02

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