The girlie who couldn't shock'n'roll
Claire Gorham tells Janie Lawrence how she is much too serious for `The Girlie Show'
Saturday 28 December 1996
What sort of shocking pastime is this for a Girlie Show presenterette? After all wasn't shocking the mission of the three young women on the Channel 4 late-night show? They were meant to instruct the rest of us in the ways of outre, eye-poppingly bad behaviour. Small wonder that while the other two original presenters have been kept on, 30-year-old Claire's place in the second series which starts on 4 January has been usurped by younger, leaner Girlie with the obligatory pierced belly button and an alleged love of sex in the rain.
"I'm not a whoopee, whey-hey sort of person," says Claire in a tone verging on the apologetic. "I'm actually quite serious." Scarcely the most helpful attribute for a show that has been touted as personifying in yer face girl power but is best summed up as the bastard child of Loaded and Blue Peter. For those of us antiquated enough to recall the word "feminism", watching Claire waxing a man's bottom, interviewing a shoplifter and proffer helpful hints with dildos was a cringing embarrassment.
Surprisingly Claire is still keen to defend the programme and some of its - let's be charitable - adolescent antics. "A lot of people really liked it. It got high viewing figures. It never set out to be Panorama or The Late Show. It's just about girls having fun. It was Friday late night TV - what were people expecting? If it had been Jonathan Ross, Roland Rivron and Mark Lamarr, nobody would have given a toss."
Such a robust defence must be inspired, at least in part, by Claire's overriding fear that any criticism now will have people rushing to label her "a bitter old trout". For the record, she is not. She has remained good friends with her former colleagues and is genuinely grateful that the show furnished her with that all important break into telly. Diplomacy aside, it's patently obvious that it was not to her taste.
"I didn't think it would be such a light entertainment programme," she offers tentatively, "I thought it would be a little more informative."
The writing was on the wall for Claire even as they were filming the first series. "About three months in, I knew I wasn't right for the show and it wasn't right for me. I put it to the producers. They said it was obvious I wasn't enjoying the work and that it came across on camera. Of course, nobody likes to be told they weren't right for something but it was a mutual sigh of relief. Friends who knew me well said that I looked embarrassed. I wasn't, but I did feel uncomfortable."
It has since been reported that there were nights after the show when Claire went home crying feeling that she had "sold her soul". This she now denies and declares only once during her tenure was she reduced to tears and this by a publicity interview for a prying glossy magazine. "Before I knew it, I was being asked all these intimate questions about my sex life - `what did I keep in my panty drawer' and `did I swallow'. Not only did I answer, I answered truthfully, then I did go home and cry at my own stupidity.
"On the show I just put myself into a bit of a bubble. I sat back, did it, and enjoyed it to the best of my ability. I've always been a bit rude and I'm naturally inquisitive, so I will ask my friends about their sex lives. But sometimes I'd go home and think `I've done that on TV'."
Since The Girlie Show the offers have not exactly flooded in, but she is reluctant to blame that on the show. "I think it's because there are so few black people out there. But I also speak with a posh accent, so I'm not quite rootsie enough to be on a black programme."
She has returned to her previous free-lance journalism work and is hopeful of her own slot on local radio. Meantime, she is fronting a Travelog programme (C4, 15 January) for which she travelled to Switzerland. Offered either there or Portugal, she chose the former as it happens to be the nationality of her biological mother. Adopted and brought up by her parents in Wimbledon, she is one of nine children.
"It was interesting to visit a country that's so alien to the person you are. People would actually laugh at my clothes, because in Switzerland it's all Gucci shoes and Hermes scarves. It was the irony that somebody like me came from somewhere like there."
She has never met her Nigerian father, but she has searched out her birth mother. "Mum and Dad knew it was something I had to do. You don't like to acknowledge that something's out there that makes you incomplete, especially if you come from a family that is so loving. But it was a bit of an anti- climax. I wanted to see someone who looks like me, and my birth mother doesn't."
It is to Claire Gorham's credit that she was ultimately considered an unsuitable spokeswoman for TV's brand of girl power. And it is an indictment of what this power is meant to be. But then it is manufactured by middle- aged male TV executives.
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