Fifteen minutes? Not nearly enough

There's nothing people won't do to be famous. And more opportunities knocking than ever before. By Emma Cook
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
ANDY WARHOL seriously underestimated a nation's appetite for personal fame. Fifteen minutes? Forget it - that's for the saddos who were content with a quick whinge in a Channel 4 `Right To Reply' booth. Why not aim higher - make it Forty Minutes and rising; a Cutting Edge special or a BBC1 docusoap.

"It could be you", promises the latest wave of TV verite. In this case why wait for celebrity when hauling out a few dysfunctional skeletons from the family cupboard or just "being yourself" can guarantee a TV spotlight, modelling contract, record deal or tabloid makeover. This, we presume, was the televisual logic that informed Bradford model Victoria Greetham's decision to appear in a Channel 4 documentary "Daddy's Girl", until yesterday when she was exposed as a fake.

As part of the documentary, a sequence was even made to highlight a "special closeness" between parent and child. Except that 19-year-old Victoria's `daddy' was, in this case, really her boyfriend, just 10 years her senior, who, say unwitting TV producers, looked a great deal older. The pair decided to present themselves as father and daughter to the film-makers when her real father refused to take part. Daddy, a managing director of a publishing firm, threatened to sue when he found out. Now Victoria must be content with selling the story to a tabloid newspaper.

"They could have quite easily found out it wasn't my dad, but it is not their fault that we acted so well," said Victoria sweetly, no doubt laying the groundwork for an MTA (model-turned-actress) option. Paul Smith, a Channel 4 spokesman, said that Victoria had wished to promote her modelling career. "It's very much the case that she wanted to be famous. This is about celebrity."

It's also about raising the stakes for those people who yearn for a taste of celebrity. In a rather delightful irony, the Nineties brand of "fame- for-being-ordinary" is actually as difficult to perfect as "fame-for-being- extraordinary" - as Victoria, who hoped one would lead to the other, has discovered.

Projecting reality, rather than fantasy, is a lot more difficult that it looks. Time was when acting out your dreams was a ticket into the limelight; when "Opportunity Knocks" and "Stars in their Eyes" were the vehicles. If we watched a contestant pretending to be Gary Numan; dressed up in tin foil and singing Are Friends Electric, authenticity certainly wasn't the key to our enjoyment - if anything, it obscured it.

Now realness for realness's sake defines our enjoyment. Fakery and contrivance suddenly offends us. As viewers, once we doubt the "slice of life" before us, we feel duped. Which means that the deal these days between producer and subject can be a lot more insidious, open to manipulation on both sides. As part of a Faustian pact, Victoria and her boyfriend were asked to pose in their pyjamas to illustrate a supposed "unusual closeness" between father and daughter, which sounds a bit creepy, to say the least. The fact that they were so willing to act out this relationship - knowing that her father may well watch it - shows a rather sadder desperation than any even your average Celine Dion imitator - well, almost.

But Victoria is part of a rising breed of televisual hopefuls who believe that she can manipulate television and not the other way round - perhaps that's an empowering way of looking at it, but probably rather naive. Recently, four aspiring females agreed to have their domestic lives monitored for "The Dolls House", produced by the Bravo cable channel for their web site. In exchange for such exposure, their prize is minor celebrity. "It will be great publicity for me," enthuses 21-year-old Arwen, one of the `dolls' who's a professional singer, actress, whatever. The foursome's home has cameras in each bedroom, providing Net surfers with live images updated every 10 seconds.

But when the nature of celebrity throws itself so open wide, it's bound to ensnare a few victims. Since fame no longer means achieving greatness, then badness will do just as well. Earlier this week, Louise Woodward told the Television Festival in Edinburgh: "People don't distinguish between celebrity and notoriety. People do recognise me... they are treating me like a minor celebrity, but I'm not famous for anything good."

If nothing else, Victoria's antics exposed this week the subject of authenticity further into the limelight, amid accusations of documentary "set-ups" as well as the material motives that encourage ordinary people to take part. Who can blame them with success stories like Jane McDonald, who appeared in the BBC1 documentary "The Cruise", then landed a record deal worth half a million; her debut album got to No 1. "I'm the Cinderella of showbusiness," she cooed.

What's intriguing is why others should wish to follow in the footsteps of most docu-soap stars; if they're lucky, they'll be wheeled out for a guest appearance on GMTV, "The Big Breakfast" or maybe even a daytime makeover spot on "Style Challenge". Within a year, though, it's almost guaranteed that invites will have dwindled to the occasional shop opening or village fete.

Then they enter that strangenetherworld where celebrity meets mundanity, one probably inhabited by Maureen Rees, the learner driver from "Driving School", and Eileen, no-nonsense manageress of The Adelphi, Liverpool's biggest hotel. Even if Victoria doesn't think so, she's probably had a lucky escape. Then again, her story sounds like great real life material for a documentary...