RIDGE Forrester is perfect. He's also married but that hasn't stopped me falling for him. What else can I do? He's a dream: dark haired, chiselled features, he seems to glide across bedrooms and boardrooms. I know I'm obsessed. I've sacrificed entire Saturdays just to be near him. I make us homemade onion dip for the occasion. And I know his wife doesn't understand him. What wouldn't I give to be his plaything. But at least I accept now that that's never going to happen. Ridge, that scion of LA's First Family of high fashion, that hero of The Bold And The Beautiful was - at last viewing - married to Taylor, a beautiful psychiatrist. But he still lusts for Brooke, a blonde pouting tart-from-hell who can't make up her mind whether she loves Ridge or his father, the cleft-chinned, slick haired and debonair Eric. Brooke is now pregnant and - of course - she doesn't know who's baby she's having. But the highlight of this week has been Brooke's discovery of a new silk taffeta. Bold has all the necessary soap opera accoutrements: a bitter ex-wife drifting into middle-age, a vixen husband-snatcher and a big-breasted blonde secretary with the IQ of a noodle. Members of this dysfunctional tribe slam doors, have affairs, threaten to sue, get hurt in car crashes, lose their memories but find true love - and all for the 15th time that week and all set against a Beverly Hills backdrop of high fashion, Spanish maids, designer bedrooms and an occasional weekend away in an intensive care unit. Each show contains enough, let me assure you, to last you an entire party pack of Frito Lays. Millions are addicted. Ten years and some 2,500 episodes since it started, the programme absorbs whole populations across the globe. From Africa to America, 350 million people in 90 countries tune in every day. They sit for 30 minutes, allowing nothing more than a toilet break, fixated by the screen and entwined in the meandering plots, predictable dialogue and one-dimensional characters. 'WE like to believe Bold's characters are realistic,' pronounces William Bell, one of America's top daytime soap writers, from the back of the Peninsula's limousine. Realistic? A sulky babe who alternates between the satin-sheeted beds of father and son and is eventually impregnated by both? - but you have to remember this guy is from LA. The Bells, their three grown-up children included, live and breathe soap. Bold has become a real-life family affair for them: William dreams up the story, plot and characters, his wife Lee Phillip helps shape the ideas - a successful process they honed on America's other melodramatic soap monster The Young And The Restless - and their children Bradley, Billy and Laurily are now writers or producers or overseeing international distribution. They divide their time in true soap opera style between a house in Malibu and a mansion in Beverly Hills once owned by reclusive millionaire Howard Hughes. 'We sold everything in Chicago and moved to Los Angeles 11 years ago,' says William. 'Every day, the five of us head down to work together in CBS Television City. It's a lark.' When you are America's top daytime soap writers real life must seem such a drag. Which could be why Mr and Mrs Bell seem less than enthralled by their final afternoon's itinerary in Hong Kong which appears to involve plenty of tiresome magazine interviews. Never mind. They were en route to Bali. This couple have written it all. Incest, adultery, abandonment, treachery, betrayal. The lives they impose on their mythical characters make a Jackie Collins novel read like a training manual for circuit board engineers. The show's truly compulsive, I could have told them that. 'Can't talk now,' friends say abruptly if I call. 'Bold is on.' The servants had stopped catering to my every whim. It was a lonely space to be in. Ultimately, I too turned to Bold because I had nothing else to go. I was hooked in one episode - not because the show enthralls the way ER does, amuses in the vein of Friends or even entertains like the The Simpsons. I was hooked because I fell in love with Ridge Forrester; I had developed a ghoulish fascination about whom he was going to bonk next. I once watched 26 taped episodes of Bold in one 13-hour sitting but I successfully weaned myself off the show after my friends thought I needed professional help. I still sneak in the occasional episode and I'd have said that's the beauty of Bold: you can miss it for two months and when you return, little has changed. Obviously, I haven't been paying enough attention lately. 'Every character grows and changes and because they are complex, they can be good and bad at the same time,' William assures me. 'Viewers become involved with these people and start to share their adversities, joys and sorrows. They also like watching these beautiful people with perfect bodies lounging around the Forrester pool.' But Lee Phillip is quick to add, 'We want to incorporate as many social issues as we can, whether it is alcoholism or homelessness. We don't want audiences to think that real things can't happen to these characters.' In the days way before The Oprah Winfrey Show, when daytime programmes were showcasing napkin-folding and souffle-raising techniques, she hosted a show that tackling self-breast examination, discussed rape and featured women behind bars having babies. 'That is what we have tried to achieve with this series as well,' she says. They know what they are doing. The couple are daytime serial stalwarts, having been in the business for more than 40 years - he as a writer and co-creator of soaps and she as a host of her own afternoon talk programme, The Lee Phillip Show. As the creators of The Young And The Restless, the Bells were exhorted by CBS to come up with another winning formula. William sat down one day, outlined the characters and the plot, wrote a couple of episodes and sold it to CBS. The whole process took less than two weeks. Chicago-born William has been in the business since 1956 when he began writing scripts for the soap Guiding Light. 'That was a time when daytime dramas went out live. If you made a mistake, it was there for the whole world to see,' William says. He eventually moved on to As The World Turns before co-creating Another World. In 1966, he became chief writer for Days Of Our Lives before teaming up with Lee Phillip to write The Young And The Restless. 'It's an exciting thing to sit down and think up characters and open the door to a story,' says William. 'Then you realise that these characters have the ability and power to affect the everyday lives of millions of people, not only in the US but worldwide. There is no drug in the world that can match it. The euphoria you feel when you succeed, and the reaction from viewers who share your enthusiasm, is the ultimate high. ' THE Bells are astonished by just how much reaction there has been to their show, the winner of 22 Emmy awards. Bold has been a particular success in STAR TV's prime target area, India, where I first succumbed to its dubious charms during a stay in Bombay a few years ago. It's shown on STAR TV's general entertainment channel, STAR Plus, and under its influence, India has become chronically Westernised. For legions of Indians who have never been outside their townships, the soap represents their ultimate fantasies. They perceive these white people smooching, screaming and feeling each other up as the reality of Western ways. 'We once had to pre-empt an episode of Bold in India because of special programming and we had hundreds of callers asking if we were going to reschedule it,' said a STAR TV spokesman. 'If we ever took it off the air, there would be a huge hue and cry. It would be unthinkable.' You can afford to be benevolent with that sort of audience. 'Come and visit us in LA,' they say when it's time for them to start posing for photographs before enjoying the rest of their last day in Hong Kong. But I was hoping for more - perhaps a chance to try out for Ridge's 67th love interest of the season. But nobody was issuing that sort of invitation. My heart sunk deeper when the Bells told me real-life Ridge (actor Ronn Moss - 'A great guy,' according to William) was married. Worse still, he was happily married - dammit - to another soap star. Instead, I politely suggest to Lee Phillip that she browse through Cat Street and find some antiquities. She responds with a question, the ultimate Beverly Hills' question, one that could well have tumbled off a Bold script. 'Will the chauffeur know where it is?'