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Paul Danan

The IG account remembering the debauchery of pre-social media celebrities

Our Instagram of the Week is a hilarious look back at British stars of the pre-IG, proto-reality TV era of the 00s

“When you discover the Dean Gaffney archive, you have a responsibility to jump on the opportunity,” explain the anonymous founders behind the cult Instagram account, @paul_danan_official.

Making its timeline debut in August with the pertinent tagline, ‘just a few pics off my old disposable cameras from back in the day’, the feed is a wicked nostalgia trip of fictional observations for anyone who continues to harbour rage towards Nasty Nick, or can categorically tell you where they were when Zoe learnt the truth about Kat. The account is a visual framework of frosted tips and streaky highlights, narrated by ex-Hollyoaks actor, Paul Danan: “The Nick Carraway figure in all of this,” according to the team behind the grid.

“It was a joke, but deep down, it was probably out of jealousy for those days,” continue the curators of the Dananagram, alluding to the specific pocket of celebrity they endeavor to detail (namely London’s C-list, circa the 00s birth of reality TV). “There was a ‘Last Days of Rome’ feeling about 2001 to 2008. It’s like they knew things would unravel and the two decades following would be shit, so they smashed it while they could, and didn’t have to worry about the relentless surveillance from camera phones.”

Paying tribute to the parties that don’t live on YouTube – think Smash Hits Poll Winners Party(s) and drinks at Chinawhite – the subjects of @paul_danan_official are typically soap stars, pop stars and TV and radio presenters. The loaded captions, in which the team showcase a distinctive and comically on-point voice, include lines like “Big suits, packed zoots, £50 toots. Gaffers got three bags of Echo Falls in that fucker” next to a photo of Dean Gaffney in an oversized look; elsewhere, “We tie-dyed my kaftan in Blue WKD at the alter by his kol carp pond – now I understood the way of the octopus” beside an image of Danan in a turquoise ensemble.

Ultimately, the founders say, each fake memory is presented with affection. “Everyone remembers the finals days of Zoo,” they tell Dazed, “but no one has chronicled them in the way they deserve.”

Claiming almost 60k followers, the feed is a leftfield homage to an era still too recent to call vintage, but when ‘jeans and a nice top’ was a legitimate Saturday night look, and Darius Danesh’s navy roll neck had yet to be rebranded by normcore. Gravitating towards its banter-heavy humour, alongside contemporary figures such as Lily Allen and Edie Campbell, are several of those who’ve found themselves making cameos. Their most surprising follower of all? “Probably Anthea Turner, but really anyone we’ve done (a post) about who has followed and liked the photos. It’s nice when they’re good sports.”

The account has been received positively by the man behind the moniker – Danan raves about the account on his verified Twitter page – but understandably, not everyone is as comfortable about the drug references at the core of the elaborate captions. “A certain someone got very upset about one post, which involved them double dropping and watching plates go round at YO! Sushi,” describe the team. “I think the picture’s still on Twitter.”

Just as the account’s origins were curious (was this really the guy from Celebrity Love Island writing about his old mates?), the idea of Dananagram merch – “tea towels in time for Christmas” – is similarly dubious. If true – because at this point, honestly who knows? – it’ll see the account expand in a way its subjects were never able to, as for the most part their celebrity peaked at a time before social media opened up new commercial avenues for the rich and famous.

How do the curators behind Dananagram believe that the era they celebrate might have differed, with such platforms available? “Fuck knows. But if it had all been around since back then, all the real ones would be extinct, and we’d be living in a Mad Max environment. Zoella and the Lean in 15 guy would be in charge, rationing our water, and we'd only be able to communicate in Garden Grown Regular font. Luckily it wasn’t, but all of the above will happen in 20 years.”